The weather never changed. Shift after shift, day after week the sun blazed on above. Two clouds hung overhead, unmoving, and the light stretched around the little world until the sky grew pale but no less bright. They could only really guess how many months had passed, how many times the seasons changed back home, but still, the sky blazed blue and the trees forever green, ungrowing and unchanging, every passing second of the day. Like a moment frozen in time, forever. Liam was pretty sure he’d cry if he ever saw another sunrise, or heard the heavy rumble of thunder as rain pittered across his face.
“Do you know anything about the stars?”
He could see Scenty shift out of the corner of his eye. About half the group had chosen to sleep this shift, laying out near the pool just several minutes prior. He wondered, somewhat guiltily, if he’d woken her.
“Yeah, like, constellations and stuff.”
“A bit. I learned some of them when I was a kid. Not sure how much I remember though.” She turned somewhat more towards him. “What about you?”
“Not really,” he tucked an arm behind his head, “There was always too much light pollution to see most of them.”
“Even when you were a kid?”
“Yeah. I’ve pretty much always lived in the city.”
A comfortable silence lapsed. Despite the time, he could still picture the San Fransisco night clear in his mind: endless streetlights pushing back against the dark, their warmth melting into the sky, obscuring its stars. He was certain that, from a distance, one could trace constellations out of streetlamps and blinking signs, forming slightly different pictures every night.
“I used to know someone who loved that kind of stuff when I was little,” he said eventually, unsure if she was even still listening, “he learned every constellation. Knew a lot of the stories behind them too. The school hosted a field trip to a campsite one year, a few hours away. I never went, but he talked about it for weeks when he got back.” He chuckled a bit. He couldn’t remember the kid’s face now, let alone his name, but his passionate raving stuck out in his mind. “He said he’d never seen so many stars.”
“Why didn’t you go?”
He turned over the question, furrowing his brow a bit.
“I think I was sick that week?” he settled on, “I don’t really remember.”
Several seconds passed. She scooched closer to him so that their shoulders touched and raised her hand into view against the sky. Slowly she began to trace out an image with her finger, allowing it to hover on a few key spots for just a little longer.
“That’s the big dipper,” she said, moving her hand back and somewhat up.
“And that”—she drew a similar, smaller shape, letting her finger hover over its final point—”is the little dipper, with the north star at the end. You probably knew those ones already.”
She moved diagonally right, forming then a shape akin to an m. “That’s Cassiopeia. Taurus,” a houselike shape, “is to the left, while Cepheus,” a w-esque shape, with a tail trailing behind it, “is to the right-”
They flinched, sitting up as Moldy spoke. She sat close by, back against the pool, watching idly as Scenty drew out the constellations.
“That’s not right. You-” She paused, humming, and began drawing in the dirt. Pushing themselves closer to her sides, they watched her sketch out roughly the first three shapes Scenty had outlined. “You drew it like this?”
“Ok”—she added the other two—“ Cepheus is the one on the left, first of all. Taurus is down here, next to Auriga” She sketched them out, a sideways y and a lopsided pentagon respectively. Liam pointed to the shape above them, now unnamed.
“What’s this one then?”
“Wait, a summer constellation?” Subway Seat chimed, interrupting Moldy mid-sentence, “Why is Scorpius a summer constellation?”
“Cause it only appears in the summer, duh.”
Over the course of the following hour, almost everyone else had been drawn into the impromptu lesson. Airline Food and Contact Lens joined first, having been woken from their nap by the chatter. Tray and Subway Seat joined soon after finishing their own little activity, while Atom, Circle, and Whippy Creamy had been drawn in by the sight of the crowd. Constellations covered the ground, wrapping around Moldy’s original spot and extending outwards beyond arm’s reach. They had to dance through the paths they made as they grew, leaping carefully over the drawings. Moldy and Scenty added the most, Liam contributing what little he knew on the matter when he could, or simply sketching out new shapes when neither two could reach. The others simply watched and asked question after question, fascinated by the paintings of the stars they described. Airline and Contact were the only ones to have even seen the night sky, at least in any way they could remember. “Constellations” was just a word they may have heard in passing.
“How can it only appear in the summer?” Atom asked. Scenty looked up from her drawing.
“Well, the planet moves around the sun, right? So as it moves, you can see different stars depending on where around the sun the planet is.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
Now they clustered together in a wide arc, overlooking rough, unprofessional star maps made people who hadn’t even seen the sun go down in months . They studied them, soaking up each detail, each star and line and story. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the kind of skies they were dreaming up from their descriptions. Had they even mentioned that stars didn’t come in many colors? Did they need to?
“Because it’s a winter constellation, Orion starts setting once Scorpius shows up in the east”
Circle leaned over the drawings, seemingly imagining the path. “Do a lot of them do that?”
“A bunch of them, yeah.”
“Lyra, Canis Major, Cetus,”—Moldy began sketching—”hold on, let me draw that one out.”
He could count the number of particularly starry skies he’d seen in his life on his hands. He hadn’t been too bothered by that fact before: there were plenty of pictures online to look at, and he could just take a trip out of the city one weekend if he really wanted to. Even before arriving on the plane, it had been well over a year since he last saw a starry night in all its glory. Now he’d been whisked away here, stuck in an endless afternoon. Liam wasn’t sure when he would see a starry night again. He’d never mourned that fact before.
So he did the same as everyone else here. He took each line they carved in the soil and every star name they spoke and formed a night sky of his own. One with lights in windows and familiar faces that’d blurred, with grainy pictures on a glowing screen and the cold wind in his face. A night sky with endless sunny warmth and strangers he understood better in this moment than anyone else he’d ever known.