Death of a Star

by V. Ulea

Some of them believed in life after death. Others were skeptical, but deep inside, they didn’t mind to be mistaken.

“If we do die, then why does our light stay?” the supporters of life-after-death theory argued.

The starhood was puzzled – even the oldest stars had no answer to that question.

A young star by the name of Stella was concerned, too. She had billions of years to live; still, she was anxious to find out what happens with stars after they die and what it has to do with light. It was not about her, no, no! She was too young and too happy to think about her own death! But she had her grandma, whom she loved dearly, and more than anything in this world was she afraid to lose her forever.

“Grandma, are you going to die soon?” she asked her one day.

Old Esther had thought for a moment, counting something. “Well,” she said, “according to my calculations, it’s going to be in the spring.”

“And when will the spring come?”

“When comets of passage appear…” She slowly became lost in thought and quieted for some time.

“Poor grandma,” Stella sighed, noticing how quickly old Esther was getting tired these days. “How will I live without her? How will I face the empty spot where she used to be?” She squinted, trying to picture the emptiness on her grandma’s side, but instead, she saw blue and orange circles flashing before her eyes. It was quite cheerful and kind of entertaining, and she even forgot for a moment about the reason of her sad experiment. “I guess, there’s no way I can ever picture voids,” she concluded, opening her eyes and glancing at Esther.

* * *

Days passed by, but Stella still couldn’t find the answer, and there was no other star around that would’ve enlightened her on this matter.

“Maybe fireballs know more about it,” she finally thought, peering into the darkness. “They travel in space and they can see and hear things others can’t. I should definitely talk to them!”

She vigorously began her search for fireballs, and soon she noticed one in the distance.

“Hey, hey!” she yelled, trying to catch his attention. “Have you ever witnessed the death of a star? Do you know anything about it?”

The fireball goggled. “Who? I? But of course! Stars’ death is my specialty! I’ve seen plenty of them! Oh, what a spectacle!” He was choked with excitement, his round cheeks blushed. “In fact, I’m on my way to watch another one. I’d take you with me, but you, stars, are very much unlike my nomadic population...” He rumbled like a spurred motorcycle, ready to dart off.

“Wait, wait, can you tell me more about it? What’s so spectacular about stars’ death?

Please tell me all you know. My grandma is dying… She says it’s going to be in the spring… I love her dearly! I want to make sure she wouldn’t be gone forever...” Stella sobbed.

“What? What did you say? Your grandma is dying? Oh, lucky you! Let me mark it in my calendar… In the spring… All right, done! I have to go now. See you in the spring!”

“Wait, tell me what it’s like?”

“What it’s ‘like’? Ha-ha-ha! Oh, dear! It’s un-like anything! It’s… it’s… It’s beyond comparison! You’ll love it, trust me!” He choked again and sped away, striking sparks as he went.

“He didn’t tell me much…” she sighed, watching him disappear. “Still, he said it was beautiful… Hmm… How can it be beautiful? Dying is never beautiful unless… unless it’s not dying!” She glanced at Esther who pensively rotated around her axis. “Poor, poor grandma! And poor me…”

* * *

That night, she had difficulty sleeping. She was tossing and turning on her orbit until she finally slipped into slumber.

An alarming signal of an approaching object awoke her. A huge asteroid rushed like a bat out of hell. “Horror! Horror!” he exclaimed every second. His rays stood on end.

Stella shivered, awakening. “What’s happened?”

“A star’s collapsing!”

“Where? Where?” She jumped up, assuming it was her grandma. She adjusted her panoramic vision. Esther was still there, slightly snoring in her sleep. “Whew!” Stella took a breath.

“It’s over there,” the asteroid pointed at the opposite direction, “a couple of light hours north.”

“Did you see it?”

“Yes, like I see you!” He shivered, giving off small bursts of fire.

“Is it… beautiful?”

“Excuse me?” He almost lost his balance, stunned. “Are you out of your mind, young lady? The star is turning into a black hole! The entire neighborhood is in danger! Who would’ve thought it! It was such a bright, gentle star, always cheerful and friendly... Oh, what a drastic transformation!”

* * *

A black hole Is that what her sweet dear grandmother will become? For a couple of days Stella tried to digest the news. She was confused. Now she recollected the stories about stars-ghosts she had heard from her babysitter – an old cracked meteoroid that eventually was fired. She had never taken those stories seriously... but now…

She glanced at her grandma who peacefully slept, slightly glowing. “Grandma,” she quietly called her.

Old Esther roused herself. “Yes… who’s calling me?”

“It’s I, Stella, your granddaughter…”

“My granddaughter… Yes, yes. What is it, Stella?”

“Promise me you wouldn’t become a black hole after you die.”

“A black hole? Why would I become a black hole? Who told you such nonsense?”

“N…no one… I was just recollecting the stories about ghosts…”

“Ah, that!” Esther laughed. “I heard them, too, when I was a child. I never believed them, though… My grandmother told me once that every dying star sees light and it transfers it to another world…” Esther became quiet, slipping again into slumber.

“What world, grandma? What world?” Stella tried to awaken her.

“Oh! It’s unlike anything you have here… it’s… it’s indescribable… No dark, everything’s bathed in the rainbow sphere, and the freezing cold retreats and yields to warmth...”

“Warmth? What is warmth?”

“It’s something we don’t have here. It’s just the opposite of cold and it’s very, very relaxing… Anyway, the place is fantastic. It’s filled with magic bubbles… they are everywhere, everywhere… They’re called… air… and you can breathe! Ahh!” she tried to imitate breathing, inflating and deflating like a balloon. “Air… Its golden molecules are woven in a hammock that rocks planets and moons – all weightless and iridescent…”

She paused. A pensive blue aura quivered around her old body.

“Oh, grandma! It must be so beautiful! I want to go there with you!”

“No, you should wait. You can’t go there until it’s time.”

* * *

The comets of passage began to appear.

“Grandma, look!” Stella exclaimed each time another one crossed the space.

“I see…”

“It’s the spring, isn’t it?”

“Yes, yes, it’s the spring…”

“That means you’ll be leaving soon... Oh, grandma, please, please promise me you’ll contact me from there, will you?”

“Hmm… I don’t know… I really don’t. I’ll try, but I’m not sure you’d be able to hear me. It’s different there, you know, very, very different… Besides, I have no idea what I’m going to become there…”

“Aren’t you going to be like those planets you talked about, iridescent and weightless, remember?”

“No, I talked about planets, not stars. Stars are different, you know…”

* * *

The comets of passage occurred one after another, turning the space into a range yard. One of them merely touched Esther while she was taking a nap.

“Watch out!” Stella only screamed, but it was too late. Ignited by the comet, Esther blazed up, illuminating the dark like billions of billions of stars. Stella squinted.

When she opened her eyes it seemed the entire universe was caught on fire.

“Grandma! Oh, grandma,” she lamented, helplessly watching dying Esther.

“Don’t… please don’t… let me focus on light…” Esther whispered.

“Oh, stupid, stupid comet!” Stella grieved.

“It’s not the comet… the fire comes from within… I’m seeing light… It’s beautiful… Stella, are you there? I can’t see you...”

“I’m here, grandma!”

“Listen to me, listen carefully… Do you see that planet, it’s the third one from the sun, the blue one?”

“Yes, yes, I do, grandma, I do...”

“I think I’m going there…”

“Grandma, I love you, please don’t abandon me, don’t disappear forever! When you are there please send me a sign!”

“I’ll do my best… I promise… I love you…” With these words the old star collapsed, throwing out burning remnants into space.

“Grandma, oh, grandma!” Stella wept, but there was no one who’d console her.

* * *

Look how bright our star shines!” a woman said to her husband, pointing at the skies.

She resembled a miniature planet, and her belly was round like an ideal sphere. Stella watched her with admiration. Since her grandma passed away this planet was the only link between them.

The man looked in a telescope. “Oh! It seems the star’s collapsing!”

“Collapsing? Our star’s collapsing? No, no, Amato, it can’t be!”

He adjusted his telescope and looked again. “Yes, Angela, unfortunately, it is…” he said quietly. “But you shouldn’t be upset, honey! Really! What you see now had actually happened centuries ago… or even more… The light reached us only now…”

“Oh, no! Look, its shine is so vibrant! I can’t believe our star’s dying… Oh, oh my God… Oh, my God!” she screamed, grasping for his arm.

“What, what is it, Angela? Are you Ok?”

She didn’t answer, and only groaned loudly, bending over her belly. “Amato, I think it’s time…” she finally whispered. “Call the doctor… quickly!”

* * *

All night long Stella watched the light waves thrusting up and down the miraculous sphere of Angela’s belly. Only at daybreak the sphere sunk in and a newborn baby appeared in a bubble of air.

“It’s a girl,” Amato whispered, taking her from the doctor’s arms.

“I knew it.” Angela smiled feebly.

Amato put the newborn next to her. “You look beautiful together.”

“She’s so peaceful… Do you see the shine around her tiny body?”

“Yes, I do...”

“Let’s call her Esther…”

“After our star?”

“Yes, after our star…”

Stella sobbed and glanced at the spot where her grandma used to be. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you for keeping your promise, grandma! Now I know what happens to stars after they die… There is life after death, indeed…”

© 2010 V. Ulea. All rights reserved.

About the Author & Artist

V. Ulea (Vera Zubarev) is a bilingual Russian-English poet, writer, scholar and film director. She has published eleven books of poetry, prose, and literary theory. Her works have appeared in various periodicals both American and European, including The Literary Review, Princeton Arts Review, RE:AL, Dream People, Bewildering Stories, Sein und Werden, Golden Visions, and others. She teaches in the Department of Slavic Languages of the University of Pennsylvania.

Izya Sholsberg is a Jewish American artist, writer and philosopher, well known for expressing his philosophical and scientific ideas through his paintings. Aside from his artistic works, he has published several novels including The Custodian, Grey Zone, Light Behind the Back, and Transcending Images. You can see more of his exquisite work here.