The spirit shepherd

Night arrived only rarely in this particular realm. Usually it came after a period of prolonged turmoil, as if the world acknowledged the significant events that had transpired and decided to signal the end of an era. These were always strenuous times for the shepherds, the beings who were tasked with guiding all spirits to their rest.

One shepherd, who presided over a mountainous part of the world, watched as the shadows descended, as the sun gave way to a starlit sky, each star representing an era that had come and gone. The shepherd remembered to the first time it had seen the night, many eons ago. It remembered being struck by the deep, melancholy beauty the night possessed. The darkness was not absolute, not overwhelming, not frightening. It was serene, gentle. The stars seemed to work in tandem, illuminating a path that reached towards the horizon – the spirits’ final destination.

The shepherd always wanted to bask in the calming light of the stars, surrounded by that melancholy darkness, but his job called for his full attention. The spirits, who in the daylight seemed content to continue their journey, became agitated. The shepherd sensed the sorrow within many of them. Many of the spirits left the world of the living with regrets, with dreams and ambitions unfulfilled. They took the arrival of the night as a sign that their time on this plane of existence was at an end; when the night gave way to the sun once more, the world would belong to those of the new era.

The shepherd empathized with them. It knew the stories of all the spirits it had been entrusted with. When one spirit would break away from the others, as if attempting to return to the world of the living, the shepherd was there, ready to provide comfort and guidance. They had lived, the shepherd would say, but they lived no more. However, behind them were the living, and the memories and bonds that the spirits created in their lives would remain with the living, to be cherished by them.

The shepherd would then point to the sky. It would explain how each star came to be. It would tell what the other, much older shepherds had told it, about how much different the night was before the stars. Before the stars, there was only a suffocating, depressing darkness. The spirits’ final destination was obscured, making the journey a considerable challenge. Then one time, when a shepherd finally led a group of spirits to their rest, the spirits talked amongst themselves and decided: why not help those that would come after them?

The night was so dark, they said, so suffocatingly bleak, that many spirits would get lost and lose hope, despite the shepherds’ best efforts. They would wander the world as ethereal figures, unable to interact with the living. In order to avoid that from happening again, the spirits decided they would light the way, as stars. They knew one star would not be able to show the way entirely, but they hoped that it would provide a glimmer of hope, a beacon to those who had wandered and lost their way. Then, perhaps, other spirits would join them whenever night fell on their era.

And so it went. After countless eras – the shepherd itself cannot even imagine the number – the sky became dotted with stars, illuminating the path. The shepherd said this is why there was no need to fear the night. For spirits who go to their rest will become part of a star, a star that will help ensure no spirit wanders the world aimlessly, their hearts filled with longing and pain. The shepherd gently guided the spirit back with the others, and turned to chase after other wayward spirits. The shepherd was hopeful. It believed that, after enough time had passed, the stars in the sky would be so plentiful and so bright they would remove any difference between night and day. And it was all because some spirits, driven by their love, their memories, and the bonds they forged over a lifetime, decided to become stars and light up the night.