I Belong to the Stars

Laria gazed down at the scars on her fingers. They glistened under the unforgiving moonlight, each gleam another little pinprick on her already wounded heart. Perhaps it couldn’t be classified as simply wounded now. Some days, she wondered if she had a heart beating inside her at all. Other days, she was sure of it, because memories made it beat faster, like another scar, until Laria was more than acutely aware of the vital organ in her chest.
It was still now, and the breezy air swept across her face, tumbling her dark, wild hair. She hated her hair. It reminded her of ashes, the remains of what fire has eaten and consumed.
Nothingness.
Why don’t I just dye my hair? She wondered to herself often. But she would tell herself that such an effort was futile and that dying hair wasn’t practical, and she didn’t need her ebony hair to remind her of what happened seven years ago. The scars were there. They brought back such vivid recollections that she always felt like, when the nightmares began, that she was reliving the same horrifying experience, again, and again, and again. She constantly looked at her parents’ faces, captured by the sudden flash of a camera, a second held in time. She could stare into their features, embed them into her memory, and cry, although she’ll know it was no good. But her sister, Lalasa, her photographs she could not bear to even catch a glimpse. They remained in her memory, though, nonetheless. She was the complete opposite of Laria, who had dark eyes, hair, and look as though she could’ve blended into the night sky. Lalasa had blue eyes, the kind of soothing blue that is only shown in ocean waves. Her hair was blonde and fluffy, and no matter how many times it was straightened, it frizzed back out by the end of the day. There was always a smile at her lips. Maybe that was why her parents named Lalasa, “Lalasa”, which was a Hindu name, meaning “to love”. She radiated love. Everyone adored her. But Laria was different.

Laria was aloof, unlike her gregarious sister. Her solace was found only at night, where gazing at the stars was her only escape from the hectic world she did not belong in. In this way, her parents also named Laria correctly. Laria was a Greek name meaning “the stars are mine.”

It was true. The stars would always be Laria’s.
***

The town of Sleepy Shore was small and quaint. It didn’t matter that the town was ninety miles away from the nearest beach, or that it wasn’t very sleepy, or that the villagers named it “Sleepy Shore” because they had nothing else to do. Laria appreciated the tranquility of the environment and it seemed like a perfect place to bring her mind back to a state of serenity. Her mind was still shaken by what had happened the day after she turned fifteen. Most people, she often reprimanded herself, would’ve gotten over it by now. But she didn’t and couldn’t. Because it wasn’t as simple as losing her whole family, and she knew it. Those ‘most people’ could look back and say that they couldn’t have prevented it. There will only be a scar in their hearts, a loss of loved ones to something that they could not control.
But Laria didn’t have a simple scar. She had Guilt, nibbling away until she felt the bittersweet pain. Then she would feel her heart spew out blood and while her enemy laughed, she could only sit there, rocking in pain, clutching at her chest, numb from her outburst. It was for these reasons and more that she was called the “crazy lady”.
***

“Laria! Laria!” called out Lalasa. She pulled at her sister’s arm. Tears brimmed her eyes. “Please!” she pleaded. “Don’t leave!”
Laria turned onto her sister with bloodshot eyes. She had a suitcase with her. Laria couldn’t deal with her family anymore, she had decided. After a huge argument, they were in their room, discussing matters.
“Laria!” Lalasa held on. “If you leave…”
“No one will give a damn, if that’s what you mean,” Laria snapped.
Lalasa’s eyes widened at the accusation. “No! We all love you!”
Laria closed her eyes to prevent the tears. Love. That stupid, idiotic word. She hated it and how freely Lalasa gave it to others. She was Esau, the brother everyone disliked and Lalasa was Jacob, the brother everyone loved and the one who stole her blessing. Having made this cruel connection, her eyes opened.
“Get away from me, Lalasa. Just go away. You all say you love me, but do you really? Do you think I’m going to listen to you just because everyone else does?”
Laria wrenched her wrist loose. Lalasa just watched her leave out the front door, her blue eyes followed her, full of hurt and helplessness. Laria tore away from the gaze and ran. The sky swallowed her up and Lalasa stood there, unwilling to run after her sister. The night belonged to her sister and the stars would make sure Lalasa would not find her. She went back inside and hoped that the daylight would spit Laria back up and home.
***

Laria never interacted with anyone, unless she was buying groceries. The residents pretended she wasn’t there, although they were acutely aware of her presence. Who couldn’t be? Whenever she walked by, her ebony hair would float by, and all around her would feel that strange mystic breeze she produced and shudder. Although the feeling was evanescent, it lingered in their mind. She would never disappear. They chose to close her out though. Perhaps they did not wish to be exposed to her grief. Perhaps they viewed her as an outcast, not a crippled victim of Fear and Guilt. Perhaps she just made them feel uncomfortable. Human beings were cruel like that. Nonetheless, everyone left Laria alone. It was better they did anyway.
***

It had been two days since Laria had left the house. Their mother wandered aimlessly around the house, cleaning things that did not require the cleaning. Her father called in sick for two consecutive days and began stocking up on gas, thinking that Laria was in some far away place that required that amount of gasoline. His boss knew better to complain. Everyone knew Laria was missing. But nobody knew where she was.

On the third day Laria was missing, her family sat down to dinner, with one empty seat with a placemat on it. “LARIA” was stitched on intricately. They stared at the food and began eating after a few moments. Lalasa chewed slowly, as if it would help tone down the deafening silence. Her mom cleared her throat and informed everyone:
“Do you remember that yesterday was Laria’s birthday?”
Her dad grunted. Lalasa just stared at her food.
Her mom cleared her throat again. “I was just thinking that we could celebrate it, even though Laria isn’t here.”
No one answered. Her mom sighed and unveiled a cake. Lalasa couldn’t help but think that if Laria was here she would have all this. A loving family. A beautiful cake. And her fifteenth birthday.
Their mom’s hands were shaking as they held the large lighter. They shook and touched the candle. The tail caught into a flame. The hands dropped the lighter and it flew in midair. Plop, and the lighter landed on her father’s hoard of gasoline cans. And suddenly, everything started to burn.
Flames.
Fire.
Eyes.
Laria was walking outside her family’s house. After days of wandering, she wanted to come back. Home was where she belonged. She was willing to beg utmost forgiveness for her parent, but once she saw a flame leap out a window and knew it was too late.
“Oh god!” She screamed at herself as she threw herself at the flames. They licked at her skin and sank its wicked teeth.
“Dad! Mom! Lalasa!” she shrieked hysterically. The teeth dug deeper as she screamed louder.
Her parents were huddled in the middle of a flaming circle.
“Laria!” Her mother cried.
“Mom! Dad!” Laria wanted to cry, for joy but also for fear.
A huge flame leaped. Laria watched in horror at her parents’ cries and as it engulfed them. Laria fell onto her knees, her face ashen gray. There was only one hope. With tear marks, she ran out of the flaming ruins and then remembered…
Lalasa!
“Lalasa!” she sobbed and choked out. Her voice echoed, empty and cracked.
“Here,” rasped an equally dry voice. Laria reached out towards the voice and grasped her sister’s arm.
“No.”
Laria was shocked. “Lalasa! Get out! You still can! You’re going to, oh my god, die!”
“Let me!”
“No! I’ve lost enough!”
The fire’s heat drew nearer. Laria’s grip tightened.
A scornful laugh emerged out of the flames. “YOU’VE lost enough? While I was at home worrying about the sister I lost and the parents I was about to lose? Now, I actually lost them, but my sister was found. But it’s always about yourself isn’t it, Laria?”
“You know that isn’t true!” Laria found herself pleading.
“You know it’s true.” Lalasa wrenched her arm free. Laria cried as though her own arm had been wrenched out. A flame, and Lalasa disappeared.
Flames.
And then nothing but the pitiful remain of ashes as the hoses sprayed.

***


Laria couldn’t sleep. Her eyes were open and specks of light shone off their glassy surface. She could hear Lalasa’s voice, something that happened often on starless nights.
Laria…The stars are gone, what do you have now?
Laria closed her eyes, wishing away Lalasa’s voice. “Go away!” she cried out inside her mind.
You lost me. You lost Mom and Dad.
“Shut up!” Laria screamed into the cold night.
You know I’m dead. See, you even lost your sanity.
Laria rose out of bed.
“I know I lost everything! Now just…” she stopped in mid-sentence because sitting on her chair was a grinning man. He had only three fingers on each of his hands.
“Who are you?” Laria sputtered. The man flickered, like a mirage. He smiled wider and cackled.
“Who are YOU?”
“I think you ought to tell me who YOU are first, since you are the stranger in my house.” Laria stuttered.
“Who is a stranger?”
This was such a queer question that Laria was taken aback. “Why you are, of course.” She told him, unsure.
“Or am I? Aren’t we all strangers?”
Laria started to become frustrated. “Yes, but in this case, you are the stranger. Now leave my house!” she commanded in a trembling voice.
The man stood up and grinned wider. He flickered again. “I may be a stranger in your home, but not in your mind. I am known by many as Fear.”
Laria fell onto her bed. Her mouth felt as though someone had woven a web on it, and she couldn’t open it to speak. There was a shimmer next to him and Lalasa appeared.
Laria just stared at her.
“Remember her?” Fear sneered. “Remember always that you were the one who killed her.”
Two more shimmers appeared beside Fear. They were her parents.
“You also killed them. And let me tell you how. You had a fight, didn’t you?”
Laria nodded her head dumbly.
“You ran away, trying to escape your problems because you didn’t know who you were. Were you that girl who would submit to her parents? Or would you be a rebellious daughter? That’s why you quarreled with your parents and ran away. Because, frankly, you don’t know who you are. But no one truly knows who they are.” He finished with an air of smugness.
He then continued. “That day the fire started, you discovered yourself for a moment, and put aside all anger, and realized that you didn’t want your parents to die. But inside, you still weren’t sure if you wanted Lalasa to live.”
The web was lifted and Laria was allowed to speak. “That’s not true!” she yelled at Fear. But there was doubt in her mind and Fear sensed it, because his grin grew even larger.
“Don’t give me that,” he scoffed. “Lalasa was so much above you. She was loved by everyone, when you were that awkward girl no one really knew. She got good grades while you struggled. She was ‘eccentric’,” he stated, making air quotes, “while you were ‘weird’.”
Laria hung her head in shame. What Fear had said was true.
He continued. “That day, you were fed up. You feared that it would forever be like that. In your mind, you were mad at the whole world. You only used that argument as an excuse. In fact, I bet you can’t even remember what you were arguing about. But you used it, and this,” He made a gesture towards her family, “is what happened. You lost everything.” He then smiled again. “Because of me.”
“So, what is there worth living for?”
Suddenly, in Laria’s hand, was a gleaming silver knife. It sparkled in the moonlight and the coldness of the metal made Laria shiver. She looked up. Fear had disappeared, but he still lingered in her mind. She placed the knife on her drawer, hoping it was all a dream.
***

The first thing Laria saw reminded her that the encounter with Fear was a nightmare. There were no knives or strange men about. Laria exhaled in relief, but then grimaced. The scars on her hands were burning, and she wrapped a cool towel around them. It didn’t stop the hurt though. Laria clenched her teeth and decided to bear it. It seemed as though her scars were still lashes and burns running down her palm. Bound to bring her pain until the end of her days. She opened the door and immediately, the piercing winter wind cut into her flesh. Digging her hand into her pockets, she trudged through the snow to town. Everyone who passed by Laria always seemed to be in a hurry, but they would immediately stop once they passed her. It was because today, she seemed to be wearing a new cloak of anguish and all those who stopped invariably felt her pain.

The bell rung and Laria entered the grocery store. The clerk made herself busy calculating numbers. Everyone else was busy examining the goods on the shelves. She grabbed some things off the shelf, gliding around in her own mysterious fashion. After she was done, Laria walked to the cashier. The girl briskly checked out Laria’s items and pointed at the number on the screen.
Laria reached into her purse.
Cool.
Metal.
Her hand pulled out a knife.
Everyone in the store backed away. The cashier girl started to scream.
“Take the stuff! Don’t pay! It’s fine! Just don’t hurt me!!!!”
Laria stared at the knife. The nightmare was real. It was real alright. Slapping down a fifty dollar bill, Laria left the store, walking faster than usual and hand clenched tightly on the knife.
She forgot her bag in the store.
***
Laria sat on the edge of her bathtub. The flickering bulb cast a dim shadow. Her hands still held the knife.
Fear was right. What was there to lose?
No one liked her.
No one talked to her.
No one cared about her.
She ran the sharp edge around her wrist. Shivers ran down her spine, but she was numbed by an intense hatred.
Stepping into the tub, she slit her wrists and watched the blood run and cloud the water.
And another slit.
And another.
Every mark made was just another mark. Every pang of pain molded itself into her heart, spitting out hurt and blood, over and over.
A luminous tunnel opened and Laria stepped in without hesitation.
She heard laughter, evil laughter.
Fear clutched its belly and laughed. Guilt smirked, brandishing another life.
She had been tricked. Laria screamed. She had been tricked again and again and again and again.
It was now that they had truly taken everything.





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