Elk Rock Island
rating: +20+x


While walking along a nature trail at night, a stargazer looked up through the canopy at the stars. He gripped his astronomy gear. Silver moonlight trickled in front of him, illuminating only a small portion of the trail. He turned on his phone light. Dark silhouettes of firs and ferns creeped around his peripherals.

In the forest he heard coyotes howling and yipping. He didn't worry about the coyotes. Some nights when a pack crossed the trail he made sure not to look at them or approach them. Both parties were always cautious and avoidant.

A bend in the trail led down to a small wooden bridge. Treading on, his boots clunked on the wood. The heavy thuds broke the silence. Passed the bridge he came to a small clearing, where the sky opened up above him and the gibbous moon shone down.

He stopped, shifted his astronomy gear and walked slowly over the rough trail. Heading down toward the river, he approached an intersection. He automatically took a lightly tread path. Stones jutted out at odd angles. He watched his footing as he slid by boulders on the path. Oh gods why do I do this? It's night, I can fa- he hushed his thoughts and focused on climbing.

The path led to the rocky banks of a river and tall grass. A large oak tree loomed ahead of him; its silhouette cut against the stars and moonlight. The trail thinned and a hole sat tucked between the tree and the path. The stargazer tiptoed around the edge. Staring down into the dark abyss, for a fraction of a second he saw exotic constellations swimming in the blackness.

telescope

🔭

On the other side of the tree, he reached even ground. He carefully avoided looking at the sky; the sudden vertigo would set him off balance. He still felt the looming emptiness.


He shifted his view to Saturn. It appeared fluffy, it was hard to believe it was Saturn. The fuzzy rings tufted out from either side of the sphere. The fluffy form glared white light into his pupils.

I'd love to see Saturn up close, but at some point it would become too big for me to comprehend, he thought.

saturn

A giant sphere of whirling gases, he thought, terrible storms, he remembered the hurricanes when he lived in Florida. They hammered and hollered, and decimated anything they passed. The storms on Saturn must be monstrous, he came back from his thoughts.

He tore his eyes away from Saturn. Carefully, he adjusted the binocular to face Perseus.

Spherical glares bundled together against the void as he observed the Double Cluster. They radiated white light from their cores. His stomach churned and tightened.

Adjusting his binocular, the cluster sharpened; its starlight flooded his eyes with terror.

double-cluster

🌌

Shivering, he thought to himself, How do they move? How do they orbit?, the physics was more than he could grasp. He saw his breath and put on a sweater. Through the eyepiece, he softened his eyes to see more. Thin silver tendrils connected a number of the stars. He moved away from the eye piece, and watched the cluster with his naked eye. Shocked by the vastness, he laid down, and white hot panic blossomed over him. His vision blurred and he felt dizzy, Not again.


Behind him, in the tree line, he heard something crashing through the bushes. The stargazer laid motionless on the stone, What the fuck? The crashing sound moved north behind him, and grew fainter and fainter. He slowly pulled himself up; cold sweat trickled down his face. There was one thing he was afraid to run into, people.

In the moonlight, he could make movement out in the bushes. Shit, he thought as the luminance revealed a human silhouette lumbering along the tree line. Scanning for an alternate path, all he could see was boulders and tall grass.

Should I pack up? he thought. There was no other "safe" path other than the one he took. Tragically, it snaked north toward the shadow.

With his soul screaming to leave, he foolishly decided to stay, I came here to stargaze, fuck this guy, he thought as set his sights on the Moon. I'll wait until he's further away. I don't want to sneak past him.

He slowly swung the binocular to face the Moon. Turning the dial on his binocular, the ridges of the Moon's mountains clarified. The depth, subtly, and slowly the shadows of the mountains moved. Although he didn't really notice the movement, he felt it. The space between himself and the moon gripped his soul. It's just up there. Hanging in nothingness… as are we.

moon

🌔

Shuffling, and crunching sounds meandered south. Turning his head slowly behind him, he saw the silhouette of the man wander on the main path toward the stargazer. He held his breath, and slowly crouched down into the tall grass around him. His setup was behind the oak tree, Thank gods.

Click-click

Soft orange light lit the shadow's face for a micro of a second, weathered and worn. It went dark again. A weird scent wafted toward the stargazer.

That smells like chemicals and ice, he sweat, I know that smell.

That's not weed.

Lumbering toward the river, the man waded into the water. Well, if he wants to go on a 3am swim in the Willamette who am I to judge? What is he doing out there though? Bathing? Pissing?

I should probably leave.

In the corner of his eyes, he saw the familiar faint dust of the Pleiades rise above the forest. Light pollution made it barely visible. He had been waiting for it to rise. In the summer it rose much, much later in the night.

So enticing. Fuck this guy, he's not going to ruin my night.

Without disturbing the grass and rocks, he rotated his binocular toward the cluster. The faint white dust of the seven sisters rose over the firs. Juxtaposed against the stationary tree, he watched the rotation of the Earth as the Pleiades rose. He felt the space as the cluster bent over the sky. At zenith this will look stretched, and warped, he thought. The depth of four dimensions can't be felt on a recording.

Hearing splashing behind him, he crouched back down into the tall grass. The man stumbled out of the river drenched. The stargazer's eyes wide, he balanced on his knees. Every second felt as long and subtle as the movement of the Pleiades. The silhouette made his way back to the main path and lumbered towards the forest, I'll wait until he passes the tree line and pack.

After a few minutes, the man passed through the tree line, disappearing into the forest. The stargazer turned on his cellphone light and carefully opened his pack.

HEY! a strange voice behind him yelled.

Damn it! the stargazer thought. He slowly rose from the tall grass, light in hand, "Hey, what's up?" his mouth felt warm and golden.

WHAT IF I BASHED YOUR HEAD IN WITH YOUR TRIPOD?

Yep, that's meth.

"Why?" the sweating stargazer calmly asked. Thin golden threads spun from his mouth.

WHY DO YOU HAVE THAT CAMERA?

Oh gods he thinks I was recording him!

"It's a binocular," he pointed at the binocular, Thankfully he can't see the threads, "I'm looking at the moon," he said as he gestured at the moon.

The butterflies in his stomach were hornets and they stung his insides, Fuck, I'm out of practice; please work, please work! he held his breath hoping his sloppy wordsmithing would save him.

Oh sorry man! I didn't know! Are we good?

Internally the stargazer sighed.

The stargazer replied, "We're good!"

You sure man?

Just go away! GO AWAY!

"Yea it's no worries! You didn't know."

For a few moments the man stood and stared, then he waddled back toward the forest. The stargazer let out a silent sigh. In the dark, he dismantled his tripod. His heart raced as he packed blind.

I'm not turning my light on again.


The stargazer headed off into the moonlit clearing. He kept his eyes down watching his footing. Reaching out in front of him, he navigated around the hole and slid by boulders. He found the main path and crept into the yawning, mouth of the forest. Moonlight trickled through the foliage. The forest was silent except for his softly crunching boots.

Yip yip!

Freezing in place, his heart stopped. To his left he could hear a coyote. He slowed his pace and went to his right. Avoiding eye contact he gave the coyote(s?) a wide berth. Panic welled in his stomach; he focused on his breathing. Not now, not now, not now, not now not now thoughts repeated and raced in his head.

Coming to the bridge, he tread lightly over its well worn wood. Laughter cackled ahead. The stargazer froze again. The silhouette stood in the middle of the path. The man's back was to the stargazer and he laughed to himself.

Balancing on the tips of his fingers, the stargazer held his breath and didn't move. Hair on the back of his neck bristled. The man finished laughing and shuffled off the path into the forest. Inching forward, the stargazer stepped on a branch. Skin slick with sweat, he halted. He held his breath. The shuffling and lumbering was fainter.

How close am I to the trail entrance? he took quick, cautious steps forward around a corner and saw a gapping hole in the forest, The trail entrance! he ran.

He ran out of the forest, he ran uphill through a suburb, he ran by a house with moss for a roof, he ran until he saw his house lit up like a fortress. In the neighbor's yard the stargazer collapsed under a tree. Out of breath and shaking, it was a few moments before he realized he was sobbing.





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