Thursday, September 22, 2011

When the River Horse Swallows the Moon - Flash Fiction

Jainah fingered the blue disk that Mej held out to her. The boy squatted down on his heels and cleared his throat.

"Thunder rolled on a clear day, a thunder so great that the earth shook and the people were deafened. Fire came out from the belly of the great mountain, so high that it burned the sky itself. The waters fled from the fire in great walls and drowned much of the world. Our sun hid its face and retreated into the beyond; our moon turned blue with cold. It was under this moon that my grandfather pledged his love; and when the crops failed and the men went in search of a new village place, he gave her this as his pledge to return."*

Gently, he placed the cord over her head so that the disc fell in the hollow of her throat. Jainah's eyes filled with tears, as she realized that he really did mean to leave her.

"And if you choose to stay among the foreigners?" she asked quietly.

He grinned and tapped her under the chin. "I will return when the Great River Horse swallows the moon."

To Jainah, that sounded like never.


He was gone for so long that the villagers began to ridicule her. Smirking, they compared her to the dried fruit of a tree or called her "the Monkey Mother", since she would take in orphaned animals and nurse them.  They tsked and clucked at her selfishness in depriving her mother of grandchildren; the boys who used to chase her shrugged and found others more willing.

Mej returned one day, arriving in a clattering vehicle which sent the fowl running for safety and churned the village dogs into a howling, frenzied mob. A blare of the horn sent them airborne for a moment; then Mej stepped out, and they swirled around his knees, tongues lolling in apologetic grins. Jainah wanted to throw herself at his feet as well, but her smiling advance was stopped short by the sight of a woman alighting from the vehicle.

The woman was obviously a foreigner, dressed in trousers and a man's shirt. Her thick blonde hair lay in a braid over her shoulder, and dark sunglasses hid her eyes. Mej walked over to her and said a few words, then turned his gaze to Jainah. She shrugged and walked away.  He had returned, but with someone else.


Night fell, and Jainah watched as Mej and the woman, carrying a large case, made their way to her door. He held out his hand to her.

"Come with us. It's a special night."

She thought about refusing, but pride dictated that she show no emotion.

Jainah took his hand, and they set out for the tilled fields, awash in moonlight. When they arrived, the woman began unloading strange equipment from her bag.  Mej led Jainah to a grassy spot, spread a blanket, and motioned for her to sit with him. He reached out and touched the blue disc at her throat.

"I promised," he said, moving his hand to her cheek. "Watch." And he pointed to the sky.

The photographer aimed her camera at the heavens.

And Jainah watched as the Great River Horse began to swallow the moon.

Photo by Pratibhasharma, 11 August 2011. (Wikimedia)
*Passage is a reference to the eruption of Krakatoa. A blue colored moon may be produced by large clouds of particles in the atmosphere; blue moons have been observed after volcanic eruptions as well as after the fires which swept through Canada several years ago.

The prompt "blue moon" was provided by RFW, but I've gone way over the 400 word limit so I'm not officially linking to their site. But I do thank them for the prompt!

Some further notes:  I'm pleased to announcement that one of my first 2000+ word short stories, "Visible Signs" was accepted for an eight story paranormal anthology by Ethics Trading . I'll link it up and provide more info when available. (Although to read the story you'll have to buy the book. All proceeds go to charity, which is pretty cool.)

Also, 5 x 5 Fiction has accepted a microfic "Sounding the Alarm" for future publication in Issue IV. Again, I'll link when it's up. (That one will be online so you can read it for free.)

Natasha at and fellow member of Triberr has kindly accepted a guest post called Origins Of the Jack O' Lantern .  (Do you know why we carve faces in pumpkins at Halloween?) Available to read now. (There's also lots of informative articles on her site.)

Links to published stuff eventually show up on my "Published" page, so if you're overwhelmed now you can always browse later.

Whew! this was a long post. Thanks for sticking it out. You deserve some coffee! (Or a beverage of your choice.) 

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  1. nice...i like her character...still not sure how this will end...iget that he is keepinghis promise but..who is the other girl?

  2. That is a madly long explanation out of a footnote! At first I thought the story was twice as long.

    For me the best part is the sense of the alien, expressed in what the disk might be, or the manner of dress, or the behaviors.

  3. Very good description and character build up. Excellent job.

  4. Lovely piece, Li :)

    And congratulations on all those publications!

  5. A lovely break from the real world... I enjoyed reading this.

  6. Brian - the other girl is a photographer who's come along to photograph the lunar eclipse :-)

    John - you're right :-) I originally wrote this for RFW and was trying to keep it to a 400 word count. (Failed anyway.) So, I should probably re-write the piece and include some stuff I cut out, as well as working in the footnote material.

    Zencherry - thank you :-)

    @Damyanti - thanks! Pub. was a nice little boost during a hectic period. :-)

    Sophie - thank you, it's a lot different from what I usually write, but I like to experiment once in a while.

  7. This was lovely, and so nicely different from you. I really enjoyed it. I agree with John: would love to know more about the two of them.

    Major congrats on the publishing!! You more than deserve it.

  8. Li, love the story, and the poetic, oral storytelling feel to it. You express that beautifully, along with so many gorgeous details, the dogs swirling around his knees.

    Sometimes, ya gotta write the story that's begging to be written, whether it fits certain parameters or not.

  9. Congrats on the publishes! And I enjoyed your tale -- very cool character names.

  10. A nice romantic ending for her. I'm glad he returned as promised.

  11. Beautiful. I love that the other woman is a photographer and not who she assumed she was. A great ending to a great story. Also, thanks for the added info about the blue moons. Very cool.
    Congrats on your publications. That is really exciting and you are so very deserving.

  12. BTW, ZENCHERRY - I can't visit your blog (if you have one) because there's no link :-)) Please leave one if you wish, or better yet, add it to your profile so others can find you too ! :-)

  13. Heyo and just stopping in for my midnight reading marathon. I have a sleepover tomorrow and I'm so excited that I can't sleep, so I'm reading here. Keep the stories coming! :)

    1. Hope your sleepover went well! I'm honored that you spent your midnight hours reading here. :-)