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Junior/Senior Division

Short Story

 

Sunlight

A Short Story by Joshua Eno

Early dawn hung in the valley, enclosed by the three hills that gave it existence. The sky was an inverted bowl, filled with a blue liquid sprinkled with tiny luminescent candles, and the bright rim of the bowl could just be seen on the very tops of the hills as the darkness drained upward out of it. The gloom of night became faint as the stars were lost in it, their brightness extinguished in the swirling of the dwindling darkness. Their brilliance was replaced with the dimness of morning and first light. Then the sun began its monumental rise, casting a soft glow on the edge of the sky, and the great light of day broke upon the upper horizon of the hilltop, lighting it in fire that spilled into the lower portions of the sleeping valley.

 

That gushing brightness broke first the window of John Magoan, flinging the disjointed shards into the fresh morning air, which now entered freely. He awoke with a start and uttered a terrified, strangled cry as his mind forced itself to consciousness. He spied the fallen crystals that had once been his window and scanned the room frantically with his eyes, searching for his intruder. But he found none, though he searched his small estate quite thoroughly, running to and fro in his long nightshirt.

 

As John Magoan awoke in his home atop the highest knoll of the valley, the remainder of the same was catching its own share of morning light. It fell across the sky into the western hills and cascaded down from there, coming as a wave to the waiting, sleeping town below. Blazing shafts of sunlight slanted down upon rooftops, which bent, and windows that shattered. Before the startled populace could collect their senses, the sun had ascended to the sky an hour or two ahead of schedule.

 

The mayor, no less disturbed by these events and having lost in them some valuable glasswork, ran to the entrance of his princely home and yanked the door open with such wild vigor as to break the lock he had so completely forgotten to unfasten. The next instant he wished that he had remembered, maybe paused long enough to notice the other shattered windows along the east side of the entrance hall and the profusion of light entering through them. For outside, with no roof to shade it, it was much, much brighter. The sun had now arced to its noon position, thus allowing its light to lay siege to the mayor’s front door, which was no longer protected by the shadow caused by the modest protrusion of his roofline. Upon his opening the door, the light streamed in and took up residence upon the tasseled carpet that ran the length of the entryway. The mayor jumped back from the door as sunlight washed upon his bare feet, bombarding them with pain and pressure. He watched with mixed horror and amazement as the light first faded and then burnt his carpet, turning it a horrid black color. Then the sun moved on towards one o’clock in its accelerated course, leaving a blackened square on the edge of the carpet and a burning smell lingering in the air.

 

It was then near sundown when the delegates of the city council had finally assembled themselves in the town hall. They sat at the long council table which bore the mayor at its head, all amazed and bewildered as to the happenings of the day. With three hits of the gavel, the mayor called the meeting to order, a procedure not entirely necessary, given the stunned, unnaturally quiet state of his audience. However, he did this with the hope of restoring some familiarity to the meeting, since there was none to be gained from the peculiar weather. This was a mostly futile effort. Though each had attempted to look as professional as the occasion called for, not one was without incongruence in his dress. The mayor, for one, wore not shoes, but sandals, as his reddened feet could scarcely handle more. Some had their sleeves rolled up, revealing scarlet wrists and arms, and several had scorched umbrellas by their sides, used in traveling to the meeting itself. The council members sat straight with their backs not touching the chairs, all attempting, unsuccessfully, to hide the discomfort and pain their lobster-tone skin offered them.

 

"This meeting is called to order," said the mayor, with one final whack of the gavel for good measure. "Gentlemen, I have ordered this emergency meeting for the purpose of investigating some very strange weather conditions that occurred today." He eyed the men sitting before him with a measuring gaze, who eyed him back with everything from utter confusion and oblivion to total suspicion. "Something must be done about it."

 

"Here, here," remarked Mr. Lowie, the treasurer.

 

"Well, I move we form a committee," suggested Mr. Oscan, the secretary.

 

"I second it," Mr. Lowie said, raising his hand with vigor and then wincing with pain.

 

"A committee to do what?" asked Mr. Brow, the vice chairman. "Change the course of the sun?" The men cast their gazes to the table, troubled at this thought.

 

"Perhaps we should consult an architectural agency about building sturdier roofs," said Mr. Lowie.

 

"And maybe sturdier windows, too," Mr. Brow commented gruffly.

 

"I know a fellow in Gutzburg," offered Mr. Broody, the committee chairman, from the other end of the table.

 

"What has that got to do with it?" asked Mr. Oscan.

 

"He owns a store which sells suntan lotion."

 

The members looked at each other with confused glances.

 

"No, no, it would be too expensive," concluded Mr. Oscan.

 

"Well, I say we invest in umbrellas for everyone," said Mr. Lowie, picking up his and examining its scorched surface. "Properly coated, of course."

 

"Gentlemen, we are missing the heart of the problem," said Mr. Oscan with passion. "We must do something about the sun itself. There’s no good reason we should succumb to its fits of rebellion. It knows it’s got to keep a strict schedule; up at one time, down at another. Perhaps it will rise tomorrow at its appointed time and pace."

 

Such a proposal was, to say the least, unexpected. Four curious gazes found Mr. Oscan at a loss for words and perspiring gently about the neck, which was bordered by a loosened collar, instead of the usually tight one, lest its abrasive qualities overwhelm such sensitive, red skin.

 

"...Or the council could consider an alternate form of action," he said, attempting with less than optimal success to come out of the situation gracefully.

 

The other members returned their attention to the matter at hand, thinking hard toward the table.

 

"Well...what about that old Miggins lady?" asked the mayor, who had been content up to this point to watch in mild amusement as the greatest minds in the town worked furiously to find a solution to the problem.

 

"You mean the astrologer?" said Mr. Brow. "Poppycock!"

 

"It may be a suggestion worth considering," said Mr. Broody with thought.

 

"What?! Coax the sun into cooperating with the demands of the local populace? What nonsense!"

 

"I thought meeting the demands of the ‘local populace’ was the object of this meeting," returned Mr. Broody.

 

"Well yes, but not consorting with fortune tellers. I suppose you think she’ll just wish the sun back into its proper place and we’ll all be fine and dandy, eh?"

 

"Gentlemen, calm yourselves," said the mayor, laying his hand firmly on the table. "If we are going to solve this problem, we must have cool heads. Are there any other thoughts regarding this suggestion?"

 

"Considering there has been no better proposal, I say we ought to at least give it a try," conceded Mr. Lowie.

 

Mr. Oscan had regained his former posture and, with added caution, stated, "I agree. There seems no surer way to settle this matter."

 

"This is preposterous!" shouted Mr. Brow. "No surer way?! That such logical, well-meaning men could turn to such unnatural solutions on a whim!

 Horrible!"

 

"Perhaps it is fitting," added the mayor somewhat sternly, "that unnatural events be settled in unnatural ways."

 

"I propose we cast a vote to secure this course of action," said Mr. Lowie.

 

"Is there a second?" asked Mr. Broody.

 

"Here," responded Mr. Oscan, lifting his hand slightly, all that his reddened arm permitted.

 

"Very well, then," said Mr. Broody, "we shall vote on the matter. All in favor of consulting Ms. Miggins about a solution to this most peculiar problem, say ‘aye.’ "

 

"Aye," said Mr. Oscan, Mr. Lowie, and the mayor in perfect unison.

 

"All opposed," he turned to Mr. Brow, "same sign."

 

He threw a sullen glance at each of them and adjusted his posture. "Aye," he said.

 

"Very well," said Mr. Broody, "the vote stands at three to one, in favor of consulting Ms. Miggins."

 

"We will reconvene at the Miggins residence at sundown tomorrow if indeed the sun refuses to comply with its appointed standards," said the mayor.

 

"Are there any more arguments?" The members said nothing, merely shifted their gazes away from Mr. Brow, who was all but seething with resentment. "Very well. Meeting adjourned." With that, he gave the gavel a hard whack, and the men left their seats to go to their homes and nurse their sun-scorched bodies before falling asleep to dream uncomfortable dreams about the day ahead.

 

The next day before dawn, many of the town’s residents were awake in their homes, well rested from the unusually long night, waiting for the sun to arise. The long night had given them ample time to not only sleep, but to carry the word about the singular intensity of the sunbeams, lest others should be scorched by them. They had swept up the broken glass from their windows, covered the holes with blankets, and braced the weakest portions of their roofs.

 

It was then near five o’clock in the morning, and the sun began its day quite ahead of schedule, as it had done the day before. But this time something was very, very wrong. The people peered out toward the eastern hill to observe the sun, but they saw none, though it became brighter and brighter. It was only when some were stung in the back with light did they realize that the sun, far apart from its usual nature, had ascended to the sky from the west, gallivanting upward in the blue to snicker on those fooled and confused by its trickery.

 

The mayor was not immediately aware of this, for he had spent the early hours of the day in a bedroom on the east wing of his home, which he intended to flee upon sunrise. However, though the sky lit from black to yellow to blue, he saw no sun, which confused him even more, and he concluded falsely that perhaps the sun was now totally invisible. In preparation for his escape, he had left the door to the bedroom wide open, and beyond that, across the hall, was another bedroom to the west, which was also not closed off since there appeared no necessity to do so. Thus the mayor sat puzzled, while a westward sunbeam crept along the carpet, ascended the legs of his chair, and burnt his entire backside.

 

That evening, when the sun had seemed to settle contentedly in the east, the city council members and the mayor traversed the streets on their way to the residence of Ms. Miggins–a sight most intriguing, as they appeared not as men, but as apparitions from a far-away island, the ghosts of shipwrecked sailors in tattered and loosened clothes, their skin beaten by an equatorial sun.

 

They approached the house where Ms. Miggins was reported to be living. It was a terribly dilapidated structure, its roof uneven and falling in, and its walls supported in part by external boards propped against them. The paint had all but entirely flaked away, exposing ugly, rotting wood.

 

The mayor was the first to work up enough gumption to approach the place, with the others trailing slowly behind. The front walkway was more an assortment of different bricks pressed into patched, dusty ground, which existed where the bricks did not. The mayor set his foot upon the lowest of three warped steps leading to the front door. The instant he set his weight upon it, however, it snapped as if it had been merely old twigs.

 

"No, no, over here!" a voice said from around the corner of the house. It was the strange, squeaky voice an old woman is sometimes apt to have, though it was filled with, not anger, but the sort of understanding amusement one exhibits when dealing with little children.

 

The men found in the grass growing near the edge of the house a narrow little path, which curved around the building. They rounded the corner of the house to find a screen door, held open by a stout woman. Her hair was white and quit itself just beyond her shoulders, where an old worn and tattered dress continued to her ankles, and beyond them were her feet, standing in buckled shoes of a man’s design, but somehow fitting on her. Her face exhibited a pleasant smile, while her eyes appeared enlarged behind the spectacles which rested on her nose.

 

"Why don’t you all come inside?" she asked, standing aside and motioning into the house.

 

The mayor turned to look at his associates, who gave very discreet motions of approval. "Certainly," he said and stepped into the kitchen to which the door led. The others followed him inside, and then came the woman, who said, "Have a seat there at the table." This posed a mild problem, as it had about it only four chairs, so Mr. Brow folded his arms across his chest and stood in the corner. The others carefully took their seats as Ms. Miggins sat upon a stool near the counter.

 

"Well, now," she said cheerfully, "what can I do for you all?"

 

"Actually," said the mayor slowly, "we are here to ask your...um...advice regarding the sun lately." They waited with some embarrassment for her response.

 

"Oh, the sun!" she said, laughing. "Yes, he’s been a naughty boy lately, hasn’t he? Coming up at the wrong time and place and burning everything in sight! Crazy!"

 

"Yes, that’s why we came to see you. We would like to know if anything can be done to resolve the matter."

 

"Resolve the matter?" she asked, somewhat puzzled. "In that case, you may as well charm your children into adults so they’ll stop their silliness."

 

"Pardon?" said the mayor, confused.

 

"Oh don’t you see? He’s just throwing a tantrum, that’s all. Just like a little child."

 

"Um...I don’t think we understand what you’re trying to say."

 

"Of course you wouldn’t," she said, rather indignantly. "The sun to you is just one more cosmic entity, measured with science. Given time, you’ll measure its mass, circumference, volume–by golly, you’d even try to dissect it with instruments to see what makes it tick!"

 

"Well, perhaps, but..."

 

"Ever think it doesn’t too much appreciate it?"

 

The mayor seemed to consider this, as best he was able. However, he found his limits stretched by the concept. "Madam...this makes no sense. The sun isn’t alive, science has plainly shown that."

 

The old woman eyed him thoughtfully. "This may come as a shock to you, mister mayor, but maybe your science doesn’t tell you everything there is to know. Maybe your scientific godliness doesn’t sit too well with your specimens."

 

"This may seem irrelevant," said Mr. Broody through the awkward silence, "but would this have anything to do with that new observatory opening in Picketton that’s supposed to be equipped with light filters to watch the sun?"

 

"Well, maybe there are minds in this town, after all," said Ms. Miggins.

 

"So what are you saying, miss?" said the mayor. "That we close the observatory?"

 

"That, or live inside all the time," she said wryly.

 

"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Oscan, "They’ll think we’ve lost our minds! What, are we going to ask them to close the observatory to appease the sun?"

 

"Perhaps it is just that," said Mr. Lowie resignedly.

 

"My phone’s in the other room," offered Ms. Miggins, pointing toward the door.

 

Throwing a conceding glance at his compatriots, the mayor carefully hefted himself to his feet and walked toward the door. "This is insane," mumbled Mr. Brow as the mayor passed him, his arms folded even tighter across his chest. The rest of the members sat in silence as from the other room came the beeping sound of the phone as the number was dialed in. They sat and listened to the mayor’s humble plea, his voice at times so faint with solid embarrassment that it was a strain to hear. The conversation seemed to drag on for hour upon hour, and another day could just as well have come and gone when the mayor finally said, in a more confident voice, "Thank you." and hung up the phone.

 

"Well?" Mr. Brow asked as soon as the mayor rounded the corner and stepped into the room.

 

"Well, it so happens that the observatory will be temporarily closed, though not on account of any persuasion of mine. I believe they thought I was plainly crackers. As far as I could understand, the searing heat today melted a reflecting mirror in the telescope, which was pointed toward the west at the time and thus caught off guard. They said it could be out of operation for anywhere from six months to a year, depending on when they can secure a replacement mirror."

 

"I think that pretty much wraps it up," said Mr. Broody with a sigh. "Thank you for your time, Ms. Miggins."

 

"My pleasure, sirs," she responded. The five men exited the house into a night very cool in comparison to the day before.

 

"Goodnight," said the mayor, with some relief, and the company passed out of sight beyond the corner of the house, headed to their homes for a well-deserved sleep. For a time, they all walked together, but presently Mr. Lowie had to split off toward his home on Dawson Dr. And then Mr. Brow departed for his house, in a somewhat cheerier mood than before, upon the apparent conclusion of the matter. Then the three reached Mr. Broody’s estate, and he bade farewell to the mayor and Mr. Oscan. The two walked for a time longer, since their homes were in close proximity to each other.

 

"A wonderful sight, the night," said the mayor, breathing the air.

 

"Indeed. Right now I much favor the moon; it does not burn or crush, it only shines," Mr. Oscan said, looking up into the sky. "Odd," he muttered after a minute.

 

"What?" asked the mayor.

 

"It’s just...I remember seeing a full moon only last night, and now I don’t see any."

 

"Oh, I’m sure it’s up there," the mayor said with hopeful assurance. He looked up at the sky, but the longer he stared, the more he realized that its infinite blackness was filled only by the shining of the stars.

 

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