Celestial Cemetery

The boy's head was turned up at an angle of sixty degrees, perfectly matching the temperature of the night air. Beneath his bare feet, the cold and damp grass pushed up like the hands of a thousand zealots reaching for their God. His father's worn and warm sweatshirt, from a school the boy would invariably and unhappily attend thirteen years in the future, was wrapped loosely around his shoulders, keeping him safe and happy for now. The skin on the boy's arms pricked up from the chill in the air, but his mind was too lost in a world of light to notice.

Towering next to him stood the boy's father, his head cast slightly upwards, right arm raised like a German soldier, index finger pointing as if he were an onlooker joining a crowd singling out a distraught man on a high windowsill. The two figures were in extreme contrast; one tall, middle-aged, muscular and self-assured, the other short, juvenile, slightly chubby and revering. The boy's eyes searched, the man's discerned. The boy's hands hung at his sides and swayed softly, the man's gestured curtly.

The boy's mouth hung open in awe, the man's moved rapidly, up and down, side to side, reciting facts. He isolated every jewel the boy admired, named them in turn, tagged them, polished them and moved on to the next. Pegasus, Orion, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Ursa Major and Minor, Scorpio, Centaurus, Lacerta, Vulpecula and dozens more beautiful and important-sounding names of long-forgotten heroes or idols, all blasphemous to the boy's ideas of what they should be named, all melting into one long grumble that was all Greek to the boy. No words ever uttered could ever add to the beauty, the peace, the sense of belonging that he felt at that moment.

The points of light were called 'stars', he knew. The large silver disk was the moon, and the lone red dot, sticking out in the sky like a sore, was a source of numbing and didactic explanation from his father, but none of them could compare to the overwhelming power of the stars. They seemed to number in the millions, yet the light they cast was gentle. They twinkled and winked at him, and he found that if he focused on just one of them, the rest disappeared for a moment, an en masse decision not to interfere with the boy and his reverence, but they would always return in a startling display of luminescence. There was one star the boy could identify as his favorite; there was nothing outwardly remarkable about it, buried between two far brighter stars. But if the boy relaxed himself and stood still, staring up into the night sky, that star was in the center of his vision, looking back down at him.

Before he knew what was happening, the boy was instantly five feet closer to the stars, riding upon his father's shoulders back to his house. In this moment of shock, one cruel fact forced its way into the boy's beautiful world of light. His father's words entered his head, and his pure worship tore the fact to shreds, but like a wise old man putting the final pieces in place in a puzzle, the words reassembled themselves and glared brighter than the stars.

They were dead; the last light of a billion long-forgotten stars streaming across the universe with nowhere to go but ahead, telling the celestial tales of the dead.

The boy cried himself to sleep that night.