Every Soul a Star Read online

  “Ten more minutes till second contact,” he announces. “And what does that mean?”

  “Totality!” the crowd yells.

  “Right! And when that happens, you can take off your glasses. You won’t hear from me again until it’s time to put them back on.”

  He steps off the podium and hurries over to us. A bundle of energy, he squeezes my shoulder before joining Mom at the scope. It’s getting darker now by the second. The sun is slipping farther behind the moon. The clouds are still fluffy, which means they won’t block our view. Our dances must have worked!

  Kenny and Melanie are scrambling to check things off their list. The air is dark like dusk, but it has a greenish-yellowish cast that is totally unfamiliar. I know I’m supposed to be following Kenny’s checklist, watching for changes all around me and scanning the sky for stars. But it’s like I’m in a dream or something, and I can’t think straight. I’ve imagined this moment my entire life, and now it doesn’t seem real.

  Suddenly it’s dead quiet. The birds have completely stopped chirping. Tiny balls form a glowing circle around the black sun like a necklace of pearls.

  “Baily’s Beads!” people around us exclaim.

  And as I watch, breathless, the beads fade into one thin circle of light. Gasps go up from around the field, and I hear people shouting about the moon’s shadow passing over us, but I don’t see it. I’m too busy watching the last bit of sunlight shine like a beacon through the deepest valley of the moon. It looks like a huge diamond engagement ring hanging in the sky where the sun used to be.

  And then that last bit of light winks out. Totality! Everyone whips off their glasses. A flash of vivid red swirls around the outline of the moon, glorious in its contrast with the dark sky around it. This is the only time I’ll ever see the sun’s chromosphere, the thin atmosphere normally hidden to us. A second later it is fully engulfed by the moon. And then the main attraction arrives. The pearly white corona suddenly streams out from behind the dark moon in all directions, pulsing, looping, swirling, glowing, a halo of unearthly light. I feel like I could die from the beauty of it.

  “Great Galileo’s Ghost!” Kenny yells.

  Then two things happen at once. The sounds of screaming and clapping and crying fill the air.

  And someone slips their hand into mine.



  The only other time in my life I’ve gotten up this early was the day the new shoe store opened in town and the first twenty people in line got a free pair of sandals. I had expected there to be roosters crowing at the crack of dawn, but apparently that’s only on farms. I hurry to dress, grabbing whatever’s nearby. I run my brush through my hair and then tie it back in a ribbon. Slipping on my sneakers I notice they’re almost as dirty as the ones Ally loaned me when I first arrived. I bet Claire wouldn’t even recognize me. I barely recognize myself. Melanie is just starting to stir as I slip out the door of the cabin. The eclipse is this afternoon, and I have a lot to do before then.

  First stop—the labyrinth. I’ve tried every day since the day I met that old woman, Stella, but I haven’t been able to step inside. Today I’m determined to change that. With the huge crowds of people here now, I figure this might be the only time I’d be alone.

  But when I arrive, I see a woman in the center of the labyrinth, her head bowed. She’s wearing a long black robe and a black shawl that even goes over her head. Doesn’t she know white is the new black? She’s saying something, but I can’t hear. I move a little closer. It almost sounds like she’s chanting, or praying. I turn to go because she’s freaking me out a little, but manage to step on a twig. It cracks loudly under my foot. She lifts her head but doesn’t stop chanting. I debate running off but force myself to sit on the bench and wait for her to finish. I might not get another chance for a while.

  A few minutes later the woman threads her way back out of the labyrinth and heads toward me. I have no idea what I should say to her, so I just say an awkward “Hello.”

  “Are you here for the eclipse?” she asks with an accent that I don’t recognize. She lowers the shawl from her head and drapes it around her shoulders. She’s younger than I had suspected, not older than twenty-five or so. It’s hard to tell under all those clothes. She must be hot, too.

  “Yes.” And then since she’s still standing there, I add, “My family is actually moving here. We’re going to be taking over the campground once the eclipse is over.” This is the first time I’ve been able to say those words without feeling like throwing up.

  “You are a lucky girl,” she says. “This is a very beautiful place.”

  Rather than commenting on my luck or lack of it, I ask her where she’s from.

  “Egypt,” she replies. “My family sent me here. My brother went to the last eclipse, and my sister will go to the next.”

  I blink. “You came all the way here from Egypt? Your family must really love eclipses.”

  She smiles. “We have never seen one.”

  “But I thought you said —”

  “We come to pray during the eclipse. We pray for the sun’s return.”

  “But you don’t see it at all?”

  She shakes her head. “I will keep my eyes to the ground.”

  Ally will NOT believe this. In defense of the eclipse I say, “But it’s supposed to be really cool.”

  She laughs. “Yes, I have heard that. But this tradition goes back to the Prophet Muhammad. If he can miss it, I can miss it. It is for the greater good.”

  “Well,” I tell her, “I’ll tell you what it was like after, if that’s okay.”

  “I would like that,” she says. “Now I will leave you to your own task.”

  “I’m Bree, by the way,” I call after her.

  “Bellana,” she says.

  I watch her head back down the path and wonder what “my task” is supposed to be. Maybe the labyrinth will tell me. I step up to the opening and take a deep breath. This time my feet actually obey me and I take a few steps inside. But then they stop again. This is really starting to bug me. Why can’t I walk the darn labyrinth? What am I afraid of?

  I turn around and walk back out, staring at the circle of rocks before me. Ever since I saw the moon through that huge telescope, things have been so weird. Our parents had asked me and Mel about our night in the shed, and I’d wanted to tell them about seeing the moon, but what could I say? That in that one minute, I saw what they see? That the universe really is full of mysterious and amazing things? That we’re on this piece of rock hurtling through space for this really tiny period of time and we better make the best of it? Which means whether or not my lip gloss matches my pocketbook really doesn’t matter? How was I supposed to explain I got all that from looking at the moon through a telescope? They’d think I was crazy. And they might be right!

  Well, no use sitting here anymore. I get up and go to the next stop on my list—the Art House. I have decided that I’m going to ask my parents if taking care of the Unusuals can be my job. It might help my case if I’ve actually spent some time in them. The Art House is empty when I get there, and I’m shocked to see that three walls are now completely covered! I guess with all the people here now, it shouldn’t be that surprising, but it still is. I wouldn’t have thought so many people could paint. No two are alike, even though a lot of people have painted different things in the campground.

  I’m about to leave when one of the squares catches my eye. It’s of a group of kids sitting inside a small, brown room. A big silver object in the middle takes up most of the space. I run up to the wall for a closer look. The kids are all laughing. I can see a rain-streaked window behind them, with a sliver of moon. One of the girls has shiny brown hair and blue eyes and she looks happy to be there. Is that me? Who painted this? Melanie’s really good at art, maybe she did it. I have to force myself not to touch the scene with my fingers. Only one person has their back to the viewer. Jack. And he had said something about liking to draw when we were up there that nigh