Light the Way Home
Sam crested the small mountain, arriving at Bald Ridge just as the moon took its lantern and dipped below the horizon. Darkness draped over the tops of the pine trees. A zillion stars pinpricked its black fabric.
She leaned over her pajama-clad knees, chest heaving. Perspiration dripped down her neck and back. It’d been easier to run to the top of this mountain when she was younger. Back then she’d left her kid brother, Jeffrey, in her wake. Tonight, running for the first time in years, her thirty year-old body begged for a break. Her breath froze at the base of her throat.
Although her trembling limbs told her she wasn’t ready, Sam lay flat on the cold granite rock, arms sprawled. Dusted in starlight. She pretended Jeffrey was lost somewhere behind her. What if she retraced her steps? Back, back, back. She’d teach him to find his own way to their peaceful peak.
Then, as they’d done when they were children, she licked the tip of her index finger to protect it from star fire. She touched distant Deneb and drew a line down to bright Altair, and back up to Lyra’s Vega. But instead of finishing the last edge of the Summer Triangle constellation, she swept the invisible lines away, her hand a blackboard eraser.
She slid her body, like a great hand on a clock, toward Cassiopeia. Pebbles dug into her shoulders. Her sweat-soaked pajama top peeled from her back and then re-stuck. Lifting her knees, she planted her feet flat on solid rock. He was up there somewhere. She knew he was. Again she drew invisible lines. First this star pattern, then that. Then she joined them all together into a single constellation. She called it The Teacher.
Sitting, she pulled her knees to her chest. The sharp bones of her bottom grated on rough granite. Still she stared deep into the night, letting darkness fall around her and through her. The Milky Way, like the finger of God, pointed from the heavens above to the invisible village below. It ended in a cascade of silver atop the roof of her childhood home, where her parents slept. Or perhaps they too stared at this wondrous night and begged God to replace fear with blessings.
Jeffrey had never moved far from home. Not like Sam, who had studied in Rome followed by two years in Sierra Leone working in make-shift hospitals. Now she worked in Manhattan at the World Health Organization. Jeffrey was a High School science teacher, working in the town where they’d grown up. Walking the same halls they’d walked together. Married to the same girl he’d loved as a teenager. His freshman year, it was Sam who’d found him lost in a maze of lockers. She’d been the one who guided him to his homeroom.
Tonight, Jeffrey was far above them all. One of the satellites overhead. A beloved instructor, he’d been nominated for the revamped, privatized, Teacher-in-Space program. He wasn’t the first teacher selected by Project Go. Many, many had traveled before him, all hoping to discover the puzzle piece that would create a new earth. Most returned to hug their families, to celebrate holidays, to climb bald mountains.
Yesterday morning, Project Go announced they were no longer in contact with Jeffrey’s shuttle. Yesterday afternoon, Sam flew to New Hampshire to be with their parents. Driving would have been faster, but she wanted to share the sky with Jeffrey. To be as close as possible so he’d know he wasn’t alone. By evening, Project Go reported there’d been no contact. No need to worry, they said. The crew is trained in navigation.
Now, it was night’s last gasp before dawn. With one vast sweep of her index finger, Sam circled The Teacher and tethered it to the Milky Way. Then she stood, stretched to the morning star, and with the first pink glow of dawn as her lantern, Sam led the way home.
About the Author: Barbara Rath writes prose poetry and fiction in the dark hours that surround full-time technical work. She has been published in the online journals, The Birds We Piled Loosely and Scarlet Leaf Review (August 2018). She is an MFA in Writing candidate at the University of New Hampshire, holds memberships with Boston's Grub Street and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project (NHWP), and just finished a stint as host for NHWP's craft and publication webinars. Ms. Rath's writing journey is chronicled here.