Fragments of Heart: Alien Dust

Orchid's Lantern C R Dudley

Black skies lit by the whole moon reminded me of you. They reminded me of your warrior stance, and the soft dark hair you had no right to boast. They reminded me of the time I danced around my pole to Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams, and you watched through the bottom of a whisky glass. I told you that night that I wanted to climb inside you and live there, and you agreed. But I must arrive on foot by the ordeal path, you stressed, because no one ever touched a star by wishing alone. I was inclined to agree.

So after you were gone I listened out for you in the thunder, and savoured the rain on my face as though it were the tears you made me cry. I felt your presence when wandering the forest at night, when the eyes of shadow creatures were upon me; when I was hurt, lost and alone. In the night at least, you were real.

One such night, on an aimless stumble among the trees, I found a house in a small clearing. I could swear it hadn’t been there before, and the overgrown flora remained on all sides undisturbed. And yet, someone clearly lived there. In fact they were up and about, because I could hear a shuffle and a sigh that only man could make. I turned on my flashlight but could see nothing, so I edged towards the sound, untangling my ankles from the grip of branches as I went. There was no fear in my heart, which meant I was likely getting further away from you, but still my curiosity forced me to persist.

At last I saw him: a slip of a man moving along his flat rooftop on his hands and knees.

“Well don’t just stand there,” he said impatiently without looking up.

I didn’t move. The shadow creatures had averted their eyes as if declaring me sacrificed, and I felt unusually free.

“There’s a ladder round the back.”

The rungs were illuminated by moonlight, so I didn’t even need my flashlight to see where I was going. I crawled to his side on my hands and knees in case it was a custom I was expected to observe. In one hand he held a transparent plastic sample bag, and in the other he used a brush to sweep tiny pieces of grit into it. Perhaps I’d have asked at that moment what on earth he was doing, had I not been overwhelmed by the sense we had met before. Despite his wiry frame, spectacles and sunken eyes, I was as drawn to him as I had been to you all those years ago. It was almost as though…

“Can you see any more?” He asked.

“Any more? What am I looking for?”

“Alien dust. Rocks. Fragments of stars. They’ll be shining tonight if they’re here.”

I took a cursory glance around the rooftop. “I can’t see any.”

“Then we’re done.”

I followed him back down the ladder and into the house, noticing for the first time he had bare feet and that made me smile. His carpet was red and heavily patterned, just like my grandmother’s used to be. His walls were almost entirely covered by shelves holding jars of stones and powders, and his furniture looked as though it hadn’t been moved or cleaned in decades. I watched as he painstakingly trawled through his findings from the roof, discarding anything that his magnet took for its own, and setting the rest onto a piece of clear plastic. He didn’t utter a word for an hour or more, but I waited patiently until he excitedly ushered me over to his microscope.

Peering through the lens, I saw the most beautiful, intricate formation of pinks and blues and charcoal blacks. This tiny particle had a whole world of its own contained within it, made from smooth edged mountains and deceptive whirlpools. It felt like home.

“Anyone can find them. They’re falling from the sky all the time, right onto our heads! So few take the time to understand.”

“So many wish, but so few seek.” I added. A single tear was running down my face; the first to fall in years without pain. He wiped it away with his little finger, and took me into his arms so tightly it took my breath away. My suffering was done, and finally I was allowed to lay beneath a star.

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