The Girl With Stars in Her Pocket

Submitted into Contest #223 in response to: Start your story with a student discovering a hidden room in a university library.... view prompt

12 comments

Mystery Horror Fantasy

We owe our universe to stars. Our history is etched in stellar remnants, interstellar clouds, fusion processes that occur within the hearts of stars, and the diverse landscapes of the exoplanets that orbit them.


James balanced the Introduction to Stellar Astrophysics textbook on his knees, reading intently from a folded-up slouching position on the university library’s worn couch. At his feet, a backpack lay unzipped next to a stack of similarly-themed textbooks: Exoplanetary Science, Galactic Astronomy, and Dark Matter and Dark Energy Studies


You wouldn’t know it from the quietly busy hum of student activity surrounding James, but it was well past midnight. 


The midnight library students were an eclectic bunch: nocturnal creatures that found studying to be most efficient while the rest of their friends were asleep, stressed-out graduate students who haunted the same desk for days or weeks, last-minute crammers or essay writers with 5,000 words left to go, and your good old-fashioned nerds. 


James, with his permanent retainer, vintage Star Trek graphic tee, and poorly styled mop of dark curls, was one of the latter. 


As he slipped a finger under the page, James noticed a faint pencil mark along the bottom corner. It was a hasty scrawl and felt alien to James in the way that anyone’s handwriting but his own often felt. He had to adjust his glasses to make out the letters: 


Room 0011 


Next to the written words was a tiny, hand-drawn sun: an uneven circle emitting lines of various lengths. 


James’s head snapped up in an involuntary response of excitement. 


Look what I found, he mentally shouted at the assortment of students, but they remained catatonic over their laptops and notebooks. They were too engrossed in their studies to notice him, in moods ranging from rapt with interest to changing majors mid-anxiety attack. 


Having spent the last three hours poring over Astronomy textbooks, James was already in a dreamy, caffeine-addled state. His head felt like someone had opened up the top half of his skull like a lid, exposing its contents to the dome-like divider that separated the Earth from space. 


It was like those diagrams that modeled the galaxy: his brain was the sun, his thoughts were planets that orbited it in a horizontal plane, his faint hunger and fatigue were moons orbiting those, and the occasional jolt of distraction from another student’s muffled cough was a stray comet whizzing by.


Now, in this macrocosm of James’s brain, Room 0011 was a rogue supermassive planet, roaming through interstellar space untethered to any star. 


Who wrote the note, and why?


Is Room 0011 here in this library?


He stood, hurriedly collecting his books and shuffling to the exit. Presumably a room beginning with zero would be in the basement, he thought. Or perhaps he was reading it wrong, and the 0 was really a 6, and he should be going to the sixth floor. The likeliest possibility, of course, was that the note was more than a decade old and pertained to absolutely nothing relevant. 


But James couldn’t suppress the banging of his accelerating heart against his ribs - the flicker of adventure had already ignited. It was more than that, though: beyond his volition, an outer force compelled him toward the promise of something. 


One level at a time, James descended the dimly lit metal stairwell with clanging footsteps. The temperature cooled considerably as he reached the lower floors, and the papery musk of old books was replaced by the dusty, industrial scent of a place rarely frequented. 


The door to the basement was heavy - so heavy, at first, that James thought it must be locked. But a good shove got him an inch, and then another, until the door swung open and banged against the inside wall. At the motion, an anemic light clicked on, revealing a long expanse of grey cement floors. 


Broken and discarded bookshelves lined the back wall. Besides these and a healthy number of cobwebs, the room was mostly empty. James pressed on, walking its perimeter.


The first stretch revealed nothing that demanded further inspection: a piece of a decaying cardboard box, a dropped pencil. James listened to the echo of his own footsteps, the noise having been his only companion since he left the top floor. 


On the second turn, a lone door made him pause. Even by the light of his phone flashlight, he couldn’t find any identifying label. It appeared to be… Just a regular door. A black-painted exterior. A few scratches here and there. A brass knob.


It was then that James noticed, with an electrifying mixture of genuine shock and childish delight, a symbol etched just above the handle.


It was the same crude sun that had been inscribed in his textbook next to the words Room 0011. An uneven circle with scratched-out lines radiating from it. A coincidence? 


The knob was cold against James’s palm as he pushed the door open. He didn’t even realize that he meant to do it until he was staring into the yawning darkness.


It was very dark. The kind of dark that, for the first time in his wandering, caused a flicker of unease. People were definitely not supposed to come down here. But he was already here, and there was no harm in poking around for another minute or so. 


James fumbled along the walls for a light switch but didn’t find one. He pointed his phone flashlight into the inky black. 


The room was much smaller than he had expected. Perhaps it was a forgotten closet? If he lay down flat and stretched out, his fingers and toes would likely touch opposite walls. 


A lone book - the only object in the room - lay on the cement floor. It was face-up, with the cover displaying a gracefully illustrated scene of a girl walking a forest path. James knelt, brushed the dust away, and read the softly sloping letters:


The Girl With Stars in Her Pocket 


There was no author name. Just the title and the illustration. Curious, James opened the book and flipped to the first page. He read: 


There was once a small girl who carried a jar of stars in her pocket. 

The girl had large, green eyes and night-sky hair that fell to her shoulders. She lived in a little crooked house on the top of a hill, where the moon watched quietly and the bullfrogs croaked a song of spring.


One day, the girl left her crooked house on the hill to follow a trail that wound through a nearby wood. 


After walking a long stretch, she began to grow thirsty, and turned around to go home. But upon seeing the forest looming in all directions, the girl couldn’t recall from which way she had come. 


James settled against the wall of the closet, the book open atop his crisscrossed legs. His phone light illuminated the pages, and the rest of the world fell away as he melted into the story. 

He continued to read: 


The girl sat down on a rock and shed a single tear. 


“O, stars!” She cried, shivering. “I am so thirsty! Light my path to a stream where I may find some water to drink.” 


The stars in the jar glowed bright, and cast an eastward beam upon the forest floor. The girl followed the beam, and when she reached the end of it, there lay a bubbling stream of clear water.


The girl cheered with delight, thanking her stars, and stooped down to drink. When she was quenched, she lay back on a fallen bough and fell asleep. 


Upon waking up, however, the girl discovered that she was very hungry, and shed two tears.


“O, stars!” She mourned, holding her belly. “I am so hungry! Light my path to a bush where I may find some berries to eat.” 


The stars in the jar glowed bright, and cast another beam upon the forest floor. Happy that her stars had saved her once again, the girl followed the beam until she came upon its end, where a fat blackberry bush lay waiting. 


She plopped herself down in front of the bush and plucked every last berry. When her fingers and lips were stained purple and her belly was full, she found a nice soft patch of moss and rested for a while. 


After the girl had rested, she stretched her arms up and began walking once again. As she traveled, she listened. The forest was deep in conversation with itself: the squirrels chattered as they scrabbled about, the leaves whispered and rustled, and the birds squawked to each other in the sky. 


Listening to the woods’ lively dialogue, the girl grew very lonely, and shed three tears.


“O stars!” She sighed. “I am so lonely! Light my path to a friend that I may speak to, and that may tell me stories in return.” 


The stars in the jar glowed bright, and cast a golden beam upon the forest floor. The girl cheered up considerably as she followed the beam, knowing that at its end would be someone to whom she could tell her tale. 


When she reached the end of the beam, the girl found a little wooden cabin that seemed to have grown out of the earth itself. Its walls were a thicket of trees woven together; its roof thatched boughs and moss; its door a large round stone. The girl ran to the door, excited to meet her new friend, but she found that the stone door was too heavy for her to move. 


“Hello, friend!” She called to the little cabin. “Can you open the door to let me in?” 


The little cabin did not answer.


Hmmm. The girl thought to herself. How shall I get inside? I cannot open the door, and it has no windows. My friend cannot hear me through its thick wooden walls. 


Then, she noticed the glittering gemstone chimney that poked out of the cabin’s thatched roof. 


“Aha!” She shouted triumphantly. 


The girl hooked one foot on a low branch along the cabin’s wall, then another, until she had climbed right onto the roof. The chimney, she could now see, was made of brilliant, tiny jewels instead of bricks and shining gold instead of mortar. 


“Here I come!” She yipped, tucked her jar of stars carefully in her pocket, and slid straight down the beautiful chimney. 


The cabin smelled sweet inside, like molasses. As she climbed out of the fireplace and into the cabin, the girl noticed a humble table with a stubby candle, a single chair, and a bed of hay and goose feathers.


But where is my friend? She thought.


At once, a great spider stepped out of a shadow in the corner. It was bigger than the girl herself, with eyes like beetles and tall, spindly legs. 


The girl screamed, jumping to cower against the wall. 


“Be not afraid!” The spider cried. “I am a lonely old spider and have long wished for a friend. Sit for tea and tell me, girl, how you have come to my cabin in the woods.” 


The girl stood up straighter, understanding that the stars had indeed granted her wish of giving her someone to talk to. No longer quite so afraid, she sat down at the spider’s little table for tea and told the tale of how she had come upon the cabin. 


The spider was delighted with the story, and whirled its legs in a spindly dance. 


“A marvelous tale indeed! Very well, I shall tell you a tale in return.” The spider squatted down on its feather bed, sipped its tea, and began to speak. 


“I hatched as a young spider in this very cabin. From my same egg sac hatched twenty brothers and twenty sisters, and we all lived together quite happily. But as we grew bigger and bigger, the cabin seemed to grow smaller and smaller.


“One day, one of my brothers stamped his foot and said, ‘I am leaving to see the mountains!’ He bade all of us farewell and scuttled away through a crack in the wall.


“The next day, one of my sisters twirled on her web and said, ‘I am leaving to see the ocean!’ She bid all of us adieu and tiptoed away through a crack by the door.


“The day after that, another brother and sister blinked their eyes and said, ‘We are leaving to see the desert!’ They said their goodbyes and crawled away through a hole in the floor. 


“One by one, all my brothers and sisters left our little cabin in the woods to see the world, and I was left all alone. I did not have much desire to see the world, for I quite liked my cabin. I could read by the light of my candle, knit webs in my chair, and drink tea atop my table. Of course, I did miss my brothers and sisters, but I was meant to be a cabin-dweller. 


“After some time, I noticed that my candle’s flame was burning low. The light became dim, and I blew it out, for I feared using it all up. For the first time, I wished to leave my cabin to see the stars. 


“I tried to roll the stone door open, but my legs were too thin and weak. I tried to crawl up and out through the chimney, but my body had grown too large to fit. So here I have remained.”


The spider bowed its head, having finished its tale. Feeling sorry for the poor creature, the girl frowned and patted it on its fuzzy head. 


“Oh, you poor dear! All alone and in the darkness is a solitary life indeed.” 


The spider’s forced seclusion made her think of her own brother and sister, whom she missed terribly. Perhaps it is time I finally return home, she thought and stood.


“I have had a lovely time,” the girl said, thanking the spider for her tea. “But I must now ask the stars in my pocket to show me the way home.”


“Wait!” The spider shouted, standing abruptly in a way that frightened the girl. Noticing her fear, the spider crouched down a bit.


“Please, miss, might I see your stars before you go?” 


“I really must be going.” The girl considered the request. “But I suppose there’s time for a peek.” 


She took the jar of stars out of her pocket, holding it up for the spider to see. The spider gasped in delight.


“How lovely!” All eight of its eyes blinked in the brightness. 


“Yes,” the girl agreed. In the light, she saw that the spider had fangs almost as long as her forearms. “Well, I must be on my way. It was a pleasure to meet you.” 


The girl tucked the stars away in her pocket, and the cabin was shrouded in darkness once more. She bade farewell to the spider, who bade her farewell in return. 


Just as she began to climb through the fireplace, the girl felt a tugging at her side. She heard a ripping noise before the room once more flooded with light. The last thing she saw was the glittering of the chimney before the spider gobbled her up in one bite. 


The spider licked its fangs clean. It admired its new collection of stars, then unscrewed the lid and stuck each one to the cabin's ceiling. Feeling warm and satisfied, the spider stretched out underneath its homemade night sky and hummed a happy tune. 


By now, James’s left leg had started to fall asleep, and a damp chill from the closet wall permeated through his back where he leaned. He shut the book. The back cover showed the smiling spider under the star-flecked roof of his cabin prison. 


“Creepy,” James said aloud. It was the first time he’d spoken in hours, having been alone at the library for most of the day. He studied the illustration for a moment, then tucked the book under his arm and stood. It was getting late. 


His phone chose that moment to fizzle out of battery. The absence of the flashlight plunged James into blackness, and he froze momentarily. 


“Perfect timing,” he muttered, and felt his way along the wall until he felt the door. Odd - it was closed. He hadn’t heard it shut, but he supposed it wasn’t abnormal for him to be unobservant while reading. 


James was met with resistance as he turned the knob to leave. He frowned and jiggled it a few times. It seemed to be stuck. He wiped his hands against his pants before trying again unsuccessfully. He tried again. The door wouldn’t open.


He tried again.


And again. 


On the other side of the door, the doorknob rattled in the silence of the basement as James struggled. If anyone had been close enough to press their ear against the door, they would have heard the increasingly wheezy sounds of James’s panicked breathing. The rattling soon turned to banging as James pounded against the door, swearing and shouting.


It could have been two hours or twelve before James turned his back to the cool metal door and slid to the floor. The darkness was so complete and consuming that he felt it might have already swallowed him. 


As James conceded the gravity of his situation - trapped alone in a seemingly forgotten basement closet with a dead phone - he felt a lump form in his throat. He leaned back against the door, thoughts tangling in an incoherent prayer. 


Maybe it was dehydration, or maybe it was just a trick of his eyes in the darkness, but he thought he saw tiny pinpricks of light on the ceiling. 


Like stars. 


November 10, 2023 16:10

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

12 comments

Graham Kinross
09:17 Nov 20, 2023

Great title. The ending left enough room for a sequel which I wouldn't mind. Great story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Will Johnson
11:32 Apr 15, 2024

When a cautionary tale comes to life

Reply

Show 0 replies
Joe Song
14:52 Nov 25, 2023

Loved all the imagery and the story within the story felt like such an authentic folktale. Just wish I didn’t read this right before bed…

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tom Skye
19:12 Nov 16, 2023

Great stuff Francesca. The story within it was very well written and magical. It provided a contrast to the fusty environment of a university library. It was very effective. The calm of the open ending left me with a unique uneasy feeling. Great work. Thanks for sharing

Reply

20:48 Nov 16, 2023

Thank you so much for your feedback! =)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Cecile Chaconas
06:37 Nov 15, 2023

This was a really fun read which kept me wondering where it would lead next. I loved how this story had so many layers, a tale within a tale - with a cliff hanger at the end! Well done!

Reply

17:57 Nov 16, 2023

Thank you so much!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mark Blake
04:04 Nov 15, 2023

That was a fun read! I really liked the story within the story. I also liked the way each of the stories had a different feel. It kept my interest all the way through and gave me a few shivers. Very well written!

Reply

17:57 Nov 16, 2023

Thank you very much =)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Allison Jade
01:52 Nov 15, 2023

oooooooooo

Reply

Show 0 replies
Nik Chaconas
20:55 Nov 14, 2023

SO good and CREEPY ending! I had to check the door on the room I was in after I finished reading :). Keep it up!

Reply

21:20 Nov 14, 2023

Thank you so much!! 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.