Dancing Skies


Debi Orton



I've been here for twelve years now, and I'll never get used to the absence of weather. I like the view; the work's okay. We get plenty to eat, and it's peaceful, not like it was on Earth.

Guess there's a lot to be said for timing. We got here just before the climate wars started, and by the time they were through, there wasn't much left to go back to. We're all that remains now, just one hundred and thirty-seven humans, trying to stay alive on the moon.

I come in here to the dome every night when my shift's over, where the plants are lush and green. The air holds a hint of humidity and the musky smell of loam reminds me of home -- Alaska -- not like it must be now, but as I remember it.

I lean back against the wall with a cup of what passes for coffee and look up at Earth. It took me years to get used to that -- looking up at Earth -- but now it's my favorite way of passing the time. I know that there's not much left of what I remember, but that doesn't stop the homesickness, the endless yearning for home.

When I looked up tonight, something was different. Something was happening.

"Aurora," Jones grunted when I pointed it out.

A minute later, he had his nose back in the dog-eared Playboy he'd brought with him years ago. It would be easy to feel that time stands still, as it does for Jones. But with that one word from him, time doesn't just stand still for me. It starts spiraling backward.

I'm a child again, living on the reservation they'd moved us to when they'd discovered oil under our reservation. "National security," they'd said. "For the war effort."

Our winter celebration that year was especially spectacular, despite the fact that we'd been separated from our homes and from the ice where we lived and hunted, and I'll never forget it.

Tales were told, songs sung. And late that night, as the fire died, the aurora started glowing. Old Atascat had started his dance to the skies then, and the other Elders had joined in. The drums beat a steady rhythm, the people sang the chant, and Atascat danced, trance-like. I saw the whites of his eyes as they rolled back in their sockets, watched him bounce until I couldn't tell whether or not his feet were really touching the earth.

"Watch, and you'll see the power of our people," my father whispered to me. He pointed skyward, just above Atascat, where the aurora was glowing. Behind the drums and the chanting, I could hear the clicks and hums of the sky as the curtains of light fell away and drew closer.

Suddenly, I noticed that the dancers' movements were echoed in the sky. As Atascat whirled, the lights spilled their shimmer across the sky in a wash of deep magenta. When he whirled back, green swept across the sky from the opposite direction. Every movement the dancers made was mirrored by the lights in the heavens. At the culmination of the song, the drums throbbed in a frantic cadence. When they fell silent, all of the dancers fell to the ground.

In that instant, from that point directly above Atascat, the heavens opened, and a series of silent sparks radiated forth. Some tiny, some incredibly bright, they streaked across the sky as the old man remained bent over on the ground.

The other dancers rose, turned to accept the appreciation of the audience, congratulated each other on a dance done well. Then they noticed Atascat, still on the ground.

Atascat had died that evening, at the very end, after the skies had danced in his honor. Before evening came again, the legend that the dancing skies had called Atascat to them was all over the reservation.

That was my last winter with my people, the winter before I was taken away to school, to start the new life that led me here. All of my people are gone now, I suspect, and there's no one left to watch the skies or to dance in celebration of them. There's just me, the last lone Inuit, stuck on the moon.



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Author Bio

Debi Orton is an writer and artist living on the banks of the Hudson River in rural upstate New York. Since she started writing seriously in 2001, Debi's essays have been broadcast by the Albany, NY NPR affiliate WAMC, and her fiction work has appeared in The Paumanok Review, E2K, Mindprints, The Independent Mind, Bulk Head, Kelvin, Agrippina, the-phone-book.com and flashquake, an online journal for which she's the publisher and chief editor.

Debi participates in several online workshops, is a member of the Washington County Writers and Poets Association, and works as an IT manager in a small government agency.





"Dancing Skies" Copyright © 2003 Debi Orton. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.


This page last updated 01-16-03.

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