It was late. I ate an apple as I walked up to the roof of my apartment building, but I didn’t really enjoy it. The entirety of the city sprawled out before me as I came upon the top level. Maybe not all of it, but it felt nice to think that.
There was another person up there, too. I didn’t recognize him; perhaps a tourist, a newcomer to the neighborhood? I wasn’t sure, and I was cautious, keeping an eye on him as I went over to stand next to him. I shivered, suddenly cold. I wrapped my arms about me to shield myself from the chill.
He laid on his back, looking up at the night sky. His face was sad and grim. He wore simple clothes: a tee and jeans. One of his legs dangled limply off of the side of the building. When he failed to give any sign of animation, I assumed that he hadn’t noticed me and I decided to say something.
“What’re you doing?” I asked.
He didn’t respond for a while. “There aren’t any stars here,” he said.
He glanced at me, and then looked back. “I’m trying to find the sky,” He explained.
“Well, that’s an odd thing to be doing at 10 o’clock at night.”
“Maybe,” he said.
An awkward silence passed between us.
“Why?” I asked him.
“Why am I trying to find the sky?”
“Yeah. I mean, it’s right there. You can see it quite clearly.”
“No, you can’t,” He insisted, frowning. “I can’t see the stars and the moon. This is just a black sheet, an imposter.”
“Who needs the stars, anyway?” I told him, eating my apple. “We have the lights down here to see.”
“I do.” He said, suddenly somber. “I can’t find peace if I can’t find the sky.”
“Why not? There are many other things you could do to relax.”
“Those aren’t replacements for the sky.” He said indignantly. “I want the sky, not a cheap imitation.”
“You are weird.” I told him, nudging his head with my foot.
“Perhaps.” He sat up and looks out over the city. He pauses, staring. “You folks don’t know how rotten you’ve got it.”
I step away, taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“Have you ever stepped out of the city for once, just once, and sat down in a meadow or a forest to eat berries and listen to the birds singing? There are no criminals there. There are no radios or televisions or cell phones to suck you away from reality. There is only peace in all directions.” He looked wistfully up at the sky. “There isn’t this blanket of noise and this impervious blackness. The sky is blue, almost always blue. The stars and moon glow, glow so brightly you don’t even need a flashlight to see. The water is pure, untouched by chemicals, and shines like polished marble, but it moves freely and effortlessly, uncontrolled by dams and waterways.” He looked at me, with a smile on his face. “Doesn’t that sound wonderful?”
I frowned at him. “Sure… But where would you find a place like that?”
“There are lots of places. I just need to find them.” He huffed as he stood up, stretching, then placing his hands on his hips. “It’s just not here, is all.”
“Why is this so important?” I inquired, sweeping my arm out to indicate the city beyond us. “You have all of this technology and comfort and knowledge! You’re clueless in the wild. It’s unsafe, uncertain! Yet you prefer that over this?”
He stopped, and looked over his shoulder at me. His gaze was solid. Certainty rolled off of him. “I grew up where I could see the stars. I grew up where the birds sang lullabies to me every night. I have not seen those beautiful points of light since the day I left my birthplace, years and years ago. I have missed them ever since.” He smiled sadly. “I can’t move on without seeing them one last time.”
I blinked, my shoulders tensing, my hand gripping my apple tightly. “What do you mean? Who are you?”
He blinked, slowly, and fully turned to face me. “My name is Handel… And I am dead.”
I shouted out in shock as he leaned back, falling off the edge of the building, plummeting to the sidewalk below. I rushed towards the edge, but knew that it was too late; yet, when I got there, I found that he had vanished. There wasn’t a bloody, smashed body on the sidewalk, either; he was just… Gone. I looked back up.
A ghost? A vision, a hallucination? Handel could’ve been any one of these things. I looked up higher, at the black blanket above, as he so poetically put it. It’s not particularly moving.
A place where there is only peace in all directions. A moon and stars so bright that you don’t even need a flashlight to see.
This place… I found myself trying to imagine what it would be like. I looked down at my hand, realizing that the apple wasn’t in my grip anymore. I looked about for a moment, searching for it. I found it lying on the concrete a little bit away; I must’ve dropped it in my panic. I picked it up, finding that it had become soiled with dirt and grit. I frowned. I decided that I didn’t want to eat it anymore. I found a trash can nearby and pitched the thing.
It hadn’t tasted very good, anyway.