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Halley’s Comet - Sage Kay

Oftentimes, I am reminded of the first time I saw Halley. As a whirling comet in the sky above, I watched her shoot across space, unable to look away for fear that I would never see her again. That I would never again be graced by her celestial presence.


After that, I saw her in everything. In the twinkling stars that sprinkle the sky and moon, the endless black of space that enchants every eye that looks upon it, willing them to explore, to see the things it has to offer. It all reminded me of her.


She is the very night sky.


When I saw her again, she was beside me. A physical presence that I didn’t dare look at directly. For all I knew, her beauty would blow me away, incinerate me into nothing but atoms, dust to be swept into space, lost in her trailing tail.


So, I looked at the floor. Cheers and applause, music and dancing cut through the silence of the night. It was the Festival of Founding that night. My neighbors lit a bonfire to celebrate the formation of our village, but it was much too loud for me. So, just like every year, I sat at the forest edge. But this time, Halley appeared.


In my periphery, she glowed softly. Her skin was as dark as space itself, with tiny flecks of luminescent freckles dotting her thighs, her forearms. Her fingers lay close to mine. My fingertips tingled. The celebration behind us seemed to quiet until there was nothing but the chittering of the nearby forest and my deep, shuddering breaths that I’m sure were much shakier than I remember. I wanted to see her face, to know what the beauty of space itself looks like, but I kept my eyes planted on the grass at my feet. Her beauty in my periphery was enough.


“I have seen you watching me.”


Her voice was deep, like an echoing void. Each syllable sparkled and left a slight trace of possibilities for more. I wanted her to speak more.


But she waited in the silence, making it clear she would wait for an eternity. I opened my mouth multiple times, bobbing for the right thing to say, for something that could possibly rival the magnificence of the simple sentence she’d just spoken.


“Yes,” was all I could manage.


When she laughed, my breath caught in my throat. It was so bright and full of joy that I swear the darkness of the night surrounding us got just a bit lighter. Like the moon, she gave the world the tiniest amount of light, a taste of what the sun gave but softer, prettier.


“I have been watching you, too,” she said.


I squirmed in my place beside her. The thought that she’d been watching me as I gazed at her passing form made me want to run into the trees and hide. “Me?” I asked.


A smile coated her voice. “Yes, you.”


“Why?”


There was a long silence. I shifted my eyes from their set point on the ground ever so slightly closer to Halley. I could just make out the shape of her face then. Plump lips sitting above a sharp chin. A long, rounded nose and high cheekbones set below a higher brow. The only thing I couldn’t see was her eyes.


“You are beautiful,” she finally said.


I almost laughed, expecting her to join me. But again, she waited as if she was willing to wait an eternity. She thought I was beautiful. “Me?”


“What is your name?”


“Elizabeth.”


“Elizabeth,” she repeated. It sounded much prettier on her tongue. “Will you wait for me, Elizabeth?”


“Wait for you? For… for how long? Where will you go?”


Her fingers brushed my chin, and I froze. She traced my jawline, trailed to my chin, and turned my face toward hers. Her eyes were dark yet full of impossible color. They made me forget every sunset I’d ever seen, every sunrise, every beauty of the earth I’d ever experienced. They were enchanting, pulling me into their brilliant darkness.


“Will you?” she asked again.


“Yes.”


“Then take my hand.”


She held her hand up, palm facing me. I placed mine on hers and our fingers interlaced. Her hands were ice cold. A feeling of rushing water flowed from her hand through mine, filling my entire body, flushing it of every mortal cell, every perishable bit of flesh. From the ends of my feet to my fingertips, electricity shot through muscle and bone. It took my body in waves, leaving it unbearably cold until it all stopped at once.


She was gone. And I was watching the stars again, alone.



After we formally met, I stared at the stars until the sun took the sky and I cursed it for hiding her beauty. But I told her I would wait, so I waited.


It’s difficult to come to terms with an immortal body, much less help others come to terms with it. So, I told no one. I retreated from the edge of the village she met me in and found another, miles and miles away. I only took the mortar and pestle my mother had used to teach me to cook.


Traveling long distances became easier. I didn’t need to eat, drink, stop for a breath, or sleep. I just walked and walked and walked.


Halley passed through every 80 or so years, standing beside me as if she’d always been there. Each time, her body seemed different. Lightly glowing scars that hadn’t been there before, sparkling freckles marking more and more of her body like celestial evidence that she’d traveled among the very stars.


I wondered what she did when she left. Where she went. If I were honest with her or myself, I wondered why she didn’t take me with her. But asking after just a few rotations felt quick, despite it being multiple centuries. So, I asked what it was like instead. Every time I asked, she’d get quiet. That eternal wait signaling no answer was coming. So, I stopped asking. Who was I to question a celestial being?


In 1505, I heard a knock on my door. I rushed to a mirror. My hair looked like a bird had just put the finishing touches to its nest on it and I was still in my nightgown from the night before and—


“Are you okay, love?”


I probably should’ve felt embarrassed by her finding me in such a panicked (and freshly woken up) state, but her voice instantly calmed me. The way she called me “love” soothed any thoughts of her thinking negatively of my appearance. I was her love before and would be for an eternity to come.


She walked into my cabin as if she’d lived there with me for years, kissed me on the cheek, and sprawled out on my bed. “Did you build this cabin yourself, Liz?”


It was small, room for no more than my bed, a small kitchen, and a sitting area. It was crafted from cherry wood that I chopped down with an ax that a townsperson gave me the day I arrived at their village. They saw me as nothing more than a lonely woman who talked to her pigs and watched the stars, but they were kind enough to me. Dyed wool carpets separated sections of the room, and small lanterns lit the place with a flickering light. It was simple, but I liked it. It all came from my hand.


“Yes,” I said. I watched her as she lay on the bed with her eyes closed. It felt like she had been gone longer that time. “Do you like it?”


“Like it?” She opened her eyes and lifted onto her elbows to smile at me. “It is the best cabin in the whole universe.”


My stomach fluttered in a way only she could illicit. “The whole universe, you say?” I fell into bed beside her and wrapped an arm around her body. She rested her cheek on the top of my head. I wondered again what that even meant. The whole universe. From my place on that planet, even from an undying perspective, the whole universe felt impossible to imagine. A thing she referred to constantly, that she experienced consistently, that was only a mere concept in my own head. So much of her lived as a concept in my head.


“What are you thinking about?” she asked.


“Oh,” I said. “Just the whole universe.”



“It’s too… goddamned… tight!”


I fussed with the strings of my corset, but Halley slapped them away. “That’s the point.”


I sighed and let my hands fall to my side. It was 1730, probably one of my least favorite eras since the plague of London in 1665. The only difference was that while others were being suffocated by a deadly disease, I was suffocated by my own clothing.


In the mirror across from me, I stood on a stool, a maroon dress wrapping my shoulders and falling to my bejeweled shoes. It was my tenth fitting of the day, and no matter what we did, Halley refused to be satisfied. Too tight, too big, too fluffy, not fluffy enough, and why were the sleeves that short, they should be mid-forearm length “at least.” Why she chose to use her fleeting time in that rotation as my tailor, I had no idea.


“You don’t think I know that?” I said. “You only arrived here ten years ago. I’ve been married into this royal family since the coronation of King George Augustus—you try having your ribs crushed against your lungs for that long.”


“Hmmm. No, I don’t think I will.” Halley circled me, like a feral animal looking for a sign of weakness in their prey. In this case, the weaknesses were apparently all over my dress. A stray string here, a fleck of lint there. “You bring up an important point. I have been here ten years, and I have never seen this man you split your time with. When do I get to meet him?”


I smoothed fabric at my waist, but Halley slapped my hands away again. “If you’re lucky, never,” I sighed.


“I can’t imagine you would waste your time with someone boring. Can’t be boring and a man, that is just unfair to expect of you to deal with.” Sadly, he was both boring and a man. But something about her tone made me not want to admit it. She continued, smiling. “Is he better in bed than me?”


I snorted. “If you think I’ve slept with him, you’re the most foolish star in the universe. Good company, though.”


Her eyes narrowed as she stitched near my ankles. “Company? I’m only gone a couple decades at a time, what do you need company for?”


“Oh, you leave for much longer than a couple decades.”


Halley froze. It was silent for only a moment, but it felt long. Too long. I hoped the edge to my voice didn’t sound as sharp to her as it did me.


Halley cleared her throat but continued stitching. “Well, I have a lot to do, Beth.”


My chest tightened and I could not hold my tongue. “I wouldn’t know.”


“Is there something on your mind?” she asked. She was finished pretending to stitch. She stood up straight, almost reaching my nose even with me on the stool. Her dark eyes swirled, but I couldn’t pick out anything decipherable.


“Why don’t you take me with you?” It was the first time I’d said it. For a moment, it was as if I never had, and I wished I could pretend I hadn’t for as long as possible. Halley’s face didn’t change, didn’t flinch, didn’t so much as appear to register I had even spoken.


Finally, she set her jaw and kneeled down to continue stitching. “I can’t.”


I jumped off the stool and pushed it aside. “Oh, fuck the stitching for a moment! Why, Halley? Answer me that.”


“I can’t, Beth! It is not possible!”


“Not possible for a celestial being such as yourself to include the one person you claim is the most important to you in the entire universe? I find that hard to believe.”


“Well, believe it or not, it’s the truth. I wish I could do something about it, but I can’t. You wish to get mad at me for things I can’t control, now?”


Halley’s nostrils flared and the slight glow she usually suppressed to nothing while in potentially public spaces had grown to a reddish radiance. Her fists were balled so tight I was worried she’d open a black hole from the concentrated pressure.


But I held my ground. “You’ve never even talked about it. Where you go, what you do.”


“Where is all this anger coming from? You’ve never brought it up once.”


“You didn’t think even for a moment that I’d want to hear about it, that I’d want to come with you? That maybe I don’t want to stay on this godforsaken planet while you’re off experiencing more than I could ever fathom?” There was a pause. Then a hollow feeling spread throughout my chest. “Why wouldn’t you want me to experience that with you?”


Another eternal silence as if everything wouldn’t be fixed by a simple request, a simple affirmation that Halley wanted me with her. But she didn’t give one.


She dropped her sewing needle at her feet. “I have to leave.”


She didn’t return for two whole rotations.



I wouldn’t realize it for many many more years, but my life had become one of waiting. Though I lived every single year, some as a farmer, a peasant, a ruler, a princess, none felt like they had any substance until Halley came around again. I slogged through my day-to-day tasks, my year-to-year jobs, my century-to-century lives, but nothing brought me the fulfillment that she did.


By the end of the nineteenth century, I missed her terribly.


To be honest, I missed her terribly the moment she walked out the door all those years ago, so you can imagine how I felt the next time she finally decided to visit again.


It was a sunny afternoon. Clopping hooves on cobblestone filled the silence of the ghost town I was sent to scout out. Arnold and Betty rode beside me, their hands on their revolvers. As the gang scouts, we’d been on countless missions like this together and kept one thing consistent: never assume a ghost town buried their dead.


“Arnold, head around the back of the sheriff’s office.” He nodded and veered his horse off. “Betty, you’re with me.”


“Aren’t I always?” she smiled.


I rolled my eyes. “Just keep your eyes peeled.”


We stopped at the front of the cabin and waited for Arnold’s all clear. If there was any trouble, and he couldn’t tell us up front, he’d fire two shots in the air.


I slapped a mosquito that landed on my arm. “This place is a goddamn dump. I’m not sure Bartholomew will even want the gang staying here, even if it is just for a couple days.”


“You think he prefers the swamp we’ve been barely surviving in the past month?” Betty asked. “I don’t know about you, but I’d take a rotted wood plank bed over ever having to touch moss again.”


“Well, I’d much rather never speak to you again, but here we are doing things we don’t want to do.” I flashed a smile at Betty. “Funny how that works.”


“Funny how stupid you are more like.”


“Funny how—”


Two gunshots cracked through the air.


“Split!” I yelled.


Betty and I shot in opposite directions. Arnold’s gunshots were followed by a volley of others, multiple hitting directly where we just stood. My horse sped between two buildings just as a bullet whizzed past my ear. I rounded the back and scanned the rooftops. Men lined each of the buildings.


O’Malleys. Must be.


I ripped my revolver from its holster and fired three shots at the closest men to me. All three crumpled to the floor. Gunfire focused on me. I hugged my horse close and beelined for a line of rocks past the town’s edge.


My horse whinnied and toppled to the floor. I rolled as best I could but slammed my shoulder into a rock. I groaned and scurried as far away from my horse as I could. A gunshot in her hindleg leaked blood, but she’d be okay.


I made it behind the wall of rock, bits of stone spraying in the air, and pulled my repeater from my back. I fired shot after shot, knocking man after man.


When the shooting stopped and the dust settled, I collapsed against the wall. A bullet had nicked my arm, but other than that, I was fine.


“Betty!” I called. “Arnold!”


If those sons of bitches had died, I was going to be pissed.


Betty’s voice rang out. “Damn it, Lizzie, you’re alive?”


I couldn’t help but laugh. I lifted to my feet and limped toward her voice. Must’ve twisted my ankle when I fell. As I walked, the joints in my ankle shifted, popping back into position until the pain ebbed away. Betty and Arnold were holed up in the saloon, bodies piled around them.


“Alright, I think Arnold wins best gunshot wound,” Betty said.


Arnold grunted. “You just make sure I don’t bleed out. I’ll let you win next time.”


I sighed and threw my hat on a table. “Y’all stay here. I’m gonna poke around just in case.”


Already, the smell of sun-baked blood made me want to puke. It leaked between cobblestone, stuck to my boot and dead bodies as I nudged them with my toe. Just the bodies on the roof were left. I used a small awning to lift onto the rooftops.


Everyone passed the kick test, but one body made me stop. It leaned against a wall, a dark-skinned hand clutching its stomach. Blood leaked from between the fingers until the person coughed and lifted their head. From beneath her hat brim, Halley’s blood-lined smile shined.


“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” I said.


“Hello, gorgeous,” she said.


I turned to climb back down to the street. “This is the most stupid and embarrassing attempt at attention I’ve ever seen.”


“Well, I knew you wouldn’t shoot me. Didn’t account for your friends, though.” As I dropped my first leg off the edge, she said, “Aren’t you going to patch me up?”


I hopped to the ground. “I gotta get rid of my friends first. Don’t move.”


With the promise that everyone was dead and that I’d meet them back at camp, Betty and Arnold hauled out. I watched them to town’s edge then leaned my head against a pole. “Fuck.”


On the rooftop, Halley wasn’t even bleeding anymore. She stood against a railing and clicked her nails against the wood, watching me as I climbed to the top. When I sat, she only waited.


“You got violent, huh?” she finally said.


I let the bodies surrounding us answer her.


“The girl I met all those years ago could barely look at me, much less kill a man.”


I picked at dirt under my fingernails. “Yeah, well. Had to do somethin’ with my extra free time.”


Another silence. “I’m sorry I skipped a rotation,” she said.


“Two rotations.”


“Right, I’m sorry I skipped two rotations. But—”


I winced and stood up. “Actually, I’ve had enough already. If this is all it’s gonna be, I think I’d just like to go.”


Halley reached to grab my hand but paused. “Lizzie, please. Let me explain.”


I waited until she started again.


Her eyes thanked me, and we sat beside each other. “I don’t know how to explain to you that I just can’t bring you with me. It’s not possible. There’s not much more I can say beyond that. But you mean more to me than I could ever express. If I could reject the gravity of the universe and stay with you forever, I would. But I can’t resist its pull. And if I let you come with me, you’d be stuck, too.”


A familiar feeling was spreading in my chest, but I bit the inside of my cheek. “I’ve already found something else, Halley. People who care about me, who are waiting on me to get back. You can’t just appear again and expect me to up and leave.”


Halley’s fingers grazed my chin, and she softly turned my face to hers. “And I don’t expect that. But I needed for you to know that I didn’t leave to punish you. I left because I wanted so badly to take you with me. But I can’t.”


I missed her touch. “You expect me to believe you’re doing this for me?”


“Yes.” Her thumb rubbed my cheek. “It’s the truth. And I know it’s hard to come to terms with that, but if you’ll wait for me, I know we can.”


I wanted to stay angry. I wanted to hold the anger as close to my heart as I could, but I could feel it slipping through my fingers.


“So, will you wait for me again?” she asked. “Will you try?”


I met her stare. “I will.”


But when my anger melted away, a sliver of doubt remained, and I knew no amount of waiting could take it from me.



Though the sliver of doubt remained etched in my heart, I told her I’d try, so I tried. Her next rotation in 1986 was a pleasant one. I found a shitty little flat in London and did my best to master baking by the time she left. It became a game for me—choosing a skill to master by the time she returned. It kept my hands busy and often led to many gifts for Halley. I knew she had to throw them away before she left, but it was nice when she pretended that she didn’t.


By 2066, I was comfortable. Humanity’s advancements, though impressive, never surprised me till about that point. There was a gadget for everything, a button that could be pressed to fulfill whatever task you needed to complete. It became rather boring to tell the truth.


“Okay, okay,” Halley said through laughs one night. “So, there are actually some people who think the Earth is flat?”


I grinned at Halley’s wide smile and nodded. “Yup. There’re people who don’t believe in aliens or any kind of other intelligent life. And some even think that black holes lead to different universes.”


Her smile fell, and she turned to lean on one elbow. “Wait, that last one isn’t far from the truth.”


In moments like those, when Halley’s rotation wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, I felt good. It was as if the doubt in my heart was smoothed down to nearly nothing by her caring hand, her soothing voice. Sometimes, those moments felt endless, like Halley and I were stopped in our own pocket of time and space, something that existed just for us. An entire universe, just for us.


But no matter what, no matter how many times I pleaded with the stars to freeze us where we were, the moments always ended. “It’s time for me to go, love,” she’d say. And I always gave her an understanding smile and let her.


Then I was trapped in my own pocket of time and space. And these moments always lasted much longer.



I told her I’d try, so I tried. But I couldn’t help the feeling that the gravitational pull I’d felt toward her was starting to pull me in the opposite direction, the other end of its orbit. If our relationship was a star, it was collapsing in on itself, a supernova burning to nothing.


When she continued her rotation, I returned to my state of waiting. The only connections I’d made outside of Halley were long gone—passed from old age or worse.


I tried for her until she returned in 2147. She found me at the top of a mountain—one of the last few left standing on Earth. I wasn’t even sure which mountain because the night before, I’d walked until I reached the ocean, then I turned and walked some more.


I looked over the valleys between where I stood and the next mountain top. Frigid winds swept through the cavernous cuts in the ground, breathing deep into the grass and rock of the earth. I breathed in tune with the air, inhaling as the breeze stilled, exhaling as it whistled a long, desperate tune. I trailed a finger through the swirling ice that stuck to my skin. Even though I couldn’t feel it, a chill settled in my gut. It encrusted my insides, leaving them numb and hollow. The feeling of dread, of missing something I was about to lose. Or, really, something I’d come to terms with losing years ago.


Before she spoke, I felt her behind me.


“Quite a somber mood you’ve set. Alone, at the top of a mountain.” Her voice was as deep as it had always been, vibrating to my very core, gripping my heart and setting a flutter in my stomach despite how much I begged it to stop. She sat beside me. “Everything okay, love?”


I couldn’t bear to look at her, so I kept my eyes locked on the horizon. She glowed softly in my periphery. I knew that if I looked at her, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I couldn’t look at her. “I, um…” Already, my voice shook, and a lump formed in my throat. “I… can’t do this.”


An eternal pause. But for the first time, she ended it before I had to. “You said you would try.”


“I did. I swear I did. But even when I said that, I knew it wouldn’t work.”


“But you said you would wait for me. That’s why I blessed you, because you said you would wait, and I believed you. You would just waste this gift?”


“I never asked for it, Halley. I never asked for an eternity of being trapped on this earth while you go off doing who knows what.”


Halley fiddled with her dress and spoke in a low voice. “So, the gift I gave you means nothing.”


“Not without you by my side. And I know you can’t help the rotation, so I’m doing what’s best for the both of us.” I could feel the conversation slipping from me, like I wasn’t able to explain what I meant. But she was right. She gave me a gift, and I’ve grinded it to nothing under my heel. “Take it from me.”


“What?”


“I can’t be the person you want me to be,” I said. “So, take it. Give it to someone who wants it.”


“If I take it from you, who will I have to come back to?” Her voice broke then. In all our years together, she’d never cried. “You are the one consistent thing in my life, Elizabeth.”


I finally looked at her. “That’s just it, Halley. I can’t just be the person you know you can come back to. Because while I provide you that constant comfort, all I get is constant waiting. Every second I’m with you is pure bliss. But every century away is agony. And I can’t just sit around waiting to live. I would wait an eternity for you. But that’s all my life has become.”


There was a long pause. “Elizabeth?”


“Yes?”


“Will you still watch me?”


“Halley… I don’t know.”


She placed her hand over mine. “Please? You’re the only person I’ve ever connected to. The only person I’ve been willing to share an eternity with. Even if I can’t visit and even if I can’t speak to you again, I need to know you’re here. That I still have someone watching me.”


In that moment, I wanted to give her the entire universe. Everything from the farthest reaches of every galaxy, every planet, moon, and star. But I couldn’t. “Halley, I can’t wait for you anymore.”


She stared at me for a long time, one hand on my cheek. I knew this was the last time I’d be able to gaze into her eyes, their impossible depth. I wiped a tear from her cheek.


Then she was gone. And I watched the stars alone.



Every eighty or so years, Halley’s Comet trails the night sky. And for as long as I can, I lift a curtain and watch it. But I watch from a life I’ve lived without her. A life not spent consumed by her absence. I rub the curtain fabric between wrinkled fingers before letting it fall to cover the sky beyond. And she rotates the universe all the same.

 

Sage (they/he) is a short fiction writer, previously published in P.A.W.S. literary art journal, Every Day Fiction, Coffin Bell Journal, and Bridge. They’re currently dreaming of moving to the Colorado mountains and getting ready to launch their blog. When he's not writing, he's taking pictures of pretty things and singing at inopportune times

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