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Mystery Fiction

RETURN FROM THE STARS

Stella considered the young man standing on her doorstop. He looked like he’d raided his grandfather’s wardrobe and had certainly not checked the weather forecast. His face under his woolly hat, was slate-grey, breath escaping in white clouds from blue chapped lips. Behind him, the inky-black sky was illuminated with innumerable stars and a swirling Milky Way. Such a perfect night for star-gazing she thought. ‘You look lost! Come in my dear. You’re frozen.’ She stood aside, the cold air clinging to his icy clothes embraced her as he stooped to remove his sodden boots.

‘Come through to the kitchen and warm up. I’ll put the kettle on. I could rustle up some buttered toast too if you like?’ She led the way as the hall clock chimed 8 o’clock.

8 o’clock, or 2000 hours as her father would have said. Years navigating Lancasters through the war had spilt over into his ‘civvy’ life. And he had spent many hours sitting at the same kitchen table telling her about those long flights. But more than anything he liked to tell her about the stars, and credited them with bringing his crew safely home time and time again. He even had a name for every star that had guided them home. Not the official names of course, but the ones he made up for himself. To her father the stars were like old friends. It was why her parents lived where they did, on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. They settled there soon after her father was demobbed after the end of the war. And he had built his own observatory there, just to keep in touch with his old friends.

‘Sugar?’ Stella spooned an extra helping into the steaming tea. The poor lad looked like he needed it. But when she turned to give it to him he was asleep. Head resting on crossed arms on the pine table. A feeling of motherly compassion swept over her. Who was he? She wondered. Where had he come from? Someone must be missing him she thought resisting the temptation to touch him. She cradled the hot tea in her hands and studied him as he slept. He did have a familiar air about him though. Her mind was drifting again. What had he said when he knocked on the door? She couldn’t quite remember. This was happening to her more often these days. So annoying. 

Go into that nice care home in the town mum, her daughter kept saying to her. But she always refused. ‘No. I have to stay here in my own home.' she would firmly reply. But why? Why stay here in this old house? Something niggled at the back of her mind but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She did remember very clearly how her father had become obsessed with his hobby of astronomy, and his observatory. He would tell anyone who stood still long enough about his hobby. She seemed to remember that he had some help, with building the observatory, from a young lad from the village. He would often join her father for long nights studying the skies. But that was so many years ago. A lifetime in fact. She had just been a little girl back then, more interested in her toys than astronomy and the stars.

She studied the sleeping young man. Who was he? And why was he sleeping in her kitchen? And why was he so familiar? He had knocked on the door. But what had he said? No, she still couldn’t remember. He was obviously tired. Lost maybe? She decided to leave him where he was, and taking her tea into the sitting-room switched on the radio to listen to the late news. She must have dozed off, because the next thing she knew the hall clock was chiming again. She didn’t sleep very well these days. So many memories swirling around her head. She never knew if she was coming or going.

Stella wandered back to the kitchen. Maybe she had dreamt about that young man who had knocked on her front door? But no. There was the mug on the table and the remains of the toast. She stood by the window, staring out into the frosty night. Ah… there he was…by the old observatory. She watched as he adjusted the settings of the old telescope. He must have got it working, because after a few moments he was aiming it at the sky. Funny how some hobbies gets people she thought. Her father had become obsessed with his astronomy. Endlessly looking at the skies.

This lad reminded her a lot of her father. He was always tramping about in old clothes. Then coming in, freezing cold, drinking for hot tea and eating buttered toast. She smiled at the fleeting thought, then put the kettle on again and wondered what to do about the young man by the telescope in her garden. He seemed harmless enough she thought, he seemed more interested in the sky than anything else. ‘I’ve made another cup of tea!’ She called out from the window. If in doubt always make a cup of tea, her father had always said.

‘Sorry young man but I can’t remember why you are here?’ Said Stella as he came back into the kitchen, stamping his feet to bring some warmth back to them. ‘As far as I know my daughter hasn’t arranged for any house repairs to be done.’

The young man drew up a chair and sipped at the steaming sweet tea, then helped himself to another slice of hot buttered toast.

‘Have you seen outside recently?’ Stella nodded to the windows behind her. In the time he had been inside, a sudden snow storm had descended, heavily engulfing the house. ‘It’s safer indoors. You know this reminds me of the winter of ’47. Such a cold winter that was and the snow drifts. You can fall into a snow drift you know, and that will be the end of you. My father always said that. I seem to remember a young man going missing in a snowdrift once around here. Can’t be too careful you know.’

Stella studied the young man’s haggard face. Standing in front of her he looked older than his years and if he needed to go anywhere at all, it was to sleep. She had seen that same look on her father’s face, when he returned from flying. The same haunted, hollowed expression, eyes sunk into his face, trying not to remember the previous twenty-four hours. Navigating his way back through the darkness, longing for the first sight of the British coastline.

‘Make yourself comfy on the settee, there’s a blanket and cushions in there. You get yourself some rest. Things always look better in the morning my father used to say, and my daughter will be here first thing. We can get you home then.’

***************

The Care Home was quiet at that time of the morning but Stella was already up and sitting at her usual place by the window. And as the clock on the wall chimed the early hour, the door opened.

‘Morning Stella. Here’s your tea and buttered toast. Just how you like it.’

‘Is that nice young man coming to visit me again today?’ Stella asked the carer.

‘Now who would that be Stella? Got your eye on someone?’

‘No. You know who I mean he one who visited me the night we had that big snowstorm, you remember? It was like the one we had back in ‘47. Dreadful winter that was. He was here again yesterday too.’

‘I’ll just find out for you my love. Look I’ve switched the radio on for you so you can listen to the news while you drink your tea.’

The carer left the room and spoke quietly to his supervisor. ‘That’s the second time this week Stella has talked about a visit from a young man. Have you seen him?’

‘No she’s had no visitors apart from her family. And you know no-one can come in without permission. It’s strange though. She told me about a young man who had visited her at her house up on the moors long before her daughter brought her here.’ Replied the supervisor.

‘It’s now a new housing estate isn’t it? All the roads called after planets and stars. Can’t for the life of me think why.’

‘Well this isn’t getting the lunch orders in Sam!’ Said the supervisor handing him a clipboard.

These new windows are nice thought Stella looking out at the morning skies. No more freezing draughts creeping through every nook and cranny. Maybe it will be clear later too? I'll be able to see the stars again. And perhaps that nice young man will visit again to use the telescope in the garden. We can have a nice cup of tea and some hot buttered toast, while he talks about the stars. The stars he said had brought him safely home.

January 29, 2021 18:48

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2 comments

Cynthia Keeler
20:35 Feb 04, 2021

Stella is well written. I really found myself following her train of though, getting mixed up without realizing I was getting mixed up. Well done.

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Louise Legrand
18:44 Feb 10, 2021

Thank you for your feedback. Very appreciated! I realised after I had written the whole story that I had not absolutely followed the prompt, but hey-ho! I quite like the idea that an older, forgetful Stella is visited by her young astronomer father.

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