By ALBERTHA LACHMI OBUT
It was difficult not to fall in love with the Night. At least it was for Luan, who was not yet thirteen, and was therefore less learned than the elders in his village, even if he had never seen Night before.
In fact, no one in his village had ever seen the Night before either.
Where Luan lived, there was only bright, gleaming, perpetual Day. He had heard the stories, of course. His father—and every other village elder—had told him all about how the Night was dark and dangerous, and the forests full of horrific creatures that ate curious little boys who wandered too far from home. He knew these stories were meant to dissuade him, but they only made him curiouser and curiouser about what wonders awaited him in the dark.
And while his father told him to stop thinking about it, Luan often indulged himself in the simple pleasures of imagination. Many times Luan wondered what life there might be away from the garish light of Day, the constant thirst that needed to be replenished . . .
He thought of the coolness away from the Sun’s heat, the darkness that accompanied the Night, and wondered how quiet it must be compared to the loud swish and plop of plow and scythe every day.
The field where Luan and his family and the rest of the villagers farmed was a large expanse of land surrounded by mountains on one side, and a cluster trees on the other, so close together you could barely see beyond the branches of the first few. Part of the field had been turned into the village, a small cluster of huts and cottages where people might find refuge from the Sun’s heat. A river ran through the village and cut into the forest.
Luan stood by the river now, staring at the tree line as though he was looking at a precipice, and was contemplating jumping. He’d been here before, on this very spot, wondering.
Behind him, he could hear the sounds of the village coming alive with the day’s work. Today was a special day, and he could hear the village elders delegating tasks, and he could make out the telltale sign of the scythes swinging back and forth as people set to work.
It was the harvest, after all, and the faster they finished, the faster they could get to the celebration after. Luan knew he should be out there helping his parents with their portion of the fields, or at the very least take water for them to drink, but Luan stayed rooted to his spot. He stared at the darkness that waited, as if in bated breath, for him to enter.
A hand clamped onto his shoulder, and he jumped.
“Hey!” he said accusingly at whoever it could be. It was his grandfather, Ka Nelo, who only smiled toothily at him.
“If you want to,” his grandfather said in his usual whisper, glancing also at the darkness, “you should go.”
Ka Nelo was what you would call eccentric. He went around town observing everything and everyone, and always had a thing to say about how you were holding your plow, or how you were watering the field. He would stare at open space for a time, laugh at something no one said, and tell all the children the strangest of stories. As a general rule, his strange eccentricities had the villagers veering far from him. Luan, however, was quite used to his grandfather’s ramblings, and only gave him suspicious looks. “Shouldn’t you be at the hut?” he asked the older man.
“Shouldn’t you be helping with the harvest?” Ka Nelo fired back. Luan smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
“Do you know what’s out there?” he asked his grandfather instead, looking back at the dark edges of the forest. From where they stood, shaded by the great trees, the breeze was cool and welcoming. Luan inched forward.
“Monsters,” Ka Nelo said. “Beasts that eat children who stray.”
But Luan had heard all of these stories before and only rolled his eyes. “Right,” he said. “And you want me to go into it?”
“Only if you want to.”
“I have to go back to work . . .”
But just as he started to walk away, his grandfather grinned at him and sat on the ground, facing the forest. “Don’t you want to hear a story?” He patted the ground beside him.
“I’ve heard them before,” Luan said, but never one to pass up the opportunity to get out of work, he sat.
“Not this one,” Ka Nelo insisted.
Ka Nelo started his story with a flourish, as he usually did. Luan almost smiled.
“It is true there are great creatures in the forest,” his grandfather began, waving his arms above him. “Great ones, as tall as the trees! Or ones as small as the tiniest finger on your hand there.”
Where they stood beside the river, the sound of the raging waters seemed to swallow Ka Nelo’s soft voice, and Luan leaned forward to hear better.
“But these creatures wouldn’t have hurt you, boy.”
Luan cocked his head to the side. “But you said—”
“Och. I know how the stories go, too.” Ka Nelo grinned. “I made most of them up.”
Luan figured as much. Still, he nodded gravely, as if he understood why. “Are you making this one up, too?”
“Oh no, no,” Ka Nelo whispered. “This shall be the only truthful story I will tell. Now, pay attention, Luan. This might come as a surprise to you, boy, but I went into the Night lands once. When I was maybe a little older than you are now.” Luan must have looked funny, because his grandfather laughed. “Do not tell anybody! Especially your father!”
Luan nodded again, at a loss for words. His grandfather—? Surely he was joking! But the old man continued on before he could say anything.
“I was much like you when I was young,” he said, looking at Luan almost fondly. “I wanted to know the Night as you do, perhaps slay one of its monsters, and be rewarded for my courage.” He shook his head. “I went into the forest one day, and so enamored was I at the strange trees, the new smells, the birds that sung sweeter songs than I have heard . . . I didn’t even notice the dark settling in until I couldn’t see my own feet!”
“But weren’t you afraid?”
His grandfather gave him a wry smile. “You’d be stupid if you weren’t afraid, boy. I got so scared of the dark that I . . . stopped. Just stopped walking and sat down on the ground. Like this.” He folded his legs under him. “I waited there for what felt like a long time. I could hear strange sounds too—like people talking, or a twig snapping . . . I knew someone watched me, so I waited. But they didn’t come yet.”
Luan’s fingers threaded through the grass by his hand. “And then?”
Ka Nelo shrugged. “I got up and walked again. I figure, if they wanted to harm me, they would have.” The old man sighed. “No, I thought they were simply curious, as I was. After a while, I realized it wasn’t dark at all. There was . . . well, there was a—light there. But not like the Sun, that light.” He squinted, as if he could see it in the forest now.
“Shh. Pay attention, now. I cannot tell you how it felt, to find light amidst that darkness. I kept walking.
“I walked into a field—though much smaller than this one—” he flipped a lazy hand at the village behind them. “And instead of crops, there grew flowers . . . Flowers I had never seen before! And above me, in the sky . . . there was a floating . . . hmm, how do I describe it—? Orb? Orb of light, much like the Sun, but still, so different. Its light was white, almost, and it flew closer than our Sun does. It washed away the darkness.”
His grandfather looked to the trees, and Luan thought he could almost see it, too. The light. Through the sinewy branches and the crawling vines . . . He could imagine it was softer than the Sun—bright, still, but perhaps not as hot.
“I cannot tell you how long I stayed there, staring.” His grandfather fixed his old eyes at him and smiled, almost shyly. “It was the smallest I’ve ever felt.” He shrugged. “That’s where they found me, you know.”
Luan, who had been frozen with both shock and delight, mouth hanging open and eyes as huge as the Sun, leaned forward and asked, urgently, “Who? Who found you, Lo?”
His grandfather’s voice went even lower, and Luan strained to hear. “The Hunters,” he said simply, looking around as though he was scared someone heard. Luan’s face must have betrayed his horror, because the old man laughed, clapping Luan on the shoulder with a calloused hand. “They never meant me harm, boy. Pay attention. They were only curious.”
“What—what did they look like?”
“Like you. Like me.” Another one of those shrugs. “They looked like us, only different. Where our skin is dark, theirs was pale. So pale, especially under the light. And their eyes! Oh, yes—they glowed. It was . . .” His grandfather pretended to suppress a shudder, but his shoulders drooped when he saw that Luan had looked scared. “Come now, Luan—would I lie to you?”
Luan’s brows furrowed further. “Yes,” he said. “In fact, you have!”
Ka Nelo laughed, as loud a laugh as Luan ever heard from the man. “Well, this time I am not!”
Luan looked at the trees in front of them, squinted his eyes, and focused. “Do you think they’re there now?” His voice had dropped into a whisper, too, and he looked at his grandfather expectantly.
“I doubt it. When I saw them, they only walked me to the edge of the forest and bid me well. I never returned, though not for lack of trying.”
Luan said, “Don’t you want to go back?”
Ka Nelo gave another shrug. “There never seemed like the right time to. Always something to do, someone to talk to . . . The next thing I knew, I was old and senile.”
Luan sighed. He thought perhaps this was the life he’d lead, and he saw himself as Ka Nelo, forever in want of more, reduced to the village madman. But Luan saw something in Ka Nelo’s eyes, and wondered if the old man was telling the whole truth this time.
But some secrets, perhaps, were meant to be kept. So instead he asked, “What of the orb-thing, then?”
“Hmm? Oh, the Moon!” His grandfather scratched his head. “Yes, yes, I believe I already told you—”
“No, you haven’t, Lo!” Luan insisted. “What is a—Moon?”
“Look around you, boy. Everything we touch and see is a bounty from the Sun. Everything in that forest—” Ka Nelo inclined his head “—is a bounty from the Moon. Do you understand?”
Luan only nodded. “And they were—Hunters, you said.”
Ka Nelo sighed. “Yes. Their ways are different from ours, you see. They do not farm as we do, do not tend to the fields like us. They forage in the forests, and hunt animals to eat.”
“And the women?”
“What of them, boy?” There was a glint of mischief in Ka Nelo’s eyes.
Luan blushed. “I only meant—What do the women do? If the men hunt?”
Ka Nelo laughed again. “The women hunt if they wish to,” he said. “As I said, their ways are different. They do not force you to become one thing or the other.” Ka Nelo leaned back on his arms. “That’s what I learned from them, you know. And what I’m telling you now.”
Luan looked up at his grandfather, who was, indeed, looking at him rather fondly. “What do you mean?”
Ka Nelo smiled kindly, and reached out to pat his grandson’s head. “I stayed there for three shifts of the Moon.” Luan opened his mouth to ask, but Ka Nelo beat him to it. “There, the Moon has many shapes. When I first arrived, it looked like the Sun—a ball. The next time I saw it, it looked like—hmm . . .” Ka Nelo looked around, as if searching for something. He thrust his hand into Luan’s face. “Here! It looked like my fingernail here! See?” Luan pushed his hand away. “The next time it looked like—well, I thought it almost looked like the blade of a scythe. The sight of it made me miss home.”
Luan closed his eyes and envisioned it for a second. How strange, the Moon and its shapes. When he opened his eyes, Ka Nelo was looking at him expectantly. He furrowed his brows. “I still don’t understand, Lo,” he admitted. “Why are you telling me this?”
Ka Nelo sighed. “There was a time your father might have ventured, too, Luan. But he—well, he never wanted more. Not like I did. Not like you do.” Ka Nelo looked around, and Luan thought there was a hint of sadness in his old eyes. “Here, under the Sun, when you are born, you are expected to be something. You, and your father, and I . . . we are meant to farm. Nothing else. Your mother—taking care of livestock and you,” he added wryly. “But there is so much more out there, I know it, Luan. You have always known it too, I think.
“So when I tell you to go if you want to, I mean it.”
Luan, not for the first time today, was at a loss for words. “B-but—”
“Look,” Ka Nelo said, his voice rising up from his usual whisper, “you’ll never know if I made up that story or not, but the answer is there if you want it.” He lifted a wrinkled hand and gestured to the trees. “Maybe, when you return, you can tell me stories of your own.”
Luan sat there staring at the trees, even after his grandfather left. Luan could not shake his grandfather’s words from his mind. The Moon has many shapes, he said. And so many possibilities were out there, just beyond his reach.
Luan looked at his hands, caked with dirt and calloused and scarred from the wrong swing of his scythe. He liked farming, he thought, liked the labor and the Sun, the soft singing they did when the days stretched on.
But Luan would be lying if he said there wasn’t a part of him that didn’t want more, to be more. He thought of the Moon, and its many shapes, the Night and its secrets . . . and wondered, perhaps, if he was truly meant to go. He thought of his parents, farming day by day, and of Ka Nelo and his sad, tired eyes.
Luan though perhaps he wanted to create. To see, if his grandfather spoke true.
“The Moon,” Luan whispered to the trees. He stood up, wiped his hands on his trousers, and took a step forward. “The Moon has many shapes. And so, I think, must I.”
Albertha Lachmi Obut hails from Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, but currently resides in Dumaguete City, where she finished her BA degree in Creative Writing from Silliman University in 2021, and where she is also currently pursuing a law degree. She was a fellow at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop in 2020.