We used to believe that the stars were so bright and far away that they must be gods. Later, we thought that the sky itself might be a great cloth slowly being eaten by moths and the stars were merely light let through from heaven. Once we thought we understood the sky and we said the stars we saw had been dead for years and so we shouldn’t care about them anymore.
And yet we woke most nights dreaming of them. We chose our star-travelers carefully. We sought them out in places no one had thought to check.
When he was a boy, his mother would tell him to see how far he could leap and he’d run so fast before he’d let his body leave the earth. His mother, dazzled, clapped her hands at the sight of his body arcing past the sky. She thought he’d be a dancer.
Another was a swimmer, before she knew the sky she knew the sea. They were both so endless and deep. Her sister braided her hair into plaits and said, go out and be brave. The waves would crash over her and the tide would pull her deep but she never let the water steal her breath.
We told them tales only fit for night, as the stars blinked in and out around us, and in their dreams they thought they could hear someone whispering.
And so many of them woke to find themselves afraid. Of how the stars were so far. Of how they might never swim between the darkness and the shining.
When they placed their bodies into capsules, we prayed for them to be safe, to find what they were seeking, even though we had not prayed for years. The stars were not gods, they were too far for that.
We watched them when we could. Dipped into their dreaming and tried to see what they saw.
From inside these metal houses, the sky looked black as the pools of their eyes. We saw no stars.
But still they drifted through the night. They thought of jumping, of water crashing. They thought of home and wondered what their loves were doing so far away from them.
In years and years and years, children will gaze up at the night sky to look for constellations, study the stories told by pinpricks of light. We know that our travelers will still be soaring but the children will think that those flashes are simply shooting stars.
Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Banshee Lit, Drunken Boat, Flash Fiction Online, Hobart, and more. She can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes