A phenomenon of a magnified moon. 1st place in Short Shots Official WdC Contest.
They told us that, on certain days of the year, the moon would rise, magnified, behind the old cathedral on the hill. I looked up from the village square at the cathedral emerging from the treetops at the summit of the hill. There was no sign of the moon, as you’d expect in the bright light of day. This was not one of those days, it seemed.
“When will it show again?” I asked the assembled crowd. Manolo, the interpreter, did his thing, evoking much waving of hands and shrugging of shoulders to supplement the babble of answers.
Manolo waited until the chorus died down. “They don’t know. It comes and goes when it wants, always without warning. No one has been able to work out a pattern. It has been a long time since the last appearance so maybe it will be soon.”
“Is there someone who can guide us to the cathedral?”
Again Manolo translated but, this time, the crowd fell silent. The heat reflecting off the flagstones of the square and the unnatural hush increased our discomfort. Sweat dripped off our faces.
At last, a big fellow elbowed his way to the front of the crowd and spoke rapidly to Manolo. He pointed at the old building on the hill, then held up a hand in warning. I heard the words, “No vayas a ese lugar. Es tabú.”
That was enough to tell me what I wanted to know. My Spanish is pretty sketchy but the word “taboo” is the same in all languages. Clearly, we were not going to have local help in getting to the cathedral.
“Okay, Manolo. I get it. See if you can sort us out a place to stay for the night.”
The photographer packed up his gear and we found a shaded area at the edge of the square to wait for Manolo.
The next morning, the weather had changed. Clouds were building up in the east, working towards a storm. The heat became oppressive as the sun rose higher and the villagers stayed in their houses, knowing how the rain would beat down.
The three of us, Manolo, Sergei the photographer and myself, shouldered our packs and set out across the square. Above the hill the clouds were piled in dark, brooding masses, the cathedral apparently bracing for the storm. An arc of light rose like dawn from the roof of the old building.
But not dawn - this light was a faint, blue line with brighter highlights, just visible against the darker sky. And it was growing. As we watched, transfixed by the sight, the arc moved higher and higher until we knew what it was. The moon rose as a vast, ghostly globe in the bright light of day, larger than the cathedral below it.
We stood still in awe, observing how the details of craters and peaks were etched into the surface with hallucinatory clarity. I knew that, in time, the theories to explain this phenomenon would come but, for these moments, the experience overwhelmed thought.
And then I realised that the moon held steady in front of the storm clouds. It was closer to us than the sky; the moon had come to earth. Or so it seemed. Whatever the cause of this freak occurrence, it produced an image between the cathedral and the clouds, an image detailed enough for astronomers to study, perhaps even close enough to be touched by an outstretched arm from a tower of the church.
Sergei came out of his trance and, with frantic haste, began to unpack equipment from his pack. In moments he had a camera in his hands and was snapping away like a crazed paparazzi. Manolo remained in awe, eyes unblinking and mouth agape.
I dropped my pack and began to throw Sergei’s scattered clothes and equipment back into his pack. “Quick, we have to get up there now! Sergei, help me with this.”
Reluctantly, he let his camera drop from his face and started to reload his pack. But he kept the camera on a strap around his neck and shoulder. Manolo began, dreamily, to help us.
Then we were trotting toward the forest at the edge of the village, the heavy packs rocking from side to side and Sergei taking occasional snapshots as he ran. The slope upwards increased rapidly as we entered the shade of the trees and soon we were slowed by the need to find footholds as we climbed. The shade of the trees deepened and the humidity became stifling. Our arms and clothing became drenched with sweat and tiny, black flies swarmed before our faces. We pressed on without speaking, well aware of how urgent was our mission.
The slope ended quite abruptly and only a narrow ledge separated us from an ancient stone wall. Looking up, we saw through gaps in the leaves that the wall continued above the highest foliage. We had reached the cathedral.
There was no doorway visible and so we started following the wall northwards. By what I remembered from our study of the building from a distance, the entrance should be at the north end of the church, between the two towers. The way was difficult, our path constantly interrupted by giant roots and tangled undergrowth that forced detours back into the forest. Exhaustion had nearly erased the memory of the magnified moon from our minds by the time we rounded the northwest corner.
Here came a fresh revelation of our quest, however. The trees did not cluster against the north face of the church and the resultant clearing allowed us to see the moon in vast and glowing close-up. It was huge, filling almost the entire dome of the sky. Only high up, where the curve of the moon left a gap between itself and the towers, could we see the darkness of the threatening storm clouds. We stood motionless before the majesty of the scene, unable to move for long moments.
Sergei remembered his task first and started to move further into the open, taking photographs as he went. Manolo and I walked eastwards along the wall, searching for the entrance. Still we were drawn to glance upwards at the moonscape above, so powerful was the sight.
We need not have worried about gaining entrance to the building. When we came to the two great doors in the gothic archway that formed the way in, we saw immediately that one of the doors had fallen inwards, leaving a gaping, dark hole in the stone barrier of the north face. Our way was clear.
I called Sergei to us and entered the cathedral. The interior was a vast, empty vault that disappeared into darkness above us. The windows, amazingly with stained glass intact, were dimmed by the dirt and growths of ages. Light still fought its way through but only in places did it create patches of brightness on the tiled floor. We spread out and advanced slowly down the aisles on each side of the nave. Statues and peeling paintings on the walls watched our progress.
At the end of the nave, we came to the intercept with the transept. Here the building opened out into a vast, empty space. Above soared pillars to the support of the great crossover ceiling at the meeting of nave and transept. Windows all around this structure poured light into the building so that it was better illuminated than anywhere else.
We crossed the transept and entered the choir, once more in the gloom. This led into the apse where, between the columns supporting the end wall, we could see the entrance to an added chapel. We pressed on, now with flashlights as the darkness grew.
This was the last part of the building. We could go no further but there were side chapels still to be investigated. As I turned to go, a flash of light attracted my eye to a dark corner. It flashed red and so was unlikely to be a reflection of our flashlights. I moved closer and the light flashed again.
It came from a doorway that led into a small chamber at the side of the chapel. I could hardly believe my eyes as I peered into the darkness of the room. A multitude of lights, flashing red, green, yellow and white, covered the walls. As I entered, my flashlight revealed that those walls were metal, sheets of flat, blue metal punctured with myriad lights, buttons and holes. Below each contrivance, silver threads formed symbols that could only be some weird script from another world.
This was a control room of some sort.
I stumbled further into the room, tripped on some fallen rubble and fell forward, my arms lashing out at the wall in front, seeking support. Somehow I remained upright but I knew that I had pressed some of the buttons in my fall forward. A hum filled the chamber and, above me, the ceiling erupted in light. It was the moon again, a planetarium that showed only the moon. I stared up at it, recognising so many of the features once seen from afar, now revealed in minute detail.
Then began the deep rumble from below and the building began to tremble. Earthquake, I thought but soon realised this was impossible. The sound increased in volume and tone until it shrieked in my ears and I fell to the floor. Even in that state of terror and shock, I was aware that the building was not crumbling and collapsing as it should have done. It rang in harmony with the noise but, almost as though this was its purpose, it held together obstinately.
As the sound began to die, I remembered where I had heard something like this before. My thoughts turned instantly to my companions. I staggered to my feet and headed for the door, calling for Manolo and Sergei.
Their voices answered me faintly and soon, in the silence following the noise, I found them, still in the end chapel, dazed but unhurt.
“What the hell was that?” asked Sergei.
“We need to find out,” I answered. “Back to the main entrance, I think.”
We retraced our steps, through the choir, across the transept and now down the centre of the nave to the huge collapsed door. Emerging into the light, we realised that it was raining and the moon had gone. I led them out into the open and then turned to check on my theory.
I was right. The tower at the northwest corner had gone. Not crumpled into a pile of rubble but vanished as though it had never existed.
Turning again to the north, I craned my neck to look up to the sky, just in time to see the flare of the rocket as it disappeared into the clouds.
Word Count: 1,810