Authors: Nadia Scrieva
“I’m not allowed to.”
“Then I’m jumping.”
“Fine, fine.” I throw my hands up in defeat. “I guess you could consider me a… supernatural social worker. An agent of above.”
“Those sound like euphemisms to me. They’re unclear and they tell me nothing. I want to know everything.”
I hesitate, looking around as though Father might be watching. Then I remember that it doesn’t matter anymore; I might as well be straightforward. I do feel a strange sort of respect for Kieran and he deserves my honesty. “The truth is that I am a star and this body is my human vessel.” I flinch, expecting him to laugh or accuse me of lying. Instead, he puts down the wire cutters.
“See? Was that so difficult?” he teases me. He sits abruptly down on the bridge, with his back against the railing. “So what did you want to tell me?”
“I…” Moving over to the bridge, I lower myself to sit beside him. I have never done this before; I have never had this conversation when I had previous interaction with the person. They are usually complete strangers. But then, is he not a stranger? Why does he feel so familiar? My insides are all unsettled and rattled. “I want to listen, Kieran. I want to know why you decided to do this.”
“Where should I begin?” he jokes, resting his arm casually on his knee. Although he tries to appear composed and calm, I can now see that behind his eyes he is hurting. I am not sure how I did not see it before.
“One reason,” I tell him, “just give me one good reason to justify this.”
“I don’t know if I really feel comfortable telling you about my personal life,” he says softly.
“You nearly killed me with your car. I figure that’s the least you owe me.”
“I didn’t even leave a scratch on you,” he argues. “In fact, you should have told me right then and there that you couldn’t be killed so I wouldn’t have been so worried.”
“But I can be killed. I heal quickly, but I can’t be revived from death. I thought that was the end,” I admit. “It was not pleasant.”
“I’m sorry,” he tells me, rubbing his forehead. “See? There’s one good reason. I am in such a messed up state of mind that I am a danger to innocent people. I nearly killed you because I was crying and upset that my girlfriend dumped me. Who dumps someone on Christmas Eve?”
“Would you like to talk about that? Is this mainly about Madison?” I ask.
“Of course not!” he snaps. “Sure, Madison was important to me. She was the only person I had—that’s why it hurts so much. My father has basically abandoned me. My sister hates me. My mother died when I was very young. It’s all my fault—I broke apart my family. I am the black sheep, the dark shadow in all of their lives. The truth is that everyone I know, and everyone I have ever met—everyone I ever
is better off not knowing me. I only bring sorrow to people.”
“That’s not true,” I tell him, reaching out to clasp his hand and squeeze it. He did the same to mine earlier, and I feel like this is a suitable moment. He returns the pressure.
“I regret to say that it is true. I’m the one who’s lived my life every day for eighteen years, and I know what a mess it is.”
“I can show you that you’re wrong; I can give you hard evidence. More than just my word that I am glad to have met you and you will bring me no sorrow. You will bring only good things into my life.”
He seems interested in this. “Are you just saying this to influence me? Do we really have some sort of connection or am I just—some sort of special case? A client?”
“If I was sent to save you, then you are special. You are precious and important to the world—and beyond that, yes, to me particularly.” I blush a little as I say this last bit.
“You can’t just say something like that, Kayla. You hardly know me. If you did know me, you would understand what a disaster I am. How I ruin everything I touch.”
His fingers are sliding toward the wire cutters again, and I can see that I am losing him. I grasp his fingers and look at him with horror. “Please don’t do this,” I whisper.
“I need to go. I wish I had never been born.”
My face softens a little. I know these words well—they have been uttered time and time again by thousands of despairing individuals for as long as there has been despair. I feel a certain sense of comfort now that I am in my element. “Kieran. I can work with that. Let me show you what I know. Let me show you what things would have been like if you hadn’t been born.”
He looks at me in surprise. “You can do that?”
“Of course,” I say with a smile. “All I need is a little stardust.” I reach into my purse and pull out a small satchel. I untie the string, and shake a bit of shimmery powder into the palm of my hand.
“Stardust?” he repeats, gazing at the substance. He seems to be able to tell from the unearthly quality of the material that it is dangerous. The air vibrates with the energy of the powder.
Kieran shakes his head cautiously. “I don’t do drugs.”
I giggle a little at his analogy. “We are all stardust,” I tell him. “This is just the stuff you’re made of. Come on, try it with me—it will give you some perspective.”
He seems worried for a moment, but then he nods with determination. “I trust you, Kayla. Besides, what have I got to lose?”
“Excellent. To the past,” I say with a smile, “if you had not been born.” Almost as though I am blowing a kiss, I purse my lips and release a gust of breath to waft the stardust from the palm of my hand into his face. The particles slowly settle into his eyes, and he also inhales them. I see his pupils dilate almost immediately with the impending wisdom of our journey. It affects me too—I feel suddenly infused with all the knowledge necessary for my task. I’m in control now. I’m ready and capable.
And off we go.
“Whoa. What is this place?” Kieran asks, swiveling to look around.
We are standing at the center of a maze of hedges, and scenes from various seasons are flashing around us. The hedges are naked of leaves and covered in snow one moment, and fully green and lush only a second later. It’s rather breathtaking to watch the world transform so rapidly.
“We are in time,” I answer.
Kieran’s hand darts out to touch my back. “This is insane,” he tells me in a low voice as he surveys our surroundings. “Are we safe here?”
“Of course. I know my way around, so just stay close to me,” I tell him. Father always said that we must be certain of the outcome of our every action long before we act, but I have always been notoriously indecisive. It’s a fatal quality in my line of work—but when it comes to stardust, I have a keen intuition. This is my strength; I understand the flow of time.
I begin walking quickly and leading Kieran down one of the passages through the maze. He follows me with complete trust, only inches behind me. I feel that if I were to suddenly stop walking, he would crash into my back. A small smile comes to my lips as I consider doing this just to tease him, but I remember that there is serious business at hand. When we reach a crossroads, I turn left without hesitation. Before long, we come upon a fountain.
“That’s beautiful,” Kieran says softly.
It is. The fountain is in the shape of a woman emptying water from a jug; she is endlessly pouring into the pool below. “We need to step into the water,” I tell him.
He nods with surprise, but he moves to stand beside me. “What is going to happen?”
“We will see what you need most to see—but we will not be seen.”
“That’s cryptic,” he says, taking a deep breath. “Well, together?”
I smile at him. “Yes. Three, two, one…”
We both step forward into the water, and as soon as our ankles are submerged, a dizzying gust of wind sweeps around us, temporarily blinding us as it transports us to a small room. When our vision clears, we can see that we are now standing in a well-lit nursery. Our feet and ankles are dry as though we had never stepped into water. Half of the room is pale pink, while the other half is cobalt blue. There is a woman with short brown hair standing on a ladder with her back to us. She is dragging her paintbrush across the wall in slow, purposeful strokes.
“I know this place,” Kieran says in confusion. “I recognize the room. It looks different but… Mom?”
The woman does not turn around, but continues to paint. She pauses to wipe her forehead and sigh. “Mom, is that you?” Kieran whispers. The woman still does not respond, but the sound of small footsteps in the hallway cause her to turn her head slightly.
shouts a little girl, running directly through Kieran’s body to stand at the foot of the ladder.
“When’s Daddy coming home?”
“I don’t know, sweetie,”
the woman on the ladder says.
“I’m trying to get this room painted before he’s back.”
“Oh my god,” Kieran says, reaching down to touch his body. He understands for the first time that he is no longer corporeal. “They can’t see or hear me. What’s going on here?”
“This is the moment where your wish comes true,” I tell him softly.
“Mommy, why do you have to paint it blue?”
the little girl asks with dismay. She tugs on her mother’s dress in frustration to get her attention.
The woman turns around slowly, looking down at the little girl with infinite patience. Now that we can see her full profile, it is evident that she is pregnant. Her stomach is not gigantic, but against her slender form, the bump is noticeable.
“We painted it pink for you, darling, but soon you’re going to have a new baby brother. He won’t like pink as much as you do.”
“Why not? It’s a pretty color.”
The woman smiles.
“Maybe. But your dad really wants the nursery to be blue. It’s my fault, really. We should have gone with something neutral to begin with like green or yellow.”
“I like it the way it was before. Why don’t you wait until my brother gets here and ask him?”
the little girl argues.
“Chloe?” Kieran asks softly. Of course, the little girl cannot hear him. He turns to me with confusion written all over his face. “I think that’s my sister. She’s six years older than me.”
I nod at this information. “Seems about right. She looks like she’s around five right now.”
“That means that I’m…” Kieran lifts his hand to gesture to his mother who is still standing on the ladder, holding her stomach with one hand and the paintbrush with the other. She is laughing and telling her daughter to return to playing so that she can finish painting.
“That’s right. You haven’t been born yet.”
Kieran walked forward in a trancelike daze. “Mom. Oh, Mom, you were so beautiful.” After a moment, he lifts his arm to wipe his face on his sleeve and I realize that he’s crying. “I miss you so much. I never got to see you like this.”
I want to give him some private time with his thoughts, but I must use this scene to bring him to an understanding. I step forward and place my hand on Kieran’s back. We stand there silently, watching his mother drag her paintbrush up and down along the wall.
“What do you mean by saying you never saw her like this?” I ask him softly.
Kieran swallows. “She had a stroke while giving birth to me. She lost the ability to speak along with most of her motor functions. I remember going with her to all kinds of therapy—my dad sought all the best doctors in the country, but she was never the same. We spent most of the family’s money on hospital bills, and eventually my mom died. I was ten.”