The Boy Who Named the Stars

He lay in the long grass and waited for the sky to darken as he did every night, his head resting on a pillow of dirt and tangled black hair. The deepening blue was torn and re-torn by waving blades of green and brown, whispering and rasping in his ears. He listened to their murmurs and smiled.

Away down the hill, the great fire was kept alive by brown bodies glistening orange and gold at the edges. Kills were opened and dismantled, bright red blood making dark puddles in the sand. He was too far away to hear the people chatter or the flames roar or the skin tear and bones crack, but he heard sometimes the sharp report of stone on stone, as natural as thunder and yet warning that same nature, “Do not hide, we are coming, and in greater numbers.”

The first lights were appearing now. He didn’t have to wonder where to look. Twelve times he had journeyed around the great light, 4,380 times had seen its face. His oldest memory was of wandering away from a flickering safety to the glittering darkness beyond. Lights above the horizon calling him innumerable, lights below blinking hungrily and darting forward. A scream. Rough ungentle hands snatching him back into the protective ring. The lights below extinguished with a snap and disappointed growl.

Now he raised a finger and touched the white glow. The fat traveler, never happy to move as slow as the others. He appeared first and shone brightest, and the boy wondered if the others looked at the traveler with love or looked away in the shame of comparison. The boy knew one of his own kind like that.

The singing below had started, syncopated howls punctuated by dust-clapped feet and cracks of wood on stone. The boy knew from other nights that he was not the only one looking up, but that the others wore unknowing faces, merely gathering information like the testing of wind. Only he was awaiting the arrival of company.

The great light had long reddened below the ragged black edge of sight, and tonight the great white would not appear. The boy scowled. He did not count the great white among the others. It was not fair to count a tree among the grass. The fat traveler was great and bright and fast but was undoubtedly one of the rest. The great white, so beloved by the boy’s people when it lit the dark and made it safe, frightened so many meeker lights away. No, the great white was not for him. But tonight it would not appear, its cloak was fully drawn as it rested. The boy smiled.