Frozen Moonlight

Posted: July 3, 2007 in Beauty, Culture, Fiction, Religion, Sci-Fi

When the Dean of UC Berkeley requested that I take a trip to Southeast Asia for a holiday, to look into an ancient ruin near the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, my first thought was the anticipation of “fresh blood”– a new mystery to unlock.
Naturally I said yes. I needed a vacation from mindless history lectures, droning on in front of kids in their twenties who wanted to be artists, writers, musicians or programmers, but had to sit in a crowded hall with a brain dead professor spewing facts about Babylonian culture he himself lost interest in a decade ago. Perhaps, seeing a new culture, one I hadn’t even heard of until recently, could rekindle my love of the world.
I arrived at LAX at around seven in the morning, still bleary from the long drive and lack of sleep. Three hours later I was in the air, bound for Ho Chi Minh City. I was seated between a squalling child and his anxious mother, whom I happily complied with to switch seats with after Baby Dearest wet himself and had to be changed. Children, like spicy foods and certain types of shellfish, do not agree with me nor my stomach.
We arrived slightly early, terminal jet lag weighed down on me like a lead suit. I called a taxi with a driver that I chatted with amiably as he drove me to my hotel. I had learned Vietnamese in high school, and had found it to be a welcome addition to my repertoire of languages, especially in California. The hotel I arrived at was old, but dependable-looking. I tipped the driver and took my bag into the place, getting my room and depositing my bag there.
When I went back down after a shower that left me slightly more refreshed than a policeman who’s just chased three crack heads through three miles of urban areas and just had his first cup of coffee, the clerk at the desk handed me a piece of paper. It was the cell phone number of the guide that the Dean had set me up with to take me to the ruins. I called him, and he gave me directions to the area northwest of the city by about nine miles. He would arrange a taxi tomorrow at three fifteen. Relieved by this, I trudged upstairs and fell into the bed, even though it was only three thirty.

* * *
When I woke, my watch read eleven forty-three PM in California while the clock by the side of my bed read two forty-six PM. I set my watch, took a quick shower and went outside where my taxi was waiting. The driver tried awkwardly to speak in English for me, but I reassured him that it was fine, and we talked about little things, the weather and sports and such. Eventually he asked what I was going to do, at such a remote spot that had no real points of interest he knew of. I told him of the ruins, and he looked at me strangely.
“There are no ruins near where you’re going. I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never heard of the ruins you are talking about. Are you sure you have the right area?”
I was dumfounded. No ruins? A local was telling me this?
I fumbled for the right words, hoping I wasn’t in for a massive joke that the Dean had decided to play on me. No, that was ridiculous. Nothing was wrong, it’s fine. There must be something.
I needed this new culture. I had become bored with the thing I dedicated my life to; it was a physical need for me now, to discover, explore. If it didn’t exist, what would I do?
I assured the driver (and myself) that I would be fine. He shrugged and continued to drive. A few minutes later, he pulled over to the side of the road where the thick grouping of trees parted to reveal a lake.
“That’s it. Good luck on your, um, expedition.” He laughed and I got out, staring at the lake. As the taxi sped off, a small Vietnamese man walked over to me- I had not noticed him.
“Are you Professor Johnson?”
I nodded slowly. He was the guide. We exchanged greetings and began to talk. When I asked about the ruins, he revealed that they were not actually standing anymore, but the spot we were at had been one of the largest temples of that culture.
“What is it I’m here to see? I thought there would be some physical evidence of this people.”
The man chuckled. “Oh, but there is. I am the last descendent of the Krin people. I invited your Dean to witness the moonlight ritual tonight, but he was busy and decided to send you.”
My mind was reeling. Krin? Moonlight ritual? What was this?
“You are confused… I shall tell you of the Krin.”
As the guide spoke of his people, there was a hypnotic quality to his voice, not unlike storytellers passing down a great secret through the generations. It turned out that few people even knew of the Krin. They were an ancient people present around the times of the Tang Dynasty, a group that worshipped the magical properties of light. Any form of light they saw was considered divine– specifically the moon, being an orb that brought light to the darkness.
The odd thing, however, was that fire was not included to be worshipped. It was supposed to be an evil version of the moonlight, as they had discovered after many of their homes had been burned during a particularly hot summer. As such, they shunned fire as many cultures did not, even refusing it to light the darkness of the night or cook food. They became a culture of vegetarians, instead of killing animals and cooking the meat.
However, they had no way to move around in the night without sight. Though they relied on the moon to guide it was often obscured by clouds, and so an alternative was to be made.
The guide stopped with his narration and stood up. “I shall show you the moonlight ritual now. This is what the Krin used as a guide through the night.”
He walked to the lake, with me scrambling to my feet to follow him. The moon was bright, a full sphere that was every bit as beautiful as a flawless diamond hanging in the sky. The guide stood at the edge of the water, staring at the moon’s reflection. Suddenly, he scooped up a stone and smashed it into the reflection.
The water didn’t just ripple and break the surface– the mirrored moon shattered into several hundred pieces, sinking into the water, where the glow became less distinct. My guide leapt into the water and quickly seized two pieces. The luminescence faded fast, until nothing was left but the dark bottom of the lake.
The guide turned to me, and handed me one of the pieces. The size of an old-fashioned key, the piece glowed brightly, clearly illuminating my surroundings. I stared at the bright scintilla of moonlight in my palm, something that seemed completely unreal.
“When the Krin learned to freeze the moonlight,” the guide breathed, also transfixed by the sight, “They no longer needed fire.”

The guide never told me his actual name, and I never asked. I didn’t need a verification for the miracle– I accepted such a thing with my own eyes as a witness.
When I got back to California a few days later, I lost the frozen moonlight not very long after sleeping at home. I didn’t search too much for it. I had known it wouldn’t last long, but while it had it had been amazing.
There are still new things in the world that only a few, select, lucky people get to view. I had viewed only one thing in the world that could truly be accepted by a rational man as an incredible event. More secrets were out in the world, waiting for others to find them.

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