Communion with the sun, the ever-burning giver of life, was where they were headed. Interminable stone steps rose above them. They carried torches, tiny dots of light bobbing against the black mountainside. The man heard the girl’s sandals scuffing the stone and squeezed her hand. “Almost there.”
She was young, slim, perhaps twenty-five. Her long brown hair fluttered in the early-morning breeze. “It’s further than I thought, steeper too,” she said.
The man looked up at the mountains. The faintest of faint light illuminated the peaks. He felt as if he could simply reach out and touch them. “We’re in good time. We’ll see the sunrise.”
Soon the girl’s torch illuminated a pair of huge wooden temple doors. Metal studs gleamed in the torchlight. She turned a large, hexagonal knob and the door opened onto a candle-lit entrance hall. Ornate chairs and tables stood in the open space. She longed to sit down but her heart fluttered at the thought of any possible delay. We mustn’t be late! Without speaking, they climbed a wide staircase, their shadows playing against the rough stone walls whilst their breath misted in the cold air. At a landing, she hesitated. “Which way?”
The man gestured to the right. Soon another staircase appeared on the left. “This way.”
A figure stood on the next landing. His head was that of a falcon and above it was a vertical, orange-yellow disc. They bowed to the statue, each saying a brief prayer. Then out through a tiny door at the end of a corridor and onto a plateau.
A small crowd stood there, waiting, like them, for the coming spectacle. The light above the mountain was stronger now and tension in the air was palpable. Curious faces turned their way.
“Welcome!” A man, wearing a falcon’s mask, approached. “Come!” He led them through the crowd to the edge of the plateau where two females squatted, bound and gagged – a mother and her young daughter. Men stood with flaming torches on either side. The mother’s eyes bulged with fright. She tried to speak but the gag rendered her incomprehensible. The daughter whimpered behind her restraint.
The girl wondered, why them? She felt compassion, but she must appear strong. Show no pity!
The priest, for so he was, handed short curved swords to the couple.
Soon, a cry went up from the crowd. Dazzling rays of yellow-white light appeared above a peak opposite. With a sudden movement, the girl’s sinewy brown arm slashed the kneeling woman’s throat. A fountain of hot sticky blood sprayed upwards, stinging the girl’s eyes and matting her hair.
The man stood behind the daughter and effortlessly slashed her head with such force that it severed completely and flew through the air, trailing blonde hair and raining blood onto the baying crowd.
As the solar disc began to rise above the mountain, flooding the plateau with waves of brilliant white light and warmth, a chant went up, “Ra! Ra! Ra!”
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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