The Sun and Her Shadow – Timothy Merritt

When the stars began to wink into existence across an inky night, the earth stirred beneath a Glastonbury field and the first few inches of a finger birthed through. One finger was followed by others, pale towers rising from the underground, until a whole hand emerged straining for purchase in the soft dark soil, slowly beginning to grip and pull.

The man that emerged from the ground that night had long forgotten his name; a blank slate shaking the soil from his pale skin. He was not possessed of much identity at all, instead filled with a singular desire to search skyward, to scan among the pinpricks of distant light for the only sight that might cure his affliction. He was looking for her.

The Man From the Earth knew only that she had hidden herself in that panoply of fire in the days when the sky was still young and much smaller. In those primitive days she had gleamed as a brilliant beacon amongst paltry lesser lights, and had guided the man and others like him through the long night. Now though, there were countless stars above, and they seemed to have grown smaller and more distant over the eons. His nightly search for her light thus inevitably ended always in failure and sense of deep shame when he returned to the earth at the tail of each evening, crawling back into the dirt in that small clearing that sat in the shadow of that hard-capped hill of Glastonbury Tor, where a roofless church tower stood like an arrow towards the sky.

On this night, however, the Man From the Earth was sure of himself. He was sure —as he was each night—that this would finally be the night he would catch sight of the beloved light he missed so dearly, so inexplicably, and once found he would go to her and join her in the sky for all eternity. The Man From the Earth was perhaps blinded by the surety of his love for this nearly forgotten light, but what else is there but blind pursuit when one has lost all purpose and memory in the face of a love burned down to its aching core?

He made his usual cursory scan of the heavens, all the lights there blending into a ubiquity of faintness that bred in him the first feelings of frustration for that night. Hers was not the kind of light to be so diminished, so diminutive. No, he knew, despite the geological ages that had passed since he last felt her heat upon his face, that hers was a flame that no other could rival, and was nothing like the cool, pale sphere that sometimes grew and shrank to a sliver overhead. Hers was a fire than lit infernos in the heart of humankind.

The Man From the Earth stayed there for a few hours, neck craned at a futile angle before the strain became too much for him and he cast his gaze lower, watching the mists roll over the sleeping town of Glastonbury, and decided perhaps he would stroll the droves that linked its green places for a while to distract himself from the rising cloud of melancholy in his mind.

Though he walked aimlessly, his path took him closer to the Tor, that high hill that had stood for millennia. As he followed the grassy paths towards it, eventually beginning to snake his way up its inclines, his eyes were never far from the sky for long. There was an ache that rent through his chest with each breath, a feeling that told him with certainty that his beloved was not here, and that at the end of night he would crawl back into his pit to sleep cold and alone and wait for his next chance to seek her out again.

He had nearly run into the old church tower atop the hill before he stopped walking. Here was St. Michael’s Tower, an imposing relic from centuries past made of tapering stone reaching towards the firmament. The Man From the Earth faced the open archway that led through the structure, gazing into the solid darkness within. A strange thought crept into him. Perhaps he could wait in that darkness for his beloved to come to him? Perhaps on this high hill, not buried below the earth and hidden from her view, she would more readily be able to seek him out in turn? The sudden prospect then that she had perhaps done so, parsing away the ages with the self-same mixture of dedication and hopelessness that he himself had, filled him with a renewed hope—along with a vivid sense of stupidity. But would she see him secluded in such covering? Would she find him hidden under the stone? Yes, he decided, for her light was brilliant and strong, and she could find any man no matter what cave or cowl he hid beneath.

Weary from his walk and the dimming hope that he might ever see that disarming light again, the Man From the Earth lay down in the open space within the tower’s archway, reveling in the strange but not unwelcome sensation of sleeping upon soft grass, rather than beneath it. He soon fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

What was meant to be a short spell of sleep became a long, restful slumber for the man of the earth, and when pale, pink twilight tinted the horizon he was still snoring softly upon his green bed. The sun rose heavy in the east, dispelling the clinging mists and cool, dewy air from the countryside, and the night became morning.

When the day’s light reached the archway of the tower the shadows crept away in inches, until shade no longer touched any part of the man and he woke to the warm embrace of that legendary star. He blinked away sleep and tried to drink in the unfamiliar light that filled the world around him, until his senses returned to him and a sharp pang of remembrance dug deep into his heart.

The sun! That glorious fireball called Sol, and Magec, and Beiwe, and by all her other names shone down on him with an embrace of light and heat that acted like a restorative, rebirthing memories that had long been washed away into the shadowy depths of his mind. Here was his star. Here was the brilliance he had once stood inside, the heat that had fed upon his body like fire on fresh coals. He stood up in the archway to face her, to stare unblinking into her single searing eye, welcoming the flash of pain the view brought. His body was nearly translucent in its paleness after so long a time spent in her absence, and it began to blister and burn at once. The pain was excruciating, yet the Man From the Earth was unperturbed, his lips splitting as much from the fiery rays above as from the wide smile that formed where only a staunch grimace had stood for millennia. His hair caught flame, momentarily giving him the image of a grotesque candle before the rest of his body followed, and the Man From the Earth became a Man of the Sun.

In the noon-day sunshine, seemingly brighter that day then it had been in recent memory, the visitors to Glastonbury Tor that came for photos and compartmentalized grandeur were treated to a strange, unexpected sight. Within the famous archway of St. Michael’s Tower, one of the best places on the hill for souvenir photos to be taken, a two-foot wide ring of black was seared upon the ground. A small pile of ash was gathered at its center, which after tourists notified one of the grumbling groundskeepers, was brushed discreetly away into the surrounding grasses. The ring, however, remained, and each morning the sun’s light would fall upon it as it rose in the east, heating the earth there in its warm embrace.

 

 

 

Timothy Merritt is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon, where
he works at Powell’s City of Books.

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