Humans logo

The Western Dawn

by Andrew Johnston 14 days ago in literature

An unexpected visit can truly make waves.

There was a cloud following in the wake of the fleet when it came, a looming pall the color of a morning thunderhead resting atop a mountain's crown. This was the sign that the day would not be a normal one, that the world was soon to unfold into something we'd never expected. The sun vanished behind that strange cloud, and when it appeared again it was over a land made new.

But no one noticed at first, or at least no one had cause to draw attention to that one errant speck fighting the shadows at dawn. It wasn't that we hadn't the capability to see this distant vessel, or even that it was an expected sight. Maybe it was the rigors of life that distracted us, for the children surely spotted it. We could hear them running down the street as we went about our business, calling out "Foreigners! Outsiders on the horizon!"

What were we to do with this information, though? It was not our concern, not at all a worry of the common folk. It was a concern of the lords above us, and I've no doubt that fine garments were rent over this incursion. There was a furor every time a foreign vessel appeared within sight of land - it is the privilege of the mighty to worry over such things. It was never a worry of mine.

It became a worry as the vessels drew closer, so near that they became a presence that the most harried among us would not ignore. Four of them, sailing in careful formation - so I heard from a neighbor, for only an idle child has time to bother his mind with a single ship, but four was enough to draw wiser eyes. But it was not the number of vessels but their nature that captured our attention. These were not the trading vessels from the mainland, the ones we'd seen for generations - no, these were ships of a stranger sort, from some unseen distant shore.

I'd heard stories of the men from these places - tales and myths told to amuse children, for none of us had seen their like. Our betters felt it wasn't right that we know of them, of their ways, of their machines. They told us that these men were giants, that they were masters of flame and thunder - these strange weapons we'd heard of were theirs, it seems, but their own warriors wielded arms far beyond even those. Those not enraptured by their weaponry were captive to their beliefs - they would appear as it by magic, speaking of a divinity far above ours, and young people would follow them away, chasing a promise of bliss.

These were just stories, tales to ease the boredom of life. I'm not sure that I even attributed a seed of fact to any of them. And then the ships came.

Blackness hung in the air above the vessels, an ominous cloud that gulped at the sky as it aching to swallow whole the very sun. Was this their true power? Was it truly their gifts to command the fury of the storm? It was never mine to be so superstitious, but there was something truly angry about these ships, something that turned aside any effort I might make to explain their nature. And the sound! Perhaps it was my fearful imagination at play, but these vessels issued a howl fit to stir the very dead. Fearful as these vessels were, it was the men aboard that troubled me - for what fiends might live, that could tolerate such conditions?

And we watched the things, and we waited for their arrival, and no one spared a needless breath. We waited at the clouds and the thunder drew closer. Then there was a pause, and the vessels stopped where they were, and we knew that someone had intervened to spare us - the lords or the land or its gods, or their god, or simple fortune. The ships turned aside, and they would carry their fearsome cloud away, and we would not soon see their like.

The men from that far-off shore never landed, at least not at our ports. There were new tales about a meeting between the masters of those ships and the masters of our own land, and once again there was a furor, but this time it would not abate. This time, the world would change. We knew it as soon as the next sun rose - there was a feel to it, that those ships had changed us merely by their presence. The Earth itself would move. There would be thunder; there would be blood; there would be peace.

Ah, but this is not my tale to tell. It belongs to my children and grandchildren. I think they will be the ones to reckon with the strange men in their strange ships, but I am a weary old fool from a weary old world. What comes next will be a story for another time.

More stories!

  • The Angel of El Escorial
  • Cheery Little Monochrome World
  • Distance is a Fallacy

Andrew Johnston
Andrew Johnston
Read next: 'Chocolate Kisses'
Andrew Johnston

Educator, writer and documentarian based out of central China. Catch the full story at

See all posts by Andrew Johnston

Find us on socal media

Miscellaneous links