Moth wings brush the surface of the mask and it sounds like whispers, like the chanting of a single word, like a question on the edge of being understood. The mask-wearer raises its hand to the insect, palm up, fingers outstretched. Though the lights are out, the blue moth has its own shine, an echo of the moonlight that never reaches the streets, not this far down.
The moth doesn’t land on the mask-wearer’s hand. It never does.
Distance lends beauty.
From above, the city shines. The old and torn flyers littering the walls and drifting along the pavement no longer exist. No stained floorboards, no broken windows, no rusting signs hanging at twisted angles, chains creaking in the wind. Darkness has erased it all, wiped it clean. Only the neon light remains.
“It’s not that scary-”
“I wasn’t scared, okay! I was surprised! It’s not the same thing!”
“-it kinda looks like those statues outside the temple.”
“Does anything about this place look like a temple to you? Why did I even come here…”
The mask-wearer turns away from the children and cranes its head up toward the sky.
There is nothing there.
Lanterns stretch from rooftop to rooftop, hanging from wires. Squint, and it could be the sun shining off dew on a spider’s web, out in the country. Or the surface of a lake, the water black and deep and still, holding up a mirror to the stars. Rushing down into the city, rushing up into the sky, there’s no difference at all.
The city is saying, look, nature. Look what we can do.
Stylized wings grace the lanterns in the center of the city, spaced between what might be fox-faced statues, row upon row. A blue moth flutters around the light for a moment and is gone.
The trick is not to look too close.
“Bet it’s for a parade.”
“The hell kind of parade…”
“What else would it be for, stupid? What’s under that cloth, it looks like a machine or something - hey, help me get this board off.”
“Why are we doing this?”
The mask-wearer turns its head, listening.
A parade. Yes, this is a parade; a never-ending line of masked figures and mechanical marvels and lanterns and bells and lions and children and foxes all twisting their way back and forth, around and around these narrow streets. Footsteps that shake the earth, a rattling, clattering music, shouts and screams and sandals slapping against pavement.
This is a demon parade that’s forgotten where it was going.
Light spills through the city, through the streets, snaking around and around, following the paths that children’s footsteps once traced until not a building is left dark, not a lantern, not a sign. A neon mandala blazing in the night.
From atop a pillar of foxes, a moth rises into the air, the beat of its wings just on the edge of hearing.
Light the lights to call the children to light the lights to call the children to light the lights to call the children to light the lights to call the children to light the lights to...
…What did you say?