In The Beginning
Location: System M9447, Spiral Galaxy 46229
Unnamed continent, southern quadrant
The full moon rose on the far horizon, orange and huge, almost close enough to touch. Stars vied with it for attention, winking from the ebony heavens. In the distance, beyond the fire’s glow, the ocean crashed rhythmically against the shore. A soothing sound, as constant as the sky above them, or the ground below, though on this night it didn’t calm the girl’s pounding heart.
“Well?” she demanded of her young companion.
“Well, what?” he said as he stirred the fire, adding another log.
“Max! LeeLee! Did he get to her in time? Did he save the village?”
With a flare for the dramatic, the boy sat back and said, “No one knows.”
“WHAT?” she cried.
He glanced at her, fighting to keep the smile off his face. The intensity in her dark eyes was almost comical. She’d become so immersed in his story, it was almost a physical need for her to know the ending.
He’d been aware of her for his entire life, watched her grow from a child into a budding young woman, as he himself was entering into manhood. In the last year her breasts had filled out, going from flat to curvaceous, her hips becoming more defined, causing strange sensations in his own body every time he looked at her.
What began as a flutter in his stomach usually moved lower, though he didn’t think she’d noticed. Yet. She still saw him as a childhood friend, but one day he hoped that would change.
She grabbed his arm and shook him. “You can’t leave it like that!”
His face flushed at the contact. He was glad the firelight hid the telltale glow suffusing his cheeks.
Taking up the story again, he said, “Some say he raced across the plains without his feet ever touching the ground. But when he got to the village it was too late. There was nothing left but burning huts and bodies on the ground. The men all slaughtered. The women and children gone.”
Her hand flew to her face, covering her mouth. “Oh no!”
“He found Kenny in the field, the one LeeLee called Max’s lazy place, barely breathing. He’d crawled away, apparently trying to make it back to the plains to find Max.”
“He didn’t die, did he? Kenny didn’t die!”
“No, Max saved him,” the boy smiled. Firelight sparkled in his honey colored eyes.
“And then what? Did they go after LeeLee?”
“Yes,” he nodded, but his smile had faded, and a grave tone had entered his voice.
“Nooo,” she said, afraid by his look that she knew what was coming next.
“They searched the mountains for days – weeks – following the trail, but by the time they found LeeLee it was too late. Her condition made her slower than the rest. Her captors, they…”
“They killed her? The monsters killed her!”
“When Max found her he fell to his knees and gathered her into his arms. He tried to heal her wounds, but her body had already grown cold. He couldn’t save her. Or their child.”
“Oh God,” her voice trembled. Firelight sparkled off the tears in her eyes.
“He held her for hours, vowing that he would find her again someday, that his soul wouldn’t rest until they were together again. He promised they would be reborn and reunited in the next life, and no matter where she was, he would know and he would find her.”
“What happened to Max?” she asked, choking back a sob.
“Some say the sky exploded with a blinding light and lifted him up to the stars.” The boy raised his hand and pointed at the sorrowful face on the moon. “Some say he lives there now, turning in a constant circle, searching the earth and the heavens for her. Never resting. Calling out her name.”
“How sad,” she wept, leaning into the boy, her warm tears dripping onto his bare chest.
He hoped she didn’t feel him catch his breath.
He circled his arm around her shoulders and moved his lips close to her ear. “Others say he reached the village in time and moved them all to safety.”
It was her turn to catch her breath.
“Really?” she said, lifting her dark eyes up to meet his.
For a minute he couldn’t answer, her presence was too overpowering, but then he gathered himself together to finish the story.
“They say he moved everyone to the inland sea, and then further south, to the ocean, where the food is plentiful, and the soil rich. His son was born in the spring, and the following year, a daughter. Legend says they had at least a dozen.”
“Oh,” she sighed, “I like this ending much better.”
“Look,” he reached into his pouch and pulled out a shiny object.
“What is it?” she asked, awed by its strangeness. Not wood, or stone. Smoother than anything she’d ever seen before. He turned it over, revealing a design carved onto its surface.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said, resting it on her palm.
“Where did you get it?”
“My grandmother gave it to me, right after she told me the story. She said it’s been in our family since the old days.” He took out a thin length of rawhide and threaded it through the hole at the top of the object.
“The way you described it, it sounds like the necklace in your story. The one Max gave LeeLee.”
“I guess it does,” he said, holding it up to let it dangle.
“Do you think the story was real?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Do I think Max came from the stars? No, but every legend has some truth in it. Do I think Max and LeeLee really existed? Yes,” he smiled, “I think they did.”
“Me too,” she said.
It might just be his imagination, or a trick of the firelight, but looking into her eyes now, he thought maybe there was something different there. An awareness he hadn’t seen before. An awareness of him. Impulsively, he slipped the necklace over her head, smiling as the pendant settled in the cleavage between her breasts.
Brushing back her hair, his eyes grew wide with excitement and he said, “Oh, I didn’t tell you yet! The Council met today and made the final selection. They picked me as the next Shamah! I start my training tomorrow.”
“How exciting!” she squealed, throwing her arms around his neck. He closed his eyes, breathing her in, holding the hug as long as possible. All too soon she pulled away.
She cupped his face between her hands. “I’m so proud of you.”
The “thanks” that was wedged on his tongue froze in place as he stared at her. That look was back in her eyes, that sparkle he was now sure wasn’t caused by just the firelight. His lungs inexplicably refused to draw in air, and then her face moved closer and suddenly breathing didn’t matter.
Their lips touched, turning fantasy into reality.
A new beginning …