The Stars’ Envy
They almost didn’t make it. . . .
We aren’t really alone. We think we are. We secretly hope we are. Perhaps, because it somehow makes us feel special. Humans. The lonely ones. Floating in circles of utter solidarity, our existence overlooked. A charming theory, but complete nonsense. We are visited, observed, and intruded upon almost regularly. And though many may witness, only a select few truly see it. . . .
That night, the tide was out. It had retreated, and was banging about in the great midst of the ocean, reminding the depths and the waves of the nights when they would bash and dash ships to bits. The ocean is a proud thing, and proud things are always sensitive on the inside. Every other hour, it had to amass to soothe itself with recollections of might and purpose before spreading thin again.
Near the shore, the tide’s absence revealed barren rocks and jagged clefts, which were choked with assorted barnacles and sea grapes, all of whom sighed as the warm night air caressed their shoulders. All living organisms have shoulders, it is well known.
Dotting this pasture of scraggly rocks were pockets of water left behind by the tide. They sat in the hundreds, hardly larger than a couch cushion, kept company by the snails and hermit crabs scuttling over their bottoms. The tidal pools were used to getting stranded while their brothers, the waves, launched and roared like wild things. The pools were tamer, untroubled by life, and content to watch. For, there is always something to watch. Whether it be prowling gulls, or a mysterious splash followed by a flash of scales. Tidal pools are full of the wisdom of the Patient. Wait long enough and something will happen, always.
And, that night, something did.
It started as a spark, a glimmer, high in the night sky. The moon had been waning for several nights now, and tonight it tucked itself away under a blanket of black velvet, letting the stars unleash their brilliance without disruption. Excited by the opportunity, the stars shone brilliantly upon their dark canvas, and reflected pristinely on the surface of the pools, making the shore look like the many-eyed face of a love-struck alien.
The first flash happened in the corner of the fiftieth eye; a breach in the glassy calm. The flash streaked across eye after eye, disappearing and reappearing again and again until it fell with a resounding splash and sizzle into the eighty-seventh eye, startling an old mollusk, who honestly, just wasn’t in the mood.
Others followed this intrepid explorer, slowly at first. They fell in glorious swan dives, heads first, with tails streaming out behind them. Gradually, more and more plucked up their courage and went careening into the abyss, towards that green speck in the galaxy they had been staring at for so long.
The stars, at their blistering hearts, were social creatures. There were always those rare loners who journeyed out on their own to rile up wishers with promises that won’t be kept, but typically the stars liked doing things together. They often whispered to the planets around them to be at ease, for if ever any one of them fell from orbit, all the stars would join hands and catch them. The stars understood the clout and delight of unity.
That night was no exception. Had there been a handkerchief large enough, it might have been offered up to the sky, which, to any bystander, looked as though it was weeping grievously. And its tears, bright and mystical in the darkness, were hordes of stars, shrieking and streaking, one after another, their numbers unfathomable.
They didn’t merely fall, either. They flew. They galloped. They nodded to each other as they went sailing by, their bodies electric and aglow. Spreading tiny, zapping legs, they ran across the waters of the tidal pools, making faces at their reflections and scaring the fish, before fizzling away into vapor. As they watched their compatriots vanish into wispy clouds of joy, the other stars stretched out their arms in angst.
So brief was their trundle on Earth, feeling its solid mass beneath their feet. The inhabitants of the planet didn’t know how privileged they were, able to wander to and fro for however long they liked, with no repercussions. How did they do it? What was their secret? And, if they learned it, could maybe the stars do it too?
Near the tidal pools, was a beach of pale sand and washed up driftwood. Bordering the beach was a field of tough, tall dune grass, sage colored during the day and ghostly white at night. Amid this grass, not far from the beach, a person had built a house many years ago.
It was a solid, weather-worn structure; a monolith in the rolling acres of isolation. It had large windows, complete with swinging shutters; graying shingles, some curling at the corners; and chiffon curtains. A porch jutted out on one side, the side facing the ocean, and had a neat row of shoes, varying in size, under the shadow of the awning.
That night, the house’s current occupants all slept soundly, unaware of the spectacle outside. However, for there is always a “However”, someone had forgotten to latch a window on the second floor.
A warm breeze was drifting in and out of the room, breathing upon two heads. The first was a tangle of golden curls and the other had waves of chestnut tresses. Two little girls lay on one large, ruffled bed in the center of the room. One might have been six and the other might have been ten. It is so hard to tell. Youth is youth, generally. Although, this isn’t always true.
The littlest girl, the halo-haired child, lay adjacent to the window, which overlooked the beach. Her pastel little forehead twitched as dreams invaded, and her jaw lolled slightly. Outside, light and life rocketed past the window, creating shadows on the floor of the bedroom. But the girl and her sister slept on, unknowing, and might have continued, had it not been for a rebel.
Rebels are those who break away, and in doing so, sometimes forge new paths. One such revolutionary broke away from its fellows and alighted on their sun-bleached window sill, casting a fiery light inside the room. Instead of cavorting off in glee, it paused, considering the beings before it. Of course it had seen humans before. These girls even looked familiar. Its blue eyes glowed, its slender torso crackled and shimmered, and, quite suddenly, the little sister stirred. Stretching and yawning, she blinked the sleep out of her eyes and peered over at the visitor.
The very smallest of us have a unique sense of consciousness. Where those of us who are grown might glance and merely think “mass” and nothing more, children understand and recognize the life within. Little sister, without effort, knew she was looking at a tiny star person, and the star person knew that she knew.
Their eyes met, and the place where a mouth might have been on the star’s face quirked. The girl’s heart thudded. Raising a sparking, whizzing arm, the creature beckoned to her, inviting her to follow; to join it outside where all the festivities were going on. Gulping, the girl inhaled sharply while propping herself up on an elbow. But, before she could do anything else, the star being skipped off her sill and away into the unknown, leaving behind a flurry of sparkles and shimmering dust. It had used its allotted time on earth to do both good and otherwise, and its residue was particularly elated.
The girl gasped at its sudden departure. She was about to rush to the window to see where it had gone, when her round eyes found the roiling storm of light outside, her window framing it like a picture. The stars streaked and zoomed towards the ground in what seemed like a never-ending torrent, making the sea below glisten and gleam. She let loose a surprised laugh.
Haltingly, for it was late, she touched her sleeping sister on the shoulder. When that proved ineffective, she grabbed the shoulder and shook it. After moaning and mumbling for a moment, big sister sat up in bed and watched the shower too. Both girls sat transfixed, mesmerized by the beauty, the mystery, and the quiet promise of excitement. Little sister eagerly whispered about the being that had stopped in and had motioned for them to go with it. Big sister, who, despite having a strong aptitude for responsibility and sibling duty, also had a wonderful sense of adventure, agreed that they should go view the revelry up close.
Slipping out of bed, they tiptoed their way downstairs and out the back door, which had been freshly oiled not four days ago. Wearing nothing but their white nighties, which immediately got caught up in the wind, blossoming about them like parasols, they both broke into a run. The dune grass did little to slow them, for they knew the secret method of forging a highway. Their father had shown them how to slide their feet along the bottom, crushing the grass to the ground, and creating a path.
They had been raised on the beach and didn’t fear its dangers like good, sensible adults did. The gulls were their friends, the tidal pools were their playground, and the crashing of the waves was their lullaby. Therefore, with only a split second of hesitation, rooted in an underdeveloped sense of wisdom, both raced into the fray. Their small feet kicked up sand as they ran, their hair whipping out behind them like tangled flags of gold and bronze. The closer they got to the water, the wetter the sand became, clinging to their feet and chilling their skin. The summer had only just started, and the ocean had yet to become warm at night. It wasn’t cold, though. It was in between; just the right temperature to make the senses tingle.
Arriving at the rocky inclines and ledges, big sister scrambled up and found a reliable foothold. She then reached down and heaved up the little one. Together, they wandered into the maze of pools, their calloused toes clinging to the lumps and crannies, moving as easily as if it was flat ground.
All around them, stars continued to fall, lighting up the night. The two girls stared up, down, and to the side in amazement and delight. Laughing, they grasped hands and twirled as best they could without falling into the water. Their eyes frolicked in all directions, not wanting to miss a single sight. And as their laughter bubbled into the air, a curious noise began to rain down, accompanying the flashes and sparks. The girls didn’t know what it was at first, and paused their romping to look and listen. It almost sounded like humming, with bursts of hiccupping. The star beings skipped along the surfaces of the pools, almost dancing as they went, and began to bounce even higher. As they bounced, the noise grew louder.
Little sister, her curls and nightie wrestling with the breeze, bent down to look more closely at the beings, and perhaps even find the one from the window. But, they all seemed to look the same. Where was her friend? The beings seemed to be examining her just as closely. They hopped in circles around the girls, whose eyes widened with wonder, their mouths making little O’s.
Entranced, big sister extended a hand, eager for contact, wanting to connect. One star-being got within reach, but when the tender fingers touched it, their owner yelped in pain. The star-being’s body had singed her skin. The older girl stumbled back in shock and hurt, her sister echoing her yelp in sympathy. Big sister nursed her hand, sucking on the skin, and they both pouted. A chiming melody reverberated in the air, indisputably akin to laughter.
It sounded so light and innocent that the girls could hardly think it mocking. Their pouts died away, and they watched in awe as the shining, foreign souls began to skip and leap, circling them. Their slow, spritely progression reflected in the water surrounding them, doubling each celestial body again and again. Each time a brother would vaporize, two more would plummet down to take his place.
The girls were cloned ten times, the faces in the pools just as keen and amazed as the originals. Carefully, they squatted along the outcroppings, keeping their arms and dresses tucked in, and stared at the visitors. Aware of the attention, the star-beings showed off, somersaulting and tumbling and dancing as expressively as they could. They giggled to each other in their odd musical way, occasionally grabbing the being next to them by the waist and launching them into the air, where they twirled and spread-eagled and back-flipped, all before landing on one foot.
The humans watched this soirée-turned-circus with delight. Little sister clapped enthusiastically after every trick, while big sister felt the sight burn into her imagination, unlocking dormant questions and curiosities. They were observing those observing them so intently, the girls failed to notice a phenomenon taking place above them. The star-beings who had yet to take the plunge and were still loitering in the black heavens had apparently been surveying the scene below, their tiny, ethereal mental-works clicking and clacking. A meeting was called, an idea communicated, and a unanimous decision made.
Word spread from one fizzling white ear to another. The stars mumbled to each other, a quiet sound, much like radio static. The plan was relayed. Miniscule tongues flickered and waggled, and a wave of excitement reverberated through the star masses.
As they continued to fall, the stars very, very slowly began to alter the course of their descent. They started to twist and turn, swirling as one in the air, collecting their already flying fellows in the tumult. Not sure what shape to take on, they settled for what might be described as a cyclone that was a little bit both hourglass and vortex. It grew and swelled, a massive tongue of flame slicing the night sky. It stretched from the heavens down to the earth, star bodies arching as they swirled, grabbing on to each other’s wrists and ankles, laughing helplessly at the sheer fun. The bottom as last lightly touched the water of the tidal pools, stars being replaced just as fast as they died, the rest churning in goliath circles above. A cloud of steam took birth and ballooned at the base, travelling with them.
Distracted as they were by their bouncing friends, the little girls did not notice the star tornado at first. However, as it drew nearer, the sparking and fizzing of a million stars turning into a sort of roar, and a great wave of heat washed over the area. Little sister, frowning at both the noise and sudden change in temperature, glimpsed the cyclone out of the corner of her eye. Shock clutched her heart, the sight too large and too real for her young mind. It fit no memories, so it fumbled for a foothold in her brain, causing her senses to slow. It can happen to us all, not just the young. We therefore seek a leader, to set an example that we can then follow.
She tugged at the elbow of her companion, who shrugged her off. Big sister’s heart was still whispering too loudly; it even blocked out the rather obvious sight that the smiles of the star acrobats before her had turned somewhat sinister. In her fright, Little Sister shook harder, nearly knocking her over. Big Sister regained her footing and whirled around to ask what was the matter. Before she could, she too saw the blaze, and they both let out a scream as they faced the towering monstrosity. As their wail of terror joined the cacophony, it was instantly drowned out by the chiming laughter. The star beings that had corralled them left to join the mischief of the cyclone, and the girls were left cowering alone too frightened to think.
However, as the swirling, glowing mass loomed nearer and nearer, Big Sister’s instincts took over, and she broke into a run, yanking the littler girl along with her. They scrabbled and splashed over the rocks, heading for the beach.
Its quandary getting away, the cyclone roared in fury and took off after them. Hoping to cut off their exit, the vortex, chattering madly to relay the plan, circled the bottom around sharply, coming at the girls from the side. Big Sister took notice and banked to the right, hauling her sibling with her. They had stopped crying, too intent on breathing, blood pounding in their small limbs. Seeing their change in direction, a hierarchal yelp stole down the lines of stars in the tornado, commanding that they circle around again, perhaps herding the girls out to sea, where they couldn’t run.
The cloud of steam sped up and followed alongside the humans, trying to head them off. Her mind whirring and confused, Big Sister tried to think. She thought about the beach, the sand, the path to the house. Surely, they couldn’t follow them there. She didn’t know why, but she had a shout of hope, a blind faith, that if they made it out of the water, they would be safe. Or, at least the star-beings would give up. She didn’t even know why they were after them. Maybe they thought it was funny, like the boys on the playground at school. The boys would chase, with no intention of catching. They just liked to chase. They laughed when the girls shrieked.
The star-beings certainly seemed to be laughing. Big Sister didn’t know why; she didn’t think it was funny. They were in danger. If one tiny touch from one itty-bitty star could singe her finger, she couldn’t even bring herself to think what would happen if that cyclone got them. So onward she ran, never letting go of her little sister. They leapt and dunked and scrambled, stealing glances over their shoulder. The immense heat from the cluster of twirling stars was causing that whole section of ocean to smoke just a bit. Short tendrils of steam began to spiral up from all the tidal pools, the water getting even warmer. Sweat trickled down the girls’ backs, their lungs breathing in hot, damp air.
Their feet and hands were getting cut on shells and crags; weariness soon made their knees buckle, so they went sprawling into the water; their nighties became drenched and torn. The golden curls became sodden, and the wavy hair flattened, blood streaming from cuts on their legs. But big sister dragged her sibling up each time, both whimpering in pain and fear. They had no time to pause.
Instead of running towards the open ocean, Big Sister somehow kept her head and kept to the field of tidal pools. The cyclone at their backs, they ran to the right again, trying to skirt around the stars. Enraged, their plan not culminating as they had planned, or in a timely fashion, the stars suddenly jumped, the base lifting into the air and coming down in front of the girls.
Gasping, the girls turned and ran for the beach. The star-beings groaned as one seething throng. They were all so used to being agile and swift on their own. They hadn’t accounted for the slowness they would take on by joining together. The coordination was cumbersome enough. Stars, though of course social, don’t often work as a team. And now there was so many of them, attempting the same goal, and the lumbering, ungainly movement was unfamiliar and frustrating. Yet, they did not give up.
On and on they chased the girls, and again and again the girls dodged the vortex. It chased them from left to right, cutting off their path over and over. When it thought it had them, it would rear up and come crashing down, trying to scoop them up with its cupped upper half. But these girls had been raised with hearts of the raging sea, and refused to be captured. Tripping and crawling and flinging themselves sideways, they managed to evade the stars each time the cyclone bent to grab them.
Simmering with impatience, the cyclone sent out scouts. Glimmering bodies flew at the girls’ faces, burning their arms and setting their clothes on fire. However, every tiny blaze was immediately doused by all the water splashing up around them. The girls swatted at the scouts, their palms and fingers getting seared. Fear clogged their throats, their minds blurring, and their house seeming to get farther and farther away. By now they were tired, their bodies felt like lead, and their chests smoldered with pain.
Scraped, bruised, and bloodied, big sister began to despair. Each time they tried to run to the beach, the cyclone cut them off, its gaping, brilliant maw stretching wide to gulp them down. Swallow them into a celestial inferno. She couldn’t comprehend why they wanted to kill them. They were just two little girls. They weren’t important, or threatening. Maybe, just maybe, the stars didn’t want the girls to tell other people they had seen them. Maybe the star-beings wanted to stay a secret.
In a fit of desperation, Big Sister paused in her flight and screamed as loud as her aggrieved lungs would let her, “WE WON’T TELL ANYONE! I PROMISE! WE WON’T TELL ANYONE! I PROMISE!!!!!”
Little Sister stared up at her with big, confused eyes, her yellow locks in wet tangle over her forehead. Her plump little cheeks were patchy and red, a small burn here and there. The look she gave asked, “What are you doing?”
The older girl quickly shook her head. The cyclone seemed to have slowed down. There was an odd humming in the air, like the star-beings were conferring. Then suddenly, the air was rent with the sound of chimes, and the tornado resumed its chase. Big Sister frowned. They were laughing at her!
Thinking quickly, the older girl pulled her sister forward into an ankle-deep pool, and held her there by the shoulder. The vortex charged after them, coiling up to strike, a million star-beings gasping at impending victory. And Big Sister waited. Little hands tugged at her wet gown, but still she waited. The water surrounding them doubled its steam, creating a slight haze, but she kept waiting. She glared at the blazing atrocity that was barreling towards her, the anger licking her insides hotter than the heat radiating against her skin. The ocean was reflecting the cyclone, creating light beneath the steam, and turning the sky black as ink. Little sister sobbed, burying her face into the crook of her sibling’s arm. She begged her sister to run. But she did not.
Just as their hair was caught up in the wind of the vortex, its triumphant mouth about to devour them, Big Sister wrapped her arm around the smaller girl’s waist and used her legs to launch them both backwards.
The stars crashed down with a chorus of frustrated squeals, creating an explosion of steam. The waves made by the attack carried the girls away, tumbling them over rocks and barnacles. They each let out a screech of pain after they gasped for air. Not looking behind her, Big Sister scooped up her sibling, and they set off running. Before the stars could right themselves, the girls scored feet hit the soft sands of the beach. Gulping down air, they made one final sprint up the dunes to their house, not caring if the grass whipped at their legs.
Realizing that they had lost the game, as well as their chance to learn any secrets, the star cyclone unraveled. The beings fell with splutters into the pools, feeling too dejected to dance before dying. The night was fading, and they knew their time to shower the earth with their bodies was ending. Already the ocean was returning to kiss the shore.