The Stargazer lay on his back, in the gray grass under the moonlight, and looked to the stars. Despite the late hour and his thin clothing, he felt no cold. Indeed, he lacked even the concept—none in the Village felt, or had ever felt, the cold, or the heat, or the feeling of the grass between their toes. It was simply not how their world worked.
He let his mind relax as he gazed at the sky. To him, it was the only thing that ever truly changed. Each day was the same. Each day, he would cut leaves from his garden in the morning. Half were tea leaves, which he would sell to the Farmer, in exchange for bread and meat. The other half were medicine, and he would crush them into a paste for the Waif. Each morning, she would be confined to her bed, too sick to stand. Each evening, she would be well enough to walk again, and the two would wander the streets of the village together, laughing and sharing little secrets. Then, night would fall, and he would take an hour or two to gaze at the stars. The days were always the same. The stars were always different.
He did not mind the routine. He wanted for little, and he ended each day without worry. But some days, when he lay beneath the moonlight … he wished the village could be like the sky. Ever-changing and colorful, for indeed, they had no color in the Village, just as they had no heat, and no smell. Buildings were black and gray. The ground and the grass, a dull white. The people, white like paper save for their clothes and their hair. None noticed its absence, save, perhaps, the Stargazer, who looked often to the sky, and upon the colors therein.
Above, the stars glimmered blue and gold. A streak of light disturbed the celestial canvas—a shooting star. Rare, and all the more precious for it.
The Stargazer wished quietly for something to change, for the world beneath him to be a bit more like the one above him. He did not speak the words. Perhaps he did not even realize when the wish crossed his mind. But sometimes, the heart speaks louder than the brain, and a wish he made all the same.
Above, the stars glimmered. For a moment, they almost seemed to wink at him.
The next morning, the Stargazer rolled out of bed the same way he always did, bathed, dressed himself and in a distinct break from tradition, tripped flat on his face. The culprit lay at the foot of his bed—A shiny, colorful can of paint, now fallen on its side and spilling over the gray floor. And yet, to the Stargazer, whose world was formed of black and white—and who had never heard of paint or metal cans before—it seemed as if a piece of the sky had fallen into his home. The colorful painted lettering, and even the reflective metal of the can itself, stuck out like a sore thumb in his monochrome home. but most magically of all, where the can had spilled, the floor was no longer gray.
Transfixed, the Stargazer stood up, watching the paint roll slowly across his floor, and where it rolled, it left brown wood in its wake. He reached out, and for the first time in his life, he felt—the grain of the wood, rough and fibrous, tickling the tips of his fingers. He breathed in, and for the first time in his life, he smelt—fresh pine, earthy and green, with the slightest hint of sawdust like smoke in his nose.
Slowly, he righted the can, holding it the way one might a pane of glass. A paintbrush lay within, as colorful as the rest of it, its bristles dipped into a strange silvery liquid that shimmered with every color of the rainbow, and a few more beside. He lifted the paint can by a thin, curved handle, the cool metal utterly alien against his hand. Slowly, he took the brush from the can, and with trembling fingers, swept it across the stone of his chimney. The monochrome gray bled into a thousand subtle colors, hints of red, splotches of white, rough ridges and cracks, coming together to form a thing that he could only call rock—the same as it had always been, yet infinitely more.
He smiled. He laughed, and trembled, overcome with an unnameable mixture of terror and giddiness and wonder that made his heart thunder and blood heat in his veins.
He ran, the door slamming shut on his way out. He swept the brush, still dripping shimmering paint, across the nearest plant, and watched dark green drench the stem and leaves. He swept it again, in a grand motion, and the flower at its top bloomed into pinks and blacks, a heady scent reaching his nose. Laughing, he spared only a minute to cut the leaves he needed off of his tea and medicine plants, before he ran off into the fields behind his house, paint can and brush in hand.
A few hours later, the fields were covered in splotches of color, he was covered in grass and flowers, and was returning home with bread in hand from the market—he had skipped breakfast, after all. As he stepped into his house, however, and his eyes lay on the strange can of paint on his mantle, an idea struck him.
The Stargazer did not know of heat. He did, however, know of the difference between fresh and stale bread, and knew that fresh bread was made over a fire, and then became stale after too long exposed to the open air. And he knew that the fire in his fireplace did nothing to the bread he bought. But … what if he were to paint it? To impart color and texture and smell onto it? Would it freshen the bread? Or perhaps even make more of it? He knew nothing of the making of bread, after all, save that fire made fresh bread.
It was probably a stupid idea, he reasoned. But he wanted to see more of the world brought into color and texture, and so, without hesitation, he grabbed the brush from its can and swept it through the flickering flame.
He hissed, jerking his hand back as the foreign sensation lanced through him. The now orange fire roared like an angry beast, and the smell of smoke and ash filled his nose. He fell backwards, eyes wide, cradling his white hand while the paintbrush clattered across the floor behind him. But the fire was an almost living thing, leaping out from its confines, embers drifting through the air until they found purchase on his floor. Where they touched, the wood turned brown, and then black, new tongues of fire sprouting like weeds. He scrambled back, cradling his burned hand, stomping at what fire he could reach. But it was useless. Soon, he was forced back to his doorway, and then his yard, watching helplessly as his home was devoured.
With a heavy heart, he turned away from the smoldering remains of his home. For a moment that stretched into an eternity, he stood there. Suddenly, he felt the unfinished medicine in his pocket, and was reminded of the sun, resting low in the sky. He breathed in, and then out, settling himself. Then, with determined footsteps, he set out to find his friend.
Within the ashes of his old home, the can of paint glinted, untouched by the heat. He ignored it.
Read next week’s edition of The Hoot for part 2 of this short story!