Saturday, 1 June 2013


Sometimes before I slept I’d open the door of the tent and look out at the stars.  The skies were always clear in the desert at night, unless there was a sandstorm going on.  I could look up into a midnight-blue infinity and see the blazing silver points hanging there, while the chill night air made the hairs on my skin stand up on end and goosebumps felt like a religious revelation.  I stopped doing it when the stars started moving though.
It was subtle at first; I’d be lying there, looking for constellations.  There were a couple that I remembered from when I was a child and my aunt would sit me on the step outside the house, point at the stars and tell me stories of the people they represented.  I could find Orion, and his sword, Cassiopaeia (or at least her sword) and the long chain of Draco without any trouble, and then I’d sweep further, looking for Leo or Scorpio, or Capricorn if I was feeling adventurous, and wonder how the Ancients ever saw animals up there from these stars.  Then I’d have the oddest feeling that there were more pictures there, and I’d look again and a lion would suddenly take shape.  It was like a magic-eye picture, it was as though I’d just got how to look at the stars and now it all made sense again.  But then one evening I smiled at seeing Capricorn and tried to reset myself by looking at Orion.  Only Orion has disappeared; all the stars that should have made him up had migrated over to Capricorn.
I zipped up the tent door and spent the night with my eyes tightly shut and my face buried inside my sleeping bag hoping and praying that nothing was going to tap on the taut canvas and ask to be let in.  The next couple of nights I was careful to wear myself out completely before I went to bed so that I was relieved to sleep, and didn’t wonder about the sky.  And then, as always happens, my rational mind took over and pointed out that I couldn’t possibly have seen that happen, that I must have fallen asleep and dreamed that I’d found Capricorn and it had used up all of Orion’s stars.  The more I thought like that the more rational it sounded.
I looked at the stars the next night, and they didn’t move around or do anything odd.  I began to believe that I’d just dreamed it.
A little over a week later I was looking for Gemini and trying to remember the names of the twins they were, when I noticed that the stars in Orion and Cassiopaeia weren’t quite in the right place.  Orion looked wonky and Cassiopaeia had to be sliding off her chair now.  I blinked a few times, looked away, and when I looked back again they were back where they ought to be.  This time I kept watching them, and this time I saw the stars start to slide out of position and rearrange themselves.
I waited, not knowing what to think, watching the stars glide across the night sky like distant ice-skaters.  They rearranged themselves into something huge, mounded and only vaguely humaniform.
“What would that be called?” I wondered aloud, and then watched transfixed as more stars moved to spell out a name below this new constellation.  Shoggoth.
I knew the word, I knew that such monstrosities weren’t supposed to exist on Earth any more, and if there were any to be found then the desert was surely the place to find them.  I had a dim memory suddenly of a woman saying in a quiet voice in another room, “When the stars come right, they will return.”
I closed up the tent flap and spent the rest of that night wondering if I should gouge my eyes out.

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