Sigrid Sanders
The starcatcher

Nine-year-old Emma lived in the country, far away from bright city lights, so the sky at night was dark, and filled with sparkling stars. Some were big and brilliant, some were some soft and glowing, and some were so tiny and distant they looked like specks of dust. Emma knew them well. She knew how to find the North Star, called Polaris. She knew how some stars make constellations, like the Big Dipper and the Winged Horse and Orion, the Mighty Hunter. She knew where to look for the Milky Way. But one strange and eventful midsummer night, Emma discovered that the evening sky held many more wonders than she had ever imagined.

Emma lived on a farm in Georgia with her mother and father and little brother Will. Their red brick house was surrounded by fields of corn and hay, and pastures for grazing cattle. A path led from the back of the house to a creek in the nearby woods, where Emma liked to play after school or on weekends. She had finished the third grade, and she liked school well enough, but she was happy when the summertime came and she could stay home in the country all day. Sometimes she went to play with a friend, or one of her friends would come to visit her. On Tuesdays she had piano lessons, and on Fridays she usually went swimming. But the rest of the time she had to herself, and that suited Emma just fine.

During the summer, Emma had several important chores. She fed the dog and the cat and the ducks, she took clothes out of the dryer and folded them, and she set the table for dinner every evening. Often she helped her mother take care of her little brother. But at night in the summertime, after the dishes had been put into the dishwasher, and the floor had been swept clean and the table and chairs put back in their places, there was nothing in particular she had to do. Her mother usually gave her little brother his bath about this time, and her father usually fell asleep watching TV.

So on warm summer evenings, Emma was allowed to go outside to a special place that she thought of as her own. It was a little hill on the way to the creek, far enough away from the house to escape its lights, but not far enough to be scary. There were no tall trees near the hill, and it was covered with cool, comfortable grass where Emma would sit on a blanket or lie down and look up at the stars. From this special hill she could see the whole sky. She liked to come out after sundown and walk through the fireflies flashing in the grass. Then she knew just where to look. She would watch as the blue twilight sky faded, and the first tiny pinprick of a star appeared. Like magic. She would make a wish on the first star, and keep watching as all the others came out, slowly at first, then almost all at once, until the sky looked and felt like a huge black sparkling bowl turned upside down over her.

One hot summer afternoon, a storm arose in the west. The sky over Emma's house and farm filled with terrible black clouds and lightning and thunder. The wind whistled and roared around the corners of the house. The trees in the yard whipped back and forth and bent almost down to the ground. Emma's little brother, Will, was frightened, so she played with him to distract him. When the storm had finally passed their house, she took him to a window to show him that it was gone — and in the east they saw a big dark purple cloud with a gleaming silver lining floating just over the tops of the trees along the horizon.

That night, when she went to her special hill, not a cloud remained in the sky. It was one of the best nights she had ever seen for looking at stars. The rain and the wind had washed the sky and left it clear and shining. The Milky Way looked like a blurry white river of stardust flowing across a field of glittering black glass. She found the quiet, steadfast North Star, and Draco, the Dragon, with his sinuous shape; and she saw the bright three stars of the Summer Triangle: Vega, Deneb and Altair.

Then Emma saw something strange out of the corner of her eye.

It looked like a silver flash of light very low in the sky. She looked again. There was something. It was coming closer. It was getting bigger. Emma sat up straight. Before she knew what was happening, the silver flash of light came streaking down with a loud whooosh — and landed — right on her little hill!

Emma stared. There, standing on the grass not ten feet away from her, was the shining figure of the most unusual creature she had ever seen. He was only a little taller than she, and he looked like a regular person — sort of — except that he was completely made of some kind of silvery substance that seemed never to be still. He looked as if every molecule in his body were in constant, independent, shimmering motion. In general all of his features — his nose, eyes, hands and so on — stayed within their proper shapes, but Emma had the disconcerting feeling that they were moving and changing before her eyes. She blinked hard and rubbed her face. She felt as if her eyes weren't seeing right. The creature wore a long silver cape that rippled like a cat's fur in a strong wind, though the night air was absolutely still, and he carried a huge, lumpy silver sack that moved suggestively, as if it would take off into the air by itself if he didn't hold onto it.

He seemed to have something urgent to do, because he didn’t even notice that Emma was there. He opened the silver sack and stuck his head and arms deep down into it. Emma watched as a glow of eerie, greenish light escaped from the sack, curling out like smoke.

“Now where can that be,” the creature muttered to himself. “I know I put it in here before I left tonight. It’s got to be here somewhere — ah!”

He emerged from the sack with a tiny silver needle that was so hair-thin it was almost invisible. Then he reached back into the sack and gently pulled out a wispy, iridescent strand of light, which he threaded very carefully through the tiny needle. He put one shimmering foot on a corner of the sack to hold it down, and immediately set to work sewing up a hole near the bottom of the sack.

He still hadn’t noticed Emma. But her eyes were beginning to get used to the flickering, shivering, elusive nature of his shape.

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