This page contains:
- Animal cruelty/death
Oma said ours was the only house on the firefrost. She had carved it from the husk of a durian, so the spines would keep the bats away.
Despite her warnings, I climbed onto the roof at night to gaze at the moon. The firefrost sparkled around me, crystalline fields stretching all the way to the violets in the north, and the cliffs to the south. I loved the view from the roof under the moon, everything turned luminous green, the dull buzz of the frost flies reminding me that we were not alone.
As far back as I could remember, Oma warned me about the bats. She said they would eat me if they found me exposed at night. But I knew the green light of the moon would protect me, even when I was still smaller than Oma.
The moon has always protected me.
During the day Oma took me out across the firefrost, to the violets. I held the basket while she plucked grubs and mushrooms from the soil. The violets towered over us, their sprawling petals bathing the forest in purple shade. They were the largest growing things I’d seen, though Oma said there were many forests across the world, of many different plants. I sat at the base of one of them, staring up at its huge green leaves and the distant purple bloom. When Oma pointed out lichen on its stem, I scraped it off into the basket. It was almost as bright as the firefrost.
The lichen was poisonous. It helped keep the bats away.
I wanted to explore the violet forest, but Oma never brought us in further than the edge.
“Civets will be hunting,” she said. Sometimes I saw things moving deep in the violets, even larger than the bats. Their eyes were flat and blue.
“What do they hunt?” I asked, when I was almost as tall as Oma’s stooped shoulder. She laid three long roots in the basket I held.
“At night, they hunt bats. During the day they hunt people.”
“Are there people in the violets?”
“No, but there are some on the other side of the forest. It’s not as safe there as it is for us, in the firefrost.”
Before I could ask more questions, she brought us back out into the orange gaze of the weak sun, and we walked home.
Oma told me she came right after the sun was raised. We were the first people to settle the world—Oma with her notebooks, and then me. She said the moon and I are about the same age.
“There was a beautiful valley,” Oma said after we got home, emptying the basket onto the table. She sorted mushrooms from lichen, took a knife and began peeling the roots into strips. “Many people went there, but they weren’t alone. The valley was filled with beetles as large as this house.
“There were also tall mountains, which of course the beetles couldn’t reach. Some people settled there, but when night came, so did the bats.
“That’s why the firefrost is the best place. The beetles don’t cross the violets because of the civets, so they can’t reach us. And the bats dislike the light of the firefrost.”
“Why didn’t anyone else come here?” I asked.
Oma wrung oil from a root into a bowl. “Many people love the valley so much that they will fight the beetles every day. Others like the mountains enough to risk the bats every night. There are other places to go, and lots of people went far, far away from here. But everywhere, there is danger.”
“Why did they make the world dangerous?” I asked. “Why couldn’t it be safe for everyone?”
Oma set the root aside and took my chin in her hand. “People need danger. Otherwise, they forget to be clever.” Her thumb left a smear of oil on my skin. It smelled of dirt and violets.
“Some people did try to come to the firefrost after us, but they didn’t know how to please the frost flies.” She took the oil to the counter, where jars were lined up and waiting. “Did you put out the bowls?” she asked as she poured the fresh oil into the jars.
I nodded. Every night I filled three bowls with violet sap Oma and I collected from the forest during the day. Before it got dark enough for the firefrost to light, I put the bowls outside around the house. At night, the frost flies came to drink the sap. They didn’t bother us, so long as there were bowls to drink from.
Oma never told me what they drank if there wasn’t sap.
Oma finished filling the jars with oil and wiped her hands on her apron, smiling at me. “Good boy. Now, to bed. I feel the sun going down. Soon enough, the moon will rise.”
I waited until it grew dark in the living room. When Oma went to bed, I snuck out through the front door, into the green night. The first thing I was aware of was the murmur of the frost flies.
They were roughly the size of Oma, and just as hunched. In the never-dark, they clustered around the bowls I’d put out, drinking violet sap. Their wings were iridescent green, reflecting the moonlight and the glow of the firefrost that surrounded our house.
They didn’t look up from their meal as I climbed the rough side of the durian Oma had made into a home. I settled at the apex, snugged between two spines.
The moon was waiting for me. It hung in the sky, shining almost as bright as the sun. Green reflected off distant clouds and set the firefrost alight. Crystals shimmered all around the house, their sparkling only interrupted by the coming and going of frost flies, drinking their fill from the bowls I had put out. They flew to the places where Oma and I had walked, our feet crushing the delicate facets of the firefrost. Under the moon, the frost flies repaired the damage.
Each night, it grew brighter.
Oma told me that the moon would soon be as brilliant as the sun, and then more. She said this was planned, that the moon would take over when the sun ran out of energy. I saw it happening—every day dimmer than the one before. Oma worried the bats would start coming out before the sun had a chance to set, and it would no longer be safe to make the journey to collect sap to appease the frost flies. We had to travel slowly, her body stuffed with aches, her eyesight worsening so she increasingly relied on me to select the correct ingredients to put in the basket.
Sitting on the roof, I thought the moon was already bright enough. I hadn’t seen any bats for several nights. I wondered if they’d flown away to the mountains, to hunt the people who hid in the caves and didn’t have the moon and the frost flies to protect them.
Distant booming echoed across the firefrost, momentarily disrupting the steady humming of the frost flies. Nervous, I slid down between the roof spines and went inside.
When I asked Oma about the noise the next morning, she said the mountain people had figured out how to make explosions, and used them against the bats. I watched as she wrote it down in her notebook.
While we were collecting in the forest, I heard new sounds coming from deep within the violets. Sharp cracks and a screeching that set the hairs on the back of my neck rising. Oma paused in her work, brushing soil from her wrinkled fingers.
“The valley people have developed long-range weapons,” she said thoughtfully. “Hand me my notebook.”
I fished it from the basket, along with her pen. Oma leaned against a violet stem, writing. “Hear the screams? Those are the beetles. The bullets are powerful enough to break their shells.”
I nodded, picturing it, though I had never been beyond the forest. I didn’t ask how Oma knew what was happening on the other side of the violets and the hunting civets with their blue eyes. After her writing was finished, she drew a sketch of the weapons we were hearing, next to a beetle with broken skin.
She had never visited the valley, not in all my life. She was always here, with me.
The sounds grew quieter, and Oma handed the notebook back to me. I put it into the basket with the jars and roots, and Oma leaned on my elbow as we walked back across the firefrost. The sun hung pale in the sky, its orange light faded to beige. Shadows stretched in front of our feet, sliding into the spaces between crystals.
We had to stop many times for Oma to rest. When we did, it was as if the sun stopped with us, hovering in the sky until we moved on, and it sank, exhausted, to the horizon.
That night the frost flies glittered with near-blinding brilliance, the moon a green beacon in the sky. I sat staring across the firefrost, realizing I could see further than I could during the day. The moon had finally surpassed the power of the sun.
No bats came. When the frost flies finished the sap, I climbed down to the door and went inside.
Oma was waiting, notebooks stacked on her lap.
“Oma,” I said, surprised and ashamed. She had told me many times never to go out in the dark.
Though now it was brighter at night than during the day. My skin prickled with the memory of the moon’s green heat.
“Sit down,” she said, nodding to the chair beside her. I walked over and sat. I was now much taller than her, strong and healthy, while she shrank every day, her eyes veiled with age.
“I’m sorry, Oma. I know you warned me never to go out at night—”
“Night is now day,” she interrupted. She slid one trembling thumb into the notebook at the top of the pile, flipping it open and pressing her palm to the pages. The notebook was filled with her cramped handwriting and sketches of the world.
“When the frost flies were designed, they were made to be perfectly suited to the firefrost. They are the only species that will never go extinct, no matter what the settlers invent to change the world.”
She turned the notebook pages. I recognized images of the valley and the mountains, the violets and their lichens. “It is right to befriend what will never go away. That way, you’ll not be lonely.”
I looked at her, confused. She closed the notebook and handed it to me. I turned the pages while she opened the next in the stack, older and neater than the one I held. “Does anyone else know to gift them violet sap?” I asked.
Oma smiled, wrinkles doubling. “If the settlers thought to befriend the creatures on this world, we wouldn’t hear explosions and screams.”
“Someone should tell them!” I fumbled through Oma’s notebook, passing her notes on caring for the violets so they would always give sap, on changing where we crossed the firefrost so as not to crush too much underfoot. “There must be something that would charm the beetles, or the civets. Don’t you know?”
“I know,” Oma said. She looked at me. “And so will you. But we can’t interfere. We can only keep ourselves safe.”
“They’re killing each other!”
“One day, they may figure out how to stop. If not, things will end in another way. We can’t tell them what to do. If we tried, they wouldn’t listen. And the sun is running down. Things will change.”
I stared at Oma, then at her notebooks. I turned to the back of the current one, my own handwriting following Oma’s scribbles as she dictated her observations, her fingers too cramped to hold the pen anymore. There were a few blank pages left, but not many.
“We made this world to change,” she said, her voice strained. “I’ve been taking notes since its birth, since before the settlers came. Everything changes. Everything grows old.”
“Even the sun,” I said, taking the notebooks from her. She smiled, moonlight carving lines of shadow across her face.
“Even the sun.”
I helped her to bed, leaving the notebooks stacked on the table.
The next day, the sun barely crested the horizon. Oma was too weak to rise.
“Take the basket and make the journey to the violets yourself,” she said, holding my hand. “You know what to do to stay safe.”
I crossed the firefrost alone for the first time, crystals crunching under my feet. The frost flies would fix them when the moon rose, excreting the sap we fed them and shaping new crystals from shattered dust.
Under the violets, I collected everything Oma used to gather. I filled the basket and wrote down what I heard in the notebook. The sun set before I had finished, the moon lighting my way back.
When I returned home, the basket heavy with ingredients, Oma pinched my chin between her fingers. “You’re strong. You’ll shine for a long time.”
The moon blazed across the firefrost. It never set but hovered against the horizon, nearly blotting the sun from the sky. The morning was green.
Oma stayed in bed. I visited her before trekking across the firefrost. “It is bright enough now,” she whispered, cupping my cheek in her hand. “Don’t go into the forest, even now. The moon can’t protect you from the civets, or guns.”
“I’ll stay safe,” I told her.
The sun set before I left, and the moon guided me to the violets, green light warming my back.
Gunfire and movement in the forest drove me back early. When I got home, Oma was asleep.
She sleeps still.
I follow her directions. Each morning as the moon rises I rise, taking the basket and my notebook and crossing the firefrost to the violets. I collect sap and listen. With every sound, I take notes. I return home and prepare bowls for the frost flies and pack lichen into the soil around the house to keep the bats away.
After a year of silence from the mountains, I stop collecting lichen. I record the extinction of the bats in a notebook I sewed from violet leaves.
In the evenings, while the moon blazes through the windows, I read Oma’s notebooks. I start with the most recent, and work my way back through time. Half of her notebooks include me; the other half were written before the moon was born.
In three years, I reach her earliest notebook. Its spine is cracked with age, the pages brittle. I paint them with oil as I read, preserving them for the gaze that will follow mine.
It is in this notebook that I find the recipe for the moon.
Sitting in green light, I copy it out onto a new page. Oma sleeps upstairs. The sun has faded to nothing, but the moon now shines bright. It shows no signs of failing, but everything changes. Everything grows old.
The next day I venture into the violets and collect everything I will need to make a moon. Lichen, sap, roots, and petals. Beetle shells and civet teeth. I am afraid, but I read in Oma’s notebooks how to charm the beetles and the civets. They donate their dead.
Back home, I wait for night. The final ingredient I need is a frost fly wing, glittering with green light.
For this I trade a jar of sap, fastened around the frost fly’s neck with yellow ribbon. It crawls away into the firefrost with its payment, to await the regrowth of the delicate wing I now hold.
I take a large bowl from the kitchen and crush the ingredients together. Using a broken crystal, I mix them into a paste that is almost clay. It sticks to my hands as I mold it—teasing out arms, craters, skin, light.
I lay my creation on the windowsill to dry in the green gaze of morning. I leave with my basket and notebook, collecting what I need to survive in the world Oma made.
When I return, she still sleeps. The moon still shines. But everything changes, and everything grows old.
On the windowsill, a new light is being born.