Excerpt from 'What Color on the Moon'

Submitted by Sarah Bethany on Wed, 07/08/2015 - 10:38

He broke through the trees into a back clearing.
It was the meadow of Cooney’s farm, and the setting sun was kindling a glow on the tips of the trees and illuminating the russet grass.
Through this marriage of light and color, a lowing proceeded, and a herd of cows came lumbering.
Behind them, a girl in a dress was swinging a twig. She was small from this distance, abstract and in a world of her own.
He was nervous and shy – nervous and shy before her, he never understood why – but he called out,
She shaded her eyes with her hand. It cast a purple shadow down her face.
“Jed? Is that you?”
He ran to her until he could see that the twig was a spotted birch, and that her dress had a print of black berries on it. He stopped before her, out of breath. A cow swung its head at him, and he settled his palm on its warm flank and rubbed. The animal gave a flick of its tail, stomped, and then walked on. Jed took his hand off the fur and regarded her.
Her hair was not permed, and was pinned back under a soiled handkerchief. Her forehead was damp. The handkerchief was the color of watered-down coffee.
“Well, this is the best thing that’s happened to me all week,” she said. Her pale face was mottled pink, smiling almost too frankly. She gave a hard swish at the ground with her stick. “What are you doing way out here? You didn't walk all the way out. Or run.”
“I did walk."
"Why would you do that? That is not exactly an ambling Saturday stroll. It is back fields and boggy woods."
"I was just…”
He weighed honesty and dishonesty.
A crow flew over Aggie's head. It flapped to a nearby tree and settled on the oak limb. It shuddered its wings, like an old man twitching a jacket over his thin shoulders.
“I just had to walk and walk and to not stop. One of those days, you know. I could not stop if I wanted to. I had to keep going.” He was chagrined at the desperation in his own voice. But he suddenly wanted to spill everything, too. A yearning clench his gut. Listen to me, Aggie. Listen.
“Oh.” She smacked at the grass with her stick, hard, again. “Is everything okay?”
“I guess so.”
“Ah!” she gave a sudden shriek. “Look at how red that is!” She pointed up, her fingers taut and ecstatic. “Listen to this, Jed. You'll like this. Did you know why the sun looks so red when it lowers in the sky?"
"No." He swallowed. "Why?"
"Because we are now seeing it through more of the atmosphere than when it is overhead! Think about it. Science is incredible. Absolutely gorgeous. Enlightening and gorgeous. -- Absolutely stunning!”
Oh, no. Her voice was full of that tone he recognized. It was the herald of thoughts that had been swelling up her head all day, with no one to spill them to, except a drunk zombified father and twenty muddy Holsteins. It was her reaction to suddenly having a sentient listener.
"Tell me more. I don't get it," settling back into the reserve he kept for her when she needed to unlodge her logged mind.
“Let me see how I can explain this." She jumped up on a damp stump. It was lone in the meadow. "I think it is because the sun's rays go through more air molecules when it is lower in the sky. So the blue color gets scattered away, and only the red is left. It is incredible. It is a mirage!" She lifted her arms up and looked like a Druidian priestess, holding her birch aloft. The rays turned the stick ruby. "Jed, this is what makes me feel like the world is not concrete at all. Think of it. Our perception is based on the cones in our eyes and refracted light. Even in science, life is about a point of view and not absolute fact. The sun is not innately red. Or yellow! or even white for that matter. Color is so beautifully slippery.”
But his patience had unspun too early. He was staring at the dripping stain on the tree-tangled horizon. His heart was tight; his fingers curled in.
“Agnes, I got into a fight before I came here,” he suddenly said.
"A fight." Gently. "And with whom?"
He knew she was ignoring his interruption, and he sputtered on. “My father. Just this afternoon.”
“Oh, no.” She stepped down. "Jed."
"It was terrible. It was just -" He wanted her to be able to picture it, like a visionary, without him having to cut any words. "So bad. I don't even know."
"Just that it happened at all. No one got hurt or anything."
"No, such things are jarring no matter what. Aren't they."
"Yeah." His heart curled into the softness she was offering.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
“Sunny went after Georgie, Dad went after Sunny, and I went after Dad.” He bent his head, his hair falling over his face, and he scrunched his hands through the blackness. Scruffed it up.
“Oh, I'm so sorry." She reached out, and her hand ran down the curl of his muscle on his upper arm, and he felt shocked by the touch. "You’re so noble. You're the best brother that ever –”
“I don't know about --”
“No, think of it. Think of it, and take comfort in this. That could have happened without you there. But think – you were there and you stepped in to stop it. You stepped in and acknowledged the Right. You were a witness to that, and that is so necessary. It is the only freeing thing for a kid. When someone says, ‘No! This is wrong, and you don't deserve this!'"
"I told her that, too. I said, 'This is not fair, and it is not your fault.’"
"Parents are way too powerful otherwise. You see, the kids won’t question treatment and take the blame on themselves.”
“Any and all blame."
"So maybe you’re right. I'm glad I was there, though I'm not glad it unfolded like that."
"No one ever is."
"So -" He breathed out. "Yes. That puts my mind at ease. I agree with you. Thanks, Aggie.”
They had come to the pasture fence and the cows went peaceably through the gate. Jed shut the rusty bolt for Aggie, who had turned her face up to the sky. Her skin was white, almost translucent, and it turned a peach-cream in the refracted light, all her blemishes washed away.
“Now, you know," she said softly, "the moon has no atmosphere,” like one in a trance.
"Yes," he laughed, "it's your turn now, Aggie. Go at it. Hard. Tell me everything sciency and luscious."
"Well, see, picture this. Imagine you and I were standing on the shore of the moon."
"A shore in the moon." His imagination tumbled. Now that his soul was cleared, he felt actively engaged; mentally aroused. Gears were whirring in the nautilus of his brain. "And would we see a sunset there?"
"Yes, but it would not be red at all.”
“Would it not? Tell me more." But before she could answer, he jumped up onto the bottom rung of the fence and said, "You know what. I don’t think it’s strange I came here at all. I wandered, but I must have known I was coming here."
"Your footsteps took you not by chance."
"Because your shoes are encoded with a homing device towards this locus."
"Well, all I know is that I seem to want to come here with every trouble I have. I feel so at ease. Relaxed. Peaceful here. It's like safe haven."
“You mean the farm."
"I mean -- yes."
"Or are we talking about the farm or me?”
“I like these cows.”
“I adore the cows.”
“But see!" he rolled over onto his back, leaning his elbows on the top rung of the fence, "I sometimes feel like things in my life have not happened until I have told you about them.”
"Really." She held up her stick before her like a birch sword.
"It is true." And suddenly he felt frustrated and exultant: both feelings born of the profundity of the admission. "It actually is."
She was slicing her birch sword through the air. Twirling her lash and decapitating the multiple heads of Queen Anne.
“Agnes," he laughed.
"You're just..."
“You are a moonshine samurai.”
She stopped and planted her weapon before her in the ground. “I feel the same way about you, too, you know.” And her voice was infinitely tender. He almost could not match it, and he feared, but then he thrilled. “You know that, right?”
“I know. Hey, say, what color would the sunset be on our moon shore?”
“I am guessing it would be colorless.”
"How unmagical."
"How very magical. No filters -- just undiluted light."

Author's age when written


Oh, this is so beautiful! Your descriptions are perfect. Colorful but not superfluous. I really enjoyed reading this.

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

I wish their conversation could have gone on forever just so that I could keep living it. You're probably my favorite author, to be entirely honest.

"The handkerchief was the color of watered-down coffee." I just loved the reality of this description. It also may have something to do with my strong affinity for coffee. ;)

"She pointed up, her fingers taut and ecstatic." I wouldn't have thought to have used the word "ecstatic" to describe fingers, but I absolutely loved it here. It conveyed the excited tension so effectively.

"Oh, no. Her voice was full of that tone he recognized. It was the herald of thoughts that had been swelling up her head all day, with no one to spill them to..." It was the perfect way to describe that excitable tone when a person finds a willing listener.

"Jed, this is what makes me feel like the world is not concrete at all..." I always enjoy the use of the word "concrete". I'm not sure why. It just makes me happy.

"Color is so beautifully slippery.” Ah! I let out a little squeak of delight when I read that line. I adore it. I'll probably write it on my wall somewhere.

"But his patience had unspun too early. He was staring at the dripping stain on the tree-tangled horizon. His heart was tight; his fingers curled in." I loved the use of "unspun". The whole line about the horizon was also stunning and vivid.

"I sometimes feel like things in my life have not happened until I have told you about them...And suddenly he felt frustrated and exultant: both feelings born of the profundity of the admission.” YES. I have felt this way about certain people before and you put it so perfectly into words.

“You are a moonshine samurai.” Precious. Haha. I love it.

This was a beautiful little story! Sorry for the novel-length of my comment, but I always love it when people share their favorite moments with me, so I figured I would reciprocate. :)

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

You are a beautiful writer. The way you use words is profound--oftentimes it takes me two, maybe three reads to digest your work fully. I think it's something that's meant to be savored. I'm on vacation at the moment, so I'll stick to one, but I'll revisit it soon!

This line leapt out at me: "Yeah." His heart curled into the softness she was offering. It's just such a gorgeous way to describe comfort. So lovely. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Girls, I was having a terrible day and this just resurrected me. Thank you SO much for all of your in-depth comments...I savored every sentence <3 It re-fuels my energy to write and you guys all make me feel understood and appreciated. -- What do writers do without those boosts of affirmation?!! Thank you SO SO much. So needed.

I read this yesterday and kept thinking - Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne of Green Gables. I just don't know - it feels so much like a classic work, and it feels like it came from a book! I can't believe this was just so short, yet you did so much in that time. It's incredibly beautiful, with the description of beauty - and I can really see in my mind these two characters and where they are. I just love your writing.

But his patience had unspun too early. He was staring at the dripping stain on the tree-tangled horizon. His heart was tight; his fingers curled in.
“Agnes, I got into a fight before I came here,” he suddenly said.
"A fight." Gently. "And with whom?"

I really thought it cool how you highlighted the differences of these characters. The girl seems like in the clouds, but he breaks her trance with the above passage. The above passage - it was almost as if I heard a thread snap.

So what inspired this? Where did it come from?

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you, Damaris Ann!!

Thank you so much, Megan! Your words "classic work" keep ringing in my head. I'm treasuring them and they gave me such a boost of confidence. L. M. Montgomery is also one of my favorite authors. I take a book of hers (usually one from the 'Anne of Green Gables' series) in my suitcase no matter where I travel. They're books that have grown up with me and are now accompanying me into adulthood. I haven't outgrown them, which I think is a clear sign of what they have meant to me and the truth that is still relevant in them for me. Few books can claim the power on my life that those ones can.

Homey, I've also been mulling over the fact that you said my word choice was profound and that it can sometimes take you several reads to digest it all. I was flattered, but then I started to wonder -- is my style only suitable for short stories and flash fiction? I'm writing a larger book in the same way (with sometimes unusual or instinctual phrasing) -- and will that get burdensome for a reader if they have to re-read a page over and over? No one wants to read a book two or three times just to comprehend it. (Unless they go for things like James Joyce's 'Ulysses'!)

Erin, that was THE most delightful, lingering comment to read. I cherished every word. PLEASE write a novel-length comment every time!! (-- or every time you're inspired to, haha)

And, Megan, what inspired this and where did it come from.... Haha, well -- I wish I could say that I just came up with these two characters randomly out of thin air, but actually, I pulled this scene from a novella I've been working on (off and on) for a couple years, and polished it. (I haven't been able to finish the full novella yet.) And the two characters are based on people in my real life. One day, when I had writer's block, I proposed a game to myself to see if I could switch the genders and still write a feasible story. -- Basically, could I capture people's personalities even if I changed their genders? It was a writing challenge I posed for myself.

Oh, that's not what I meant at all! Although I can understand how you might get to thinking that. It's more like--oftentimes, and this is probably just me and my weirdness, I prefer to read your work two or three times so I can digest it. But that's just me. I'm a skimmer my default, and your writing oftentimes forces me to slowdown and appreciate it, because I don't want to miss anything. There's only been a couple of things that I actually had to read twice in order to comprehend it fully (your poem His Journey Was In Me, was one of those, because the first read-through I was just appreciating the language, and on the second I began to craft some sort of story for it in my head, and on the third everything abruptly clicked together and I understood. It was so, so good, that poem).

I would absolutely be thrilled to pull a book of yours off a shelf and to buy it. I think the world needs to read your writing, and that's no exaggeration. As the other girls have said, it's old-fashioned. I find it so elegant, like the classic authors have been resurrected, but with your own flair.

So please, keep writing--long stories, short ones, poems, and everything! And please continue to post! :)

I almost don't know what to say, Madeleine! Thank you so, SO much!! I spent a lot of time yesterday staring at hard cover books and imagining one of them being mine. It's so fortifying and warming to me to think that there's someone out there who would love to pull one of my books off a shelf, too <3

Please don't ever stop writing, promise? "Colour is beautifully slippery" Ahhhh!

You are one of a kind, Sarah Bethany. Your writings are ones that I love to cherish while reading, and savour everything, every word, every beautiful description. You can be on my bookshelf oneday--no, you HAVE to be on my bookshelf one day.

Goodbye? Oh no, please. Can’t we just go back to page one and start all over again?” – Winnie The Pooh

Maddi! I just got shivers reading your comment. Maybe it's the mood I'm in, because I finished the (behemoth-sized) first draft of Martje two days ago, and I'm prepping to go onto the next stage, and gathering all the assurance I can to myself. I've definitely picked up a lot of my confidence here. Thank you, and all you girls, so, so much <3

(Also, Megan, I wanted you to know I finished, but I'm not sure if you'll see this comment or not!)

Well, that is alot. Do you plan to have someone else edit and read it especially to make it concise - more direct and powerful? You really should. And submit it somewhere to see if people are interested in it.

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

And by even, I meant ever, haha.
I have distant plans to have someone edit it. Currently I'm going to write my second draft by subjecting you all to chapters on apricotpie, haha. And then after that's done, an editor. Direct and powerful - those are two good words for what an editor can provide. I don't have confidence that the second draft is going to be great, or even good, but I have to remember that that's what drafts are supposed to be. "The best worst things you've ever written" as one of my friends calls them. ^_^ I feel so hesitant to start posting, because it's been so long since the first book (understatement) and maybe I've built the sequel up too much in my own mind, but I think I just have to take the plunge soon. :D I have to remember to create art, I need to fling aside perfectionism. It's better to do something badly than to never do it at all. <3

I am nodding to Erin. That is what I am trying to say to you. I would love to read chapters of it here. Love it - but with your writing skills - as we all have seen, I am sure that this first draft at least shows potential. I would show it to someone professional, and see what they think. They would know. And maybe help you.

I am going to remember your last two sentences. So true. It is an encouraging and challenging reminder for me especially.

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has been a little while since I read Martje, but I remember it pretty well. And I can always go back and read the last couple of chapters to refresh my memory. :) Martje was one of my top favorites here on ApricotPie. :) I'm so excited about reading more of it!

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

I'm entirely convinced that your "bad" writing is still fantastic by anyone's standards. I'll keep an eye out for your posts. :)

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

Sarah Bethany, this is so amazing! I am so sorry that I haven't been able to comment on this until now! I absolutely loved this! I agree with everyone else here that you need to get published! I would love to have a book by you on my shelf! I am currently looking into possibly publishing a poetry book/chapbook and it is definitely not an easy road to be published anymore. Don't forget though that depending on how you want to work it, you could always digitally publish yourself on Kindle/Amazon or Nook. I personally think though that a publisher would have to be insane not to want this beautiful writing! (and I'd be first in line to tell them so!) I agree with others here that this already feels like a classic work to me! I know that the second draft is hard (sometimes I cry when editing because I have to delete whole sections that I poured my soul into, but just aren't relative to the story or don't help move it along). I know its a rough road, but I want to encourage you not to give up! You have already accomplished something amazing that I have always dreamed of: writing a novel. That is a wonderful accomplishment and you should be proud of that alone! Now please excuse me . . . *runs off to be the first to pre-order Sarah Bethany's future book*

"Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity." 1 Timothy 4:12