She dreamt of when the world was cool. Things were hot now, really hot in the past, but back in the beginning, she had always been told, it was once cool. She often did this during the last weeks of summer. Most of her dreams had sights, sounds, and some sort of loose narrative she would often “start” in the middle of. Yet this dream was just a feeling. Coolness. Not the perfect temperature, not just right. Acceptable, comfortable even, but a little cool. Enough of a chill to grab your attention. Enough of a chill to take you out of your head and plop you back into the world. It was a coolness to be thankful for.
Wake up, baby
Wake up, it’s time. You know what you need to do.
“I need to help build the sun today”
She awoke. Her mother was there. It wasn’t breakfast yet. She was still wearing the light white sheet she slept it. It covered her body loosely. She wore it like a soft breeze. She once heard, from a tipsy aunt, that her mom would “sometimes sleep naked”. It was not unheard of. People would do that. Though only when the heat lets up enough so you don’t sweat your bed through. She knew her mom and dad were, in fact, naked under their clothes but choose to deny that whenever possible.
“Good morning mom”
Mom came over to her and sat down.
“It’s not morning yet. Not without you sweetie”
She got out of bed and into the shower. She opened the valve and let a little lava in. She only wanted a warm shower. It was hot enough and too early for it to be cold. She felt dirty from yesterday. She had spent her evening running through the ash fields after school with her friends. She rubbed her bruised knee and winced after remembering tripping over a crystal berry bush. Those things were hard! Delicious but barely worth the effort in her opinion. Dad loved their jam and she never understood why.
After the lava brought her water tank to a steam, she drained the water and let it in. She brushed her skin with the pumice stone. When she was done, she stepped out of the shower and crushed the soft rock in her hands. She dried her body, mixed the stone with the remaining water, and rubbed moisture back into her skin. She went to replace the pumice stone and found the bathroom cabinet didn’t have anymore. She told herself to remind Mom at breakfast.
It was Dad’s turn to make breakfast. He cooked an egg and decided to splurge with not one but two ribs. It was quite a feast! Today was a special day for her and the whole family. It was Dawn day, or New Year’s as some people called it.
She had reached the milestone, like her sister had before and like how her brother will someday. She was excited but also a little embarrassed with her families’ celebration.
When Dad cooked an egg, he liked to plop the whole thing down on the center of the table, sitting in its own shell. The popular method was to crack a small hole, bake the whole thing, remove it from the shell and serve on an elevated plate (with a bowl underneath to prevent a mess) for everyone to pick at. Dad liked to “Remember where these bad boys came from” and serve it the “old way”. The large, hard shell usually stayed intact but she did remember her brother once swallowed a fragment and “Couldn’t poop for three days” according to her big sister.
“Mom, we need some more pumice”.
“Thanks, we can grab some on the way back from your first dawn ceremony. Honey, can you hand me the news when you’re done with it?”
Dad folded the section he was reading and handed it over. “I really should start with the comics. Makes the rest of thing easier to swallow”. He picked up the third section and had a few sensible chuckles as he sipped form his mug. It was bright geode, an heirloom from his side of the family. Most people used feldspar for cups and mugs, or for nearly everything really, but dad liked how his geode stuck out. Plus it was kinda rare, and it added a little reverence to something as mundane as morning coffee and breakfast.
Her brother came up the stairs and into the living room. “Why is everyone awake so early?”. He hopped into mom’s lap seamlessly as she wrapped her arms around him. “You know why, it’s your big sister’s big day. She’s going to build the sun like your big, big sister did”.
“When did she do that?” He asked
Mom said “A long time ago. Way before the mole delivered you to us”
“Big day!” Dad said, between the razor thin soft slate sheets he was giggling at.
Her brother frowned. “Come on Mom, you know I’m too big to believe in that stuff anymore”.
Dad smirked. “Then where do you think babies come from, sport?”
His frown spread to his forward and he paused. “I don’t know, the store?”
She, Mom, and Sad all laughed although she was a lot closer to her brother’s confusion than she would admit. No one had told her yet but she started to understand it. Not the mechanics are anything really. She did know enough to recognize there was a kind of mystery about it. It was some kind of secret no one openly talked about. In her vaguest understanding, there was a sex shaped question she did not know how to ask. You’re typical 13 year-olds conceptualization of something they’re not ready for.
Mom asked Dad if he could “Hold down the fort while we’re at the ceremony?”. Dad told her “Yes and you don’t have to ask that way, sweetheart”. He kissed them both. He wished them a good time. It was too hot for her brother to spend much time outside, in the bleary salamander days of summer. She and Mom closed their eyes and felt their way to the car as everyone’s shaded goggles were inside it. This was a careless but common mistake.
When they knew where they were, they hopped into their vehicle. The sulfur tank was only half full but they lived relatively close to the ritual site. Mom started the engine. She was grateful when the coolant began to fan in. Mom handed her daughter the necessary shaded goggles for this time of day during this time of year. They put them on and the outside ceased its blinding them with light. She opened her eyes again now that it was safe.
She watched Mom at work. Mom was a great driver. Her hands danced over the levers, pushing, pulling, shifting all four legs with a precision nearly as mechanical as the object itself. Smooth terrain was few and far between yet Mom had a way of making nearly every trip comfortable. “How did people survive before this?” She asked as the car bent, walked, and climbed its way to their destination.
“That was so long ago honey. I learned about it in school. Life was very hard. Things used to be cool enough but they got really hot and stayed that way. There were only a few parts of the world dark and cool enough for people to live on”
She imagined herself as one of her ancestors. Struggling to eke out an existence before people started building suns to survive. She thought about the ugly, hard, heavy, metal suits she would have probably have to wear just to leave her village. She shuddered when she imagined trying to see through the first shaded goggles. They were bulky and crude. Her hair stood up when she thought of the painful blindness that would have come without their use. She thought of the roaring lizards that once roamed the land. They ruled the world. They ate people like her. They ate everything! They were still around, of course. In farms or the occasional petting zoo. Sometimes even in the wild, way out in the Burning Red. Thousands of years ago, it would more be her families’ ribs on the table, not theirs.
They arrived. She saw all her friends and the rest of her class hard at work. She sheepishly rushed in, realizing she was a little late. They gathered marble and slathered it in a lime liquid. Their composition was important but their color would soon be swallowed in blue.
The parents and environmental engineers milled about. The mayor and his staff were present; seeing to the event and being seen themselves. The air was humid and a little too bright as the sun had yet to be made. Everyone wore their most fashionable shaded goggles, the heirloom type that were only worn around this time of year. More relic than tool with today’s options but it was still a good thing to have on you.
She found a pair of deep gloves and slid them on. They were heavy, but she had grown used to them from practice. And from being larger than when she first started. They were good gloves too.
Like all good deep glove they had to be trusty enough to keep her hands from experiencing anything beyond a breath of heat and thin enough to let her feel the material. It was a chaste but deeply sensual experience for her and other people who loved working with the world’s many molten minerals.
Though no part of her body touched the melted hayune (thankfully) she still immersed herself in it. She mixed and added lapis with sodalite to taste. Although her old time shaded goggles dulled their luster, she knew the hues and tones of blue were still there. She would see them first hand upon the completion and rising of this year’s dawn. Or if she was wearing one of the newer models. She inserted, churned, poured, and readied the minerals for their application to the base. She watched as her concoction rolled over the marbled lime. A slow, hot, and sacred wave.
The mayor leaned toward the chief of his city’s environmental engineering crew. They smirked and shared from a small quartz flask. Ice didn’t really keep outdoors, and increasingly common luxuries of that sort were frowned upon from use in the last couple weeks before the construction of the sun and Dawn day. Out of respect for their ancestor’s struggle. After another year was bought and paid for (“thanks to the children”) was a more socially acceptable time to use ice again.
Children were essential to the ritual, but not the process. Of course not the process! A modern society that depends on children to do anything but continue the whole thing has a tenuous grip on existence. Children used to be essential to the process back when people were so few, labor was scarce. They were also essential to harvesting mushrooms and keeping smaller dinosaurs out of the armadillo pen. If they could avoid becoming a raptor snack themselves. That was back when people lived in small villages and made many suns.
Many suns. Many, many, many suns. Many crude, sputtering, lukewarm suns that would sometimes make more light than they were supposed to absorb. They damaged the world in a way they would not understand for a long time. Back when it was very hard to make a sun as the method wasn’t well developed. Some villages had to rely on another town’s sun. They took whatever dark; whatever cold that could have, paying tribute to and resenting their neighboring benefactors.
Today each city, each town, each village made their own sun. She watched them rise as other communities’ had gotten started earlier. They rose just below where the sky seemed to stop (but never really end) and combined. Some of the more remote settlements still had their own suns. Most people lived close enough so they’re suns could combine. They joined one another and grew. The light began to relent. The heat began to withdraw its hands from the throats of a nation.
She, and so many loved the blue. The pale, gentle blue that was so rare in this orange, red, black world. When everything wasn’t too bright to been seen, blue was a color experienced by itself. Sure, there were plenty of blue minerals. Yet, it wasn’t a color one would often pleasantly stumble across. Much of anything that was blue needed to be gathered and used in this very ritual. Even more to be used for the product. The pride and savior of a people.
Although this ritual had a very practical purpose, it had back up. Modern society learned not too long ago to make suns scientifically too. First haphazardly applied to war, it was remade for life. The last sun that would join the great chorus would be one made from modernity. It would be made by adults, in a laboratory run by worldwide consensus. It would take the brightest minds on a morin level scale and require its whole support.
They even designed it to not be visible until it joined the children’s suns, so as to not take away from their contribution. Every sun made things blessedly cooler and darker but it was really the last one that made things close to comfortable. This was an open secret. Every adult and even some of the kids participating knew this. No one really talked about it openly. That would ruin the magic of Dawn day. Why start the New Year being a jerk?
She and her classmates watched their sun rise and join the rest. People started taking off their shaded goggles. A few removed their light metal layers and eagerly anticipated exposing their skin to the outside in due time. Dillo burgers were passed around on disposable feldspar slabs. People would remember the mushroom bun’s zesty seasoning years after.
The last, best, official, and invisible sun joined the rest. Proud of it fulfilling its destiny but a little sad to see it disappear into the whole. There was a sacred, gentle implosion as it cooled and dimmed everything to just right. Another year was made. Another tally was added to the calendar. The people of the world could live in their strange, wonderful home yet again.
The bleak, harsh stillness of Summer had ended. Fall was here and with it, new life. Mushroom spores would soon dance through the air, riding on thermal vents. Batsong would fill people’s ears again as they returned to the skies. Blind salamanders would dart through the streets, stealing snacks by smell alone. Still lakes and rising river farms, with their nearby ash fields will begin to seed. Frozen food was becoming more and more affordable. Yet most preferred it fresh and “real” as possible. Mom couldn’t wait to start bringing home fresh tomatoes for the family to enjoy.
Mom wished she had a tomato right now with her dillo burger. Mom spotted and sat down next to her daughter. Beaming with pride, mom put her arm on her shoulder and kissed the top of her head.
“See honey? It’s just like I said”
She wrapped her mom in a hug. She buried her face in her shoulder. She knew what Mom was going to say but would still receive the words anew.
“It’s not morning without you”