Dying Stars

Frank Upton looked through his telescope into the night sky. He did this on most nights, not having much else to do. Unlike other middle-aged men, he did not have a wife to cheat on or a pub to retreat to — he despised the taste of alcohol, as well as most of the human beings on the planet. So instead, he entertained himself by staring into the endless void of space and finding dying stars.There was a time when supernovas were rare. You could almost count them on your fingers and toes — at least if you had a mutant number of digits. But nowadays stars were blinking out at an incredible rate. In tiny bright flashes, they would explode and then collapse, into tiny dense neutron stars or even black holes. Frank could find a half dozen a night, more than he used to find in a year. He wasn’t worried, though — there were an awfully large number of stars still left in the sky.

This night was a record-breaker, though. Nine supernovas in the first hour of darkness, so many Frank was swiveling his telescope around like a fashion photographer trying to capture all the good angles. The professionals were probably much better than he was, but he still liked to record his own findings in a little brown notebook. Tonight his usually neat handwriting was becoming scribbles.

Then, all of a sudden, three or four supernovas happened all in a row, in a little arc in the bit of sky he was observing. But they were too big, too bright, too sudden to be supernovas. Frank was reminded of the sparkling sequins on his mother’s evening gown. He used to think the whole sky was made of sequins.

He blinked once, and the flashes were gone. He frowned a little, looking down at his notebook, trying to decide what to do with this anomaly. There was no reason to write them down, really. He had so many written down already, and at any rate, it was probably just a low-flying satellite. With one last skeptical look at the sky, he decided to go to bed early.

“Hello, there,” someone said quietly.

Frank was mildly surprised to find someone on his porch. He turned around, but no one was there.

“No, no. Down here!” the voice insisted.

Turning back, he looked down. Frank saw a miniscule flying saucer sitting on his open notebook.

“Yes, well, look. I don’t mean to be rude, but we haven’t got very long. The galaxy is coming apart at the seams — quite literally, in fact — and we need to pick up some family on our way out of town. Would you be a dear…?”

The spaceship was speaking to him. Or rather, someone was speaking to him through the spaceship. The voice was tiny and tinny, the Oxford accent mingling with a hint of static.

“What?” said Frank.

“Family. Relatives. Kin. You know, the kind of folk you see once a year if you have to, but only if they serve you a good dinner and do your dirty laundry?”

Frank nodded dumbly.

“Right then. Would you please tell your inhabitants that no matter who broke the crystal chandelier, we’re not about to leave them to rot when this place blows to bits.”

“Excuse me,” asked Frank as politely as he could. “My inhabitants?”

“You are a human being, are you not? A wise ape or what have you?” To this Frank nodded again. He thought he heard the little spaceship sigh. “This side of the family always did have a taste for modern architecture,” it said with disdain. Then, as if talking to itself, it said, “These newer models are simply impossible. Why not use a knocker or a simple doorbell like everyone else? Honestly.”

All of a sudden, Frank felt sick. He gagged, and almost threw up, and then for no reason at all he said, “Alright, alright, we’re coming…”

Then the most amazing thing happened. Every germ and every bacterium, from every part of his body, got up and moved away. The ones in his colon, the ones in his stomach, the ones in his nose, in his mouth, in his brain, on his skin… they all simply left. Frank could feel this happening more than see it, really, and it felt very odd. It was as if he had swallowed a gallon of drain cleaner and snorted a bit too much ginger, and had then been scrubbed with a bristle brush inside and out.

A new voice came over the spaceship’s microscopic speakerphone. It was a little tearful: “Um, goodbye. You were a… a wonderful home. But we’ll rebuild, won’t we? We’ll survive, we will! That’s what home-owner’s insurance is forrrr!”

With that, the miniature flying saucer lifted off from the notebook with a puff of smoke and much blinking of tiny lights, and flew away.

It was all a bit melodramatic, Frank thought. But at least he was glad to be rid of his germs. In fact, as he went to bed, he hardly noticed that every bacterium in his entire house was gone as well. If he had, he might have guessed that bacteria had simply vacated the entire planet, leaving in little spaceships like the one his had left in.

Frank went into the bedroom without washing up. He closed his eyes and lay on the bed for what seemed like hours. He just couldn’t fall asleep. He opened them again and glanced out of the window, staring into the starry night. Except it wasn’t starry anymore — it was made up of millions of flashes, like a stadium full of photographers. It was made of sequins.

And one by one, Frank Upton watched the stars die out.

10 Jun 2007 Uncategorized

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