In the beginning, there was the Word.
The word created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. The word hovered over the waters.
In the beginning, all of creation lived in a gorge carved deep into the earth. It was a wondrous canyon formed of rocks painted by the sun himself, brilliant blazes of copper orange, rust red, and terra-cotta brown. Water trickled through crevices, crystalline and sparkling, to feed the plants, who, in their abundance, fed the animals, from all the insects who crawled on the ground to the birds who soared through the skies.
The sun oversaw all. His light shone on all corners of the gorge, and wherever it touched, the earth also shone, vibrant, radiant, humming. His light warmed the rocks to shelter all creatures from the wind and rain. Deep hollows cradled the young of every living thing so all could live in safety. They grew, and they multiplied, until the gorge could not hold them all, and a group traveled out to find a new home.
Outside of the gorge, darkness rolled over a vast desert. The creatures tried to venture into it, but fear clouded their minds so they couldn’t find their way. It almost swallowed them whole.
Only the sun’s intervention saved them. His light cast the darkness into wisps of smoke, blown away by the winds’ breath. Across the desert, he placed his palm down, then raised it. Underneath his fingertips sprung a valley, soft and safe with thick grass sprouts. The sun ushered the creatures to their new home on the other end of the earth, their fear abated.
However, he returned to the gorge the next morning to find the remaining creatures shivering. The night was long and full of shadows. Without the sun’s light, darkness simply crept to fill the void. And now that he was back at the gorge, surely it was creeping back into the valley. Over there, fear would be worse, for the new, unfamiliar grasses held no memories of comfort within them.
“Have courage,” the sun told the creatures of the gorge. “What can the darkness do to you?”
The animals had no answer.
The sun heaved a sigh of sympathy for his nervous-hearted creatures. He would split his time between the two homes, circling from one to the other. He blazed a trail for the next day’s journey.
“I will return,” he told the animals in his warm, steady voice. “Have courage, and trust.”
They tried, but the second his light dimmed, a wailing took over the land. The creatures cried out in fear at the thought of another cold, dark night. The first was too much to bear. Surely the next night would kill them.
They sent a bird to intercede on their behalf. She was as accustomed to the sky as she was to the gorge. She flew as high as she could. She flew until her feathers almost ripped off from the wind, and then she flew even further. Before she could collapse, the sun plucked her from the clouds.
“My child,” he said. “Why have you followed me so far, so late?”
The bird told the sun their fears. “We will surely perish. Give us half of your light so we may live.”
“You will not die,” the sun said. “The darkness is powerful, but it will not harm you.”
The bird would not be budged. “Give us some hope of your return.”
So the sun plucked off one of his rays. It turned into a handful of seeds. “Take these and eat them,” he said.
The bird perched on his arm and pecked at his palm. She began to change. Her feathers melded together. Her body was once lighter than air; now it was simply light. It was dimmer than the sun, her sparks silver instead of his golden gleam, but it warmed her all the same.
“You are now a star,” the sun said. “Shine your light for the others, and they will be sure to brave the night.”
And he left.
The bird-who-was-now-a-star clung to the fabric of the sky. Without wings, if she let go now, she would fall. She looked down at the gorge and watched all of the creatures scurrying about under the incandescent golden hour. Shadows cast across the cliffs and rendered new facets of each crag into a new perspective, illuminating the land’s depths anew.
And it was beautiful.
But the further the sun got from the gorge, the more light crept away. A thick, drafting darkness billowed once more. Unlike shadows, this darkness concealed. It consumed. Heat escaped the rocks and a chill swept over the land again. The gorge turned from a carved giver of life to a scar pitting the land.
I’m not bright enough, the star thought. If I were, everything would be as it’s supposed to be.
She tried to burn hotter. She strained her arms. She flared so hot she burned a hole in the sky and tumbled to the ground.
She crashed in the desert at the upper lip of the gorge. Its sand singed into a black crater at her arrival. She peered over the edge of the rocks, and the bottom lay impossibly deep below. Darkness swirled inky and billowing, wisping away from the small patch lit by her glow.
The sun didn’t say anything about leaving the sky. But she was here now. She hopped down from rock to rock. It was harder without her wings, which used to let her glide from cliff to cliff, drifting on billowing columns of hot air. Her new body was fragile yet unbreakable. It took some getting used to.
She landed on a ledge, on something long, ropy, and scaled. It was a serpent’s tail. The star bounced backwards, and the serpent reared his head. He flicked his tongue in her direction.
“Who is this?” he asked. He slithered closer and tasted the air. “Not a bird at all, but a creature of the night.”
“I’m a star now,” she said. She drew all her courage into herself. “I’m here to give light to the gorge.”
The snake flicked its tongue. The pronged edge snatched at the star’s glow. It sizzled at their connection.
“I have no use for the light,” the serpent said. “I navigate by scent and sound. The darkness is good for me. When the other animals are lost, that’s when I strike.”
The star shivered. Before the night fell, no animals ate each other. “Still, I must go. It is my duty.”
“An impossible task,” the snake said. He slithered a circle around the star. His belly wove a thick track into the dust beneath them. “You are not as bright as the sun. You are tiny and feeble. Look at you, you’re already flickering.”
It was true. The sun beamed steady and strong, but the star twinkled, hazy.
“Whoever gave you this task obviously did not know what they were talking about,” the snake said. He coiled back up under a rock with a false ease, only the yellow glimmer of his eyes and the twitch of his tense tail visible. “You should return to the surface. The desert won’t hurt you. Leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves.”
The star gathered her light into herself. She took a deep breath. She took a running start and plunged off the ledge, into the canyon below, the snake’s jaws snapping after her.
She landed on another cliff, midway down. She bounced on some loose rocks, and they went skittering into the shadows, their clatters echoing off walls adorned with drawings. Where the star’s glow reached, she could see chalky handprints and footprints etched on the sides, the immutable mark of creatures hoping to be remembered: I was here, I was here, I was here.
She reached out to the wall. Her hand was not a hand anymore. It singed the rock and left a molten orange spark.
“Hello?” a small voice called out. The star turned around. A mouse sat on its haunches in the middle of the path. “You’re the bird.”
“I was,” the star said. She watched her orange handprint flicker, casting warped edges on their surroundings. The rock felt warmer for it.
“I liked it when you were in the sky,” the mouse said. “The sun could look at us down here, but we couldn’t look at him. You, you looked at us and I could see you too.”
“I’m here to light up the gorge,” the star said. Even as she said it, she didn’t know how. It did feel like an impossible task. “I am not as bright as the sun. But I feel as though I should try.”
The mouse snuffled around the star’s gleaming feet. Her whiskers tickled. “I don’t need to see the whole gorge,” the mouse said, sitting back up on her hind legs. “I only need to find my way home. When the serpent hunts, I’ll be helpless without shelter. When you were in the sky, I followed your direction to my den.”
“Well then, you can follow me again,” the star said. She set off down the path, trailing the handprints backwards. Her footprints glowed, marking where they’d traveled. “We will find it together.”
They walked down the twisting path, deeper into the canyon, until they reached a cactus. The cactus reached its arms up to the sky. A flower bloomed pink and yellow on its prickly head. Hollows opened into the ground at its feet, and the mouse leapt inside. She turned back so her whiskered nose poked through the hole.
“You are not as bright as the sun,” the mouse said. “This is true. Your light is still life-saving.”
The star didn’t know what to say. The mouse disappeared beneath the surface without another word.
The star looked around herself. The darkness was thicker down here. It settled like a sediment upon itself, like sand swirling at the bottom of a river. The star had to burn hotter to keep it from crowding her.
“That’s nice,” a placid voice said from above.
The star looked up. All she could see was the cactus. She climbed up its needles and perched on its shoulder, careful not to singe the cactus’s green-plated skin.
“Hello?” she said.
“Yes,” the cactus said.
“It’s awfully dark down here.”
The star sat quietly with the cactus. If she closed her eyes, she could almost hear it breathe all along its spine.
If she closed her eyes, she could pretend that was the only reason it was so dark.
“I’m here to light up the gorge,” the star said. Her voice cracked open the night. “Then we can see better in the darkness.”
“Darkness,” the cactus said. Its flower rustled in the breeze. It had five points on it, like the star. “Night can be endured. Waiting is no trouble. If there is something beautiful, it becomes easier. One beautiful thing to watch. To remind us.”
The star sat atop the cactus. She waited to see if it would speak more, but that was all it had to say.
The star’s light twinkled and flickered against the canyon walls as she waited. It rippled warped patterns across the rocky brown surface, riddled with holes and pillars. Silver streams trickled between two cracks. Her light refracted into rainbow pearls as the waters traversed into the deep, falling with gravity toward their inevitable end.
She had a task. She could not achieve it here. It was time to go.
The cactus made no words as she climbed back down its spines. The star gave it one last look goodbye and hopped down moist, slippery rocks, following the water streams into their caverns.
A thick fog enveloped her in a clammy mist. Darkness surged down here. Underneath, her light shone silver, bouncing from swirl to swirl and bending back on itself. She pulsed and a small cloud around her evaporated, only to be replaced by more.
There is too much of it, she thought. She could despair. The darkness rolled over her, maelstrom, and it filled her breath. It pressed her into the canyon floor, pressure flattening her until she felt like a speck of dust.
Feeling is not the same as being. The star flickered. She had a light inside of her. She burned herself hotter, hot as she had when she burned a hole in the sky. A cloud dissipated, but more darkness returned to fill the void, wafting through her limbs. She burned hotter, as hot as she imagined the daytime desert sands to be. The ground down here was so cold and damp, it remained unscorched. She tucked herself inward. She condensed herself into a single silver-hot point, so bright she exploded into a corona of flames, wheeling into the night time.
It wasn’t enough. The darkness never seemed to end. But as long as she burned, she could keep it from touching her. She couldn’t escape it the way she came. The only way out was through. The rocks steamed.
Daybreak. Light peeked over the edge of the gorge. The snake slipped back beneath its rock. Mice and rabbits scampered around the canyon walls, and birds soared from cliff to cliff. A single cactus faced the sky as the sun made his promised return.
The sun reached down and plucked a faded grey star from the rocks. She was so small, she could fit in the palm of his hand.
“My child,” he said.
The star stirred. She tried to fire sparks. She had no more flames within her. All she could make of herself was a muted ember. But even if it was weak, the power still flickered. She was still a thing divine.
“I need more,” she said. “Give me another ray. Let me try again.”
The sun cupped her in his hands. They were warm like the rocks, a golden flat heat. Little by little, her strength returned. “You will burn yourself up if I give you any more,” he said. “You were not made to carry it all.”
“Make me so I can.”
She was a stubborn star. The sun adored her.
He molded her new shape. He pressed her into being. Instead of light and airless, she became dense. He scooped layers of clay from the canyon walls and packed them tight around her, baked through as her starlight poured back to the surface. He placed her back in the sky and she appraised her new body. A real body, a heavy body, so she didn’t need to cling to the sky as hard to stay up. Her surface was silver and cool to the touch. She glowed brighter with the sun nearby, the two of them dazzling the clouds around them.
“You will not need to burn up yourself,” the sun explained. “You are the moon. Wherever I am, you will always be able to see me. You can shine my light into the gorge without being consumed.”
The star-who-was-now-a-moon clung to the sky. She swung herself toward the horizon. The light followed, attracted to her core. It bounced off her dust back onto the earth. A silver pool formed over the land. The darkness gathered to watch her, condensing at the bottom of the gorge, now a gleaming lake.
The sun continued its journey across the sky, but the moon was no longer afraid of his departure. Wherever he was, his light remained with her. And now that she had no fear of burning, she shone brighter than before, guiding the animals safely to their homes in the middle of the night, illuminating the canyon for all to see its beautiful rocks and crevices.
Once every month she leaves the sky. She returns to the depths of the gorge to sit with the darkness, to give it one beautiful thing.