A short story written for a sci-fi class. What would happen if all the stars disappeared?
A clean, nice round number. However, it’s almost 778 less than last time.
I sit on a bough of the evergreen oak, my feet dangling off the side. My shoes are discarded near the base of the tree with a skulk of foxes every now and then coming over to see what foreign object has intruded their home. It’s adorable watching their small bodies slink through the tree’s shadows, unaware of the two humans above them.
Connor sits next to me, his hands entangled with my own. Despite holding hands for almost an hour, his are still cold. I glance over to him. He’s looking up at the sky, eyes scrunched together and biting his lower lip. It’s a tell-tale sign that he’s deep in thought or trying to figure out if a fox really was below us. I turn away from him and look back up at the night sky. Ever since we started visiting the recently abandoned Brazos Bend State Park, we have a tradition to count. Connor frowns when I tell him my number. He never believes me.
“You’re too optimistic.”
It’s early January – the coldest month in the year – when you’re still able to get caught unaware by the frigid night breeze. A time when the fleece blanket around Connor and me isn’t enough to keep the cold at bay. He gives his signature goofy smile before pulling me closer to him, resting his head on my shoulder. I try to tell him that we have school tomorrow and need to go home, but he just ignores the comment like always. I try wiggling my shoulder from under his head, but all I get is a playful punch in the arm. We watch in silence as specks of lights from near and far sparkle above us. I wish I could live in this moment forever, impervious to what tomorrow brings.
June. The first month after graduation and the first month of freedom from school and the news. It’s become too depressing to turn on the CosmoCasting News Channel hoping to see headlines other than “POTUS Issues $5 Billion Dollar Grant Towards StarLift Corporate” or “Stars Dying Faster Than Being Formed”.
Connor and I are back in our usual spot on the bough of the evergreen oak. The warm, summer breeze blows through our hair, flying the occasional leaf into our eyes. Connor’s shaggy hair, which I’ve recommended he cut, continuously flaps into his eyes. Every now and then a strand gets caught in his mouth. I can only laugh as he attempts to pin it back behind his ear. My eyes are quickly caught by some movement below us. Holding on to the tree, I lean forward to get a better look. A baby fox bounds out from behind a bush and scurries across the field below us. It’s nice to know that the wildlife here is still alive and hasn’t been too affected by the lack of money flow. I continue watching the baby fox until Connor tells his count. I look at him in disbelief. Even after two years, my star count is still more than Connor’s.
“You’re too optimistic.”
I glare at Connor, but he returns it with a loving smile.
“You really infuriate me sometimes.”
Connor shrugs before looking back up at the sky.
September. Connor and I are heading back to our final year of college tomorrow. Rather, I should say, Connor, me, and our unborn son Ezra. It’s amazing how these celestial bodies light-years away have brought us together.
We were lucky compared to our friends and family back in central Houston. We had an endless night of stars that we could sleep under. We could count for hours on end without the worry of not reaching the higher thousands. But now, our night is the same as theirs. An almost empty sky that has no story left to tell.
“Ezra would love this view,” Connor comments, placing a hand on my stomach. “Maybe he’ll be an astrophile.”
I chuckle at his word choice. I want to tell him we can only pray the stars will still be here for Ezra to see, but instead, I remain silent. There’s no need to burst Connor’s bubble especially when Ezra will be the only lasting star in our lives.
They say it’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything. I don’t know how much I believe that with everything happening in the news. A new president has been elected, but his sentiments are still like all the others. He only cares about the replenishing of the helium
It’s the April of Ezra’s fourth birthday. Connor and I finally decide to take him to our spot at Brazos Bend State Park. Ezra perches himself between Connor and I. Both of our arms are wrapped around Ezra to keep him from falling off the branch.
Normally, we count the stars in the backyard of our Houston house, but nothing can compare to the natural wonders of the world. Words can’t begin to describe Ezra’s hazel eyes, the same as Connor’s, open wide in awe at seeing the stars without hearing traffic or a blur of orange from pollution.
“How many stars are there, buddy?” Connor asks.
Ezra starts mumbling numbers and reaching his hand up as if he were touching each star. His eyes scrunch together as he tries to piece together each star.
“42,” Ezra counts aloud.
“Are you sure?” Connor question sceptically.
“I’m positive,” Ezra nods his head.
“I think your papa is a bit blind,” I joke, earning a chortle from Ezra and a long, hard scowl from Connor.
He ruffles Ezra’s hair into a dishevelled heap before leaning over to give me a small shove. No matter how much time goes by, I’m glad that our relationship hasn’t changed. Of all the inconsistencies in the world, the stars included now, it’s nice when something normal remains.
Exactly ten years have passed since 5,000. Since then, 4,999 have been depleted. Only a faint red ball is left. Without government funding, the once tamed state park has fallen into ruin. What was covered in luxurious pecan trees that provided food for the white-tailed deers, only stumps and bone remain. The baby foxes that once sniffed at my shoes are long gone, either dead or emigrated elsewhere. The evergreen oak that stood mighty is a decayed and distant memory. We too will return to being atoms amongst the vast universe. We lay under the evergreen oak, it’s boughs no longer able to support us. Connor’s arm is wrapped around me and my head is resting on his chest. The beating of his heart fills my ears along with the last of the hooting owls.Ezra lays fast asleep in the crook of my arm. His small arm stretches across my abdomen to warm his hand inside the pocket of my hoodie. I look at him and notice that the blonde mop on his head and light freckles resemble Connor when he was younger.
“He’s like a mini-you.”
“But he has your optimism.”
Connor and I watch in silence as the faint red ball vanishes below the mountain range. We await the quick vaporising of Earth, but we’re only met with the dark, empty night sky. Not dead yet. We still have another day.