There was a time, not so long ago, when the night was very dark. There were no stars, planets, or moon to light the night sky. Once the sun went down, people would stay inside unable to venture out; not because they were afraid of the dark; dark is not scary. It was just hard to see, easy to trip and fall, or lose one’s way. There were no streetlights, because there was no electricity. It was dangerous walking around carrying a torch or candle, and lanterns hadn’t been invented. People didn’t have gas or oil to burn. So, once the sun went down, people stayed inside by the fireplace where they burned the wood they had gathered during the day. They would work by the fireplace where it was warm and bright, and they could repair tools, and tell stories late into the night.
In a village by a river that meandered through a beautiful green valley, there lived three families. Each had a house made of mud brick and straw with a roof of thatched grass. In the first house lived Josh and Melissa and their two son’s Justin and his younger brother, Jake. In the second house lived Sam and Sandee and their son Elan. Elan and Jake were very close in age. In the third house lived Jon and Amy and their dog Oscar. Josh, Jon and Sam were brothers, so Justin and Jake were cousins to Elan, and everyone loved Oscar, the dog. Each day the cousins met and walked to school together. After school they played together before going home to do their homework, and on weekends they fished, swam and boated in the river. During he long hot summer, when there was no school, they worked in the garden with their parents planting and caring for the vegetables and flowers. Justin, the oldest of the boys, would go up to the pasture in the foothills above the valley to tend sheep with Oscar. Late in the afternoon, his brother Jake and cousin Elan would join him to help bring the sheep home. When the sun would start to go down, Justin would signal to Oscar with a high pitched whistle to gather the sheep; and, with Justin in front, his brother and cousin in the rear, and Oscar patrolling the flanks, they would march the sheep down the hill and back to their pens where the sheep would spend the night. When the sun finally set, it grew dark and cool even in summer, and you could be sure once the sun had set beyond the western hills, everyone was safe in their houses.
Every fall the boys would return to school, half days, because in the afternoon, they would do their chores, take turns tending the sheep in the hills, and work in the garden, as they prepared for the harvest. Once their chores were done, if the sun still shone, they could play, fish, or boat on the river, weather permitting. The boys spent all their time in the village. No one had thought to leave the valley where there was plenty of everything. Nobody knew what was on the other side of the mountain that sheltered the valley, and where the sun went to rest each day.
As the boys grew older there curiosity prompted them to want to explore the rest of the world. They were curious about meeting new people, and wanted to learn new things. Justin decided that it would be great fun to travel west across the great mountains that stood at the end of their valley. When Justin shared his idea with Jake and Elan, they made a pact to all go together. When they told their parents, their parents were concerned, but knew that independence was part of growing up. Of course the boys promised to travel only during the day because it was much too dark to travel at night.
The boys spent days discussing the preparations for travel. Each was responsible for collecting basic provisions, including a warm blanket, clothes, and flint and iron rock to make fire. They all had containers for water. They weren’t sure how long they’d be gone or how far they would travel. They didn’t know when they would be returning. It took days to gather all the things that they needed. They met and checked each other’s packs to be sure they had everything. Justin carried tools to clear brush and cut wood for shelter and fire. Jake carried a bag of seed for vegetables and berry’s. Elan carried rope. Justin packed salt, pepper and spices, and lamb and yogurt jerky. Jacob was responsible for knives, forks and spoons, and wooden bucket and cups. Elan packed fishing gear, fine line, rods, and hooks. Each had a piece of cloth on which to sleep. Their packs were full and they were ready to go.
They said goodbye to their parents and other friends and began to walk. They followed the path into the pasture where they tended the sheep with Oscar, and up and into the hills until the path ended. On they walked higher and higher as they exited the foothills and entered the mountains. They followed the paths made by the mountain goats and deer. They scrambled over boulders, crossed little streams, and traversed ledges. Up and up they climbed. During the first few days they caught glimpses of their village in the valley with its peaceful river running through it and smoke rising from the chimneys way off in the distance. At night they would find flat ground, gather wood, make a fire, sit around the fire under their blankets and discuss their plans. It was dark, oh, so dark. As they would lie on their backs waiting for sleep, they’d look up, but there were no stars, no moon, and no planets. There was no north star to give them direction, or constellations help mark the seasons, or moon to mark the months. It was just dark. Without light they couldn’t see, at least not beyond the campfire. Without light, the beauty around them disappeared until the morning light would restore it.
“When we get to where we are going, the first thing I’m going to do, is build a house.” Justin said.
“I want to live on the top of the world, with a view of everything around me in all directions.” Said Jake.
“ I want to be able to fish in a great lake so we will have plenty to eat.” Said Elan.
“ I want to be able to plant vegetables so I will have broccoli and green beans and peas to eat with our fish.” Said Justin.
“I want an orchard with apple trees and bee hives so I have honey to dip my apple slices in.” Said Jake.
“I want to have pastures for our goats, and sheep, and cows.” Said Elan.
Travel was slow as they were unable to travel at night, so the boys had lots of time to think and dream. But as they moved higher and higher into the mountains the weather started to change. Autumn became winter and snow began to fall. The boys collected what they could from the forest and streams so they were well stocked for the winter. They decided to build huts for each to stay in during the winter. They worked hard. Justin built his hut out of sticks and mud. Jake built his out of stone. Elan’s hut was an A frame with a fireplace of stone in the middle and a chimney through the roof. Each hut was cozy.
The boys were ready to settle down for the winter. There wasn’t much to do now but wait the winter out. In the Valley where they had lived the winters were mild, with little snow, and the cold was never bitter. In the high country, they expected the winter to be more harsh with bitter cold and lots of snow, and that is exactly how it was.
When the snow began to fall, it fell thick and fast. It wasn’t long before the snow was piled in banks all around them. It threatened to bury their huts, but they kept the doors clear and paths between each house open. At night, even with the bright white snow, it was still dark. One night, in spite the darkness, Justin came out of his house and made a snowball and threw it at Jake’s door to see if he could get him to open his door. Jake opened his door and Justin threw a second snowball that flew wide of Jake and hit Elan’s house. Elan stuck his head out his door and saw the smudge of snow on it.
“Who threw snow at my door?” He shouted.
No one answered. Justin threw a snowball in the direction of Elan’s house, as he was unable to see him in the dark, dark night. Elan luckily ducked, as he couldn’t see the snowball coming, and avoided being hit. Not so for Justin, for the snowball thrown by Jake, caught him in the side of his head. Justin laughed and started making snowballs more snowballs. Meanwhile Jake took the opportunity to throw a snowball in Elan’s direction and hit him on the arm.
“Jake, you’re in big trouble now.” Elan shouted.
Elan and Justin started to fire one snowball after another in Jake’s direction, catching him in crossfire. Snowballs flew everywhere from every direction. The fight went on, not with malice, but with great fun. Snowballs flew right and left and then up. Justin made a giant snowball and threw it high in the air where it was carried by the mountain winds, high above the mountain peaks, high enough to reflect the suns light from the other side of the world, and thereby became the moon. The other boys began to throw their snowballs into the air instead of at each other, and as each snowball caught the mountain winds, they drifted up and up, and began to fill the sky with stars, and planets, and all the celestial bodies. Now with the moon and stars in place, the night sky was brightening. An occasional snowball would drift back to earth creating streak in the sky as it melted. If the boys would be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the streak of light, they’d make a wish. The boys threw the snowballs into the air all night, and, as they did, a soft glow began to surround them and gave them the ability to see in the dark. They could see each other’s huts and each other, but instead of throwing the snowballs at each other, they continued to fill the sky with stars.
Winter passed and when spring came the boys decided to start out again. They gathered their provisions and left their huts behind. When the sun went down, if the sky were clear, they could see their way well enough to continue their journey. When they made camp at night and lay down to sleep, it was no longer so very dark; and when they looked up, it was into a star-studded sky.
I am a retired physician, former neurologist, who loves to tell stories. I live in Allentown, PA. I am married. I published a short novel called “Loose Ends” in 1988, still obtainable on Amazon.com. My first short story appeared in Being, M. Talarico and Daughter Publications, 1992, called “Things can Always Get Worse.” I had four short stories published, in Raconteur, Susan Carroll Publishing, from 1993-1995. These works included, “The Fate of Dicky Paponovitch”, which was awarded Raconteur of the Month, May 1994. I stopped submitting short stories after 1998 when my real job took over my time. I recently started submitting my stories again. I’ve recently published three short stories at shortbreadstories.co.uk, “Fishing with Nick”, “Dad Stories”, and “Earl’s Lake, Home to the Big Bass”, 2015.