Sunday Fiction: Lighting the Stars
I wrote this flash fiction piece to also be part of “Where the Stars Used to Sing”. I hope you enjoy it!
Lighting the Stars
The stars went out the day the man of the moon fell to the earth. Some said he died of a broken heart; that his heart couldn’t contain all the beauty that he saw out there in the deep darkness of space where stars were born from dust and suns died in magnificent displays of light.
His ship, however, remained in the sky, its white wooden keel visible above the summer rain clouds, a jagged wound on the side where it had struck the mountain peak.
It took weeks to get the star ship down and to drag it over thick rollers to the docks. By the time it reached the ocean, all magic seemed to have left the moonlight-coloured wood. Still, the shipwrights fixed the ship as best they could with hardy wood from the mountain slopes.
The women who still remembered how, spun and wove sunlight into new, golden star lanterns. Others from the town spent time fixing the ship’s single sail and couching fine gold thread into a starburst design on the fine silk-like fabric.
Once the ship was filled with the lanterns and supplies, the mayor called a meeting in the town hall that everyone older than fifteen had to attend. By this time all the stars had gone out, leaving the sky empty and black. Even the moon – the only heavenly body still in sight – seemed gaunt and forlorn; barely reflecting any of the sun’s rays.
The townsfolk trudged through the cold darkness of the town, the only light present that of the lanterns that they carried with them. The town hall, however, was brightly lit, warm, and welcoming and the townsfolk that were early quickly filled the seats available. Others crowded around the chairs, talking in whispers about what would happen next.
Rodor, however, stood to the side, unmoving and silent. He watched the podium closely, as if staring hard enough would make the mayor and his entourage appear.
When finally the mayor did appear, he was decked out in his finest clothes and carried himself as if he was king of the richest country in the world. Guards walked with him to the podium, looking quite comical today with the coloured feathers stuck into their caps and never-used swords at their sides. Somewhere in the crowd someone was playing a trumpet, ending the loud fanfare only when the mayor gave a sharp look in their direction.
“Ladies and gentleman,” he started and cleared his throat in the pause he’d thought would be filled with an applause from the audience. For nearly fifteen minutes he recounted how the man in the moon’s ship had become stranded and how the townsfolk fixed it. Still no applause, to his chagrin. He ended his speech rather quickly, saying that a new man of the moon has to be chosen.
“And why not choose such an individual from our townsfolk?” he ended. “It would put us on the map.”
Silence greeted him, as did a room full of eyes suddenly staring intently at the floor. All but Rodor dared not meet the mayor’s eye.
“I volunteer,” the tall man then said, his ocean grey gaze never faltering.
The mayor laughed. “You can’t just volunteer. We have to choose someone as a whole. We have to vote and everything.”
Rodor looked at the room of people. “Who of you want me to be the next man in the moon?” he asked loudly.
“Whoever goes can never return,” the mayor said.
“Which is why I need to go.” Rodor swallowed. “You know I lost my family to the fever. There is no reason I should stay. Let me be of some use.” He pushed through the people to the front of the room. “Please,” he said and the mayor saw the tears in his eyes. “Let me go and be closer to them. Let me light the way for other souls. Let my survival mean something.”
The mayor studied Rodor’s face for a long time before speaking. “Does anyone have an objection to Rodor going?”
There was a murmur among the people behind Rodor, but he could do no more than catch a stray word here and there. He turned around and spoke, going completely against normal protocol.
“You all have families,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to leave them forever. Please give me the chance to be close to my family in the time that I have left.”
“Give me this honour and you will never want for stars to light the darkness. You will never have to fear the night and its silence again.”
This time there was applause from the townsfolk, if not from the mayor.
“Well, Rodor,” the mayor said when the applause stopped. “Maybe there was a good reason why you survived the shipwreck.” He nodded once. “As you wish.” He raised his voice: “Rodor Himin will steer the star ship!”
When morning dawned grey and cool, Rodor shouldered a bag with a few belongings and left his home behind.
The star ship, he saw, had a new eagle head decorating the stern, each feather rendered in the white wood of the ship and its eyes painted and seeming alive in the early sun.
White flowers lay on the water like snow and he thought that he would always remember their sweet smell, no matter how long he sailed through the heavens lighting the stars.
A few of the townsfolk had come to say their farewells, though some of their voices were drowned out by the many gulls who clustered around the ship, as if they already knew what their work for the day was.
“You also missed the stars, didn’t you,” Rodor thought.
One of the elders of the town came to him and, crying, hung a wreath of white flowers around his neck.
“Godspeed,” she said softly in his ear, and then, “Tell my Frederick hello when you see him? He always told me he’d wait for me among the stars.”
Rodor simply nodded, the words stuck in his throat. He boarded the slender ship then. Small details caught his eyes as the sun rose higher and glinted off the silver patters inlaid into the wood. It seemed as if every kind of bird that had ever graced the skies of the world had been etched in silver as if they could make the ship fly simply by being there. Words there were as well, and he ran his fingers over the golden letters as he mouthed the words that would make the ship fly.
Once out of the harbour, he unfurled the sail and the sunburst shone as bright as the sun itself, each carefully placed stitch kindling in the sunlight. Slowly the ship made its way to the edge of the world.
Rodor looked back and waved at the people gathered on the shore. He touched the shell he wore around his neck and whispered to his family “I’m on my way”. The new man of the moon grinned as he picked up speed.
After two days’ sailing he spotted the edge of the world. The gulls still swooped overhead, leading him on and on to the place where the sea water cascaded from the world in an everlasting waterfall. Beyond it was open space. He could see clouds of multi-coloured dust reaching to the heavens in great pillars. He could see the fiery path that the sun traced each day. He saw, faintly and far away, the moon suspended in the darkness.
He stood at the stern as he neared the edge and started reading the strange golden words that was carved between the stylised silver birds.
At first nothing seemed to happen, but then, as he thought that he would fall over the edge of the world and perish in the depth of space, the ship lurched into the sky and floated upwards as if it weighed nothing.
Rodor gazed around him open-mouthed and realised why so many had said the previous man of the moon died from a heart broken by the beauty he saw in space.
He lit the star lanterns one by one when the sun sank in the west and darkness fell on the world. One by one they drifted off into space before hanging suspended at the roof of the world to cast their silver light upon the lands that stretched out below him in darkness.
With each lantern he lit he recalled his family’s faces – the way he wanted to remember them before the shipwreck happened. He thought of how his children would have laughed and clapped their hands at the sight of the lanterns floating up into the sky.
Carefully he lit the lanterns and hung them in patterns, decorating the night sky with ships, bears, warriors, and queens. And, for the first time since the shipwreck, he felt hope kindle in his heart.