Fiction: Moonrise

The beach; late on a cool, tropical night.  As the moon inches above the horizon of the sea, an elder tells legends to young children.

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Nestled in a hollow in the rocks, next to the sea and the woods, huddled an old man and three young boys. They crouched by a small campfire, keeping warm as the cool night fell. A gentle breeze blew from the ocean in the east, ruffling their loose hair. Nocturnal creatures of the woods began their evening chorus. A small, round boat belonging to the old man bobbed gently on the clear green waters.

The boys leaned closer to the old man as he began to tell them stories. The legends of his people came as alive as the woods at his back. In the fading light of the dim sun, setting in a haze over the sea, the old man became more and more animated. His arms, still taut and sinewy, not yet showing the brittleness of age, described the shape of the home of the gods in the night sky, as the stars slowly faded into sight. His skin looked almost yellow from the combined light of the fire and the sunset.

He told them countless stories, relating the myths of his people. His excited whisperings were punctuated by trills and whistles from the woods. The boys stared through the campfire, rapt as the old man sang the songs of the ancients and spoke the tales of the elders. The sea breeze carried the mineral smells of salt water to them, and the crackling fire under the stars allowed the boys to envision that they, too, were the stuff of legend. Slowly, the House of the Gods took form overhead: a broad, dazzling white band, built of countless stars as if they were mere bricks, stretching across the entire sky, bright and wondrous after the disappearance of the pale, dim sun.

One of the boys spoke up, as the old man fell silent for a moment after relating another legend. “Will the gods ever visit us?” the boy asked him. The old man fell silent for a time, and then lay back against the rock, his fur providing a pillow. Wait for a moment, he told the boys, wait for a moment, and they tried to press him for an answer to the question, but the old man did not speak, and so they fell silent. One by one, the boys began to follow the old man’s gaze out to sea, and they waited expectantly. The only sounds that could be heard were the lapping of waves, the calls of the wood creatures, and the popping of the firewood. Slowly, in the east where the sun had vanished from view, the horizon began to shine. The boys, who lived in the mountains, had never seen a moonrise over the sea before. The glow on the horizon grew brighter and brighter until the edge of a hollow disc could be discerned, the color of ice. As the disc ascended, the moon in the center of the ring rose above the sea, silvery and cold, its wan light reflected in a thousand sparkles from the sea.

“This,” said the old man, “is our shepherd, the god who created all the life you see about you.”

The boys sat, dazzled. Without the glow of city lights, the moon looked almost brighter than the sun in the day, as it climbed up the heavens towards the House of the Gods. The old man told them that the moon was going to tell the other gods of his adventures that day, and would then descend back to the planet. The boy who had asked the old man the first question considered this for a while, and then spoke.

“There are other gods, and other stars, do the other gods all have their own worlds, full of people like us?”

The old man nodded thoughtfully. He told the boy that they could hardly believe their own sun to be special, it seemed as dim and far away as the closest stars, and there were so many other stars visible underneath the great band across the sky. Yes, he told the boy, there are others. And we may meet them someday, in the far reaches of time, when the gods decide to gather again.

The boy lay back on his tail, thinking of other people on other worlds under other moons, as the old man resumed his tales of ancient hunters, mythical creatures, and lost adventures yet to be rediscovered.

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