In a world where light was powered by the Sun and stored by the Moon, a lunar eclipse was the blackout.
The right night to catch the wild animal had come. The Shaman told them.
“Why?” One of the hunters asked.
“Because Silver Ball is full. Look how perfectly round it is! Look how it floats in the blue-dark waters above your head,” the Shaman said. “You will see, when its silver claws will stretch on the wild animal; you will catch it, wherever it will try to hide,” he added rubbing his hands greedily.
The hunters moved among low bushes and cluster of rocks, speeding up their steps when a tree showed up nearby; to hide for a while behind its trunk, before starting crawling again.
Under the shadows cast by Silver Ball, behind the giant mountain, Kalaky -the city built in stone- waited for them. They had to cross it; the forest where the wild animal lurked was just beyond its walls.
They entered the main arch, making sure their boots sounded like silk. Smaller arches let the Ball piercing the walls with its silver light; standing on columns, stone by stone, they guarded hundreds of dwellings and its sleepy inhabitants.
The stony path ran clear under their feet, drawn by Silver Ball’s light. Shadows were casting soft lines of pottery belonging to solid clay jugs. A man shaped shadow stood from behind a corner; they had to run away; nobody had to know they were about hunting: that night was one of the Kalaky’s twelve sacred nights; no one had to be killed. One of the hunters peered from the wall bending the corner, “it’s a statue; let’s move on,” he whispered to the others. Beyond the corner, under porches and between high columns, a row of warriors looked at them, standing still in their bodies made from stone.
An invisible eraser must have bumped into the warriors, if one by one they started to fade before the hunter’s eyes. At first shadows began to shrink; then they disappeared, dragging with them the stone and the clay bodies they belonged to.
Darkness was felling around. Dwellings, arches, columns, walls were swallowed by nothingness. Neither floated Silver Ball. Its shape slowly decreased into something less round and less bright until it disappeared behind a cloud growing darker, dragging with it the North Star, the queen of the compass. It was when a howl uttered from the forest, echoed by the giant mountain behind the city.
The hunters froze. The Shaman had told them something else. The only shades the wild animal’s eyes could detect were black and white; in the darkness this sharped its sight. It could see them. The other way around was not true.
Beneath their feet the insects of the darkness grew bigger and bigger, crawling slowly, slithering slower and creeping faster from a corner to another looking for food. Among the tiny legs and wings, some of the Kalaky’s inhabitants were taking advantage from the sudden darkness; the unexpected blanket of nothingness was apt to cover up all sorts of misdeed. And forbidden love as well.
A tallow candle blinked. That was the sign. From behind her window Kaleeka’s tallow candle replied back to her secret love. Only the darkness knew how many prohibited kisses were exchanged from window to window that moonless night, from mute lips shaped by tiny flames.
If the sight was limited, their smell was still working fine. The scent was telling them that something was burning. Their noses led them to the center of Kalaky. At the corner wall of what had to be the main square, reddish fingers stretched upwards. It was fire, and it cast light and shadows against the darkness. Around it one man stood in contemplation; leaning against a frescoed column, his shadow was twice his size. He saw them peering at him. A cough faded among the crackle from the fire.
“Not the right night for hunting, isn’t it?” The man shouted.
The hunters needed light, and that fire had light. They could not disappoint the Shaman. They had to catch the wild animal, despite Silver Ball’s light was gone.
“If you want it, you have to take me with you,” the man around the fire added.
“We are not going to a trip; let us take a burning ember.”-
“You will burn everything around to have light, isn’t it? I’ll give you fire, but at one condition: I have to come with you. This fire will not last forever by the way, you need me to reach the forest; I will lead you, so I said.”
So they did. The hunters crossed Kalaky’s stony streets, turned at several corners, and listened to the sleepy inhabitants’ s snoring. If someone woke up and peered from the windows, at first they would realize that Silver Ball was missing, despite the calendar drawn on the sacred wheel said it had to be full and round; then they would see a small man walking with a flaming tree branch, waving it among his leather gloved fists; half a dozen of hunters following him.
On the stony floor the insects of the darkness ran away in madness looking for the darkest corner and for the thinnest gaps between two stones, escaping from the reddish light cast by that walking fire.
In the distance high trees gleamed under the fire; the wild animal lurked in the forest from that direction. They moved farther, crossing more arches and turning at more corners; the flames grew smaller, just in time to cast the last flash of light into clear water laying into a stone basin. Standing nearby a well a fountain poured new water into the basin, the last flame told them before fading in the dark. A cough faded among the gurgling water.
“Come here; look,” the small men said.
“You promised to lead us to the forest. The fire is dead, and to the forest still a long way to go.” The hunters’ patience was almost gone.
“Come here; look,” the small men said again. “Look into this water, before it’s too late,” he urged.
The hunters did as he asked, and they caught a glimpse of blue lights floating into the water. “So?” One of the hunters asked, patience all gone.
“You don’t understand! The last flame of fire is showing you something! Blue lights, aren’t they? They are not running from the fountain; they only mirror themselves into the water. We must follow them. We will find other light.” The small men said raising his nose from the fountain and pointing it to the east, where the blue lights gathered under the water; his feet took the same direction.
The hunters followed him to the furthest east part of the city. They reached the place where the blue lights had their source. Thousands of spheres were dancing at mid-air; sometimes they looked like floating candles. A cough faded among the popping sound from the moving lights.
“Will-o'-the-wisp,” the small men said. “Welcome to Kalaky’s graveyard. Despite Silver Ball has floated away tonight, there’s light here. The souls’ light, we believe.”
Before their mesmerized eyes, the hunters saw the blue lights landing on the spartan tombstones. Under fading blue halos handwritten signs read the Kalaky’s language; engraved on the stone were the memories of past lives.
After the tribute, the blue lights gathered in one single point in the air.
Up, where air floats in the lack of gravity, the dark sky knew that Silver Ball had moved into the planet Earth's shadow. It knew even more: Golden Ball, Earth, Silver Ball and Earth were on the same line somewhere in the Universe.
Down, stem by stem jumping fireflies queued drawing a golden line in the dirt. The wings spread open and flew among the blue lights. The blue-golden arrow they shaped in the air pointed at one direction, not north, not south, not even east neither west. It pointed to the ground, before disappearing and leaving Kalaky in the full darkness again.
Their eyes landed on the earth beneath their feet. Dirt and grass and small rocks shared the space with less and less stones. Looking closer, reddish light sparkled among the grass. That was the only light left. The lunar eclipse was casting a long-lasting darkness over a huge part of the world; but to the hunters and to the small man this was unknown. A cough faded among the pawing sound raising from their boots against the dirt.
“I hope you will catch the wild animal,” the small man shouted, leaning against a tombstone.
“You promised to lead us to the forest! Are you trapping us?” One of the hunters said, raising his fists against the man. He started for him when his feet got frozen. There was no small man anymore. Only a grey shadow swirling among the tombstones that grew darker and darker.
They were alone, swallowed by darkness. One of the hunters started to kick his boots against small rocks; mud and dirt flew around together wit his anger. One of his hunting arrows jumped from the lather backpack, landing steady on the ground; its bronze head thrust on something that felt like a molten rock under his hand trying pulling it away. Pulsing rubies snaked in a trail on the ground. It felt warm. It cast light. They followed it.
“This must be the giant mountain’s blood,” one of the hunters said, remembering what the Shaman told them.
The path drawn by the reddish lines on the earth started to fade under their feet. Suddenly it stopped.
The wild animal might be just behind the trees, peering at them; at those creatures standing on two legs and suddenly blind and powerless under the longest lunar eclipse of their times.
“You came late.”
That was the Shaman’s husky voice.
“Who did it?” One of the hunters asked.
“Did what?” The husky voice thundered in the darkness.
“Who did kill the wild animal?”-
“Killed? It’s not dead. And it is not thanks to you. It’s her you should thank.”
The smell of fresh blood grew stronger under the hunters’ noses. Fear grew in their mind as darkness got thicker around them.
The Shaman’s voice sounded closer. He was before them, invisible as everything was.
“The wild animal got trapped tonight. Haven’t you heard its howl? It called for help. And I did call for your help… and you came late.” His voice was full of disappointment, and sadness. A cough raised as his sentence ended.
A voice struggled to find the right words, to sound steady despite fear trembled from young lips. “I… I was following you with the idea to lead you from Kalaky to the forest. I tried to catch your attention.” A cough came from the same voice. “B… But you were too busy to…”
“Who are you? Where are you?” The hunters asked in terror, only now remembering those fading coughs. They had assumed it was the small man who coughed.
The young voice muted. Instead the Shaman spoke: “she is Lakira; and it is thanks to her if the wild animal is sill alive. I sent you to rescue it; all these years of training and lessons, and you… came late.”
“How could we know she was behind us? Everything got dark! Don’ t you see it? Where is Silver Ball gone tonight?” One of the hunters said angrily.”
“Is it dark?” The Shaman asked, then he went on, “is it dark Lakira?”
The young voice struggled again looking for steadiness, “I don’t know. What is dark? What does it mean?”
“Are you blind, young lady?” One of the hunters asked not even trying to hide sarcasm from his tone.
“Is she? Lakira are you blind?” This time the Shaman’s voice sounded furious. “Lakira’s sight is impaired, yes, since she was born.”
“How did she manage to…” The hunter who just spoke tried to ask.
“This is a question I must ask to all of you. How despite her impairment did Lakira manage to reach the forest and rescue the wild animal and you did not?” The Shaman asked.
The hunters felt confused. Their understanding of that odd nightly task was they had to kill the wild animal; never thought about rescuing it from some trap. Darkness had made things difficult to achieve.
“You focused on one skill only. Sight! The lack of light made you focus just on sight, isn’t it?” The Shaman asked calmly. “Desperately looking for something unavailable. And what about all your other skills? What about your feelings? What about smell, tactile sensation, instinct? Has Silver Ball erased all of them from you?”
The hunters had forgotten their strengths and believed in false assumptions, under the lunar eclipse which for one night had erased the visible world from them. They closed their eyes, opening their heart to the invisibility of the darkness. Before them, like in a black and white movie, white shadows lined the body of a young girl. She sat under a tree; among her arms a wolf was looking at her with sparkling eyes. Blood had spotted its fur with white flowers. It was safe.