(a story by Doug Muder)

You are sitting in the middle of a circle of stones. It’s dark and it’s clear; the sky above you is filled with stars. You are wrapped in everything you own, and it’s almost enough. The side of you that faces the fire is warm, and the side that faces away is cold.

You remember the first time you saw this circle of stones. You were eight years old. It was a cold morning and the sun was coming up late. You were with your grandmother. She is a scary woman to be around, because she is a truth-teller. People come from far away to ask her questions, and if they are not ready to hear the truth, she says nothing. You said to her, “Grandmother, why is it so dark? Why is it so cold? Summer wasn’t like this. Why can’t it be summer?”

And she stopped what she was doing, and looked at you with that look of hers, and she said, “Come.”

It was a long walk–nearly midday by the time you got to the circle of stones. You had a hundred questions about the stones and where they came from, but your grandmother didn’t answer them. She said, “In midsummer the Sun rises over this stone in the east, and it takes the high road across the sky. It is a long road, and the Sun must be strong to travel it. The day is long and warm. As the year goes on the Sun becomes older and more tired. It begins to leave us and go to the warm lands in the south. Every day it rises further in the south and takes a lower, shorter trip across the sky. At midwinter it rises over the stone in the southeast and takes the shortest trip of all.”

“And then what happens?”

“On the longest night the Sun is reborn. It finds new strength, it turns around and begins the long trip back to us.”

“What if it didn’t turn around? What if it didn’t come back to us?”

She gave you that look of hers again. “If the Sun didn’t turn around, in another month or two it would vanish in the south. And then there would be no spring, no summer, no fall. It would be dark all the time.”

“That isn’t going to happen, is it?”

She looked at you again and said, “It is a long way home. We must go now.”

You knew better than to press for an answer. You followed her in silence for a very long way. Near a creek she stopped to rest and drink. The ice was thin there and easily broken. “I will tell you something that you may not understand right now, but I want you to remember it in case you become wiser someday. Will you remember?”

You nodded. “I am good at remembering,” you said.

“When you are older you will see that many things in the world get worse, and some go on getting worse for a very long time. But the world has Turnings. No one knows who made them or why. Most of them are hidden from us. They may stand right in our path, but we do not see them.

“At midwinter the Sun comes to a Turning. It starts to come back to us, and we celebrate. But the wise celebrate more than just the Sun. The wise celebrate the Turning itself. If there are still Turnings in the world, then whatever is worse may someday get better.

“Do you understand?”

You thought before you answered. “I do not believe so, Grandmother.”

She nodded and smiled, as if you had spoken wisely. “But you will remember,” she said.

Every year since then your grandmother has brought you with her at midwinter to the circle of stones. The wise people of all the villages gather there just before sundown, and they watch it in silence. Then they light the fire, and everyone chants, “Fire calls to fire. The Sun will return. Fire calls to fire. The Sun will return.”

Each passes the night in his own way. Some continue the chant. Others tell stories about the great deeds that were done under this Sun, the crops that were raised, the babes that were born. Others repeat over and over the promises they will keep if only the Sun will return. Your grandmother spends the night seated in her place, on her stone. She is away from the fire and you wonder how she can stand it, but she does. The previous morning she watched the sunrise from that seat. She knows exactly where its first rays peaked above the southeast stone. You watch the sky. The moon has set. The Milky Way makes its parade from horizon to horizon.

In time there begins to be a glow behind the southeast stone. As it grows it draws more and more attention away from the fire. The wise people gather around your grandmother’s stone seat. You look at the glow and try to convince yourself that it is in a different place than it was yesterday, that it has moved north, not south. But in truth, you can’t tell. You look at your grandmother, who looks at the stone. When the first rays come over the stone, she says, “The Sun is returning. The Sun is reborn.”

There is a shout, and a dance, and you find yourself repeating over and over with all the others: “The Sun is reborn. The Sun is reborn.” And you know that there will be another spring, another summer, another fall.

And perhaps–just perhaps–many things will turn.