The Very Long Winter

A story from the novel The Feast of the Moon as told by Ichilles to his friend Shrew:

“Would you like to hear a story?”

“Does it contain the words: and that is the end?”

“Yes.”

“So, I have something to look forward to.”

I had lied: I did not know how it would end. When I started a story without knowing what shape it would take (I imagine the Sun had that problem when He created opossums), a voice behind my eyes picked up the first acorn it saw and handed it to me.

“This is a story about Hamster and Bluejay and a very long winter.”

Shrew groaned at very long winter.

“But the story is not long,” I added.

“The winter I spend this evening listening to it will be.”

I ignored him and continued.

Long ago, when the world was still warm from the Sun’s paws, Hamster and Bluejay were trading songs, enjoying the cool of the evening.

“Trading songs?” interrupted Shrew.

“Hamsters could sing back then. Would you like to hear The Ballad of Exceptional Fierceness?”

No…no, no, no…continue, please.”

The two friends asked Human if he would judge who possessed the sweeter voice. After listening to each song, Human said,

“Bluejay has the better sense of pitch and more pleasing timbre, while your voice, my dear Hamster, has more character.”

“That doesn’t answer the question, Human,” replied Hamster. “Which of us is the better …”

“Bluejay, by far,” said Human – happy to tell the truth.

Hamster’s pride was jostled, but he bore the buffeting with honor.

“Perhaps,” he said. “But in a battle of wits I would beat Bluejay every time.”

“You wouldn’t against me,” replied Human. “Have you seen my latest invention?”

Bluejay had enough wits to stay out of this contest.

“No, but have you seen the Moon lately,” asked Hamster. “No? Of course not. And do you know why? Because we hamsters ate it.”

Human had to admit stealing the Moon was impressive.

“Ahh,” he continued. “But what if I could make the night as long as two days?”

Hamster agreed that would be an astounding bit of clever. So Human trekked east to catch the Sun before He had awakened. He brought his new invention – a bunch of marsh reeds tied together. When Human blew into them the reeds sang like nightingales and larks.

He crept up to the Sun as He stirred awake and played the night-songbird-reed invention. The Sun fluttered His eyes, heard the birdsong, thought it was still night and rolled over asleep.

The night-animals were delighted at being able to forage twice as long. But their happiness soon vanished when the world started to chill.

Without His daily rhythm, the Sun continued to fall into a sleep as deep as the endless waters were wide.

Human, in a panic – the cries of freezing animals ringing in his head – unleashed every clamor and din he was known for, but the Sun would not wake up.

Days turned into moons, but still the Sun slept. The world entered a winter longer and more brutal than any before or since.

Human could think of nothing to rouse the Sun. Bluejay’s great wisdom was as nothing. So, Hamster journeyed east over frozen field and stream to see the slumbering Sun. He stared at the Sun, hungry and cold, ready to meet Death.

“The world is going to end. It is best that I prepare.”

Hamster started to sing. Why? It is hard to say, but he heard a voice say,

“Sing, now, chubby one; sing the world’s last song.”

Hamster sang of digging burrows, of the joy of finding ripe blackberries, of the cicadas’ song that called him from his burrow at twilight, of the scent of Asters in summer’s twilight, of Lilac during Sparrow Days.

He sang of honor and danger and battles with raccoons, splashing through wooded streams beneath a Sycamore-shaded Moon.

And he sang of friendship, of the vibrations created by friends which only they can sense. Vibrations, like offspring, that grow when cared for and then one day enter the world to create friends more than two down this vine of days.

Hamster sang of a warmth that was stronger than the Very Long Winter was long, and would always be stronger – so long as friends shared it.

A nightjar in the middle distance broke what I intended to be a pause, but had grown into a stillness. It was supposed to be one of my stories with a finish; it was suppose to end with summer returning. Instead, the words: so long as friends share it, made me forget what I was going to say.

I was angry at myself for listening to the voice behind my eyes. I wanted it to be a happy story about two friends. Why is it that all moments of joy have a kernel of sadness at the center?

The nightjar having cracked the stillness, we were both aware that I had created something special, and that it was gone forever. What it was I can’t say, since it was only a story and I hadn’t lost anything. Then the nightjar punctured these useless thoughts again and Shrew spoke.

“Hamster, if there is a winter, I suspect it is just like that.”

I glowed like twilight to think I had captured something so important. Now was the time to press Shrew to prepare his burrow for winter.

“Really?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. Long, boring, and with no end in sight.

The End

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