The Feast of Holy Innocence
by Mitch Cohen
The meal, we were told, would be glorious; each course brought tableside on the backs of bent and naked Africans. Under domes of gilded silver easily matching any of Europe's cathedrals in brilliance lay the smallest and rarest of creatures, slaughtered in their infancy and grilled to perfection; these, we understood to be delicacies. Wine flowed mercilessly and laughter, affected and glaring sharp, grew and leapt in the hall, resplendent and lit as it was by tallow and spermaceti candlelight, a thousand flickering points of light. The meat tasted well of death on my tongue, but I chewed on regardless, as did those on my either side, forcing our throats to swallow and partake in these riches.
When once the floorshow was long done, dancing girls clearing pancake from bruises behind the thick velvet boundary and hidden from our view, the maniacal ringleader uncapped and pissing in pain in a pot past the stones which slowly killed him, the pathetic clowns succumbing to their own brokenness, and sweet, pungent, tobacco smoke rose to heaven from mouths and pipes and cigars as from censers, the lights came on and it was time, they said, for all of us to go.
Outside, in the biting cold, despite a thousand years of protocol, there was no one to bring around our cars, and flames just over the wall somewhere lit the night sky like pyres. I feared for my life. While no one in the group—standing in the unforgiving wind, carrying upon it the burning stench of flesh—was surprised, the sense of shock amongst us was palpable. How could it be, how in Heaven’s name, we cried aloud to one another, how in the Name of God and Heaven and all that is Holy could this ever be?