The Old Man and the Stars

As evening fell in the quiet town of Blackpool Bay, a strange man walked into the General Store. No one had seen him arrive, but no one had been specifically looking. This was all a bit unusual, as few people travelled this far along the coast and outsiders stuck out in town.

The stranger was tall, thin and quite hairless with immensely pale skin. His long black trenchcoat covered him like a second skin while square, functional dark-glasses hid his eyes. His smile was cold when he enquired of the location of Callum Road from the young boy working the desk in the store.

Callum Road ran through the old industrial edge of town and there was only one residential house on it. While other buildings dotted the road, most of them were empty warehouses from an age before the railroad had been diverted inland. Many years ago, an old mayor had tried to rejuvenate the place with a small park in one of the open plots along Callum Road, but that mayor was long gone and no one except the Old Man now used that overgrown park.

The Stranger nodded his thanks to the young boy, turned, and left the store without another word. The boy swallowed and wondered why his heart was beating so fast. And, in Callum Road, the Old Man stepped from his small house, walking stick in hand and began tottering down his walkway to the small park and the even smaller bench that lay down Callum Road.

Even the locals of Blackpool Bay knew little about the Old Man. He had moved to Blackpool Bay many years ago but kept to himself. He would buy odds and ends from the General Store and occasionally ask people awkward questions, but Callum Road was removed from the rest of town and no one ever visited him.

Sometimes, a local passerby would see the Old Man sitting on the bench at the park down Callum Road. He would be just sitting there staring at the night sky. This far from the lights of cities and civilisation, the stars came out in all their glory encrusting the cosmos in twinkling splendour as this small, spinning, insignificant planet spun its way through the Milky Way. The night skies just outside of Blackpool Bay were incredible and they were not the strangest thing to be sitting and looking at.

This was such an evening with the cosmic display twinkling in all its infinite beauty. And, so, the Old Man sat on his bench quietly looking upwards at the stars.

“Why is there moisture on your face? Is your body leaking?”

The Stranger was standing behind the Old Man. There had been no noise of his approach. He stepped forward and took a seat next to the Old Man on the bench. The Old Man never so much as glanced at him, his gaze directed squarely at the stars in the night sky.

“Human’s call it ‘tears’. It is the physical manifestation of ‘sorrow’. If you live long enough amongst them, you start to pick up some of their traits,’ the Old Man began talking slowly, but then started picking up pace like he had wanted to say these things for a very long time, “I have a theory that I actually had those emotionally traits all along, but I was unaware of them. I think we are all unaware of them. Sure, we can travel further and faster than humans and we have better technology, but humans are far more emotionally evolved than we are and we can learn great things from them about this hidden knowledge.”

The Stranger takes off his dark-glasses and holds them in his lap where he neatly folded his hands. He glances at the Old Man–who has not moved his gaze from the stars above–and then turns and looks to the night sky.

“We sent you down in a pair–” the Stranger starts talking, but the Old Man turns and looks straight at him, abruptly interrupting him with a dry chuckle.

“You always send us down in pairs. Always in pairs,” the Old Man leans forward and wipes away a tear from his eyes before continuing, “My other half is gone. My partner’s cosmic light expired when one of the human’s mechanical mobile devices, a Mercedes Benz, driven by an intoxicated driver skipped a red light and hit her crossing a road. This was thirteen years ago. Human’s call it ‘passing away’. She passed away thirteen years ago.”

The Stranger’s face was impenetrable, but his gaze turned from the stars above to the Old Man next to him. The Old Man now had tears openly slipping down his face.

“She passed away in my arms, and thirteen years have passed since then. This body you gave me has aged and it is starting to expire, but all I want is my partner back,” the Old Man wipes his eyes and sighs deeply, before turning back to look at the stars twinkling far above, “Many humans believe that there is life after death, and I do hope so. Even though her body is gone, her cosmic light could still have been captured by one us out there, surely? I keep searching for her somewhere out there in one of our galaxies, or some hidden part of the cosmos that we will yet discover…”

The Old Man’s voice fades and he drops his gaze to the ground. The Stranger is still looking at him.

“I do not understand,” the Stranger shakes his head, “What are you doing? What are you talking about? Perhaps we left you on this planet too long, but I look forward to the full report.”

The Old Man turns to the Stranger and smiles.

“Of all the things I have learnt here and of all the things that humans have taught me, this is the greatest knowledge of all: what I am feeling is love, and we can all feel that too. Love is the greatest of all emotions, and I will teach our people it. Come, it is time to go. I will tell you all about it back home.”

The Stranger nods, the Old Man smiles, and then the bench is empty.

The Old Man will never be seen, nor will the Stranger. But, the next day, local talk buzzes about two particularly bright shooting stars that flew low over Blackpool Bay late that night. A few locals even swore that they saw a third shooting star up there join the passage of the other two.