The Moonlit Path
She left on the fifth day of winter, a few hours before sunset and I never saw her with these eyes again. With other eyes, I would be luckier.
The mountains seemed to loom into my small valley all the more as the shadows got longer in the day. The day she walked out the door and down the path and between he two beech trees at the pass, they all but leaned over my little habitat and fell over, crushing the greenhouse, and the fish pond, and my small reading room with paper books down to uncluttered rubble.
I read somewhere in my small library of randomly stumbled upon volumes that in a past time, on an island state called Japan, the locals had built their houses from paper and light materials to minimise the damage from the regular Earth tremors they experienced. My home was not built to withstand any violent geology but rather to fit well into the small explorer vehicle I’d driven into the valley in, before I’d decided to set up camp and not move out again.
My body was withering away. The long journey down to these abandoned shores, the long cycles of sleep and waiting beyond the whorls that revolved around this lively star had taken their toll. Mostly, I was tired. I wanted the wandering to stop and this seemed like an idyllic corner of the universe to let my life take root for one last time before the last journey into the infinite after.
“What are you thinking?”
Her voice held a mild amusement as she lightly kissed my leathery forehead.
My eyes finally focussed on the room and the last of the sunlight of late afternoon streaming in from over the trees, and they found her light auburn hair shimmering at their edges in the golden glow of the valley’s twilight hours.
“I thought I saw our valley from high up in the sky”, I said, absently looking up at the skylight in the roof.
“You did,” she dismissed, when we were still surveying. Seemed like years ago now after we built it and stayed here.
“No, this was … not that.” I mumbled.
“I’ll get you something to drink,” she said and hurried into the adjacent room.
“I looked out the window and noticed specks of shadow on the tips of the trees catching the light and then they were gone, leaving an unknown longing.
She was young, even after all the centuries, which she’d mostly spent in sleep. She didn’t want to admit I was fading. In spite of the drugs and the regeneration radiations and the cellular repair rituals, it seemed I was just giving up, letting go.
It was just a year since we’d settled into our new home. In the early days we’d ventured out often, gathering food and ideas and history. With time I went out less and less often and finally the valley became my castle, the high passes my walls and the trees my sentinels for strangers riding down the road who would never come.
She continued to go out of the valley every lunar cycle or so. The nights when the moon was bright, she could explore longer and she’d come back several times with stories of far away cities in ruin and mysterious structures on the horizon that she’d love to see and record.
Her stories were what carried me along and yet the light of autumn grew dimmer in the valley and the winter swept over my eyes and I saw the end was near.
“You must find your way,” I whispered to her one night as she sat over my bed, reading an old tome on making friends. She seemed very engrossed in a subject she may never have any opportunity to practice on this rock.
She carefully closed the book, holding her place in it with a light finger.
“Are you asking me to leave?”
“Suggesting”, I said, looking meekly at her with a smile.
“If you are to find your way past this temporary haven of hours, perhaps some of those cities you’ve told me about are where you should go. Find transportation, find a way out. Survive. Learn!”
She smiled sadly at the thought, with visions in her eyes of sparkling towers, and she held my arm tight with moist eyelids in the firelight,
When she left that evening, weeks later, all her provisions were ready for a long journey. She had waited at my side for two days while I drifted in and out of sense and sleep.
“You spoke of the sky again,” she said when my eyes at last opened beyond a sliver.
“What is a kragan?” She wondered.
“An old fairy tale of my youth,” I coughed. “A mysterious beast of sinew and feathers that carries those who die in travel into the next journey.
“You said it out loud several times over these days,” she sniffed. “I should stay with you.”
“No, I’ll be fine. I don’t know what’s happening to me. Our medic systems have no answers, but I know I’ll be fine and it’s time to end this retreat and find our way again among the space dust.
She stood, held me tight for many minutes and with a kiss on my eyes she left.
In the stupor of days and nights my eyes were lost and one night I woke up with a new clarity. The moon shone down brightly upon the trees and somehow I could see down over them. they spread out in every direction except one where a small dirt path seemed to snake away far down below my perch.
It was there that I spotted her again, marching between the trees with her eyes gently on the next rise. My other eyes, picking up flecks of light on her garments which my old eyes had never seen before.
Suddenly I felt the need to stretch my wings and I soared up circling into the stars and a long screech escaped from my throat. Swooping down between the dark branches, I settled with a gust of breeze on a small branch by the path and the lone traveller stopped to look up at me.
She smiled her familiar smile, her arms folded close in the chill of the night under her feathery tunic. She took a step towards me, unafraid, her muscular arm stretched tentatively in my direction as my new eyes looked in puzzlement at this strange and familiar creature of auburn and feather.
“Will you join me?” she asked into the trees. “We have far to travel.”
And not quite knowing what she was saying with her sounds, I did.