The story starts like this:
“Star Date 00412. Captain’s Log. We’re stranded now. There’s no way to get back to Earth. Mars will be our grave. All the cities have gone dark. Our supplies are running thin and the nights are getting colder. Pretty soon ‘they’ will come for us. And then our world will end.”
“I thought you said we were stranded on an alien planet orbiting a distant star,” said Larry, popping his head out of the rusty hatch.
“We’re on Mars. We were always on Mars,” said Cory.
“Nuh uh! You can’t change where we’re stranded whenever you want,” Larry said accusingly.
“I didn’t. You’re just remembering it wrong,” Cory lied, adjusting the coarse “captain’s hat” he wore whenever it was his turn to lead the pretend games.
Cory and Larry had commandeered an old automobile for today’s space fantasy adventure. The vehicle had almost rusted away completely save for the basic frame, but it was enough for two boys’ imagination. Cory would always pretend they were stuck on an alien planet, or the moon, or some other equally impossible place. Larry liked historical dramas better, but he had to admit when it came to storytelling no one was better than Cory. Everyone knew Cory was going to replace his Grandpops as the Chief Mythologer because of it. It made Larry jealous sometimes, but never for long.
“My memory may not be as good as yours, but it ain’t broke. We pretend to be in space all the time and I don’t complain. At least keep the story straight,” said Larry.
“I am. Space is space. It’s all the same,” said Cory.
“Oh no. It’s the Finch boy,” said Larry, unaware he was making himself smaller and harder to see.
“What’s he doing out here?” Cory asked.
“I don’t know, but let’s get rid of him quick,” said Larry.
“Are you pretending to be space explorers again?” Bobby Finch asked as he strode up to the scene.
“Sure are,” said Larry.
“Wanna join us?” Cory asked. Larry smashed his hands into his face, frustrated.
“My dad said I shouldn’t play pretend with you anymore. He doesn’t like how you’re always talking about Moon Landings and Space Ships and such like they’re real,” said Bobby.
“They were real!” Cory said sharply. “My grandpa’s grandpa was one of the last space-men.”
“Don’t start again with this,” Larry pleaded, but it was too late.
“My dad said no one believes you or your grandpa’s stories. No man’s ever been to the Moon or Mars or any other place. It’s all made up stories they told back then because they were wicked,” said Bobby.
“My Grandpops ain’t no liar,” said Cory.
“Oh yeah? How’d they breathe up there with no air?” Bobby asked.
“I dunno, but they figured it out,” said Cory.
“How’d they eat when all the food and the Lord’s animals are down here?” asked Bobby.
“I dunno! They figured it out, okay?” Cory replied.
“The Good Book says ‘No man has ever been to the heavens.’ If the Good Book says it, that’s all there is to it,” said Bobby.
“Yeah well, the only people who read the Good Book anymore are crazies,” Cory said, jumping off the front of the rusted ‘spaceship’ and running off.
“I’m telling!” Bobby yelled as he ran back towards town.
Larry sat in the husk of the old auto, torn between his friends. He read the Good Book and he knew Cory knew that. He wasn’t sure why Cory had just called all Good Folk crazies. But then Bobby’s dad was kinda weird the way he was always talking about how bad things were back then. Back before anyone alive had even been born. Even the oldest folks only had the stories told to them by their oldest folks about the times before. He never understood why people walking on the Moon was such a bad thing. Of everything it was said people could do back then, why were space and space-men impossible? With a sigh, Larry made his choice and went after Cory.
“Do you think my Grandpops is a liar?” Cory asked when Larry had finally found him hiding in a tree.
“No. I don’t think so,” said Larry.
“He’s senile but he ain’t a liar. His grandpa was a space-man. He even has a Moon rock to prove it,” said Cory.
“Does he really?” Larry asked excitedly.
“Yeah. Keeps it in a chest with his other things. I’ve seen it a few times,” said Cory.
“What’s it look like?” asked Larry.
“It’s grey and it looks soft, like it’d crumble if you touched it too hard. It’s got some holes in it too,” said Cory.
“I wanna see it,” said Larry.
“He doesn’t show it to anyone anymore. Not since Paster Finch and his congregation shunned him and my mom for all their space talk,” said Cory.
“There’s only five of them. You know how many people live in this town? Heck, you know how many Good Folk there are besides Finch and his friends that don’t care about space talk?” Larry asked him.
“I don’t know,” said Cory.
“Lots more than five. Finch’ll get kicked out of town if he keeps shunning folks like that,” said Larry.
“They’re the loudest ones, but they’re saying what all the other Good Folk are thinking. They think space-men were evil, and everything people ever did back then was evil too,” said Cory.
“I’m one of the Good Folk and I don’t think that,” said Larry. Cory stealthily brushed a tear away, making it look like he was fussing with his hair.
“Yeah? What do you think?” Cory asked.
“I think space is cool. I know we have fun and it’s all pretend, but if we really had to go to space I don’t think I could do it. I’d be too scared,” said Larry.
“Yeah,” Cory said, nodding in agreement.
“Your ancestors must have had a lot of guts to do that. They got to do something that almost no one got to do. They got to see the whole earth with their own eyes all at once,” said Larry. Cory didn’t say anything. He just smiled at the thought.
The story continues years later:
Cory had grown into a skilled artisan, learning from old man Jones the arcane arts of woodwork. Larry became a scoutsman for the militia which suited his adventurous soul. He didn’t like that he had to be away from home so much, but he enjoyed seeing other towns and exploring the old, hidden paths in the forests. Whenever he came home, he would visit Cory and they would talk until dawn’s break about all the things Larry had seen on his tour. But even though Larry had seen much more with his eyes than Cory, he would still be fascinated by the tales Cory spun. Apparently Cory was learning new tales from his Grandpops every day. Cory knew it was because his Grandpops was not long for this world. Soon it would fall on Cory to remember the old ways. It made Larry jealous sometimes, but never for long.
“Do you remember the Moon Rock I told you about?” Cory asked one night when the stars were out.
“Yeah. That was so long ago I’d forgotten about it,” said Larry.
“It’s going to be mine soon,” Cory said with a sad voice.
“Because your grandpa…” Larry didn’t finish the sentence.
“I’m going to be responsible for a lot of things. I don’t know if I can handle it,” Cory said.
“Cory, you’re the smartest person I know. I know you’ll be a great mythologer,” said Larry.
“All mythologers do is remember. Anyone can do that. I want to do something greater with myself,” said Cory.
“Like what?” Larry asked. Cory shook his head.
“You’ll laugh at me,” he said.
“No, say it,” said Larry.
“I want to go to the Moon,” Cory said in total seriousness.
“What?” Larry asked, surprised.
“I told you you’d laugh,” said Cory.
“I’m not I just didn’t expect that. Why the Moon?” asked Larry.
“Because that’s what great men do. They take what’s impossible and make it possible. Like my ancestors did. I want to be great like they were great,” said Cory.
“And how are you going to do that? Carve a spaceship from oak and blast off from the town square?” Larry said with a laugh.
“Don’t be an idiot!” Cory snapped. Larry fell silent. He hadn’t meant to offend.
“I’m sorry,” Larry began to say.
“Everyone knows the best spaceships are carved from cedar,” Cory said with a grin. After a seconds pause they both laughed until their sides hurt.
“You goat, you made me think I upset you!” Larry said, playfully punching his friend’s arm.
“But seriously, I want to go up there and I want you to come with me,” said Cory.
“Why me?” asked Larry.
“Because you’re my only friend,” said Cory.
“That’s not true. What about Tom?” Larry asked.
“He’s a drunk. He’s like that with everyone,” said Cory.
“Okay, what about old man Jones?”
“I’m his apprentice. We’re not exactly friendly. He just orders me to do things and I do them. That’s all.”
Larry scratched his stubble and said, “I can’t be your only friend.”
“You don’t want to come with me?” Cory asked.
“I can’t believe you’re seriously considering this. What you’re talking about is impossible to do,” said Larry. Cory winced. “What I mean is, it hasn’t been done in so long that no one alive even remembers how.”
“I’ll figure it out. I don’t care how long it takes, I’ll figure it out,” said Cory, shaking his head.
“Besides, don’t you have more important things to be worrying about right now? The harvest is coming up soon and Remembrance is just around the corner and you have to study up for that I’m sure. Folks are already starting winter preparations cause of what the forecasters been saying and I know that’ll keep you busy for a few months,” said Larry.
“So you’re saying I should wait,” said Cory.
“I’m saying you should forget about all this. You’re going to be Chief Mythologer and I’m going to be a Master Scoutsman and we’re both going to live our lives. We’re too old to be playing pretend, Cory.”
“I’m not playing. I want to leave my descendants a better legacy,” said Cory.
“What’s wrong with the one you have now?” asked Larry.
“It’s brought nothing but shame to us. To me. My father hated the fact that we were descended from the space-men of old because people like Paster Finch would harass him in the streets. I’m tired of people treating me and my folks like pariahs because of where our blood came from. I want my legacy to be something my children will be proud of. I want them to be proud of space-men.”
“I know you don’t believe in it, but the Good Book says that ambition tempered with prudence is better than ambition alone. Besides, you have lots of things you can leave to your children. You have the mythologer stories, you have your woodworking, you have a great legacy being built right here, right now. You don’t need to go to the Moon. Who knows, maybe next year one of the Govener’s sons will ride through here and be so impressed with your work that he commissions you on the spot to make him something. Then you get to work and make one of the best sculptures the world ever did see, displayed at the capitol palace for the rest of time. That’d be your legacy. Cory the legendary craftsman,” said Larry as the first touches of early morning blue began to creep on the horizon. Cory let out a tired yawn.
“I guess that ain’t so bad,” he said.
The story continues one year later:
Larry was allowed to return home on the occasion of the Chief Mythologer’s passing. Paster Bobby Finch said a few words for the dead as was customary. Even though lots of folks didn’t read the Good Book, it was still the local paster who would perform the funeral rites. No one wondered why, it was just the way things were. Larry was surprised to see Bobby behind the pulpit reciting the verses of passing. He wasn’t as fiery as his father was, but he had a strong presence and he certainly wasn’t the mousy little boy of his youth.
“Larry? I hardly recognized you. Good to see you,” Bobby said after the body had been laid to rest out back.
“Same. How’s he doing?” Larry asked.
“Seems to be handling it well. His mother not so much,” said Bobby.
“Where is he now?” Larry asked.
“I think he went inside,” said Bobby.
Larry entered through one of the chapel’s side doors. Cory was sitting on the bench furthest from the door. His face was blank and his eyes unfocused. Larry sat down next to him.
“I came as soon as I heard,” said Larry.
“Thank you for coming,” said Cory.
“I’m sorry for your loss. If there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know,” said Larry. Cory nodded but said nothing. They sat there for a long while, listening to the birds chirping outside.
“It’s mine now,” Cory finally said.
“What is?” Larry asked.
“The Moon Rock. Mom got the house and the land and the cow but I got the duty of Deputy Mythologer and Grandpops chest along with everything in it,” said Cory.
“Oh. What are you going to do with the Moon Rock?” Larry asked.
“I want to take it to the Moon,” said Cory.
“This again? You know it isn’t easy to get to the Moon, right?”
“It’s different this time. Before, I wanted to plant my own flag and leave my footprints and make the space-man legacy something to be proud of again. Now I just want to bury it,” said Cory.
“On the Moon?” asked Larry.
“Yes. I think it’s time.”
“Time for what exactly?” Larry asked.
“My family has passed the Moon Rock down for generations. It’s hard solid proof that we were there. We went up there, Larry. We spread our wings and flew to the Moon. It’s been a long time since anyone’s done that. So long that barely anyone outside of my family even thinks the stories are true. I think it’s time to let go of it,” said Cory.
“There’s nothing wrong with the space-man legacy. I always thought it was cool that you were descended from Moon Walkers. I come from fishing folk. In terms of lineage I think you won,” said Larry.
“True,” Cory said with a laugh. “Still, I think it’s time. Time to let go, time to grow up, however you want to see it. The Moon will always be up there, watching us as we watch it, but that’s enough I think.”
“That still leaves us with the problem of getting the Moon Rock to the Moon,” said Larry.
“Oh yes. That little problem,” Cory said, chuckling.
“Please don’t tell me you’re going to chuck it up there either. I’m trying to be serious,” said Larry.
“I have a plan,” said Cory.
“Does it involve cedar?” Larry asked.
“We’re going to walk there with our own two feet.” When Larry didn’t reply, or indeed close his hanging jaw, Cory continued. “Grandpops left me a book. He showed it to me once when I was a boy. I can’t read it, but I remember it was all about space and there was this one part in it about the Moon specifically. I took a look at it yesterday and I found some notes somebody had written in the margins.”
“By your grandpa?” Larry asked.
“I don’t know. It said there was a place in this world where Heaven meets the Earth. At this place, the Moon is so close you can reach out and touch it. That’s where I want to go,” said Cory.
“And I suppose you know where to find this place?” Larry asked. Cory didn’t have to answer, it was written all over his face. “All right then. Let’s deliver us a Moon Rock,” said Larry.
The story continues a few weeks later:
Cory and Larry had traveled very far. Cory had the map, but Larry knew the roads and paths better. Together they had ventured into the Deep Woods where the trees were so thick that the sun could not penetrate the canopy. The improvised map and directions were scarcely legible, but Cory was confident he was leading them in the right direction. Their path seemed to be taking them north and east towards the mountains. When they reached the end of their journey, they realized there was no specific place for them to end up. The map just ended on a mountain. They wandered for a week before low supplies and lowering temperatures began to worry them.
“We definitely should have planned this better,” Larry said for the hundredth time as he swished his steadily shrinking water pouch.
“We’ve already made it. We just have to find this ridge here,” said Cory, angling the map so he could read it better in the low light.
“How long are we going to search before we decide the map is a fake?” Larry asked. The question had been hanging in the air ever since their journey began but only now had Larry voiced it. Cory folded the map and stared daggers at his friend.
“Until we starve and die. I’m not giving up,” Cory said in reply.
“I thought you were going to say that,” Larry said with a sigh.
“We’re too close. The place where Heaven meets Earth is here. We just have to find it!” Cory shouted.
“Take it easy. You’ll waste your energy doing that,” said Larry, taking out his wayfinder. “We could try looking north again,” he suggested.
“It isn’t north. The mountain slopes over here and faces west, the ridge must be on this side of the mountain,” said Cory.
“We’ve searched high and low on this side of the mountain. I think we would have found it by now,” said Larry. Cory was trying his best to hide how desperate he was feeling. They couldn’t stay out there for more than a few days before being forced to turn back or starve.
“We’ll follow the end of this trail and then set up camp,” said Cory leading the way.
“Watch your step over by the-” Larry started to say, but Cory was absorbed in his map and missed the sudden edge of the trail.
“Whoa!” Cory yelled as he tumbled out of sight.
“Cory!” Larry screamed after him. He ran to the edge and looked down. Cory was lying in the arms of a crooked tree growing out of the side of the cliff. “Cory don’t move!” Larry shouted.
“What happened?” Cory said slowly.
“You fell. Don’t move a muscle,” said Larry, looking for something to anchor his rope to.
“Larry. I found it,” said Cory.
“I found it,” Cory said again.
After a tense few minutes of climbing down the cliff face, Larry found it too. Obscured by vines and branches was an opening into the cliff face itself. Cory pointed to where a series of stairs had once led to the opening but which were now nearly gone. Larry realized they had passed the opening several times already on a path a hundred feet below them.
“Unbelievable. We would have missed it if it hadn’t been for your clumsy feet,” said Larry.
“Providence is with us today,” said Cory.
“Are you ready to do this?” Larry asked.
“Ready before you were,” said Cory.
They entered through the opening into the mountain. Larry’s handlight was dim in the cool darkness of the cave. They quickly realized that this cave was not a natural formation; it was too angular for that. It had to have been made by human hands. But when? And how? Nobody had lived out here according to the history books. Then they saw the paintings on the walls. They were yellow and seemed to follow some kind of pattern. Diagonal lines, rectangles, every once in a while an ancient word followed by an unknown numeral, neither of them could make heads or tails of it.
It was dark, deep within the mountain. Cory was nervous enough being in here with nothing but Larry’s handlight to guide them. It reminded him of a story, one of many stories actually, about brave heroes venturing deep into the underworld looking for treasure or beautiful women or whatever and encountering the demons that haunted that plane, ready to tear the sins away from them piece by bloody piece. A realm of demons ruled by the sphere of the moon. All at once, Cory felt like he’d made a grave mistake coming down here.
As Cory’s courage was about to run out, they reached an open doorway and on the other side was a massive room. Impossibly, the night sky was in there. The night sky! Inside the mountain! They couldn’t believe their eyes. There was the North Star. And Mars. And Leo. And the moon. The Moon! It was so bright and close. Larry heard Cory crying. It must have been for the same reason he was crying; it was such a beautiful sight.
“It’s so close. I could reach out and… and… It’s right there! The moon is right there,” said Larry wiping tears from his face.
“Shine your light here,” said Cory. He took the moon rock from the pouch he’d stored it in. It almost seemed to glow in anticipation for this moment. “My ancestors carried this rock to earth from you more years ago than we can count. Now I honor their legacy by returning it to you,” Cory said, holding the rock up to the moon. The moon grew as he spoke. Soon it seemed as if it took up the entire room. Cory laid the rock before the glowing face of the moon and backed away.
“We should leave. I feel like it’s looking at us,” said Larry.
“With this offering, I pay my respects to you, oh Luna on high. Let the legacy I leave be at least half as great as the one my Grandpops left me. Thank you for being our inspiration,” said Cory. He nodded at Larry. It was time to go.
“No one will believe us when we get home,” said Larry.
“For the first time in my life, I’m okay with that,” said Cory. He was calm and confident, like an immense weight had been lifted from him.
When they passed the doorway, the light of the moon vanished and all was dark in the artificial cave again. As they walked towards the light of the sun, they passed a sign they hadn’t noticed coming in. In large white letters the sign read: Thank you for visiting the International Space Agency’s latest attraction, “Skies before Pollution”. Don’t forget to visit the gift shop and we hope to see you again real soon! No one ever read that lonely little sign again.