Chapter 13:

The Raven And The Wren

Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

With everything I've told you so far, my life probably seems awful. Sure, there have been many awful times in my life, but there were some good times too. One of my favorite memories came not long before one of my worst. I don't want to think about the worst least not yet. We'll get there eventually. For now, I want to focus on the best.

After Ela graduated high school, we kept our promise and continued to stay in touch, often hanging out on the weekends. Due to Ela's great love of the Astronomy Club, they decided to continue to let her join us in our activities whenever she had free time. Lucky for her, our camping trip to see the Perseid meteor shower landed on a weekend. Everyone had packed a few tents, brought various food items like hot dogs, chips, ingredients for smores, instant cocoa, and other basic items you would take on a camping trip. It took us a while of driving to get there, but that was okay because we left early in the morning. We had the whole day to set up camp and get ready to view the meteors. Having the whole day to set up was perfect for us, because we quickly realized how inexperienced everyone was at putting up tents.

Brian: If I knew putting up a tent would be this hard I would've asked to borrow my uncle's RV haha..

Ela: Pffft, using an RV to camp is cheating! The whole point is to be out in nature without minimal technology!

Brian: Well if you know how to put up the tents, be my guest!

Ela: Alright, I will!

Ela stuck out her tongue at Brian and grabbed my arm.

Ela: Come on Ivan, let’s show him that we are the tent masters!

I laughed nervously and whispered in her ear.

Ivan: I've never put up a tent before...

Ela whispered back.

Ela: Follow my instructions and we'll have this sucker up in no time.

Though it took a while, somehow Ela and I managed to put up all the tents. Zack helped us with the tent he brought, since he felt it was only fair due to it being his tent. By the time all of the tents were up, it was already late afternoon.

Zack: We should find some wood to start a fire before it gets dark. I'm starting to get hungry!

Ivan: I could go look for some while you guys get the food out and ready to cook.

Brian: Thanks, we'll probably have everything ready when you get back.

As I started to wander off into the forest, Ela called out behind me.

Ela: Wait for me! I'll help!

I turned and waited for her, noticing the curious looks on everyone's faces. When she caught up with me, we continued into the forest.

Ela: So, is this your first time camping?

Ivan: No, but it was my first time putting up a tent. My dad liked to go camping a lot and we always invited Neil, Sally, and their mom to come with us. While my mom, dad, and Neil's mom put up the tent, us kids were running around playing pretend or doing whatever stupid stuff we did as kids. We were pretty young so they never expected us to put up the tent.

Ela and I started to pick up some large sticks and twigs off the ground as we talked.

Ela: Oh, I see. My dad, my cousins, and I used to go camping every summer. He always thought it was super important for me to learn how to do things like put up tents, set up shelters out of whatever I can find, start fires by hand, or other basic survival stuff.

Ivan: That's pretty cool! Once the bad stuff started happening around Neil we ended up being very cautious about everything, so my parents never taught me any stuff like that. I know the basic idea of starting a fire based on movies, but that's it.

Ela: Being cautious is a good trait to have in survival though! There's lots of plants that may look safe to touch or eat but they aren't. Lots of lost people die from mushrooms or berries they think are edible. Some are so dangerous that just touching them can cause a bad reaction.

Ivan: I would probably just die of starvation instead haha..

Ela: I doubt that, people start to do things they would never expect when they reach an extreme starvation point. Some people start eating worms, crickets, leaves, even dirt in some cases. You won't get lost though, so I'm sure you'll be fine.

Ela picked up one more stick off the ground before turning to me. I could barely even see her face with all the sticks she was carrying in her arms.

Ela: This should be enough for now, we have enough for tonight I'm sure.

Ivan: If not we can just find more.

When we made it back to camp, we dropped the sticks and started to arrange the largest ones to start a fire. I watched carefully as Ela started the fire, hoping to learn how to do it myself. Once the fire was started, Brian gave everyone a long metal roasting stick with a few hotdogs on the end. As we cooked our hotdogs, he broke the silence.

Brian: I feel obligated to tell some sort of scary campfire story but I'm drawing a blank. You guys have any?

Zack: Nope, this is my first time camping.

Brian: Ivan?

Ivan: Uh...I have some scary stories I guess, but they aren't campfire stories. Just stories of some stuff I've seen happen around Neil. I don’t think you want to hear those.

Brian: Hmm...Ela?

Ela: I can't say I have any scary campfire stories either.

Ivan: She's a walking encyclopedia of folklore though, if you're interested in that haha.

Ela laughed and playfully shoved her shoulder against mine.

Ela: I am not!

Ivan: Yes you are! Haha..

Brian: Any story is better than no story. Go ahead and share one if you like!

Ela seemed to be deep in thought for a moment. I assumed she was probably thinking about which story to choose.

Ela: I have the perfect one to tell! I planned on telling Ivan later, but I might as well tell it now since you want a story! It's an old Tlingit legend about how the world got the sun, moon, and stars!

Brian: That sounds pretty interesting, let's hear it!

Ela looked at me and smiled before continuing.

Ela: In the beginning of time, the world used to be completely dark. The sky was black, and there was no light. However, there was one raven that would change it all. The Raven was pure white and could shapeshift.

Zack: I wish I could shapeshift.

Brian: Doesn't everyone?

Ela: I'm not done yet!

Zack: Sorry haha..

Ela: Anyway, the Raven started to get tired of bumping into things as he flew around in the dark. That's when he found out a man was keeping the sun, moon, and stars all for himself, tucked away in some wood boxes. The Raven confronted the man, but the man refused to give it up. The Raven was pretty mad at the greedy man for being so selfish with his light and decided he was going to steal it from him. The Raven then found out the greedy man had a daughter. Coming up with a quick plan, he used his shapeshifting power to turn himself into a pine needle, floating down the stream. As the daughter was collecting water to drink, she accidentally collected the needle as well, and drank it.

Brian: I bet that's not where you thought his shapeshifting power was going, huh?

Zack: Yeah, I don't think I would purposefully choose to be eaten alive haha..

Ela laughed and continued the story.

Ela: Well, as some time passed, the Raven turned himself into a human baby. Though the greedy man and his daughter were confused at how she was pregnant, they happily welcomed the baby when he was born. They did not suspect it was the Raven. As the Raven slowly grew up in his human form, he tried his best to get ahold of the boxes. However, the greedy man would always tell his grandchild to NEVER touch them. The Raven wasn't happy with this, but he refused to give up. He started to beg and cry, and basically threw a fit until the greedy man agreed to show him the contents of the box just to get him to calm down. Opening the first box, the stars started to float around the room. The small child started to play with them, and "accidentally" threw them out of the smokehole, where the smoke would escape from the campfire in the house. As they floated out of the smokehole, they covered the sky in small, twinkling lights. After losing the contents of the first box, the child cried even harder, until the greedy man opened the second box, revealing the moon. As the man handed the moon to his grandchild, the child became happy again and bounced it around. As he threw the moon around the house with joy, it again "accidentally" escaped through the smokehole, joining the stars in the sky. As you know, when children lose not one, but TWO toys, they get very upset and scream their heads off. That's exactly what the child did. Annoyed by the screaming and eager to make his grandchild happy again, the man opened the third box, revealing the Sun. However, he was met with quite a surprise! As he held out the Sun for the child to take, the child quickly shapeshifted back into the Raven. Before the man could put the Sun back into the box, the Raven grabbed it between his beak and quickly flew out of the smokehole. As he emerged from the other side, the soot from the hole covered his pure white feathers, turning them completely black. The Raven didn't care though. He was focused on one goal, and that goal was to take the Sun high up into the sky to provide light to the world. He flew for miles and miles until he knew the man wouldn't be able to get the Sun back, and then left it in the sky to bring the world daylight. Though light had been brought to the world, ever since then, the Raven's feathers were completely black. The end!

By the time Ela finished telling the story, everyone except her had finished cooking and eating their hotdogs. As everyone started to discuss it, she quietly started to eat.

Brian: That was a pretty cool story! We should have you tell us more sometime!

Zack: I had no idea Ela liked folklore so much! That raven was pretty clever haha. A bit manipulative to the old guy and the daughter, but it was for the greater good.

Ivan: I really liked that one. When did you find it?

Ela: I found a book about it at the library about a month ago.

Ivan: I'm surprised you didn't tell me about it sooner haha..

Ela: I was waiting for the right time, but I guess I couldn't help myself and had to tell it now! Remember how I said I would find a folktale for you to use as motivation?

Ivan: Yeah, I remember that.

Ela: I think that one is perfect for you. You're surrounded by so much darkness in your life, but someday you will find a way to bring light into your life, just like that raven. You'll find a way to steal the sun, and your life from then on will be bright.

I blushed as I thought about how confident Ela seemed in me. After a moment of thinking what to say, I noticed Brian and Zack were looking at us with smug looks on their faces. I blushed even more as I realized it was probably very obvious that I had romantic feelings for Ela. Looking back at her, I noticed she appeared to be blushing too. As our eyes met for a second, she laughed nervously and went back to eating her hotdog, looking away from me.

Shortly after, the sky became dark. We started to lay out some blankets and pillows on the ground so we could relax while watching the meteor shower. Though we each had our own blankets, Ela ended up sitting down next to me on mine and placed her blanket over her legs.

Ela: It's okay if I join you, right?

Ivan: Yeah, that's fine.

We looked up at the sky, wondering when the first meteor would fall.

Ivan: did you find that folktale?

Ela: It's kind of a funny story actually..

Ivan: Yeah?

Ela: Yeah. First, I tried to come up with a possible nickname for you, but I wasn't sure what to call you and even then, if I did find something I was afraid you wouldn't like it. So then I tried looking into the meaning behind your name, but apparently it means "gift from God". While I totally agree that you are a gift from God, I knew I wouldn't be able to work with that much in terms of finding a folktale. So then I thought, "Maybe his middle name". I asked you about your middle name, which you said was apparently Mikhailovich taken from your dad due to how Russian names work? BUT THEN, when I looked up Mikhail it ALSO said it meant "gift from God". At that point I almost wanted to cry with laughter and irritation because all I could think of was "Wow, this is impossible"!

I laughed as I thought about how much of a struggle it must've been. I'm sure it was frustrating at the time, but hearing her talk about it was pretty funny.

Ela: The third time was the charm though! I looked up the meaning of your last name. Apparently, Voronkov means "Raven". Knowing that lots of folktales are based on animals, this was like hitting a jackpot. So then I just started to study into folktales that had ravens in them. Eventually, I found that one. It matches you, it has a star theme to fit how we met through Astronomy Club, and everything else just fits so perfectly, from start to finish. You even have black hair to match the black raven feathers!

Ela combed my hair with her fingers before pointing up at the sky.

Ela: Did you see that meteor?

Ivan: I did!

Ela: The meteor shower finally begins! I'm so excited!

Ivan: It's moments like these that I wish miracles could happen.

Ela: Huh? What do you mean?

Ivan: If wishing on a shooting star worked, now would be the best time to start wishing. There'll be so many tonight, I could have unlimited wishes.

Ela laughed and playfully slapped my shoulder.

Ela: You're so silly! Why not make a wish anyway? It's not like it hurts anything. Look! There's another!

As I thought about Ela, the folktale, and how happy I felt that day, I decided to speak my wish out loud.

Ivan: I wish for this moment to last forever.

Ela looked at me curiously.

Ela: Why is that?

Ivan: Well...this is the most peaceful day I've had in years. We've had lots of fun today, I've learned so much, you finally told me a folktale to give me motivation, and.... I don't feel afraid. For some reason...when I'm with you, I just feel calm. I don't have to worry about death. I don't have to worry about anything right now. I can focus on this moment in peace.

Though she seemed to be blushing lightly, Ela looked at me with a little bit of concern. Realizing how I pessimistic probably sounded, I tried to bring back a happier vibe.

Ivan: Sorry haha! That was probably really depressing out of the blue. Let's enjoy the meteors!

I looked up at the sky and remembered what my mother once told me. She always said, "Never be afraid to make a wish; just look up and say it out loud". At that time I never knew why she said those things, but I would figure it out eventually.

Ivan: I wish to enjoy the rest of this night to the fullest..and I wish that this night of peace will give me more strength for any future stress to come. I wish that I will be as confident as that raven, so I can make my own happiness.

Ela gently placed her hand over mine. I blushed and glanced at her. Her long dark hair seemed to shimmer like a waterfall over her shoulders and chest. Her brown eyes were fixed on the sky above, reflecting the meteors passing by. Something about her at that moment took my breath away. She was beautiful.

Ela: I wish that Ivan will have a life of happiness ahead of him. I wish he would continue to lean on me when he needs a listening ear, because I always want to support him and be here for him for the rest of my life, even when I'm old and grey.

She looked at me and smiled. My heart raced as her grip on my hand became tighter.

Ivan: Ela..Do you really mean that?

Ela: Of course I do. You've been through a lot. You don't have to hold it in anymore..As you know, I'll listen. I'll always be here for you, as long as you let me. I'll experience any future darkness with you, and watch you as you snatch back the light.

Ivan: That means so much to me. Thank you..

I laughed nervously and adjusted my hand, locking my fingers between hers. Though she said I could talk to her, I didn't want to ruin that night so I kept any intrusive, negative thoughts to myself. After a moment of holding hands and watching the meteors together, she scooted closer to me and stared into my eyes.

Ela: Do you remember the day we met?

Ivan: Yeah. How could I forget?

Ela: I have a bit of a confession...

Ivan: I looked at her curiously, wondering why she seemed a little upset.

Ela: The day we met..I already knew who you were and it wasn't because of you being rich or because of your friendship with Neil.

Ivan: What? Really?

Ela: John is actually my cousin. He used to talk a lot about you during our family reunions. He didn't tell us details, but you always sounded like such a kind, sweet boy and it always broke my heart to hear about the bad things happening to you. John told me he could introduce me to you, but I didn't want to be someone in the background remembered as "John's cousin" that you'd meet some random day and then probably never talk to again. I wanted to find a way to meet you myself and become your friend..become someone that could help you and give you support directly. I always wanted to meet you and give you a big hug and tell you it would all be okay...some way, some how..

Ela let go of my hand and sat in front of me, wrapping her arms around me. I could feel a few tears hit my neck as she pulled me closer into her hug.

Ela: I told myself if I ever met you I would try my best to make sure you could smile with a real, genuine smile, no matter what bad things may happen to you. I'll never stop trying.

I wrapped my arms around her as she continued crying into my shoulder. I pat her back gently, hoping it might comfort her a little. I felt so lucky in that moment, knowing she had been here to support me all along, even though I didn't realize it sooner.

Ivan: Ela..Can you look at me a moment?

Ela pulled away from the hug to look at me like I requested. Her eyes were a bit red from crying, but she still looked as beautiful as she always did.

Ivan: Thank you.

Her eyes started to tear up again as she shook her head.

Ela: You're not mad that I lied..? I figured you would think I was a creep if I already knew a lot about you. That's why I tried to act like I didn't know much..

Ivan: Though it is a surprise, I'm not mad. Now that you mention it, I'm actually surprised I didn't catch on sooner. You and John do look like you could be cousins. I'm not mad though. I'm happy.

Ela: You're happy?

Ivan: You've cared about me for so long, and that means so much to me. I would be even happier to have your support for the rest of my life. I love you, Ela.

Ela blushed and hugged me again. I could hear her whisper it back.

Ela: I love you too, Ivan.

I hugged her back as my heart raced. I felt so happy knowing she felt the same way. Just when I felt like my day couldn't get any better, it did. I felt like the happiest guy alive. Ela giggled in my ear.

Ela: Does this mean I'm your girlfriend now?

Ivan: Yes, if that's what you want to be haha..

Ela let go of me and smiled.

Ela: Then I'm glad to have you as my boyfriend.

Ela sat next to me again, resting her head on my shoulder. We continued to watch the meteors together in silence, just appreciating life in that moment.

The rest of the camping trip that weekend went fairly well. The Astronomy Club didn't seem too surprised when we had told them about our new relationship, but despite the lack of surprise they still seemed pretty happy for us. We went fishing, hiking, and spent more time listening to stories Ela decided to share with us around the campfire. Something about that weekend made me feel like I had a lot more energy. Before the trip, I felt like a battery that had been drained to 5 percent. Perhaps it was the weekend away from home, or the new relationship with Ela, but when I got back home I felt like my energy and motivation to tackle my life's usual hardships was back at 100 percent again. I was determined to get through anything and everything it would throw at me, and I felt like nothing could stop me.

I was a fool.