Those We Meet In Between
by Breanna Bright
It was winter, and the chill had cleansed the air so that everything was perfectly clear and transparent. A strand of the Milky Way was laced over the black sky. The stars exploded from it, flying towards the horizon.
Hundreds of years below them, a little one was watching, his eyes only able to see a small piece of the universe in the sky. His rosy lips part and a note suddenly took flight. It soared until it pierced the winter sky, and the stars began to fall. The black was left behind, and they floated gently down, millions of them, still white and glowing. They tested the earth and trees, filling the world that was once below them.
The child stood in the snow. The falling stars brushed his short hair and cheeks with an icy kiss. The babe made a wish on every single one. The same wish, praying that in the millions of falling stars filling the world with this new white, one might have the power to grant it.
One snowflake passed by, catching the wind. The snowflake rode it high over the child’s head, going higher over the trees, so that it seemed that it might take back its original place as a star in the black sky.
Instead the snowflake landed against a limply open palm. The owner of which sleepily opened his eyes and stared at the flake - it did not melt in his hand. The snowflake whispered tales of the universe, since the beginning, living and falling from the sky, dying and being reborn of its own matter. Of being the largest thing ever conceived in the ether, then falling as a tiny snowflake to the humble Earth. Out of place from all these tales was a wish someone had made upon it. A duty it was given that it could not grant.
The stranger blew of stream of white breath, sending the snowflake back into the air. The receiver followed it. The tiny flake took its time, dancing along the breeze, drifting between the tree branches back towards the ground, where the small child stood all alone, shivering. There were no footprints, the child stood in the untainted field as if he too had fallen from the sky. The snowflakes that flowed passed drifted to the stranger, all whispering to him the same wish.
The stranger watched the child. His blue lips still chanted the prayer to the falling snowflakes, singing it softly.
The stranger didn’t have a name, it was always on the tip of a tongue, a word for a feeling that couldn’t be pinned. He existed in the In Between somewhere in the Could Have and What Is. He listened to whispers, his form a ghost in the shadows. Every snowflake was whispering to him now, the same little wish as the first. It drew his curiosity.
The stranger approached the child from behind. His presence was silent, and no marks from his feet were left in the snow. What was the baby doing here? Why was he out dying in the cold asking for help from things that couldn’t possibly help him? Perhaps he read it in a story once. The stranger went to his knees to reach the child’s height and whisper in the ear, Go home, there is nothing for you here.
Though the child could not hear the words they still swirled suggestively in his mind, entering his thoughts and becoming the child’s own.
The child hesitated, filled with a strange feeling, like reading between the lines of a book. He ignored it and kept talking to the sky. The stars continued to fall, coming down to listen to the music. They settled around the stranger and boy as newly fallen snow. The song went higher and further, stretching out to echo over the snow-covered land. Creatures raised their heads in interest, listening carefully with hearts that became lighter and minds more heavy.
The child suddenly stopped, voice cracking with exertion, shattering the song like frail glass. He fell to the snow, curling up against blue extremities. The stranger stood useless. The whispering snowflakes grew silent, and stopped falling.
Then there was another. A black figure standing in the skeleton trees. The stranger watched. The figure came and stopped beside the child.
The boy was taken from the snow into the thing’s black arms. He tried to pull away from them, as if preferring the cool embrace of frozen ice to the arms of this carrier. The stranger could only watch, eyes growing solemn as the figure tightened its hold upon the child.
The stranger looked at the snowflake in his palm, still glowing with the child’s wish. All around, the snowflakes danced and shined with that same wish.
The stranger turned his eyes back to the figure. Death stared back, inevitable and constant. Not unfamiliar to the stranger.
Let this one stay.
Death did not answer. Death answered to no one.
Let them believe for one more night. All things belong to you with time, but not me. Just one more night, and they’ll believe for just a little longer. Even the stars are asking you.
Death considered the stranger for a moment, noticing that indescribable feeling where one looks at the sky and wonder if anything is looking back. Then, without a word of why or trade, he set the child back into the snow. It was a challenge, a single chance.
The stranger stared at the boy. With his voice he summoned the spirit that lay within. He didn’t whisper, his voice bellowed over the land. The wind rushed by, carrying his words in its howl. They floated from rustling pine needles, rose from a distant echo on a mountain peak, and rolled off that starlight snow so that all around, the child could hear the words of one who could be seen nor heard by none.
Get up now. You have made a dead man hear, you made the stars come down to listen, now go and tell your song to those who have use of it.
The child rose, weak and cold. Despite it all, he heard a voice on that wind, felt it growing inside, like that feeling you get when trying to figure out the meaning of a strange dream. He placed his tiny feet into the snow and began to break the perfect surface, feeling bad for doing so. But it would be alright, footprints were needed. The child walked on, kept walking passed cold and darkness, past creatures in the shadows, passed the stranger that watched his back through the trees. And when the trees were broken he entered a clearing full of comforting familiarity. Death watched, then walked away.
The stranger stayed, knowing that the babe would have pneumonia by morning, and die the following night. But then . . . death was unpredictable, perhaps it would pass and the pneumonia would not come for eighty years. There was that feeling also, wondering too long about questions with no answers.
The stranger looked at the snowflake that held that wish in his palm. The star within it glimmered like a wink, and rose back to the sky.
My name is Breanna Bright. I have a Master’s degree in professional writing from Southeast Missouri State University. I am also the author of the novel ‘In The End’ (Permuted Press).
‘Those We Meet In Between’ was written after a house fire. The tragedy left me thinking about who we meet when we think we’re alone, and that feeling you get when you try to answer impossible questions.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'She Calls to the Many Footprints'