Story by Shreya Arora

16th December 2011

An entry into our 2011 Short Story Competition on the theme of Starlight

“3, 2, 1 lift off!” yelled the ground attendant. The helicopter gradually caught speed on the runway and soon it was off into the amber sky. The last rays of the sun painted the distant hills with a hazy golden mist. The pilot bellowed a scream of triumph as he was free, free of all his worries; as he did a couple of loop-the-loops. The rush of adrenaline was pouring out from Harry as he flew faster and faster. He felt as if he was on the top of the world and a glow of happiness spread through him. Time just whizzed by. After an hour or so he was trying to tell himself that he wasn’t sleepy and tried to stifle back a yawn. His head was swimming with tiredness and he had to force himself to concentrate. Soon he decided that he should head back. Tomorrow he would be given his first ever RAF mission. This was the best Christmas ever for him; as he had wanted to be a pilot ever since he was a child. He turned around and followed the way he had come. He did this for a long time as he looked at the ground in search of the RAF headquarters. But all he could see were patches of grass dotting the earth below. His radio transmitter was flashing red and he couldn’t communicate with the base station. The needle on his compass was spinning uncontrollably. After a while of fruitless searching he came to the conclusion that he was lost. He felt uneasy. The hair on the back of his neck prickled with panic and he was drenched in sweat. He gazed forward as he just drifted ahead in a terror state and he realised that the only things in the sky were his helicopter, the moon and the North Star. Even in his panic state, he couldn’t help but be curious that just one star and the moon could light up the whole black velvet sky so majestically. It was then that he remembered the story which his mother had told him when he was small. It was about a group of people who were lost and were rescued by following the starlight of the North Star. He knew it was just a children’s story but it was the only plan he could think of right now. He swerved in the direction of the star and followed the light.

Below the helicopter, a family was setting up their campfire in the woods.

“Julian, do something useful and go get some more firewood for the fire please!” requested Julian’s mum. He heaved himself out of his sleeping bag and with a sigh, made his way out of the clearing and into the thick jungle of dense forest. Although the sun had gone and dusk was falling, there was still some heat left of the day and the forest glowed in the warmth. Julian thought the idea of spending Christmas camping in the woods was a waste of time. He hated being outdoors and his idea of a good time was curled in bed with a book and eating chocolate. The trees were like eerie ghost shaped figures and icicles that looked like daggers were hanging from the branches. He was getting goose bumps from the colossal rush of wind and wanted to collect the firewood as fast as possible. As he collected the wood the creepers trapped him in its thorny grasp. Dread swept through him like a tidal wave and fear settled on him like a dark fog. He started to run faster and faster, his head down, his arms pumping and his legs a blur of movement. In his panic, Julian realised that he had run deeper into the forest. The forest was now a dark tangled maze. Fear chocked him with its murderous hands. All the trees looked the same to him and it was impossible to move quickly through the spidery tangle of trees and bushes. Soon twilight started to settle in and it was then that Julian realised how thirsty and tired he was. He knew his family would be worried for him and he had to find a way back before it got too dark. In the dimness of the forest, the only pinnacle of light was emanating from the North Star. Even his phone was out of battery. In the absence of a torch or compass, he decided the best course to take would be to follow the starlight.

On the west of the forest was a huge river which was shimmering in the flickering starlight. It was like a long snaking silver ribbon in which Jack was canoeing. He was practising for the London 2012 Olympics and was using every second, every minute of every day to practise. He lived right by the sea and was able to go canoeing every day. Today he decided to go on a different route. The water was crystal clear and he could see the powdery, white sand below. It started to get dark so he decided to head back home. It really annoyed him because the days were getting shorter and colder and he needed all the time he could get to train. He veered around and headed back. After a while he was getting a bit restless. He should have been home long ago and could have sworn he had passed the same cliff half an hour ago. Two hours later, Jack was convinced that he was going in circles. His jaw tightened with impatience and soon he couldn’t believe it; he was lost. Fear settled on him like a dark fog, bringing a chill that crept over him.

Tring! Tring! Rang his mobile which took him completely by surprise. He jumped with shock and his canoe capsized, submerging him and his phone in the freezing water. He didn’t realise that he had his phone with him but now it wasn’t going to be of any use to him. Full of dismay, he got up and sat back in the canoe. A ghostly night breeze swept through the air as Jack shivered, wearing only a thin wetsuit. He couldn’t hold onto the oar as his body had frozen and his teeth were chattering. He strained every muscle in his body but could only row very slowly. He kept stopping every few meters-whining that he couldn’t go any further. Suddenly, like a flash of light his instructor’s words echoed in his mind. He remembered his instructor telling him that people in the olden days followed the North Star to find their way. He looked up and there it was, gleaming in the night -The North Star. It glittered like a diamond in the inky black sky.

Beneath the North Star was a huge, towering lighthouse on a cliff. It was an imposing structure which was over four hundred years old and in there lived Christopher, the lighthouse keeper. He looked as old as the lighthouse! His snowy white beard covered so much of his face that only his nose and black eyes were visible. It was a very quiet life for him with only his pet cat Ginger for company. He was far away from any town or city and he didn’t go out very often so he didn’t have any friends. On Christmas Eve he was startled to hear a tapping noise on the door. He thought it was just branches from a tree; as he hardly ever had any visitors. The tapping noise came once again so he finally decided to open the door. He was surprised to see a man standing before him and his eyes widened even more to see a helicopter behind him. Soon he heard another knock at the door and standing before him was a man covered in creepers and vines. He asked for Christopher’s hospitality for the night. Christopher had never had this many visitors before. Yet again he heard another knock at the door. He opened it to a man in a wetsuit covered in seaweed and who was dripping wet from head to toe.

“This is just like the story of the three wise men that followed the star to the inn!” joked Christopher as they all gathered around the table. He served them hot tinned chicken soup and roast potatoes. Although this Christmas eve meal was very basic and far away from the lavish Christmas dinners that they were used to back home, Harry, Julian and Jack were very grateful to Christopher for offering them hospitality.

”This is after all the true spirit of Christmas,” said Christopher raising a toast.

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