Without the Moon

Things were different after we lost the moon.

The days right afterwards were chaos. People thought the world was ending. The first set of theories sounded straight out of a disaster movie. In the first few hours, we were afraid that the moon had crashed into the earth, somewhere on the other side of the globe. When it became clear that there was no major tragedy anywhere on the planet, some of us figured that an asteroid had crashed into the moon. Perhaps we’d have to deal with the moon debris. Perhaps more asteroids were on their way.

Some of the theories seemed wild to me but I did have to admit that there was a profound feeling, deep in my bones, that tragedy was on the horizon.

After the first few chaotic days came and went devoid of tragedy, people started wondering how it would affect the earth. The seasons, the climate, the magnetic fields. Surely at least the ocean and the tides should be affected. But somehow, everything was eerily the same as it had always been. For a while, the tension of waiting for the other shoe to drop was almost worse than the chaos.

Most people started to believe that the moon was still there after all, we just couldn’t see it anymore. Scientists started trying to come up with theories about what could have caused it to stop reflecting light from the sun. Some people thought that its absence was a mass hallucination, that we were all just imagining that it was gone when it was really right in front of us. A few people maintained that the moon had never existed, that the only hallucination was that we thought we had all seen it before. Two groups who had never been in contact with each other - a tribe of indigenous people in Arizona and a pagan circle in Scotland - came forth simultaneously with the same theory: that the moon was actually the eye of a giant raven who had gotten tired of looking upon mankind and had closed its eye for good.

For most, abject horror of the unknown slowly faded into a sense of normalcy. The moon was gone. We didn’t know why. We just had to accept it and move on with our lives.

Still, it just didn’t feel the same after that. A lot of people started leaving the cities, venturing out into the wilds like they had forgotten how to be human. Or perhaps they suddenly remembered how to be some other sort of beast that had been sleeping inside them all along. There didn’t appear to be any sort of organized movement. It was just an urge that occurred to people after we lost the moon.

Some people described it as an awakening, a sudden realization that we can’t rely on any of the things we had come to let ourselves rely on. And if the universe is really this random and terrifying and chaotic, why are we spending it in office buildings, in traffic, under fluorescent lights?

I quit my job at the restaurant and got a new job at the bookstore. I had always wanted to work there but they were never hiring before. Now they were.

Others described it as an inexorable pull towards the darkness. In a very literal way, the world was darker than it used to be. I didn’t expect to notice it so intensely. It’s not like it was ever any darker than a dark night. Every night was just a dark night now. But I think the human subconscious noticed that something was different, like the whole world was marginally flawed. Some people were intrigued by that. I think some people were almost obsessed with it.

My friend Sasha tried to describe it to me once. We went out for coffee a few months after. I noticed she was taking her coffee black, even though she never did before. I decided to try my coffee black too and it tasted better than I remembered.

“It feels like the night is looking back at me these days,” she explained calmly. That sounded perturbing to me, but she didn’t seem to think so. “Mostly it just doesn’t seem fair that it can see me but I can’t see back into it.” She left the city and headed into the forest soon after that.

For whatever reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about my black coffee and how much more I liked than used to. Not long after that, I stopped using salad dressing on my salad too. It just didn’t seem necessary anymore.

Others described it as a break in reality. Nothing made sense anymore. The world had gone crazy and the only way to keep up was to embrace its brokenness.

Have you ever entered a room that was so dark that you couldn’t see anything but inky blackness? But then as you existed in that room for a while, your eyes adjusted to whatever tiny scraps of light were there and eventually you could see so clearly, it seemed unbelievable that it once had seemed as black as the back of your eyelids? That was how I felt. When the moon disappeared, we thrashed against the change, but once we adjusted to the absence of light, we could see deeper into the dark room than ever before. Without the moon, a whole new layer of the universe suddenly became visible to us.

I started having dreams about a fearsome and beautiful deity.

They were taller than the canopy with powerful legs as thick as old trees, seemingly reaching down farther than the ground, melding into the earth itself. Their skin was the color of earth, in fact, in the best possible way, as if life could be growing within them, ready to sprout out at any moment. Everything about them was big, solid, and imposing. Big legs, big hips, big shoulders, big scars carved across the chest where breasts may have otherwise been. I couldn’t tell if they were male or female, but it was more fundamental than that; “male” and “female” were words that weren’t applicable to this being in any way. 

Somehow, no matter what angle I saw them from, the sun was always directly behind their head, shining around them like a perpetual halo made of lens flare. Sometimes it seemed like they were bald, with only the glare of the sun low in the sky framing their face, but other times it seemed like the sun itself was their hair, golden and luminous and flowing all around them like an infinite sea. One of their eyes was brown, but where the other should be, there was just a socket through which I could see the night sky and, in this version of the sky, the moon was still there.

“See,” was the only word they said to me and their voice rumbled like the sound of vibrating mountains, of tectonic plates waking up and shifting reluctantly under my feet. It was a command and a threat and a gift and a promise all at once.

I felt like I had to run. I didn’t know if I should be running towards them or away from them, but on a spherical planet, no matter which direction I chose, I supposed I would be doing both.

And just like that, I journeyed into the forest myself.

I didn’t know how long I would stay. I was wearing a raincoat and I brought with me a blanket, a water bottle, a jar of peanut butter, one loaf of bread, one bag of coffee beans that I wasn’t sure how I intended to grind or brew, a string of battery powered fairy lights and a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I couldn’t bear to leave behind for some reason. I had no illusions about being able to fend for myself in the wilderness for long periods, still I just had to go out and... see.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting to find. I almost didn’t expect anything at all. It felt like I was walking through the trees and into a void, a well-worn path where so many had been swallowed up into nothingness, never to be seen again.

It was beyond anything I had imagined.

Civilization had risen anew here. It wasn’t reborn, like a second attempt at the same society that we had before. It was reincarnated out of the ashes, something new and unique and wonderfully organic. Even here, nobody was really able to explain why they’d come, how they knew where to meet, how they decided to put seeds in the ground and build huts around trees with the trunks reaching down through the center and thatch the roofs with leaves. Nobody realized how good they would be at it. Nobody realized what a sense of purpose they would get out of it. It was like ancient instincts were awakening deep in everyone’s souls.

Everyone there was happy to see me, Sasha most of all. She swore up and down that I subconsciously knew I’d meet up with her and that’s why I brought the coffee beans. I think everyone else was a little disappointed that I came so ill-equipped, but I gave them my peanut butter and I hung up the lights around the entranceway to the kitchen area. Harrison, the soft-spoken young man who seemed to oversee the clay oven, confided in me that his kitchen had felt incomplete before and that the lights had been just what was missing.

I decided to stay for a while. Sasha invited me to stay with her. Harrison asked if I wanted to try working with him in the kitchen and he taught me how to make flatbread and the best stew I’d ever had.

I loved the settlement so much. I felt like there was light shining inside of me, but part of me knew that it wasn’t what I had come looking for.

The first time I laid eyes on Celeste, they were working the earth, growing food for the settlement. Their skin was the color of earth, in the best possible way. They were wearing a plain, yellow skirt with no shirt and their powerful back was covered in a thin layer of sweat that shone in the dying light of the evening sun.

The first time they turned to see me, I caught them with the summer sun, warm and low in the sky behind their nearly bald head, the golden light flowing over their shoulders like they had slowly oozing honey instead of hair. And their resemblance to the deity in my dream didn’t end there. They had the same strong legs, reaching down like mighty trunks to feet half-buried in soil and the same aura of  growth, the same smell of warm, damp air and fresh earth. They had the same long scars across their chest, like their body was a complicated topography of history and trauma and strength. Their eyes nearly knocked the wind out of me—one was brown and the other was a striking, cloudy pale blue.

Their voice was the only thing I didn’t expect. It felt so strong and forceful in the dream, but when Celeste laughed it was like bells tinkling in the spring breeze. I felt laughter building up inside my chest and I tried to swallow it back down like one would swallow back a sickening rush of anxiety or fear, but then I realized--why? Why else did I even come here? If there was one place on the earth where I should be able to smile without feeling self-conscious, this was it. And so, I laughed with them.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt badly that I couldn’t call the bookstore and tell them that I wasn’t coming back. I suspected they would figure out what happened. I was far from the first one to go missing.

Celeste was a shaman of some sort, but they wouldn’t qualify it any more than that. I’d ask them, are you a witch? A fortune teller? A prophet? And they’d shrug and reply, “I just understand things.”

It wasn’t enough for me, though I didn’t dare bring up the dreams I’d had, even though I knew they’d understand that too. I felt almost like I had cheated somehow, seen wonderful things that I hadn’t been meant to see and part of me feared that if I admitted it, the wonderful things would be taken away from me. “Please, Celeste, you can explain it to me. I promise I’ll believe you.”

“I am explaining it!” They’d laugh and that tinkling laugh made it feel like the answer didn’t matter anymore. “I mean, there’s nothing to explain. Things just mean something to me in a different way.”

And they found meaning in everything—in the pattern of fallen leaves on the field first thing in the morning or the bones at the bottom of the soup pot. They predicted the weather. They always seemed to know what part of the woods the animals would be in. They made tea for people who were sick or even just people who were sad. “Being sad is just like being sick but in your soul,” they’d say. And I don’t know exactly how to describe it but nothing ever seemed so bad afterwards, like the warm feeling in my chest from the tea was a golden light that enveloped and comforted me.

I loved them. I loved them more than I had ever loved anything. Thinking back to how I felt when I first started having the dream was foreign and confusing. How could I have ever considered running away from this?

And the most amazing part is that they loved me too. Not in the way that the Christian God supposedly loved all His children. They loved me like I was the only person in the world. In the past, I would have questioned it. I would have wondered what I did to deserve such happiness. I would have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. But in the forest, things felt simpler. Those kinds of anxious feelings rarely plagued me. When they did, Celeste made me their restorative tea and I had a cup while I listened to the rain gently patter on the leaves above. Hard days always seemed to be accompanied by gentle, soothing rain.

“Doesn’t that seem weird?” I pointed out once. “How the weather matches up to my feelings?” Celeste just smiled knowingly.

Eventually I worked up the courage to ask them the question that had been on my mind since the first time I ever saw them.

It was just after breakfast, before we got started with the day’s labor, and we were laying by the side of the creek between the two biggest roots of one of my favorite trees.

“Celeste,” I said, and the words almost caught in my throat. “What really happened to the moon?”

The question hung in the air like an inexplicable humidity and I could feel a moment of understanding pass through the two of us. I wasn’t asking for a speculation, a personal theory, an intellectual discussion. They knew what really happened. The moon was still there somewhere, inside their cloudy blue eye, just like in my dream.

They wrapped their strong arm tighter around me, cradling the back of my head gently. The breeze off the creek was cool and fresh. I could almost feel sprouts springing into existence from their fingertips, taking root in my thick, unruly hair. They kissed me and looked into my eyes, their expression sincere, compassionate, but deeply serious. “Do you really want to know?”

And in the quiet beauty of that moment, I realized that I actually didn’t.

 

Jameson Hampton (they/them) is a nonbinary adventurer from Buffalo, NY who wishes they were immortal so they'd have time to visit every coffee shop in the world. Their writing has been published in Moonchild Mag, Rhythm & Bones Lit, and several comics and tabletop gaming anthologies, including Uncaged. They spend their free time burning art in the woods.

Jameson Hampton