He watched the sun sink.
The sky was growing dark. He hiked higher, higher, higher.
Then, directly above him, but far too high for him to even imagine touching, there was a pin prick of light. A few moments later, another appeared, and then another, and another. The darker the sky got, the more these lights revealed themselves. It was as though the sky itself had little holes in it, and each hole let out a hint of the brightness behind it.
How would he describe these lights?
He began counting. One, two, three, four, five…
He climbed to a higher peak. He was so tired, and he was a little angry that the old man had not mentioned these lights.
Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three.
And higher yet.
One hundred and eighty, one hundred and eighty one, one hundred and eighty-two.
The clouds were returning—there was no question of that—and David was exhausted. He would not get to the top of the mountain. He realized that now. Still, he counted—more urgently, because the clouds were gathering fast.
Five hundred and thirty-seven, five hundred and thirty-eight, five hundred and thirty-nine.
He had reached two-thousand and fifty three when the strings and puffs of clouds merged and blotted out the last of the lights.
His eyes ached from finding each new light, which then became groups of lights, and then sprawling curtains of lights. He could see none of them now, and he wept.
He was weak and worn out, but he walked down the mountain—with considerably more trouble now, since the clouds were all around him. Sometimes, he had to push them away so he could see his next step.
The journey down took him hours, and included many falls. But finally, he was on the ground, and made his way, still limping and bruised, to the professor’s house. He raised his hand (it was heavy!), made a fist, and pushed himself against the door. It took all of his strength to knock.
The professor answered quickly, as though he had been waiting.
“Hello, David,” he said.
David blurted an accusation: “You didn’t say anything about the lights in the sky.”
“Stars. They’re called stars.”
“You didn’t write about them.”
“No, I didn’t. There are so many.”
“But you saw them?”
“Oh yes. My wife and I—we both did.”
“I tried counting them. I wanted to tell all about the day, and I didn’t want to leave anything out like you did. But the clouds came back before—.”
“Please, won’t you come inside and rest for a bit? You are so tired.”
“And you lied about the colors. The leaves—they weren’t gold or rust or anything you said!”
“Ah. That’s because I saw them in a different season. We each get our own day, and it’s not the same as anyone else’s. You saw the rainbow. I missed that. And I saw the leaves in their splendor. I’m afraid they had lost their color by the time it was your day. The colors don’t last. Thus it is.” He gave David an indulgent smile. “I can make you some cocoa. Would you like that?”
“No. I want to go home.” David’s voice broke and his eyes filled again.
The old man put his arms around him. “It was incredible, wasn’t it, David? The Day without Clouds?”
“Yes,” David whispered. “So much. So many. So vast.”
“Go home, my boy. Go home and rest.”
And that’s what David did.
He did write his own book about the Day with No Clouds, but not for many years. His book started simply, “David lived in a city of clouds.”
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