By the Stars
By Xávier G.S. Ferguson
Atla sat staring at the vast abyss of the star-filled sky. Her father was telling her a story, but there were other things on her mind. The voice seemed to echo in the wells of her mind. Thoughts even were silenced. Seeing the stars always casted her mind into a state of awe.
Her father stopped talking. Atla brought her mind away from the sky, and instantly felt bad for not listening. She had to put together the bits that she had heard of her father’s story.
“Wow!” she said so that he wouldn’t be hurt, “That was a really scary story!”
“That was amazing,” Kfir added, “but I’ve heard better.”
The children’s mother, Talora, returned from the thicket, darkened with the new fallen night, armed only with her basket full of Deunei fruits, and a dim lantern. She arrived in the clearing just in time to hear the clamor of the end of another of her husband's stories. Absurd, she thought them; all this talk of diabolical monsters consuming livestock, and tormenting civilians.
“Telling stories again?” She asked her husband, almost cross.
“Only a couple.” He replied abruptly.
“That’s what I thought,” sitting her basket down, she said almost sarcastically “Help yourselves.”
Kfir took two, but everyone else only took one.
In the quiet of this moment, Atla began to ponder deeply on the words her father had spoken.
“Iso,” she said, “are the Haimu real?”
Talora looked furiously at her husband, with a fiery intensity. He knew that he had gotten into quite a bit of trouble. He had never suspected that it would turn into a dilemma such as this. His only option was to answer his daughter’s question before it was too late.
“They are not anymore.” He lied, “We took care of them and there are no more.”
Talora stood and walked over to the children. “Time for bed.” she ordered. The children raced for their dwellings; they knew better than to argue. Their parents were very strict.
Once she was sure that both of her children were out of earshot, she whispered to her husband:
“Seeil, the children are not ready to hear this.”
“It is the truth.”
“Yes, but--” she could not find a response.
“They deserve to know the truth.”
She still could not find an adequate response. “We’ll talk about it later.” and with these words, she left.
That night, Seeil spent hours awake, deeply regretting telling his children the story. Nightmares haunted his few sleeping hours. He thought it would be good for his mind to recall events of past wars. It did not. He wanted to be able to undo how he relived the wars of old. He had forced himself to stop thinking about it since the events had occurred. Since he was a child, he had always loved being funny. He loved telling stories that evoke emotion. He thought that this one would easily do the trick. Many times before, he had told scary stories, but to purposely recall stories of his day was brutal torture to his mind. The story itself was not even that scary. Nowhere close to worth it. His children just nodded and shrugged it off. The only thing he hoped to get out of it was to give his children a better appreciation of him. As the thoughts clamored, they gently became dreams. His dreams were still calamities, almost as wretched as his waking thoughts. But he could do nothing to control them. Everything he saw seemed ominous. Whether it was a flower or a killing machine. He was once a great warrior, and now he was full of only malevolent scars. No more than a farmer full of scars. Scars that could never be healed.
Seeil awoke in a cold sweat to nothing but silence.
Silence and more silence.
This was extremely unusual; he always heard a midnight owl or crickets at night. He instantly knew something was wrong.
He had just had a nightmare about her. She was impaled by a Haimu’s claw. Frantically, he began to search.
“Atla!” he shouted, but his answer was almost instantly:
“I’m here, Iso.”
Seeil found her sitting on the ground, staring at the sky. She was crying.
“What’s wrong? Are you scared of the story I told you?”
“No.” she was truthful.
Her father was disbelieving at first, but then he realized that she was in fact sitting in an open plot without protection.
“What’s wrong?” he repeated,
“I am sad.”
“I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Seeil wanted to help, but he realized that she had to let him.
“Okay.” he said, and began to walk away.
“I’m scared because I don’t want the stars to be scared of us.”
This left him perplexed.
“I love the stars” she said in an odd, sort of dreamy voice. She broke down into harder tears, “I don’t want them to go!”
“Hey! Hey!” he comforted her, “The stars always come back!”
“But what if they don’t? What if they get scared of us; they’re so tiny.”
At first, he thought this question naive, but then he realized that she had a valid point. He felt childish thinking about it, but what if the stars were alive?
“They will come back; they always do.”
“But what if…”
“They will! They always do! You just have to be patient. How’s this: I will wait with you until the clouds blow away.”
Atla smiled through her tears and nodded. Hours, they sat there and waited; there was no way to precipitate their arrival. Finally, the clouds cleared, and the stars came out again. Atla did not so much as smile, but she fell back into her state of wonder. After a period of silence, she spoke:
“Iso, what are stars?”
He wanted to answer, but he did not know.
“I don’t kno…” he broke off. He realized that he had the perfect answer.
“It doesn’t matter what they are.” he continued to stare at the sky, “Stars are a gift to us. One day we might figure out just what they are, but we can know only as much as we know. When the clouds cover the stars, they will come back out.”
Atla continued her fixed stare on the sky. “They always do.”