Arthur was finding it difficult to die. He had lived much longer than seemed reasonable for a man of his age. Anyone might have guessed that only brave determination and perhaps a small whisky at bedtime kept him going. That was not the case. Arthur had made a real effort to give up being determined when he retired and he much preferred a cup of tea.
Death had simply passed him by.
The wind howled, his jacket billowed and his long silvery hair flew out behind him. He stood facing the river as it crashed beneath his feet and down the mountain. The bridge seemed to sway from side to side, although anyone looking at the concrete fixings would know this was surely impossible. It would be a simple thing to jump.
Cars had been passing Arthur steadily since he arrived on the bridge, travelling down towards the harbour town of Brink Stenton. They were swallowed up by the darkness, before leaving the bridge to descend the mountain. Cars going the other way, in the direction of Murkle, high on the mountain behind him, might be swallowed up by any number of things.
Arthur would have chuckled at an idea like this once. The trouble was, now he was a hundred years old, he felt not only had he seen everything and done everything but he had somehow thought everything too.
Nothing made old Arthur smile anymore.
But even old Arthur had to admit he had never seen a night like this. Down in Brink Stenton and everywhere else, people were excited about the Millennium. Arthur had decided to spend the special night by himself, despite protests from some of his granddaughters. Tonight was not only Millennium Eve, it was Arthur’s hundredth birthday and they did not want him to spend it alone.
The newspapers and the television were all saying that the world could end tonight, and for some reason people thought this would be better confronted in at least pairs. But he had Christmassed with Anne only last week, and had spent much of the time politely pretending to muddle and forget the names of his great-grandchildren, much to their delight. “No, I’m Edward and she’s Catherine,” the reindeer-jumpered boy had laughed. It had been enough for Arthur.
And so he had walked up to the bridge to see in another New Year alone. But now he felt that if he was not going to jump (which he really was not; death could just find him through the proper channels some other time), then it was getting far too blowy for an old man with an improperly fastened jacket to be admiring the view in the middle of the night.
He held his globe-topped cane above the ground, enjoying the way he had to grip it tightly (somewhere around its equator would be neatest) to stop the wind taking it from his hand, and turned away from the view.
A light in the sky made him look back. The moon, which had been hidden behind fast-moving clouds all evening, had made a sudden appearance and was now shining rather too confidently over the harbour town.
“Oh heavens, oh dear,” Arthur cursed. It was not supposed to be a full moon tonight and this display of astronomical incongruity could mean only one thing.
That was not the moon. That was the Murkle Moon.
“It is I, Arthur. It is I, the Moon,” it said, a shimmer bouncing off every word as it spoke.
Arthur leant over the railings and into the disrupted night. “I can see that,” he hissed. “You shouldn’t be down here. How many times do we have to go through this? Murkle is that way.” He gestured up the mountain with a jerk of his thumb.
“I haven’t wandered for fifty years,” the Moon said, a little put-out. “I am The Murkle Moon,” it added, grandly.
Arthur pulled his jacket around himself. The whole crowd below might be looking up and this was not the quiet birthday he had in mind. “You nearly hit the moon fifty years ago. You know, the other moon. Besides, this is hardly the night for wandering. There’s a Millennium going on, don’t you know?” Arthur’s voice was lost in the wind, but the Moon heard all the same.
Arthur paused to glare at the Moon. This was not going to shift it either; moons of any kind do not respond to the challenge of a staring match and this one was no exception. “Go back to Murkle.”
The Moon’s diamond voice filled Arthur’s head. “It isn’t your job to watch over me, Arthur Oldham. Not anymore. Someone else sits in your tower up at the school now.”
“They’re not doing a very good job, though, are they?”
A beam of light shot out from the Moon and pooled somewhere in Brink Stenton. Arthur squinted into the view.
“Go back up to Murkle!” Arthur shouted.
The Murkle Moon did not reply. Never a chatty companion, its sulks were as familiar to Arthur as its curvy backside.
The moonbeam had fallen on one of the houses in the part of town furthest from his own. No, no, no, this shouldn’t be happening. But it was. The beam of light cut through the torn clouds, highlighting a red-roofed house.
“Well, happy birthday, Arthur,” Arthur yelled, above the crashing sound of the wind. Just as Arthur finished the last word, the wind dropped and the bridge, the river and the town below became silent. The Murkle Moon and its beam vanished and the sky was black again.
Before Arthur had a chance to adjust to the peace, a piercing bang rocked his ancient bones and the sky above Brink Stenton lit up with thousands of tiny lights in a hundred sparkling colours. The fireworks disappeared and reappeared as loudly and as beautifully over and over again. Arthur could just about hear people in the crowd below shouting, “Happy New Year!” to each other.
Well, now Arthur had seen one more thing. A new millennium had begun and the world had not ended. Arthur made his way along the bridge to the path back to Brink Stenton, eyeing the sky suspiciously from time to time but knowing the Murkle Moon would be back in its proper place. That was where Arthur was headed too, back to his own proper place; his little bungalow and his own warm bed.
But as Arthur lay alone with his old feet curled around a hot water bottle, he could only think of the trouble this celestial wandering was going to cause him. The Murkle Moon had started to wander again and he was the only one who could stop it.