’Round the Mountain
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes…
We’ll go out to meet her when she comes…
“Have you ever seen it before?” Little Emma asked her grandmother.
“When I was about your age,” her grandmother said with a soft smile.
“I can’t imagine a world without the moon,” said Ben, a few years older than Emma, forgetting to try to be cool about the upcoming event.
It had been ten long years of night. The world was lit by the glowing moon that never waxed or waned, turning the landscape of the small town nestled between the feet of three mountains into world of blues and purples and greys.
“When I was your age I said the same thing about the coming of the moon,” Ben and Emma’s mother said. They were seated around a scrubbed wooden table in their family home, Father and Mother at each end, and the children facing the large picture window with eyes wide.
“I’m going to be at work a lot more,” their father said.
“Why?” Ben asked.
“We have to make sure the solar factories are working perfectly. We need to be able to store as much sunlight as possible before the next lunar season. It’s what powers the city.”
“Not having to constantly have the lights on is going to be a nice change,” Mother said.
“I can’t wait to plant my roses,” grandmother said, a wide smile splitting her face.
In the kitchen off to the side of the dining room, a thin screeching started. Mother got up to take the kettle off the range and pour the hot chocolates, Emma racing into the kitchen behind her and grabbing the whipped cream out of the fridge.
“I’ll go downtown to buy sunscreen tomorrow,” Mother said.
“If there’s any left,” Father said with a dry chuckle, coming into the kitchen to help carry the full mugs.
“I know, I should have gone last week. But it’s coming sooner than any of us thought.”
“We all thought we had more time,” grandmother agreed.
“What’s sunscreen?” Ben asked, taking gulp of the cocoa and licking the whipped cream moustache from his face.
Emma clambered back into her chair, and stared with wide eyes as her father described how your skin can burn and sting and even peel off if you don’t protect yourself from the sun.
“So the sun is bad?” Emma was too young to picture any world other than the one she knew. She wrung her tiny hands, pulling her nightgown over her knees that were curled up to her chest, as though hiding under the covers.
“No, no. It isn’t evil or dangerous. You’ll love it. The sky will be bright, and the evenings golden, but it will never be perfectly dark. Not for a long time. You’ll be able to feel the warmth of it on you, just sitting outside.”
“One thing I haven’t missed, the heat,” grandmother grumbled.
“I can’t wait to not have to pile sweaters on,” Ben said excitedly.
“Well, it shouldn’t be long now, we might as well hit the road once we’re done our drinks,” Mother said.
Father looked at the clock that hung on the wall behind his head, and was surprised to see that it was nearing six in the morning already.
They finished their drinks, dressed, turned all the lights off in their cozy home for the first time in the children’s memory, flicked on some flashlights, and made their way to the streets.
Despite the early hour, the streets were packed with the residents of Canyon Springs. Everyone was wearing light jackets, and children were talking excitedly of what they imagined a golden world would look like.
Grandmother was looking around her, committing everything to memory. The way the pavement was a dark and sombre grey, the deep indigo of the sky, the smattering of stars that twinkled merrily. The owls that could always be heard hooting, the silver light of the moon through thin, veiny leaves. The way houses themselves seemed to sleep. She would miss it, indeed.
“I think a golden world would be magical,” Emma was saying. “If everything was gold, you could cut it up and buy things.”
“It won’t be real gold, idiot,” Ben said, exasperated.
“Benjamin,” Father said, though he was smiling.
“Everything will be bright and colourful, like your picture books,” Mother said warmly.
As they walked, passing the houses and entering the downtown where small shops and restaurants sat, windows unlit, their neighbours joined them, and they paraded in the dark down to city hall, in the centre of town in the heart of the mountains.
“Here, live at the scene, we will broadcast the rising sun, for all you sleepyheads who couldn’t make it down here yourself!” A camera man was saying, clearly thrilled that he’d been chosen for the prestigious job of introducing the sun to the world of morning news television.
“Ready to work like slaves, Paul?” A man said to Emma’s father, slapping him on the back.
“The overtime will be killer, but the money will be nice,” Father said bracingly.
“I heard they want to try a new storage method, gonna have a bunch of engineers come in to build it,” the man said.
“Course. Their motto is ‘if it ain't broke, fix it anyway.’” The two men laughed.
“How will we know where to look?” Emma asked, looking up at her mother.
“You’ll know. The sky will get lighter, on one side of the mountains.”
“That’s weird,” said Ben.
“It’ll get all yellow and light blue,” grandmother said. “I should have brought a chair,” she added with a sigh, folding her thin arms across her chest.
Ben and Emma wandered over to the large, round fountain at the centre of town square. It had been empty their whole lives, and so really just looked like a large cement basin, with a statue of some important man sticking out of the middle. The local children were running around the ledge and playing.
“My dad said since it hasn’t rained in a a while, the sky might look scarlet,” one of Emma’s classmates was telling her. He was an obnoxious little boy, with a turned-up nose, and seemingly permanent jam stains on his cheeks.
“That’s silly, how could a sky be red.”
“He said red skies at morning are a sailor’s warning,” the boy said defensively, as though this were an obvious truth.
“We haven’t got any sailors,” Emma said, glaring at him.
But as they bickered, an anxious murmur broke out, rippling across the crowd.
“Why is it doing that?” Hushed voices were saying.
“Have we angered it?” A woman said, fear making her voice high and constricted.
“It isn’t a person. It’s a ball of gas,” said a tired, bored sounding man.
“Here at the scene of the Rise, locals wonder what the odd colour could mean,” the news-reporter was saying in harsh, quick tones, as though he was reporting a robbery.
“Here with me now is Brenda, who thinks it’s angry. Tell us about this, Brenda.”
“Well, Tom, I’ve read that if the sky burns red it means that we’ve angered the gods. It means that we’ve been evil, we’ve sinned, and punishment shall reign down upon our heads.”
“That was Brenda, with a religious outlook,” said Tom, the camera following him away from her to find someone else in the crowd, a smirk tugging at his the corners of his mouth.
“Hello, Sir, how are you? Do you have a theory?” Tom the newsman thrust the microphone into a man’s face.
“Well, my dad, he was a sailor, see…”
“That’s my dad,” said the jam-faced boy to Emma.
“…and he always told me that if the sky was red, ’specially at dawn, there’d be rain.”
“Rain isn’t red,” someone from the crowd shouted, and people tittered and jeered.
“Could be, could be,” Tom said, trying to comfort the man who now looked embarrassed.
“Angry gods, rain, anyone else think they know why the sky is red?”
As this commotion had been going on, Emma hurried back to her family. She stood with her back pressed against her mother’s legs, her brother close on her right. They exchanged nervous glances. This was not the golden surprise they had been promised.
Above the peaks of the mountain the sky was blanketed with clouds that rippled and swayed, and were turned the colour of burning embers and ash. In contrast, the face of the mountain was deep, angry black. The world the children had known their whole lives as blue and purple and silver, as friendly and sleepy, had morphed in a matter of minutes. It was as though someone had lit the mountains ablaze, and the flames were licking over the town.
“Daddy said it could burn,” Emma squeaked to Ben, as hot tears made her eyes itch. She scrubbed her knuckles across her face.
“What’s that, little girl?” She hadn’t noticed that Tom was standing behind them, and he’d heard Emma’s shy comment. He squatted, and she looked at the crusty makeup caked on his face for the camera, smelled the old coffee and cheap cologne, and did not like Tom the newsman. She pushed back against her mother’s knees, ducking her chin to avoid looking at him.
“Don’t be shy, do you know about the sky?” She peered over his shoulder and saw the camera trained on her. She swallowed nervously, and leaned forward.
“My dad told me the sun could burn you if you’re not careful. It looks like the sky is on fire. I’m scared we’ll burn.”
“Goes well with the angry gods theory, I guess,” Tom said as he stood, apparently having heard enough out of little Emma. She was relieved not to have to say more.
“Look!” Came a shout from someone on the other side of the fountain. Again, whispers and mutterings ricocheted through the rapt audience as they all watched the sky, for at the very peak of the mountain, what appeared to be the bottom of the sky, the angry red was giving way to a bright orange peppered by warm pinks.
“The fire’s goin’ out, little girl,” said Emma’s father’s friend from work, smiling down at her. She said nothing, continuing to stare.
The strip of orange and pink seemed to be getting higher and higher, and the red clouds morphed to purples and yellows, as though a foggy rainbow was engulfing the whole scene.
The orange got less foggy. It grew sharp, and bright, and yellow, and Emma thought of a searing yellow blade cutting through the clouds. Tears burned her eyes, and she squinted, determined not to miss a second.
“Here we go, folks, are you getting this?” Tom said, his hand shielding his eyes.
“She’ll be coming ’round the mountain, any second now,” said the man who’s father was a sailor.
With bated breath the people of Canyon Springs watched as the sun pulled itself into the sky, up through the clouds from behind the mountain. The black face of the rock slowly turned from ebony, to graphite, to light grey, and for the first time ever Emma realized that there was snow at the tops, which immediately glistened from the heat of the great golden orb. The sky was still transforming, purples and oranges giving way to bright, happy blues. The moody, dark clouds became fluffy white, making Emma think of the whipped cream on her hot chocolate that morning. She looked at Ben, and was shocked to see that he didn’t look happy.
“What’s wrong, isn’t it great?” Emma asked.
“Where did the stars go?” She blinked, and looked back up at the sky, and realized he was right. They were gone. They’d always been there, and while everyone had told them the moon would be missing, no one had warned them about the stars.
“They’re still there, next to the moon,” grandmother said, smiling a little sadly at them.
“They’ve earned their rest.”
“I’ll miss finding pictures in them,” Ben said, though he looked reassured.
“You can do that with the clouds,” his father said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Everyone stayed in the square for about a half an hour, making sure the sun was good and steady, before slowly dispersing to go back to their lives, flashlights hanging uselessly by their sides, some of them taking their jackets off and slinging them over their shoulders. The years of night had come to a close, and as they bathed in the new warmth radiating down on them, none could help the smiles spreading on their faces.