2021 Creative Writing / Visual Art Contest Winners
Hudson Dinh, Academy for Allied Health Sciences
Claire de Lune (Vignette from "Petalfall")
by Hudson Dinh
Eventually, he reached the site of repose: a lighthouse at the brink of the forest and the shore, encompassed by warped trees and vibrant flora. It produced the only illumination in the landscape, save the dying sun. From afar, however, it was evident that the descriptions provided to him of the site were faulty. What was envisioned as a fortress of moss-stone and majesty was instead a thatch hut of sandstone and wood, a stout cylinder, a pagan abode. It was, he assessed, underwhelming. But unsettling as it may have been, there existed some charm to its eccentricity.
Not far from the hut was a figure in white: a solitary soul at the brink of shore and sea, utterly alone in its patrol across the coast. He neared the figure, hesitantly, curiously. She seemed not to notice his arrival and, instead, faced the murmering horizon of the ocean, as if hearing it speak. His luggage clinked. He cleared his throat, stepped towards the doorway behind her. Nothing still.
Perhaps she wasn’t real, it dawned on him. A figment of the unstimulated mind, like the ringing in one’s ears when in a crushing silence. But it was before he could interject, “Excuse moi?” that she turned towards the hut and approached him. She’s sure to look up any moment now. He shifted his stance, stuttered, finally interjected, but she strode forward unperturbed.
They collided into each other. He, with his backbreaking bags, careened backwards; she, also floored, clutched her crown. The two groaned in pain, but while he writhed like an upturned turtle, she regained her senses and noticed his presence. Laying now on his side, his eyes met hers. She was speechless, tears gathering around two azure irises that were coming to life.
They whispered to themselves, “You’re real…”
She scrambled to her feet and, possessed by courtesy, helped him up. Before he could brush himself off, she initiated the most peculiar of greetings: squeezed his hand, his arm — felt his face, ears, mouth, tongue — smelled him, kissed him, slapped him, examined his tunic, trousers, his other hand, which she brought to her wet cheek.
“Why?” Her voice quivered.
“My thoughts exactly,” he grumbled.
“Well, please and thank you, come in!”
He hesitated. No suspicion of hers, not one pause to consider a stranger’s secrets? He obliged nonetheless; the outside air was chilling.
All characteristics of the hut were equidistant from a fire in its center. To his left was one woven bed, large enough for two. Past that was a pantry, then a booth, a shelf of books and tools, and finally, an open space to his right. The design was wholly academic, plucked from an architecture textbook and crudely recreated. It was evident that its builders were novices, yet there persisted an indescribable je ne sais quoi to it all.
He set his items down at the open space and perused the interior, all while she made a mess of the kitchen area. He heard a constant stream of bright mutterings from her, until she “asked,”
“Coffee? Tea? Coffee it is!”
She beckoned him to the booth and set before him a ceramic cup of murky water. Recalling a quick prayer in his head, he took a tentative sip. This is tea, he frowned, or perhaps very poor coffee. Also at the table were two bowls of assorted foodstuff, with odorous chunks of meat overpowering the more subtle herbs adorning them.
She plopped herself opposite him and hollered, “Who are you?”
“Well, er, I’m Delion. Of the family Astera, from the house Laserre. I’ve come to—”
“I’m Berose, I think. From the family Aspara. (We’re great at weddings and funerals!) I’m from the Home, too. Loved it there, so soul-crushing. I ran away, you see. Escaped! Are you here to take me back? Execute me? Chain me up and—”
“No! None of that…” He cast her quite the look. “No, I’ve escaped as well.”
“How? Why? Tell me everything, I want to hear your voice — a real one, finally!”
He’d never met someone so interested in him, let alone so eccentric. Her hair, unkept and sandy, seemed to perk up with her eyes. She leaned over the table, wearing a childish grin.
“Well,” he began, “I suppose I should start with Orchi. Yes, she is my dearest friend, the foil to my turbulent soul, if you will. Always one to illuminate the dark, she made use of the vernal equinox — the Home’s tradition of the first outdoor playtime of the year — to explore the outer reaches of the fields, near the forests. I was in detention then, but by the close of the day she had not returned with all the other children. I asked the guards, the caretakers, my peers — nil. This could not be. I had always wanted to know this world, to go with her beyond the confines of that orphanage (where I was never close-minded enough to get by), and now I was enchanté. I enlisted the aid of select peers to form a plan for an inconspicuous, informed escape. And I succeeded! It’s been a month now. I’ve discovered so much more than what the caretakers let me, or what the library told me. I’ve been indomitable without their chains. I’m fortunate to have received word of this, er, lighthouse, since the caretakers are swift to censor any record of escapees. And yet, I’ve not found Orchi…. But, I believe that she’s still alive. Yes, and that she knows that I will find her, and that our names will be lost to history, and that we will circle this entire globe hand-in-hand, illuminating the dark, all those scintillating and shifting Unknowns!”
He ended triumphantly, his mind still in that fantasy. Berose’s was, too, until she collapsed into a fit of giggles and commented, “Why, that’s lovely! The coincidence! My backstory is synonymous.”
“Oh? Let’s hear it now! I hadn’t known your journey was like mine, your drive to escape just as possessing.”
“Ah, well, not mine. His was, though. Meliad. Ah, that name. He was a genius, you know. Always thinking, always doing. They, the Home, they liked him, but they knew he was dangerous. Yeah, I think they knew. He loved the sky. It was where he thought and dreamt. He’d study the stars, the weather, but above all, he watched the cycles of the Moon. Loved the Moon. That’s why I fell for him. He could take me anywhere. And he did. All by his own plans, we escaped. All those books on that shelf? His journals! Years of wandering, mapping, climbing, swimming, resting, eating, nestling, dreaming. We settled here, where the twilight sky was clearest.”
She paused, speaking slowly.
“But eventually, that soul of his grew restless once more. I suppose he still wanted to know the world, while I only wanted to know him. When the hut was built and survival provisions made, he crafted a boat for one. Some spring morning, he bade a confident farewell to me, vowing that he’d be with me again soon. By the dark evening, he was lost to me. That light in my life had gone too far into those introverted waters — that void of shifting and uncertain tides — to reach me.”
She paused, speaking slowly still.
“I reasoned that, if his mantra was true, if ‘everything is cyclical,’ that’d he return, make good on that vow. So every day of every year since the sea took him, I’ve upkept our home, decorated its crude walls, cooked two meals, patrolled the gateway between Home and the Unknown, looking for him or what remains of him, listening to the sea. I’ve watched the Moon for him. I think his odyssey will end with me. I hope so.”
There came a tide of crushing silence. Delion watched the struggling flame die in the center of the hut; Berose looked through the doorway, over the horizon, where the Moon lay. No tears, no terror, just the lightest air of reflection. The Moon shimmered on the sea. The only illumination in the landscape.
That night, Delion thought and dreamt. He thought and dreamt about the sky, the stars and the Moon. Then, he was watching Orchi as she thought and dreamt, and a feeling of fiery warmth flooded him at the mere sight of her. Then, he was at the Home, and all warmth left him, and a sense of cool indifference settled in its place. He felt as though he were waiting for something or someone but was wholly disinterested in their fate. Then, he was Delion on his once-heroic journey, now with a persistent feeling of guilt, of having abandoned and been abandoned, of great uncertainty where once there was certainty.
It was this Delion that awoke at dawn to the smell of a breakfast for three. He ate plainly, exchanging few words with Berose. She was in her own fantasy of upkeep and patrol, as if no revelations were made last evening. This unsettled him, but there survived some charm to her eccentricity.
He departed graciously and quietly. Having flipped through Meliad’s journals, he realized how little of the world he had actually searched for Orchi. He could not stagnate; he feared such a fate. But as he left on his odyssey, it was Berose’s parting remark that rang in his ears, long after he escaped the breathing of the tide or the murmuring of the forest: “And though our paths may diverge — tomorrow or never at all — perhaps we’ll find each other once more: you, shimmering with your secrets, and me, watching the Moon.”
Almost Home (Visual Art)
By Crystal Robert-Ubaechu