In the dark swirly night sky where shadows lurked and where all your secrets were held, there was a star.
Or 100 billion, to be accurate.
They twinkled like how your eyes would when you looked at someone you loved, or when the sunlight would glint off the bright green grass. They glistened, sparkled, glittered in the sky and brought hope forevermore.
Or so you thought.
Stars were supposed to be cheery, joyful, and happy. These stars were not.
In the specific area of stars we were looking at, the stars were bittersweet, sad and loved to argue. The asterism’s name was the Big Dipper, as many of you know it by, which was a part of Ursa Major. The stars absolutely hated being called “the Plough”, or “the Wagon”, for they had once been down on the lowly planet called Earth and had saw wagons haul horse manure into markets. Out of the seven stars that made up the asterism, we will be focusing on the story of Alkaid, or Alkie as the other stars called him, for if we went over all of the star stories, we would be here for an eternity.
Alkaid liked being at the back of the gang, the very end of the handle of the ladle. No one was back there so they couldn’t spy on what he was doing, which allowed him to do quite odd things.
“Hey Alkie, got any news from Pherkad?”
“Don’t you know? I think there’s a new constellation called ‘Cancer’.”
“Oh yes, Pherkad said . . .”
That was the night in 1922 when Cancer was made a constellation. The stars in the sky receive news quite quickly, for souls who have left Earth come up to join the stars in the sky every day, and they bring news with them. Alkaid and his siblings are some of the oldest stars in the sky; his siblings had completely forgotten their time on Earth because they had last set foot on that planet many ages ago, before the dinosaurs, birds and moons.
Except for Alkaid.
For a while now, about 2000 years, Alkie had been travelling down to Earth and watching their progress. From inventing fire to computers and AI, humans have gone a long way from the time Alkaid was alive.
Before you wonder why this is important, these are the top 5 rules of being a star:
1. Never, ever, under any circumstances, events or instances may you go back down to Earth. If you are caught doing this, you will be banished to the very edge of the universe and then blown up.
I am now deciding to not go on because you can clearly see that Alkaid did exactly what was forbidden, but if you knew Alkie, that was exactly his thing. He loved to cause mischief; because why would you not place a whoopie cushion on a chair, a bare chair, a chair just asking to have a whoopie cushion set upon it?
That particular night we were focusing on was Alkaid’s 100th day anniversary of Earth-traveling.
He was bamboozled that he hadn’t gotten caught yet.
He waited until all the other stars were preoccupied with the daily gossip and then gripped a zipper that was hanging down from the sky. Pulling it down, Alkaid peered into the gap he had opened right then and looked back to make sure no one was watching. After making sure, he jumped into the gap and closed the zipper behind him, and went tumbling into space, time and knotted up souls.
Alkaid landed with a thunk! on the forest floor, immediately scrambling up to see where he was. It was night, of course, for he had fallen from the night sky, and trees towered above him like giants. Creepy shadows lurked everywhere and made you feel like you were a little child again, hiding under your bed covers at night from fear of monsters waiting in the darkness. The ground was wet from wet snow and rain from past seasons; dead leaves swirling by in the wind. Alkaid never had dropped in a place like this: a place where animals lived.
Then he saw her.
A young woman walked through the forest wearing a dress of azure and ruby dyes, being led by some animals. The young woman was translucent like a ghost, but wasn’t black and white like one; more like a rug whose pictures colours have faded over time and are now paler.
Alkaid watched the young woman run away quickly like a silent film, only with a bit of colour, and not long after that, a hunter came running after her when an axe.
Then he watched the huntsmen run into the distance and fade away into the dark.
After trying to comprehend what Alkaid had just saw, a deer popped out of seemingly nowhere in front of him.
“Hello, who might you be?” the little deer asked in its timid voice.
“Um, I’m Alkaid.”
“Oh, I’ve never heard of that species before, but all the same: welcome! The Chief would like to meet you, I’m sure. Follow me!”
Looking back frequently, the deer hopped gracefully through the forest with Alkaid trailing behind them until they reached a clearing.
A clearing was hardly an exquisite enough word for it.
It was a circle outlined by willow trees, the grass brighter than those outside the boundary. There were little bubbles floating around here and there, glinting off miniature rainbows into the grass. At the far end of the circle, there sat a king of some sorts, for Alkaid couldn’t tell what animal he was, on top of a silver throne lined with sapphires. Along the same line as the throne were 13 other seats, all with a semi-circle table in front of them. No one sat in those thrones at the moment, because it looked like mid-day and not the time to be working and debating.
Wait, wasn’t it the middle of the night?
“Excuse me,” said Alkaid, “But why is outside this circle day and inside night?”
“Oh yes, excuse me for not telling you earlier. The Chief-”
“Pardon me for interrupting, but is he the Chief?” Alkaid asked, nodding his head towards the person sat upon the throne.
The deer nodded. “The Chief can control the weather and the time, so he keeps it day in this circle, because, for some odd reason, he can’t seem to live at night.”
Alkaid knit his eyebrows in a perplexed look. “Do you know why?”
The deer shook its head. “But I’ll bring you to him so he can explain. You came at the right time to help.”
Following the little deer up to the Chief, the deer looked up at him and started talking in sharp, distinct clicks. The Chief nodded every so often, looking at me with curiosity and then looking back to the deer. After a few minutes, the deer stepped back and trotted away, and Alkiad turned to the Chief.
“Hello! How do you do?” Alkaid asked politely.
“Sorry, but we do not have time for such casual conversation right now, since there is a crisis going on,” said the Chief. He wasn’t an animal at all, but someone who looked like a part of the sun. He was a bright, bright yellow, seemingly white, with a warm aura glowing about him. He didn’t have a face, more of a blank canvas, but he still did have arms, legs and torso.
“We have a problem, and you can help.”
Alkaid asked then, “What might this problem be, and how could I help?”
“Well, outside, in the deep dark forest, there have been sightings of . . . things that resemble ghosts. Fairytale ghosts. Of princesses and princes and our animal ancestors walking through the forest, reliving those famous fairy tales of our childhood. The past is mingling with the present, and if we do not stop it soon, the whole world will crumble and fold into the time continuum.”
Alkaid thought back to the woman, man and animals he had seen and described them to the Chief.
“Yes, that seems about right, but you won’t be able to start today because as you can see, the sun is rising and you will have to go back into the sky.”
“How did you know that I was a star?” asked Alkaid.
“I know many things. Anyhoo, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Alkaid nodded in agreement and floated up into the early dawn sky hurriedly before it decided to shut him out. Once he settled himself back into his place at the end of the handle, his siblings pestered him with questions that, if you will believe it, he was ready to answer.
“Where’ve you been?” shouted Merak from the bottom of the Dipper.
“Went on a quick trip to Pluto.”
“What’d you do there?” Phad asked.
“Checked on how the people are doing there.”
“And when did you decide to turn nice?” asked snobby Dubhe.
“Very funny, you’re the one who’s mean.”
“Well then Alkie-“
“Okay,” said Allioth who was smack in the middle of us, “let's just agree that both of you are mediocre, got it?”
The rest of us nodded and grumbled along except for Dubhe, for he thought he was the best in the whole universe and none should interfere with such stars. Alkaid went to sleep dreaming about Dubhe as the young woman he had seen in the forest.
It was quite amusing.
The next night Alkaid slipped away onto Earth quite easily now, for his other 6 siblings were arguing about the worthiness of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Following his memory back into the clearing, he walked up to the Chief for instructions on his assignment.
“Good day! What might I be doing?” He asked.
“Hello again! I will now explain what you will be doing; yesterday I did not have enough time. Take this-“
He handed Alkaid a glass jar encrusted with sapphires, not unlike the ones on his throne and continued, “Whenever you see such fairytale ghosts, you have to sweep a bit of them into this jar. You must do it quickly or else all the past ghosts you have collected will escape and then you’ll have to start all over again. And before you ask me why you are doing this-,” (he might've read Alkaid’s mind),” the creator of these tales, Hans Christian Andersen, is buried somewhere in this forest and he is getting restless. Once you’ll collect the ghosts of his 50 most spoken tales, you will pour them over him which will hopefully settle his thirst. That is all.”
“How many tales has he written?” asked Alkaid.
“160, so you will be only collecting a fraction of his repertoire.”
“Also, why is it now? Why is he restless?”
“It will soon be his 300th birthday.”
“Hmm, why 300?”
“Well, as you know, 300 is the unlucky number for many things.”
Alkaid nodded and said, “Thank you for your guidance, I’ll begin my work now.”
The Chief nodded back, they bid farewell and off Alkaid went into the deep, dark forest.
Alkaid trudged through the forest, trying to think about the many ants, beetles and worms squirming underneath the ground, possibly trying to eat him up. The only thing that Alkaid remembered from his original life, his life before a star, was that bugs were the worst and that everyone should detest them. Discussion finished.
After a short time of wandering through the darkness, Alkaid saw something.
He saw a family of ducks, one mother and 6 ducklings, walk by in their faded yellows.
Well, except for one.
One little duckling was a gray ashy colour, like the remains of a fire or a cloud in a storm. It waddled behind the others, struggling to keep up because the mother didn’t seem to bother looking after it. Alkaid quietly followed them, watching how whatever they did, the family made sure to leave the grey one out. Alkaid pitied the little duckling greatly, for one’s family shouldn’t ignore, they should love.
Once the family had paused at a riverbank to drink water, Alkaid leapt forward and swung the open jar through the grey duckling and its family, capturing them like smoke. Grey and yellow smoke swirled around in the jar rapidly while Alkaid screwed on the top tight. The smoke settled down at the bottom of the jar and replayed the scene: the grey duckling chasing after the family, them ignoring, then pausing at the riverbed. It then repeated over and over like a record. He was almost mesmerized by it, so he went out looking for more.
That was Alkaid’s first Moment. At the end of the night, he had caught The Princess and The Pea, The Snow Queen and Thumbelina, all the clips and stories mingling together inside the jar like lives that refused to collide. He had collected 4, so 46 left.
Once he had travelled back up to his place in the sky again, Alkaid realized he had no place to put his jar. He couldn’t hide it anywhere for the sky didn’t have any cupboards hanging around. After a second he thought that he could open a void and drop it in there, but his siblings were faster.
“Hey, Alkie! Where’ve you been?” asked Megrez.
“I’ve . . . uh . . . I went . . .”
Alkaid was running out of excuses, because he’s already used up 101, and he didn’t have any left. All this time he had been lying because if he didn’t he would “will be banished to the very edge of the universe and then blown up”.
“Sorry, I just . . .”
“Sounds like he’s gone down to Earth, came back up and doesn’t know what to say,” chuckled Phecda. All the other stars joined in too.
“. . . I’ve been down to Earth.”
“WHAT?” all of Alkaid’s siblings yelled in disbelief.
“For 101 days. This is my 102nd.”
“WHAT- actually? Do you remember the first rule? The most important one?”
“Yes, I do, I was just so anxious to get down there, so I did.”
“Why?” they all asked at once.
“. . . I wanted to help them because they were looking quite desperate, polluting the Earth, ignoring it and the animals. . . I saw things you all wouldn’t see in your nightmares. I wanted to help.”
Silence. The siblings were in disbelief, but instead of scolding once more, Allioth screamed, “Everyone! Whoever can hear me, spread this message far and wide, ‘till it reaches the edges of the universe! Meet at the Big Dipper for a special announcement! It involves Earth. Note: Do not tell this to the authorities. That won’t be good. Anyhoo, see you!”
They all looked at Allioth with disbelief.
And they all smiled.
By the end of the next day, almost 100 billion stars were gathered around Alkaid.
It was a bit much, if you asked him.
“Did you really go down to Earth?”
“How many times?”
“What is it like? Is there still dinosaurs?”
“Okay. Before we leave, could you all quiet down a bit? It’s a bit noisy, so I can’t remember where the zipper is,” said Alkaid. All the stars chatter slowly receded to silence, like a teacher reprimanding a class. Once they had all quieted down, Alkaid closed his eyes and started pushing through the crowd, feeling his way through. At the end of the crowd, he opened his eyes, reached forward and grabbed a zipper hanging down from the sky. Alkaid tugged down and when the void opened up, the crowd cheered loudly behind him.
“Okay, line up single file!”
All the stars pushed and shoved each other to get to the front of the line, which stretched many kilometres long. The first in line was Polaris, also known as the North Star, because he had heard Allioth’s announcement early, for the North Star hears everything.
Alkaid said, “Close your eyes and think about Snow White.”
“Why, might I ask?”
“Oh, it is just preparing you for what’s down there.”
Polaris nodded and didn’t argue while Alkaid peered into the void. After giving a thumbs up, Polaris jumped in and went tumbling into space and time.
Alkaid repeated that procedure almost 100 billion times until the only stars left were his siblings.
“See you down there,” said Mizar and jumped into the pocket.
“You should thank me for getting all these stars here! Otherwise this wouldn’t be happening,” said Allioth.
“You know what? Going down to Earth should’ve been my idea; no one would’ve guessed it would be you,” said Megrez.
“This was quite an out-of-this-world idea, isn’t it?” said Phecda.
“Maybe you can be kind after all. Not that I doubted you at first,” said Merak.
“You’re hiding more than we know; but don’t worry, I’ll find it all out, for no secrets are safe from me,” exclaimed Dubhe dramatically and finally cannonballed into the void.
Alkaid sighed from all his siblings' comments and thought to himself, I really am lucky to have them, even though they prod me annoyingly often.
With that, Alkaid jumped into the pocket and closed the zipper behind him, tumbling through space, time and knotted up souls.