Tuesday, October 3, 2023

“When the Moon Wakes” • by Jennifer Hudak

The locals say it isn’t a moon at all, but a sleeping god. They say if you watch it long enough, you’ll see the god shift and murmur.

“What happens if it wakes?” I ask.

When he wakes,” they say, but refuse to answer.

As far as I know, I’m the first person to study the apocalyptic religion that’s developed in the outer planets of this system. The solar cycle makes it difficult for anyone from the Galactic Core to come out this far if they don’t have to.

“You know you’ll be stuck there for the duration of the storms,” my advisor told me, before she signed off on my proposal. “Their entire infrastructure shuts down. It’s barbaric.”

I’d brushed her off, then. Told her it’d be like a little vacation. Told myself it would be refreshing to live without the constant intrusion of information, a reminder of what it must have been like to live in simpler times.

I arranged to arrive in time for the solar storms, just before the flares fritzed the satellites and power grid. They don’t have inns or hostels here; instead, I’ve been staying with a couple who have a room to spare.

Bartov, one of my hosts, looked skeptical when he saw that I traveled with a single bag. “There’s no telling how long you’ll have to stay,” he said. “No one knows how long this cluster of storms will last.”

I could have told him that we know exactly how long the storms will last. I could in fact predict to the day when this particular cluster of flares will end. But I just shrugged. “It will have to do.”

Tonight, once again, I open my tablet. With the network down, I can’t access my previous notes, can’t check the results of recent experiments or run any new data. My advisor was right; it’s barbaric. It’s no wonder the people here see gods in their satellites. The only thing I can do is start a new document and turn to my hosts. “Tell me more about the moon.”

“He’s been tossing and turning in his sleep,” says Bartov. “More than usual.”

Bartov’s spouse, Lem, fills three glasses with fermented tea and pushes one in my direction. “It’s always like this during the flares.”

“Yes, but these storms are different,” Bartov insists. “Stronger. It’s no wonder the moon is restless.”

I type that charming phrase into my tablet: Restless moon. “So, you think the moon is going to awaken soon?”

Bartov drains his glass of tea before answering. “Who am I to predict the movements of a god?”

I frown. I’ve developed a working theory about the archaic forms of belief that flourish in this system, but the university is going to want more primary sources, and the people here are frustratingly vague when I ask for specifics.

“Let’s say the moon does wake up. What then? What do you all believe is going to happen?”

Lem pushes my glass closer. “Don’t forget your tea. It’s a good batch.”

“Why won’t anyone tell me what happens after the moon wakes?”

“You’re not from here,” says Bartov. “You can’t understand.”

“I’ll understand if you explain it to me.”

“No,” Bartov says flatly. “You won’t.”

Lem sees my irritation and sighs. “Look, we’ve scheduled a slot at the observatory tonight. Come with us, if you like.”

“I’ve been to the observatory already.”

“You’ve asked us these questions already, too,” says Bartov. “That hasn’t stopped you from asking them again.” Lem lets out a belly laugh.

I’m not interested in looking at the moon. But I’m running out of time. Soon, the solar maximum will pass, the satellites will come back online, and I’ll have to return home—with or without enough material to write my thesis. Perhaps the sight of the moon through the telescope will loosen Bartov’s tongue.

I drink my tea, wincing at the sour bite. “Okay. I’ll join you.”


Torches burn all along the street tonight, mimicking sun flare activity, and children blow horns to awaken the moon. It’s like being at a festival, and it’s a shame to enter the quiet hush of the observatory.

Bartov offers me a chance to look into the telescope first. The moon—cratered, mountainous—does look somewhat like a curled, sleeping figure. I can see how the myth took shape, out here on the edge of space. I take notes on the details, the shine and the shadows, mentally composing the introduction to my thesis. If I were more fanciful, it would be easy to imagine the hills rolling like shoulders, the craters opening like eyes.

The surface shaking. Bits of moon-rock flying off into space.

I blink. “What…?”

The noise on the street swells, and Bartov grabs the eyepiece from me. “It’s happening,” he says reverently.

I back away from the telescope. “That’s not possible.”

“We’ve been telling you all along,” says Lem, face shining.

I feel it, then. A tremor that jostles the observatory. Bartov laughs delightedly and passes the eyepiece to Lem. “Didn’t I say he was restless?”

The tremor echoes up from the floor, through the soles of my feet. I push my way out of the observatory into the frenzied celebrations outside. Bells peal; drums pound. I refuse to look up at the sky, but I can’t ignore the tremor; it’s stronger now. It’s pushed through my skin, jostling blood and muscle and bone. It’s inside me, and no one seems to care.

Clutching my tablet in both hands, I remind myself of the normal pattern of the solar cycle. Of my research on religious fundamentalism and mass delusion. I remind myself that soon I’ll be able to leave this stinking backwater planet and return home to civilization.

None of that stops the tremor from invading each of my cells, or the sky from breaking apart. And everywhere, everywhere, the deafening rumble of a waking god.


Jennifer Hudak is a speculative fiction writer fueled mostly by tea. Her work has appeared recently in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and on both the Locus Magazine and SFWA recommended reading lists. A graduate of Viable Paradise, member of the Codex Writers Group, and full member of SFWA, her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

Originally from Boston, she now lives with her family in Upstate New York where she teaches yoga, knits pocket-sized animals, and misses the ocean. You can find out more about her on her website: JenniferHudakWrites.com, or follow her on X/Twitter @HudakWrites.