At the end of the day

A short story in three acts.

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Matt sat in the back row of his freshman anthropology class, browsing Twitter on his phone. Kevin, sitting next to him, whispered, “careful, he’s looking this way.”

Professor Ramirez paused, then nodded toward the student sitting two rows in front of them. “Yes, Leonard?”

“Are you saying these primitive people actually believed that the sun was being swallowed by a dragon? I mean, haven’t we known about eclipses for thousands of years? It’s not rocket science.”

“Be careful what you dismiss,” the professor responded. “There are people alive even today in remote places who don’t have the benefits of science that we take for granted.” His eyes fell on Matt and Kevin. “Science isn’t just for surfing the Internet during class. It also…” Matt looked up, blushing, but the professor had moved on. Matt tapped a few times on his phone.

“Ah bummer,” he whispered to Kevin. “We don’t get a total eclipse here for another seven years. I wish we were seeing today’s show instead of sitting here.”

The shaman’s frenzied dance did nothing to deter the darkness overhead. Frightened villagers gathered around. Infants wailed, drowning out the erratic sounds of confused wildlife.

The village elder pushed his way through the crowd and stood in front of the shaman. The shaman stilled his skyward exhortations. The elder met his gaze. “Why?”

The shaman shook in fright. “I do not know, master. We have been diligent in making our offerings to the gods. We fed the dragon just last full-moon!”

The elder’s gaze fell on a man, now childless. Tears streamed down the man’s face. Had his daughter’s sacrifice been for nothing?

The sky continued to darken. A rock flew through the crowd, smashing into the father of the most recent offering. Someone shouted “unfit! what have you done to us?” Others shouted back. Fists met faces, and some reached for clubs. The village elder’s cries for order went unheard in the eruption surrounding him. The glow of just-lit torches spread through the crowd. The shaman stood still, gazing up with pleading eyes.

Darkness covered the land. The light did not return.

“I see you’ve finally tired of playing with your food.”

N’zok belched and moved closer to his mate, placing his vast left wing over her back in a partial embrace. “This system was getting boring. Thank you for indulging me.”

“Where to next?”

N’zok rotated in space, turning his mate with him. With a claw he gestured toward a bright light. “You can’t see it from here, but there are two stars in that system, one for each of us. We should be happy there for a long time.”

“Is there any chance you’ll consider eating slowly this time instead of wolfing it down? That’s so barbaric.”

N’zok belched again. “Barbaric, but oh so tasty!”

Both dragons unfurled their wings — unnecessary in the vacuum of space, but N’zok appreciated the aesthetics. They began their slow movement toward the binary star.