AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Star and the Ocean underwent structural revisions in September 2016. This particular chapter can now be found as the new chapters 10 and 11. I highly encourage you to read from these new chapters instead!
Chapter Five – What do you know about the Stars?
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this to you all day. I realized it was easier to just show you.” Em grinned widely as if being airborne was the funniest thing that could be happening. “If you can handle this, the rest should be easy.”
But May wasn’t handling anything very well at the moment.
Em wasn’t sure what she had been expecting. Wonder? Excitement, perhaps? Whatever it was, she certainly hadn’t expected the look of terror on May’s face. The fear was so real, so visceral. Em quickly realized her approach perhaps hadn’t been as clever as she had first presumed.
Of course she’s afraid, Em thought, the weight of her miscalculation dropping like an anchor in her stomach. What the fuck was I thinking?
“What’s going on?” May’s voice was strained with confusion and panic.
Em was overcome with guilt; guilt for being the reason the light and playful curiosity in May’s eyes had been replaced with dread. It was stupid of her to think this virtual stranger would somehow easily accept a truth so surreal it would seem out of place even in a dream.
But she had felt something, hadn’t she? Something inside told Em she could be honest with this awkward little recluse of a woman. Besides, it was too late now. She would have to trust that May would come around. If not… Well, in that case her unexpected island vacation was about to be cut short.
“May,” Em spoke, coaxing gently for the second time in as many days. “I’m so sorry. Believe it or not, this seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“How are you doing that?” was May’s strangled reply. She covered her eyes, breathing rapidly. “I’m dreaming again, aren’t I?”
“Again? Have you been dreaming about me?” Em pried playfully, desperately hoping for a distraction.
But May didn’t speak again. She lowered her hands in front of her mouth, her eyes still wide and staring right into Em’s, but she didn’t say anything.
Em felt awful. Nothing was going according to plan.
“Okay,” she sighed. “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to go down here” – she motioned to the sandy beach beneath her – “and if you want to talk, I promise I’ll tell you anything you want to know. And if you don’t come down… Well, if you don’t come down I’ll take the hint. You won’t see me again, I swear.”
May clenched her hands in a white-knuckled knot in front of her chest. Still she said nothing.
Not good. Em was growing anxious.
Pushing back carefully, Em floated away from the deck. Her hair swirled around her. She held back as much of it as she could with one arm so it wouldn’t obscure the eye contact she held with May. Was it her imagination or had May’s gaze softened a bit? Em could have sworn she saw a spark of curiosity flare up amid the fear still swimming in the dark pools of May’s eyes.
It could have been wishful thinking, but it could have also been a step in the right direction.
Em gave May a weak smile before drifting downward Iike a stone cast into the ocean.
Once on the sand, Em breathed deeply until her glow dimmed. Hugging her arms around her middle she turned her eyes toward the deck and waited. Nervous as she was, that feeling of hope – trust, it whispered like a friend in her ear – still lingered.
May held it together better than most might. For starters, she didn’t scream. She also didn’t run back inside and lock the doors, although it was debatable whether or not that was due to bravery or simply because she was too scared to move.
Yes, she was scared. Terrified, even. How else was she supposed to feel at the sight of a human being suspended mid-air? Floating and glowing like some kind of ghost…
May paced tight little laps in her living room.
“What do I do?” she whispered to herself. “What is she?”
She wondered if she should run. It would be hard, but maybe she could climb out a window and into the branches of the tree. Could she get down to the ground without Em noticing?
“No, no, no!” She clutched at her head desperately.
There was no running from this.
She could wait. She could leave Em down on the sand until she realized that May wasn’t coming and left.
May looked toward the door. She imagined Em walking (or would she fly?) away and an absurd thought crossed her mind: would she keep her promise?
Would she still say goodbye?
Crazy as the circumstances were, May couldn’t suppress a small laugh as it bubbled to the surface.
“What is wrong with me?”
Again, she looked to the door. As her heart rate finally began to settle so did her thoughts.
When she told Em she wanted to get to know her better, she’d had a feeling there was something different – something Em wasn’t saying. A small, unrealized part of May had dared to imagine that this haunting vagabond might have some fantastic story to tell, but she never could have imagined it would be… Well, whatever this was.
But she had asked. And, if May was being honest with herself, she still wanted to know.
Down on the sand, Em looked for a way to calm her nerves.
“Great,” she muttered. “Guess I fucked this one up.”
She wandered, looking for a way to occupy herself while waiting. A stray branch of driftwood inspired her; she’d build a fire.
Collecting bits and pieces of wood and branches, Em made trips back and forth to deposit the spoils of her labor in a pile a few paces from beneath May’s deck. She figured she’d set up a small camp and let a bit of light burn in the night; wondering subconsciously if it might make the beach more inviting.
Each trip back and forth brought her further and further into the forested perimeter beyond the beach. She didn’t think she had wandered that long or far, but on her last trip it took her a while to get back to the sand. When she finally came back into the open, the sight of a figure in the moonlight made her jump.
“May?” she called softly. “Is that you?”
The figure shifted slightly and waited a moment before saying anything.
“Yeah,” May answered. “It’s me.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Em hurried out to meet her, stopping short on the opposite side of her makeshift fire pit. May still looked frightened, but her arms were folded tightly in front of her and there was a sternness in her face that made Em think fear wasn’t the only thing she was feeling.
Em set the wood in her arms down gently and cleared her throat.
“Thank you,” she smiled. “For coming down. I -”
May raised her hand sharply. Em stopped. The action was firm, but Em saw a slight tremble.
“You said you’d tell me anything I wanted to know.” May’s voice was low but steadier than her hand.
Em nodded slowly. “That’s right.”
May looked over her shoulder and out across the ocean. Shuffling her toes in the sand, she spoke without looking at Em.
“How…” Her voice cracked slightly. “What…”
Em shifted uncomfortably. She felt awful watching May struggle to articulate what was clearly an awkward question – likely one she never imagined having to ask anyone. It probably wasn’t much different than when she had saved Em from having to ask about her family. Em decided to return the favour.
“It’s kind of a long story. Do you wanna sit maybe?”
“No,” May tensed up. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call me that.”
Em blinked. “Call you what?”
Even in the dark, Em could tell that May was blushing.
“Sorry,” she muttered down at the sand. “I thought you were calling me Maybe. It’s what my family calls me. I just – nevermind.”
“Aw, that’s cute!” Em cooed in spite of herself.
Em took the hint. Clearing her throat, she straightened herself and tried again.
“What do you know about the Stars?”
May raised her eyebrows. “The stars?” She peered up at the glittering canopy above them.
“Not the flaming-orbs-burning-out-in-space stars. The Stars. Capital S.” Em felt like she was floundering. Why did everything sound better in her head? “You know… Mythologically speaking?”
May frowned. “On Hoku, legends say all natural beings are entities in their own right. There’s the story of the Moon and how she fell in love with the Ocean, and the Sun with the Earth. And one couple brought about the flora and the other the fauna. But the Stars…” she looked up again, “they control fate and destiny.”
“Right!” Em snapped her fingers and pointed at May excitedly. “Yes, pretty much. I mean, I don’t know about the Sun and the Moon or anything like that, but the Stars – that’s something I know a little bit about.”
May hesitated. “Okay, but what does that have to do with anything?”
Em rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Well, considering their job is to maintain order in the universe I’d say it has a lot to do with everything.”
“That’s not what I mean, Em.” May growled through clenched teeth. “You said you would tell me anything I wanted to know. I want to know what you are, not hear some bedtime story! Why are we talking about the Stars?”
“Because it’s true,” Em blurted, startled by May’s sudden hostility. “It’s all real.”
It was such a ludicrous thing to say that May laughed, loud and hard. “Let’s say that’s true -”
“It is!” Em insisted. “Believe me, I should know!”
“Oh?” There was a dangerous look in May’s narrowed eyes. “And why is that?”
“Because I am one, May.” Em snapped. She was done with being delicate.
“I am a Star.”
The artwork for Chapter Five of “The Star and the Ocean” was created by the very talented Olivia Moy. If you would like to work with Olivia on a custom piece of art (digital or traditional) please check out her commission information!
Interested in producing a chapter illustration for “The Star and the Ocean”? Send me an e-mail!