Fading sunlight tinged the clouds vivid orange and pink as I settled down upon the rock, folding dirty bare feet beneath me.
However long it took.
The blue moon had come again, and I was determined. This time, I would find her. This time, I wouldn’t let her slip away without me.
The distant bustle of my village preparing for the Blue Night festival reached me as I waited. Wind rustled through the bamboo trees behind me. I sat on the edge of a rolling meadow dotted with fluffy white clumps of bleating sheep.
I yawned, then frowned and pinched myself. Couldn’t afford to sleep. Although I’d planned on saving it for the deeper watches of the night, I fished inside my pack for the thermos of coffee I’d brewed in secret. After all the ridicule I’d endured in years past, I’d decided not to tell anyone my plans this time.
The sun set, and the moon rose. Its whiteness was gone, replaced by a pale blue, like morning sky. As I watched, the color deepened to luminescent cornflower that made my eyes water.
“Adam!” someone called.
Great. Someone was looking for me.
I pictured the village children dressed in their colorful gargoyle masks, dancing and begging for sweets. When I was younger, it had been my favorite time of year, but now I spent every blue moon waiting for her.
I sank lower on my rock. I wanted to hide, but there was nowhere to go.
My little brother, Johnny, appeared from the thin, reedy forest. The six-year-old stared at me, a gargoyle mask pushed up on his forehead, a ragged blanket clutched under one elbow.
“Watcha doin’?” he asked, sticking his grubby little thumb into his mouth.
“Nothing. Sitting. Go away.”
“Sittin’ iddn’t nothin’.”
“Isn’t,” I corrected. “Go on home. I’ll be along later. And don’t you tell Mama.”
He popped his thumb out of his mouth, stuck his tongue out, and tugged his mask down. Throwing his blanket around his shoulders like a cape, he ran off.
“Who are you?”
I jumped and let out a yelp.
She stood beside me on the rock, staring down with wry amusement. She had curly blue hair only a shade lighter than the moon, and her rosy cheeks were painted with white lines like warpaint. Little metal charms twined through her hair tinkled when she moved.
I gaped, stunned speechless. It was her. It had been five years since I’d last seen her, despite waiting at every blue moon since.
“Cat got your tongue, eh?” She smirked.
I didn’t know what a cat was, so I merely nodded.
“A common enough affliction these days, I suppose.” Her eyes roved the land, studying the distant herd of sheep, the lights of my village.
Anything but that!
“Thanks. You, too,” With an airy sigh, she strode off, making for the bamboo forest. I followed, trying to think of something else to say.
“Do you always follow strange girls into the woods?” She didn’t walk toward the village, but headed for the road north of town that led to far-off lands. Places I’d never been to and couldn’t name.
“Um, no. I just… I wanted to ask…”
“Who I am, where I’m from, and can you come with me?”
“Cassiopeia is my name. I come from the Starlands. And no.”
“No. But you can keep me company.”
Awed by her otherworldly beauty, I didn’t hesitate. We walked for several minutes under starlight. The only sounds were the chirp of grasshoppers, the night bird songs, and Cassiopeia’s jangly blue hair. When we reached the dirt road, Cassiopeia ignored it and strode into the soft grasses on the opposite side, back amidst the bamboo. I frowned, hoping I wouldn’t need shoes.
After a long hike, we reached a small meadow. Tall, soft grass brushed at my bare ankles. A flower with thick, red petals drooped in the center of the clearing. Cassiopeia plucked it and raised it to her nose. Her hair turned from blue to a deep scarlet as she breathed its perfume, the color reaching down until only the tips of her curls remained blue.
“Lovely. I get to live for another year. Come along now, almost sunrise. Must dash.”
“Why did you need that flower?” I asked as we walked.
“I’m cursed, a little gift from my aunt with the Blue Death. She doesn’t want me to take over as the Master Sorcerer of my kingdom. But I can survive as long as I breathe the scent of this flower once a year, this one particular flower that grows in a particular spot in a particular universe once a year. Your universe.”
“You come from a world of magic?” I shook my head in wonder.
“Of course. Don’t you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Have you ever left your village?”
“Then how do you know?”
“Because…” I stopped. How did I know? I thought of the joyous Blue Night festivals, bringing a smile to the face of even the grumpiest villagers. Was that magic?
“Go somewhere.” Cassiopeia grinned. “See something beyond your own borders. And maybe look a little harder at the world right in front of you, at your brother, and your cozy little town.”
Her foot reached the slab of rock where we’d met. “Find magic here, then maybe we’ll talk.” She winked, stepped up onto the stone, and vanished.
I stared up at the bright blue moon till my eyes ached, lost in thought. Then I turned back to my village where the colored lights of Blue Night still twinkled.
- - -
I had coffee, a sandwich, and my sturdiest boots. I took off my gargoyle mask, hoping I wasn’t late. This past year, I’d taken Cassiopeia’s advice and spent more time with Johnny. I’d been celebrating the festival with him before coming to the rock.
I let the mask drop as I sat down cross-legged.
However long it took.