I stepped carefully over the broken branch on the fork in the road, and turned south. It was barely visible on the dimly lit path. Trees to my right swayed in the crimson autumn breeze, breathing ominous power all about. I felt chills race each other up my spine. The sky was the deepest blue, so deep that it almost looked black. It was sprinkled with the calculated mystery of tiny stars. The moon was high and brilliant. Its iridescence reminded me of hollow, glowing eyes, yet I worshiped its magic. The air was cool and restless around me as I stopped and stood in the darkest clearing these woods had seen. Again the trees shivered, and I saw their shadows dart across the grass.
I had always loved darkness, but during that month, it was a full-fledged obsession. I just couldn’t get enough of it. I wished to drink it, feel it trickling down my eager throat. It had been my only solace since he left, only an eternal month ago, in the middle of October. Here, and only here, could I wallow in my sweet agony.
Although with my brain I understood that I would never see him again, my heart couldn’t imagine such tragic concepts, and so hope did live inside me, pricking my skin every now and then. I knew it was irrational, but so was my newfound infatuation with darkness along with so much else in my life that I didn’t let that fact interfere with my mournful ways.
A soft wind played tenderly across my face and I almost smiled. Almost. Oftentimes, I preferred the pained expression that this last month had chiseled into my features and the sorrowful slouch that had stolen over my posture. I welcomed the tortured dreams of his radiant face, and the internal cries that waking evoked, and the way my heart shrieked with each pulsation.
Before I met him, I’d not much believed in true love. Everyone talked about it incessantly, but I pictured it as falling snow in July, always elusive, a sprite dancing away and laughing.
Then, this past September, I met Kevin Schels in the very spot where I was standing and mourning, in a small clearing on the southbound path. I’d been wandering the night alone, an occasional habit back then.
* * *
He emerged from the shadows like a merman surfacing in the sea. His hair was so black that it seemed grown in the space between stars. His eyes echoed the sky above. In them I saw such depth; there seemed to be entire galaxies swimming in their vast oceans. I sensed immediately that he was different from most of the superficial jerks that I went to school with.
“Hi,” he said. “I almost never see anyone around here. What’s your name?” His words were playing a celestial harp in the deep reaches of my soul.
“Well, my parents named me Ariella, but please don’t call me that. It’s too sunny, and I am a creature of the night.”
“All right,” he said, looking at the sky. “Can I call you Moonchild, then?”
“Sure. It’s perfect.” I smiled. This guy understood me!
He smiled back. “I’m Kevin.”
“Hi.” We shook hands. His was warm and full.
“I’m a night walker as well,” he told me. I smiled again.
We walked together for the rest of the night, denouncing daylight. “Sometimes I just don’t feel like I belong here,” I said at one point. “I’ll just be walking every once in awhile, and I’ll get this feeling that I belong up there somewhere. I feel like it’s my true home somehow.”
“I understand fully,” he murmured, deep in thought. “I wonder if it’ll feel different when I’m up there.”
I stopped and stared at him. “What do you mean? When are you going up there? How?”
“Well, my Uncle Jay’s part of the International Space Federation, and he’s the commander of their next flight. And since he’s my legal guardian, I get to come along.”
I was about to simply erupt with envy. “What flight? Where? Our goddamn government never tells us anything!”
“Well, it’s been kept quiet because to them we are a dead mission.”
“We’re going to be traveling so fast that it’s about .9999999 percent the speed of light.”
“So, while it’ll take us eleven years to get there, and eleven to get back, because of time dilation, over 300 years will have passed on1 Earth. We’re going to Little Terra, have you heard of it?”
“Yeah. It’s that real small planet circling Epsilon something-or-other, right?”
“Yeah, Epsilon Eridani.”
“Eleven years is a long ride.”
“Agreed, but the ship has all sorts of facilities for us, like a pool, a library, a game room, some classrooms and a small amusement park. Plus, we’ll have lots of other projects to work on during the ride, such as examining solar wind, photographing the stars, and a bunch of stuff like that.”
“I could keep you company,” I suggested hopefully. I smiled; I was only half-joking.
“I wish,” he said, looking off into space.
It seems horribly selfish now, but my only intention at first was to get myself a seat on that ship. I saw him often and tried to impress him with my vast knowledge of the heavens. I wanted to sail the cosmos and visit other worlds. I might have given up anything I had for that chance.
Later, though, when Kevin told me there was no room for me—he’d asked his uncle for special permission—it hit me, hard. It hurt me more to think of never seeing Kevin again than it did to realize I was caged on Earth. It hurt a hell of a lot more.
From then on we spent every moment together. I helped him prepare for his trip and he helped me with chemistry. I had to take the worldwide college entrance exams later that year and chem was my worst subject. We would take long walks along the beach at sunset, watching dusk stroll over the sky above. I never mentioned how much I was going to miss him.
On the last night we walked for hours under the stars·. I tried to imagine my life without him. I could not conceive of it. My heart ached. It felt like he was dying, when in reality he would live longer than most mortals.
“You’ll live, my Moonchild,” he told me, breaking the silence.
I wondered if he could sense my thoughts. “I’m not so sure.”
“Listen,” he said, “I know we’ve never discussed this before, but I don’t want you to feel tied to me. I want you to feel free to see anyone you want.”
“Don’t say that,” I moaned. I was beginning to understand that heartbreak I’d been hearing about for so long, beginning to understand all too well. I wanted to lie down and die.
Kevin put his arm around me and we both wept. There was nothing we could do or say to change the situation.
When we returned to my house, he hugged me and I stroked his black hair. “Have a nice trip,” I said through tears. It almost sounded trivial to my ears, but what else do you say to someone who’s leaving you forever to travel through th§e stars?
“I will,” he promised. “You take care of yourself.”
“I will.” I pulled away. I had to, or we never would have separated. I turned my head, looking off in the distance. I took a deep breath and tried, in vain, to swallow my pain. I focused on the soft, perfectly-cut grass beneath my feet. “I’ll miss you,” I said softly, not looking at him.
“I’ll miss you too,” he sighed. “But I have to go. I promised Jay I’d be there in ten minutes from now to start getting ready. We’ll be blasting off at eight.” He reached for my hand. “I’ll never forget you, Moonchild. I love you.”
I tried to make my mouth repeat the words back to him, but they got stuck inside somewhere and never reached their destination. I watched him leave in silence. I stood, fixed in that spot for what seemed like ages, motionless. My world was shattered and I didn’t have the will or the energy to try to place the pieces back together.
After a long time, when I began to shiver, I entered my house and crawled into bed. But I did not turn on the light.
I didn’t go to see the launch. It was probably crass of me, but I was too distraught to care. We’d said our goodbyes already. And I just didn’t feel I could face the sun.
* * *
And that’s when it started. I would sleep all day and wake only when the sun was going to bed. I no longer bothered to go to school. It was only a dumb robotic instructor anyway. It wasn’t like she’d be extremely offended by my absence.
I had met him in dayrkness and I had lost him in darkness. I preferred to remember him that way. Sometimes I would imagine that I saw his ship whizzing through the heavens above me, but each time it disappeared when I blinked.
And every night, without fail, I would wander the night like a woman possessed. That probably wasn’t too far from the truth. I felt as though I were under a spell of sorrow so excruciating that it threatened to either swallow me whole or break me in two. I was never quite sure which it was.
Each time I would come to this precise spot and soak myself in Earth’s nocturnal delicacies. I let the wind creep into my soul and the deep sky seep into my heart. Sometimes I would lie down in the whispering grass and pretend I was staring into Kevin’s eyes. Sick, I know, but that doesn’t often phase the lovelorn.
“Hello,” intoned a voice behind me, breaking the routine of my mournful lament. I whirled around and peered with squinted eyes to see a young man I’d never seen before. God, his eyes reminded me of Kevin’s. He even had black hair. There must be something about this place, I thought.
“Hi,” I replied simply.
“I’m Astin, who’re you?”
“I’m a creature of the night.”
“Ah, a moonchild?”
I sucked in a startled breath. How did he know? “Yeah,” I mumbled, “something like that.” My brain was starting to spin. “My real name’s Ariella, though.”
“I’m a night walker,” he said. “Sometime I just don’t feel like I belong here, on Earth.”
My brain spun out of control. This was too weird!
“I was wondering,” he continued casually, “how you’re doing with chemistry?”
“Who are you?” I demanded, fear dashing through my bloodstream.
“A friend,” he replied.
“How do you know me?”
“We met long ago.”
“Would you like to discuss this over coffee?” he asked, reaching for my hand.
I was bewildered, mystified, intrigued. I hesitated and let my brain spin that idea around some. I missed Kevin. I was in an especially lonely mood. “Sure,” I said and took his hand.
We walked silently along the narrow path in silence. I let the cool wind seep into my eyes, wishing it could reach my heart. I watched the slow shift of the moon across the sky above me, moving so gracefully. It was followed by Jupiter and Saturn, the most glorious of celestial bodies. Sometimes I imagined an invisible string pulled them across the ecliptic. I wished it would take me away too.
Eventually we arrived at the small coffee shop that supplied our town with its caffeine needs. We ordered our steaming liquid and drank it wordlessly, sitting across from each other at a small table. When we were done, we threw our empty cups in the receptacle and headed, once again, into the darkn√ess, onto the path. Astrid did not speak.
“So, you were going to tell me about when we met?” I reminded him once our quitet began to discomfort me.
“It was a long time ago,” he stated, and looked off into space.
“You’ve mentioned that already,” I informed him. When he didn’t reply, I continued, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, because I do. I know you.” It was true. It was more than the fact that he looked like Kevin and seemed to read my mind. I knew him. “So where was it?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied, kicking at some gravel beneath his feet.
“Astin?” I asked. He wasn’t even being mysterious anymore, just spacey and evasive.
“Ariella?” His voice quivered. Suddenly my name sounded foreign to my own ears.
“You can talk to me, you know.”
I sighed, and it weighed as much as a ton of bricks. How I wished for someone to confide in, to share my burden with. “No, it’s all right,” I heard myself say.
“No,” he said and stopped walking. He turned and looked at me intently with those deep navy eyes. “It’s not all right; I can tell. You have it written all over your face.”
“Well, actually now that you mention it, two months ago, in the spot where I met you just now, I met this special guy named Kevin,” I began. I was a little hesitant at first, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. Words were flowing out of my mouth like water over a waterfall. I spewed out every little detail, every word we’d spoken to each other. He listened quietly, appearing to soak up my words like a sponge.
When I was finished, he took my hand. “I’m so sorry Se-Ariella. If you ever need anything, I’m here for you. I lost someone once too, very long ago. I understand what—”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “What were you going to call me?”
“What? Oh, nothing. Don’t worry about it. That’s not important.”
“Okay,” I said doubtfully. “So tell me your tragic story.”
“Not right now.”
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Sure I would,” I said without conviction.
“Not yet,” he insisted.
I let the matter go. We were now back at that fateful spot where’d we met. A wave of lethal nostalgia washed over me. “Sometimes I just don’t think I’ll ever live through this,” I said. I could feel the tears tugging at the corners of my eyes, but immediately shut them in. I hadn’t cried once since Kevin left. “Sometimes I feel that I should just lie down ad die, right here in our sacred locale.”
“Really?” he asked with wonder. But somehow his voice seemed far away. I could tell his mind wasn’t on the matter at hand.
“Yeah really. He told me that I’d live, but I don’t think I can. You don’t understand how much I miss him.”
“I do,” Astin replied. He reached into the pocked of his tan coat and kept it there for awhile. Finally, with a decisive look in his eyes, he whipped it back out, holding a gun. I turned and fled. I’d never seen one in real life before, only in museums, but I knew I had to get the hell out of there.
It took only seconds before Astin caught up with me. “I can make your dreams come true,” he proclaimed, grabbing my wrists.
“Wh-what?” I asked in confusion, quivering. I stared into those dark oceans. I refused to understand.
“I’m granting your wish.” He smiled devilishly. “You just said you wanted to die.” He made it sound so matter-of-fact, so logical.
“But, but—” I started to sputter, but was cut off by Astin increasing the pressure on my wrists tenfold. I tried to squirm away.
“Put your hands behind your head and close your eyes,” he instructed. “And I assure you it’ll be painless.” I understood what he was really saying: If you don’t, I’ll make it painful. I obliged.
“Any last requests?” he asked.
“Um, does my life count?”
He gave me an exasperated look. “Anything else?”
“I want to know why you’re doing this! I’m so confused, about this whole night.”
“For thrills. I get this way when I’m bored,” he quipped. Then his expression changed drastically and he became almost somber. “Because I’m lonely,” he said.
“Nothing. Forget it.” His voice hardened again. “Anything else?”
Part of me wanted to keep up this game, this stalling, for as long as I could. Another part of me screamed to just get it over with. “Not like it would matter to a psycho like you,” I said aloud with bitterness.
He laughed but his smile was clearly forced. “Okay then, I’m going to count down from five.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Just do it! I wailed internally.
Stop this torture! Dragging it out is so much worse.
End this already, damn you! I was praying for escape from the nightmare even though I was an atheist.
Oh God, just shoot me now and be done with it!
I squeezed my eyes tighter and tried to imagine what it would feel like to die, how bad it would hurt, how much I would bleed. I couldn’t comprehend it. Would anyone miss me?
I tensed every muscle in my body, even some I hadn’t been aware of before that moment. My thoughts were flying around me. No! Stop! Someone help me! Just do it! How the hell did I get myself in this situation? Who is this guy? Is he some kind of devil? Oh, come on! Just end this already!
I was braced for the impact—waiting, praying, hoping, tensing again, waiting…
“I can’t do this,” Astin declared with despair. “I just can’t.”
Slowly and cautiously, I opened my eyes. He held the gun listlessly at his side. It wasn’t even pointed in my direction anymore. I let out the breath I’d been holding for that perpetual moment.
Before I had a chance to gather my wits and really react, he said, “Here, you do it,” and gave me the gun. I should kill him, or at least wound him and then run like hell, I thought. But when I held the lethal machinery in my hand, his suggestion was oddly appealing. I couldn’t understand it.
“Why should I?” I asked aloud. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.” I knew that if I did end up doing that, I would keep the gun afterwards. It had a strange power to it.
“I’m already dead,” Astrid replied.
“What?!?!” The tantalizing weapon made its way out of my hand and onto the ground as my mouth gaped open.
“Sit down on the grass and I’ll tell you a story.”
I sat next to him. Why was I listening to someone who’d just tried to kill me? Even I couldn’t answer that question.
“A long time ago, back near the turn of the twenty-first century, was when I was born,” he began.
“But that was 200 years ago!” I exclaimed.
“Let me finish. Twenty-years later, I died.”
“So, you’re like, a ghost?”
“Something to that effect.”
“And you just go around trying to kill people every once in awhile or something?”
“I have my reasons, but please let me explain. Do I remind you of anyone?”
“Yeah, Kevin. Why is that?”
“Do you believe in reincarnation?”
“I don’t know what I believe. Wait, what’re you saying?”
“I am from Kevin’’s past life, or rather, I was Kevin in a past life.”
“No way! So, how’d you get here?”
“It’s kinda complicated. The only reason I’m able to be here now is that Kevin is not. Two parts of the same soul cannot coexist in one world. And if Kevin were dead, the soul would have no link to this world. These are unique and perfect conditions.”
“Not for me,” I replied. The melancholy was beginning to return.
“I understand. I can sense Kevin’s thoughts and he misses you terribly, but he is enjoying himself and the research as well. He worries about you a lot, though.”
“That’s good to hear,” I answered. “So, enlighten me. Why did you try to kill me and why do you want me now to kill myself?”
“Because I’m terribly lonely as well.” I looked to his eyes and saw more torment than I’d become accustomed to feeling in the past month, something my self-centered brain hadn’t conceived of until now.
“You mean, uh, were we lovers in this past life or something?”
“Yeah.” His hair fell over his eyes, masking his emotions. “We were for awhile. It was the happiest time in my life, but you left me. The other guy, he was rich and had tons of connections to the film industry.”
“That’s terrible!” I exclaimed. How could I have been so shallow? I would never do something like that. But his words rang true somewhere deep inside. I felt its truth the way I’d felt I’d known him in our earlier discussion.
“You’re telling me! It was so terrible that after a month, I killed myself.”
“With this very gun.”
“Yeah, back to that topic, why can’t you just live here on Earth with me? Why do I have to die? I do care for you. I wouldn’t leave you this time.”
“I wish it could be that way, but it can’t, I’m sorry. Again, it gets complicated here. I can exist on Earth because of the connections that we spoke of before. But since Kevin is alive, I don’t actually have a physical body. It has taken me this whole month to practice materializing here and maintaining that appearance. By dawn, I will be little more than dust on the ground.”
“So you want me to join you.”
“Yeah, I do, but I’m leaving that decision up to you. It struck me before, when I tried to kill you, how deeply I care for you. I can’t make you join me beyond the grave if you don’t want to. It’s your choice. If you want, if it would make any difference, I can tell you what it’s like on the other side.”
“No, that’s not something the living are supposed to know.” I picked up the gun and examined it, turning it over in my hands. “I’m curious,” I said.
“What was my name back then?”
“Selene,” I repeated. testing out the name. It did sound right.
“It means ‘the moon,’” he informed me.
“And Astin means ‘star,’” I finished. “We must’ve been a perfect match.”
“I always thought so.”
I toyed with the gun in my hand. Astin’s offer was tempting, especially in my morbid state of mind. And an eternity with the soul of Kevin? That had been all I wanted for so long. I fingered the trigger, again wondering what death would feel like.
But at the same time, I felt another feeling surfacing. Something just snapped inside my head and all of a sudden it slapped me. Though I hadn’t been going to my classes, there was a part of me that wanted to go to college. I wanted to grow up, maybe see the rest of the world, perhaps start my own genetics lab. I wanted to have the simple experience of waking up each day not quite sure what lay ahead.
I wanted to live.
“I’m sorry, Astin. My place is here, on Earth. I have my whole life to live.”
“It’s okay,” he said, but I could see the tears in his dimly lit eyes shimmering like precious gems.
“I do want you to know that I care about you.”
He nodded. “That makes all the difference to me, to hear you say that. I was never sure, especially with the whole situation last time around.”
“Understandable,” I replied. “If I hug you goodbye, will you be transparent or anything like that?”
“I held your hand before, didn’t I?”
I nodded, then hugged him tightly, but briefly. I handed him back his gun. “Where did you get this anyway?”
“I’ve been keeping track of it through the years. It’s part of some bald guy’s collection over in the United States.”
“Oh, sorry. I’m dating myself. I should have said in the North American Sector.”
“Okay. Well, I guess you should go return it before you turn to dust.”
“Yeah, I should go. Look, I’m real sorry about before. I’m somewhat glad you made the decision you did.”
“Don’t worry about it. A little scare in the night never killed anyone.”
“I won’t forget you,” he said.
“Same here. It’s been an interesting night.”
“Yeah, well I better be on my way.”
“Bye.” I waved as he walked off into the night, out of my life, and wept. I felt like I’d lost another great love. as if losing one wasn’t enough.
Sitting, still, on the soft grass, I was overcome with grief. “I never was able to tell you this, Kevin,” I murmured. “I just want you to know that I love you.” I felt a tremendous sense of freedom. And I believed that somehow, across the years and kilometers, he heard my words. I stood up to leave. He’d been right, I would live. But I would never forget him.
I walked home and crawled into bed. The next morning I woke up early to go to school, and I asked one of the girls in my class to help me with chemistry.
* * *
Almost a year has passed. I am home for the weekend from college. I am walking through the night, alone. My affinity for darkness has faded, but I doubt it will ever disappear completely.
The crisp Halloween air plays across my face as the trees shake their mighty branches beside me. The moon is again full and grinning. I come to a familiar fork in the road and take the southbound path. It brings me to a clearing I know quite well. I stand for awhile, just absorbing my surroundings, letting them sink in. I think of how nice it would be if I could drink the very essence of the night.
“Hello,” I hear a voice say behind me. I jump a little with surprise and then turn to see an older man, kind of round in the belly. “Who are you?” he asks.
I am in a lamenting mood. “Just call me Moonchild,” I say and suddenly I feel quite lonely.
“Hi, I’m Jed Darvis. I just bought the property to the left there. I was wondering what the noise was that I heard. I was afraid it might be an animal or something. Hey, you look cold. Would you like to come in for coffee or something?”
I smile, thinking of that ship racing towards Epsilon Eridani. I will never forget Kevin, or Astin, not in a million years. But I’ll be okay. “No thanks,” I said politely and continued on my way.
This is a short story I wrote in the first semester of my freshman year of high school. More weird sci-fi stuff. And some totally off-the-wall relativity numbers (that would not actually be hard to calculate it to be something a lot more accurate, but I didn’t know that at the time).
- She’s a Girl Rising From a Shell
- Constant Eclipse
- Ocean Reverie
- Driving Blind Under a Desert Moon
- Dusky Waters, Orcas Island
- Message to Half-Borns Continues: The Great Reveal from the Planetmates, Keynote, Part Two
- These are mind blowing large numbers
- The Dragon, the Ship and the Shapeshifter
- “The Last Question” – a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov (w/ text & audio) (titifoti.wordpress.com)