Image Credit: Reddit User xeno_sapien
My mother used to tell me bedtime stories before I would fall asleep each night.
Sometimes they were good stories, about unicorns that flew over rainbows and sang songs made out of glitter. I liked those. They were good when I was sad or scared or lonely.
But sometimes I was happy, and content, and safe, and warm, and wanted a scary story. I wanted something to make my heart beat faster, to make the pulse race through my fingertips and turn my face warm. I wanted something to make me burrow deeper into the crook of her arm, to excite my imagination as I would drift off to worriless sleep.
It was then she would tell me stories of The Lamppost.
“Before the snow,” she would say, and I would draw my covers up tighter around my chin, and snuggle close, and pretend to be much braver than I was, for it was wonderful to be perfectly safe and yet feel terrified, there was something comforting in that, “there was the sun.”
“Tell me about the sun!” I would say, and she would laugh and say, “Hush, child, unless you want to tell the story.”
“No, no,” I would say. “You tell it.”
I could tell it by heart. But I did not want to.
“Before the snow,” she would continue, and pause a moment to watch me with a wary eye and raised eyebrows, but I would clasp my lips tight so she could continue, “there was the sun.
“The sun was a bright ball of yellow heat that lived in the sky. It burned and burned every day, and worked so hard that at night it was tired and would fall asleep. Then everything would get dark, and cold–”
“Like now?” I would say, and she would watch me with narrow eyes, and I would giggle, and she would say, “No, not like now. Not as cold. Not as dark.” Then she would kiss my forehead and sigh, but it wasn’t the sigh of someone remembering something they used to have, for the sun had died long before her, long before her parents and their parents; no, she was sighing like someone who wished for something she’d never seen.
“The sun would always wake up in the morning, and it would shine hot and hot and hot. But one day, it got sick.”
“What did it get sick with?” I would always ask, knowing the answer.
“No one knows,” she would say. “But it was very sick, and very sad, and lots of people tried to save the sun but they couldn’t. So instead, they tried to save her light. They took magic bottles and put them next to the sun and collected all the sun’s light.”
“But wouldn’t the sun want her light?”
“No, sweet child. She was dying. She didn’t need it anymore.”
I would nod, as if I understood, but I could not possibly have understood.
“Then one day, when the sun was dying, and almost dead, and it was dark and cold and snow piled high and crunched under people’s feet, your great-great-great grandfather was just a boy, and walked with his parents through the dark night, and he was cold, and hungry, and it was dark, and they didn’t know where they were going to go.”
“Were they going to die, too, mama?” I’d ask, and my eyes would be wide, my heart pounding in my chest, even though I knew the answer, for I wanted her to say it, I wanted to hear how close to death we came.
“Yes, son,” she would say. “He was definitely going to die.”
I would nod solemnly, as if I understood this too. I did not.
“He was walking with his brothers and sister and mother and father and they were walking because they had heard the legend of The Lamppost.” And I would grin and snuggle closer and this was my favorite part.
“See,” she would continue, her voice lower, and more dramatic, “they had heard tell of a lamppost that would glow bright in the darkness to show people the way to the rest of the sun’s light. It was said that they had hidden the light somewhere, and were keeping it safe until they could decide how to use it. And in the darkness they would let just a little bit of it out, a tiny, tiny bit of the sun’s light, so that people could find it, and find them, and be safe.”
Sometimes, here, I would be biting my fingernails in anticipation, and might squirm or even giggle.
“And they were walking, your great-great-great grandfather and his sister and brothers and mother and father, and they were so cold, and so tired, but he saw the light first! He saw it and pointed and ran to it and his brothers and sister and mother and father ran to it and when they arrived a door opened in the ground near the snow and they climbed down a ladder and found where the sun had been hidden.”
Though I am a grown man now, and used to stories such as these, I always close my eyes at this part, always close my eyes to imagine their excitement, their fear, as they stepped down an old metal railing into a massive spaceship, as they found a small, cramped room, as they were given canned rations and a warm shower and told to wait one week before all of humanity would head for the stars.
What an adventure that must have been.
I tuck my daughter into bed, click on the fan above her bunk, press the noise suppressor so she won’t be awoken in the night to jolts and dings and clashes from the bruised hull of a spaceship that’s lasted far too many generations, and she pulls the blanket up, close, around her neck. She feels happy, and content, and safe, and warm, and she smiles as I tuck her in tight.
“Daddy,” she whispers when I lean down to kiss her forehead, “tell me the story about The Lamppost.”