One night, while the town was asleep, you stood in the open field and watched the stars disappear one by one, blinking out of existence until all that was left was you and the dry rattle of dead grass and the sky like a gaping, toothless mouth. You stood by the light of the moon and thought, oh, right, the moon is still there, and just like that, the moon disappeared as well. Blindly, you felt your way through the field, dry grass splintering under your palms, growing and growing and when had it passed your waist? When had it grown so tall it was brushing against your shoulders? Strange how keenly you could feel the absence of the moon. Strange how, so many nights in the past, when you thought you were standing in absolute darkness, it was just that you hadn’t discerned the light. Had gotten so used to it, your mind didn’t notice when it was there. But now. Now there is no difference between closing your eyes and opening them. Now your world is just the snap of dried grass, the scratch of it under your palms as you push it aside, the ceaseless, senseless roar of its rustling. It fills your head. Like blood rushing in your ears. Like if you sliced yourself open, dry grass would unsheathe from your veins, spilling out in lieu of blood. You keep your eyes open because how else would you know they still exist? After a while, you stop feeling the need to blink. Distantly, you hear a nocturne being played. It is faltering and sweet, the piano strings slightly out of tune so the highest note catches in the wind and lodges there like a fish-bone or an unsaid word. A distant recollection of a nocturne, played by ear and transmuted by faulty memory. You have heard about the girl who followed the nocturne until the dry grass swallowed her. They looked for her, but the closest thing they could find was her shadow, a shade darker than the twilight’s glow, running barefoot through the dry grass. You’ve seen it during the early hours of the morning, rain-stained and searching, always searching. So you don’t follow the music. You push the dead grass aside and let the cacophony of its movement drown out everything else in your head. After a minute or an hour or a year, you stop to catch your breath. Silence. Would you know if dawn came? You have read about fish who have lost their sight after living for generations in the lightless parts of the ocean. Because food and oxygen is so scarce, evolution does away with all extraneous bodily functions that could siphon their energy. Eyesight is one, and so it goes. But the fish don’t mind. All they need is snails to feed on and caves to make their homes in and a school of cave-fish to keep them company. You wonder if, like a cave-fish, you have lost your eyes to the dark. You wonder if that would be so terrible—to spend your whole life wandering through this starless, moonless hour of night, subsisting on the rush of wind as it blows through the dead grass. Becoming the wind that blows through the dead grass. The sun would rise in the morning and the world would turn and the world would leave you behind—you, eyeless and aimless and swallowed by the overgrown fields, forever roaming your pocket of night. But then again, maybe not. Maybe the sun will rise, pooling in the dips of the distant mountains, and you will blink in its pale light. And maybe you will find your way home, through some impossible twist of fate and luck and probability. You will lie in bed and allow yourself this: one night to dream of dry grass rustling and piano keys clinking in tuneless melody. One night for what-ifs to splinter into endless fractals in your head. Then you will throw yourself into the safe tedium of daily life, and I’ve forgotten it all will be a lie you tell yourself when nothing else can bring you to sleep. But whenever the wind whistles through the prairies or you hear the sweet, faltering strains of a nocturne, you will stop in your tracks. You will remember a starless, moonless night when the dead grass was like river water—parting around you, then rushing in to swallow your tracks. You will wonder about a girl who was less fortunate than you, a girl of whom nothing remains but a shadow. And the grass shivers and the wind wails its tuneless, senseless longing—but no, there is nothing here for the wind to whistle through, nothing that rises above the dry grass to be its embouchure. Nothing but you. And oh. It’s you. You humming the nocturne. Humming it to the memory of a pianist who played it once, long ago, or maybe didn’t play it at all. You are the girl lost in the shadows, and the shadow of the lost girl is yours. And, oh, you are the only thing left in these starless, moonless fields—the nocturne, the girl, and her shadow, and soon you will be the dried grass raving, raving, raving in the wind. Push through the grass. Let its cacophony fill your head. In another life, you’d have likened its sound to the crash of waves, but not now - not when you can’t remember the ocean. But it doesn’t matter - push through the grass. You are nothing. You are vessel. Push through the grass and fill yourself with its sound. What else can you do? What else is left? But wait. Stop walking. Listen. That sound, rising above the crash of foliage. It’s the rain, slipping off the leaves, thundering onto the dirt. Still far away, but the dry air carries the sound. Turn your face to it. Wait for it to come. Do you see the light, pooling in the dips of the distant mountains? It’s faint, dulled by storm clouds, almost indiscernible, but you. You. You, lonely cave-fish wanderer of starless, moonless places. You are not used to the light—not yet, at least. And you can see it, blithe and breathless and brilliant like an auspice. Dawn is coming.
Ran Zhao is a fifteen-year-old from Hong Kong. She loves art and space, and her dream is to become a crazy cat lady. Her writing has been recognised by the Hong Kong Young Writer Awards and the Hong Kong Budding Poets Award. Twitter: @bluagav.