It was when the sun and moon shared the sky for the first time in an age that the priest had his vision. No stigmata, nothing so crass as speaking-in-tongues, just that rare gift of prophecy: When the darkness finally lifted for good, he would be the only one left.
Fire had been given them generations ago, but in the ten years since daylight had disappeared, the people of the Hebrides had nearly forgotten its heavy-limbed Prometheus. Children had grown up in the Gloaming the way others did in war. Plants dwindled to coarse, brown roots fixed within the interstice of sea rock and furrow. Nothing ever dried fully, and the sea, whipped by this endless night wind, had grown ever colder.
When that morning a new dawn finally broke, newborns mewled in fear, their older siblings at pains to quiet them. They were frightened too as this sad night was all they had ever known. Elders in their wisdom sobbed, but not from trepidation but relief that the crepuscle had finally ended. They wailed prayers they’d half forgotten to gods they’d feared had forgotten them.
Of them all, only the priest saw in the sun’s resplendent rebirth a sinister omen.
Lifting the hide flap that shuttered the stone home his ancestors built long ago, he looked out upon the sun-lit land. Life had been happening elsewhere. Now it had returned, but with it came a rigor—he could feel it in his bones, as surely as he could feel the sun’s heat warm his face for the first time since….
Though she’d died in spring, the Lord’s daughter did not move to the world beyond until the advent of a winter so cold it defied memory. For two seasons she hung on, with rasping breath and parchment skin, empty eyes open but unseeing. She had gotten lost in the moors and when they had finally found her, she was already dead though her chest rose and fell ever so slightly. Rigor held her muscles fast. The False Woman said she would leave forthwith, but once again she proved herself a liar. When the girl did finally pass, the sun went down that day and did not return.
Why now was he so afraid at its recurrence, climbing as it did from the black and silver hills of water that undulated unto the horizon?
Because life may have been elsewhere, but so too had death. He’d heard tales of the pustulant men and women with their bursting skin and blackened organs, of the thaumaturgists who strode amongst them on wooden sandals, sporting ludicrous long-nosed masks. No one knew from whence the pestilence came, by the wind or in the water, through the dark humors or the touch of vermin. But come it did, with buboes that wept red as the wrath of God. And now it would come for them. He knew it.
A woman bearing a staff hobbled upon the verdigris rock. She had a bad foot. She saw him looking at it and was excited to explain: “I hurt it running to the sun. I’m not used to the light and so fell.”
“You aren’t the only I’d wager.”
She laughed. She was missing more than a few teeth, “When you wager, you lose. Be careful or you’ll end up paying me with that dangler of yours again.” She pointed the staff at his groin.
She had lost her husband to the sea the year before. Without the sun, what food they ate came from the shores and nearby waters. The husband had been looking for winkles when the waves grabbed him. The priest took care of her needs after that. No one had cared when they lived in the dark: sex was one of the few creature comforts. But with the return of the sun, the priest knew that gossip and its attendant, humiliation would not be long in coming. He looked at her with her scraggly hair and scurvy green skin. How ugly they all must look, he thought, how ugly and small.