The Northern Star


I wrote this a couple of years ago, revised it to make it a little more current.  Enjoy…

***

A deep breath . . . he exhaled, letting dust, spittle, blood slip from his parched lips.  He rarely used his lungs but some air escaped with it.

It’s that time of year again, he thought as he stepped from the darkness of his cave.  He shielded his eyes from the suns rays with one bony hand, his fingers gray and withered… still holding life in them.  Though it shone brightly from its perch in the sky, the sun offered up no heat to the freezing early morning.

He leaned on his staff and walked through the snow barefoot and seemingly unaware of the icy cold around him.  Flurries caught in his blinding white hair and on his tattered gray robe.  He trudged through the woods, its many limbs hanging like skeletal arms, their leaves long since gone and decomposed. 

At the edge of the trees, he stopped and peered over the steep cliff.  Though he always felt unsteady standing there, he knew if he fell—or jumped—life would go on for him. 

His name was Time. 

And as he looked down over the edge of the world he shook his head.  Wars were being fought, storms rumbled uncontrollably and fires . . . so many fires raged throughout the lands.  He thought for a moment how the Father said he would ravage the world with flames near the end.

Another deep breath brought a chuckle from him.  A plume of mist left his mouth spun upward, turning in on itself.  Time reached out as if to try to capture the breath only to watch it seep through his fingers and dissipate altogether.

“You can’t hold your breath, not even in these times,” he said, his voice echoing in the canyon below. 

Hurry. 

Ah.  The Voice.  He was wondering when he would hear it.  Time glanced up and nodded.  He looked back to the canyon.  Fog rolled away, revealing what lie in the gorge.  People, going about their business, each in their own little world of selfish desires and petty thoughts.

“Which one shall it be this year?”

He scanned the world for a long period, as darkness settled in.  The night gave way to dawn.  Finally his eyes fell on the one, the soul that life had been least fair to in Time’s eyes.  Her hair had been golden at one time, her smile bright, as was her future.  A frown replaced the smile as he thought of her heartache.  Then, at a young age, with things falling down around her and hope nowhere to be seen, she went with the young man with promises of a future together.  Now, she lay in a wooded area much like the one behind Time, her face decaying, her body violated and beaten, throat slashed, mouth ajar, left open from her final act on Earth—a scream that never came. 

With tears in his eyes, Time reached forward as if to lift her from her floral grave.  He raised his hand and then motioned, as if he had set her on the ground.  Out of habit, he looked to the blue sky with a nod.  “She is the one.”

Yes, she’s perfect.

Time turned and trudged back through the snow, his feet feeling the tingles of the cold for the first time in years.  It always seemed to be that way for him—a life taken away always brought back feelings.  Real feelings, like sadness, and in this case, the sense of touch.  He hobbled into the giant woods, the trees still leafless, their skeletal arms still outstretched.  Halfway through the forest he stopped and looked to the right.  There laid the young lady, her body lifeless, never to see full adulthood. 

Stepping off the path, Time walked to her.  He wished he didn’t have to see her this way, but it was how she died.  Bending down, he touched her skull.  A soft white light left his fingertips.  The girl’s eyes fluttered, color ran back into her face.  Her breath caught and she stared up at Time, fear on her face. 

“It’s okay, Maria,” he said, his voice tender and caring.  “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Time took her hand and helped her stand.  Her spirit rose from out of the body that once was hers but now belonged to him.  She glanced back only to see bones lying where she had been.

With one ancient finger, Time turned her face to his and shook his head.  “That is no longer you, Maria.  You belong up there.”  He pointed to the shy.  The sun began to settle off in the distance and the moon began to awaken from its slumber.

Time leaned down, picked up the now clean skull.  For a moment he feared he wouldn’t be able to straighten his back, but he managed, his body now fully alive with feelings long since forgotten.  He took Maria’s hand and they walked through the woods, her spirit holding him up instead of his staff. 

Time led her toward the cave, but she stopped, her hand pulling free of his. 

“I’m scared.”

“It’s okay,” he offered.  “It’s almost over for you.  No more pain.  No more sadness.  Only light—the brightest light.”

With that, Maria walked into the darkness of the cave, her hand taking his again in an act of faith.  Once inside, the black faded to light and they stood together, the young woman and the fossil of a man.  Their eyes centered on a tall tree, its limbs covered with pine needles and  . . . skulls.  Maria flinched at the sight of the tree, its boney decorations like a horrible omen of bad things to come for her. 

“I’m not going to hurt you, Maria,” Time said and pointed upward.  “Look—it is your turn to shine.”

Maria hesitated before looking up to the top of the giant tree.  At its tip was an empty space, reserved for the tree topper; the angel; the star that would finish off the decorations. 

“That is your place.”

Time released her hand and walked away.  With each step he took, the shadows of the cave divided, ran away from the light that emanated before him.  At a stone table Time stopped.  He fixed his eyes on a small jar with a single blue coin in it.  Carefully he lifted it, spun the lid off and dumped the coin into his ashen palm.  He pinched it between thumb and first finger and held it up for Maria to see.

“All the stars in the sky will not be as bright as you, the Northern Star.” 

Time set the disk in the open mouth of the skull.  The skull rose from his hand and floated before him.  Time closed its jaws around the coin, silencing Maria’s eternal scream.  A blue light filtered through the cracks in the teeth, the nasal holes and eye sockets. 

In the corners of the caves, lithe figures appeared, their hands to their eyes, hisses escaping their pained throats.  They cowered away from the light as the skull rose higher into the air, illuminating every crease in the darkness.  The shadows screamed as they melted into the dirt and rock walls of the cave, blending with their surroundings until their voices were no longer. 

The skull ascended to the top of the tree as Time and Maria watched, awestruck in its beauty.  As if by two invisible hands the skull was set upon the treetop.  Below it, the other skulls—2009 of them to be exact—came alive, their vibrant colors radiating within the huge cave, bouncing from wall to wall from ceiling to floor. 

Songs filled the air, carried by the voices of the dead, of the stars that have taken their place in the skies.  Maria listened with tears in her shining green eyes.  Her body lifted from the ground, her hair floating alongside her face as if she were in a pool of water.  She giggled and Time watched her graceful rise.  Her feet disappeared, replaced by a brilliant white light that raced up her legs and into her hips.  As the voices continued to sing around her, her stomach and arms evaporated.  She glanced down at Time and smiled just before her face was replaced by a blinding orb of brilliance.

The ceiling to the cave parted.  Maria’s light flowed threw the crease and raced for the sky.  Time watched her soar through the new night air until she reached her destination among the other stars.  Tears filled his eyes again and he was acutely aware of the pain coursing through his body. 

“Can I rest now?” he asked as the cave’s ceiling closed.

Only for a while, Father Time, the voice said and was gone.

Time walked toward the back of the cave, his form fading and blending with the lights of the many skulls.  As he settled to rest for the short duration he heard the little girl’s voice and smiled.

“Look, Mommy.  That star is so pretty.”

“It is the Northern Star, Maria.  It is the greatest of them all…”

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Comments
  1. Sue Babcock says:

    A delightful story! I love the imagery of a wounded soul becoming a star. I love the characterization of Time – his blinding white hair, his creaky knees, the ashen hands. I think my favorite line is “Time reached out as if to try to capture the breath only to watch it seep through his fingers and dissipate altogether.” Very nice!

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