Jeff Coleman

Jeff Coleman is a writer who finds himself drawn to the dark and the mysterious, and to all the extraordinary things that regularly hide in the shadow of ordinary life.

Life as a Star

Irina Alexandrovna/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on November 7, 2018.

In. Scoop. Dump.

Jeanette speared the snow with her shovel, shuttling wet, sparkling ice dust from the driveway to the lawn. Her fingers had gone numb in spite of her gloves, and she could feel the oppressive cold gathering around her, climbing down her throat so that it was difficult to breathe, binding her muscles and joints so that it was difficult to move.

Until her relocation to Nebraska last year, she’d had no idea what a snowy winter was like. It had only been a theoretical complication, an idle worry on par with wondering how she might survive if she were to open her eyes one day and find herself in the middle of the Sahara Desert or the Alpine Mountains. Now she had first hand experience, and it was so much worse than she’d imagined.

The flat end of her shovel finally scraped concrete, but when she pulled this last scoop free, more snow came sliding in around the edges. Jeanette might as well have been shoveling a mountain.

“I need a break.”

She took a moment to behold the winter wasteland of her front yard, then propped her shovel against the wall and went inside.

The heater was on, and the sudden blast of hot air felt like walking straight from the freezer into the oven. She peeled layers of clothing off her old, decrepit body, stripped down to a t-shirt and shorts, then sat at the kitchen table, where a warm pot of coffee waited to greet her.

She poured herself a cup. Not a fan of its bitter flavor, she was nevertheless beholden to its warm and restorative qualities. She took three long sips and gazed through the window in silence.

The view outside was dreary and gray, and Jeanette could feel the first wispy tendrils of her depression beginning to crest the horizon. She had to keep busy, had to keep moving. But out here, in the subzero temperatures and beneath the sun-starved skies, that was so, so difficult to do.

There was, of course, something she could do about it… No, that wasn’t an option. Once, perhaps, long ago. But no longer.

Did she regret her choice? Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when the dark and the cold were at their most potent, she would feel tempted to despair. Then she would think of the life she’d shared with her late husband and three beautiful children and know it had not been in vain.

But oh, how much she’d given up to build her family. For one whose native habitat were the blazing vistas of a distant star, the snowy winters of Nebraska were an endless torture, and only the magic imparted to her by her mother as a wedding gift and the love she’d shared with her Earthly family had sustained her.

Now, in her old age, she lived alone, and though there was still something of the star inside her, that remnant was dim and dwindled further every day.

What would happen to her when that remnant died? Would she die along with it, and if so, would her soul return to the star of her birth?

Jeanette longed for such a reunion. But for now, at least, she had no choice but to embrace the life she’d chosen in its entirety. What else was there to do with a human life, after all, but accept the bad along with the good?

Still, as Jeanette sat there in the gloomy half-light of the kitchen, the endless gray outside pressing in around her, she began to sense a mounting energy, growing inside her like a blossoming flower.

Could it be? She hadn’t felt this for so long. The heat inside seemed to radiate from her skin. All at once, her heart leaped from her chest to soar among the stars once more.

She was now the old Jeanette, shooting through space and time, drawn toward the searing light of Earth’s sun. The part of her that was still made of star stuff resonated with its life-giving energy, and she could feel her soul begin to sing, to vibrate in sync to a low, unearthly rumble.

Echoes of a million cosmic secrets rippled through her, and the light inside that she’d believed all but extinguished roared to life like a wildfire.

When Jeanette next opened her eyes, she was a new woman. She glanced at the world outside the window, where blinding rays of sunlight now pierced the clouds like spears, and took a deep, meditative breath.

The star within was reborn, and Jeanette was ready to live again.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Simon’s Demon

Freeda/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on October 31, 2018.

Simon viewed the blacktopped parking lot as if it were an ocean. He breathed, a deep bone-weary sigh, then began the long trek back to his car.

Only twenty feet to go.

He gritted his teeth, pushed his failing legs harder.

Fifteen feet.

Panting for breath, Simon engaged in a futile effort to catch his breath, all the while reflecting on how different life had been when he was young. To think that back then, he could have walked the entire two and a half miles home without stopping. Now, he might as well hike to the moon.

Ten feet.

Sweat beaded across his forehead like semi-precious gems. He leaned into his cane and continued shuffling forward.

Five feet.

Four.

Three.

Two.

One.

At last, Simon reached the car. He could feel the breakfast he’d just eaten rolling in his stomach, and he knew if he wasn’t careful, it would all come surging out of him in a flash flood. So he waited, resting against the chrome surface of the car, and slowly, too slowly, his nausea subsided.

When at last Simon opened the door and fell into the driver’s seat, he counted it a victory.

“Very good,” called a dry, familiar voice from the backseat. “For a second, I thought you might not make it.”

Simon cast an irritated glance backward, and the emaciated demon stared back, impassive.

“I take my victories where I can get them.”

“And what will you do in December when you have to renew your license at the DMV? They’ll take it away, you know, and then how will you maintain your independence?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

The demon made a disgusted sound but didn’t answer.

Simon threw his cane onto the passenger seat, and after taking a few more moments to steady his breathing, he started the car and backed out.

“Simon the Great, they once called you. Now you’re just Simon the Geriatric.”

Simon mulled over possible comebacks, but ultimately held his tongue. The demon was trying to rile him, trying to frighten him into making a decision he knew he would regret later. So he pulled into traffic in silence and ignored the creature just as he had for the past thirty-seven years.

He squinted behind a pair of brass-rimmed bifocals as he drove, always maintaining a speed below 40 even though the speed limit was 55. He knew it annoyed the drivers in back of him—”Yes,” he sometimes wanted to shout back at them, “I am slow. Thank you for noticing.”—but safety was paramount, and his eyes and reflexes weren’t what they used to be. Last month, he’d almost hit a pedestrian in the crosswalk. The close call had left him shaken, and he’d vowed to be more careful going forward.

The demon in the backseat grew increasingly agitated.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” it said when it couldn’t contain itself any longer. “I could give you your youth back. You could be Simon the Great again.”

“And I suppose,” Simon replied, “that all I’d have to do in return is grant you your freedom.”

The demon threw back its angular head and loosed a vicious, fire-and-brimstone howl. Simon rolled his eyes and continued driving.

The creature had been terrorizing a remote South American village when first he captured it. A vile being, that demon, a being who whiled away its hours feasting on the village’s children.

Simon, still young back then, still powerful, had bound it to himself in order to save the people. The binding meant that when he died, so too would the demon. Simon didn’t doubt that it would keep its word if he asked, that it really would make him young again. But it would demand to be released in return, and he couldn’t let a creature like that back into the world.

“A small price to pay for youth,” the demon said, and Simon laughed.

“And what would youth buy me, another thirty or forty years? Even a thousand years, stacked against the backdrop of infinity, is meaningless. I would live a little longer, and then I would die anyway.”

“I could give you Sara again.”

That was a low blow, and Simon grew cold.

“You leave her out of this.”

“She loved you, once upon a time, and you loved her. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a couple again?”

The two of them had stopped at a red light, and Simon was trying very hard not to reach back and throttle the creature’s neck.

“A shame she died so young. So many years you lived alone. I could have saved her then, and I still can. All you have to do is ask.”

For a moment, in the stillness of a single heartbeat, Simon considered the demon’s offer. Someone in the world might suffer if he gave in, but so what? At least he would have Sara back. Perhaps, this time, they might even get to start a family…

“No!”

Something snapped inside, and a power Simon hadn’t felt for more than a decade bolted through him once more. The air in the car darkened, and for a wonder, the creature actually fell silent, perhaps afraid of what Simon could do in such a state. It was, after all, the very same power Simon had conjured the day he’d bound the demon to himself.

Simon held onto the magic for a while, relishing its presence and the way it seemed to fill all the pieces of himself that had broken or gone missing. But the energy’s flow through his shriveled veins and ancient, brittle bones would burn him to a cinder if he wasn’t careful—he wasn’t thirty anymore, after all—so he let it go, and soon enough, all the aches and pains that had faded into the background years ago flared to life once more.

“I’m going to die,” Simon announced, “and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I suggest you make peace with your mortality, because when I go, you’re going with me.”

The demon said nothing, only brooded and followed Simon home in silence.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.