Soft snow danced across the darkened evening sky, a result of the bleak months ahead. Its twirling flakes were spotlighted under a streetlight, spinning away with no care. As usual, this block was dead tonight, the only sign of life being the few flickering porch lights, illuminating the night. Being my shy and retiring self, I had pulled out a book to read, as I did on most nights I was alone, or in other words, every night. I didn’t like company, and company didn’t like me. I guess you could look at it the way you wouldn’t like chocolate in your salad. They both tasted good alone, but combined, they ruined each other. Such was the case with me and the world. We both helped, but if we got together, it would fizzle out, we just couldn’t last. As the snow began to pile up on the ground, I saw an odd figure cautiously creep across the inky landscape. Not very ‘evil-looking’, but definitely up to something.

I peered at it for some time, then dismissed it as an old lady walking home, or maybe some type of an animal. I turned around, already stepping away. Wait. I swiveled backwards. It did look like an animal; it had an odd hunch, its teeth malformed and rotted, its general figure pulled apart, seeming to distort reality. It flicked its hungry gaze onto me. I swiftly pulled away from the window, now unable to hide. It might not have been prowling around for victims, but it’d sure hate to see its identity released, so much so that he couldn’t let it happen. I’d probably feel the same way, if I was him.

I quickly clambered to my back door, nervously clutching a frying pan, and my half-digested dinner. If he wanted to come in, I wasn’t going to just let him in. I was going to fight for myself tonight. I was going to break the shell of my introverted habits, and I was going to do something. I heard the sound of a sine tone in my head. It must have been my mind telling me it was out of ideas. Regardless, I pushed on, anticipation and anxiety already getting to me. I heard a chilling whistle, something you shouldn’t hear on Earth. I pivoted towards the front door, and stopped cold. I was paralyzed at the sight; I couldn’t move, let alone scream.

I stood aghast, staring into his eyes, fearing to break eye contact. I lifted the pan, showing him I was armed, when I began to take in some of his features. His cold eyes, a pale, wet shade of soft grey, dipped deep into my soul, probed for information, were looking for something that I might not have even known about. His curdled sneer seemed to stab me, tear me apart, shred me from the inside. His teeth, all malformed and rotten, a soft shade of yellow, reminded me of my childhood dream of a gold tooth. I thought it could make me rich or happy, but in reality, it just sunk me into depression and anger, and ultimately made me realize the absurdity of my childhood ambitions. In fact, that’s what made me break away from my past, and become an introvert. With no one to tell, no one could know. His bent and twisted gait, it made me think of my bent and twisted ways, about things I had done to others, things I would hate to let them see. Trying to distract myself from… this (if I was telling a story, I’d gesture somewhat encompassingly at this point), I turned back to the window and cast a sad gaze at the wide open sky, full of little stars staring back.

Staring into the darkness that was consuming my life, and my night, I realized something. This darkness had brightness, it had little bursts of ecstasy, potential emotion, potential life. Most importantly, this void held something, anything and everything. It held the stars, galaxies and planets beyond human comprehension. My void, well, it held me as an eternal prisoner, and nothing else. It locked me away from parts of my life, a select few at first, now almost all. It took things I held dear, people I loved, and so much more. It hid them away, somewhere I couldn’t dream of, somewhere I could not tread, a place just out of my grasp. My loose, weak grasp. Breaking out of this reverie, I looked back at the sparkling sky.

The light of the stars glistened everywhere, drawing me back to reality. Not knowing what else to do, I cried. I cried for my emptiness. I cried for the sky’s fullness. I cried for every void in-between. But mainly, I cried for nothing. The ultimate value of everything, I realized long ago. I wiped my soggy face with my sleeve and looked back at the creature, forgetting his presence until now. He looked back blankly, as if he was frozen in time. I cautiously walked up to him, and stared him down.

He could be playing a trick, or he could be hurt. I ignored my better judgement and timidly tapped him. Not very long, just a quick tap, like you would on a phone. He suddenly vanished in a flurry of dust. Coughing, I looked around, and saw that he was nowhere to be found. Well, I knew I was too boring to actually befriend. I heard a faint rumbling outside, finally dissipating my emotional storm. I casually glanced outside, not very interested. It was then I saw a funnel cloud, the same kind of cloud that signals tornadoes, spinning around in the sky. I figured that it would be something worth watching, at least until it touches down.

I grabbed a coat and walked outside, laying down on the thick snow that had fallen since. I looked up at the sky, trying to name the constellations I saw. I know I saw the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Aquarius, Lyra, Pisces, Leo, and maybe a few others. As I stargazed, the funnel cloud seemed to come closer, and closer. It made the stars start to waver, as if it was going to suck them up. I rubbed my eyes to get a better view. And clear as day, the stars were all dragged into the vortex, now a swirling storm of fury. I watched as the stars were spat out in different shapes than before. I gaped in shock at what I thought I saw. Those stars are turning into… what?

I looked up again and saw my parents, my family, everyone and everything sown into the light. I sobbed. I laughed. I tensed. I didn’t know what to do, or say or anything! In my happiness, I didn’t notice the whispers, or the laughter, or the cries around me. The funnel turned back, and it started to vacuum the stars back into its void. I stared in horror as my family, my memories, my life, were pulled away, invisible to all but the cruel existence inside. I tried to get up, I tried to stop the clouds, but I felt a shock course through me when I tried to move, prohibiting my movement. I could only watch helplessly as everything I had come to know was thrown away, scattered and lost to all. All but me.

I stared straight ahead, mentally assessing my new journey. In other words, I was just glaring towards the sky, blaming it for tonight’s event. I walked out of my yard, a sad smile on my face as I recounted some of those sad memories. That would soon prove to be a fatal mistake: Reviewing your happiest moments during war was basically your death statement, no matter the person. Civilians, warriors, opponents, all had happy memories that had been crushed by war. Recollection only proves to ruin one during these times.

I bit my lip and pressed on. I was dying at this point, my body screaming at me to stop, to rest, to recover. I ignored its helpless pleading and went forward. As I dragged along, I saw a small sign. Mildly surprised, I blinked and looked again. Nothing there. I sighed and dropped my gear (winter coat) onto the ground. I wrapped myself in its warmth and closed my eyes, secretly hoping they’d never open.

That night, I dreamt something odd, to say the least. I sat up in my ‘bed’, and looked around. My face was cramping for an unknown reason, but it slowly began to fall numb and eventually froze in the cold air. I treaded this new land with extreme caution; after all, ignorance was the reason I was here. I heard a twig snap, my instincts took over and I bolted. I kept running for what felt like forever. I turned around to make sure I wasn’t being followed, when I pummeled into something spanning my reach, probably beyond that. I turned my head around, my neck popping and cracking like it had broken. I looked back and saw a person, in ragged, tattered clothing, with tears in his eyes. His wrists and lower arms were roughly skinned, with deep gashes and cuts coating his limbs. A shredded backpack laid on his bony shoulders, tugging at his balance and clearly annoying him.

He had this bright spark in his eyes that dulled with every tear falling. It looked as if each tear sparkled in the frigid light, twinkling away like a fallen star. A very thin look of pride settled on his face when he saw me, something that made me feel so sorry for him, for what happened to him, for his obvious losses. He dried a tear from his eye and gave me his backpack.

“It’ll come in handy,” he said, as if I was going to take something from this poor soul.

“No, no I couldn’t,” the stock reply escaped my lips before I could say anything about it.

He chuckled a bit and said, “If you think I’m poor, think again. I live happily, I live off of the reality of these situations. You will need this,” he insisted as he shoved the cloth pack in my hands.

I smiled politely, and waved him off. His figure wavered in the darkness, then disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Being somewhat used to seeing people vanishing into thin air, I disregarded his exit and looked inside the backpack. I found a small velvety cloth bundle, which I set aside, thinking it might be useful. The thing that piqued my interest though, was a small notepad, something you’d get in the mail or at the dollar store. I picked it out and flipped through the book quickly. Only one page had legible writing. I eyed it suspiciously, as if it too would evaporate into thin air, leaving me with scribbles on the other sheets. I quickly tore the page out, with a single flick. I stared at it, and read the writing:

One mile west, will prove your end. The world will proudly unite, but someone will take the fall for this suffering gone. You will suffer the rest of your life, but the world will suddenly be a much happier place to live. Travel a mile east, new beginnings will prevail. This puppet world will tie odds and ends and sugar-coat reality. But only for you. The entirety of the world will still be suffering, still dying, but you will be oblivious to this. Moving north or south will simply stretch for eternity. The choice is yours.

I suddenly grasped the soft bundle, and opened it up. Inside lie a medium compass, pointing north. I woke up choking, gasping for air. I looked back, around, in front and quickly got up and started walking. I didn’t wish to, but something pushed me. I turned eastward, according to the dream compass. I walked and walked, until I finally managed one mile. I looked around and saw him again. This time in reality, not a twisted dream that could be pawned off as a night terror. He grinned and said, “Welcome. Your path awaits.” I pressured him to get on, so I could meet my family again, and finally be truly happy. He suddenly turned around and said, “Well then, you must be eager to feel true happiness. I wish you luck on your, ahem, ‘quest’...” He then curled his fingertips into an open fist and chaos ensued. The stars reverted into the shapes of the night, then became familiar. They cycled back and forth until my brain couldn’t tell what was what anymore.

Disoriented, I mumbled, “Give them back, give them back, give them back…” in a dark, zombie-like tone. I snapped back to attention when it all stopped. “No. No. No! No!! NO!” I screamed into the empty night, while the figure simply cackled insanely. “What did you do???” I asked brazenly.

He smiled a smile of pure ecstasy, like he was high on something. “Ah, it was you after all.” He gestured towards the sky. “Welcome to nowhere. I was left here alone, left to fend with only the stars as survival tools.”

I exaggerated a yawn and told him to hurry up. He stopped, and sort of huffed in disbelief.

“Your point?” I asked quickly.

This rant was getting on my nerves. He sighed and mumbled something about disrespect.

“You are my Stargazer,” he said. “You are safe here, away from pain, from love, from life and death themselves. You’ll live forever here. With me.”

“No! I don’t want to live if it means being your slave!”

He sighed and said, “It was your choice.” I watched in horror as the faint outline of a blade began to show in the stars.

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