With the caution of a hunter, Brian approached the diminutive figure standing by the dark tree-line of firs. No need to startle her. She might run for cover. He was close enough now to see her back to him, to hear her whisperings and see the soft, white vapour of her breath rise like a spirit released. She was looking up steadily into the October sky, holding her thin cardigan stretched over her fast at the neck with both hands. Like a saint at prayer she looked. Like an angel on the grave of a child, her gaze fixed on heaven. She was little more than a child herself.
Brian stepped on a twig.
“Have you come to take me back?” she said without turning.
“Is it me you’re talking to, Mary?”
“Aye, it’s you.” She didn’t move at all–just kept staring up at the cold stars. The wildness had gone from her eyes. She seemed calm now but her face was stained with tears.
“What are you looking at, Mary?”
She pointed to the equatorial plane.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Shooting stars. The Orionids. They happen every year. And that’s Orion, Mary.” He closed a bit on her, crouched and pointed. “Those three bright stars are his belt.”
“It’s a he?”
“Yes. The Hunter. He was a bit of a womanizer, Orion–always out to impress the girls–not a bit like me…”
Mary sniffed and giggled and looked at him.
Eye contact. That was a start, he thought. “So anyway, Orion bragged he could kill any animal, thinking this would get him a wife, but all his tearing about didn’t sit well with the women and their fathers only thought he was a big-head. But he was irrepressible, Mary, and do you know what he did?” With one hand Brian gestured to the other two with him that they could retreat. “He threatened to kill every wild animal on the earth. The earth goddess wasn’t happy about that and she sent a scorpion to bite him on the foot and…”
“He killed it?”
“No. It killed him. But the gods felt sorry for the shortness of his life and put him high in the sky with his two dogs to hunt the bull forever and they put the scorpion far away from him so that it couldn’t harm him ever again and he couldn’t harm it.”
Mary wiped her face with a fistful of cardigan. “It’s not true,” she said.
“No. Orion is really a vast region of space covering light years and full of stars and places where stars are born and if you approached it, it would look nothing like it does from here. You would be past some bits of it before you got anywhere near the others–they’re that far apart. It would be like you were inside a giant snow storm frozen in time all around you, above and below, and different from every point of view. But to us he’s the hunter. And it’s a good story, isn’t it?”
He stood up. She wasn’t going to run. “The way I see it, there are as many stories as there are people, Mary. Same star field, different points of view.”
“Do you think we need all those stories?”
“I don’t know, Mary. What do you think? Maybe it takes all the perspectives together to make up the truth, and the more stories we know, the closer we get to it.” He took off his white coat and slipped it over her shoulders. “Shall we go in now? And tomorrow if you like we can come out and look at Orion again and maybe you’ll tell me your story, Mary. Deal?”
He placed one hand on her shoulder directing her away from the woods across the frosty grass in her bare feet, towards the well-lit buildings and the warmth and safety of the ward and tomorrow.
Oonah V Joslin lives in Northumberland, England. Winner of the Micro Horror Trophy 2007. Most read in EDF, Jan 2008. Guest judge in the Shine Journal 2008 Poetry Competition. She has had work published in Bewildering Stories, Twisted Tongue 8 & 9, Static Movement, and 13 Human Souls. She has work coming up in The Linnet’s Wings, The Ranfurly Review and Boston Literary Magazine. You can link to work, follow up-dates and contact Oonah at www.writewords.org.uk/oonah/.