Jeffrey Lee | Art by Krisalyn Satriya
She dreamed of the night when the sky blossomed. That night, as Noel searched the empty skies for the lost signs of stars, a brilliant light burst through the void. For a brief moment, the light, like a freshly lit hearth, lingered and flickered in the expanse of the night. In those moments, its fierce glare illuminated the world around her, a light that was far too menacing to be the soft glow of the moon, but far too gentle to be the relentless rays of the sun.
Then, as if the light itself had awakened, it erupted with a surge of glistening silver that rippled across the sky before it tore through the black curtains, launching itself downwards and towards the gaping horizon of the dry and cracked Earth. And she watched. She watched as that beacon of light plummeted into the shadows, and slowly dissipated into nothingness.
She might just be dead. The spinning, the delirium, the aching, the numbness—these feelings plague her, overwhelm her, and drown her. She is falling without the violent embrace of the wind to press against her skin. She is sprawled out in repose, without the tender reassurance of the earth against her back. She is suspended, only, left to hang in unconscious volition than by the encouraging tug of marionettes.
She might just be dead. Am I going to heaven? She thinks to herself. But she does not want to be dead. She cannot afford to. A sudden urge arises in her chest, I want to see the world, and eyelids lift briskly and effortlessly, unveiling the world before her. This world, left at her mercy, is her world.
Before opening her eyes, Noel was anticipating a brightness. And as she felt a delicate warmth permeate throughout her body, even gracing the tips of her fingers, she was certain that it was the gentle lights of the afterlife, cradling and caressing her ever so softly. But upon parting with her solitude that lay beyond those closed eyes, the darkness, which was all that she had known and all that she remembered, became a black void that swallowed whatever light that persisted to flicker in the unforgiving emptiness. However, in the distance, speckles of light glared and pierced through the darkness which, to Noel, illuminated the empty world, immersing it with a light so incredibly tender and reassuring, it brought a faint smile to the girl’s lips.
Still, it is a lot darker than what she expected. She expected a golden staircase, along with a procession of angels walking up and down singing, in their beautiful voices, their gentle, joyous songs of praise. She expected that, upon reaching the top of those stairs, pearly and untainted clouds would part, revealing the Saviour with arms wide open to bring her into paradise, behind the Saviour, a brilliant light would spill down their shoulders, filling the world with its tranquility and warmth. Those were, of course, only expectations. This world is not heaven. And the Saviour, they have other plans. The Saviour, at this moment, has a feeling. And they will watch and wait patiently, anticipating how it will all end.
Despite all of her expectations, Noel is not the least bit disappointed; rather, she is absorbed in such a peculiar sense of rapture and excitement, that the numbness ends abruptly, finally bestowing her with the will over her body. Overwhelmed with the sudden and unfamiliar possession of power, her body trembled with newfound ecstasy. And she felt throughout her body, her muscles twitching violently and sporadically; it was as if each part of her body became sentient, given a will of their own, and having realized their unrightful sovereignty, sought futilely for escape. Gradually, she felt the twitching and trembling subside, and order was reestablished. But it is only after, having felt her limbs convulse freely in the space around her, does she realize that she is suspended in the void. Racked with a sudden loneliness, she looks to the specks of light in the distance, clinging to them, seeking solace in the bizarre familiarity of the stars.
As Noel observes the world, she becomes aware of the fact that she is in the emptiness of outer space. And despite knowing the reasons for her weightlessness, the emptiness, the stars, she would not dare to question the reasons for her breath, her thoughts, her life. I am protected by the Saviour, is all that she can will herself to think. But at the moment, Noel feels afraid. She fears her own thoughts. She fears that, if she ever thinks of questioning her existence, or even regarding the absurdity of it, her breath would be revoked by the Saviour as easily as it was given by them. And because she fears her thoughts, she becomes wary of the darkness, which presses against her consciousness, urging for her mind, in her solitude, to wander freely into the abyss of doubt and despair. However, Noel is resilient, and focuses her mind on the stars that lie in the distance, gazing intently at the reassuring lights, until it is all that she is able to perceive.
Amongst all of the stars glimmering eagerly in that ocean of darkness, a single star, a light that shimmers brighter than the others, piques Noel’s interest. That star, she observes, seems to expand, growing larger and larger over time. However, upon further inspection, she notices the faint, yet distinct outline of an immense vessel. As the ship approaches her, Noel begins to fully grasp its sheer enormity and beauty. The ship’s deck, save for a flat and wide cabin that sits amidships, is completely barren, with no mast or sail. It’s exterior is a lustrous, pearly white that is strikingly flawless and pure in every aspect. The lights that glint off the surface of the ship are so dazzling and alluring that the ship appears to possess within its hull all the stars in the universe. And to Noel, its vastness is almost incomprehensible, dominating over her, making her minute and insignificant in comparison. All the life on Earth, it seems, could lie peacefully in its interior. And by just basking in its splendor, she knows that she will be safe. She knows that she will be protected. And she knows that nothing could possibly break through its sturdy frame.
Entranced by the ship, Noel wills herself to board it. And by some innate and inexplicable occurrence, Noel, with a dazed and bewildered expression, promptly hovers above the ship’s deck and perches gently upon it. Once her feet make contact with the deck of the ship, she is grounded to its surface; and the ship, as if responding to the girl’s will, abruptly turns in an obscure direction and pushes its way forward with an unusual sense of determination.
Despite the universe being infinitely vast, the ship swiftly reaches its destination without any significant obstructions to interrupt their voyage. Noel, upon realizing that the ship had stopped moving, emerges from below the deck after touring some of the ship’s cabins and having found every cabin to be completely devoid of life. As Noel looks over the railing of the deck, she discovers that the ship has arrived at a planet. However, instead of landing the vessel, the ship remains anchored in the void; and it stays just close enough for Noel to identify, beyond the white wisps of clouds that spread across the atmosphere, what she thinks to be the land and the water. Yet somehow, this is enough for her. Standing alone on the deck, mystified, she believes that she has found paradise.
As Noel gazes wistfully at the untouchable paradise, a sudden urge tugs fiercely at the back of mind, impelling her to seek a new destination. And as if responding to her will, the ship set its course, and proceeded to move once more in some obscure direction. This time, however, the ship drags itself onwards, with a peculiar sense of caution.
Eventually, the ship begins to approach a different planet. And as it advances towards its destination, Noel stares intently at the planet with an unexpected and newfound clarity. Perhaps … Perhaps, there is still a chance! She is not certain of what she is looking for, but she feels the urge to see it for herself, to see the Earth in her world. A world where paradise can be found and stars can carry wishes across the emptiness of space. I want to see the Earth. And upon setting eyes on the Earth, she saw an Earth where water flows freely through rivers, and where the embrace of the spring breeze brings with it the sweet smell of flowers. She saw an Earth where the humans looked, not to the stars or to the Saviour, but to themselves. She saw an Earth without its war, without its death, and without its destruction. Looking to the Earth, she knew that it was only hers. She knew that it was only a dream. Nevertheless, she sprinted towards it, with eyes closed, to the edge of the ship, and jumped.
By the time she opened her eyes, Noel felt herself falling. And she knew that this time, she was awake. To her back, was the abandoned Earth, ravaged and swept by a relentless inferno. Before her eyes, were the remnants of a spaceship, shattered and broken, pierced through by a single streak of light. And in her final moments, as she slowly closed her eyes, she surrendered herself to the abyss of despair, where it seemed that only the darkness would accept her.
As for the abandoned humans that remained on the scorched earth. On the last day, they looked to the night sky for the lost signs of stars. The Saviour, with a decisive gesture, sent forth to their subjects, a final gift. A single star, a single light, to illuminate the empty world. The humans looked up. And they watched that beacon of light, the crippled and shattered remains of humanity’s last hope, the girl’s mangled and burnt corpse. They watched as the star was shot across the night sky for all the life on Earth to witness. And finally, all of humanity was united under a single action, a single cause, and a single purpose. With a faint smile on their lips. With a tender and reassuring warmth in their hearts. The humans knew. They bowed their heads. They closed their eyes. And on that last day, they prayed.