Thursday 3 February 2022

The Endless Night - Short Story by Richard M. Ankers

 



The Endless Night

by Richard M. Ankers

 

Something held his attention, but not us. Le Comte de Nuit bowed to the other guests, kissed the hands of Contessas and Marquises alike, yet barely acknowledged them. His eyes remained elsewhere, strangely distant.

Le Comte mixed with the revellers like oil with water, a permanent separation. He sipped the drink in his hand but never tasted, a mere wetting of the lips to ease his sighs. Nobody else but me seemed to notice. He offered his ear to the coy words whispered therein, but not once were they heard. Although they threw compliments his way with the ease of confetti at a wedding, they always missed their intended goal. On the rare occasion someone grew too close, they were blown away as if by some unfelt wind, he remained ever untouched. One moment, dark-garbed and dangerous, the next, a shining raven standing guard over a grave, le Comte de Nuit held the reckless many spellbound.

His disaffection extended to the material, too. Not once did le Comte comment on those who flaunted their latest fabulous dress, nor show any inclination to a particular type: blonde; brunette; redhead; raven; although a silver-haired enchantress held his eye, at least, for a moment. It wasn’t that he knew her, nor that he wanted her just that she reminded him of someone as though from a dream. That’s what I thought, anyway, though I might’ve presumed too much.

Le Comte’s insouciance was in no way reserved for the party’s female contingent alone, for he held the menfolk in even less esteem. He looked through each. Spoke to none. Smiled at all through gritted teeth. An enigma, the man we all knew from his title yet knew not where that title bore from — no one dared question it — le Comte de Nuit roamed for roaming’s sake and never once looked like stopping.

I wondered what could have induced him to attend such a shindig if he had no intention of participating? I mapped out the reasons, scratched off conclusions and ended up with less than I’d begun. Such was my analytical way, everything requiring an explanation. All I concluded, and this was with no degree of certainty, was this: In a far-off land, in some unknown place, something drew that man of casual disdain. I intended to find out what. It became my calling.

#

My addiction was of no fixed abode, by which I mean, he had many tables from which to eat, many beds and bedwarmers, but not one was his own. Le Comte de Nuit dressed as though of regal nature, dripped with obsidian splendour, and from his very name one assumed him a landowner of generous means, but there was no definitive proof. He mingled. He loitered. Not once, however, did he suggest a place of permanent residence.

I followed le Comte for several months, after all, I too was of noble birth and had little else to do. Wherever he went, I was there, and always with good reason had ever he asked. No matter the location, I mapped his route. No matter what he said, on those few occasions he spoke, I took note. A constant shadow, I remained closer than close, yet further than ever.

And so it went, party to party, event to event, months passing in minutes, time mapped only by the colour of the turning leaves. The beautiful cerulean and citrine of Summer faded into a seasonal past, Winter replacing them in monochrome shades of night. Appropriately, for a man who always dressed in shining ebony, the night proved more revealing.

The night le Comte failed to attend the All Hallows’ Eve ball, a shining example of upper-class excess, I knew something amiss. Panicking for fear of losing my muse, I left via an open rear window like some common thief, not that anyone would’ve noticed me missing and hurried outside. Taking the first saddled horse I came across, a fine looking stallion of chestnut colouring — not mine, and served only to further my rogue-like actions — I set out to his most recent haunt, a castle at the foot of the Swiss Alps owned by a rowdy and overly loose Contessa. Not a moment too soon, I might add. Having ridden halfway up the mountain to attain a better view of the place, I spied le Comte ascending the same muddied trail on an even more impressive stallion of his own, black as midnight. The long trek up the mountain had begun.

We climbed as though tethered by a quarter mile length of rope. If he stopped, I stopped. If he attained a gallop, so did I. Thus in our exacting equation, we made our way to heights no horse was meant for. Le Comte discarded his, which stood there as though expecting its abandonment. I did the same; my horse galloped away.

Some would have said my fitness exemplary. I soon realised, however, my stamina was nothing compared to his. Le Comte de Nuit strode up the rough mountain terrain not so much a goat as a mythical satyr, unhindered by the jagged rocks and slippery stones, those hidden dangers of our nocturnal passage. Only then, suddenly bereft of all illumination as we were, did I realise the peril of my endeavour. But I had already come too far and had little choice but to follow. So I hunted le Comte by sound alone; he was light on his feet but not light enough. I, on the other hand, made more commotion than a month’s worth of avalanches, a not uncommon and rather sobering fact given the situation. What coupled with my general huffing and puffing, occasional curses and worse, I doubted le Comte could have been any less unaware of my presence if I’d stood before him with my tongue stuck out. Whether he was, or he wasn’t remained moot as he continued with his climb.

And then the stars came out.

It started with a single glimmer that doubled, tripled and continued to a sparkling glare in exponential leaps of infinite beauty. By the time I reached the mountain summit covered in sweat, yet chilled as though having swum through an ice-glazed river, the night sky was as day. Silver gems flickered as though part of one greater whole, which I supposed in a way they were, illuminating all in celestial starlight.

Le Comte was there. He stood tall gazing up into that star sprinkled enormity, his usual ennui replaced by a look so intense as to have struck fear in any army. Gone was the boredom. Gone was the gloom. In its place, a man who could’ve ruled the Earth, dark and sinister with the eyes of a god. Yet far too many have had judgement cast upon them from nothing more than a glance, after all, had I not judged he the same. For if one looked closer, cut through his midnight veil, his dark persona, one would’ve seen his fingers trembling, heart pleading, eyes weeping. I gasped!

He was the last man in the world I would have expected to see weep. Le Comte de Nuit was the very personification of non-emotion, a hollow being. The startling truth, he was not. Something cut him, cut him deep. Something hurt that man on a level I’d never fathom. He grieved, and I grieved for him. What an odd pair we made.

She came from the stars. How else could one describe the indescribable but with the simple truth. As a coalescing star-shine discernible only by its humanity, the silver light became an almost-woman, reaching, striving, begging for her dark knight. There she lingered and so did he, their fingers almost touching.

A wise man once told me there were holes in the night. These holes absorbed all light, all energy, which once gathered, they never relinquished. I had not believed him. Who would’ve? I was wrong. For as I stood there my mouth agape, one took him.

How long I have waited. How long I have grieved. Time to leave, my love. Time for this endless night to end.”

He spoke in a baritone deep enough to shake the mountain, yet gentle enough to rock a newborn to sleep. Le Comte de Nuit, a name I believed chosen for this moment, took in her all, his ebony splendour dropping to the ground in a heap. All that remained was a reflection of pure starlight, eternity mirrored and a trail of light which faded like a dream. Two cosmic lovers reunited, the stars and the night recombined. Lost in themselves, they vanished like Venus behind a cloud leaving me in darkness absolute.

#

We partied less from that night forward. People took to watching the night sky and smiling contented smiles, or simply sleeping. Only I knew the reason why.

I never told another soul of what I witnessed. Their secret was my secret. I often wondered the hows and the whys, but my musings returned mostly unanswered. Had they always been lovers, the night and its trinkets? Had one been stranded and the other not? A spectre, he wasn’t, but a ghost, maybe? How long had he waited and prayed? Did the ticking of the clock mean anything to such cosmic entities? My answer was as simple as the myriad questions were not: Willpower and desire, nothing more. These were all that had held him together. How strong they must have been.

The mysteries of the universe and those higher creatures who patrolled it, however, remained largely just that, mysteries. One salient detail refused dispersal though, one truth always remained: Le Comte had never been nonchalant, not really. He’d had no time for those beneath him because he’d had too much time. His suitors, admirers, rich beauties alike were but flitting moments to him, temporary moths drawn to his infinite night light. As she, in her way. Their joys were his extended misery. Their delights were his abject dismay. Such a pity. Such a shame. For how could one be happy on Earth, when one yearned for the endless night? 




Richard M. Ankers is the English author of The Eternals Series. Richard has featured in Expanded Field Journal, The Dawntreader, Bunbury Magazine, and feels privileged to have appeared in many more. Richard lives to write. 

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