Holding Back The Darkness

“There, right at the back, that’s a wing.”

“Next to the clown?” Hebi pressed his nose hard against the glass, straining to see what his friend was pointing at. “That’s not a wing. It’s the wrong shape.” Hebi was sure it was the edge of a kite.

“It is.”

“I’m right, and I’ll show you tomorrow.”

Both boys stepped away from the window of the small shop.

“Do you think the festival will be as good as last year?” Koui asked.

Hebi grinned at his friend. “It’ll be better. My dad said that there will be a circus from Heng in one of the squares.”

“I hope they stay after the festival,” Koui said. “Then we can go lots of times.”

“I bet they will,” Hebi agreed.

The ringing of the evening bell echoed down the narrow cobbled street. Hebi looked around and noticed that most of the shops had started to close.

“I need to get back. My mum will be worried if I stay out too close to dark.”

“Mine as well.” Koui was already turning to head down the street. “See you in the morning.”

Koui waved to his friend. “Tomorrow.”

As he walked up the slope towards one of the hills that marked out the city, Koui couldn’t help but raise his eyes. Just like last year wires had been threaded above the streets holding tiny lanterns filled with different coloured glow-stones. Even when the mage lights were at their brightest the reds and greens still sparkled off the walls.

This year the competition between residents to put on the biggest and best celebration had gone even further with the rotating lanterns being hung from the towers that reached up beyond the normal dwellings and shops. Stuck out on poles these still had a single coloured stone in them, but only had one slot for the light to shine out of. This was attached to a sail which caught the breeze causing the gap to rotate. When the forest wind raced into the twisting narrow lanes of the city, buildings could be seen to dance with flashing light.

Koui stopped once more to strain his neck at the shifting colours.

“There you are.”

The voice made him jump. He looked around to see his mother rushing towards him.

“I was on my home,” he offered in an attempt to pre-empt a scolding.

“You did hear the evening bell, didn’t you?”

“Yes, mum.”

“So, what are you hanging around for?” She put a hand on his back and started to guide him towards their house at the top of the hill. “If you were any further away we wouldn’t have time to get home before the mage lights go out.” Her pace quickened. “Now hurry up.”

“I’m going as fast as I can.”

Despite his complaints Koui quickened his pace. Like everyone else he did not want to be outside when it went dark.

In their narrow house Koui found his father was already home and in the kitchen.

“Where have you been?”

“I was …” Koui began.

“He was wandering up the hill like a simpleton,” his mother interrupted. “Head stuck up in the air like he didn’t have a care in the world.”

“Son, you won’t just be the death of yourself, but all of us.” His father returned to chopping rutabaga. “Now get upstairs and get into bed, then I might bring you some stew.”

Koui decided not to answer back. Sometimes it made things worse. Instead he ran up to his room. It was small, having been built into a section of the building that jutted out over the street. In the summer, when he could keep the window open, he spent time talking with the boy who lived in the house opposite. If they both leaned out they could almost touch hands.

Tonight the shutters had been put across early. Not just the ones on the inside that cut out the almost never ending light the mages provided, but those on the outside as well, the ones that could be bolted securely from within the room.

As Koui swapped his clothes for a nightshirt and stockings he started to feel the first tingling of fear. Each year when the mage lights went out and darkness enveloped the great city he got the same feeling. As a youngster he would sleep with his parents, now he stayed in his own bed, but he found it difficult to hold his nerve.

As if the world had heard his thoughts something thumped against the shutters. Koui pulled the sheets up and moved away from the window.

“It’s okay,” his mother said as she walked into the room. “They won’t be here yet. That’s just the wind.”

She sat down on the bed and Koui moved closer to her.

“Why do they only come when it goes dark?” he asked.

“Because they don’t like the light.” She brushed back some of his hair. “That’s why the mages keep the lanterns burning all the time; so that we’re safe.”

“But why do the lights have to be turned off tonight?”

“The power the mages use has to recharge. That’s why it goes dark once each year.”

“I don’t like it.” Koui was trying hard not to cry.

“Nor do I, but we’re safe in here, and tomorrow everything will be back to normal again. Then the festival will start and we can celebrate the protection of the mages.” His mother stood up from the bed and helped him lie down, pulling the sheets under his chin. “Your father says there will be a big display of brass dragons in the North Square tomorrow.”

Koui’s eyes widened. He nearly sat up again. “Can we go see them? Please?”

His mother smiled. “Of course we can, and the quicker you go to sleep after your supper the sooner the morning will come.” She stepped back and through the door. “Your dad will be up soon.”

“Alright.”

Outside something rattled the shutters and Koui buried himself deeper into the pillow.

—————

24 September 2010
A number of provinces in China continue to reduce, or even cut, power to homes and factories, in some cases for up to 22 hours every three days, in an effort to hit energy reduction targets.

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