There once was a girl who fell in love with the moon even though she knew in her heart that the moon could never love her back, for it lived in the sky surrounded by thousands of stars that shone far more brightly than any mortal could. Just the same, when night fell she would step outside and gaze at the object of her affection in awe, wondering if it ever looked down and longed for her as she longed for it. So consumed was she by her infatuation that she did not notice the rest of the world as it moved and changed around her. To her the sun was worthless, the earth beneath her a burden, and the words of her family and friends little more than empty sounds to be forgotten as soon as they were carried off by the wind.
One day her mother grew so worried for her that she traveled to the outskirts of the town and brought back with her the crone who was once said to have been a prophetess for the Empress herself. The crone waited for the sun to fall – for the girl slept throughout most of the day – and then met with the lovelorn child as the insects sang in the light of her precious moon.
“Why is it that you have fallen in love with one so unattainable?” the crone asked her.
“Because I was lost in the dark one night in winter, and no one realized I was gone so no one thought to look for me. Just as I was about to give up hope and consign myself to dying in the cold, the clouds parted and there the moon was, shining down to reveal the path ahead.”
The crone shook her head, the beads in her hair clicking against each other as she did. “Do you really believe it showed itself just for you? The moon illuminates everyone and everything. It sees more than you or I could ever imagine. Do you really think that it saw you and thought to reach out its light for you alone that night?”
The girl was quiet, her eyes downcast as she contemplated her answer.
“At first I was convinced that it did. But now I am not as sure. All I am certain of is that it saved me, whether it knows it or not. And I would very much like for it to know.”
With a heavy but unsurprised sigh, the crone brought herself to her feet.
“Very well. Then there is only one thing to do. I will draw you a map.”
The girl followed the crone outside, where the old woman grabbed her hand and dug a long, sharp fingernail into the girl’s palm until four droplets of blood dripped down her arm. The first drop trailed all the way down to the bottom of her forearm, where it blossomed into a map of an emerald forest. The second drop landed above the first, and expanded to reveal an ocean of midnight blue, dotted with gray islands. The third drop fell only to her wrist, and unfurled into a vast desert of red rock that ended in a tall cliff that stretched high up into the sky.
The fourth drop remained in the girl’s palm, where it formed a perfect picture of the white moon, surrounded by its stars. A line, bent and crooked in places, ran from the bottom of the forest all the way to the heavens.
“This path will first take you to a cave out at sea where you will find flowers the color of the kind of fire that only burns at the center of the earth. These will make a fine gift to your beloved moon as it has never seen such a thing before, even though its life has been such a long one. The path will then lead you to the one place where the moon is certain to see you – a desert where nothing grows, and the glow of your flowers will be sure to capture its attention. The rest is up to you.”
The girl thanked the crone, unaware as she turned to walk towards the forest that the old woman was shaking her head in sorrow and pity.
“Another fool for love marches off into the darkness without so much as looking back,” she said, and began her own trek back to her house at the edge of town.
The forest was dense, and as the girl walked, more and more of the sky – and the light of the moon – was blocked out by the leaves above. Though the girl was lonely without her moon, she knew she certainly was not alone. Strange sounds came from the dark spaces between the trees, and every once in a while what little light there was would be reflected in a pair of eyes so briefly that the girl had to wonder whether she really saw them at all.
Though the path marked on the map on her arm led her only deeper into the part of the forest that was filled with gnarled roots and low tangled branches, the girl did not stray from it. Eventually, however, it grew too dark to move forward, and she found a large tree to rest her back against as she closed her eyes for a bit. Without the moon and enshrouded by the blackness of night, fear filled the girl’s heart, but she bit her lip and refused to give into it.
“Why have you come here?” someone asked, and the girl’s eyes shot open but found no one there.
“I am on my way to the ocean,” she answered, though she knew not to whom she spoke.
“And what do you plan to do when you reach it?” the voice asked.
“Travel across it to the desert.”
“And once you are there?”
“I don’t see why I should tell you that when I do not even know who you are.”
The voice laughed, and as it did the branches above her head shook and the ground trembled.
“I am the forest that you have invaded. You carry my image upon your arm. The last time you were here there was snow on the ground and you were so frightened you could not hear me calling out to guide you.”
The girl thought about this and wondered if it could be true. She did not remember hearing a voice when she was lost, but her ears had been full with the sound of her heartbeat as she weaved through the trees in panic.
“It was the moon who ended up saving me,” she told the forest.
“How lucky you are, then,” the forest replied in a tone she did not altogether appreciate.
“In fact, the reason I am heading to the desert is to confess my love for the moon.”
“You are going to confess your love for the moon to the desert? Are you certain that the desert will care to hear that?”
“No, to the moon! I am going to confess to the moon!” the girl shouted, and the forest shushed her with the rustling of its leaves.
“You will wake up my fauna if you continue to make such a racket,” the forest scolded her. “Now, why would you want to go and confess your love for something so distant as the moon? What, pray tell, is it that you are expecting to happen when you do so?”
“I suppose I want to know whether it loves me too.”
“And if it does?” the forest asked.
“I don’t know! Why do you ask so many questions of me?”
“Why do you not ask them of yourself?” said the forest. “They are important questions.”
The girl was silent, for she knew despite her annoyance that the forest was right.
“I will think about it on my way there,” the girl said with a sigh.
“And I will help you find your way to the ocean,” said the forest.
When the sun rose and the girl could see, she set out again with the forest as her companion. Now that she could see more of it, she realized that the forest was really very beautiful. What was frightening at night was now serene, and instead of threatening eyes she saw curious rodents and shy foxes scurrying around in the underbrush. Where shadows once fell, flowers and moss were now visible, and the songs of dozens of birds surrounded her. As she moved through the forest she spoke with it and it told her wistfully about a time before humans, and when she reached its final trees she was almost sad to leave it behind.
“One piece of advice,” the forest said as the girl stepped beyond its threshold. “The moon is lovely, but it is not the world. Choose wisely what you are willing to give up.”
The girl did not think she understood fully what it was the forest meant, but she soon put it out of her mind when her feet reached the shore of the wide ocean and she was face to face with a boat she did not know how to sail. Once out at sea, it did not take long for her to stray from the path marked on her arm, for she could not get the boat to do what she wanted and soon she was curled up on the floor, sick from the rocking of the vessel.
“Forgive me if I am mistaken, but I do not believe this boat belongs to you,” a voice said, but the girl was too ill to look for where it had come from.
“I did not see an owner, but I was in sore need,” she replied.
“And now you are paying the price, for this boat does not obey anyone but its mistress, and you are not her.”
“Please, how can I make it listen to me?” the girl asked.
“Well, I could have a word with it, but first I’d like to know why it is that you have stolen it,” said the voice.
“I am on my way to pick flowers for the moon and confess my love to it.”
The boat continued to rock back and forth in silence for a moment, then finally it calmed itself. When the girl steered, it now obeyed, and soon they were back on their path towards the cave where the flowers grew.
“Thank you, whoever you are…and wherever you are,” the girl said to the air around her, for she knew not to whom she spoke.
“Raise your eyes and you cannot miss me. I am the ocean, and I am very curious as to how you came to fall in love with the moon.”
The girl told the ocean her story, and when it breathed a deep sigh, the boat tilted on its starboard side.
“Yes, I remember when I too first fell in love with the moon. To this day I still let it sway me, though we do not speak quite so often as we used to.”
The girl had not considered before that something as great as the ocean might be at risk of feeling heartache, but as they talked on through the dawn, she came to understand that they shared a great deal, including that unique pain and joy that came with loving the moon.
When the boat came to rest on the shore of the small island marked on her arm, the girl hurried into the darkness of the cave, eager to find the flowers that the crone had instructed her to gift to her beloved. In the damp chill and surrounded by jagged rocks, the flowers grew and glowed so bright that they cast shadows on the walls. Though they were hot to the touch, the girl plucked them from the ground until they overflowed from her hand. The petals singed her fingers, but she wore a smile on her face as she returned to the boat triumphant.
When at last the ocean brought the girl and her flowers to the shore beyond which lay the desert, the girl was sad to part with its company. The ocean wished her luck, and she was on her way, the flowers burning in her grip.
It was not the heat of the sun that bothered her as the girl traversed the red wastes, nor the roughness of the rocks beneath her feet. It was the absence of life and the silence that accompanied it. Only the wind stirred out there in the emptiness, and without any sign of the cliff she sought ahead of her, and with the moon so very far away, the girl was suddenly brought to her knees by a crushing loneliness.
“Why do you stop now?” a voice asked her, though it was so soft she had to wonder whether she really heard it at all.
“Because I do not know what I am doing, or what I hope to achieve by doing it. I am in love with the moon, but the moon cannot love me back. I have seen much more of the world now, and I have also seen that I am no more than a speck of dust floating through it. Why should something as great as the moon care for a speck of dust?”
“Why should something so brave as a speck of dust care what the moon thinks of it?” the voice asked. “I have been with you from the beginning, and I have watched you leave the only home you have ever known to cross forest, ocean, and desert without once looking back. Even before that, I saw you survive a night lost in the snow. You may be mortal, and your life may be fleeting compared to that of those who reside in the heavens, but you are here and you are real – as real as the moon or the forest or the ocean or…”
“The wind?” the girl asked.
“Yes,” the wind replied.
And so the girl brought herself to her feet, and the wind walked with her as she forced herself to move across the red terrain. She felt it in her hair and at her back with each step she took, and finally one cliff rose up above all the others in the distance, and she knew where she had to go.
The flowers continued to burn in her hand as she scrambled up the rocks, but she never lost her grip or her footing. As she ascended, the sky darkened and darkened and one by one the stars made themselves known by piercing through it. The girl could hear them whispering, but it did not sound unkind. They were merely curious as to why she had come.
When the girl reached the top of the cliff she saw that there, right at the tallest ledge, stood the moon, waiting for her. Now that she was here, however, she had not the slightest idea of what to say.
“I think she has brought these for you,” one of the stars said, and the girl blushed as she stumbled forward and presented her gift.
“They are radiant,” the moon said, “and you have traveled quite a ways to be here.”
The girl found the courage to explain to the moon why she had come and how she had fallen in love with it, but something shifted inside of her as she did. “Do you remember me?” she asked it.
“I do. I am glad that I could help you. May I ask what it is you desire? If it is my love, then you have it, for I love all who look back at me with the wonder that I have when I gaze at them as they walk the earth below me. Were you to join me in the heavens, then perhaps I could know you and love you as I love these stars, but I dare not ask that of you unless you are certain that you are willing to give up all that the earth has to offer. The decision is yours.”
The girl stood there at the edge of the cliff where heaven and earth met, the choice solely in her hands. To live in the sky and be loved by the moon would be a miraculous existence, but what would she be leaving behind for it? She realized that the thought made her unbearably sad, and she found that she already missed the wind for its loyalty and encouragement, and the ocean for its kindness and honesty. She even found that she missed the forest for its snide comments and annoyingly bright insights.
“I am afraid I can’t join you,” the girl told the moon. “The flowers are yours, but I am unable to give up the earth and all those I would have to leave behind here. My feelings for you haven’t changed. I, however, have.”
“That is probably the wise choice,” the moon said, and its voice was as kind as the girl had imagined it would be when she was first lost in the snow.
When the girl said her goodbyes to the moon, the moon told her she was welcome to visit again, though it knew the journey was a long one. Then, as she descended back down the side of the cliff, she felt the wind brush her face as it welcomed her back. It stayed with her as she returned to the ocean, who was thrilled to see her and hear her story of what had happened, and the three of them talked until the girl reached the shore just before the forest. At this place, where forest, ocean, and wind met, and where the girl could see the moon still glowing above as always, she felt at peace.
“Are you certain that your family will even recognize you now that you have acquired so much new wisdom during your trip?” the forest asked the girl in a gently mocking tone as she walked through it on her way home. “You are practically a sage.”
“Careful, or I will build a cottage out of your trees,” the girl said, and though she was joking, in time the forest did give her some of its trees to make a house by the ocean, and then a sailboat so that the wind could help her make the journey to visit the moon every once in a while.