April 29th, 2010

THE REVOLUTION (a short story) Part 1

 

THE REVOLUTION

 

 

“Don’t you wish you could see it just once in your lifetime, Lyra?”

“What?”

“The sun.”

Aquila’s face is so wistful my heart wants to break. Smoothing a patch of silver-blonde hair from her eyes, I explain, “It’s not safe, Quil. You know that.”

Staring dreamily into the night sky, trying to see something other than tiny points of light littering the dark pitch of space, my little sister sighs. “Maybe it would be worth it…”

“No! Don’t ever say that.”

The force of my words jars her from her reverie. She looks at me, sucking her lower lip between her teeth in petulance. “You don’t know,” she pouts. “Nobody knows...”

Immature for her twelve years of age, the jutting of her lips increases the severity of her angular face making her seem like a much younger child. She fixes light blue eyes—so pale they are nearly colorless—on me in an unspoken challenge. And while I can barely stand to reprimand her, it must be done.

“Nobody comes back! Every single person who has missed the locking of the vaults has disappeared without a trace. Not even their remains were found.”

She takes a minute to absorb what I have said. The moment it sinks into her child’s brain, a small shiver trembles its way up her spine. “Still…”

Even when being difficult, Quil is breathtaking in her loveliness. Pale, translucent skin with a pixie’s pointed face, tiny in stature and long straight hair that sways against her hips as she moves; she is the epitome of feminine delicacy. When she comes of age, she will have no difficulty attracting a husband.

Unlike me.

My sister’s mirror opposite, I am considered abnormally dark. Hair so yellow it is the hue of flax, a peach tint to my skin and violet eyes; I retain too much color to fit my colony’s ideal of beauty. At sixteen years of age, they have already written me off as a spinster—a destiny I’ve no choice but to accept.

In the distance, the great horn sounds. Three sharp blasts signal time to quit the colony orchard and return home before daybreak. Grabbing a final green apple from the lower branches, I consider adding it to our already full bushel before taking a small bite. The tart juice fills my mouth as I savor the crisp fruit. Two more delicious bites and then I hand the apple to Quil, sharing it in the way sisters so often do. As she finishes our snack, I pick up the heavy bushel and balance it against my hip for the short walk back to the vaults.

“Lyra, when was the last time anyone saw a sun-dweller?”

“A long time ago. Decades before our time.”

“Then how do we know they’re still out there?”

“Because… if they weren’t, those who miss the locking of the vaults would live to tell about it.”

*

“Get a move on girls! It’s nearly time to seal the vaults.” Regulus, the vault-keeper, says the same thing as we return each night. His nearly white eyes rake sharply over our brimming basket of fruit, our labors of the night. “Come on before the sun-dwellers get you and eat the flesh from your bones.”  There is comfort in his constancy.

Behind us the final warning echoes, two sharp blasts of the colony horn. At the next sounding the vaults will close, without consideration or exception, until the new night dawns.

I don’t know who first thought of constructing the vaults to protect us from falling prey to the sun-dwellers. Whoever it was lived and died generations before mine. But their legacy lives on, existing in one hundred and sixty-eight structures of impenetrable concrete that comprise the cornerstone of our modern civilization.

A final blast signifies the closing of thick steel doors followed by the soft whir of the complex locking system that give our vaults their name. Fixed with light sensors, the doors will remain sealed until night falls again. Although accustomed to life nocturnal, for a moment I cannot help but wonder what it would feel like to experience the sun.

Depositing our bushel in the massive storage room off the common area, we take our allotted rations of spring fruits and vegetables for the morning meal and wind our way through the dim catacomb-like interior to our family dwelling. Dark as a tomb, even the wash of yellow artificial light cannot dispel the gloom of the only home I’ve ever know.

Mother already has a pot simmering on the fire, ready to boil our rations into a fine stew. The fruit from previous day—raspberries and gooseberries—has been baked into a pie and now sits cooling on the rough wooden table. The heady, sweet smell permeates the air as we enter, making my mouth water.

For an instant home is pure bliss, but then angry voices from the adjoining room intrude upon the moment to remind me that today is an anniversary. And for my family, not a happy one.

“I still say we should hunt them down—kill them in their sleep.” My uncle’s harsh words are thick with wine.

“And what if they cannot be killed?” asks my father, doing his best to be the calm voice of reason despite his own overindulgence. “What if we cannot make it back to the colony before sunrise? What if we miss the locking of the vaults?”

Quil and I press closer to the doorway, eavesdropping to hear my uncle’s surly answer. “I’m not afraid of what lies beyond the fields. I’d cross our borders and face the forbidden forest to get my revenge, I would.”

A sharp wail pieces the air, followed by a muffled “there, there, dear.” The latter is my mother, doing to best to comfort her sister in her grief.

My aunt howls, “Sirius was only sixteen! He’d be a man of five and twenty now. I’d be a grandmother.”

“There, there, dear.”

Sirius, my cousin and my aunt and uncle’s only child, missed the locking of the vaults nine years ago. He never returned—cannibalized by the sun-dwellers when he was my age.

My aunt continues her just lament. “They killed my boy, my only child.”

The persistent tug of Quil on my sleeve pulls my attention back into the kitchen. Rising up on her toes she whispers to me, “What if Sirius isn’t dead? What if he lives with them?” When I don’t answer her, she clarifies, “You know, the sun-dwellers.”

Her suggestion is ridiculous! Everyone knows sun-dwellers eat their victims. It is foolish—foolish and dangerous—to indulge in fantasies to the contrary. “Don’t be daft,” I hiss at my lovely, foolish sister. “And don’t you dare say anything. It is not your place to deny them their grief.”

“Yes, Lyra.” Although she is perfectly contrite, her obeisance seems hollow. Quil has never accepted truths easily. Unconvinced by her act, I wonder what kind of delusions my silver-haired sister harbors and if they are the kind that could get her killed?

*

Next nightfall Quil and I collect our empty bushel and leftover stew and head toward the orchard with the others. Because it is harvest time, classes are suspended so that every able-bodied citizen may gather. There is much needing to be done before the imminent arrival of winter, so the entire colony works as one during harvest to ensure its survival for another year.

The atmosphere is festive as we exit the vault with our home-woven baskets and bags. For most of the students, the nights spent in the orchard are a welcome relief from the libraries with their dreary histories chronicling our civilization. The one exception is my little sister, who devours books under the illusion that if she studies hard enough, one day the mysteries of the universe will open before her like the night-blooming cereus.

I, like my classmates, have been anticipating the long fall nights spent out of doors. Tonight is especially fine. The warm wind brushes against us, its caress made sweeter by the knowledge that at any moment the temperature will plummet.

As we walk, Quil’s fine shiny hair lifts in the breeze and scatters about her like the gossamer strands of a spider’s web blowing gently in the moonlight. The soft tendrils graze my cheek like a whisper. Each burst of contact envelopes me in her clean scent of honeysuckle and soap.

Little Arcturus, who is in my sister’s class but a full head shorter than Quil, pushes past us, shouting enthusiastically, “The last one there is a foul, filthy sun-dweller!”

Tugging my sleeve to capture my attention, Quil asks in a whisper, “Lyra, why do we hate them so?”

“Because they’re horrible, depraved monsters.”

“But how do you know?” Her chin juts forward in rebellion, her pale eyes ready to reject any explanation I offer.

I want to say, our history, our leaders; our very existence teaches us so. Why would we live in the vaults, locking ourselves in by day, if it were not the truth?

But the expression on her face tells me persuasion is futile. Instead I warn, “Questions like that will only get you in trouble.”

She makes no further arguments, but as we settle into the task of picking apples I catch her furtive glances toward the forbidden forest. As usual, she does a poor job of masking her wistfulness as imprudent ideas percolate in her child’s brain.

The night goes quickly as I harvest fruit and keep a wary eye on my innocent, subversive sister. When the three sharp blasts pierce the quiet, indicating time to stop, I am surprised at the hour.

Slipping lithely from her lower branches, Quil smiles up at me, chirping, “Two hundred and three apples. I’m going to see if I picked more than Arcturus. I’ll meet you in the storage room, Lyra.”

I watch her scamper off, relived she seems to have recovered from her rebellious melancholy. As I climb down, I think about Quil and Arcturus. They are merely children—friends, for now—but when the boy matures and shoots up in height, he will be one of the most likely pursuers of Quil’s hand. My potential brother-in-law.

Agony is instantaneous. Something sharp and unpleasant skewers me. I search in vain for a weapon, the knife or sword that has cut me, but my physical body remains intact, even as my insides shred with pointless yearning.

Trying to outrun my pain, I scoop up my overflowing bushel and half-walk/half-jog back to our vault, planning to lose myself in the deep shadows of the catacombs until my lapse of self pity has run its course.

“Get a move on girl— Where’s the little one off to then?” Regulus breaks from custom to ask me a gruff question. His colorless eyes peer from beneath bushy white eyebrows waiting for a satisfactory answer.

“No worries. She returned with Arcturus. By now she’s probably waiting for me in storage.”

“Nay, Lyra. Arcturus returned alone. I witnessed it with my own eyes.”

For a minute his words have no meaning for me, so sure am I that Quil waits within. Then something clicks—the wistfulness, the furtive glances… the forest. In order to speak to Arcturus, she would’ve crossed the length of the orchard, right up to the forest’s border. Instantly, I know Quil’s true purpose was never to talk to her friend, but to slip into the forest unseen.

Trying to temper my panic, I set down my bushel saying, “She must have gotten confused. I said to meet in storage, but she must be searching for me in the orchard. I’ll go fetch her.”

Turning on my heels, I take a few brisk steps when I hear the vault-keeper’s gravelly voice at my back. “Best run, girl.”

By the time I reach the edge of the forest at the far end of the orchard I am out of breath. Despite the flaming in my lungs I push forward, moving over the uneven terrain as best I can. Pausing with my hands on my knees, I gulp down a large swallow of air and shout Quil’s name. Stumbling forward another forty paces, I pause and call out again.

Trying to put myself in her head, I attempt to think like my foolish, harebrained sister. Successfully slipping into the forest, camouflaged by densely crowded trees, where would she go? What would she want?

The sun.

Scanning the patchy horizon, I search for any type of break that would indicate a clearing, a good vantage point to see the sky by day. Guided by the break in the canopy up ahead and the growing expanse of lightening sky, I find the spot. And although I do not see her, I know instinctively she is close.

“QUIL!”

Something beyond the glade draws my eyes, a flash of silver-white movement in the shadows. “Quil! Come here this instant!”

Her eyes are huge with shame at being caught. As she steps into the clearing I go to her, gripping her shoulders so savagely my nails bite into her pale, unmarred skin. Shaking her violently, I shout, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Ow, Lyra! You’re hurting me.”

Continuing to grip and shake with excessive force, I want this child, who has never experienced the sting of discipline in her life, to hurt. As her head whips back and forth under my fury, I tell her the pain of my wrath is nothing compared to sun-dwellers. “Is that what you want Quil? To die a slow painful death as they eat you alive?” Shoving her away, I watch as she stumbles and lands hard on her backside.

Stunned by my brutality, she gazes up at me crestfallen. Fat tears slip from the rims of her eyes, rolling in colorless synchronicity down her porcelain cheeks. In a tiny broken voice she says, “I just wanted to see the sun, Lyra. Just once.”

Two sharp horn blasts piece the impending dawn. The final warning.

Quil’s already huge eyes grow impossibly wide with fear as she scrambles to her feet. “The vaults!”

In a typical child’s fashion, the implications of her impulsive behavior only register after the damage has been done. Pushing at her back to propel her forward, I order, “Run!”

Much faster than me, Quil pulls ahead before we are even out of the glade. Quick and lithe, she dodges trees as she flies over the treacherous terrain. Exhausted and awkward, I stumble in her wake, doing my best to keep pace. “Run Quil!” I shout to her. “Run fast! I am right behind you.” Up ahead I glimpse the clearing and the orchard. At a full run we will just make the vaults in time.

Finding hidden reserves of strength and speed, I push myself to go faster. Harder. I concentrate on the orchard, hurrying across the uneven ground. Suddenly my foot catches, ensnared by a thick vine. My momentum propels me forward even as my feet leave the ground. For a second everything slows as my body sails though the air, horizontal to the earth. Then the forest is rising up to meet me—or rather I am crashing down to it. A thick tree trunk fills my vision as I tumble forward. A split second before understanding sets in, I hear a deafening thwack. With horror, I realize the sound is the impact of my head striking the tree just as everything fades to black.

*

“Is she alive?”

“I think so.”

“Human?”

“Seems to be…”

“Is she—you know—one of them?”

Them? Searing pain inside my head. And worse, a piercing brightness assails my senses, blinding me. I have been lying still, but the need to shield my eyes from the invasion of light overpowers me. Wrapping my arms over my burning head, I do my best to curl into a protective ball.

“I guess we can ask her.” The voice, deep and male, is closer and I know without looking he has bent over me. His excitement, apparent yet controlled, is discernable as he inquires, “Are you a moonwalker?”

“Careful Percy,” the other voice, also male, cautions from some distance.

“Well?” the first voice, presumable Percy, demands politely.

I cannot answer. My throat is too dry and my reply comes out a strangled moan. Pain sears my body from the inside out and all I can hope, for better or worse, is it ends soon. The mercy of a quick death…

“Here.” Gently, he pushes at my hands and something dark falls over my brow. Fabric, sheer enough to see through but dark enough to filter out much of the light, covers my burning eyes.

Offering no resistance as he lifts me up, the boy ties the dark material around the back of my head. I wait for the restraints on my hands and feet that will surely follow, but instead a large hand slides down my back, applying enough pressure to raise me into a sitting position.

I try to clear my parched mouth to thank him, but it is as dry as sand. Something between a grunt and a wheeze rattles through my throat causing me to suck in oxygen like I’m suffocating.

“Cass.” Still supporting me with his hand, the first boy orders, “Some water, please.”

“I heard they only drink blood,” cautions the other but hands over the water skin anyway. The one holding me lifts the skin to my lips and I take a long, cool drink.

“Thank you,” I manage before drinking again.

“I’m Perseus.”

Despite the fabric over my eyes, I can see him clearly. Eyes the burnished brown of simmered chocolate, but with the luminescence of the harvest moon, regard me gravely from underneath dark lashes and brows. His short brown hair is the color of chestnuts and curls about his ears in soft waves. Ruddy-cheeked, his rosy flush produces twin blooms against his umber skin. Full red lips are the boy’s single feature that bears any resemblance to my people. Or to me.

“This is Cassius,” he continues, gesturing to the other several paces away. Resting back on his heels, Perseus’ large open smile—whether from fascination or the anticipation of a human meal, I cannot be certain—reveals pearly white teeth. Cassius, the other one, is much darker than his counterpart with thick ebony hair so black it is nearly blue and wary obsidian eyes.

They are so dark—so different—I cannot help but stare. “Are you sun-dwellers?”

Perseus nods. My heart speeds as terror momentarily grips me; but in my injured, mostly blind state, I realize escape is futile. So acceptance pervades…but I still have to ask, to know the worst to come.  “Are you going to kill me?”

Quirking a dark eyebrow, a wry smile tugs at the corners of Perseus’ mouth. “That depends...” Looking me over from head to toe, he demands, “Are you planning to feed on us?”

“What?” It takes me a moment to process his question. Perseus waits, clearly amused, but Cassius inches away, doing his best to keep his own terror in check. “No!” I stammer. Unable to hide my revulsion, my face screws into a disgusted grimace. Then squaring my shoulders indignantly, I add, “I only eat fruits and vegetables. You seem to be neither.”

“And drink blood,” Cassius interjects. “Everyone knows moonwalkers drink human blood.”

Feeling slightly revived, I shake my head, angrily refuting his statement. “Everyone knows sun-dwellers feed on human flesh!”

Cassius—such a darker version of his friend—opens his mouth to protest but the boy in front of me silences him with a mere gesture. “What is your name, moonwalker?”

“Lyra.” I stick my chin out proudly. Preparing for a fight, I tense my muscles, determined not to be easy prey for these cannibals despite my weakened state.

“Cassius.” Perseus turns to his swarthy friend. “Do you promise not to eat Lyra’s flesh?”

“Of course I won’t—eat her flesh, I mean—ridiculous lies!”

Turning back to regard me, he asks with mock severity. “And Lyra, do you vow not to drink Cassius’ blood?”

“How many times must I tell you, I don’t drink blood.”

“Perfect.” Perseus looks from his friend to me with a satisfied grin. “Now that we have cleared things up, how about we get down to the business of knowing one another?”

Cassius frowns, his dark countenance becoming even blacker. “How did you come to be in the forbidden forest?”

“Maybe it’s not forbidden for her kind, Cass.”

“It is,” I assure them. “I didn’t mean to be in the forest.”

“Then why are you?” Again, Cassius’ sharp questioning.

“My sister, uh, wandered off. I went after her. Fell. Hit my head.” Raising my hand gingerly to above my right temple, I locate the spot of impact, flinching as my fingers make contact with the tender skin.

“Let me.” Perseus’ voice is gentle as he kneels forward filling my vision. He is larger than the boys in my colony; taller, as well as broader, with compact, sinewy muscles. “May I?” he asks, waiting for permission before touching my head. Up close he smells like exotic spices. It is a good, clean scent.

Carefully he parts the hair above my temple. “No blood, that is good.”

Applying pressure he assesses the area around lump, at the same time pulling back to stare anxiously at my face, gauging my reaction. Locking his dark, foreign eyes with mine, his intensity bores deep into me. My stomach clenches, twisting until it does a funny little flip. Suddenly, I wish I had as good an excuse as a head wound to touch him. Instead I fist my hands at my sides, wondering if sun-dwellers can see into a person’s soul.

Although his hands are gentle, when he reaches the raised, tender lump, I flinch and sway. Reacting, he reaches with his other hand to steady me, gripping my shoulder. The movement brings our faces within inches of one another. I cannot help but stare at his dark brows, his ruddy complexion, and his full lips—so like mine.

Perseus’ eyes are alight with curiosity, roaming over me as well. “Your hair,” he murmurs. “It’s like you swallowed sunlight.”

Over Perseus’ shoulder, the other boy scowls. “Percy, we should get back.”

Surprised by the intensity crackling between us, Perseus and I freeze, but neither makes any move to back away from the other. Quietly, I ask, “What time is it?”

“Past midday.”

“Day?” I question.

Cassius interrupts, his scornful tone heavy with derision. “Don’t you even know what day is?”

“Of course I know what day is. It’s just I’ve never—seen—it before.”

“A moonwalker,” he scoffs, “which is why we need to go.” Cassius takes an impulsive step forward, as if meaning to forcibly drag his friend away. “We’ve been gone too long as it is.”

Perseus stares at me, a silent question dancing in his eyes. The intensity returns as he says, “You go, Cass. Cover for me. Tell them I am out in the far pastures.”

Clearly uneasy about leaving his friend, Cassius tosses him a worn, canvas bag, admonishing, “Make sure you get home before the closing of the repositories.”

“Repositories?” Such a strange word, I cannot help but echo it.

“Our dwellings,” Perseus explains. “They seal at sunset for our protection. Once the repositories close, there’s no way to open them until the new morn.”

His repositories, I think, so similar to our vaults… so similar that I have a crazy, illogical idea. Could the same person be responsible for both? And if so, what does it mean? Could we have more in common with the sun-dwellers then we ever imagined?

“Percy-”

“Go Cass.”

Dismissing his friend with a vague wave of his hand, Perseus’ eyes never stray from mine. In my veiled state, I sense, rather than see, the darker boy leave. In his wake the forest is quiet, heavy with expectancy and something else—something more powerful I can’t quiet put my finger on.

Perseus continues to stare without speaking, consumed as if he wants something he is unable to vocalize. When I can not longer stand the intensive quiet, I ask, “Why did you stay?”


The Revolution part 2 http://careycorp1.livejournal.com/862.html

THE REVOLUTION (A shorty story) Part 2

 

THE REVOLUTION  part 2
 


               “You can’t return to your people until tonight and I didn’t think it prudent to leave you alone.” A small self-aware smile lights his face. “This must seem a strange world to you.”

“A little,” I confess. Just then something flitters between us. Something small and vibrant and so orange I think it will burst into flame any second. “What is that?”

“Haven’t you ever seen a butterfly before?”

I shake my head. “It is like our moth but more colorful. Beautiful.”

“I’ve heard of moths but never seen one. In theory I guess they would be very similar.” He gazes at me thoughtfully, his chocolate eyes shimmering with anticipation. “I know a meadow, deeper in the forest, where there are hundreds—maybe thousands—of butterflies. Would you like to see it?”

“Very much.”

Helping me to my feet, he shoulders his bag before placing his hand firmly on my elbow. “Take your time,” he cautions. “And lean on me as much as you need.”

I have never been so close to a boy for an extended length, at least not with the kind of tangible awareness that Perseus elicits. Not knowing what to say, I remain mute.

My silence causes him pull me closer. Lifting his hands to my hair, he adjusts my veil. “Can you see all right?” he asks. Then thinking aloud, he frowns, “Maybe I should carry you.” His fingers linger around my ears, lightly stroking my hair.

Afraid he is about to heft me over his shoulders, I take a step back and away from his touch. “I can walk.”

Tipping his head to one side, he narrows his eyes as if considering whether or not to overrule me. “Fine,” he pronounces. “But you will lean on me.” When I open my mouth to protest, he declares, “it is far,” putting an end any argument.

Picking our way over the difficult landscape—hidden crevices, steep inclines, jagged rocks and soft pits of mud—Perseus holds my arm, guiding me away from peril and keeping me upright when I lose my footing.

Along the way he points out foliage, insects, and the occasional animal as it crosses our trail. When our path become a sharp ascent, he remarks, “It is not long now—just at the top of this rise.”

Straining to glimpse our destination, I see nothing but trees and thick underbrush. The severity of our incline halts our conversation as our efforts turn to the simple task of climbing. Mere feet from the crest of the hill, I see a single butterfly—an explosion of orange against the gloomy grays and dark greens of the forest.

Then ahead, crystalline brightness beckons as the sun-dappled meadow comes into view. Vibrant green grass is dotted with yellow and red flowers and the dancing orange of hundreds—maybe thousands—of flitting butterflies. It is everything Perseus promised and more…

As if sensing my overwhelmed state, my companion stops, quietly letting me absorb the beauty as it unfolds before my unaccustomed eyes. When I have looked my fill, I turn my attention to the boy beside me. The captivated delight I feel for the meadow is mirrored on his burnished face… but instead of focusing on the scene in front of us, his attention is singularly on me. My stomach does another funny little flip as I register the intense pleasure emanating from his eyes.

Breaking into a wide smile, he inquires, “Ready to go forward?” When I nod, he takes my arm and leads me the final steps into the achingly beautiful clearing. Stopping in the center of the meadow, he instructs, “Put you arms out, like this.”

Copying his posture, I lift my arms away from my body, palms up.

“Good. Now stay very still.”

After a long moment, a flame-colored butterfly perches on the tip of my finger. Then another one lands… and another… Soon I am covered with the tiny creatures. In amazement, I glance at Perseus, who despite being covered with his own butterflies, stares at me in awe. I cannot help but smile at him, at the expression on his face that makes me feel so special.

A gust of wind stirs the colorful insects and we are enveloped in a vibrant, orange cloud. As they flutter away, Perseus takes the pack from his shoulder and produces a thick woolen blanket. “I think we should rest and eat.” Then retreating a few steps, he picks a heavily shaded patch of emerald grass.

I watch as he arranges the blanket on the earth, then lays out bread, a blob of white with which I am unfamiliar, and raspberries. My stomach rumbles in approval and I realize it has been a long time since I’ve eaten. Spreading the white paste onto a chunk of bread, he beckons me, holding out the food as an enticement. “Here.”

Coming to sit beside him, I take the offering and inspect it. “What did you put on the bread?”

“Goat’s cheese.” At the lack of recognition on my face he asks, “Don’t your people make cheese?”

Shaking my head negatively I reply, “No. We do occasionally roast goats though. But meat is scarce, so we only prepare it for the approved holidays.”

“This cheese is made from the milk of the goat,” he explains. “Try it.”

I do, letting the creamy texture of the cheese coat my taste buds. Perseus watches me attack the morsel with obvious gusto before pressing a response. “Well?”

“Delicious.”

“Good – have more.”

Taking another generous piece, I inquire, “What about you? Aren’t you going to have any?”

Delicately nibbling on a raspberry he says, “Not at the moment, so please eat your fill.”  While I gobble up more bread and cheese and a fair bit of the raspberries, Perseus divides his attention between me and the visible expanse of sky. “The sun is far in the west,” he proclaims. “It will be evening soon.” In the waning light, the forest is full of deep, lengthening shadows.

“Hold still, Lyra.” Reaching around me, he removes the filmy fabric from my head and, lifting my chin, stares into my unveiled eyes. His own chocolate ones are uniquely expressive, not the cold, pale orbs I am used to. Emotions and thoughts flicker across the canvas of his brown eyes beckoning to me.

Sweeping his gaze outward, he focuses on my flaxen hair. “May I?” He waits for my consent before delicately capturing a fine strand between his thumb and forefinger. With a gentle tug he examines its silky softness before leaning in to inhale my hair’s rose-water scent. His exhale is a low sigh, nearly a hum. “You’re… so different.”

“I’m yellow,” I admit with resignation. My awareness has always been such that his description carries no sting. “Most of my kind are silvery-white, like the moon. I am too dark to be considered a beauty.”

“Dark?” Perseus gives his head a gentle shake. “No, not dark…” He peers at me with his fathomless eyes, his finger twining around the lock of my hair. “And you are not yellow. You are golden, like shimmering sunshine. And so soft.”

His pronouncement causes strange sensations to radiate through my insides, like I’ve swallowed a handful of moths that now beat madly to get out. “I guess compared to you and Cassius, I am not that dark.”

Frowning over my shoulder into the distance, he purses his lips, musing over some memory only he is able to see. “I have always been the most adventurous of my friends, stronger and more daring, too. But it is Cassius who captures the girls’ fancies. Compared to his perfect dark features, I am nothing.” In that moment he seems sad and lost—and my heart wants to break for him.

“You are not ‘nothing.’ You are handsome, like the heroes of old. When I look at you I am reminded of our ancient stories and my chest aches from beauty of it.”

“And you,” he murmurs solemnly. “Like something out of a fairie tale, something elusive and pure.”

From deep within the forest, a bird calls and is answered by another. Although the light wanes, it is impossible for me to judge the evening’s passage. “What time do you think it is?”

“Almost night. You can go back to your people soon.”

“And you should return to yours…”

Eyes—so dark—large and grave, pierce me as his mouth broadens into a rueful smile. “I’m thinking it is past time I experience this night of yours. For so long I’ve wondered; I’ve dreamt about the night. The dream is too close to give up now.”

And despite the terror I am certain grips my family—likely my entire colony—concerning my fate, I say, “I don’t need to go home yet. I have until dawn to return to the vaults.”

“So, you’ll stay with me?”

A small thrill flutters low in my stomach at the expectancy in his deep voice. “If you wish it.”

“Yes.”

Such a simple word, deep and soft yet uttered with a hard conviction. Perseus’ “yes” steals my breath away.

When I am able to breathe again, I inquire, “Does the twilight frighten you?”

“A little.” His guileless admonition touches undiscovered places in my heart. “My whole life I’ve been taught to dread the dark. To abhor the moonwalkers.”

“And do you?”

He laughs to himself before gazing at me from beneath his dark lashes to share his thoughts. “I could no more fear you than my own self.”

“My people are as afraid of the sun-dwellers. Even at night their fear keeps them inside the colony borders and away from the forest. We should be safe here, in this meadow. If you like, I will show you our constellations and tell you the stories of our ancient ones.” When he nods, I add, “Although, now that night is falling, we should probably move to the center of the clearing.”

Perseus stands—a deft, powerful movement filled with grace—and offers me his large hand. His warm touch feels heats my whole body. Tiny currents of electric awareness spark where his skin touches mine and tingle up the length of my arm. After I have gained my feet, he continues to hold my fingers. When I start to move his grip stops me, pulling me back to him.

His burnished brown eyes are feverish as he searches my face, eyes lingering on my mouth before snapping back upwards. “Have you even been kissed?”

“No.” I swallow down the lump that lodges in my throat. “You?”

Shaking his head back and forth, he sadly confesses, “All the girls want to kiss Cassius. Never me.”

The pain he feels is twin to my own. Lonely and rejected, we are incomplete souls without hope of solace. Wanting to ease his suffering, I admit, “Nobody wants to kiss me either.”

His eyes drift downward, back to my lips. He swallows. “I do.”

Turning quickly, I wrench my hand away and walk to the center of the clearing. As Perseus follows, I stare at the rose-colored sky, memorizing my first sunset. Continuing to stare straight ahead, I feel his fingertips twine with mine. And I’ve never dared to dream—never even hoped—of having a moment like this. A boy at my side who wants to kiss me… Part of me is dying to taste his full, warm lips but another part is terrified, not of being kissed but of returning to my people and my loveless future with the memory of Perseus’ kisses burned into my brain.

Rough fingers gently graze my cheek as he brushes the hair from my face. “Don’t you want me to kiss you, Lyra?”

I want to answer no…and yes.

Staring in indecision, the compulsion to touch him, to run my fingers through his chestnut hair becomes all-encompassing. Raising a trembling hand, I tentatively graze his temple. His hair is course and thick but surprisingly soft. In the moment, Perseus’ eyes close as he leans into my caress. Of its own volition, my other hand snakes around his neck to cup the back of his head. This brings our faces closer together, mere inches apart, my nose level with his chin.

When his eyes open again, my answer is written on my face. Tipping forward, my sun-dweller brushes his lips against mine, as soft and fleeting as our orange butterflies. Then he pulls back the space of a breath. “More?” he asks uncertainly.

“Yes.” My heart hammers in my throat as insides quiver and flip with the after effects of his whisper kiss.

Perseus cups my face, slowly kissing each corner of my mouth before pressing his lips fully to mine. My senses fill with raw heat and exotic spices, with the essence that is uniquely this boy. His exploration starts slow, as he traces the shape of my mouth with his tongue before capturing my bottom lip between his own. The electricity, the headiness of what is occurring, makes me anxious to begin my own discovery. My tongue darts between his parted lips, to start its own dance. He tastes of raspberries.

After I have been thoroughly kissed, his head drops to rest hotly against my neck. His panting breath rushes in and out, stirring my sensitive skin. Leaning my check against his wavy hair, I am content to just breathe him in.

When he finally looks at me his lips are swollen with kissing. Tracing my lips with a fingertip, he chuckles in a way leading me to believe mine are similarly affected. What now? After kissing like that what comes next? Not in the physical sense, but for the sun-dweller and the moonwalker, where do we go from here?

Seeing the askance in my eyes, he presses a kiss to the back of my hand in a kind of reassurance. His shimmering eyes penetrate mine as he admits, “I’ve never seen a sunset. Have you Lyra?”

“No.”

Fetching our blanket he lays it out in the center of the meadow. Reclining in the center he reaches for me. Sinking to the ground, my body relaxes against him, my curves fitting perfectly against his hard angles, sharing his heat. My head comes to rest in the crook of his arm.

He does not kiss me again and I am glad of it. Easily I could lose myself in Perseus’ kisses. Forget my people, my home, my family, even Quil…

As if reading my thoughts he says, “Tell me of you home, your family.” I tell him everything about my life in the vaults. Of my parents and my young, subversive sister with her no longer so foolish ideas. Of the all-encompassing fear that governs our colony. Of my aunt and uncle, and grief so ragged it can only be tempered by strong drink. When I get to the part about Sirius, Perseus smoothes his fingers against my hair.

“But sun-dwellers have never been what your people believe them to be. So what happened to your cousin?”

“I don’t know.” That is the truth.

“Perhaps he got lost in the forest or attacked by animals?”

Lifting my head to look down at him, I reply with shrug, “It is a mystery. Now tell me about your family.”

Hovering above him, I watch as her talks animatedly about his parents and three younger brothers, about life in the repositories, and the livestock in the pastures. When he broaches the subject of Cassius, his features cloud.

Remembering the look on his face when he admitted the girls all want to kiss his best friend and not him, I cannot help but kiss away the tiny puckers on his brow. Continuing my ministrations, I kiss his eyelids, his high cheekbones, his nose and chin, before coming to rest against his lips. “I only want to kiss you, Perseus,” I whisper against his mouth. “Only you.”

Some minutes later, when we return to our senses, Perseus points upward. By now the sky has darkened allowing the first stars of the evening to appear in the purple-blue sky. Somewhere in the distance an owl hoots. With a sly smile, he recalls, “I believe I was promised nighttime stories.”

For much of the night I lay across his chest, pointing out formations in the heavens above and telling my people’s ancient tales. Once the stories have all been told, we grow quiet, content to listen to the intermingled beating of our hearts as we hold one another.

“I can’t bear the thought of the night coming to an end.” We have been so quiet for such a length of time, that the deep timbre of his voice startles my train of thought, yet, I understand perfectly—for his feelings are my own.

Covering his hand with mine, I search for his face in the darkness, resigning myself to what must inevitably happen. “Eventually we have to return to our people, you to your repositories and me to the vaults.”

With a pensive, far away look he muses, “Maybe I will stay out here for another day. Then at night, you could come to me again.”

I like the idea, more than I care to admit. But it seems terribly selfish to make his people worry needlessly. Still… If they already fear the worst, will another day really matter? “Won’t they come looking for you?”

“No, they’re terrified of the forest.”

“But Cassius, after he explains—”

“—they’ll be even more afraid. That a moonwalker is in the forest by day will make them more petrified to venture outside our borders. And Cassius—when he is finished telling his tale—will probably make it seem like I was enchanted away.” Before I can comment he shakes his head, pronouncing, “No—they will write me off for dead.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry for me, be sorry for them.” And I am sorry for them. The same way I am sorry for my own colony. For my aunt and uncle, for my parents and all those who live in mortal fear of the sun-dwellers.

Sun-dwellers…

My thoughts turn to Perseus, and when I realize he is staring, he winks at me. “And I was by the way.”

“Was what?”

“Enchanted away.”

He pulls me forward for another kiss and the night fades. Sometime later, as he cradles me to his chest, arms wrapped tight around my trembling frame, I have the kind of fantastical thought worthy of Quil. “What if we don’t go back? Ever. What if we keep going deeper into the forest?”

Stroking my hair, he asks, “Then what?”

“I don’t know... We’ll find our way as we go.”

For a moment he gravely examines my face, and then stands, lifting me with him. “Okay.” He folds the blanket, returning it to his sack. “I couldn’t go back now anyway… Not without you. I don’t suppose your people would welcome me any more than mine would embrace you.” My mind flashes to Regulus, to my uncle and some many others in the vaults bound by hatred. When I shake my head, he brushes his lips over mine. “So we find our own way. Together.”

Moving past the meadow, we pick our way through the darkness down the far side of the hill, searching the horizon for an indication of the breaking dawn. We walk for a very long time, but it is a good kind of walking. Hand in hand, Perseus and I move toward our shared destiny.

Finally birds begin to wake, calling out to one another in greeting. In the dusky haze preceding the rising of the sun, we see an opening through the canopy of trees up ahead. Gray tendrils of smoke rising lazily into the sky confirm we are not alone.

Drawing closer, a small rustling makes us freeze warily in our tracks. A small child—neither dark not pale, but somewhere in between—with tousled, caramel hair and bright emerald eyes emerges from underneath a bush to stare at us. Before I can open my mouth, the child puts his finger to his lips in warning. Silence…

“Castor!”

Perseus grips my hand tightly, his protective energy rolling over me in tense waves.

“Castor.”

A man, clearly in pursuit of the child, weaves his way through the underbrush, coming to an abrupt halt behind the child with a triumphant grin. “There you are. I found you.”

The boy giggles and I realize his warning has been part of a game. Hide and seek. Perseus relaxes his grip but doesn’t let go as we wait for events to unfold.

Although he bears little resemblance in coloring, I can only surmise the smiling man before us is the boy’s father. His angular face is fair, yet ruddier than mine, his fine silver-white hair gathered into a band at the nape of his neck and pale colorless eyes… Watching him scoop the smiling child into his thin arms, recognition dawns. “Sirius?”

Thinking himself alone with his child, he whirls on us, blinking at me in surprise. “Lyra? Is that you?” When I nod in confirmation he exclaims, “I’d know your flaxen hair anywhere.” With a broad, welcoming smile, he regards Perseus and me. “So you found us, cousin!”

Continuing to stare, I stammer, “But—but you’re dead. A victim of the sun-dwellers.”

His booming laugh causes me to jump. “I didn’t die, Lyra. I left. But you’re right about one thing, I did fall victim to the sun-dwellers, one at least. My wife Miram.”

From behind Sirius steps a dark woman of equal height as my cousin. Coppery skin, sleek ebony curls, and large onyx eyes, she is more lovely and exotic than I could’ve ever imagined. At first shy, her dark curving brows arch in surprise as she regards my companion. “Perseus?”

“Hello Miram.” Percy’s still swollen lips quirk in amusement. “I am relived to discover you did not fall victim to the moonwalkers and their insatiable lust for blood as our colony feared.” As I open my mouth to protest he gives me a playful wink, his hand wrapping possessively around my waist.

“The only thing I fell victim to was my desire to see the night sky… Well, that and Sirius.” Linking her arm through her husbands, she graces him with a radiant smile.

My long-lost cousin kisses his wife’s dark cheek, his pale eyes full of adoration. Then turning attention back to us, he beckons, “Come and meet the people of our settlement.”

Looking from Miram to Perseus to Sirius in confusion, I frown. “I don’t understand… What are you? Are you and your people sun-dwellers or moonwalkers?”

“Neither,” he pronounces with a laugh. “And both. We live as the ancients, before the divide. A life spanning daybreak and nightfall. Lived in harmony and without fear. That’s the most important thing Lyra. Without fear of one another, we truly live.”

*

In the breaking dawn I gaze expectantly toward the thick tangle of forest straining to catch a glimpse of silver-white movement in the shadows. It is my daily ritual, waiting for the day Quil’s curiosity—her hope—will lead her to this place.

“Good morning.” Perseus slips up behind me, greeting me with a tender kiss on the sensitive skin behind my ear. Wrapping his strong, sinewy arms around my waist, his rough hands come to rest on my swollen belly. Our child, nearly ready to come into this world, kicks from within. A greeting to his father.

As he does each new morning, Percy whispers into my ear, “She’ll find her way. Faith Lyra.”

I do have faith, because out of us all, Quil was the one to feel the truth, instinctive yet tangible in her heart. One morning soon she will emerge from the forest, guided by her belief in something better, to embrace the new world that waits for her. A revolutionary world—without fear—where moonwalkers and sun-dwellers exist together, free to live each and every moment of the earth’s turning in harmony and love.

 

THE END