The Naughty Light
Once upon a time, it was nearly sunset. You could just barely see a tiny sliver of sun above the horizon of the sea. And even though it was summer and the sun had stayed up as long as he could, it was time for him to leave. Well, almost time, anyway. The sun has many children – millions and billions and trillions of them. And when it is time for the sun’s older sister, Night, to cover the earth in her soft, warm blanket of darkness, the sun and all of his children go home. But, sometimes, there is one naughty little child who will not go home to bed, as he should. And that is exactly what happened this night.
His daddy, the Sun, kept calling to him. But the naughty little boy, kept skating over the sea, and even diving into the waves, sometimes. His daddy told him he was being naughty and even rude, and that it might even be dangerous for him to be alone the whole night.
“Not scared!” said the little boy, turning himself into the teeniest, tiniest speck of light you can imagine, and bouncing from wavetop to wavetop, until he slid off a shiny bit of sand and came to a rolling stop under a leaf so old and yellow it was mostly transparent.
His daddy just sighed. And even though the little boy may have really died, all alone, without his daddy to protect him, the sun could not break the rules of Nature, entirely, though he could and often did, stretch them just a little. And, by now, the rules had already been stretched as far as they could be, for the day, and the sun had to leave.
But Night was watching.
The little ray of light was full of energy and mischief. Oh, the things he could do! He could stretch himself into a line long enough to reach from the earth to the moon and far beyond. He could make himself so small you couldn’t see him He could jump, skitter, slide, and bounce. He never slowed down, even a little, no matter what. And he was fast. Oh, he was so fast! He could go around the whole world a thousand times in less than a second! After all, he could travel at the speed of light. If he had wanted to, he could have been on the other side of the world, where the sun was, in almost no time at all. But he thought he would look silly if he were to go back now. He had said he wasn’t scared. And, well, he wasn’t!
He went to a huge, big city that was full of light. But it was a different kind of light. He couldn’t understand it at all. So, he went and talked to one of the millions of neon signs in the city. This one was on the top of a very tall building – very tall for you and me, that is; he was fast and he had no fear of heights. He was at the top of the building and zipping hundreds of times all around and even inside of the neon sign faster than a shooting star!
The neon sign was big and gruff but very friendly, really. “Are you scared and alone, little boy?”
“Not scared!” he shot back immediately.
“No, of course not,” said the neon light very gently. “You’re a big brave boy; you would never be frightened. That was silly of me. But, you know, you could make lots of friends here.” The little ray of light said nothing in response. “Of course, you would have to change, just a little, to be like us. You’d have to turn into electricity.” And still he did not speak. “It’s easy and painless. Light and electricity – they’re almost the same thing.”
“But they’re not – the same thing, that is. And I couldn’t ever be happy being something I’m really not, you know.”
“Yes,” said the neon sign, who was very wise, having spoken to millions and millions of rays of light, in the daytime, over many years. And then, suddenly, there was a crackling noise and the neon sign went out. The little ray of light waited a long time – almost a whole second. A second is a very long time for a ray of light. And then it shot off, searching for new adventure.
He searched cities and villages, the tallest mountains and the deepest mines. He flashed in and out of exploding volcanoes and the hearts of countless diamonds and rubies. He played with lasers and moonlight, lightning and fireworks. But none of it really interested him. And then, finally, he saw a man standing on the edge of a long, black, empty road, striking a match to light his cigarette. The little ray of light was less than a million miles away, up in the sky, when the man struck the match. And so the little ray of light saw it happen. And down he dived! The man did not have time to lift the match to his cigarette. The little ray of light was playing with the light from the match. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as pure as sunlight but at least it was real, not just electricity. The little ray of light took away all of the heat from the match and turned it all into light. So, the match stopped burning but, strangely enough, it was still alight. The man saw this strange event and was fascinated. He just kept looking at the match. He couldn’t have been more surprised if it had grown ears and a tail. And then, all in play, and just for fun, the little ray of light really lit up the match – not with flame but with light. The light from the match grew and spread until it covered the whole night sky for more than a hundred miles around. It seemed as though there were rivers of rainbows dancing in the night sky – except these rivers showed many more colours than any rainbow. For a moment, the whole world went silent, watching this miracle of incredible beauty – a miracle just given as a casual gift by a naughty little boy. But he was a shy little boy, too. And he didn’t like all the attention. So he waited until the match started to burn again. And when it burned the man’s fingertip and he dropped the match on the ground, the little ray of light was gone!
Now he was having a wonderful time! The sheer joy of being himself without any restrictions had taken over. He wanted to see what else he could do. More, more, more! What else was there he had not seen? Time had seemed to stretch out before him but now it seemed that time would vanish only too quickly. But despite his eagerness for new experiences, he did not rush, now. He glided smoothly, effortlessly, throughout the world not searching any longer, but just looking, drinking it all in, admiring the newness of all he saw. And even though he wasn’t looking (or, perhaps, because he wasn’t looking) he saw a tiny little house. It stood deep inside a wood and the wood itself stood on the edge of a vast, velvety blanket of snow. Inside the house was a little fireplace. It was just barely big enough to warm up the house. Into this little fireplace the little ray of light slowly descended. This was a fire made of neither electricity nor wood, but of gas that came from underground pipes, hundreds of miles long. But, for all that, it was a flame made of natural things. For a little while, he played with the light from the fire. But he did not want to create a big commotion this time, as he had with the light from the little match. Very slowly, the little ray of light took away nearly all of the light from the flame, and let the light seep out of the house through chinks and crannies so small that you or I could never see them. It must have taken him a whole minute, at least, to make a little pool of light outside of the house. But he had been careful. So the house was still dark and warm. In fact, it was warmer than usual. The little ray of light knew a few little tricks that could make the hottest fire just a little hotter.
And, as soon as he was sure that everyone in the house would remain warm and comfortable, he slipped out of it, leaving it still dark, and started to play with the little pool of light he had created outside. Of course, this time he was very careful – at first. Outside of the house, not far from the front steps, was a small little patch of ice, probably no bigger than your hand. And although it was only a little patch, it was much smoother and shinier than the ice around it. It was in this little patch of ice that the little ray of light had created his little pool of firelight without the fire. And he dived into the pool and played with it, entertaining himself for a very long time. And even though he was always conscious to keep the house dark, he forgot, after a while, all of the other things around him. The light had spread.
In the beginning, he had expanded it only a little, from the little space it occupied to a few miles around the house – and always on the ground. But then he had lit up one tree and then another. And then, the snow and the ice, the grass and the trees and anything else that was in the path, glittered with a brilliant light. It seemed almost as if the light had been stretched and stuck on to each object separately. But the little ray of light did not like the way that looked. And so he loosened his control and let the light be itself – bright yet soft, spreading yet lingering, quick yet sinuous. And though he had been careful to keep the house warm and dark, the light outside could not be ignored, after a while. The sleepers woke up and quietly gazed out at the wonder before them. There was light, stretching out for miles, well beyond their horizon. And yet their own house was completely dark and more warm than ever – and while some of the warmth came from the fire, they could feel also the warmth of love and innocence.
Immediately, the little ray of light realized they had all woken up. But he did not go away, this time. He continued to play. At last, he began to tire of the sport, though, despite having much energy left in him. And as his spirits began to fall, the light he had made slowly began to dim. And so he drifted away, quietly, to another forest, thousands of miles away. And still it was dark.
All this time, he had not felt alone or frightened. But now that he was feeling droopy, he began to wonder what Night would do to him, if she caught him. He did not know that Night had been watching him, with love, the whole time. So he curled up into a dewdrop on a leaf and fell asleep. Soon, however, Night reached into the dewdrop and held him in the palm of her hand. And she looked at him, with an expression of slight amusement.
“Uh-oh. I’m in big trouble now!” he thought.
But, as she continued to look at him, Night’s oldest daughter, Dawn, came and kissed her on the cheek. And, Night began to fade away. With infinite grace and love, Night blew gently at the little ray of light who stood tall and bright, even in his fear, in the palm of her hand. And then she was gone. And Dawn vanished too. And the little ray of light felt his spirits rise again. And, with all the power in his little heart, he streaked toward the sky to hug his daddy, the sun – for the sun had risen again.