Taran taught me to interpret the stars when I was only five. He tickled my elbows and matched my fingers to the loose stitches of the sky like puzzle pieces. I laughed when he traced Ursa Major, the wingless creature following his hand in circles.
He even let me swing from his limbs like a twisting vine and dig my heels into his angled shoulder blades. I got the best view and covered his cratered eyes, pretending we weren’t parentless. He is not my brother—we are not related—but he holds my hand until I fall asleep.
It’s not all breathless with Taran and the rest of the crew. We imagine the waves kissing our ankles once in a while. But there’s something about seeing sails pointing in the wrong direction that I’ll never forget. We are not pirates by the mind but pirates by the soul. We are nomads with pockets full of items that never travel northwards from our grasp.
Taran gifted me this journal for my birthday. We have birthdays but they are not scheduled on thick lines with melted candles. Last New Moon, Taran decided it was time for me to have another birthday so I got the journal and hadn’t had a chance to use it until now.
This journal has a soft leather cover that sweeps under my fingertips and many fresh pages that flutter like wings. On the cover there is Orion, my favorite constellation. He is brave and strong with his arrow. I am not a writer but this looks like the kind of expensive notebook that poets carry around. My friend Heath is a poet but he doesn’t waste time scribbling his art on pages. He blurts it aloud and I can see the block-lettered words in the air for just a moment until the wind whips them away and the sparkle retreats from his eye.
New items are rare in my crew. We are pirates, we steal. Taran has individually trained each of us to gather the materials we need to survive. And then once that’s done we leave the town with a trail of rusted springs and bouquets of deep violet forget-me-nots. Taran says someday we’ll be rich enough to buy a house where all of us can live. For now, we’re still on the run.
Today we arrived at a new town. It is quaint and inland with kiwis and grapes as a borderline. My crew and I do not fly on magic carpets but rather in a dented van. It’s blind from the sun but still functions and so that’s what we ride in as we pull up to the town.
Taran warns us about the muscled men and how far they’ll go just to stop some petty pickpockets. He frowns and decides to wait until morning.
Tonight the moon tricks Taran. He says it is a Full Moon but that’s not true. When I told him it was only a Waxing Gibbous with my hands touching the sky, he cried and laughed at the same time. Under my hand, I could feel the sky with its milky, cloud-like consistency and the moon where my fingertips get caught in the holes.
The stars are swelling tonight. They blur because we focus on the horizon and not on their beauty. Taran sits next to me with his tears and I use his big hand to track down Polaris, the star that faces the North. He says we’ll be escaping to the South in three days, and I look in the opposite direction. It seems dark and cold but whatever he says goes.
I don’t think the stars should hide in the daytime. The sky is a tattered blanket protecting them like a mother figure. We don’t have mothers in our crew. The stars are our mothers and the horizon is our direction.
Today we’re going into town. Taran tells us to spread out but pinches my wrist when I try to walk away. He leads me onto a bustling street that’s decorated with cobwebs and plastic bottles. A woman glides towards us with a red, frizzy purse at her side. Taran shoves me at her and apologises, peering deep into her muddy eyes. Once she scurries away, I twiddle my thumbs and Taran whispers a haiku about the clouds. Then he laughs when I produce the woman’s wallet and her sunglasses.
“You did good,” he tells me, but I’m not sure.
Taran gathers us in the grass. It’s slick and wet like the Earth’s tongue but we don’t mind. It grows in between our fingers and I notice everyone is faceless and silent. He demands we show him the items.
I produce the wallet and the sunglasses. Taran reveals a gold ring from his pocket. The rest of the crew has trinkets like bracelets and marbles. Heath doesn’t have anything in his hands but Taran doesn’t yell because he is gentle today.
The stolen goods glint in the night and I can feel the stars burning a frown onto my back. They are my guardians and I’ve disappointed them. Taran can sense my cheeks shading red so he takes the items. We shouldn’t get attached to shiny trinkets that’ll be gone the next day.
“Boy! What do you think you’re doing?”
Nails run along my arms and they bleed rivers. The seams of my shirt snap and suddenly my filthy twig-like body is exposed. The man swings his fist and it collides with my nose. More blood. My fingers are peeled away like stickers from the candy bar and my heart rattles in my chest.
Taran rushes in at that moment. His face is collected but his eyes are darting around in their sockets. He grabs at the man’s shorts and is only slightly startled when the man breathes heavily in his face.
Taran’s voice is an octave higher as he explains it was all just a dare. I’m his brother and he’d give the man his father’s contact to discuss punishments. I’m wondering how believable our false father’s phone number is going to be but the man nods and we leave. There are bells on the door and they chime.
Taran’s face is carved in stone. There are tear-stains and red tracks on my face but nobody talks about it. We all sit in the van, thinking about the cracked windows and flat tires.
I leave and crawl onto the hood of the van. Diagonal lines criss cross along my forearms. I trace them. I trace the stars.
Tomorrow we are leaving and traveling South. Away from Polaris and Ursa Major. The stars wink in my direction and so I draw triangles onto the sky. Some are permanent and others aren’t. My eyelids are heavy. When we arrive at the next town it won’t be a New Moon, that’s for sure.
I hate how life repeats itself. The sky hovers above me with all its eyes. The stars are watching. They always are, and I've known that since I was five.