I started writing this while on holiday in the Summer of 2010, but didn’t finish and couldn’t get back into it once I was back at home. I think I was about 70% though what I wanted to write, but couldn’t think of how to write the end.
I stared up into the empty sky, blinking and blinking until the stars came back into focus. I wondered then for the first time, just how far away they were, and whether they were closer now than they had once been. Millions of miles, billions, they said. That’s what they told us when they were kids. Stars are giant balls of gas billions of miles away, just like the sun but set adrift in space.
Could you still say that was the case once you had met one?
I took another swig from the bottle without bothering to sit up – nobody had ever said I was a classy girl, and right they were – and the stars blurred a little again. He must be sleeping by now, I guessed, since I could hear no noise from inside. But could I assume that he really needed to sleep? Sure, he closed his eyes and snored, but was he really sleeping, or just trying to fit in? An enigma, that’s what he was. Another bottle of wine, and maybe he would start to make sense.
We’d met him months ago, just another weirdo we’d taken on board like all the others. A mysterious hooded figure who’d say nothing about his past, and who refused all the drinks we’d ever plied him with to get him to open up. A walking, talking stereotype. As if our band of merry social outcasts needed any more of those – but then that category suits me as much as him, so I had no grounds for complaint.
So he’d hung around at the back, being vaguely competent and not talking to anyone, until yesterday. Yesterday, when over the course of the night, three constellations of stars twinkled and faded into nothingness, and he’d looked up at them, and decided to tell us all that he was the true emperor of the fucking universe and we were all his soldiers and he was going to use us all to reclaim his birthright. Or something.
And four hours later, stone cold sober, he repeated the exact same lines again and the stars were still gone and he seemed pretty shocked that we still weren’t taking him seriously.
So where are we now? Somewhere just south of the equator, and heading north, sweating our arses off because apparently getting to the equator is important and Mister Overlord-of-all-Everything doesn’t yet have his super magical powers to transport us without having to haul ourselves through the desert for three days while running out of water and cursing the day he was born. Why are we doing this at all? Somehow I recall him making a convincing argument, though for all the world I can’t imagine how he managed that one. Maybe the heat was getting to us. Maybe it still is.
Night falls on day three of this ludicrous journey, with any luck our last. Whether by achieving whatever ludicrous thing he’s intending or by me drinking myself into oblivion as we slowly go mad from the heat and the cold, I’m beyond caring. Even the kids are eyeing up the booze as it becomes painfully apparent that the adults are dealing with this as badly as they are. Christ! There are kids on this trip. Why did we let him convince us that we needed to bring them too?
I tried to reason with him yesterday, just before we’d had to trade in my horse – my bloody horse, of all things! – for something more suited to the desert. But he just looked concerned and said nothing. Nothing! I can’t remember the last time he said a word to me. Hence the amount of time I spend up here looking up at the sky rather than dealing with His Dubiously-Importantness down below. He made me trade Chestnut for a fucking camel and didn’t even have the decency to apologise!
I tell you, if this little jaunt across the desert doesn’t turn him into a fucking god, he’s going to wake up one morning with a gun in his face; he’s going to buy my horse back and leave us the hell alone for the rest of his hopefully brief existence.
“We’re here,” he said. I pulled back hard on the reins, and kept pulling until the camel got it into its thick skin that it ought to stop. The other riders slowed, and circled in around the caravan.
I poked my head inside and saw him standing, staring blankly at me.
“The equator?” I asked.
“We wait? We spend three days riding out here and we still have to wait?” I bit my lip. “How long?”
“Huh.” I extracted my head from the caravan door, and glared accusingly at the horizon. Dawn was just breaking, and it wouldn’t be long before the temperature started to rise.
“Alright, bed down,” I called. “We do this at noon; you’ve got six hours. I’m sure His Holiness will wake us up when it’s time.”
I stuck my head back inside. “You will wake us up, right?”
“Back to not saying anything, huh?”
“Super cosmic reasons, I’m sure.”
Another nod, with a frown attached.
Around us, two dozen travellers were fast becoming two dozen campers. That, I thought, was the surest sign that the heat had taken its toll. I told them to do something and they were doing it, without stopping to consider that I was the least appropriate person to be giving orders in any conceivable situation.
I swung myself back inside the caravan and landed squarely on the top bunk; right in the dent in the mattress left by the last thousand times I’d done just that. It took barely a minute for sleep to claim me.
It was with a light shake of my shoulder that he eventually woke me, but when I opened my eyes and looked into his, I abandoned all thoughts of slumber. Because his were glowing.
“Arise,” he said, in a voice and manner completely unlike the man I knew and hated. “Awaken eleven others. One of each celestial sign, including you.”
That took a few seconds to sink in.
“What?” But he wasn’t listening, and had turned away from me. “Oh for fuck’s sake, you wake me from six hours of drunken sleep, no caffeine whatsoever in my bloodstream, and now I have to remember everyone’s birthdays?”
I grabbed at his shoulder to make him face me but my hand passed straight through, trailing flashes of light that slowly reformed to the shape of his body again.
“What. The. Hell.”
“Awaken the others.”
“Oh, for… fine! Fine, I’m going!” I shouted, storming out of the caravan and giving his incorporeal foot a swift kick on the way.
Just as I thought, my memory for everyone else’s birthdays was not quite what he’d expected. By the time I’d found eleven others with different star signs I’d woken up most of the camp, and none of them were too happy about it. Drenched in sweat and craving about twenty flasks of water and at least three of coffee, I wasn’t in the best mood either.