The Night Beneath the Stars Above the Trees
by J. M. Kessler
Our campfire burned in a circle of rocks, and we sat in a circle around it, watching the smoke rise and smother the stars that I could see. Trees stood tall and silent all around us. I was eight years old, and it was the first time I was away from home overnight.
A counselor was telling a story whose every word held our attention. We sat on the summer-soft ground, listening to the counselor and the burning wood. Once in a while, a twig would snap and heads would turn. But the counselor kept talking, telling a story that she knew by heart. My face grew warm in front of the fire, and my mind became drowsy and I drifted away from the story, rising with the smoke above the fire, above the trees, into the night beneath the stars.
The wind brought a song, a song I knew and could sing, and it played in the air and it was the air. And when it met the rising smoke it was stopped.
From the tree-tops, I could see the stars above me, clear and bright, a curtain of lights holding the universe, with all its wonders and dangers, at bay.
I rested in that space between the trees and the stars.
A twig snapped, and I looked down, down into the forest, deep and silent.
Trees know things. I learned about it in school, how they keep records of life on the planet for hundreds, thousands of years, rings of information stored in their trunks. I also knew that trees communicated with each other, although I wasn’t entirely sure how they did it.
I didn’t want to go down into the trees, but I fell, fast, into the darkness, into the thick branches, into the clean, deep scent.
I drifted through the forest, carried on an unseen current, until I came to a fallen tree. At the bottom of the tree was a jacket. I knew it belonged to a girl who used to be at our day-camp. She didn’t talk. Even when kids tried to be friends with her, she would keep to herself. I smiled at her once, but she just looked down. Then one day after lunch, her mother came and took her home. No one told us why she left. No one talked about her. We just went on with our camp crafts.
I wanted to leave, I didn’t want to look at the jacket anymore, but I couldn’t move. It held my gaze until I realized I could see into the jacket, inside the pocket.
There was a friendship bracelet there, unfinished.
I wondered who she was making it for. I wondered why she would leave it here, here in the woods.
I didn’t want to be with the trees anymore. I looked up, and now I rose into the night, above the trees and under the stars. The air was clear and the stars were bright and I wanted to drift forever.
But the wind changed and the smoke was all around me and it stung my eyes. I blinked, and I was sitting at the campfire.
The counselor finished her story, and said it was time for bed, and we all got up and went into the cabin house.
I stopped on the porch and watched as the counselor poured sand on the fire.
The trees disappeared into the darkness.
The counselor met me at the door, and looked up at the sky. Then she asked if I liked the story.
I looked out into the darkness, where I knew the trees still stood, tall, and silent.
I nodded softly, and we went inside.
© 2019 J. M. Kessler