A Pocketful of Stardust

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A POCKETFUL OF STARDUST

His steps were tentative as he approached the edge of the cliff. His hands shook, his knees were weak, and his stomach churned uneasily, threatening to upheave his breakfast. It was his body, his primal instinct, telling him to run away as fast as he could. But he continued onwards, despite the bile settling thickly in his throat. Despite the pounding in his chest. He had avoided this spot for so long, refusing to even think about it, for fear that the careful protection he had built around his heart would crumble, leaving him drowning in darkness.

But he was here now, searching for answers.

A heavy weight settled on his shoulders as he drew close to the cliff. Each step was harder than the last, red dust sticking to the bottom of his bare feet. His mind was pinwheeling, frantically calling him back from the edge. But he did not falter—he couldn’t falter. He had to keep going… for Ella, if not for himself. 

And finally he was there, at the edge of the cliff. He halted, looking down into the churning waters some fifty feet below, his stomach swooping unpleasantly. This had once been his favourite spot, back from a period that felt like nearly a lifetime ago. It had been their place; his and Ella’s secret refuge from the rest of the world.

He looked over his shoulder, the wall around his heart softening. In times of past they had sat here, on the red rocks, talking long into the night. She had taught him chess once, scampering about to find bits of wood and pebbles to use as the pieces. They had climbed the trees in the forest bordering the rocks and cliff, she exclaiming in surprise when they found a bird’s nest in the higher branches, a small egg nestled in the corner. They had sat up in that tree for hours, until the mother bird had come back and Ella was certain the baby would be well cared for.

He looked back down at the water. She had sat many times where he was standing now, her legs dangling over the cliff’s ledge, teasing him about his fear of heights when he refused to come sit beside her.

He gazed back down at the waves crashing against wet rock, his heart aching. He sat down slowly, trying to imagine her there beside him. He could almost hear her laughter on the wind, her long dark hair tickling his cheek. His eyes fell shut, holding the image of her in his head. Memories arose like waves, crashing over and over onto him while he drowned helplessly with nothing to hold onto.

He remembered the sound of her footsteps, the glint of mischief in her eyes, the curve to her lips when she smiled, the way she always smelled like sunbeams and sea breeze. He remembered her rubbing his back while he cried, murmuring words of comfort in his ear. He remembered the way they shared secrets underneath the blanket of night, how they joked while picking blueberries in the forest, their fingers sticky with the juice.

He remembered the cold days when a sharp wind would drift in off the sea, and how they huddled together for warmth. He remembered how she used to tip her face up to the sun and close her eyes, smiling, and how he’d sit by her side and watch her, looking away once she opened them again.

She’d always marveled in the small delights around them, reminding him about all the joys you could find, if only you were looking. She commented on the shapes of the clouds, the texture of the rock. She would laugh, picking up a flower, exclaiming over how beautiful it was. How the trees creaking at night were them whispering to each other. How warm the sunshine felt. How lovely the dew from last night’s rain looked on the bushes. How breathtaking the sunset was; how colourful it made the sky.

They had sat side-by-side nearly every night watching the sun set on the water, watching as day became night. A memory rose up at the thought. The two of them, seated on the rocks, her head leaning on his shoulder as the sun sank down to the horizon.

“Sometimes I feel as light as a feather,” Ella had said suddenly, lifting her head. The sun, reflected in her eyes, cast a glow against her features, making her seem much younger. “And when that happens, I’m positive that if I were to jump off the cliff, I’d stay hovering in the sky.”

He had cast her a worried look then, but she didn’t seem to notice. They sat there for a long time in silence, more than long enough for the moon to appear and for stars to sprinkle the sky like salt.

Another similar memory arose in him now, of a night months later, while they were laying shoulder to shoulder, staring up at the same dark sky.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could fly among the stars?” Ella had whispered, her eyes open wide in wonder. “Drift between the clouds, let the wind take us wherever it chose?”

“I don’t know,” he’d answered, staring at the half-moon. “Wouldn’t you be scared? To be that untied, that unmoored from everything?”

She’d turned her face to him, her eyelashes looking like dark crescents on her cheeks, illuminated in moonlight.

“No,” she shook her head, smiling. “I think it would be wonderful. You’d be unbound, carefree, like sunshine or rain. You would feel so small, up there in the sky, I think. So close to the heavens. So small, but so big. I’d imagine it would be a nerve-shredding ecstasy, to be everything and nothing at the same time.”

A shiver scuttled down his spine. Her words always held a tinge of something otherworldly in them, something wild and untamed that was unique only to her. He heard moonlight in her voice, the crunch of wind-blown leaves, the steady lapping of the waves. And something else, too, something deeper, something magical that didn’t seem to go right with the rest of everything, something pure and innocent, but wise and old at the same time.

He remembered turning his head to look into her eyes and feeling a bone-deep sense of sadness. She did not belong to this world. She belonged to the sky, to the stars, but instead she was shackled here, to him. The thought nearly broke his heart open. He slid his hand into hers, squeezing it gently.

Ella smiled at him once more, then they both turned back to the stars, studying them as if they could find answers in the constellations.

He wrenched himself back to the present, opening his eyes. He bit his lip until he drew blood, trying to push down the memories. But his pain was like an inferno raging inside him, shattering the walls around his heart. A grief surged forward, so absolute that he gasped, choking on heartache. Sorrow leached through his skin, soaking his bones.

He pulled his legs up, wrapping his arms around himself as he cried, rocking back and forth like a pendulum on an old grandfather clock. A tormented scream ripped itself from his throat, echoing off the wet cliff walls over and over again until it had twisted itself into something monstrous. It was a scream of anguish, a scream of indescribable tragedy and despair.

He rocked harder, sobs wracking his body. His heart felt ripped from his chest, torn into pieces that could never be put back together. A further memory pushed its way up to the surface of his mind, even as he rebelled with every fibre of his being. He shook his head, frantically, as if he could clear the thoughts from his mind. But the scene played anyway.

This memory was recent, only a few weeks earlier. It was a hot summer night, and this time the full moon was visible, gleaming like a white orb in the sky. He had been sleeping soundly on the rock when he was gruffly shaken awake.

“Wake up!” Ella had whispered, grinning. He groaned, blinking sleepily, but at her insistent tugging, he rose groggily into a sitting position, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

He looked at her questioningly. “Why…?”

She leaned forward, cupped his jaw lightly, and tipped his head back. “Look up,” she whispered breathlessly. He did… and gasped in surprise. He heard her laugh from beside him, her hands sliding away from his face.

The stars were falling, leaving behind trails of stardust in their wake. An endless array of colours shot across the night sky, lighting up the darkness. Everywhere he looked there was colour and movement, like the universe putting on a spectacular show. He gazed up at the sky in wonder. It was the most magical thing he had ever seen.

“A meteor shower,” Ella explained, and he had glanced down at her—and froze. She looked angelic, as if the moonlight shining down on them had soaked into her skin and now radiated outward. Her face was tipped upwards, her eyes shining with awe, her lips curved up in a smile. Tears traced tracks down her cheeks as a golden burst of light shot through the sky, and she laughed in surprise. He was struck all of a sudden by how beautiful she was. But he had realized that too late.

They went back to watching the meteor shower, and Ella was unusually quiet, her hands fidgeting in her lap. A few minutes later she jumped up abruptly, padding across the rock surface to the cliff. He scrambled up to follow her.

“Where—”

“I am going to jump.” She cut him off mid sentence, halting, her toes curling over the edge of the stone.

He jerked to a stop a few feet away from her, staring incredulously at her back. “What? No!”

“Yes,” Ella murmured, turning around slowly to face him. Her heels were on the edge of the cliff. He stalked towards her and grabbed her wrists, panicking.

“You can’t! “

She smiled softly; her eyes wet. “Don’t you see? The stars call to me. I was always meant to sail across moonbeams, drift among the clouds.” She looked up at the sky with a naked look of yearning that made his chest pinch. When Ella lowered her gaze, tears spilled down her cheeks.

“My soul belongs to the wind and rain and sunshine. I need to be wild once more. I need to be free, unbound. Infinite.”

Tears were sliding down his face now, because he had always known that, and because he knew in his heart that he could never bring himself to beg her to stay. She wasn’t meant for his world.

“It will be alright,” she murmured, hugging him fiercely, quickly, then letting go.

“But what if you fall?” he had whispered, his voice thick with emotion. When she gazed up at him, her eyes were bright with energy, with strength. She smoothed his hair back, smiling fondly.

“Oh darling… but what if I fly?”

And she fell backwards. A scream tore out of his chest as she fell. He ran to the cliff, peering over the edge.

She wasn’t there.

He started sobbing, his tears dripping off his chin and falling into the sea fifty feet below. The waves crashed mercilessly against the rock face. There was no way she’d survived.

“Look up.” A familiar voice spoke from above him, repeating the phrase she’d whispered earlier. His head snapped up… and there she was. Ella, his Ella.

She was floating above him, her dark hair fanning out around her. She wore a white dress made of a gossamer fabric that fell to her calves, her bare feet peeking out from under the hem. But the thing that caught his attention the most was her wings. Bright, shining wings, that were so beautiful they made his breath hitch in his throat. He was close enough to see each individual pearl-white feather, catching the glow of the meteor shower overhead and reflecting dazzling colours. He watched as Ella plucked one off and held it out to him.

His heart beat slowly as he took it. Once it was tucked safely into his pocket, he looked up at Ella with wide eyes. A breeze rolled in off the sea, ruffling her hair. She smiled down at him. It was a smile that contained life and joy, that held the crackle of fire and the sound of rain, the blooming of flowers and rays of sunshine. It was a free smile, a wild smile. And as she smiled, he realized that she was finally home.

“Is this the last time I’ll see you?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“I must go,” she responded, nodding. Her smile faded, tears welling in her eyes. “I will always miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too,” he whispered. He looked at her for the last time, sadness curling in his bones and making them ache.

And then Ella flew away. He watched her as she flew up towards the stars, getting smaller and smaller, until at last, she disappeared.

The memory faded, leaving him sitting on the cliff in the present. His tears had dried on his face, and now the sun was starting to set on the water.

He was scared, he admitted to himself. Scared of being alone, scared of starting a new life without her. Scared he wouldn’t be able to do it, scared he would succumb to his despair. Scared because he would now have to jump into the unknown, and he was scared that he would fall.

Ella’s words came back to him. Oh darling… but what if you fly?

And as the sky darkened with colour, he knew that she would never truly be gone from him. She would be in every sunset, every rainfall. Every tree, every flower. And he would remember her every time he looked up at the night sky, wondering what she was thinking about as she flew among the stars.

He stayed there, sitting on the cliff, until the sun disappeared from view and the moon rose to take its place. And as the stars sprinkled the sky like salt, he got to his feet once more.

And he walked away without looking back, his hand curled around the feather in his pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"What if I fall?

Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?"

-e.h.

 


Submitted: September 20, 2022

© Copyright 2022 A. Solivagant. All rights reserved.

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