So you want a story, eh? What will it be this time? Did you want something true, or something a little more… fantastical?
Alright. We can do that. How about… you know them Northern Lights up there? You ever wondered about them? ‘Course you have. Let’s see.
A long time ago, not too far from here, there once lived somebody who was desperately in love. Name’s lost to time, things like that always are. Don’t know much about ‘em anymore except for their story. A love that survived the passage of time.
What? I don’t know, didn’t I tell you that? Never knew ‘em personally after all, and it’s rude to assume. Anyway, does it matter? Everybody’s a little bit the same, deep down. Inside they had a little piece of you an’ a little piece of me, and a whole lot of whatever made them all their own. An’ what made this fella’ unique was their love. A whole lot of it, they had.
And it was all for the sky.
And you see—what? Now you’re just being ridiculous. I never asked what you liked about that ragamuffin you brought ‘round, no, I just assumed there was some redeeming quality and let that be that. None of my business! I’m sure it’s the same sort of things anyway. Something about the way they make you feel, or the way you can’t help but smile when you look at ‘em. Or their diffraction index maybe. Stuff like that. The little drops in the bucket that all add up to a big ol’ wellspring of feeling, deep inside your heart.
So this person, this fella, they loved the sky. They liked to look up into the endless blue, or push against the wind and rain, and feel the caress of the gentle breeze and smile like a darn fool. But they were a realist, they were, and they knew the sky wasn’t doin’ it all for them. The sky shines for everybody, whether they’re lookin’ or not, even the trees and stones in the field.
But they wanted to be closer, they did. Closer to their love. To really know what made it tick, to feel the pulse of its heart in the wind. And maybe, just maybe, for the sky to know it was loved in turn.
You ever go out at night and watch the stars? ‘Course you do. We should make some chocolate an’ go out lookin’, you an’ me. It’s a sight to behold, out here, ‘specially durin’ the wintertime. Somethin’ about the cold. It’s like somebody tore the wrapper off a pretty parcel and pulled away the lid, and we were inside, starin’ out, into the great big void beyond. Nothin’ between us an’ the moon an’ the stars, and the long milky tide that laps at the shores o’ the earth.
Well our friend here, they noticed it too, the way the cold brought them closer to the heavens. An’ so they decides one day to journey North, to be closer still. To find the place where the sky touches the earth, so they could touch it themselves.
It’s even colder up there, ‘specially at night. But they were clever, an’ they made do. Every day they would walk through the wide plains and thick forests of the wilds. They hiked with an eye for beauty, marveling at the gardens of life tended by the sky’s gifts of sun and nourishing rain. At night they would build a small fire—small, that they might still see the brightest stars—and watch the heavens for a spell. Then they’d whisper goodnight to the wind, and climb inside their tent, settling into their furs for the night with a silly little smile.
Sometimes love is foolish.
No, I misspoke. Love is always foolish. Sometimes it’s just so bad even we can see it, and laugh at ourselves, even as we’re helpless to stop it. This fella, they got the joke. An’ they were so far gone they didn’t care. It was too grand, too beautiful. It didn’t matter that the wind on their cheek wasn’t meant for them. It made their heart beat faster just the same, made them that much more desperate to shout their feelings at the thunder and cry with the rain.
It’s not that they thought the sky would ever love them back. It’s just that they could hardly feel differently. And in that acceptance there was a kind of joy. Of giving yourself to the one you love, even if you get aught in return but the pleasure of bein’ there.
So anyway, North they went. It got colder as they went, but they didn’t mind. That was the sky too, they came to think. Like the creak of footsteps on the snow that lets you know you ain’t alone. There was a presence there, just like when you feel someone else in the room, though they’re quiet like a mouse. They knew it, deep down. They were getting closer. They would meet their love at last.
Then one day they knew they had found it.
The plains were wide there, an endless crunch of frost and chill. The sides of the box had been cut away entirely, no earth to surround them and keep them from the empty sky. The wind was moist, and cutting— shards of diamonds in the air to slice their face, to prickle in their lungs.
This was the place where the sky lived. And our friend, they set up camp right there, under the sweet orange sunset . No tent, this time, just the fire and a roll of furs to keep warm, to wait, and t o listen for their love.
They fell asleep, of course, the fire burning itself out and leaving nothing but the black of sleep . But it wasn’t long before they awoke, to a keening, mournful sound.
Not the wind. Though the wind carried it, like a fish gliding atop the water, billowing its fins. A long, bellowing whistle, a rough slice of an alien tongue. There’s a depth to it, a deep booming that rides under the currents, but mainly the pitch is so high it pierces like a knife, waking up our friend and setting their heart to stuttering, to wondering at the meaning.
‘Course it’s just the caribou. But they live there, in the sky’s nest, and they’re as much a part of it as the frost that crunches beneath their hooves, and the shy lichens it conceals. Our friend knew it was a herd of beasts they were hearing, and yet, they also knew it wasn’t . It was the sky’s voice, its long, sad song. The voice they had yearned to hear since they’d looked up and felt the stars smile, so long ago.
The stars, they were smiling here too.
More than that. They were dancing . Oft-times the sky seemed like a hollow void, on those chill nights. Tonight it was a vast stage, a tableau of all creation set out for them to see. Stars, yes, on this moonless night. But so much more, such depth and light , thin webs and vast ribbons of silk between them. The Milky Way, the long bright road in the heavens beneath which they themselves had walked.
And the air, still and cold. Empty. The wide rumble of caribou in the distance, grunting and clicking and piercing the air with their sharp, mournful whistling. Our friend tried to answer, to tell the sky what it all meant to them. But their own voice was cracked with cold, their lungs and nose scorched by the wet frost that had poisoned their breath while they’d slept.
So they whispered. They confessed their love. They spoke every shred of longing and grief, joy and desire, even the shadowed doubt and loneliness. The wisps and trappings of love, layered and full of pain. Not the words of a poet. But honest and true, and terrible even in their own ears, raw and jagged like the crystallized tears that clung to the corners of their own eyes.
They knew that the sky couldn’t hear them, just as they knew the caribou were singing their own animal song and had no thought or care for them. But they also felt that presence, that sure feeling of otherness that said they weren’t alone. The words weren’t wasted, somehow. Even as they left behind a void in the traveler's chest as cold and empty as the wide plains.
Eventually there were no more words to whisper at the night.
And so, throat aching, heart open and bleeding and raw, they fell silent at last. The tears stopped flowing. There was no need for them, really. Because they were still where they had longed to be, at the roof of the world, at the place where they could touch the sky. Trembling, they reached towards it, just to feel that much closer to the heavens above.
No, you’re not listening. It wasn’t like that at all .
It wasn’t heartbreak. It wasn’t grief, or crushing loneliness, or disappointment. They didn’t expect anything to come of it, don’t you see? That cold, that silence, that echoing, uncaring void? That was what they had loved all along. Not some fantasy or fairy-tale that could love them in return. When you love somebody, when you really love them, you start to understand them for who they are. And our friend, they really understood. They looked up into the empty sky and knew it had not a shred of feeling in return. But they loved it anyway, and were happy just to be near it.
Sometimes folks fall in love with an idea they made in their own heads. It’s easier, oftentimes, to pretend somebody isn’t who they really are. Makes it easier to get along.
But real love is honest. Real love takes in the flaws and the hurts and accepts them, lets it all wash over them and mingle with their own weakness and petty desires. You see the best in them, but you accept their worst. And our friend, they saw it all up there, in that painted winter sky. They saw everything there except feeling . They felt everything from it but love .
And that cold, empty space that they’d made inside their own heart—it was just as beautiful. That longing and pain they had treasured up was as precious as the jewels in the night sky, just as melodic as the caribou’s song.
It would have been nice, maybe, if it had been a little different. But while they were a fool, they wouldn’t waste time imagining it.
And yet—don’t interrupt, now —and yet, the sky is a wild thing. While it doesn’t listen to the shouts in the wind, and cares little for the world it washes away in the rain, yet still it has its whims.
There’s still room amidst true, honest love, for a fella to be surprised .
Hush now. You need to be quiet to really see the thing, take in that vast, echoing space as it gets filled with light. It started slow, like everything does. Booming out of the north in gentle waves, a ribbon slinking across the sky. Green of all things, the color of life and hope. Threads of blue like the morning sky, and rich, sunset pink. It tears and billows like curtains, falling through the sky and giving it height, and depth. It moved, if slowly, tracking the wide plain above like stark, lazy lightning. Touching nothing, not even moving amongst the stars. An ephemeral ta pestry of purest, distilled wonder.
Our friend, they knew better than to say it was all for them.
The bare facts were that our lovestruck fool had traveled to see the sky.
And it had showed them something special, something no-one had ever seen before.
Who was to say it meant nothing? Who was to say it meant anything at all? Like the sky, like the cold, like the sleepy song of the caribou, it just was. So was love. It had happened, out there, in the chilly wild North, and none could rightly claim otherwise. Later, of course, they might embellish the tale. But on cold, still nights, those who braved the frost could see the lights for themselves.
What? Of course there’s no happily ever after. You asked for the true story, didn’t you? Reality doesn’t work like that. Sometimes vague portents in the sky are all you have to go on, and long nights alone on the cold hard ground. I suppose our friend hung around after that, staying near the one they loved. Or maybe they found someone to tell the story to. Someone had to hear it to pass it on, after all.
All we know is they’re long dead, long gone, everything lost now to history save this one thing. The lights are still there. The sky still remembers. Something of that love still echoes, still endures.
There is no why. Stop asking. That’s the entire point .
See if I ever tell you the truth again. Next time it’ll be dragons and fair ies . Easier to just make it all up, and pretend the world has meaning. This fella, though, they knew the truth. There are no happy endings. There’s just the long, cold night, and the dance of light that passes, briefly, before your eyes.
Sometimes pain is better than a fantasy. Now hush. The chocolate’s ready, and the stars are out.