Silver in the Moonlight
“Between the lighthouse and the hills
At the crossroads that none can see
When the moon is full, through the eye in the stone
Turn east to come to me”
Tom woke struggling to breathe, as though his sleep had been ended by some large beast leaping on his chest. His room was dark, lit only by the dim starlight through his window, and the only sound was the heaving of his chest. As his panic slowly ebbed away he struggled to hold onto the one thing he knew to be important from the dream that had caused it – the clear, unarguable knowledge that in moonlight blood looked like molten silver.
The next day, he rose after spending the rest of the night trying to sleepily sort through the feelings this dream fragment had left him with. Fear certainly, but also a strange kind of exultation, as though he has been given a piece of knowledge that few others possessed and fewer still could use.
That idea brought him to a halt as he absently pulled on his pants. How could the color of blood by the moon be something he could use? He tried to shake this strange thought out of his head as he rushed downstairs in the pre-dawn chill, but somewhere inside he knew that a part of him that had been asleep was now awake and grinning at the world it saw through his eyes.
“There you are”, said his mother as she slid two fried eggs onto a stoneware plate. “Thought I’d have to get your sister to pull the covers off you again”. Tom slipped onto his chair, glaring at Sienna as she poked her tongue out at him. As mother rushed around the kitchen, frying more eggs, slicing bread, boiling water for coffee and generally doing more things and being in more places than seemed natural for one person, father sat immobile at the head of the table, large but surprisingly delicate hands wrapped around a huge cup of bitter smelling coffee.
While mother was always moving, doing whatever needed doing with the grace that comes from a dancers training and an instinctive dislike of wasted motion, father rarely seemed to shift at all. At least, not when anyone was looking at him, although often enough Tom had turned his head away for a few seconds and when he had looked back, father was on the other side of the room, some complex task seemingly half done.
“Tom”, he said, his voice strangely light for such a big man, “You clean out the stables this morning, then get yourself cleaned up before you and your sister go see the Parson for whatever he’s filling your heads with today”.
“Geography today”, said Sienna, “Although the only geography Tom knows is from here to the Eyestone and back”. Sienna giggled as Tom mouthed a dire threat to her.
“Is that true?” asked his mother. “Tom, you do know that the Eyestone is, well, more a place for women don’t you?”
“Maybe he’s worried he’s barren and will never carry a baby!”
“Shut up Sienna”, said father, looking at Tom worriedly. “Well, Tom?”
“The young women only go there at New Moon. Whatever it is they go there to do” – looking angrily at his sister – “I just go there sometimes because it’s peaceful”
His father was quiet for a moment then said, “We’ll talk about this later Tom. You’ll come with me when I go to the lighthouse tonight”
And that ended that.
That evening he sat musing again on his dream as he waited for his father to complete working in the lighthouse. Mr. Thompson, as dad was known to even his closest friends, had been working at the lighthouse all his life, as had his father before him. Truth be told it was an easy job – simply a matter of cleaning the windows and the big reflector, trimming or replacing the wick and topping up the fine mineral oil that burned for the light. Once that was done his only responsibility was to light the flame shortly before sundown. Of course, as Tom had been told countless times, on the assumption that one day this would be his task also, that was a huge responsibility – one night missed, for any reason, could mean the destruction of one of the Queens freighters on the teeth-like rocks barely submerged off the coast.
Tom was not interested in lighthouses, and was only interested in the Queens freighters in that they were going somewhere he had only heard of in stories – the City. The huge ships, black and silent as the night they always passed this length of coast in, would sail west to the great harbor of Gillmouth and then up the Great Canal to the City, which if it had ever had a name it had shrugged off long ago as being unnecessary. There was only one City worthy of capitalization, just as there was only one Queen in a world filled with advisory councils, presidents, prime ministers and other barbarically complicated forms of government.
Tom idly considered means of getting on one of the black ships when he sensed his father behind him. He stood up and turned, realizing with a start that he was nearly as tall as Dad now. “Yes Father?”
“Take these” – handing over a bag of rags, an empty bucket and a jar of oil – “and lets get going”.
As they walked the five miles back to Little Thornton Tom began to dread his father speaking. These father to son speeches had begun to come with increasing frequency as he approached his fourteenth birthday and each was more excruciating than the last. Just as Tom thought his father had forgotten his promise of that morning the words he dreaded arrived.
“Tom, I said this morning … well I said we’d talk. Well, I supposed we had better, don’t you?”
This was even worse than Tom had anticipated. It might even prove to be worse that the infamous “girls and what not to do with them” speech that still gave Tom a pain a dagger in the eye whenever he thought of it.
“Yes Father”, he said, obediently.
“Tom … the Eyestone, well … it’s just a stone you know?”
“Yes Father”, again obediently, but with a hint of impatience.
“It … it can’t … well … it probably can’t make … barren, hmm, yes barren women … fertile again”
This was getting very bad.
“Even if they do … well … do … umm … what it is that … well … people say they do there …”
Tom studied the ground closely as they trudged on, looking for signs that it might open up in some unexpected chasm and swallow them both. Sadly, it appeared unlikely.
“Well, look, dammit! The Eyestone is just a strangely shaped piece of rock. It has no magical powers, although it might help some unhappy women to believe it does.”
Suddenly Father was lucid and almost angry.
“But, well, some places are marked for a reason. And the place where that stone was erected, who knows how long ago, is one of them. You know it’s called the crossroads?”
“Yes, why is that when there’s no other road crossing there?”, asked Tom, relieved that the subject had moved on from the treacherous area of fertility spells.
“None that we can see – but I think that place is one of those where the world has worn thin, where the passage of feet over hundreds of years, on our road and on … lets say another kind of road have brought two places that should not touch close to each other. That’s why the Eyestone is there – as a warning. An that is why I don’t want to hear of you hanging around there anymore!”
With that outburst, more words than his Father normally used in a week, they both fell silent, walking in the dimming light, their shadows stretching out to left, vastly elongated against the low heather.
In bed Tom considered his Fathers remarkable speech. He had always felt that the Eyestone was special somehow, but to have his father confirm it marked the site of what he had once heard his grandmother call a hollowing was astonishing. Tom knew little of the underpinnings of his world, the huge, intricate structure of living myth and blind ritual that lay beneath his feet and within each breath he took. He had, however, taken enough lessons from the Parson in philosophia nullius and clinamen theory to know that hollowings were a logical consequence of the world of appearances. Just as limestone country will develop caves, so any reality complex enough to deserve the name must have gaps, places where the appearances have faded like a tapestry left too long in the sun. With these thoughts circling around his head he drifted off to sleep.
His dreams began gently enough – a gentle fall of snow against a limitless black background. Each flake fell slowly and vertically downwards, not touching any other flake and spinning unhurriedly as it fell. Then, so slowly it was almost imperceptible, one flake was nudged somehow away from its line.
[I was amazed to find this still online - I wrote it back in 2001 and have notes for the rest of the novel lying around somewhere]