THE BOY & THE YELLOW STAR

By: Livia Surjadi (English Writing Program)

            There was once an island sprinkled with the most beautiful trees that bore the sweetest, juiciest fruit with bright and pretty-colored flowers. The land housed animals of different shapes and sizes, but they all lived as one in the forests, valleys, mountains and the hills.

            But in this land, there also lived humans. Their hair was the many different shades of brown of the trees that lived in the thick forests of the island. Their eyes were a pretty turquoise, the color of the waves of the vast sea. Their skin was the sand of their beaches, a soft and pale creamy color.

            The people lived in unison with the trees and the animals, treating each other as equals like their own and the three made a pact to protect the land they called home. In the center of the island lived a great tree, thousands of years old, and they call it ‘The Giving Tree’ as the people believe it is responsible for all the island life. Within the inner parts of the thick forest lie the wolves and an alpha who served as a leader for all the animals. And by the beach, the chief dwelled among his other people.

            In one house, lived a boy named Charlie. He had a carefree, wandering mind unlike the other children, who were intelligent, focused and hard working. Charlie lived with his mum, whom he called Ammi (meaning mother in their own language), and their house rested by the beach. They both frequently played in the sand and splashed around in the water.

            One particular evening while Charlie was out on the beach, he sat by the rocks and admired the ocean view. He saw birds looking for small shells that stuck to the rocks. Charlie felt the soft, smooth sand, and he began to whisk it around with his hand. Soon, it formed a shape almost like a bird. Amused, he began to add a foot, as one was missing, and he also elongated its beak. But never did he feel completely satisfied with the end result, and so he kept adding, and changing and shifting the sand and it looked better and better with each second.

            “Hello,” a voice, soft and graceful, suddenly came from behind.

            Charlie knew who it was.

            A girl called Ellie, his neighbor from the next house. They had never properly greeted each other, but they had met and seen each other a couple of times. She was only a little shorter than him, but she had bright, smooth skin and big, shiny eyes. Her hair was also a long, sleek and polished brown color, with highlights of red and curled at the bottom. It was also noted to be the exact woody color of The Giving Tree, and because of that, everyone said it was the tree that gave her beauty, luck, and intelligence.

            He simply returned a “hey”, heir or no heir of the Chief, and started to work on the bird’s feathers.

            “It looks really good,” Ellie said with an encouraging smile. “I suppose it’s one of the birds over there?” she bent down to admire it. “You’re forgetting that black dot at the top there,” she added, pointing.

            Charlie looked to the rocks and squinted hard at one of the birds, devouring its well-deserved meal. He saw a small dot at the top of its forehead and looked to another. It was on there too.

            Ellie giggled. “Sharp eye?”

            “Hey, lovebirds,” a jeering voice came from behind once again, and then came a wolf whistle.

            Charlie and Ellie whipped their heads back and saw that it was Jack, more commonly known as Jax, a nickname among their peers which he had adopted. He was a smart kid, and he kept his birch-white hair messy. He was a far older-looking, towering boy compared to the rest and he was sturdily-built.

            He gave them a snigger and said, “What’s that in the sand, Charlie?” He flashed a meaningful smile. “Did you draw that? It looks amazing!”

            Charlie was sure Jax was going to step on it or do anything bad to it, but it seemed as if he wasn’t.

            Just when he almost let out a sigh, Jax’s foot came crashing down and sand went flying in all directions.

            Ellie yelled and Charlie leaped up, infuriated, clenching his fists, but he knew it wasn’t worthy to get angry over some drawing on the beach. He knew the wind would blow it away soon anyway. It couldn’t have stayed forever.                                                                         

            Charlie began to calm down. Jax was laughing hard now as if it were some indecent joke. And perhaps it had been. Ellie was yelling at him, but he gave no notice.

            Charlie knew he would never win a fist fight against Jax. No, he might pull a few punches, but a lot more would come at him. Instead, he smiled, gave it his best and tried to do the heartiest laugh he’d ever done, with a few touches of bending forward and putting his hands on his stomach.

            Now everyone was perplexed, especially Jax. He thought he could get Charlie up to a point where he got angry enough to call up a fight, yet he was laughing the hardest now. Ellie was puzzled by Charlie’s sudden weird behavior. She felt as if she were missing something, and so she let out a few, quiet chuckles, just so she wouldn’t feel left out.

            Jax stopped his laugh as quick as he had begun. He walked away, though not before saying a faint, though clearly audible “weirdo” and turned and left. As soon as he had, Charlie stopped laughing completely. He found Ellie to be quite speechless.

            He said, “Jerk.”

*

            Shortly after the brief encounter with Jax, they had soon sat back down and talked and laughed it over. Charlie learned that Ellie wasn’t really the small portion of that overly-mature, no-fun type as he’d expected, but found her to be smart, nice, and polite and a little shy as well.

            As the tip of the sun started to touch the horizon, there came a voice from behind them. “Ellie!” It came deep, coarse and harsh. They turned their heads to look.

            The voice came from a colossal, brawny man, his muscles bulging out. He had messy jet-black hair that covered the bottom half – and a bit of the very top – of his face and his skin was reddish – probably from the glare of the sun, Charlie thought – compared to the rest of the village people. He was the village chief.

            “My father,” Ellie whispered into his ear. “Sorry, I have to go now.” Ellie jumped up and walked over to the chief, leaving Charlie staring at the two.

            “Do I really have to come and call you?” the Chief roared. “I thought you knew better.”

            “I didn’t know when to–” Startled by her father’s furious glare, she hesitated. “I’m sorry, Chief.”

            As the father and daughter walked away home, with a sigh Charlie turned back to the view of the beautiful sky – which was now rather a violet-like color, with streaks of orange – and the setting, golden sun. With the sand warm and the breeze cool, Charlie let his eyes flutter closed, and his breathing settles, and he soon fell asleep.

            When he awoke, it was night. The moon was full and moonlight glittered on the water. Excited, Charlie looked up, and there he enjoyed his favorite view: the stars. No one seemed to ever notice them. How they winked and greeted in their own special way, how they seemed so small and so far, how they lit up the sky like tiny, distant fireflies. Finally snapping out of their magnetizing, mesmerizing view, Charlie laughed. “Silly me, I have to be somewhere.” He got up and went home, taking his time, of course.

            Not long after – his house was very close – he reached his final step and decided to have a last glance at the midnight sky. Something shot past. It raced across the sky and fell down the horizon. Heart-racing, without thinking, the naïve little Charlie bolted back to the beach, and is an excellent swimmer, jumped into the water. He swam and swam into the deep waters, with the moon the only thing helping him see.

            Only then did he start to think and process what he had just seen. A star? Is it really? It must be. What else can it be? A space monster that lives in the sky? (Which we know as aliens: something he himself didn’t believe in.) What’ll Ammi think once you go home drenched? Oh well, no going back now.

            And by a miracle, by luck, or possibly by faith or destiny, he found something lying on the sand. A star! Letting out a tiny victory shout, as well as a few bubbles, he swam down, clutched it gently in his right hand and with all his might, swam back to the beach.

            Breathless though he was, he held up the little thing in the moonlight so he could see it well. This is kind of a star, right? It looked similar, but not quite. It was a marigold yellow, as far as he could see, and it was rather spiky, which shocked him and nearly made him drop it. It was beautiful, and as he was thinking of what to do with it, a strong tap on his shoulder made him scream.

            “H-hushhhh.” A small, timid girl, rather startled, covered his mouth.

            “Ellie,” Charlie said, his voice half-muffled.

            “Where did you get that?” she said. “Put that back in the water right this moment. That is, not, not a star. It’s a starfish.”

            “Relax a bit. Anyway, no, it is not a starfish. It’s a star that’s fallen into the sea.”

            “Listen. It’s not a star. What you saw was a shooting star. It didn’t fall at all.”

            “Well, whatever,” Charlie said obstinately. “Why are you here, anyway? And how do you know about this?”

            Ellie let out a nervous giggle. “That isn’t important right now. What is important is the fact that you’re mistaking a sea star for something who knows how far away.”

            “No, it is a star. Ellie, I saw it myself.”

            With a tired sigh, she carried over a big tank filled with water and a mound of sand, she took the starfish and placed it inside the water. “Oh, this is a star. I’m sorry I doubted you. But this special star lives in the water. Trust me on that part.” With that, she waved goodbye and ran back home.

            “Well, okay,” Charlie said and set the tank right beside his doorstep. He let out a final sigh and opened the door.

            “Ammi,” Charlie called out, greeted by his mother grilling delicious-smelling, fresh fish by the fire.

            “Charlie, I’m almost done with dinn– Oh! You’re soaked through!” By that point, Charlie was showered with questions of where he’d been, what he’d been doing and why he was so wet.

            “I’m alright, don’t worry. I just…took a midnight swim is all,” he said.

            “I thought you were watching the stars again. But it’s late and cold,” she said. “Go and dry yourself off by the fire. Oh, I hope our dinner hasn’t burnt.”

            After a not-burnt delicious dinner, they crept into their beds, bade each other goodnight and had a fulfilling night’s sleep.

*

            Charlie woke early that morning to the sweet singing of birds. Remembering the night before, he jumped out of bed, raced outside and found the starfish inside its tank, just as it had been the night before: moving the tentacle-like things on its underside every now and then. A tiny growl erupted from the depths of its hungry stomach.

            “Morning, little star. You must be hungry. Well, I know I am,” he said. “What would you like for breakfast today?” Scratching his head, he realized he didn’t know what stars ate. Of course, what he knew was that they had to eat. What didn’t? He knew who would know.

            He reached the chief’s dwelling in a few steps. After knocking on the bamboo beside the door, which made a delightful little “Clunk! Clunk!” he was greeted by Ellie with a surprised look on her slightly red face. “Morning. What’s wrong?” she said.

            “Do you happen to know what stars eat?”

            “S-stars? Oh! Why of course they eat…” Ellie racked her brain for the diet of starfishes. What do they eat? What do starfish eat? I know this. “Ah, mollusks, clams, shrimp, prawns and algae.” Who knew private lessons on sea life would come in handy like this. With a frightened look, she whipped her head for a glance inside her cabin. Anxious, she turned her head back, shut the door, and before Charlie could even thank her, she was gone.

            “Well okay then, thanks anyway,” Charlie said, repeating the list of seafood in his mind as if it were some sort of chant. Mollusks, clams, shrimp, prawns, algae, mollusks, clams, shrimp, prawns, algae, he repeated over and over as he made his way to the village fish market.

            It was a busy place. Everyone was doing something, either selling or buying or passing by or maybe simply chatting. One of the sellers, a tall, lean boy a little older than Charlie with messy, spiked wood-brown hair covering his eyes, was at one of the stalls, selling delicious, fresh, raw shrimp from a morning catch.

            “Hey, Jojo. Your mom made you fill in for her? Well, give me two shrimps,” Charlie said.

            “Two? You aren’t going to feed anyone with just that, you know, Charles. Ten.”

            “Hey, you’re getting better,” Charlie said, smiling with encouragement. “Fine then. Three.”

            The two chortled gleefully. After it had settled, Charlie pulled a tiny sack of berries out of his pockets and handed it to the seller’s open hand. He waved goodbye and left.

*

            After cubing his shrimps, he plopped them into the tank and wished the sea star a merry meal. He joined his mom in her garden, pulling weeds and tending to her orchids and begonias and ferns and hibiscuses.

            “Good morning, Ammi,” Charlie said, picking a plumeria flower that he instantly devoured. “Yum! What a delicious flower.”

            “Oh, Charlie, I completely forgot. I know you’re hungry, but I’ve told you not to eat my flowers. Come sit and let’s have breakfast.” Out of her bag, Cassie (the name everyone besides Charlie called her) pulled out a coconut, a few apples and a handful of berries which had been set upon a large leaf. The coconut was cracked open and the water inside quenched their thirst. The berries and apples were crunchy and juicy and filled their bellies.

            Charlie left Ammi in the garden again and he found himself back at the beach. And there he saw a little girl out on the rocks where he had sat yesterday.

            “Hello again,” Charlie said. “Could I ask what you were doing this morning? Why you were in such a hurry?”

            Recalling his morning visit, Ellie said with a breathy laugh, “Things to do and places to be, of course. I’ve found comfort in this beach. It is very peaceful. Oh, look there!”

            Following her pointing finger, Charlie watched as a little skinny bird – which looked like the ones he had drawn the day before – made its way up to them very weakly, peeping for food.

            “The little guy’s lucky, isn’t it?” Charlie said, reaching in his pocket and pulling out a shrimp – the third shrimp which he had decided not to give to the starfish. He broke it into four and threw a piece in the air. It landed right before the little bird. Starving, it ran up to the piece as quickly as its legs could take and devoured the piece of shrimp with a single gulp.

            It was a lovely evening if anything. More shrimp and a few shells were bought and the bird, which was named Pip, stuck around and played and sang for them. When the time came to leave, and the sun was starting to set, Pip chipped a final goodbye, joined his friends and took off into the sunset.

            “That’s it! That’s exactly what I need,” Charlie shouted, his face filled with excitement and his eager words brimming with delight.

            “What?” Ellie said. “Charlie, what are you talking about?”

            “I know how to bring the little star home. We need to fly!”

            “Fly, Charlie?” Ellie laughed. She noticed the frown on his face. She sighed. He couldn’t possibly be serious. “For us, for humans, Charlie, to fly,” she said, staring deep into his eyes, “is impossible.”

            “Believe in me, Ellie. Believe me – I’ll make it work.” And Charlie left for home, not looking back.

*

            A week had passed since the two children had last spoken. It wasn’t that they were angry at each other. Charlie felt determined to fly the star home since he knew it was possibly the only way, but he couldn’t at all think of how it could work and he felt stupid for even suggesting it. Ellie felt horrible after she had laughed at Charlie, and she cried after he had taken off. She never had a friend, and she thought Charlie could be one for her. And after what she had done she felt as if she had betrayed him, stabbed him in the back. She should’ve played along and helped him in whatever way she could. After all, that’s what friends, real friends, would do right? Or at least, she thought.

            The school would soon start. All children grew up playing and socializing and helping and learning on their own, for the people who lived on the island were smart and fast learners and preferred that the youngsters grew up learning on their own, experimenting life independently. Now that they were ten, they would have to go to ‘The Academy’ ­– which really didn’t need a name for there was only one. This was the case for Charlie and Ellie and many other children their age. There they would learn weaving, sailing, rafting, fishing, wildlife, gardening and important skills that would help the village and the community. When they were exceptionally well at something and had a strong passion for it, it would be their career. Most passions never stay longer than a few years.

            The day started and the children gathered in a wide field of dewy morning grass sprinkled with a few trees. Under the hot glare of the afternoon sun, the children looked for a shade under the wide-branched trees while waiting for whoever was to teach them. There was one particularly large tree were most gathered, talking and laughing and sharing stories and telling horrible puns. The only one who didn’t was Charlie. He spotted a pretty little dandelion that amused him and made him think of home. He rested there, next to the flower, under the sufficient shade of a little tree where an occasional breeze swept by.

            “Dandelions. Pretty flowers, aren’t they?” Ellie tried a smile, though at Charlie’s seemingly menacing glare, gave up and simply sat down. “How’s your little star?” And though she said this, she had always come by each afternoon to check on its health or if there were enough food and clean water. But there always was.

            “Ellie, you aren’t with the rest?”

            “You don’t want me here?” Ellie said, already starting to get up.

            “No, it’s okay. Stay, if you want.”

            With a silent sigh of relief, Ellie turned to the flower. “Make a wish.”

            “I’d like the star to return home, in the sky.”

            “I’d like to be fr–” Ellie was shocked, her face perplexed. “M-me too,” she tittered.

            “Heyya, Ellie.” There Jax stood bending slightly over, towering over the little figures under him. Everyone was behind him, each with their own pleading smile. “Care to join us?” He held out a large hand and grinned, and no one could mistake the tiny gleam in his eyes.

            Ellie, though very delighted, shook her head no. “Thank you, but I rather like it here.” She noticed all their disappointed looks. “I-I’m Ellie by the way. It’s nice to meet all of you!” She flashed a meaningful smile, which painted a ray of sunshine all over their faces.

            “Hello, children.” The soft voice of an old lady seemed to ring in everyone’s ears. Her hair was gray and pulled back into a little bun. Her skin was sagged and wrinkled. Everyone saw in her a sense of authority despite her tiny, aged frame.

            “Today we shall be searching for your partners. No, no, not those ones,” she corrected when everyone grabbed whoever was next to them. “You will be going wherever you seem fit, but in the hour, you must already have a friend, a creature, an animal, that you will spend your time here with.” The old lady whistled and out of the trees flew a giant bird with wings the size of your whole arm. Noticing the astounded faces, the lady continued on in a manner of satisfaction. “Some may have one already, some may need to find one. Each person has their own unique whistle, and one will only come if you’ve formed a tight bond. None is higher than the other. Good luck, all of you.”

            And off went most of the children, running into the forest, leaving Charlie and Ellie behind.

            Charlie beamed. “I appreciate what you did there.”

            Embarrassed, Ellie muttered, “No problem.” Turning to the trees, Ellie whistled elegantly, a soft ringing whistle, and waited. Coming out from the bushes was a flashing streak of red. As this streak settled it looked to be a fox. A beautiful one, with fur a striking red and slightly golden at the ear tips. The fox’s underside was a pure, snow white. Her red eyes sparkled as she jumped up into the arms of her owner in the leap of affection. “This is Emi or Emmeline. I found her when I first visited the forest. Now she’s yours.”

            “Hey, you know, I think I’ve already got one,” Charlie said, and then he whistled as hard as he could.

            “Charlie, sea animals won’t work–”

            But she was interrupted by the soft flutter of wings and saw Pip, who looked rather healthy and had grown a decent number of feathers since the week before. He descended and perched onto his owner’s extended arm.

            The next hour was filled with the busiest arrays of sounds of wolves, lizards, dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, bunnies, ducks, geese, peacocks, owls, frogs, mice. They were all there. And as soon as each person had found one, everyone went home, their animals by their side, or on their shoulders, or in their arms.

            Charlie and Ellie naturally walked home together, as they lived steps apart. On their way, they heard a horrible, ear-piercing cry of agony. It came from none other than the Professor Ivo, a horribly tall man with spiky gray hair jutting out of his head. On his nose were things he called ‘glasses’. He was sitting on the plaza floor with a mess of papers.

            “Oh, no. No one ever takes him seriously. His inventions crazy as he is, they say! Not Professor Eye-vo, you stupid children! Professor Ee-vo!” he shouted, shaking his fist in fury.

            “Say, Professor Ivo,” Ellie said, making sure to pronounce it right, “what have you just invented?”

            “Dear, sweet, princess.” He took her hand and clasped it. “No one ever listened to me. Not about my carriages, not my lanterns, not my windmills, not my books. Not even my fur coats? They keep you warm and–”

            “Well that’s because it’s all quite useless for us,” the princess looked at him in pity.

            “Well I know, my princess. Now” – and here he took a single paper, and waved it proudly in the air for all to see – “I’ve invented a plane!”

            Charlie and Ellie looked at each other, their eyes sparkling with amazement. Their wish had come true.

            “Professor,” Charlie said, “I’d a take a peek at your plane. I might just find it almost worthwhile.”

            “Of course, you would, silly boy!” the professor said in a fury. “Professor Ivo’s inventions are fascinating and of the highest quality! If you want it, pay me. Oh, say, let’s see. Seven iron bars?”

            “I don’t even have that much money, Charlie,” Ellie whispered into his ear. “He’s overpricing it way too much.”

            “Professor,” Charlie said, patting his shoulder, “no one’s ever going to buy if you set the bar too high. I’d say a few fish is enough.”

            “Fish?” the professor cried, simply outraged. “No number of any fish will ever be enough for this, my ingenious contraption.”

            “Well too bad, ‘cause it’s fish or nothing, Professor,” Charlie said, pocketing his hands with that oh-well-look, and spun around and started to walk.

            “Hey, wait here a sec,” Ivo said, grabbing his arm. “Fine, have it your way then. Ten fish, by tomorrow.”

            “Deal.”

*

            The following mornings and afternoons were used for learning about herbs, planting seeds, chopping wood, and building fire. Everyone was very good at those, except Charlie. Even with Ellie’s help he was always slow and failed most of his tries. He was a reasonably smart kid, though something was always filling his mind. He could never concentrate.

            The evenings after, whereas children went to play together with their partners in the forest, Charlie and Ellie would sneak into the village storeroom carrying spare planks, hammers, nails, cordage, glue, and axes with Emi and Pip helping as much as they possibly could. They took the quietest, darkest roads through the woods where the canopy of trees blocked out the sunlight and the only sounds were the distant flutters of wings. And there, in a clearing beside the highest cliff of the entire island – which people later marked as Highwater Peak – the children stayed till night, working and hammering and sawing and tying.

            This was done each evening for a few good hours for many, many weeks. By then it had been revealed to everyone what time they would go, but they always slipped away when they were almost found. Rumors spread, and a growing seed of hatred in Jax’s heart grew and grew into a painful thorn when he figured that Ellie had been spending so much time with Charlie.

            Each day they’d worked hard, and their progress showed clear. The plane was majestic, a real beauty. It was crafted with fine, hardwood, and was covered with sap that made it withstand the water and rain and made it shine. The only part left to be fastened were the wings.

*

            Ellie popped out from inside the plane and climbed out. She knocked on the plane’s front board before finally looking to him with a satisfied smile. “It’s almost done, Charlie!” Ellie cried in delight, jumping up at him to hug him tightly, squeezing hard.

            Charlie, bewildered but just as happy, hugged back.

            “Hey, lovebirds,” came a scoffing laugh, and three boys came out from behind them. All had vile smirks on their faces. Another one was seen carrying a torch, hiding behind the bushes with an expression of pure dread.

            Charlie and Ellie pulled apart and jumped away from each other, Ellie red-faced and abashed, but Charlie headed up to Jax and firmly said, “What is it you want now?”

            “Don’t you dare talk to me like that, fool,” Jax retorted.

            “Yeah, and why not, huh?” Charlie shot back.

            There was a sudden, agonizing groan as a fist shot at Charlie’s stomach and another at Jax’s cheek. A fist fight broke out and there was yelling and shouts as Charlie was outnumbered three to one. Ellie had escaped and was now standing in front of the plane, trembling, her brain blank in a chaotic situation of bedlam and disorder. The simple yet useless thought of yelling ‘stop’ over and over again was the only thing she could think of.

            No sooner than half a minute, Charlie had been pinned to the ground, struggling furiously, under the two boys’ rugged arms. “LET ME GO!” His voice was half muffled. Meanwhile, Jax had made his way to the plane, Ellie trying to pull him away, her efforts futile.

            “Go away, please, before I hurt you,” Jax said, casting a piteous look at her. Yet Ellie, still tugging his arm, though bracing herself, never received the blow.

            Jax started to knock on the wood, seeming not to mind that a girl was clinging to his arm, and doing so he decided which spots were the weakest. Eventually, he found one, and he smiled malevolently. With a single shake of his arm that shook off the little girl’s grip, he swung his foot back, and then launched it forward at full speed, striking at the wood at full strength, blowing it apart.

            “No!” Ellie and Charlie screamed, their breaths taken away.

            “Please, please don’t!” Ellie cried, melancholic. But Jax kept on kicking and shattering the wood into splinters, and Ellie could do nothing but cry and scream as tears rolled down her cheeks. Charlie, still held down to the ground, was filled with hopelessness, grief-stricken.

            When his foot was sore and red, he ordered the person hiding behind the bushes to come out. The little boy stepped out of the bushes, terrified.

            “Get going, you chicken,” Jax roared, a malicious flame flickering in his eyes.

            Though the boy was petrified, he managed to take a few steps forward, reaching the plane. He swung the bowl in his hand, and out flew a generous amount of liquid, spattering the plane. And, with trembling fingers, before you realized what was going on, he had set the plane alight.

            “NOOOO!”

                       Jax had not expected the flame to have been so huge. His eyes were dilated with terror and his face was frozen in a ghastly state of horror. Sweat trailed down his forehead and stung his eyes. He ran for it, and his friends fled the scene, leaving Charlie lying on the ground.

            And there Charlie sat, staring at the ash and rotten remains of what would have been a fantastic plane sitting on a log beside where the fire had started.

            “This–” he coughed. “It won’t work. I can’t do this, Ellie. Look at that – that wreck.”

            It was as if all the hope and happiness and optimism had been wrung out of him. He had lost the flame Ellie had always seen in his eyes and grown to adore. All the hard work and sacrifice and time had all been put to waste.

            “No, Charlie.” She looked him in the eye and shook his limp body. “This isn’t you – not at all.” And though she felt deprived and tired and just as hopeless as he did, she felt she had to encourage him. This was what friends do.

            “You said it yourself. It’s not even a star, is it?” His eyes glossed and his nose reddened. He buried his face in his hands.

            “Believe in what you think is right,” Ellie said, hugging him once more.

            That was what made him look back up. “No. You’re right. We can’t stop here, can we?” He wiped his tear-stained cheeks and stood tall. “We’ve done so much and we can always rebuild.” He smiled his usual hope-bringing smile. Perceptible aspiration radiated in the dark woods and it seemed to light the dark a little bit.

            The children walked back home through the dead-silent night. Their bodies were cold and aching, and the faintest of breezes made them shiver. In what felt like ages, they finally reached home.

            “Charlie, what happened?” his Ammi cried, aghast.

            What was it that Ellie thought of? Oh right. “I was playing in the forest and I stumbled and fell. Hee, hee,” Charlie said, scratching his head. “A friend helped me reach here.”

            “Oh, Charlie, why are you so clumsy?” she muttered as she swept the dust away.

*

            The next morning, Charlie wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. The body still aching, he too knew that going into the forest was an idea that would go wrong. He stayed at home and helped sweep and clean and prepare the food while Ammi was outselling the morning harvest.

            “Hello? Anyone home?” came a deadened voice behind the door.

            “Come on in.”

            It was Jax at the door. He looked at Charlie for a second, then averted his eyes. “Well here it goes,” he breathed. “Okay, last night – that wasn’t me,” he said, still looking away. “No, it was me. Me and my jealousy and hatred. I just wanted to see what you and Ellie were up to. And when I figured out that you were building a plane, I knew I wanted to do something, and in a rush that was what I did.”

            Charlie couldn’t help but smirk. Still, he held out his hand.

            Jax looked up and his eyes lit up with gratefulness. He shook it.

            “That’s not the only thing I wanted to say, anyway.” Such a good-natured look twinkled in his eyes that Charlie could feel he’d rather changed, even if very slightly. “I want to help you, and a lot of other children too. I’ve spoken with Ellie, that wonderful girl” – and here his eyes sparkled yet again – “and we’ve all agreed to help you.”

            And together, much to Charlie’s delight as well as Ellie’s, after a few days, each evening a few children went in groups – and even Jojo heard and came – to the storeroom carrying planks and boards and hammers and nails and axes and glue and cordage. They all used the quickest route to Highwater Peak since everyone in the village assumed they were out to play as they usually would do.

            Charlie was the main motivator and optimism spreader, but everyone had already a good amount. Ellie was one of the reasons everyone was here working – to impress her of course. Jax could carry loads and with his brute strength he chopped wood in a swipe. He made work faster and quickly done. Everyone worked well together, as much as they could, hard and tirelessly, with unflinching determination. Even the little animals, their partners, played a part. They guarded the routes, and some even helped bring items here and there.

            With all the help given, the plane didn’t take nearly half as long as it had the last time. It was far better-looking too, with great ideas shared and passed.

            There is always time for things to happen. The plane could and would only fly if the winds were high and strong. They were so every month, on a certain day. With calculation, the winds could be measured and the time could be found. And that was what Ellie did, with a few other friends.

            It was to happen that very day. The plane was one-manned and everyone decided instantly that only Charlie would go. A place for a tank had been prepared so that the Starfish’s tank could be placed inside. When the winds were high, everyone would push the plane off the cliff and the wings would catch the wind and glide.

            The day was unusually dark and cloudy. Great rainclouds were being blown nearer and nearer by the merciless wind. Birds were hiding under trees for cover and little creatures were running inside their burrows. Jax ran to the edge of the island, to the highest cliff where the plane lay, and there he looked down to the sea.

            The waves looked furious and dark. They were usually crystal clear, the color of the morning sky, and a pleasant sight to see. But these angry waves showed no fear and came crashing to the tall and mighty cliffs. The sky began to shower soft raindrops.

            Jax sat down at the edge. He found the atmosphere yanking at his mind, at a memory he had once had. He didn’t remember how old he had been. His hair had still been short and spiky, like grass, and he had been out fishing with his parents.

            It was a lovely day to be out. The sun was high in the sky, and the waves were swaying gently. Jax and his parents were in a beautiful boat, with a bright blue sail and stripes of red streaked across its body. It wasn’t his first time out in the ocean, but he had never really caught a fish before.

            “Caught one!” Jax’s dad yelled. He was holding a fishing rod that was bending this way and that, looking almost ready to break. He called his son over to him. “Here.” He handed the rod to Jax. Jax had always wanted to catch a fish. He had seen his parents do it millions of times, but he wasn’t old enough to do it himself. But here it was. Jax, without hesitation, grabbed the rod and reeled in the line as fast and vigorously as he could, with his dad holding the rod as well so it wouldn’t go flying off.

              It wasn’t long before a large tuna appeared, jumping out of the water and into the boat. Its tails and fins were a bright, sunny yellow. Jax’s mother hugged him and lifted him in the air. “Wow, already caught a fish, my sweet little champion?” she said, setting Jax back down.

            The sail was rippling quickly and the waves were quaking, becoming more powerful every minute. “It’s going to rain!” Jax’s mother yelled, trying to be heard over the wind.

            The boat was rocking stronger and stronger now, and it was still fairly far from shore. Thunder was roaring from above, and the gloomy skies were flashing with lightning. The waves from afar looked like mountains.

            Jax was filled with fear. His body was shivering with the cold. His parents were running about, trying to stop the boat from capsizing. He was holding onto the mast so as not to fall over. The waves were becoming larger and water in the boat was being scooped in buckets. Jax looked ahead, and he saw a single wave, larger than all the rest, coming to meet them. A wave which no one else saw. And just before it struck, he yelled, and before he finished, he was engulfed in the water.

            He couldn’t remember what had happened after. Only that someone had grabbed him and pulled his shivering and horror-stricken body back to shore. But he had never met his parents afterward.

            His vision flashed back to the present. The rain had cleared but the skies were still cloudy. A tear streaked down his cheek, but he swept it away before it reached the bottom of his chin. He rejoined the crowd, trying to erase the memory from his mind.

            The plane had already been pushed without Jax realizing it. Charlie had thanked everyone for all their hard work and every one replied that they had always enjoyed helping out. Not so far away, the plane could be seen, gliding under the now cloudless sky. It was strange how the weather had changed so hurriedly, so weirdly.

            People began clearing and going home. They said goodbye, whistled and walked in a large group back to the village. It left Jax and Ellie, feet dangling over the cliff.

            “So.” Jax casually whistled, petting his wolf on his lap. “How’s the plan working out?”

            “So far, all is going well,” she said, stroking Emi. “The plane should glide down in a bit, and by then he’ll realize it won’t work. He’ll swim back, leave the plane, which will sink, freeing the sea star, and we’ll send a boat out for him. Some people are already waiting down by the beach. At my whistle, Pip will come down and send the signal. He’s an excellent swimmer, he’ll make it.”

            “Shouldn’t it have landed in the ocean by now?”

            “I-it should! Oh no, no, no, no. Did I miscalculate?”

            “Don’t worry Ellie, I’m sure it’ll come down any second now.”

            But they waited, and waited, and Ellie cried and cried. The boat was sent, and with difficulty, for she found it hard to whistle when you were sobbing rather hard. But no sign of Charlie or the plane was found.

                       Meanwhile, Charlie was still delightedly flying in the air, enjoying the view and leaving the now barely-visible silhouette of the island. He was humming slightly and, every now and then, looking back to check on the starfish, which was still chomping on the little clams it had been given earlier.

            “This is it, little star. You’re finally going home. I’m sorry it took so long.”

            It was still flying high up and swiftly in the air. The breeze was fine, and there was the faint smell of ocean water. A ‘CRACK!’ sounded from inside the plane – and this was a mistake either by inventor and designer, or a mistake by the children, but no one meant for this to happen at all – and the plane plunged and the wind pulled his hair up and, startled by all this, Charlie shut his eyes.

            All of a sudden, he was floating in a vast world of darkness, which he noticed he couldn’t see clearly in, and the plane was gone and his star was right before him. It seemed to wave, ever so slightly. He waved back – weirdly, the place made his hand feel heavy and slow – and looked up, and saw other stars, many other stars, and his star rejoined them. He gave them a buoyant smile, and as he tried to wave and say hello, all he could make out was a ‘blurrrb-blub’ and something he recognized as bubbles seemed to fly downwards instead of upwards as they would do in water, which he found fascinating. His happiness was beyond that world, and that smile was the last he ever made.

            And nothing else was found of him, nor heard of him. And Charlie died the happiest he could ever have been, with his greatest and final wish fulfilled.

 

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