Star-catcher

Nebula

The little boy stood by the open window in his star-filled pajamas, his eye was glued to a large telescope pointing to the night sky. It was his grandfather’s; he liked stars. His bedroom was filled with plastic stars glowing in the dark from the ceiling to the floor. Even his books were covered with stars! Those that fell from the ceiling years and years ago. His grandpa never bothered cleaning them up. He likes it that way he told him.

The little boy saw the twinkling lights. The telescope made them look more like silver jackstones than tiny dots. He never liked jackstones but these ones were very pretty. One, in particular, shone extra bright. It was further away than the other stars, just right above the North Star. It sharply sparkled in the evening sky.

“Grandpa! Grandpa! Look! That star is super bright!” the little boy called, eager to show his grandfather his new discovery.

“Oh? Let me take a look see,” replied the grandfather. He was an old man with gray hair and wrinkly skin but he stood straight like a soldier on guard. “Don’t stand as if you have an elephant on your shoulders, my boy!” He would always remind the little boy when he slouched.

“Oh dear! This isn’t good!” exhaled the old man. He had a very worried look on his face.

“Huh? What’s wrong, grandpa?”

“Oh, my boy. I’m afraid that that star is dying!” the grandfather declared as he continued to examine the star.

“Dying?! What’re you talking about, grandpa? It looks so bright!” replied the little boy.

“Yes I see that. Sadly that means it’s about to die.”

“But why is it shining like that if it’s dying?”

“Well, my boy. You’re seeing that star from several years ago! It’s so far away that it takes a long time for its light to reach our eyes!” answered the grandfather.

“Oh. But I still don’t get it! Why is it the bright one that’s dying?”

“Because the light of the past is clearer! The older the star, the brighter it gets. If it’s really bright that means it’s the most its light is gonna shine! It will start to fade and die from then on.”

“Ahh. But how about the not-so bright stars?”

“Oh those? They’re still very young. Their light can’t be seen yet because they still have much to shine! We don’t have to worry about them yet!”

“So that star’s really gonna die?”

“Yes, my boy. I’m sorry to say so,” sighed the old man.

“Can’t you do anything grandpa? Don’t you save stars or something? Why don’t you save that star!” begged the little boy. His eyes welling up.

“Oh dear! I don’t save stars, young one! I catch them! I’m a star-catcher, remember?” the grandfather replied pointing to his glittery pajamas. It was dark blue with silver stars similar to his grandson’s.

“Oh yeah! You’re gonna catch it! But that does that mean it’s gonna fall?”

“Hahaha! Not literally, my boy! It won’t actually fall! It will die, though. And it will either explode and destroy the other stars around it or it will crush itself from within and produce a blackhole! That’ll suck in everything surrounding it and we don’t want that as well!”

“So what’re you gonna do, grandpa?”

“Well star-catchers take the dying star to their final resting place. We take care of them first. Spend some time with them before they need to go, for they do get quite lonely. Then we guide them going there and make sure they go to sleep peacefully!”

“Ohhh! Can I come when you catch that star? Please, grandpa! I wanna see that star up close before it dies!” the little boy pleaded. He wiped away his tears as his eyes lit up.

“Hmm I’ll think about it! That star is several lightyears away! By the time we get there and back here on Earth you will be a lot older!”

“Oh no! But that means you’ll get older too, grandpa! You’ll be wasting your remaining time!”

“Hahaha! My dear young one, time is never wasted when you’re out chasing stars!”

“Can I come then? Please! Oh, please sir super great Star-catcher!”

“You’re too young for flattery! Hahaha! We’ll see tomorrow! But right now you get a good night’s rest!” the old man tucked the little boy in. He kissed him good night and turned the lights off. That night the little boy couldn’t sleep. He stared at the ceiling; his room was also filled with stars. They glowed peacefully in the dark, lulling him to sleep.

The following day went by quickly. As night came the little boy was getting excited. He barged into his grandfather’s room to beg him to let him come. The old man was nowhere to be seen, however.

The little boy looked all over the house but he couldn’t find him. Finally he went to his grandfather’s telescope and looked outside. Through the large magnifying glass he saw an old man standing by an empty lot. It was his grandfather; he was in the old cemetery near the forest.  He was fully dressed and and it seemed like he was ready to leave. The little boy chased after him.

“Grandpa! Wait! Don’t leave me!” he yelled after the old man.

“Hahaha! Oh my boy I’m not leaving yet! I just got dressed so I won’t be late. I have to get there fast before that star fades!” the grandfather replied.

“Oh okay. What’re you doing in the cemetery, though?” the little boy asked.

“Just visiting your grandmother! I wanted to say good bye before leaving!”

“Oh. Where is she? Why doesn’t she have a mark?”

“You mean a tombstone? She didn’t want one! Which makes it really hard to find where she was buried exactly. I planted a blue rose here when she passed away to mark it. It hasn’t grown since, though!”

“Maybe you should water it more!”

“My dear boy, I’m afraid I’ve watered it too much actually! It’s time I leave it be!” the old man looked at the unmarked ground. His upper lip trembled slightly, the ends struggling to curl into a smile. It was the first time the little boy saw his grandfather like this.

“Do you miss her, grandpa?”

“Very much, my boy. Very much.” replied the old man, his eyes stared blankly at the earth beneath him.

“Was she a star-catcher too?”

“No. No she wasn’t. Your grandmother was a very cheerful person. She always lit up the room. She didn’t like dying stars; it made her too sad!”

“Oh. What happened to her?” the little boy gently asked, noticing his grandfather’s reddening eyes.

“She decided to rest, my dear boy. She’s smiling down at us from up there now!”the old man exclaimed, returning to his usual spirited self, the little boy noticed.

“Now are you sure you wanna come with me? By the time you get back you’ll be a lot older!”

“It’s okay! I can’t wait to get older! I’m tired of being a kid!”

“Oh, my dear one! Don’t be too in a hurry to grow up or you’ll miss out on a lot! But alright. Since you so stubbornly insist, it looks like I have no choice but to take you!”

The little boy beamed. He gave his grandfather a quick embrace and they were headed off. They walked towards the nearby cliff with the moonless night shining above them.

“Is your rocketship here, grandpa?”

“Rocketship?! Hahaha! I’m afraid not. This is where we’ll begin our flight!”

“We’re gonna fly?! But how?”

“Well we’re gonna jump first, of course!”

“But won’t we fall?”

“I suppose that’s possible!” replied the grandfather.

“We’re gonna fall?!”

“I said it’s possible, my dear grandson. But it’s also possible that we fly!”

“So how will we know which one will happen?”

“Well there’s only one way to find out!”

“But I’m scared, grandpa!”

“So I am, my boy! So am I!”

The little boy looked down the cliff. It was a long way down from there and the bottom was filled with sharp rocks and bolders. His eyes widened at the sight. He turned to his grandfather. He was looking up at the stars. At the brightest one shining above the North Star. The little boy smiled and held his grandfather’s hand.

“Are you ready?” asked the old man.

“I think so…”

“Hahaha! Well that’s good enough!” roared the grandfather as he ran and dove off the cliff, holding tightly to the little boy. They fell sharply upon leaving the ground, heading towards the jagged rocks. The little boy closed his eyes in intense fear. He clutched his grandfather’s hand harder, staying silent the whole time. A few seconds later they began to fly. Their arms were stretched like an eagle soaring straight to the sky. The little boy slowly opened his eyes and saw the majesty down below. A million lights shined from the city. The skyscrapers were all illuminated from top to bottom.

“Ah you see all that light pollution? It’s clouding up the view up here!” the old man said. The little boy tilted his head up. The stars were a million times brighter. They danced along the evening sky, playing little tricks with their light.

“How are we flying, grandpa? Is this pixie dust?”

“Pixie dust?! Oh don’t believe those fairytales, my boy! This is the real thing!”

“But how are flying?”

“I don’t know, dear child! All that matters is we are!”

They flew towards the heavens, admiring the sights from up there. Soon they exited Earth, soaring in warp speed, the planets blurring before their very eyes. The colors of outer space all merged into one. The little boy felt his entire body stretching. His bones were growing and his face was changing its shape. By the end of their ride, they were shot out of the tunnel of time, thrown across the galaxy where they floated above a million stars.

They hovered over the myriad lights. The stars were growing brighter and brighter as they approached, its intensity too much for their eyes. “A divine experience!” thought the old man.

“I can’t see, grandpa!” the little boy cried.

“Yes, my dear. We just have to keep flying ahead and hope for the best! We need to hurry before that star disappears!”

The light soon faded; they opened their eyes. The white heat was now a warm silver, twinkling spectacularly around them. They floated towards the one that shimmered the most. The light stayed brilliant but it quickly dulled as they neared.

“Are we here already, grandpa?” the little boy asked. He noticed the change in his voice. It was a lot deeper now, though, it still had remnants of his high pitched tone.

“My you’ve grown, my dear boy!” the grandfather remarked. His gray hair had turned snow white but he looked the same.

“Yes! My voice is much deeper now, grandpa! Like yours!”

“What’re you talking about, young one? My voice is as high as when I was a kid! Now what do you know. Here she is!”

The little boy gasped. He knew at once that it was the star but he couldn’t understand how it was possible. The stars they passed looked nothing like this. They had the same silver jackstone form he saw from his grandfather’s telescope. “I suppose they look different when you’re up close,” the little boy thought to himself, still a bit puzzled.

The star took the shape of an old woman. Her hair was frizzy from age; her face had wrinkles like the boy’s grandfather’s but hers were less noticeable. She also stood straight, walking quite gracefully, giving off the impression that she was very proper lady. She was holding a lamp; it gave of a dull yellow light that colored her entire face and body. “That’s where their light comes from!” the little boy mumbled to himself.

“Hello, dear child!” the star greeted him with a pleasant smile.

“Hello…ma’ — ma’am,” stuttered the dazed little boy.

“This is Agnes, my boy!” the old man introduced.

“She’s the bright star you’ve been fascinated about these past couple of days…well years now to be precise.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Agnes, ma’am!”

“My how polite! Agnes would be fine, dear!” replied the star.

“Marcus! He looks a lot like you! I hope isn’t as stubborn, though!” she teased, turning to the old man. The little boy hadn’t heard his grandfather’s first name in the longest time. No one really ever called him that these days. In fact there was no one around to call him anything but “grandpa”, the little boy thought.

“Oh even more than me, Agnes! But to be honest he looks more like you!”

This shocked the little boy; it was true! He looked at the star. They shared the same almond-shaped face. Her smile was the one he would see every time he looked into a mirror. The boy was confused; he never thought a star could resemble him.

“Excuse me, Ms. Ag– I mean Agnes. But are you really a star?”

“Star? Hahaha! I haven’t heard that word in a while. But yes I am a star, dear. Here we’re called light-bearers, though, because well we bear lights.

“Oh right! I forgot to tell you! That’s what stars do! They light up the universe or it will be shrouded in darkness. That’s no good. The other heavenly bodies would blindly crash into each other without them! So they need bright light-bearers, like Agnes right here!” explained the grandfather.

“Oh, Marcus! You’re too old to indulge in flattery! But yes, he’s right, dear. Although there are billions of us around so one dying light-be– I mean star wouldn’t make a difference!” said Agnes. Her smile was still quite pleasant but her lips started struggling to keep the curls up, “just like grandpa in the cemetery!” the little boy thought.

“It makes all the difference in the universe, Agnes! It really does,” replied the old man. He held the star’s hand with both of his, smiling weakly at the woman.

“It’s alright, Marcus! Really! I’ve long accepted my fate.”

“So you light up a room? Like what grandma used to do? Right, grandpa?”

“Hahaha! Something like that I guess. I light up a very, very big room! But these days my light usually stays with me.”

“Because you’re dying, right?” the little boy asked. He suddenly felt sad. As if he suddenly remembered what they had gone here for and was hoping they wouldn’t need to do anything. His eyes began to tear up.”

“Oh no don’t cry, dear! Come here! I would appreciate a hug from you!” the little boy slowly approached. He was still shy about it all but her kindness made it easier for him. He went towards her and accepted her waiting embrace. She felt warm like hot chocolate on a rainy day, very comforting. He wanted to stay forever; it felt quite familiar like he had known her his whole life, like she was always watching over him. The little boy closed his eyes, relishing every moment.

But the warmth suddenly disappeared. He opened his eyes. The yellow light had grown even duller. Agnes looked exhausted. The boy held on. Hugging her more tightly than before.

“No you can’t die! You can’t! Grandpa will save you! I’m sure he can do something!”

“I can’t, my child. I can’t,” the old man whispered. His head was bowed as his throat ached from holding back his tears.

“But we just got here! We saw your light just few days ago! And now that we can finally see you up close, you’re gonna leave us! We’re too late!”

“It’s never too late, my child. We still saw Agnes! You saw how bright she shined back on Earth and on our way here!”

“Yeah but we only saw her light when she was about to die! By the time we got here she was dying even more! Why couldn’t we see her light when we still had the chance to visit her properly!”

“I wish I knew, dear child. I wish I knew!” the grandfather replied in a whisper almost too soft to hear.

“I’m sorry I didn’t see your light right away, Agnes. I could’ve come earlier. Spent more time with you.”

“Don’t say that, Marcus! There’s no use in regretting things! You’re a big boy now, right? You have to keep it together, okay?” said Agnes, her voice shook but never cracked.

“But you can’t die! It’s not fair! You can’t die!” the boy yelled, his voice was growing coarse from all the sobbing.

“Everything dies, dear. Even the stars,” replied the old woman as she gently soothe the boy’s shivering body. The boy continued crying as she held on.

“Take care of him, Marcus.” The old man didn’t reply. He was struggling to stifle his sobs. His back hunching with an invisible, heavy load on his shoulders. “An elephant,” he thought to himself.

“Now, now! You have to be strong for your grandson. Now look there. Do you see it? That blue rose is growing quite well, huh?”

The old man summoned enough strength to cease his crying. He looked far ahead. In the distance was an azure flower, blossoming further and further. He smiled. He walked towards the little boy and gently took him in his arms.

“Agnes is right, dear one. We have to be strong. You remember that rose I planted for your grandmother? Well it looks like it’s gonna bloom after all!”

The little boy slowly wiped his tears away.

“How do you know?”

“I can see it from here. We see the stars from Earth but they also see us, you know? But it’s the opposite. We see their past light. They see our future. It helps the stars direct the movements of the universe.” the old man consoled the little boy.

“But why can’t I see anything?”

“Because you’re too young, dear. Old people can see their future because it’s kind to the eyes; its light is bearable because it’s beginning to fade. From the Earth the past light looks much brighter. But from up here it is the future that shines the most! You’re still too young. Your light is still too bright.It will just blind you to look too closely at it.” explained Agnes. Her lamp’s light beginning to flicker.

“Oh okay,” the little boy yawned. He was exhausted from all the sobbing.

“I’m glad you understand. You’re a good boy.” said Agnes. She started breathing heavily, leaning on the old man for support.

“I’m afraid it’s my time. Marcus if you could kindly accompany me.” The old man looked at her. Still beautiful after all these years he thought to himself. She will always be. He held her cheeks, as soft and smooth as before, and kissed her forehead.

“I’ll make sure to show grandpa the other stars right away! Before they get too bright. He lets me use his telescope every night!” called out the little boy.

“You’ll

He carried her on her shoulders. They floated across into the cloud of hazily lit stars. This was her final resting place.

Agnes made his way towards the cloud. She bid them farewell as her light was swallowed by the rest of the stars. She whispered “thank you” as she disappeared into the empty spaces in between. The cloud shined brilliantly. Colors swam around, dull enough for the naked eye, they swirled along the darkness leaving traces of brightly colored dust behind them. It was the most beautiful thing the boy had ever seen.

“Is that a cemetery too, grandpa?” asked the little boy, still looking at the fading stars.

“Yes it is. But it’s also where other stars are born. It’s called a nebula, young one. They all get blurred into one after a while. That’s why they never mark their graves.” explained the old man. He held on tightly to the little boy’s hand. The stars were beginning to fade, leaving ghost-like markings in the sky. It was pleasing to the eyes.

“Now let’s go back and take care of that rose!” the grandfather eagerly declared. “He does sound like a little kid,” the boy thought as they flew their way across the universe.

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