Just as Luna orbits Terra, so his life orbited hers. Just as Terra requires a guide for her seas, so she required his pull. Round and round they danced, eternity past swapping places with eternity future.
The red-orange blood moon hung like a rocky inferno in the late October sky. Forty-year-old Lenora Esme sat naked on a stone circle, a planet away, eyes closed, her ochre palms stretched toward the heavens. She whispered a chant that drifted over the trees, down the valley, and into the home of Lucas Wingerter.
In his apartment, sixty-year-old Lucas Wingerter lounged on his cerulean settee, sipping green tea, and pondering an excerpt from Finnegan’s Wake. Something about that mysterious and terrible book resonated with him, as if the author had discovered things about the universe — things that evaded the majority of mankind. Lucas must have read the words a hundred times since they’d been printed. Perhaps a hundred years from now, they’d make sense:
A hundred cares, a tithe of troubles and is there one who understands me? One in a thousand of years of the nights? All me life I have been lived among them but now they are becoming lothed to me. And I am lothing their little warm tricks. And lothing their mean cosy turns. And all the greedy gushes out through their small souls. And all the lazy leaks down over their brash bodies. How small it’s all!
Lucas’ neck stiffened. He snapped the book shut, and stood erect as if sniffing the wind, but only for a moment. Without warning, his body fell limp and tumbled over the sofa, dashing his skull against the bookcase. Dead.
Her eyes shot open, and Lenora fixed her gaze above the treetops shrouding the San Fernando Valley. A wispy spirit drifted upward to its lunar guide in the sky. Lenora smiled. The years she’d spent studying the arcane had worked. Lucas was dead, as some would call it. It wasn’t the right way to say it, she knew, but it was sufficient.
He would be reborn, no doubt, and she would wait. She’d done this too many times to think otherwise. By the time Lucas would grow old enough to marry, it’d be her turn to face death at his hands. She’d be too old to fight back. Once she crossed a semicentury, her absorption rate would fall to nearly nothing and her body would betray her. Then, he would find her, having acquired a new competence, and kill her, just as she’d done to him this very night. There’d be no way to stop it.
Like the giant blue marble and its orbiting gray pebble, the two were locked — each one’s life tied to the other. Lenora had been arrogant in the past, considering herself the vibrant one. She, full of life. Lucas, barren and rocky. But the perpetual cycles had humbled her, made her realize it was his gravity which kept her in check, made her stable, and kept her raging tides from blooming into self-destruction. They were not equals, nor opposites, but complementing chords in a never-ending cosmic rhythm.
Lenora’s smile faded. Dominance never lasted. In fact, it grew wearisome. She wished to abandon the idea of it in exchange for the blessing of freedom, but something inside her whispered the lie that freedom required such.
Two decades of dreams whisked a reborn Lucas away to the same vision every night: A wrinkled woman with steely cataract eyes, wrapped like a prune in a shawl. He was standing on the moon and could see her green glow anywhere on the planet, regardless of her whereabouts. He watched as she traveled — most often to Japan, dwelling in the Aokigahara Forest for days. Then sometimes to Shanghai, before flying across to Tibet and lingering in the mountains. But wherever she went, she always came back to a city east of him: Phoenix. He moved there at eighteen just to find her. She had rarely traveled in the last two years, as if she were waiting on him.
It was time.
Lucas had been consumed with killing her as long as he could remember. He studied swordplay, but as much as he cherished the thought, he couldn’t just walk up to her and slice her open. It wasn’t that he was fearful of getting caught. But the twenty years of relative peace he would have as she grew up were too much to waste. He wanted freedom — an escape from her. A brief moment in time to breathe without his life constantly revolving around her.
Because of that, guns were of no use; shooting her would be noisy and messy. Besides, there were better ways to end a life. Things more subtle that wouldn’t leave a trace. Ways that seemed natural. Poisons were sleek, but discoverable. And you’d have to get close to the victim. Hitmen abounded on the internet, but how do you hire a contract killer if you don’t know the target’s name or address? He decided his best bet would be to dedicate himself to the martial arts. He specialized in Bōjutsu. Staves were discreet, and his trained hands were ever ready, whether or not they bore a weapon.
Every night Lucas stalked closer to her. At dusk, he could see her glow, even through the earth, like a dog sniffing out a snake under a log. He drove toward her presence, her aura growing brighter with each moment. He found her in the Japanese Friendship Garden in the heart of downtown Phoenix. The senior woman stood like a statue under the late October moon, holding two staves, surrounded by hordes of unwitting spectators. It was the night of the Otsukimi Festival. It was there Lucas came face to face with her. It was the first time. It was the thousandth. She glared at him, unfleeing.
He laughed. “You’re not safe here,” he said. “I can follow you anywhere. Anywhere.”
“I’ll give you a way out of your misery,” she said, tossing him a bō staff. “Let’s offer them a demonstration.” She nodded to the crowd but never took her eyes from his. “Shall we?”
Lucas’ mind unfurled with elation. Had the woman become an idiot in her old age? Apparently she did not understand how easy it would be for him to dispatch her. She could not have offered him a more suitable weapon. It was as if the gods of the cosmos wanted her dead.
“Look! A show!” a kid shouted. Whispers echoed through the crowd as they formed a circle around the two rivals. Lucas whirled his staff, clicked it to his forearm, and fanned out in a ready stance. Lenora mirrored him. Did she know Bōjutsu? No matter, she was old and slow. He was the pinnacle of discipline and undoubtedly outmatched her. He’d make killing her look like an accident, cradle her body after striking her temple, and pretend to mourn.
During the first round of encounters, Lucas kept his left hand tucked behind his back. Then he flared his staff and struck hard. Lenora countered. He spun and brought his staff toward her ribs, but she countered again. They danced like fireflies among the garden lanterns, the clacking of their staves drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from ignorant spectators. Lucas cared not for the applause. The only reason he had not already ended her was he needed it to appear an accident. After several moments, he showered her with a flurry of overhead blows before sweeping her ankle and sending her airborne.
Time slowed, and he found the perfect moment. As his staff was circling back, he swept it against her temple. Lenora’s eyes flickered, and she thrust the butt of her staff against his windpipe. Lucas’ throat collapsed, and his face swelled with the heat of impending death. How had she landed that blow?
Lenora’s head bounced on the concrete just as Lucas’ body fell, shivering for lack of oxygen. As they both rolled to a tangled stop, their eyes met in their last moments of life. They would endure another darkness before meeting again, another blackness before the dawn. They had learned to stagger their deaths — coming of age simultaneously was maddening. The dreams, the angst, the rage of their eternal dance.
As the two celestial bodies fell into their cold, cyclical darkness, a shining guide patiently held them as they anticipated their next cosmic tug of war. Lenora desired freedom from her Moon, and Lucas craved freedom from his Earth. But never once in all their long existence, had either of them given a single thought to the warmth of the Sun.
Mr. Taylor spends his days cultivating children, herding cats, loving an amazing woman, and leading a recovery ministry in the Upstate of South Carolina. He enjoys writing poetry, fantasy, sci-fi, and other short fiction. You can find him on goodreads and @itsjimnotjames on Twitter. If you enjoyed this story, perhaps you should join his Monthly Reader’s Club and read all his stories free.