Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wandering Stars

Last night, I was reading and got an idea, as I so often do when I'm reading someone else's work. I wrote out the idea, entirely, and now I don't know what to do with it so I'm putting it here.

The stars never stick around. The constellations keep moving, and every one of them is recorded. But they don’t stick around and they don’t come back.

This is an intrinsic part of life, something that every child grows up knowing before they can walk. The sky is blue, two plus two is four, dogs and cats don’t get along, and the stars never stick around.

Long ago some imaginative fool looked up to the night sky and saw a figure there amongst the dead space. A hard line formed between two stars, these two dots that could have been shining gods or jewels in a vast dark ocean, and then another line formed, followed by two or four more, and soon he was looking at the eye of God, looking back at him.

The constellation this fool saw is remembered. The fool’s name is not.

The man’s name was burned away from the annals of history, along with the annals and history itself. Book, shelf, and hall – all destroyed because, after a few years of star-gazing, a universal truth spread itself across the globe: nothing remains. Nothing perseveres. Nothing sticks around.

When the fool saw this eye, up there past the abyss, seemingly winking at him from behind the charcoal clouds, he was sure to write it down. He drew it out, gave it its name, and showed everyone he knew. A fervent phase of constellation-spotting followed. Everyone wanted to find a new set of stars and give them a form, a name, and an everlasting legacy.

Look, a cow. There – an axe. A flower. A hand. A dying tree. Dozens of constellations were found and recorded by the scholars, all official-like. The world put their hearts and their creativity into the expanse of space, and hung their souls on the imaginary shoulders of mythical icons. 

Soon the sky was full, jam packed with the dreams of the people, whose feet had never left the earth but whose thoughts traced blinding lines in the heavens. The stars in the sky may be beyond counting for any one man, but every man, woman, and child working together stand a pretty good chance. Years passed with no new constellations. Of course, this was to be expected. But people still received joy whenever they looked up to the sky and saw, there! That’s the Dancer. I found that one. 

Until one day, the Dancer wasn’t there. The scholars had, of course, seen the Dancer, with her waif-like 6-star figure, moving across the sky to the eastern horizon for several years now, but that did not strike them as unusual. “Planetary alignment might cause that.” “She’ll drift back towards center in the next decade.” “Asynchronous orbits could be a factor,”… you know, galaxy stuff. The whole world just watched her dance her little imaginary figure right off the sky’s stage, and she never came back. 

Soon people started noticing that all the constellations were moving. All of the stars in the sky seemed to be falling off the eastern horizon, never to return. People noticed that the Dancer wasn’t the only constellation missing. Others had gone. The Two-Headed Eel was being sucked helplessly towards the east – or swimming straight towards it, it was hard to tell which. The Half-Dead Tree was only half there. The Bull was stampeding right towards the horizon’s cliff. No eye on earth could find the God’s Eye anymore, forever blind to us and us to it. 

People grieved for their babies, the great icons they made all on their own. The great likenesses in the expanses, made out of only a person’s imaginations with a pinch of stars, were leaving them.

Years passed by, the stars kept passing through, and people passed on. Some people died before their constellations left. Others saw their creations leave decades before they left this world, hoping, year after year, that their constellation will come back. “Soon, my Galleon will come back. It will sail up from the western horizon… the first ship to sail around the world…”

It never did, but of course new stars were coming in from the western horizon all the time. As the old stars left, new ones came in. This constant movement, coupled with the stuttering of the day/night cycle, created the effect of a cosmic zoetrope, with the earth spinning helplessly in the middle of it, watching the should-be stationary images move without them. New stars meant that people started finding new constellations again. Scholars began recording the new constellations as well, careful to make certain that these new star formations were not repeats of the old. None of them were. They were all new.

And so it went on. When new stars appeared from the west, they were named, drawn out, and recorded by the scholars, before they fell off the sky’s edge in the east in about a generation’s time. But everyone kept the secret burning hope that the old ones might come back some day. The original spotters of these shapes were long dead, but their descendants wished to gaze upon the form of the Dancer with their own eyes. These hopes slowly faded into only glimmering embers, but never completely died out.

After generations, the scholars had to call it: The stars never stick around and will never come back. This statement changed everything. This idea spread itself across civilization. Where ever there was a doubt or unanswered question, this mantra washed in and filled it like high tide filling a crevice on the shore. “Nothing sticks around. Nothing ever comes back.” The world became centered on fatalism and immediacy. Entire religions were created and proliferated themselves on the idea. It became fact, and then it became more than fact: it became nature. It became law.

Governments took this idea to the extremes. Nothing would be recorded anymore. All recorded history or knowledge, anything made to stick around, would be burned and destroyed. So it was. Great flames burned across the land as townships and city-states set fire to their libraries, their museums, their record halls. The history of the world burned brightly, as bright as any star, and to anything above the earth it must have looked like a great constellation had come to rest on the earth for the night.

When the embers pulsed for the last time and the fire’s heart beat its last silent beat, the people had nothing left to burn. That is, except for the stars. The scholars kept the records of all the constellations. Their names, their positions (before they left), and what they looked like. But everyone agreed that these would be left alone. Those records would be the only thing they would keep. They would persevere. They would keep record of the stars, and only the stars, so that they may remember why they did what they did. There was, also, still a lingering, secret hope that the constellations would still come back, because there is a distinct difference between history and hope, besides the obvious ones: History burns once, and then it’s gone. Hope is always burning and is stronger for it.

So that’s how it is. The stars don’t stick around, but they are remembered in black and white images on the page. The people still don’t know where the stars are going. They still don’t know if the stars are moving past them or if they are moving past the stars. Will the sky ever run out of stars? Will this giant negative film reel ever run out? Who knows? The people have finally made some kind of peace with it. The stars will not stick around, but their forms, on those pages, will. The people’s names will not be remembered, but their icons will.

So the constellations, those massive likenesses ranging from the everyday to the mythical, live on, in a fashion. They are not still there, way up there, but they are down there, on the page, with them. People start to realize that this is an amazing thing, especially considering that these figures in the sky were never actually there in the first place.

The stars are beautiful, like they always have been, and then they disappear. They find a new life in history and memory, less vibrant but just as elegant, and the people wonder if a similar fate awaits them when they disappear. Perhaps they, too, will be recorded, far away, in a different form for everyone to see.

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