“The moon is dead,” the old woman hissed. Her gnarled fingers gripped the girl's arm, and her words seemed to slither into Elena's ear like an unwanted snake. Elana's eyes widened in surprise for a moment before she softened her gaze, and pulled her arm from the grasp of the village loon. “Come on, Ena, it’s okay. See, look,” she takes the old woman’s hand in her own, pointing it to the celestial planet that hung in the sky, telling Elana that it was near sunrise, and was about half way through the month. “The moon is okay. It’s right there. We don't have to worry about any of that.” The old woman growls at her defiantly, ripping her hand away from Elana, and shuffles past the girl to her small hut across the street. Elana shivers softly, watching the old woman enter her home before leaving the small walkway in front of her own hut to walk down the street. Skipping slightly, she jumps onto the paved road from the dirt one, landing directly on the large stone moon like she had so many times before. In one hand, a small basket lined with thin cloth, and in the other, she grips the small knife hanging on her belt, fingering the intricate carving that spins around the hilt. It tells of a story that her mother would often tell her when the sun was coming up, and it was time for Elana to sleep.
“Elana!” The woman turns to the call, and sees a large man ambling in her direction. Elm Leader Hugh jogs toward her, his silver cloak shimmering in the moonlight, and his grin radiating with just about the same amount of light. She feels herself blush slightly, but, trying to ignore it, waves at him and starts to walk slowly as he catches up to her. “Elm Leader,” she says respectfully, keeping him in her peripheral vision. An Elm Leader was a highly respected part of the community, and Elm Leader Hugh was the community's most eligible man. He laughs in response to her more formal greeting and they walk together for a few steps before he breaks the silence. “I saw you with Ena. Thanks for not getting angry with her,” he says gratefully. “Of course,” she says simply. He shakes his head slightly as they pass the first of the markets’ booths, the booths that have been pushed to the edge of their society, full of inferior merchandise. She walks past them briskly as Leader Hugh explains. “There have been a couple of men from the Center that have been talking to her. Not quite harassing her, but close to it.” She hears the anger in his voice. “I’m just glad to see that there are still people who are… understanding, I guess.” Elana feels herself blush again, and nods casually, looking up into his face. “Of course, Leader Hugh. I understand.” He smiles again, then offers his arm. She is confused for a moment, then realizes that he’s referring to her basket. She gratefully accepts his offer, sliding it onto his arm, making sure the cloths are still securely tucked in. They continue to walk in comfortable quiet, as Elana reflects on her position next to the Elm Leader. Though nearly a decade older than her, at 31 to her 23, they had come close to her sensitivity to his great aunt, Ena. Though he had no idea, her mother had suffered from a similar situation, often talking about the moon's death to her young daughter, until finally she was exiled for her behavior. Elana shivers even now at the few memories of her raving mother, who was even more aggressive than her old neighbor. But even then, she knew she would always remember her mother with compassion. Remember her dark eyes that match Elana´s. Remember her stories.
“What are you in need for?” Leader Hugh interrupts her thoughts. She glances back at him before scanning her surroundings. They had just walked into the Center, a part of the village that was exempt of any small huts, and was instead the main part of the marketplace. The marketplace was present every night, and the Center held the best stalls. Luckily enough, these stalls were still fairly cheap and of good quality, so this is where Elana shopped for her needs. The houses surrounding the Center were large and beautiful, a stark contrast to the edge of the village, where each hut was sand worn and sun worn. Finally, a specific booth caught Elana's eye, and she started to walk toward it, the Elm Leader following close behind. It was one of the meat booths, one she had gone to for many months. She carefully inspects some beef before choosing a fresh slab of the meat. Grabbing some coins from her basket, she pays the butcher and turns to Leader Hugh. Picking up the cloth, she cuts it expertly with her knife, so she can wrap the meat carefully and tightly, making sure the juices don’t leak. Elana looks up into Leader Hughs face and she sees an impressed look before he schools his expression, and they continue walking.
As they continue walking along the booths, Elana carefully picks out the best products of meats, fruits and vegetables. Slowly, her basket fills up, until Elana had nearly exhausted her small amount of funds. Her final purchase was a small bottle of rosemary perfume, which she bought quickly with a watchful gaze on Leader Hugh, who was preoccupied with a youthful boy who had been showing him his wares. Maybe, she thought to herself. This will bring us a little closer? She shook her head in shame and surprise. Why was she doing this? But as she was about to return the bottle, Leader Hugh looked at her, asking her if she was finished. Tucking the bottle securely in her sleeve, she responded yes. Resolving to return the bottle later, they start to walk away from the booths. The crowds by this time were now heavy, and they struggled to push through them. Luckily, the moon was bright and large enough to see clearly, so it was a fairly short time before they were again at the edge of the market. Elana took the basket from the Leader's arm, and gave him a small bow.
¨Thank you so much, Leader Hugh,¨ Elana said humbly as she stood straight again. He laughed kindly, waving his hand at her gratitude. ¨It was nothing at all, Elana. Honestly, I think it was more of a help to me then to you. I don´t think I´ve ever seen anyone bargain as ruthlessly as you.¨ Elana again felt her face burn, and looked down in embarrassment. ¨That was a compliment,¨ he said softly. She saw his hand reach up, to tilt her chin up, she thought, but just then the loud bongs sounded, and Leader Hugh cleared his throat as Elana stepped back in surprise. The bongs signified that sunrise was coming, and Elana still had much to do before she could sleep.
¨I´m sorry, Leader Hugh, but I must go.¨
The Elm Leader nodded understandingly, waving his hand toward the direction of her street. ¨Yes, of course, of course. I understand. Go on, then.¨ Elana looks up, to see him smiling playfully. She smiles in response, before turning away and jogging to her hut.
She carefully puts away each of her purchases, and deftly pulls down her thick blankets that line her windows. She could already hear the desert wind picking up with the sunrise, and particles of sand started to flurry into her house. Her room is darkened against the rising sun, and as she lays on her bed to sleep, she pulls the small perfume bottle from her sleeve. She falls asleep with the bottle still in her hand.
. . .
The wind stopped suddenly, and Elana woke up almost immediately. She lifted herself up from her bed, wiping the gritty sand from her eyes that always collects there in the night. She pulls a blanket a bit to the side, and is almost blinded. The sun is directly facing her window, and she pulls away in surprise. She sits there for a moment, before carefully peeking outside again. The winds have stopped blowing, and the hated sands have stopped butchering every uneven surface. The sky was still darkening, the sun still sinking. But Elana still felt weird and uncomfortable. Tentatively, she pulls up the heavy blankets, and walks outside. Scanning the sky, she realizes what is wrong.
The sky holds no moon. Though the sun is sinking, there is no moon. And Elana knew that there was no New Moon in sight. She shivers, and then realizes that there are several other people in the street as well, also looking up in the sky. Ena suddenly walks beside her, laying a hand on Elana´s arm. The old woman looks heavy, as though her soul was carrying all the sand in the world. ¨I told you,¨ she said sadly. ¨The moon is dead.¨