Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away…
Aviva lay in bed and waited for light to seap around the drapes that covered the windows. The knobby joints of her hands and feet ached.
A sleek black dog leaped onto the bed to lay beside her on the pile of downfilled comforters. He huffed then poked his long muzzle into the covers. She reached crooked fingers to ruffle the fur around his thick neck and brushed hair back from his brown eyes. “Not yet. Not quite yet.”
Aviva hoped it wasn’t cloudy on this shortest day. She wanted no rain or snow, only bright sun.
Outside in the meadow, everything was ready. She had been gathering and arranging the pots for weeks, some open mouths tilted to the east, others to the south, still others to the west. Every second of sunlight must be gathered. It was her gift to her people, the only gift that she, old woman of one hundred and forty-seven years, had left to give. This would be the last year she could.
The dog stiffened and vaulted off the bed. At the door, he growled.
“Aviva?” A soft voice called.
The dog looked back at her and wagged his tail. She crawled from under the covers and slipped into her skins, threw on a shawl and went to the door.
“Tarquin. I didn’t expect you.”
The boy hung his head. “Sim can say what he likes. I won’t hear him anymore. I’m here to help.”
She nodded and placed her hands on the boy’s shoulders. She peered deep into his eyes. He reached his hands up and placed them on hers. Around them, firefly lights flickered. The dying embers of the fire glowed, and crackled. Minutes passed.
“Do you understand?” Aviva finally asked.
His nod was quick. He pulled in a breath and glanced at the open door and the now graying sky. “It’s nearly time.”
The two of them, and the dog, burst from the little house, running to beat the sunrise to the meadow.
Sim waited under the giant lower branches of the elder tree. Stupid woman, stupid Tarquin. The pots were strewn everywhere, as if her ridiculous story of gathering light for the long Winter nights was true. Everyone knew that all electricity came from the Plant. The whole idea of collecting pots of light, if it could even be done, was ludricrous. It was myth, surely.
And no way that that hermit could know anything about it. Hadn’t she lived on the edge of town for more than eighty years? No one even remembered how she came to live there, who her sons and daughters were, or what had happened to them.
Just this past week, outside the youth house, she’d been telling tales, the same tales he’d heard years before from a grandmother or great elder. Fables. Myths. Catch the sun rays? Who was she kidding? And on Short Day? It made more sense to collect on Long Day, but then, light was plentiful that time of year.
The tall once-green meadow grass, now long faded into gold, rustled. A figure stepped into the field of pots. Paloma?
The girl glanced from side to side, then her look swept the edges of the meadow, searching. Sim held his breath. In the dawn, with soft light whispering across her skin, she was beautiful. His heart pounded. He had just shifted his weight to step from beneath the branches to greet her when two more people and a dog burst through the tall grass and into the meadow, not far from where Paloma stood.
The three of them looked at one another, then the dog wagged its tail as the old woman lifted her arms and folded them around the girl.
The sun rose over the horizon. The three of them moved to the far eastern side of the meadow.
As sun rays filled each jar in turn, one of them tamped the jar lid into place and set the jar upright, then moved on to the next. Hours passed; they worked on, row after row, after row.
Sim stood under the tree watching, his arms folded, his face dark.
Paloma laughed as she rushed from pot to pot next to Tarquin. They reached the last row. The sun, now low in the southwestern sky, glowed orange. Quickly, they capped the final jars then dropped to the ground beside one another. Fatigue lined their faces, and thirst thickened their tongues. Tarquin reached for Paloma’s hand and clasped it to his chest, just above his heart.
Under the tree, Sim’s blood boiled and anger filled up his head until he didn’t even hear the winter chickadees calling from the trees. Only then, when the old woman moved, did Sim see the long, low platform transporter at his end of the meadow. His fists clenched and unclenched. Where were they taking the empty pots?
Aviva walked beside the transporter. As it hovered just above the ground among the rows, the three gatherers lifted the pots onto the platform. Light began to fade from the sky.
It was only when the device, and the people, returned to his end of the now-dark meadow that Sim finally came out from under the black branches of the elder tree. “So where are you going now? Your pots are useless and your day wasted. They are empty!”
His arm swept out and knocked two pots from the transporter, and as the pots fell to the ground, the intense light they held within shown directly into Sim’s face. Every ray collected in each pot blazed into his unguarded eyes.
Sim flapped his hands in front of his face, then wailed , “I can’t see!” Tears flooded from Sim’s blinded eyes.
The old woman shook her head. Tarquin and Paloma wrapped their arms around each other. The jar lights blazed bright, then faded. In the northern sky above, a star twinkled.
“Come, then. They’re waiting for us at the Plant.” Aviva led Sim onto the transporter. Paloma and Tarquin climbed aboard, too. The machine moved across the long meadow and over the forest.
Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away…