Edge of Eighteen – A Mephisto Covenant Story
EDGE OF EIGHTEEN
A Mephisto Covenant story
“In the beginning, before Eve tasted forbidden fruit, she had a daughter, Aurora, who wandered away from Eden and was lost. In time, God sent Aurora a mate, and their descendants, born without the sin of Eve, became known as the Anabo. When Lucifer discovered the Anabo, he sent the dark angel, Mephistopheles, to tempt them as he had tempted Eve, but some wouldn’t succumb. Time passed, and the Anabo became less, but once in a great while, another pure soul was born.
Many centuries later, in a busy market on the streets of Athens, Mephistopheles found an Anabo named Elektra. He tried to convince her to accept the dark side, but she was steadfast. Every day for a year, he found her in the market and tempted her, and every day, she refused. Mephistopheles visited one last time, and Elektra told him she would give up Anabo if he could prove his worth. Elektra knew, as Mephistopheles did not, that love wins all. Her objective was not for her to lose Anabo, but for Mephistopheles to reclaim grace and return to Heaven.
Unaware of her intention, Mephistopheles accepted the challenge. He built a house of stone on a small island in a cold sea and furnished it with the finest mahogany and cypress. He surrounded the island with a fine blue mist that rendered it invisible to God and Lucifer, because he was forbidden to consort with a human. When all was ready, he took Elektra there to live, and they found happiness, but she told him he wasn’t done. She gave him seven sons, and he provided for them as a good father should, but he still wasn’t done.
Now, she bides her time, living with her sons behind the mists of Kyanos, and knows a day will come when Mephistopheles will prove himself worthy of Heaven.”
“That story is so boring.”
Jax watched Mana look across the room at Denys, who hung upside down from the rod she used to dry herbs. His tunic had fallen inside out, covering his head and nothing else. “You find it dull only because you’re still a boy. Besides, it was Eryx’s request, and as tomorrow is his birthday, he had the choice.” She set aside the half completed basket in her lap. “Now, get down from there and cover yourself.”
From the middle of the rug that lay across the larger part of the stone floor, where he played tug of war with a bone and his dog, Poseidon, Ty asked, “Can we have the honey cakes now?”
“They’re for tomorrow,” Mana said, “the same as they were for tomorrow when you asked after evening meal.”
That was too bad, Jax decided, because he’d love nothing more than a honey cake. “Will Papa be here for Eryx’s birthday?”
“Only for the honey cakes,” Phoenix said from the furthest corner. He sat behind a pile of duck feathers, sorting them by size. The two ducks who contributed the feathers would be tomorrow’s midday meal.
“Phoenix, that’s untrue and unkind. Your father is looking forward to being here.”
Kyros, who was oldest after Eryx, almost seventeen, said from a bench at the table, “He comes to see you, Mana. We all know it. If he cared at all, he’d tell Lucifer about us so we could get off this island and live in the real world, with people.”
“And girls,” Zee said. He sat on the stone steps that led to their sleeping room, lying back on his elbows.
“You wouldn’t know what to do with a girl,” Phoenix said. “You’d probably run away.”
Jax had to agree. Zee was third from youngest, barely thirteen, and a little bit strange. He had bad dreams, and sometimes walked around while he was still asleep. Once, Jax saw him talk to the ocean, which was particularly odd because he rarely talked at all.
Zee threw a pebble at Phoenix and glared. “I didn’t say I’d do anything with one. I’d just like to see one.” He looked toward Mana. “Tell the story about your friends at the market.”
Mana stood. “No more stories tonight. Ty, make sure the goats are penned. Kyros, did you set the fox trap?”
“Yes. I’ll get him tonight, for sure.”
“I hope so. I hate losing our chickens.” She turned toward Eryx, who was sprawled in the only other chair in the room, staring at the fire. “Will you lead prayer tonight?”
He turned his head to look up at her, and Jax thought he seemed really sad. He’d been like that all day, even when they went fishing. Eryx loved fishing. And he was better at it than any of them. In truth, he was better at most everything, but he never crowed about it, and no one was jealous. It just always seemed the way of things – Eryx was firstborn, Mana’s favorite son, and in the long absences of their father, the head of their family.
He surprised Jax when he said, “What’s the point in praying? God can’t hear us.”
“Praying reminds us of the light in our souls. It’s no matter that God doesn’t hear.”
“Please, Mana, ask Mephistopheles tomorrow. Make this end and let us live like ordinary people.”
She reached out and stroked his hair. “As sons of a dark angel, you will never be ordinary, Eryx. As for asking, how can I? If he tells Lucifer he fathered seven sons, he will lose his soul.”
Eryx jerked his head away from her hand and surged to his feet. “If he doesn’t tell, we will lose more than our souls. We’ll be monsters.”
Denys ran to Jax and stood behind him. Kyros rose from the table and went outside, with Ty and Poseidon right on his heels. Zee went upstairs, and Phoenix abandoned the feathers to follow. Jax was stuck in place, wanting to leave and not listen to them argue, but transfixed by the swell of emotion, ready to come to Mana’s defense. She had strength of will and lived every day with the courage of her faith, yet there was an underlying vulnerability about her.
With tears in her dark eyes, Mana stared up at Eryx for a long time before she said, “I can’t ask it of him. This is something he has to decide for himself.”
“When will you face the truth? He’ll never return to Heaven because he doesn’t want to. He comes here to see you, not us. We’re an inconvenience – nothing more or less, and he will never confess for our sakes. Only for you, Mana, and only if you ask.”
She cried in earnest now, her small hands clinging to Eryx’s arm. “For this visit, for your birthday, let it be, and I’ll talk to him about it on his next visit.”
His shoulders sagged and he shook his head. “You said that two years ago, and last year, and now, I’m about to be eighteen, a man, full grown, and still you expect me to live here as though I were a child.” He looked at Mana and one tear rolled down his cheek. “I will die tomorrow, and be resurrected to live forever. Without God’s blessing, I’ll lose whatever light lives in my soul.” He looked at Jax. “As will my brothers.” He laid his hand on hers, then slowly, carefully pulled it away from his arm. He stepped around her and walked out into the night.
Mana sank to her chair, buried her face in her hands, and sobbed.
Hours later, a low roll of thunder woke Jax, and he rolled to his back on his pallet to stare up at the wooden roof above him. His brothers slept soundly, unaware of the approaching storm. He debated whether to get up and go out to the place where he hid things from Denys, to retrieve the box he’d carved for Mana’s birthday, two weeks away. If it rained hard enough, water would pool in the crevice of rock and earth and the box would swell and be ruined.
Thunder rolled again, louder this time, and he could smell rain on the breeze through the open window. Summer was waning, and with its exit came violent storms that sometimes pushed the ocean across parts of the island. Would this be that kind of storm?
Sitting up, he reached for his sandals and got busy wrapping and tying the leather strips around his calves. He pushed himself to his feet, then stepped around the sleeping forms of his brothers, across the threshold and down the stairs. Outside, the wind had already begun to whistle through the hickory trees. The moon was as yet unobstructed by clouds, and shone on an angry ocean. Yes, it was going to be one of those storms. As soon as he collected the box, he would wake Eryx and Kyros to help him bring the livestock into the still room at the back of the house.
He walked quickly, occasionally breaking into a run, anxious to get the box and return home before it began to rain. He was also afraid of lightning. When he was younger, he’d seen one of the goats struck and ever after, he had a healthy respect for fire from the sky.
He reached the hiding spot, quickly collected the box, then turned to run for home. Halfway there, lightning struck a maple and it split down the middle, one half crashing to the ground just in front of him, blocking the path. His heart was beating so fast, he thought it might jump out of his chest and land on the ground.
Breathing hard, he weighed his options. Going over the tree wasn’t one of them. Not only was it huge, it was on fire. He could head west, but he’d have to go all the way around the pond and through the tunnel cave, which was tantalizing in daylight, but fearsome in the dark. East was the ocean, the cliffs side of the island, and if he slipped, he’d hurtle to his death on the jagged rocks within the surf below. But it was still less scary than the tunnel cave.
Clutching the box in his hand, he left the path and picked his way across stones, through brambles and around rabbit holes, until he reached the edge of Kyanos. Lightning crackled across the sky, instantly followed by thunder so loud, he felt his bones shake. With every strike, the ocean lit up. Petrified by the churning fury and the height of the waves, he thought this would be the worst of all storms.
He was so careful of every step, his pace was that of a snail. The mountain sloped down to the edge of the cliffs where trees clung to the earth, some so close he had to hold on to the trunk and swing around to continue.
He was past the halfway point when lightning illuminated a figure up ahead. As Jax grew closer, he realized it was Eryx, and his stomach clenched. His brother was about to jump.
Jax didn’t understand, but Eryx said it was something he began to think about when he turned seventeen, and the obsession had only grown stronger. He asked their father why he felt compelled to end his life, and that was the day they learned what was to be their future. They would each die at eighteen and return to life, immortal until the end of time.
Still, even knowing Eryx would return, seeing him standing at the edge like that was horrifying. Jax tried to get to his brother faster, but had to slow down when his foot dislodged a stone and he slipped. Were it not for the slender fir he grabbed, he’d have fallen.
He called out to Eryx, but the howling wind carried his voice away.
When lightning struck again, he saw Kyros coming from the other direction, and even from this distance, Jax could see the look of terror on his face. Key screamed, but Jax only heard the roar of the raging sea.
Just before Key reached him, Eryx looked toward him, lifted his arm in farewell, then stepped off the edge.
Tears instantly clogged Jax’s throat, and he shook with fear and horror. He’d said he would jump, but Jax hadn’t believed him. Not really. Moments later, he stood with Key to stare down at the rocks, at the body of their eldest brother. The lightning was now continuous, and while they stood transfixed on the edge of the cliff, it began to rain in sheets, blurring the rocks, transforming them into the same gray as the sea. When the rain slackened and the rocks once again took shape, Eryx was gone.
Falling to his knees, Key’s deep, throaty, soul-crushing sobs of pain rose above the din of the storm. Jax was too stunned to cry, and while he stood there listening to his brother’s heart break, he heard another voice, riding across the mountain, circling the island, overtaking even the thunder. The sound was eerie and frightening, making every hair on his body stand on end.
Kyros looked up at Jax and said through his sobs, “It’s our father. This,” he waved his arm in a sweeping arc, encompassing the violent sea and fierce storm, “all of this is his anguish.”
“Because Eryx jumped?”
“Because Eryx killed Mana.”
Oh, God. Jax looked again at the rocks, at the place where Eryx had been. How could he kill Mana? Why? If his brother had plunged a knife into his heart, it wouldn’t have hurt this much.
Still sobbing, Key kept wiping his cheeks and rubbing his eyes. “I heard her cry out. I ran to see, and Eryx was there. He was….” His face crumpled and he rocked back and forth. “He had something covering her…face. I pulled him away, but it was too late. Mana was…she was dead.”
Jax went to his knees and stared out at the wild waves beneath the fiery night sky.
“He said he did it for us, that Mana’s death would release her spirit to God, and he would know about us. Lucifer will know about us.”
“And our father will be taken out as if he never existed.”
“I hit him, knocked him down, and he didn’t fight back. He stood up and let me knock him down again. Over and over. I kept screaming at him, and he never hit me back. He just kept saying he did it for us. I said he did it for himself, and he walked away. Phoenix ran after him, shouting for him to come back, to not jump, and I knew I couldn’t…let Phoenix see. I shoved him down and told him to stay with the others, and ran after Eryx, but I was too late.” He looked down at the rocks below. “Too…late.”
Jax’s heart twisted yet again. Eryx and Kyros were constant companions, one never without the other. They went on rambles across the island, gone sometimes for days at a time, returning with stories about what they discovered, with fish and game, blueberries and crabapples from the other side of the high peak. Jax looked past his own grief to Key’s agony.
He didn’t know what would happen now, if Eryx would return, or if their father would be punished as Mana always said he would if his seven secrets were discovered. What he did know was that Kyros wasn’t capable of taking the lead right now. The younger ones needed reassurance and comfort, and Jax would be the one to give it to them. Mana needed to be laid to rest, and Jax would be the one to do it.
Getting to his feet, he reached for Key’s arm and tugged until he was standing, then grasped his shoulders and turned him toward home and whatever waited for them there.
The wind had taken down many trees, and the torrential, blinding rain had swollen the creek into a river that swept over the bridge. They had to backtrack all the way to the split maple, then around the pond and through the tunnel cave. Jax wasn’t scared now. All he could think about was losing Mana, and Eryx jumping, and Papa going away forever.
They were almost back to the house when the storm abruptly stopped. Within the smallest measure of time, there was no rain, no wind, no thunder or lightning. Jax looked at Kyros, who said in a low, hoarse voice, “Papa is gone now.”
They found their brothers sitting at the table in silence, their ordinary restlessness absent. A solitary candle cast its warm glow across their devastated faces. Phoenix said, “There was a fox in the trap. I set him free.”
No one asked him why he did that. No one needed to ask. Not one of them had what it would take to kill the fox. Not tonight.
Jax turned toward the threshold that led to Mana’s sleeping room, aware of five pairs of eyes on his back. He didn’t want to go in there, but he would because he had to.
Because no one could kill the fox.
The sun rose that day as it always did, but Jax thought it seemed less bright. He’d directed his younger brothers to dig a grave a short distance from the house, up a slight incline and beneath the hickory tree they’d all climbed since they were old enough to reach its lowest branches. Mana had liked to sit beneath it and work her baskets, and when he was with them, Papa stretched across the cool earth with his head in her lap and talked about what went on in the world.
She lay upon a length of linen, hands folded over her heart, with tiny violets scattered across her. Jax went to his knees at her feet and, using his dagger, cut six small squares from her robes. He stood and handed one to each of his brothers, then moved around her and went to his knees at her head, where he took six small curls from her dark hair. When he’d handed those to his brothers, he slipped his, along with the fabric and his dagger, into the pocket of his tunic.
Kyros had barely spoken since they arrived home, but now he stepped forward and looked around at all of them. “For her sake, we will ask Lucifer to have mercy on our father. For Eryx’s sake, we will ask God to have mercy on us.”
No one spoke. No one did anything.
“Bow your heads and pray for these things. Do it now.”
They all complied, but Jax kept his head up and his eyes open. That’s why he saw Eryx, standing many lengths away, hidden in the shadows of the forest to watch them bury the mother he murdered. He thought about going after him, dragging him back here to accept the punishment of his brothers, but he didn’t have to.
Everyone raised their heads, and Eryx was suddenly there, next to the tree, looking at them from eyes that caused Jax to recoil. They were the same black they had been the day before, but now they were dull and flat. Lifeless.
Maybe that’s why none of them made a move toward him. Their fury was there, like its own separate being, but no one acted on it.
He took a step closer and opened his hand, palm up, revealing the small golden crucifix Mana always carried in her pocket. “I’d thought to keep this as a reminder of her, but I don’t want it. I don’t want to remember her, nor any of you.” He turned his hand and the crucifix fell to rest on the skirts of her robe. He looked around at each of them before he said to Kyros, “I sacrificed my soul for you. Don’t waste it.” Then he disappeared.
Without a word, Kyros bent, grasped the edge of Mana’s shroud and began to fold it over her. Jax helped, and by the end of it, they all took part in wrapping her body for burying. Kyros jumped into the grave and Jax handed her down to him. When she was placed, he and Phoenix gave him a hand and drew him out. They all shoved the earth back into place, and when there was a fresh mound of dirt instead of a gaping hole, they turned away and walked back to the house.
Inside, they found one of the goats standing on the hearth, stretching his neck to reach the honey cakes.
Jax walked through the great room to the back of the house, to the still room where Mana kept her potions, salves, and elixirs, and reached to the top shelf for the wooden box. It rested in his palm and he stared down at it for a long time, remembering the hours he’d spent carving it from a solid block of hickory. He’d thought to give it to her to hold the crucifix while she slept.
She wouldn’t need it now.
He slipped the fabric of her robe and the lock of her hair from his pocket, settled it into the box, then replaced the lid and set it back on the top shelf.