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First lights
First lights

Before I came, they lived in the dark.

It was a dark country, with slow, low-flying clouds under a perpetually dying sun, unless it was a tired, perpetually waning moon. The brownish grass ate up all the light that was left to feed some sun-worshipping demons living underground (or so went the local superstition, but the notion of sun-loving tunnel-dwellers always seemed an oxymoron to me). The inhabitants did not spend much time outside their houses, and rarely ventured in the outer world. All they had were a few safe hours, when hunters could hunt, lovers could love and parents could teach children how to call things. But when darkness fell, everything blurred and returned to an amorphous state, a gloomy chewing-gum of a life. People stopped being people and lost their names. All they had to lead them in the dark were stories of former, brighter times, that they told each other, though they could hardly guess whom they were telling the tale to at any particular moment (and the frequent mistakes and social blunders fortunately led to other, lighter tales).

But, strangely enough, they weren't a difficult people to live with. The traveller that would arrive at noon would be greeted with warmth and hospitality, since anything that would happen at this time of the day would be considered as a good omen. Because they treasured the little light they had, they tried hard to enjoy every second of the twilit day by celebrating whatever could be celebrated. Hunters did a lot of singing and shouting while hunting, which explained that meat was a rare treat. Lovers did a lot of loving, though discreet places were hard to find. And nowhere in the world could you find parents more eager to be with their children, and children more willing to listen to their parents. The day was all bustling hours and loud, laughing busy villagers. And then darkness crept in, and that was the end of it.

I can hear you wondering: why didn't they just build a fire ? They knew about fire. They cooked their food, heated their houses, burned the refuse, and sometimes even burned themselves. But when the darkness crept in, they put their fires out, one by one, with no apparent regret, and with as much stern inflexibility as the sun itself when it went to hide behind the mountains. They told me, Who are we to keep on lighting our houses when the sun itself call it a day ? There is a dark beauty in human logic. As bad as it was, obscurity was god-sent. It was acceptable to enhance the light during the day, but totally unnatural to fight darkness. Building a fire was a nice way to begin the day. But, however good their reasons were, it made their lives miserable by the usual human standards, and travelling salesmen never went up to see them, because even greedy salesmen like to spend the night in warm cosy places.

I was a salesman, and a greedy one indeed. I was curious, too. After hearing, year after year, half-fantastical, second-hand accounts of these people, I decided to go and see myself. I bought four mules and a good wagon. I bought a power generator. I bought a few appliances. Whatever was the religion of these people, it certainly didn't include