the shortest night
by ken mooney
“Mark, can’t you just put your phone away for one night? We’re on holidays.”
Alan didn’t even look at his brother while asking that question; Alan was too busy looking at the women gathered at the beach, all of them dressed for the night. Alan was getting treated to the views of a bunch of local girls on a similarly boring summer holiday, desperate to make the best of their night.
They had taken tonight as an opportunity to wear their favourite clothes, to do their hair, to do make-up: the things they didn’t do during their days at the beach.
It was only a short time into the summer holidays, and the visitors to this town like Alan and Mark had already learnt to spend as much time as possible at the beach. On a night like this, there was an impromptu agreement between many members of the town to meet at the beach, to play music and have a party. The longest day of the year also meant it was the shortest night of the year, and that seemed like a moment to celebrate.
“Shut up, Alan. You only want some attention to I can distract some other friends and let you get into that girl’s pants.” Mark didn’t look up at Alan or whatever girl he was thinking of; he was used to Alan’s type, in the sense that he didn’t have one. Alan liked himself a bit too much to like anyone else, so once he had some attention from some attractive girl, he was happy.
And there were a lot of attractive girls gathering at the beach on this night. It seemed to be the thing that all the younger people of this town were just as bored as Alan and Mark were.
Everfalls had been a shipping town throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but things had changed in the twentieth century: the closing of three different fishing companies brought an end to the industry, suggesting that families moved somewhere else to continue their careers and their lifestyles. At least, that’s what happened to the families who managed to survive the wars.
But Everfalls had somehow been saved: each house that got abandoned ended up sold to a family from somewhere else, a family desperate to get out of cities and have somewhere to stay during the summers, to prove to their friends and their colleagues that they were rich.
Alan and Mark weren’t rich; you’re not rich when you’re still teenagers, and their father Hank had spent most of his life and his money trying to make sure they were safe first, then happy. Rich was never high on the list. But his new wife Maya had given the family new opportunities.
Alan and Mark were happy to support their father’s happiness, and they did not need a relationship with Maya to support that. But she had been anxious for all four of them to spend time at her family home and get to know each other. The best time to do so was during the summer holidays, and she said there was no better time than during the summer solstice, when the families of the town met up at the beach and, if the weather was well, stayed up into the early hours of the morning to spend a time that started and ended two different seasons.
“Our dad’s after marrying a woman who’s probably closer to our age than his, you have a girl you won’t stop texting even though you’ve never met her. I’m starting to think I’m the only sane one in the family.”
Alan wasn’t even looking at a specific girl: even with the ever-flickering lighting of the night’s bonfire, everyone who had come to the beach tonight looked different. They hadn’t just dressed up for a night out with their neighbours: it was like the entire town were ready, willing and able to celebrate.
Mark pressed the button to hide his phone and put it back in his pocket: even if Alan wasn’t looking at it, Mark was worried he could put two and two together and that would then lead to some awkward conversation with their father. Neither of them needed to know that it wasn’t a girl that Mark was speaking to; neither of them needed to know anything that Mark felt or thought, not until he knew himself.
It was obvious that Maya had put two and two together, though: every time a conversation turned, she would refer to Alan’s dates and girlfriends, but she knew to pause for just a moment before she asked about any of Mark’s ‘friends.’
Her relationship with their father had happened quickly, but it was not unexpected: their mother was long dead, and they knew their father had had relationships since then. They had met some of those women, reacted well with some and hated others. Maya, however, was the first one that their father had established his wills before they had even been introduced.
“I want to marry her, guys.”
So his sons had nodded and smiled, and then been introduced to her, found that she knew of them already, nodded and smiled at their tastes in music and the little things that were so like their father. Two months later, they were engaged; three months after that, a wedding with just the four of them and the woman to make it official. And three weeks later, they were here at Maya’s ancient family home for their first holiday and an opportunity to act like an actual family.
“Shouldn’t we be spending the time as a family then, Alan?” Mark kept his eye on his brother.
He’d asked such a question that Alan stopped looking at the girls of this town and actually payed attention to his brother. At this midnight air, Alan probably couldn’t fully make sense of Mark’s face, its mix of frustration and entertainment. After all, Mark’s tongue was nearly fully in cheek.
“It’s more like our dad’s having a date here, not you.” Mark leaned in a bit closer to his brother, hoping that none of their neighbours heard them. “Besides, who’s to say that each girl in this town isn’t related to Maya. Every girl you want to be with might be your cousin. You ever thought of that?”
“I’ve got protection. I’ll let you borrow the lot if you’ll try it out.” Alan slapped his pocket but he kept his eyes on Mark. “You really like this friend you’re texting, don’t you? You haven’t even looked at any of the rest of them around this town.”
“Eh…yeah.” Mark felt his heart thumping in his chest. Had it really been that obvious to Alan that he was distracted by someone else?
Alan stepped a bit closer, and for just a moment, Mark wished he hadn’t said something. If Alan was busier looking at the girls of this town, then the awkward look on Mark’s face wouldn’t be so obvious.
“We’ve figured it out, Mark. It’s not a girl, anyway. Dad and me. Well, Maya sort of told him. That and you’re not good enough at hiding your internet history. You’re still my brother, and you’re definitely still his son.”
Mark’s eyes couldn’t move from Alan’s face, lost in the welcome and the comfort that his own brother was offering. It was nearly enough for him to start talking, to be honest.
They couldn’t continue their closeness, not with the silence around them, a group of people who had chosen not to speak so they could all look at Maya as she stood beside the flames. Every attendant of the night was focussed on her: Mark and Alan had looked around them for their father, and neither could see him, assuming he was somewhere else making quick friends surrounded with the rest of town.
“Residents of Everfalls, we’re close to the time now. I want to thank you all for coming this evening.” Maya’s voice sounded more confident than Mark and Alan had heard before. But she was a woman who had grown up in this town, who probably knew them a lot better than anyone else.
And then her eyes fell on them directly: even in this darkness, the light was so close to her that she found them easily.
“And of course, we have three very special guests this evening.”
The town turned to look at them both, somehow all of them knowing exactly where they were. A phrase passed around the town, words that neither Mark nor Alan recognised.
“Mark, Alan, Hank, you’re all very welcome here this evening. Your presence here is the perfect start of our new year.” Maya pointed her hand towards them, and the crowd around them pushed gently towards her; even with this mention, they still couldn’t see their father. “And of course, the end of the last year as well.”
Only then did Mark and Alan notice the specific smell and crackles that were coming from the fire, the shapes that were on top of it. It was the shape of a body, a body they recognised too well.
Mark screamed across in the direction of the fire; Alan had already moved in that direction. But the people around them refused to move away: they moved closer to the boys, closing the space around them, reaching towards them and taking hold of them.
“DAD!” Mark screamed once more, and the town reacted appropriately by dragging him closer to his father.
Maya ignored the shouts.
“The old year and the new year, the father and the son. They will die together, and this town will continue.”
The town responded with their words, the same words they had been using. Words that were definitely not any local language, but came from somewhere else, sometimes else.
“And the future year, the year that is yet to come. One will survive with us, and with him, the town will survive until next year.”
The town stated their words once more, louder now that they had taken control of Mark, holding him tight so that he couldn’t move. They pushed him towards Maya, his mother-in-law and the woman who had killed his father.
He was pulled close to her now, so close that the shadows had caught her face, aged her and made her far more suitable for his father.
“This is your town now, Mark. This is where you will live until the next sun is born. Just as this town has done for hundreds of years, and it will do for hundreds more.”
This time, the town responded to Maya’s words, and this time, they spoke in English so he could understand.
About the Author
Ken Mooney was born in Dublin in the middle of the 1980s; he still lives there. He holds a degree in English Studies from TCD, which he totally uses every day during his day-job in TV advertising…totally.
He’s always been obsessed with stories, reading, writing and playing them; that explains the massive collection of books, comics, video games and discarded Word documents. His writing is a combination of all the things that he’s passionate about, all the way through high-and-low-brow.