One night Sky was looking into the night and she said to her brother, “Brother River, why do the stars glow?”
“They don’t glow, silly, they shine!” River snorted, “They’re made of silver you know.”
“Silver? Is that true, River?”
“Of course it is, silly! Why else would they shine?”
“I don’t know, I don’t believe you. I’m doing to ask father.”
“Don’t ask father, grown-ups don’t know about this kind of thing! They only know about earth things like farming and cooking. They don’t know about the stars.” River leaned in close to his sister’s ear, as if he was about to share his closest secret. “But,” he said, “I do know one grown-up who knows about the stars.”
“Who?” Sky said excitedly.
“The old man who lives in the woods knows about the stars. That’s what I heard.”
Sky was taken aback by this. “I heard he eats children!” she said, fright creeping into her voice.
“What?” River said, “Are you afraid?”
“N-no,” Sky said fearfully.
“Good! I wouldn't want to go to the man in the woods with someone who was afraid!” He jumped down from the farm wall they were sitting on and looked back up at Sky. “Come on!”
“We can’t go now!” Sky said, “It’s dark! We should wait until morning.”
“No, then the stars will be gone!” River said, “How will he tell us about the stars if they aren't there, silly?”
“Oh, you’re right,” Sky said.
“Of course I am! Now come on before it gets light!” River and Sky trotted away from their house and towards the forest, black in the night.
The trees towered above them as they stood at the edge of the forest. They couldn’t see very far in, it was dark and they hadn’t thought to bring a torch.
“Scared?” River said.
“...no,” Sky said nervously, “Are you?”
“N-no,” River said. He took a deep breath and stepped onto the forest path. Sky followed closely behind.
The forest was black as the bottom of the ocean and twice as quiet. Now and then Sky thought she saw eyes in the trees and bushes, but whenever she brought it up River told her she was silly and that it was nothing.
They followed the path for quite a long time. Over them the moon rose smiling towards the middle of the sky. It looked happily at the shining stars crowding around it. On the land, the trees closed in further. Before too long River and Sky could not see the stars at all. Just the black of the trees above them. They didn’t know what time it was.
Up ahead, in among the black shapes, Sky saw an even blacker shape looming up out of the path.
“Look, River!” Sky said and pointed.
“That must be the house!” River replied, a mix of excitement and fear on his tongue. As River spoke, a single light appeared in a window. It gave no illumination to the outside of the house, and was too bright to peer into without hurting your eyes, so it gave the image of a large black silhouette with a single white square cut out of it.
The children approached slowly. As they did, details of the house began to make themselves apparent. It was only two stories but had high ceilings, so it towered above the children. It looked old and in a state of disrepair, shingles were crumbled and coming off. The path led straight up to a stair that led onto the porch and up to the door. The whole thing sat in the middle of a clearing, not a sign of life in the vicinity.
River and Sky glanced at each other stoically, trying to hold back any sign of fear from their sibling and themselves. The two of them grasped hands and walked slowly up to the door, simultaneously knocking on it.
The knock echoed through the house.
Then, all at once the door swung open with a crack and a horrible old man was standing above them, glaring down. His face was severe and craggy, like an ancient valley. He was bony and thin, looked like he barely ate. Looked like a corpse. He stared down at them over his long, pointy, curved nose and then...
The lines on his face moved and he smiled warmly and knelt down to the quaking children. Suddenly, the image of the terrifying old man was replaced by a kinder one.
“What are you doing out at this late hour?” the old man said, with a voice like old papyrus, “Are you lost?”
“No,” Sky said, “We want to know about the stars.”
“The stars? Why would you want to know about that?”
“River, that’s my brother,” Sky pointed to River, who nodded his head awkwardly, “Says they’re made of silver. I don’t believe him.”
The old man smiled again and stood up. “Well, I can see why that would make you curious. Come.” He strode down the steps and into the clearing around his house, the children trailing behind. “Now, the stars are silver,” he said, “But there is more to it than that. Allow me to show you.” The old man reached into the sky and plucked the nearest star, bringing it down and holding it out to the children.
Sky and River quickly crowded around and looked at it. The star was a tiny thing, the size of a thumbnail. It was made of the brightest silver you had ever seen, and thin as it was possible to get silver to be thin. On the inside, through the silver, they could see dozens of small figures rushing around a torch.
“What are those?” Sky said, gesturing at the figures.
“Why, those are the star people,” the old main said, “They are the ones who tend to the torch in the stars. Can’t let the stars go out, you know.”
“They’re in every star?”
“Every one.” The old man looked down at the star in his hand. “Oh, this one is getting cold, I’d better put it back. Can’t have them out of the sky too long, you know.” And with that he reached into the sky and placed the star back where it had come from. It continued to glow warmly. The old man looked back at the children. “Does that answer your question?”
“Yes,” Sky said, “Thank you.”
“I told you I was right!” River said.
“It wasn't all silver,” Sky said.
“I never said it was all silver! Just part silver.”
“You’d better be getting along soon,” the old man said, “It will be day soon.”
“Oh,” Sky said, “Can we come again?”
“Of course,” the old man said.
“Thank you,” Sky said.
“Thank you,” River said.
The children left the old man and walked back along the path. It seemed a little brighter and Sky didn’t see any creatures peering out of the night at her. When they returned, their parents were still in bed and they never knew that the children had left.
And so for quite a while Sky and River would visit the old man at night, and he would introduce them to Mr. Moon and have the grass dance for them. And then one day, shortly after their thirteenth birthday, they went to the clearing and the house was gone. As faint as the memory got, Sky and River always remembered the man with the star in his hand.