The sky is bigger in Texas. The trees in the Midwest loomed large, stretching their branches upward and forming green canopies that provided shelter. But here, a thousand miles south, fewer trees dot the grasslands. They grow small and gnarled and low to the ground. The trees cannot stop the wind, and it whips across the field, crackling and echoing in my ears.
At night, thousands of insects sing in the marsh nearby as I step outside. There are no trees above me here. Only the roof of my porch separates me from the sky above, and as I dare to step out of shelter onto the grass, a million pinpricks from the stars bear down upon my head. Tiny needles poke the edge of my consciousness. It’s then, on a cool evening in March, that I first hear the stars call my name. Their whispers echo through the stagnant air as I stand on my porch and gaze up.
I ignore the call.
In April, the storms hit. The clouds gather in the early afternoon, and the first drops of rain quickly give way to a downpour. Thunderstorms rattle the windows, sending torrents of rain to choke the ground. The water collects in deep pools and ditches until the parched, cracked earth can swallow it. But the clouds block the stars’ searching light from me, and I can stand on my porch without their voices intruding into my mind. I watch the rain continue through the evening, and I sleep soundly despite the roaring thunder.
The next day, the clouds break. The storm moves on, allowing the sun to burn down with early heat. As I drive, I observe the clouds hanging low and massive as they spread out across the horizon. The sunlight fails to illuminate their underbellies, rendering them in shadow. It gives them a sense of weight, like they are heavy, physical objects hanging in the sky, with only a small cord preventing them from falling and crushing the land below.
Compared to the clouds, the houses look low and small. They are beige and uniform, as though camouflaging themselves from the searching gaze of the stars. But the stars have seen me already, and the camouflage does me no good.
When night comes, I stay indoors. A glimpse through my window shutters is enough to catch sight of the stars and hear their voices. I cannot understand all that they say, but the words are soft, beckoning me to leave my home and come out into the field. They only wish to speak to me. Room by room, I close the shutters in my house, and I lock the doors. Only then do I sleep.
The heat intensifies in May. In the day, the sun burns down on me like a magnifying glass, concentrating its rays to a single point. I jog the trails with a bottle of water strapped to my chest as hot wind sweeps across the grass. The daylight protects me from the other stars, and I am free to occupy the field near my home.
The storms cease, and the nights grow hotter. Peeking through my shutters, I spot purple-white lightning jumping from one gray cloud to the next. Heat lightning. The motion of it brings the image of nerve impulses to my mind. I imagine the stars behind the clouds, each a tiny point of light. They are a million cells, connected in a neural network, sending tiny signals across the horizon and down to me. I withdraw from the window.
It’s after dusk when I hear a commotion in my backyard. There’s the sound of scratching followed by a series of hollow thumps. In the distance, people are shouting. The scratching intensifies and suddenly stops. Something metal clinks and footsteps draw nearer.
There’s a dog in my backyard. It is small and tan, and it runs through the grass, rolling with delight. I step outside and it stops for a moment to note me and then returns to rolling on the ground. The shouting people approach the opposite side of the fence, and I call to them, asking if they lost their dog. I tell them it just burrowed into my yard.
They laugh and sigh with relief, and when they make their way to the back gate of my yard, I let them inside. The dog jumps on them, and I smile as they reattach its collar and leave. I tug on the gate to make sure it’s closed and laugh to myself.
The stars laugh too. I hear them and feel their delight at the small dog rolling in my yard. Their tiny points of light dance over me, and I realize that I am standing beneath the night sky with nothing to shield me. No clouds, no trees, no porch. The lights prick my skin, and it feels like tiny shocks of static electricity. It’s not painful, but it stings and my hair stands on end. I retreat to my porch, to safety, but I do not go inside yet.
The stars make no move to scoop me up and return me to them. They merely twinkle at me, sending down tiny shocks, like little thoughts worming their way through my mind.
When I look into the night sky in June, I remember names for myself that I’ve never known. I open the shutters in my front room and watch the small patch of sky through the window. I know I am staring into another world, through a liminal space where something unknown can cross the gap between our worlds. It’s a place where the stars can slip their messages into my mind.
The stars whisper beautiful things to me. They speak unfamiliar names and call me words I don’t understand. They beckon me again to the field, and cautiously, I unlock the door and walk to the edge of my porch. I sit there. My feet touch the grass, but I go no further. I don’t walk to the gate, down the sidewalk, and out into the field. I stay still, listening as the stars call my name with fondness.
In July, I dream of swirling nebulae and places I’ve never seen. I drift far from home, among the stars. Here, I am immense, as big as the sky. The stars and planets spread out before me, burning gas and dust that I shape and reform as I please. Behind me, others sleep inside stars and within rocky planets. They wake, reaching toward me with shadowy forms, arms welcoming me.
The others clutch at me as my body returns to wakefulness. With their wills, they broadcast their messages through the stars, through that immense neural network connecting us. In the morning, I open all the shutters in my house and step outside. The clouds move across the horizon like the floats of an enormous parade, and I think it may be in my honor.
I spend the day watching the clouds, waiting for night to fall. The sky is bigger here because it holds more than it seems. The nearby and far away worlds meet in this place, bearing down on the earth with such intensity that the sky itself stretches and grows.
In the early evening, I shower and dress myself in my best attire. I wait on my porch for night to fall, greeting the stars as the red sun fades. They welcome me, their light dancing over me as I close my gate and walk into the field. The warm air blows through my hair and across my face as I walk along the trail, past the small trees and up the highest hill. I stand there as night arrives and the stars sing to me from far away.
Their light hugs my body like a warm embrace, and I raise my hands to the sky, welcoming all the messages the others have been waiting to impart. Joy and wonder surge through me as the stars guide their words to me, and I feel their blessings and adoration, as they call my many names.
Filled with starlight, my mind burns awake.
Catherine Yeates is a writer and illustrator exploring themes of cognition, perception, and identity. Their work recently appeared in MetaStellar. They live with their partner, cat, and two rambunctious dogs. Find more of their writing at cjyeates.com.