A Star Approaches

A Star Approaches

A Chapter by Keaton S. Ziem

The night was empty and hollow, giving no apparent distinction between the heavens and the earth. The two met somewhere in the center and mingled there, like passive sometimes-lovers in the dark; their casual throes rendered silent beneath an endless black blanket that tented their joining. Even the moon's bashful face was covered, and the distant dawn's reluctance to approach was palpable even half the night away; the sun brooded jealously somewhere deep in the unseen eastern horizon.

 

But the highway was there, immersed somewhere beneath that same vast black blanket, lying in wait. Its surface was just beginning to cool after the day's long bombardment of unguarded heat. Not a single car had come upon it either way, north or south, since dusk fell; now hours buried in the past. The pitch of night had unnerved even the desert's most resourceful creatures, and not so much as a snake dared to glide forth from its hole to rest its long belly on the highway's smooth tar crust. 

 

It was thus how the highway had slept the night in restless quiet, until the sound of slight, whispering breaths grew out of the desert-- increasing slightly in volume as it approached like the growing strength of an infant's heartbeat. It didn't come from the highway, but to the west of it, emerging out of the vast desert beyond.

 

The breaths came from the lungs and through the parched, swelled tongue of a little boy. He was afraid, though not of the dark-- that fear having long been conquered. It was his own wheezes he feared. The sound of his encroaching rasps, creeping around the corners of each heavy pant he gave. Julio had become painfully well-versed in the language of his breathing since his mother sat down on his bed one night after some uncounted hours of suffocating terror and explained to him what asthma was, in that calm melody her voice took on whenever she needed to put something delicately to Julio. She talked to him about his father this way; and her way of speaking was the only thing Julio knew about him. 

 

Still, that was the night when the unnamed fear of suffocation had been given a name: asthma. Whenever the tight wheezing creaked within his chest, he was instantaneously stricken with a claustrophobic panic, clearly seeing his own blue lips in his renegade imagination, or his cloudy eyes looking like how a dead fish's eyes look. These thoughts were then forcibly followed by the erratic need to calm himself down; to ease himself out of the attack by clinging all thoughts to the hypnotic bee-buzz rhythm of his lungs. Relax, or suffocate to death. 

 

He had been listening attentively to his breaths for hours now, and although the wheezing hadn't wholly muted, neither had they increased. The diligent analyzing of each inhalation had slowly lulled Julio into a walking trance; his breathing mixing together with his small footfalls in the dirt and the slowly spinning bicycle wheels he was pushing further into the infinite desert brought Julio's mind to that wonderful grey zone of thought-- thinking of nothing, feeling nothing.

 

Upon the bicycle that Julio pushed sat an old man: aged and forlorn like a brittle tree standing alone in an empty field, not dying, but with scarred bark and roots gnawed upon by insects and burrowing rodents; standing upon the precipice of rot, swaying somberly in the breeze of low winter amid a landscape of decay. 

 

This old man, who called himself "The Knight" was silent, and had been for hours forgotten. If there had been light to see by, his look would have been the look of a man searching inside himself; drilling deep wells into his thoughts, staring long and hard at the rocks that had formed there since his beginning, now long ago. His head was bowed and rolled with the ebbs of the bicycle as it was maneuvered around lumpy stones of clay and fingers of cactus that were too large to roll directly over. 

 

The Knight's only movements were the old man's silent, crawling steps he would take with his long, skinny legs; like the contemplative walk of a crab across the ocean floor. With Julio pushing the bicycle from behind, The Knight passively strode through the harsh desert landscape upon the bike; walking, sitting, and riding all collaborating to form a single motion.

 

The clear plastic shower curtain The Knight wore like a superhero cape around his neck draped down his naked back and over the rear of the bicycle. The little tread that still remained on the bicycle's tire shuffled against the hem of the plastic cape close enough to dust Julio's already dry mouth with the taste of gritty desert sand. Throughout their adventures together over the past few weeks, Julio’s wishes were in constant flux, and at the moment, his only wish was for enough saliva to spit.

 

At the onset, when Julio first followed The Knight away from home, his wish was the desire to become this strange hero's sidekick; to fight bad guys and save the day like the stories in comic books he always saw at the store, but never read. They were never printed in Spanish, and Julio barely knew a word of English. Despite this, he understood them, in a way. When Julio's eyes first fell upon The Knight, the boy recognized him immediately for what he was: a super hero. 

 

He had been wearing the same cape, then-- but he had also been wearing a mask, which had long ago been torn off and stomped into the dirt by some villain The Knight had vowed to defeat; always in the name of justice. But this villain didn't seem to Julio like any villain he had ever seen, certainly not like the ones he would see in those comic books. The man had looked like just another grown up, even if he did have ugly brown-grey tattoos down each arm and wrapped around his neck. At the time, Julio thought that maybe that's how bad guys looked in real life; normal, their costume was looking like everyone else, which was a part of their villainy. 

 

But now, Julio doubted that the man was anything other than what he seemed: a regular, though weird looking, man who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and incurred the attention of The Knight who mistook him for a villain and attacked out of nowhere, with little warning and even less success. That heroic adventure hadn't gone how Julio or The Knight had hoped it would. If the man was a villain, then it was clear to Julio after the confrontation was over that the bad guys won at least some of the time.

 

Since then, they had undertaken a number of similar "adventures", leaving Julio to wonder if the good guys ever won at all.

 

Julio was suddenly struck with a clear memory of The Knight's superhero mask. It had been made of cardboard. The man with the brown-grey tattoos crushed it. Like paper.

 

Julio had tried to ask The Knight afterward, in Spanish, if he was going to make a new mask. The Knight, who barely knew a word of Spanish (if any), didn't understand. He never did. The two of them were stood upon opposite corners outside the tower of Babel, but as The Knight stared at Julio, the hero's body still warm from the beating and trying to decipher the meaning of his sidekick's strange words, Julio saw the blood that covered The Knight's face, dripping down in long thin streams, flowing and drying into something Julio thought was like a mask. 

 

The two didn't understand each others' words, and oftentimes the best way to comprehend one another was to not use them at all.

 

It wasn't long afterward that the wish to be a superhero's sidekick was forgotten. It was replaced with the wish to simply go home, back to his Mama who had likely noticed he was gone minutes after he left. Julio felt sick thinking about how worried she must be, wondering if someone had taken him. Or worse; what if she thought he left on purpose? That made him feel really sick, especially since after thinking about it, he realized that he had left on purpose. What would he tell her when he came back home? What would he say when she asked him why he left? 

 

He'd tell himself there was no use worrying about it yet. After all, he might not ever make it home at this rate.

 

But eventually, even the desire to go home was replaced in favor of wishing for hot food and clean water, until that too was discarded for the wish, the need to simply spit. To just spit out the dirt that had lodged itself into corners inside his mouth that he previously hadn't known even existed until small particles of dirt found them for him. It was no small horror for Julio to discover that there existed an unreachable nook in his mouth, tucked as far back and beneath his tongue as it could dig itself, where this small pebble-- coarse and glassy-- had crawled itself without hope of being swallowed or pried loose with a finger. Julio had never heard of any boy his age going insane, and wondered unhappily if he would be the first.

 

This discomfort, combined with every other discomfort that such meager living can contrive had at first been a maddening test of will, but had now turned into the norm. Suffering had become mundane. Tears and whines had been put to bed weeks ago and grew into a breed of cynicism that he was sure would have gotten him slapped at home. In fact, he may have been slapped here, by The Knight, if the old man had known even the most common Spanish insults.

 

Julio suddenly emerged from his wandering thoughts, realizing his own unconscious smile. He dryly cleared his throat and pressed his parched lips together, trying to imagine what he was smiling about. None of this seemed very funny; but he was smiling all the same. He was also acutely aware of something else; a throbbing pain in his ankle that radiated up his leg in thudding waves that conformed to the beats of his heart.

 

Now that he was aware of it, it was impossible to ignore. He wondered if he should risk stopping the bike to find the cause of the pain, but was sure that The Knight would begin his coarse English barking, demanding to know why they had stopped and what could possibly be important enough to stall The Knight's tireless march toward justice. Everything was placed second to The Knight's quest to succor those who are afflicted, especially to the boy's insignificant pains. And once the old man got going, The Knight would sometimes go on for hours, long after whatever had started the upheaval was finished. Finally however, the nuisance in his ankle was too aggravating to endure. Julio stopped, crouched as if he were tying his shoelaces (two bunny ears, a loop and a pull) and placed a hand on his ankle.

 

What he felt there shocked him at first. The darkness of the night had amplified his senses, but Julio recognized what they were before he cried out. His ankle hummed with the three or four cactus quills, collected them from each cactus they encountered as though they were picking blackberries from a grove of blackberry bushes. He was instantly reminded of the pictures of porcupines he saw at school.

 

He plucked them out without much ado. A few weeks ago, at the beginning of their quest together, Julio had shrieked until he thought his jaw would give up and pop off his face the first time he was stuck with cactus needles, but he had been forced to repeat the unpleasant business more than a dozen times since then, both for himself and for The Knight (who, after falling into an entire bed of cactus, looked like the biggest, oldest porcupine Julio had ever seen), and now considered himself quite good at it with a small sense of pride. The needles forfeited after a bitter tug of flesh, having had time to lodge themselves fairly deep. Julio wondered how long they had been there, unnoticed.

 

He had been expecting the indignant outcry from The Knight at once, cactus quills be damned. Julio waited for it, but it never came.

 

Instead, The Knight halted his slow, thoughtful strides from his seat, propped out his foot as if it were the bicycle's kick-stand, and sat there stoically waiting to continue, not seeming to mind or even notice the delay.

 

Julio blinked into the dark meaninglessly, trying to understand The Knight's silence, and pulled the last few quills out without so much as a wince before pushing the bike onward once more. The Knight responded by simply resuming his crab-like strides slowly, meditatively.

 

Julio's feelings for The Knight had reeled as frequently and as drastically as his varying wishes had since they first met. He had admired the man when he thought The Knight was a real hero. He loved the man when he spoke with apparent joy and elation, which left Julio to imagine for himself what he might be talking about. Likely just exuberant speeches about their imminent glory and fame they both would earn through their heroic exploits, or so Julio liked to think. He had felt confused to find that their 'heroic exploits' consisted mainly of beatings from annoyed strangers; but even their defeats weren't what brought Julio to hate The Knight. What sometimes enraged the boy was when it seemed that he was being blamed for their recurrent failures and misadventures. And finally, Julio was left to regard the man with only careless apathy when it seemed that there was nothing he could do to stop this loon from the dangerous adventures he seemed unflinchingly determined to attempt.

 

Now though, as Julio listened for the first time to the absolute still gravity of the night all around them like water surrounding an ice cube, he found himself now worried for The Knight, and what this long, uncharacteristic silence could portend for their quest. 

 

Julio remembered the fall The Knight had taken earlier that afternoon, and was certain it had something to do with The Knight's current sullen mood. Usually, The Knight's bouts of silence seemed to precede an upcoming strenuous adventure, and Julio had come to find that the more strenuous the adventure, the more calamitous its conclusion would be. 

 

Yesterday's morning had begun with an endless, nagging lecture on Julio's shortcomings as a sidekick. Even if Julio couldn't understand English, there were universal sounds every human voice can make that can only mean so many things. After spending every moment of three fruitless weeks together, sometimes the language barrier was a thin one; transparent.

 

The Knight's speech that morning predictably shifted from Julio's faults to The Knight's virtues, which Julio thought would never end. The Knight always seemed to draw from a bottomless reservoir of breath that Julio, with all his lung sensitivities, marveled at. If The Knight did indeed have one super power that elevated him to the status of 'hero', it was his ability to talk endlessly. Julio drifted through a vivid image; watching himself curled into a ball in the dust with The Knight leaning over him, lecturing him to death. 

 

Julio remained mostly silent during these outbursts except for the occasional tortured groan for variety.

 

But The Knight suddenly stopped his speech; so abruptly that it caused Julio to stumble.

 

Julio ignored it at first and kept walking; eyes down and hands deeply buried in his shorts pockets obstinately. Sometimes, when The Knight thought Julio wasn't paying adequate attention to his pearls of wisdom, he would patiently wait for Julio to look at him before starting all over again, from the beginning, and with renewed vigor. 

 

But at the time, Julio refused to play into it. It wasn't until he was ten feet or so ahead that he noticed The Knight had stopped peddling altogether. He sighed loud enough to be heard (he hoped) and turned to face the old man.

 

The Knight's eyebrows were folded into a wrinkled knot of skin, sending ripples of frowning creases up his forehead. His white beard, wiry and as brittle as steel wool, hinted at a hideous grimace below its surface: the corners of his lips drawn down so low that the bags beneath his eyes sagged down across his cheekbones. The sun ricocheted off his bald head and illuminated the few vigilante hairs that still clung stubbornly to the top of his splotchy, sunburned scalp. His eyes were red and veiny, like the bloodhound that slept across the street from Julio's far-away home. They stared through Julio's body, as if the boy had a bullet hole straight through his middle, and looked out into the landscape beyond.

 

Julio began to wonder if The Knight had finally became fed up with his Spanish speaking sidekick and was deciding to run him over with that creaky old bike and pedal back home without him, leaving Julio to starve alone here under this hateful sun until he was fried like an egg for some buzzard's breakfast.

 

'Well', Julio thought to himself, 'at least I won't have to listen to him talk anymore.'

 

Then Julio turned to see what The Knight was glaring at. Lined up, in single file, strung together one after another like clothes pins on a laundry line by thick cables, stood a long row of electrical power towers that buzzed like a hive of lightning hornets. The towers stretched into the horizon as far as Julio could see. Gigantic conglomeratiosn of steel, each one like the one before and after it-- statues of marching robot soldiers. 

 

The Knight had silently pedaled his bike directly behind Julio, close enough that Julio could hear The Knight's clenching jaw and grating molars that sounded like stone scraped against stone. It made Julio shudder. He took a few steps away to rid himself of the sound.

 

Julio's question of The Knight ever needing to breathe was decisively answered. The Knight sucked hot desert air into his lungs with a long pull from both his engorged nostrils and puffed his chest out from his shoulders like the exaggerated breast of a pigeon. 

 

This was trouble. Julio couldn't imagine what the old man had against the electrical towers, but he understood the look in The Knight's eye for what it was: a call to arms. And before he could utter a single useless word of warning, The Knight peddled past him on his bike, shower curtain cape flapping in the wind behind him as he went, onward and upward toward the nearest buzzing tower. 

 

Julio finally found his voice and called out, only to have his mouth catch a wafting back-draft of dust from the bicycle's wake. Coughing and sputtering, Julio watched in dismay as The Knight sped closer and closer to the approaching 'Robot Army', unsheathed a broken hockey stick from a belt loop of his fading jeans and crashed fearlessly into the leg of the tower.

 

The Knight threw the bike aside with a dissatisfied grunt. Julio saw the back of the old man's head look the tower up and down as if he were sizing up an individual foe before jumping, catching hold and scaling the foot of the tower, whacking at it with the hockey stick every few feet on his climb up its side; screaming some war cry all the while. Even from Julio's distance he could hear the metal pang that followed every swing, noting the way the sound came a second after he saw the action that caused it, and watched The Knight's body quiver as each blow careened off the tangle of the tower's metal bars.

 

Finally, The Knight swung too hard. His grip gave way and the hero fell perhaps fifteen feet back to the ground where he started. Then there was nothing but the wind and the droning buzz of electricity riding a current of air.

 

Julio hadn't blinked once, though now that the world once again had fallen still he did issue a single giggle in spite of his unbelieving eyes; the dirt that puffed into the air from The Knight's fall had an uncanny resemblance to the dust cloud that erupted from every unlucky cartoon character he had ever seen take a tumble over a cliff. He imagined walking over to where The Knight fell where he would see a perfect silhouette outline of the old man's body driven down into the crust of the earth so far down that you couldn't see the bottom.

 

Then he heard the choked gasps for air that Julio recognized all too easily. Just hearing them made Julio conscious of his own breathing, and realized that he had been holding his breath; though for how long he couldn't tell. The Knight's sudden gasps for air gave Julio permission to breathe again, and he did with relish; tasting the air once as it came in, and again on its way out as Julio walked, at a careful pace, to The Knight.

 

Julio was shocked to see the old man once he finally reached him. The Knight's eyes seemed bulged and milky, his jaw was opening and closing like a shutter, his teeth clicking together so loud that Julio had to tuck his lips between his own teeth when he heard it. The Knight's legs were kicking dumbly in the dirt as if he were trying in vain to make a snow angel in the unlikeliest place in the history of snow angels. Julio bent to try and hear what The Knight was saying. He knew he wouldn't understand, but somehow it seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

 

But he did know the word. It was only one, and The Knight repeated it softly amid his frantic gasps again and again.

 

"No, no, no, no..."

 

Julio helped The Knight stand up, but when he was on his feet again he was bent at the waist and limping in small circles, impatiently trying to gather himself, looking for the first time absolutely unsure if he would be able to. His voice was watery and uneven, his bulging eyes blinked in feverish bursts and then would stay open for freakishly long, cold pauses.

 

This frightened Julio in a way the boy hadn't been scared before. For weeks now he had been entirely at the mercy of this crazy old man who, though mad, was a grown up. But now, as Julio watched the old man, he remembered a time when he was very little, looking at the morning sun shining through his window before his Mama had gotten him up for school. He was watching the morning wake up, until he saw a bird fly, head-first, against the window in an explosion of blue feathers. It startled him, but he got up and rushed outside and found the bird flapping in the dirt below his window in nonsense circles; crushed and confused. Julio hadn't thought of the bird since.

 

Julio didn't know how long this went on. Neither of them had a watch, or anything that could tell them the time with any accuracy except for the sun itself, but it felt to him as though the whole day was passing as The Knight tried to right himself. Julio waited, ready to be helpful if needed but not knowing what he could possibly do to help, so off to the side to give The Knight room to move. 

 

Until, all of a sudden, The Knight was inexplicably fine. He seemed to overcome the pain somehow, or ignored it, and before Julio could shake the dust out of his cape, The Knight was remounted on the bike and peddling away down the line of electrical towers in the distance. No war cry. No lunatic laughter. No call for the next adventure to begin. Just peddling. And quickly.

 

The Knight rode ahead of Julio for a long time, so far ahead that Julio thought he might be getting left behind. For a terrible moment, Julio began to cry horrible dry tears as his legs shifted back and forth between jogging and speed walking, careful not to over-work his lungs, frantic with the fear of being stranded and alone in the desert, left to wander in the darkness with only the sound of the electric tower's buzz to guide him. The more Julio thought about it, the more possessed with fear he became and the faster Julio ran to catch up.

 

Just as it felt as though he would be stranded and Julio's fears reached their zenith, The Knight seemed to slow some. Julio's jog became a walk, and the suffocating fear of desertion slowly crawled away. When Julio finally caught up, he sighed with relief. Everything could go back to normal. Another adventure attempted, failed, and forgotten. They were ready for the next one.

 

But as the day went on, Julio noticed The Knight's usual zeal for talking had lessened-- dramatically. Julio also noticed that The Knight, who had terrified Julio with his speed on the bike, now was slacking, until The Knight stopped peddling altogether. That's when Julio took his place behind the bike and began to push The Knight, without a word, onward through the desert without knowing why. At first he guided himself by the direction the power lines were going until the sun faded and the sky deepened into the blackness of empty space.

 

They had marched this way ever since, and now, Julio's ever-shifting wishes and attitudes toward the old man became intermingled. Julio's wish now was that The Knight would say something, anything, whether he could understand it or not, so that Julio would know that this mysterious old man who might be a superhero wasn't dying. Worse than anything, the idea that The Knight could die filled Julio with an oppressive weight of loneliness that had grown upon him in the darkness between them and made each step he took harder and heavier than the last.

 

The bike suddenly stopped. Another rock, Julio thought. Had The Knight even given up trying to steer? Julio pushed harder, trying to lurch the tire over the obstacle. The bike swayed back and forth a little, pushing against Julio's shoulder before being shoved again, gaining a little more ground over the rock with each heave. He pushed so hard that the soles of his obliterated shoes slid without purchase in the dirt with the whole weight of his body leaned into the back of the bike.

 

Julio didn't know it, but The Knight shifted in his seat slightly, as if the slow rocking of the bike had roused him.

 

The bike's front tire gave way and slid easily onto the surface of the highway. Neither Julio or The Knight expected it, and the bike collapsed into a rickety heap on the road with its master and its master's sidekick on top of it. One wheel spun in a crooked circle somewhere just above Julio's head.

 

It was there, sprawled atop the highway in the dead center of night, huffing and puffing that they finally stopped their march through the desert. Julio was silently relieved for the fall, and after only ten seconds he realized how tired he was, even with a bicycle peddle jabbed mercilessly into his rib. He didn't think he could get up even if there was a table full of hot soup and ice cream waiting for him on the other side of the highway, though he might have been tempted. 

 

The Knight also seemed glad, even if he remained silent. His grunt upon colliding with the surface of the highway started as a painful heave, but ended as a sigh of content. Julio heard the sound of his plastic cape crackle like a trash bag as The Knight rolled himself off the bike and onto the pavement, followed by the fleshy slap of his bare chest and arms falling onto the flat, warm surface of the road.

 

They were silent for a while, listening to the night together, and just as Julio began to drift into a dream that was too much a mirror image of waking life to be considered a dream, The Knight broke the silence with a soft croak. For once, Julio was glad he couldn't understand what The Knight said. Julio didn't like the sound of the words The Knight had begun to speak, even with their meaning cloaked behind language.

 

"Where am I?", The Knight asked the darkness. His hands slapped the hard surface of the highway, slowly and thoughtfully, but with growing panic and delirium.

 

"Where am I?", he repeated, but louder and with a breed of madness encroaching around the edges of the words. It was the sound of a man waking from a horrible nightmare, only to find himself alone in the dark, clutching at the blankets and the walls of the room and trying to remember where he was, who he was, and finding the answers slowly and reluctantly as though they are more terrible than the nightmare he emerged from.

 

Julio held his breath and listened to The Knight batting blindly in the darkness, listened to The Knight's breathing; at first hesitant, but creeping steadily toward strangulation. Julio wondered if The Knight had forgotten about him and if the old man would recognize him if he were to stumble upon him while clutching at the darkness. But Julio was just as afraid of being remembered; afraid for what The Knight might think if he knew his frightened confusion had been heard. As the old man slapped the road, blindly searching for a clue in the dark and pawing closer and closer to Julio's motionless body, Julio waited silently for the old man to find him. He'd pretend to be asleep so that maybe the old man could remember on his own and hope that it would save The Knight from feeling ashamed of his fear.

 

Just as the old man's dismayed gasps unraveled into whelps of lost, lonely panic, his clutching hand finally fell upon the boy. Julio felt the hand crash down on the back of his head, clapping against his ear. He bit his lip at the slap and remained utterly still, pretending to sleep.

 

The old man's hand drew back as though it had touched the glowing embers at the heart of a roaring flame and his gasps stopped with an audible inhalation. Julio shut his eyes, even though the old man wouldn't have known if they were open, and thought about the feeling of cactus quills in his ankle when he first felt them in the darkness.

 

The hand returned, softer, but no less urgent. The hand ran through the boys hair on his head; dirty and greasy, but still soft. The old man's breath returned, wavering like a thread pushed through the eye of a needle. The fear in those breaths dissipated with every pant until it evened and became normal; constant. Julio felt the old man's long fingers curve around the shape of his head and heard the other hand clutch the folds of the shower curtain cape at his back. The Knight had returned to himself, having found the boy, and remembered. The hand stayed on Julio's head for a long time, until the boy finally did fall asleep lying on the highway.

 

 

He couldn't have slept long because when The Knight shook Julio awake the world was still dipped in the darkness of night. The Knight's jostling was harsh but wholly confident again. Julio snorted abruptly as he came to. 

 

"Boy. Boy! There's no time for naps, child. I fear we are in the midst of utter peril. If we are not careful, it may prove our undoing."

 

Sleep had magnified the dry, disgusting taste in the boy's mouth. He wished for a glass of cool clear water, and not for the first time. Julio rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hands and whined under his breath.

 

"None of that! Our life stands upon the edge of a knife, boy, and making our fear known to this darkness will surely finish the job! When we are stricken deaf and dumb with fright and there's not an ounce of courage left within us, feigned courage is better than no courage at all." The Knight's whispers were firm and reprimanding, coming from between clinched teeth and barely parted lips somewhere unseen from above Julio, but they were not unkind, and Julio woke a little easier. 

 

"What are we going to do?" Julio asked in Spanish, the only way he knew how.

 

"Look. I think I know where we are. A suspicion has been growing in my mind for some time now that my most powerful nemesis has yet to show himself. Nonetheless, I believe he... or it... is still trying to daunt me from my quest from behind the curtain."

 

Julio sighed. Whatever The Knight was talking about, it didn't sound like it would lead to food or water. Not knowing what else to say, he repeated his question.

 

"What are we going to do?"

 

"My guess is that he is some sort of wizard. An enchanter that pursues me unseen, turning my heroic adventures into laughable farces! Remember the army, boy? Just yesterday, the army of robots marching east, no doubt heading straight for the Capital. To do what, I dare not say. But it doesn't matter, for they were stopped. Though I tried to destroy them myself with my strength and sword, just before I was able to slice them all to oblivion, victory was taken from me. This 'Enchanter', if I may call him thus, turned the army into statues, robbing me of my glory. All while finding it quite hilarious, I presume."

 

The Knight grunted and spat into the darkness just as Julio felt an unpleasant spray of warm liquid hit the side of his head from above. 

 

"Maybe we should walk that way," Julio suggested while pointing one finger down the highway, but The Knight didn't see.

 

"I know, boy, but I will be revenged. If we can escape our present danger. For I think this same Enchanter has ensnared us; jealous of my power and determined to ruin my quest, he has trapped us in this dungeon. He knows I derive my power from the sun, and here, in his wretched cave, surely no sunlight can live. We must find our way out without the use of my powers, and I need you to be extra alert. do you understand?"

 

Julio shook his head. "No."

 

"Good. Now up, boy. Time is against us."

 

The Knight scooped a hand under Julio's shoulder and lifted him to his feet. The boy teetered on his heels back and forth before raising a hand and miserably dropping his head into it, rubbing and massaging life back into his face.

 

He heard The Knight's feet walking ahead of him, the bicycle wheels spinning softly as he walked it down the road. Julio waddled sleepily after him, remembering a game he had played by himself once. He had shut his eyes as tight as he could and walked around the house with his hands out in front of him, pretending to be blind until his Mama saw him and told him that if he was bored she would find something for him to do. Julio felt that way now, as if at any moment he would smack himself face-first into a wall.

 

"This blackness will be of little report compared to how quickly I will save us from its clutches-- once an exit is found." The Knight was no longer whispering, but was speaking in a hush the way Julio had to speak in libraries. "Although, your silence leads me to call your enthusiasm into question, boy. Do you doubt me still, even after witnessing all that I have accomplished in our time together?"

 

Julio recognized the questioning tone in The Knight's voice and knew it was his turn to speak.

 

"Are you feeling better now, sir? You haven't said this much since yesterday."

 

The Knight paused to think a moment, and then issued a raspy HA!

 

"Such pessimism surely isn't a requisite for any sidekick to any superhero I've ever heard of. These fits of doubt I sense in you transcend mere talent, boy, and approach the realm of super-human ability! If you have not yet decided on a name for yourself, I have one: The Incredible Doubting Thomas! If you work at it, you might develop your other latent super power of unwavering hopelessness."

 

Julio frowned angrily. Julio was tempted to open his mouth and string together as much verbal nonsense for as long as he could, but was stopped short. He heard The Knight stop ahead of him and sigh, with equal parts longing and restlessness. 

 

"The world is surely an empty place without the stars..."

 

Julio's mouth snapped shut. Something in the way The Knight said this made Julio wonder who he was talking to. Something in the way The Knight said this made Julio look up at the sky.

 

The Knight, whose neck was also bent so that he faced the void of space above, groaned. Ever since yesterday, after the fall, he had felt weak and his muscles hadn't responded to his mind’s commands the way they should. Every move he made was a stumble and it took longer to steady himself. Was he blind? Could he not see? Surely he should be able to see something.

 

Dizziness swept over him. The Knight felt as though he was clinging desperately to the side of the earth, rather than on top of it, and the whole world felt crooked to him. He could taste blood in his mouth, and one eye seemed uncooperative. Battle-wounds incurred from his last tumultuous fight against evil; nothing more.

 

These things did not worry him. They never did. He was a superhero. Not just a superhero; the most powerful of superheroes. He knew his body and spirit were capable of withstanding more than this. A cut could do nothing to stop him, and neither could the doubting din of whines from his sidekick. There could be no hurt to his body that would ever defeat him, and this was his power. He was unstoppable. He was unbeatable. And because of this no enemy, no evil doer, could ever prevent him from fulfilling his quest: to right a world that had been plagued by too many wrongdoings for too long.

 

Still... something felt wrong. Despite his power, he felt certain parts of his body where he could swear bones felt broken. Some felt fractured. Some joints felt as though they weren't fixed properly into the socket. If he was a hero, how could this be? None of the superheroes he had read about ever looked like they had broken bones. 

 

Nor did they sleep. For days on end the old man kept himself from sleeping, even if his sidekick did (and sometimes managed to sleep past sunrise; he wondered if the boy was born to sleep). And if superheroes didn't sleep, what did they do to restore themselves? The Knight took to standing watch all night, balancing his broken sword at its center upon a fingertip, gazing up at the moon or into the distance, searching the landscape and within himself for a sign. He never knew what it would be, but he knew he would recognize it when he saw it. Because that's what superheroes did.

 

Yet, despite the broken bones and the sleepless nights, one thing was certain about the secret to being a superhero he had learned from the collection of comic books he kept in his far away home: that a hero could be utterly battered and beaten, their bodies and their minds could be broken by some wretched cackling villain beyond all endurance until you were sure that they would perish, even unto the last page of the issue. And if the hero died, with them would die all hope for a righteous world. 

 

But somehow the next issue always demonstrated that no matter how high the odds are stacked against the defeated hero, it didn't matter. Nothing can stop the judicious spirit, the willing heart, the intent for good. The hero would rise back up with a full heart and conquer his enemy in the name of all that was good and beautiful in this world, and yet even still show mercy in the end because mercy was the most good and the most beautiful of things. Mercy was the beginning of forgiveness. To err was human, but to forgive was divine.

 

The Knight remained standing. He fixed his feet firmly into the earth and held on so that the world could not shake him off its surface or cast him into the blackened abyss of space. 

 

"Are you okay, sir?" Julio asked quietly from behind The Knight.

 

"All we need is a little light," The Knight replied without thinking. "Sometimes, in ages past, people of the earth would look to the sky at night and search for meaning in the stars above their heads; seeking signs in the cosmos. They would fix their attention on some conglomeration of stars and somehow derive inspiration from them; find some hidden story in their dim light to guide them by. Finding courage in their own imaginations." 

 

The Knight laughed softly at this.

 

"What a thing, eh? The imagination..."

 

The Knight trailed off, fell silent and closed his eyes. Julio, deciding that they had stopped again, sat down once more on the highway.

 

The silence became stretched out before them like the hide of a skinned animal. Julio was wondering if it would be worth it to try and sleep some more, and just before he could lay down onto the pavement, light did break against the night's horizon.

 

The light's arrival was abrupt and slapped itself against the side of The Knight's face. In the darkness, The Knight's eyes had opened wide, thirstily drinking the darkness in search for light. Now that light had finally come, it barged in to the old man's head like an uninvited neighbor, dragging muddy footprints across the carpet of his mind.

 

The Knight's eyes squinted shut and when that didn't seem to be enough he put a hand over his eyes. He heard the boy shriek, delayed by shock, but the sound felt distant and remote when faced with that proud steady beam of white. 

 

Who are you?, was his first thought. The Enchanter? His muscles tightened.

 

No, he decided. This was not the work of The Enchanter. Darkness was all the power the likes of him could wield. Light, however... light was the work of good. It could not be twisted for the purposes of the wicked. Light was hero work.

 

The Knight opened his eyes. The light was distant, far off, but it still stung his eyes. It danced on the black horizon like a phantom, but as his eyes adjusted The Knight's gaze fell not upon the source of the light, but upon what was lit.

 

The Knight looked at his body, illuminated in a white flame of glowing radiance. It made his bare, sunburned chest glimmer. The ripples of his plastic cape that danced in the subtle eddies of night air threw out dull reflections of the light's splendor against his skin and the pavement. He lifted his arms and gazed into the palms of his hands; the lines and folds of them filled with all the dirt, sweat and grime that valor and courage had poured across the path of his quest. 

 

There was blood there, too; but bravery would always be bloody work. The blood on his hands was dried into a brown crust. His blood; blood shed while protecting the innocent. His blood. His hands did not know the blood of his enemies.

 

The Knight's mustache began to curl up into a slow smile of realization. Since their imprisonment in this dark wasteland, devoid of light or hope, he had dreaded and despaired and grieved all their constantly failed adventures. He had blamed his doubting sidekick, bless the boy. He had blamed The Enchanter; a hideous mind-bending magician who perverted his attempts at glory and had even captured him in this prison. But, perhaps...

 

"Yes..." The Knight mused. He had endeavored to foil the evil doings of thugs and villains who ever sought to victimize the weak and helpless. They had laughed at the blood of their victims as they spilled it, but not him. Not The Knight. What he had thought of as failure all this time had been success, true success. For he had not even spilled the blood of the guilty. He had put an end to the plans of every criminal he had encountered, Robot Army and all, without inflicting even the most superficial of injuries upon them.

 

The Knight clinched his hands into two fists. His muscles were tight and his arms felt strong. The feeling radiated from his arms to his chest, down his knees and up his spine, travelling to the tips of his toes to the top of his head.

 

"Yes!" The Knight bellowed loud enough to shoot from the tip of his tongue down the stretch of highway to meet the oncoming light in the distance. "Yes!", he repeated, and laughed. A triumphant laugh that raised every hair on his arms and neck. It raised the hair on Julio's neck as well.

 

Julio was relieved to hear The Knight's laugh. Julio's eyes had also adjusted, but where The Knight saw what was lit, Julio saw what was doing the lighting. Julio saw only the lights from the car on the highway coming toward them. He even began to hear the slight upthrust of air from the engine. The Knight's laughter surely meant that he also saw the car and that this would be no Robot Army. They would be saved. The Knight might even wave the car down as it passed, making the driver stop so that he could drive them home. Julio couldn't wait to drink some water so he could cry tears of joy.

 

"Sir! We're saved!"

 

The Knight continued to laugh, and without turning his eyes from the ray of light, spoke to Julio in a robust, clear voice.

 

"Boy. Arise. The time has finally come. The prison we have been trapped within has finally cracked. The Enchanter is cunning in his spells and has turned my own mind against me, thus conceiving a trap that I built myself with my own doubts and fears. Yours too, I'm sure. But I have opened the door and you and I shall walk through it back into the daylight that awaits us on the other side. You and I will breathe clean, cool air and finally begin our illustrious campaign to save the world! Follow me!"

 

The Knight walked briskly to the middle of the road and marched up the highway to meet the light ahead. Julio, sure as he was that The Knight was for the first time seeing the world as he saw it, got up and gladly trotted behind.

 

It wasn't long before Julio felt uneasy walking in the middle of the road. Surely they would be seen just as well if they stood safely off to the side and waved the driver down. But one look at The Knight told Julio that he intended to stand right here on the highway, right in the car's path.

 

"Excuse me, sir. Shouldn't we move off to the side? He might not see us right away..."

 

"Be silent for a moment, boy. See what there is to be seen."

 

And still The Knight continued, walking with determined straight steps up the slight incline of the road. The car's headlights, growing larger and brighter with every passing second, were looking less and less hopeful to Julio and had taken on a dangerous look. Julio began guiding his steps to the curb of the highway.

 

"Sir, you might want to..."

 

"Boy! You must trust me. Yonder lies the star that will lead us to our salvation, then to the world's."

 

The Knight reached back, took hold of Julio's small brown hand and walked with him up the road as the car sped closer toward them.

 

Julio's mind raced to think of something he could do or say that might take them off the road, but as they walked past a bright reflective white road sign with black lettering: "SPEED LIMIT 75", Julio's brain suddenly stopped working.

 

"Sir. Please."

 

The Knight answered by drawing the broken hockey stick from his belt loop and stopped with his feet spread shoulder-width apart.

 

The air rushing behind the car filled Julio's ears like the sound of the ocean in a seashell. Julio's eyes darted from its headlights to The Knight and back, tugging furiously on the old man's arm to break away.

 

"Sir! Let me go!"

 

But The Knight held firm and wouldn't seem to even know Julio existed if it weren't for his unyielding grip on Julio's wrist.

 

The Knight straightened his arm holding the hockey stick and lifted it so that it was even with his eye, pointing it directly into the center of the two oncoming headlights. This was it. Now, The Knight felt securely where he should be; upon the very top of the earth, ascended to its highest peak, to meet the signs of the heavens with his sidekick, his trusty companion, his loyal apprentice at his side.

 

"I am The Knight!" The Knight called forth; it was not the harsh battle cry that Julio had heard so many times before peddling into the middle of another mind-boggling adventure, a voice that choked without water and cracked from abuse. This was a voice strong and melodious, but terrifying to hear. The voice gave way to The Knight's belief in his own complete sanity and unrelenting fearlessness while facing the hood of an oncoming vehicle barreling toward him at 80 miles an hour without a second guess.

 

"I am the righter of wrongs," The Knight continued, "the mender of evils and the avenger of injustice! I fear no thing! Hear me, approaching star: I am The Knight, and I fear no thing!"

 

Julio dug his heels into the pavement and leaned back, pulling away from The Knight with all his might, harder than he thought he was capable of but to no avail. Already it was looking as though it was going to be too late for them. The car was close enough to smell, the hot burning of fuel beneath the hood, the chugging of some violent engine that cared not one iota for Julio's skin and bones. 

 

The car flashed its high beams, as if in response to The Knight's proud proclamation. 

 

Julio couldn't help it. His body went soft, his muscles gave up one-by-one, starting from his legs and working up. The boy collapsed onto the road, falling to his knees. He stared at the lights in a way that spoke acceptance. He had seen it before; the look bunnies give to cars at night while standing in the middle of the road before his Mama would give a small shriek and turn the wheel. When the unseen driver behind the windshield leaned into his horn, the sound was all Julio could hear, drowning out the sound of rushing air, The Knight's joyous laughter, the sound of Julio's bladder releasing its final contents into his shorts, down his leg and onto the road. The only thing he could do now was close his eyes. 

 

 

Jarvis hadn't seen a car on Highway 79 since he turned onto it an hour and a half ago. This made the drive instantly more exhausting and Jarvis was already beyond exhausted. He had a fitful sleep in the back seat that afternoon, stuffing a random assortment of sweaters and pants over as many of the windows as he could, and napped uncomfortably for five or six hours. His grandmother's funeral was tomorrow and he promised his Mother he would be there, even if it meant driving ten hours there, dozing in the back of the church for an hour, and driving ten hours back so he could be at work at nine o'clock. 

 

Even before Julio and The Knight rolled onto the highway the driver had long since been feeling the edgy onset of road-weariness weighting heavily on his eyelids. He had been making good time, all he needed to do now was to keep up the pace long enough to get to the next town, find an all night diner (or gas station) and get himself a cup of coffee and a sandwich to keep him going. 

 

"Stay away from the egg salad..." he reminded himself, and stuck his tongue out at his reflection in the rear-view mirror.

 

Jarvis rubbed his eyes and started up a new chorus of The Star Spangled Banner at the top of his lungs and with as much gusto and verve as he could conjure up. He was on his dozenth refrain, improvising little bits and pieces as they came to him: Oh, hey don't you pee, not on my fresh baked pie! 

 

All the windows were down, blowing choking burps of night air into his face to keep him from falling asleep, but it didn't stop his eyes from blurring or his lids from drooping. He would see double-visions of phantom shapes in the night that rolled forever in front of his Jeep Cherokee like a vast carpet painted black with long yellow scars carved down the middle. A few times he had thought he saw dogs running into the middle of the road and would jerk awake suddenly at the wheel, sending his car wheeling back and forth between the lines. 

 

Just get to a town. Then you can stop. Maybe a nap.

 

He looked at the green digital clock on the control panel. 3:20. Maybe a nap.

 

Then it happened again, his eyes seeing something in the road. Not a dog this time, something bigger. His hands quickly shook the wheel with a jerk and his whole body swayed clumsily, bouncing against the driver’s door before straightening up again. Was it a deer? 

 

He flashed his lights, but as they dimmed he realized that they had already been on high, and so flicked the switch again. As the high-beams returned he saw, in horror, a tall old man holding a stick alongside a little boy standing in the middle of the road. They both looked like they had their eyes closed and were only 40 feet away from kissing his hood ornament. 

 

"S**t!"

 

His back aligned with the driver’s seat, his foot slammed on the brakes and his arm punched the horn in the center of the steering wheel. He swerved, first left, then to the right. The two figures in the road exited, re-entered and exited his view in front of the windshield. 

 

He would miss them, but he felt his stomach turn upside down with vertigo when he felt the car tilt onto its side.

 

That's it, he thought to himself. Thank Christ I buckled up. He managed to laugh at this before he watched his headlights shine out into the vast empty desert and fall upon the bed of dirt, rock and cactus he was about to land on. He didn't know why he was laughing. He didn't think any of this was very funny.

 

 

Between Julio's clenched eyelids, he felt the heat of the car’s headlights against his face, the rush of air as the corner of the front bumper came within inches of the boy, the skid of the back tire skipping like a stone on the water right toward him before it lifted off the surface of the road and threw back a tuft of hair on his head in its wake. And then it was gone, as though he was a ghost and it had simply passed right through him. He could still hear it, though, as it barrel rolled behind him in a thunderous crescendo of twisted metal, rubber and plastic. It was a sound you didn't need your ears to hear; you could feel it in the pit of your stomach from the ground up.

 

The wheels cried as they peeled. Julio smelled the husky burn of rubber hit his back.

 

He opened his eyes. The air had pushed the hair out of his face. The red light from the car's brakes were glowing from behind, silhouetting his and The Knight's combined figure into one looming shadow immersed in scarlet.

 

Finally, even the red glow was gone. There was one final crash somewhere behind him. He could make out other sounds now; wheels spinning fast, but slowing. An engine's sickly regurgitation. A long, low moan; soft at first but growing into a roar.

 

Every part of Julio's body felt too heavy to budge. The joints in his neck felt swollen like rain soaked wood. He managed to jerk his face up to look at The Knight, who was also frozen; his 'sword' outstretched, his mouth agape, his eyes wide and empty. Julio pulled his hand free from The Knight's slim palm, making an out of place pop sound like a cork withdrawn from a wine bottle.

 

They turned, almost as one. They found a trail of metal and rubber and plastic scattered before their feet like a trail of bread crumbs that led to a smoldering wreath of steel and flame growing higher and higher into the night sky, popping and hissing into the air.

 

The Knight turned to Julio and found the boy already staring up at him with his mouth hanging slack. Shocked and amazed, still on his knees in a small dark puddle in the road.

 

The Knight was fearsome to behold in the firelight; intense, carved out of wood with a hammer and chisel ages ago by some starving sculptor, and now standing here, somehow alive but shouldn't be. The blood that was caked around his face and down his neck, collected from two weeks of beatings uncounted, had now dried into a dirty brown veneer. His eyes had become once again sharp and knowing, and reflected the wisdom and sadness of many long years deep within them. Julio could also see two reflections of himself in the old man's eyes; could see his own bewildered stare, two portraits of one small and weak little boy painted in The Knight's stern countenance.

 

Julio didn't know English. And the longer he was with The knight the more he understood that he didn't need to know English in order to understand this man. Somehow, everything The Knight did spoke for itself. Madness unfolded wherever he went, half caused by him, half caused by an already mad world. But The Knight approached the madness; marched toward it unflinchingly and with bravery that only ignorance or confidence could empower. Was he a hero? Julio didn't know. All he knew was that there was no one else he could think of who would-- who could do these wild, impossible things and then look at him with eyes like that.

 

The Knight saw these unspoken thoughts in the child's eyes. The Knight didn't know Spanish, but the boy's look transcended speech. It was the face of awe; and why not? He was the mightiest hero the world had ever known. He could not blame the boy's inability to comprehend his power. He was only a very young, very small boy. He himself was very old, and stood quite tall, and still his own power was often a complete mystery even to himself; a mystery that was constantly being explored, rediscovered and shrouded again in questions. Every adventure led to a new epiphany. And where would they lead him? How would it end?

 

There was only one way it could end.

 

"You see, child? First you doubt, then you witness, and now you gawk. Do not stop; continue to doubt and distrust my instincts. Continue to watch with your eyes the wonders I undertake. They are my play thing. But I want you to remember the face you are making as you look up at me now. For when the two of us are standing at the salvation of the world by my hand, you will look up at me then as you look at me now, and you shall thank me. And I will tell you that no thanks was ever needed, but that indeed you are welcome."

 

These words came across a great distance at a great speed toward Julio, like they were being spoken to him out of a dream. He understood perfectly; the words themselves unimportant and muddy, but the meaning was beyond clear. Everything that anyone had ever said to Julio before had suddenly been rendered obsolete by The Knight's promise.

 

The Knight reached his hand out to Julio, and the boy took it immediately. He expected to feel The Knight's coarse skin like sandpaper and a heavy jerk that would pull him up by the shoulder. Instead, he found that The Knight's touch was gentle and slight, like his own, as he was lifted gracefully to his feet out of the small pool of his urine.

 

The Knight dusted the boy off and combed the hair back evenly over his head with his long dirty fingernails. He looked at the boy, head to toe, as if he were sizing him up; taking an inventory of what he saw in Julio. The Knight then nodded with a pleased smile biting at the corners of his lips, obscured beneath his brittle white mustache and then clapped the boy firmly on the back.

 

Julio had been frightened beyond anything he'd ever known only a moment before (had even peed his pants, just a little, and was relieved that the old man didn't notice), but felt as though he had grown a little. Felt taller.

 

The Knight gave a little laugh and then turned his gaze to the flaming star before them. He walked toward it, dragging his broken hockey stick behind him casually as he went.

 

 

Julio watched the rest unfold before him as if he were watching T.V. Before long, The Knight dragged the driver's body from the wreckage. Julio was afraid to look; afraid the driver would be bloody, or worse, not whole

 

But Julio was relieved to see that the driver was all in one piece, further relieved to see the driver’s neck, arms and legs moving on their own as he was dragged out into the night, and altogether overjoyed to see the driver shake his head and open his eyes in realization. Things would be alright.

 

The man became indignant. His body stiffened, he bumped chests with The Knight, his face crowded The Knight's face, his eyes burned, his hands began to prod and shove. His voice cracked in wrath. Julio watched it all.

 

Julio was impressed with how long The Knight chose to abide the driver’s pushes and threats. Julio's eyes translated the words for his ears; deciphering the meaning behind The Knight's consoling lips, rendering the implications behind The Knight's reassuring gestures. It may seem so, sir, but in actuality-- I saved your life. Eventually, however, the driver’s hard words became outright screams of unbridled anger. He yelled some few words that brought all negotiations to a halt, and after a moment, The Knight's own strong words began. Strong, but by far more elegant, more careful, than the boiling driver’s primitive spouts.

 

Julio understood all this, despite any gap in language, but the driver did not. Could not. In a flash, the hockey stick was stripped from The Knight's gentle hands, and was being battered against his skull. Even though The Knight collapsed onto the side of the highway, Julio saw that he never cowered away from the blows, but bore them with patience. Julio winced, watching from a distance. The blows looked brutal, but maybe it was the fire from the car that made it seem so.

 

The hockey stick was broken again over the driver’s knee and thrown into the darkness, never to be found again. The Knight's cape was torn from around his neck and pushed into his mouth with two of the driver’s revenge-hungry fingers. The Knight's words became muffled, and Julio heard the old man's obstructed breaths through his nostrils as the driver leaned down over The Knight and said something up-close, so quiet that Julio could only make out the hard sounds. K's and S's. F's and P's.

 

There was a kick or two more, but the worst was over. The driver finally left The Knight and wandered back to his car. He walked around it in circles, pulling his hair and repeating the same few words over and over again, faster and faster. The trappings of despair and panic descended onto the driver, and Julio watched. 

 

The boy was suddenly reminded of how The Knight sounded before; pawing blindly in the darkness on the highway as though he had awoken from a nightmare, not remembering where or who he was. Julio doubted the driver would recover himself as quickly, though. The driver had no sidekick to stumble upon in the night that would help him remember his pride, his honor, or his quest; whatever it might be.

 

The driver saw Julio then for the first time since he steered around him going 80. He had been heard by the boy. He had been seen beating up and humiliating the strange old man. Julio had witnessed the driver’s lapse of sanity into blind violence. The driver drew in a breath, as if to speak, but Julio stepped back into the shadows beyond the fire's reach and the driver's jaw snapped shut. The driver disappeared then, walking off into the night in the direction his car had been going before The Knight barred its path. Julio heard his footsteps for a long time afterward, but not a single word.

 

Julio took a deep breath. His lungs were free and clear; not even a hint of a wheeze creeping around the corners.

 

He ran to The Knight, who gurgled something that was a greeting of recognition. Julio responded accordingly before dragging him across the highway, away from the car, and then pulling the cape from his mouth.

 

The Knight didn't say anything but looked about as alright as was possible under the circumstances. Julio told The Knight where he was going and what he was doing before he disappeared. After a few minutes, The Knight heard the steady breath from the lungs of the boy named Julio, accompanied by the slowly spinning creak of bicycle wheels that would occasionally halt, turn an inch left or right, and then start again. As he approached, The Knight gurgled something that was a greeting, and Julio replied accordingly. The fire from the car was dying as Julio laid himself and the bike down next to The Knight in the dirt upon the east side of the highway. Together they laid there, sprawled on their backs, staring up at the black sky above.

 

It had seemed to Julio that this whole night had been dark and empty, but as he stared up into the sky, Julio thought he could see stars peeking through the impenetrable darkness out of the corners of his eyes, but would disappear whenever he tried to focus on them directly. He wanted to ask The Knight what the stars were. He knew that, long ago, people saw shapes of animals in them like connect-the-dots, and wanted to hear The Knight tell him the stories those people had made up about them. Julio was sure The Knight knew them, but he had no way to ask. The Knight didn't understand Spanish, and Julio couldn't speak English.

 

But Julio wondered if the old man was telling him the story of the stars anyway. Telling him the story of the stars by showing him through their adventures. The more Julio thought about this, the more he felt that it was true.

 

It wasn't long before the sky slowly turned its varying shades of blue with the coming of the sun. Julio counted off the stars from the corner of his eyes as they faded away, saying goodbye to them silently as they went and secretly wishing the sun would wait a little longer; wishing the night could stay a little more.

 

This wish, like all the others, was not granted. Not yet.

 

It wasn't until the sun was high into the sky the next morning, and they were walking slowly up the side of the highway in the direction the star had come from, before they spoke again.



© 2011 Keaton S. Ziem


Author's Note

Keaton S. Ziem
BIG special thank you to "Kaity >^..^<" for all of her spectacular editing/grammar/clarity notes. If you do it enough, maybe someday I'll learn not to make the mistakes in the first place. Also, I owe you somewhere around 180 steaks.

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Added on October 3, 2011
Last Updated on October 7, 2011


Author

Keaton S. Ziem
Keaton S. Ziem

Los Angeles, CA



About
I was raised in a cabin in one of the largest Ponderosa Pine forests in the continental United States. I had nothing to do with the amount of trees that grew there. I am an only child with two brot.. more..

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