There are approximately ten billion galaxies in the observable universe, each playing host to roughly one hundred billion stars. If this is the case, then why is space such a cold, dark, desolate place? Why doesn’t light spill from every incandescent, celestial body and sweep across the cosmos, illuminating the way for its lost, homeless wanderers?
The answer is quite simple. Most of the universe is empty.
He was a perfect reflection of that same universe that had granted him life, gave him love, and then took everything away.
In what felt like eternities ago, home had burned like a beacon, and they had all rejoiced; every single one of them had been called back from the far reaches of the universe to feed off its elements, to exult in the warm ebb and flow of the rolling shock waves and bathe in its phosphorescence. Like the nascency of a new soul, it swelled and pulsated, grew and shifted, it was contained and eager to know the universe, pushing out, restless and relentless in its search for release, until the energy reached a fever pitch and home was no longer a star.
In the blink of an eye, before anyone could brace themselves, the core collapsed under its own gravity. Nobody could have predicted the speed at which their corner of the galaxy was briefly lit up and those who had survived the initial blast had been so deeply mesmerized by the pretty dust clouds that rose in elegant spires, that they had been frozen in place. But not him. And for his suspicion, for all his panic and dismay, he’d barely escaped the resulting darkness that had engulfed the particles and radiation off which they’d fed, had swallowed his kin and even the light. He’d been stripped of his own stellar blaze, left ghostly and shadowed, unnoticeable against the onyx backdrop of deep space.
How could the Elders not have known? How could they have been so wrong about everything? For instance, the universe was not static or unchanging; it was always expanding, speeding away from him, increasing its dark energy and with it, the emptiness -- no, the isolation. Still, he chased the aging stars, calling out to them, wanting desperately to become part of the Great Void along with them, but he could never keep up; after all, a comet is no match for the speed of light.
And contrary to what he’d been taught, it wasn’t this same emptiness that made space oppressively somber; and it wasn’t space existing in a vacuum that rendered it frigid either. It only felt empty because he left burning fragments of himself everywhere he went in search of respite. Over time, the sting of loneliness stole him away, piece by piece, until a mere shell remained, leaving him hollowed out and cold. He lived his hollowness -- he ate the silence, breathed the solitude, and slept the ache that accompanied abandonment and did so for millennia. He was a nothing. A singularity. A gatherer of space dust.
As the years wore on, he’d begun to forget the sound of their voices and when he was particularly forlorn, he’d relive memorable discussions and disputes, playing them aloud, unheard by any but himself.
“The beauty of space comes from its virginal aspect, young one. She’s almost untouched. Unexplored. Flawless,” they would tell him.
Everything is flawless when it’s unfamiliar! He would scathe internally. That’s why certain beings fell in lust at first sight; soon enough, failings and weaknesses caused the feeling to fizzle and they were in search of another unknown. Love, on the other hand, required imagination and the ability to see the allure in something imperfect.
“But what of rogue planets, Teacher?” he argued, “Are they not flawed by their very nature? So much so that they’re ejected from their own planetary systems? They become rebel planets, abiding by their own rules and refusing to be predictable in their orbiting? How is such a revolt not profoundly beautiful and unforgettable?”
“Because this kind of beauty lives only to destroy you.”
Not like the mess of bland dots and smudges that surrounded him at any given time as he floated aimlessly throughout space. Predictable. Boring. Forgettable. Every pinpoint was a solar system, each having the possibility of having intelligent life, though he’d found none so far. He’d allowed himself to meander through infinity, slipping just out and above the Milky Way’s periphery to sleep away the light years out of sheer boredom. When he woke again, it was to the sight of long gas tentacles wrapped in dust and stars, looking for all the world as if it were caressing a central bulge.
He’d never really appreciated its beauty before, but from this vantage point, at the far tip of the outer spiral arm, a perfect sphere of hot plasma caught his attention. A violent storm was brewing at its surface, strong flares shooting out from it and in the direction of the third planet orbiting its large mass. He followed its progression, hope swelling at his core to get caught up in the explosion, cutting in and out, spiraling through the searing tongue licking at the heavens and feeding off its energy until there was an abrupt collision between the charged solar fragments and the changing atmosphere just above the terrene globe.
The result was nothing short of miraculous. The swish and crackling of solar winds sent shivers along his astral form, rippling the darkness as the star’s essence continued to smash and shatter with something so magnetic it pulled him towards the bob and weave of heliacal particles interacting with the ions and illuminating the sky. The planet looked as though it had been set ablaze by greens, purples and red polar flames.
He could not resist immersing himself amidst the flicking, vibrant shades set in perpetual motion, flowing and undulating, a veritable dance of colour in the sky over the northern tip of the planet. It ignited something childlike in him. He was eager, curious to touch and feel. And though it looked like fire, it certainly didn’t feel like it: the air’s density was so low it mimicked the cool jets of a swirled space vortex. It was refreshing, captivating, mesmerizing. Reviving.
He let himself get caught up in the Aurora Borealis, his own energy swelling with the rise and fall, the lights leading him in a complicated, harmonious dance while he followed every step, committing them to memory. He was spun and dipped by the luminous filaments, hair wild, eyes bright like starry orbs behind their lids, face exalted. He was smiling.
His body was arched, head pointed downwards, arms spread wide in reckless abandonment when he first noticed it. His eyes snapped open, then narrowed as they honed in on the wailing whine emanating from winking blue and red beams, but for all their din, they could not conceal the beautiful low hum vibrating a soft melody within. It was a cry for help, lovely and familiar and yet he couldn’t place it in his long, drawn-out existence.
He disentangled himself from his luminous dance partner, who reluctantly let him go to give chase. The sound of sharp, shallow breaths was almost lost under the roar of the conveyance madly barreling through distinct paths and hoards of noisy, smaller bodies of debris, looking as though it was cleaving cleanly through them like a fiery meteor through the sky. The smell that lingered behind it was vaguely oily, sooty, somewhere between heated and burning. Why would any being be voluntarily caught in there? Saving whatever was calling from within became his first priority.
Unnoticed, his pitch black filamented limbs touched upon the top of the noisy transporter as it circled a large white structure and came to a halt. Bipeds spilled out, rounding to the back and threw open the panels that had kept it shut. He could make out their hushed, urgent whispers just over the rattle of the bed they were rolling out, but was still overwhelmed by the other seventy-three conversations going on nearby. He let the information flood through him and many of the unfamiliar concepts and objects flooding his senses began to fall into place.
The same kind of gnawing, childish curiosity as with the Northern Lights overpowered him as he lay flat against the roof of the vehicle, fingers gripping the edge of the back door, inching himself forward until he dipped his head over to see what was coming out. He was trembling with excitement, lip caught between his teeth, unnecessary breath held captive in his spectral body.
“Oooh,” he sighed at the sight of it, the neglected sound being carried off by a glacial wind. It was unbearably, heartbreakingly beautiful. Unmatched by anything in the universe. Like watching a meteor shower, he could no more focus on one feature than keep his eyes on a singular shooting fragment. His head whipped from comely slate hair matted wetly to a flushed heart-shaped face, to the delicate spasming digits holding onto his knees as the small thing writhed on its side, stifling a wounded whimper. The visible skin was like a swath of muted light, ethereal, with something akin to dew drops upon it, sparkling in the moonlight. On his face, an unfamiliar constellation of barely-there spots was scattered over his nose and cheeks, like a reminder, proof of his belonging to heaven. Pink Pleiade lips were pressed tightly together, his brow furrowed, his eyes pinched shut; then he smiled, and even weak, even in pain, it was dazzling. So proud to suffer in near-silence. So lovely he was in his agony. The homeless stellar being was rapt with infatuation, though he’d never felt more helpless than he did now. Not even back then...
“Take the boy to the second floor,” he heard a tired voice direct the individual pushing the bed.
In the time it took for the little thing to be wheeled out from the ambulance, and brought into the building, he found that he was no longer homesick, for home had ceased to be a place; home was now this boy.
Despite the dense cloud of ailment surrounding the stunning creature, he was still all heat and luminescence, energy and something else he could not quite pinpoint. And so he followed, his longing renewed with the urge to soothe and comfort, to be swaddled in that warmth, to live inside him and never leave.
He stopped abruptly at the entrance and looked upon his midnight veil and how it contrasted with the alabaster of the walls. Not wanting to be seen, he pursued the sweet hum of the boy’s distress call, but from outside, cloaked in his shadowy form. He sped along, and caught glimpses of him through the large glass panes, fixating on the sounds made by the ones guiding him along the labyrinthine hallways.
“...omhive, made the move some eight years ago, but born in the United States. No history of having sought treatment while he’s been living here.”
“Wait? You’re kidding me right? He’s like a breath away from... I mean, just look at him…”
He was looking at him every time he came into sight. He couldn’t stop looking at him. Could they not see him properly? He knew the boy’s expression well, agonized and pained, but he was still magnificent. Flawed by illness, yes, but it made him unforgettable and much too resplendent for this little corner of the galaxy!
More importantly, could they not hear him? He was clearly saying something. His head was lolling languidly from side to side, and words were falling from his pretty pout. Mantra or melody, he could not tell, though by the way his lips moved, the whispers repeated over and over, he knew the boy needed something.
Someone, please give him what he needs.
He’d been so desperate for their acquiescence, that his digits had pressed heavily into the double glass, and by the time the humans came to the next window, he had left it partly shattered, the fissures a perfect replica of the webbed silk found at the top corner. One of the workers took notice, but said nothing about it, and simply called the elevator. Once a button was pressed, a red light came on overhead, counting numbers down from five.
“Yeah and no family…”
“Here, in Iceland?”
“No, no family at all. He was found unconscious in the hallway of his apartment complex. Jónsson talked to the neighbour, that’s how we got his name. Said he was orphaned at ten, so he’s completely alone.”
He scoffed. Funny they would use the words orphaned and alone interchangeably. One spent their entire lives being orphaned, not only by parents, but by friends and lovers, by homes and memories. It certainly did not mean that one was alone. Being the last of his kind, he knew the weariness of such a burden. After all, hopelessness was the orphan of loneliness.
“Yeah, twenty-two, works at that witch shop; you know, where they sell crystals and incense and all that rubbish.”
He couldn’t understand the bitterness behind the speaker’s words in regards to crystals and incense, but the tone he used made the stellar being less than charitable in his assessment of these beings. The doors to the elevator finally opened and humans dressed in matching tan attire wheeled in the boy, obscuring him from view once again as he was swallowed up by the small space.
“Just an odd kid, you know,” the former speaker continued now that the boy was out of earshot. “Doesn’t fit in here. My daughter knows him; he believes in a lot of far-out stuff. Sci-fi, aliens, multiverse kind of weirdness.”
Something akin to a growl surfaced in his throat as he took his leave of these wretched creatures. How dare they disparage what was likely the very best of them! He continued in his search for this boy, crawling along the outside wall. The aching little thing was easy enough to find since his core pulsed differently than anyone else’s. While those surrounding him had centers that beat wetly, pounding predictably, the boy’s had a melodic cadence, its chorus melancholy, speaking in the language of the universe, simple, uncomplicated, but unfathomably heavy: alonealonealonealone.
He went around the building, keeping close attention to the higher vibrations emanating from the frail body, finally locating him in a threadbare room devoid of colour, equipped with noisy machines on either side of his tiny frame. His chest rose and fell and rose again, and his eyes were still shut; he could have been sleeping except for the infinitesimal wince when a worker pierced his skin and set an adhesive to keep a needle in place.
Outside he clung to the window, frantic in his need to kiss the small hurts away, to quiet the urgent plea of one soul calling out to another.
“I’m stumped. No idea what’s wrong,” the doctor told the nurse as she scribbled down some notes onto a clipboard and fastened it to the boy’s new bed. Both humans turned away from the little creature and made their way towards the exit. “He’s burning up, but not sweating, has ridiculously shallow breathing, but has no sign of a lung infection or heart failure. His body isn’t reacting the way it should, no reflexes to speak of, but there doesn’t seem to be any damage to his central or peripheral nervous systems. It’s like his body is shutting down all wrong.”
It’s not. His body was giving up, he thought, frowning in their direction. He could see the boy’s bottom lip tremble and wished they would be quiet.
“Do you want me to order some tests? MRI, CT, PET?” the nurse responded gravely.
“It wouldn’t matter. The way he is now, I give him three days, tops. He’ll be gone before we even get the results back.” And they left with a quiet click of the door behind them, leaving the boy to himself.
When his gaze fell upon the boy again, he saw that he had turned onto his side, facing the window, facing him. His eyes were still eclipsed by his lids, but his delicate shoulders had begun shaking, while his chest quavered and a small fist was brought up to his mouth. He heard a hic and pressed his shadowed hands against the glass where it groaned under the pressure of his distress. There was a swallowed sob from within the desolate room and an echo of one from outside. A steady stream of something like viscous vapour spilled from the boy’s eyes, shimmering in the soft light as they trailed down his face. His long, dark lashes swept against his cheek as he wiped the little pearls away with the back of his hand, then fluttered once, twice and on the third time, opened.
Naos, Mintaka and Alnitak all rolled into one. Impossible. How were stars so large fitted into the eyes of such a small being. Blue-white and searing. Rare and luminous and swiftly burning through his fuel. His end, though quickly approaching, would be spectacular; a supernova, both violent and beautiful. Then and there, he vowed to bare witness, because even stars should not die on their own.
Essence uncomfortably compressed and reduced to darkened light, he slipped through the casement, following the shadows cast upon the sad, solitary figure in bed. He stood there motionless, at a loss for what to do to comfort him, for the boy could not be saved, but his anguish could be relieved at least for now. Darkness fell over the the room, and the hitches and gasps became fewer and fewer, until they were replaced by slow, even breaths that hummed adorably on the exhale. The star-born curled around his raison d'être, his slumbering bliss, beseeching tone whispering between them as he cradled his cheek and pressed their foreheads together, “Take me when you leave. We won’t ever have to be alone again.”