That Which Ate The Sky

It was a clear night. Not a cloud could be seen. Althea could hardly remember the last time she had seen clouds. She was sure they existed; the elders still told tales of when the storms came often. She would not have believed them, but somewhere in the back of her memory, she remembered looking up to a sky as grey as the defiled bones in the graveyard. She was young then. All she could remember was that monochrome dome and the gentle raindrops falling upon her upturned face.

The stars shone brightly. They seemed to tear holes straight through the sky with their light, beckoning to some long-lost place. Althea wished she could follow them, take flight from this desolate world. The stars never submitted, but she came out each night to watch them, hoping one day they might have pity on her and take her away.

She swung her legs idly, her bare feet brushing against the tree trunk. She was sitting in a dead apple tree out in the abandoned orchard. Its twisted branches offered a perfect crook to sit in, and the pruning it suffered kept the sky above her clear of branches. Not too far away, a dry riverbed snaked past, ever a reminder of why the forest had died.

Althea fiddled with the hem of her patchwork skirt. It was late and the dry air was brisk, but she didn’t want to go home. All there was were children crying of hunger and mothers trying to comfort them. Food was scarce, save for the costly goods the merchants brought. Althea would gladly take what escape she could.

The world seemed to dim. She glanced up at the sky, and a chill shot its way through her bones. Something was dreadfully wrong. The stars no longer shone. They were gone as suddenly as if they had been eaten. The pitch sky was featureless; not even the light of the moons broke that unending void. She shivered and clutched the branch beneath her, afraid it would give way.

With a deep breath, Althea jumped from the tree, almost surprised to feel the hard ground catch her feet. She ran. She knew the land well, but gave it little attention in her terror. With every step, some dried stem from years past tore at her feet. The cracked ground threatened to trip her, but she heeded it not. Something had taken the stars away. She could think of nothing else. It wasn’t long before the flickering lanterns warned her of the cottage. She stumbled to a halt, falling into a coughing fit. She reached for the door, desperate to get inside, desperate to hide, but as her fingers clasped around the door handle, something fell on her hand. Her head jerked upwards, just in time to catch that which covered the sky. It had been a long time, but she still remembered it. A smile broke upon her face. The rains had come again.

Sylvia Moste

Sylvia Moste is a high school student in the US. She enjoys writing and astronomy. She mostly writes fantasy or poetry, and her characters almost always inherit her fascination with the stars. This would be her first published story.

Hailey Renee

Hailey Renee Brown is a professional illustrator born and raised in mid Michigan. A former field biologist, she moved across country from Michigan to New Jersey, also moving from science to commercial art. A professionally trained artist, she attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. She was selected the recipient of the 2017 Norman Maurer Memorial Award as well as the 2019 Joe Kubert Jumpstart Project.