“Waiting in the Light in the Hungry Months” by Megan Engelhardt

We drove out to the dunes early one winter evening, before the rest of the village came. It was warm enough that Pa had thought to bring little Bete and Tan and me to see the suns set before this year’s show. The small golden globe of the second sun had just begun to follow its larger brother below the waves when the rumble of an engine broke the stillness. A long van, Nevine Terrestrial Products on the side, pulled to a halt next to our rusty sand rumbler. Mr. Nevine hopped out and opened the side door. Outworld tourists spilled out of the van; they kept their distance and watched us suspiciously. The tourists loved our beaches but never could get used to us.

“Right this way, ladies and gentlemen,” Nevine said as he herded the outworlders down to the dunes. “The show will start in just a few minutes.”

Pa strode up to Nevine. His antennae waved angrily.

“What have you done, Nevine?” he demanded.

“Evening, Jig. See you got your little ones with you.”

“And I see you’ve brought outworlders. You were told to stand down on that issue, Nevine.”

Mr. Nevine pulled Pa to one side and lowered his voice.

“There’s a fortune to be had,” he said, “and Chalad be praised but I’m going to line my pockets with it no matter what the rest of you say. We can’t live on just the summer tourists, and these folks paid good money for the experience tonight. They’ll go back to their world and tell their friends and next winter we’ll have twice as many – plenty for everyone to get rich from.”

“This isn’t for them,” Pa said firmly, “and no good can come of bringing them here. They don’t understand–”

Kisst,” swore Nevine, “you may be content with poor, Jig, but I am not!”

Pa and Mr. Nevine argued while Bete and Tan and I watched the tourists. They huddled in their tight little group, unwilling to leave the comfort of their fellows. Most were adults, but two or three children looked around with wide eyes. A boy poked his head out from behind his mother and stared at Bete. She stuck out her tongues at him. The boy pulled out a camera and snapped a picture. They always did that.

The rest of our village soon arrived. The adults surrounded Mr. Nevine, their voices raised in anger, while the children gathered together along the tide line to keep watch. It was a contest between us every year, to see who could spot the first glimmer. Sita had won last year, calling out as the lights began to spark, and for the rest of the year she got first dibs on the front of the line at the iced pop stand.

The second sun sank and darkness fell, swift and uninterrupted. There were no stars, not with the thick clouds in the deeps of winter. The outworlders gasped in the sudden dark. The adults fell silent. This was the magic time, when the emptiness of the hungry months reached its peak, when our whole world held its breath and waited. I always got a tingle in my stomach, there in the dark with Tan clutching my hand. On every beach on the world, when night fell, my people gathered just as we did, all of us waiting. We were linked, alone together in the night on the beach, one people in one moment.

Tan’s hand tightened in mine.

“There!” he said, and a second later I saw it, too: a large glowing circle under the surface of the waves. It grew, it spread, it multiplied, and soon the ocean filled with gold. It shimmered just under the surface until, with a whoosh and boom that shook the windows in our sand rumbler, the first creature exploded out of the water and rocketed into the sky. Red and larger around than Nevine’s van, its long tentacles flowed around it like the branches of a weeping tree. Drops of glowing water cascaded down in a shower of sparks.

The creature hung in the air: then, in a moment that always caused my heart to skip a beat, the creature flared its tentacles and its young burst forth, a dozen smaller flowers of red fire greeting the sky for the first time before falling back into the sea. Another creature, perfect beach day blue, flew up just as the red creature fell, and soon the sky was filled with undulating creatures rising and birthing and falling.

It took my breath away.

“Is that it? Check THIS out!”

The tourist child with the camera reached into his pocket and pulled out a small firework, the kind Nevine sold in his tourist-store, and a match. Pa leapt forward with a shout but too late. The rocket flew into the air, out over the ocean where the creatures hovered, and exploded among them. It sparked and sizzled and the creatures whined. Their tentacles waved as the hot cinders from the firework landed on their skin. The creatures fell, and the surface of the water began to boil, a golden cauldron about to overflow.

“Run,” Pa said.

We ran, the tourists scrambling and screaming as behind us the ocean erupted. Creatures flew into the air, one after another, boom boom boom. Another set of creatures, half the size of their looming parents that still spawned in the sky, turned and propelled themselves toward the beach, where vehicles – the Nevine van leading the way – sped off into the night. My family sat still in our sand rumbler, watching the creatures come.

“Let’s go!” Bete urged, almost in tears. Pa soothed her with a soft lullaby sound.

“Quiet,” he whispered, “they won’t bother us in here. They’re just scared, protecting their fellows.”

We could hear tentacles hitting the side of the rumbler with loud, wet smacks. The colors of the monsters shone through our windows; yellow, red, and blue reflected on our faces. Then the beasts landed on the beach, sparks of glowing water following them down, pattering on our roof like rain.

“Are they going to die?” Tan asked.

Pa shook his head.

“The tide is coming up,” he said. “They’ll be back with their families soon.”

“Good.”

I felt Tan’s hand slip into mine again. We sat in the color-burst dark and listened to the water on the roof as we watched nature’s grand finale.


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About the Author

Megan Engelhardt lives in a crooked little house that is unfortunately an hour away from the Bigfoot Triangle of Ohio. She is a lapsed librarian and a displaced farm girl who loves fireworks, the beach, and monsters. She can be found online at www.megengelhardt.com or on Twitter @MadMerryMeg.