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Alfred and the Star

“Put them back at once!” shouted Alfred’s mother. She was very cross.


It was a crisp winter’s evening. She had been staring in the shop-windows for hours.


Alfred was bored.So he had reached up to the stars that shone so brightly in the clear sky above and pulled a few of them down to play with. This had not pleased his mother.


“Can’t you leave anything alone?” she scolded. “Put them all back; and make sure they go in the right places!” Alfred reluctantly did as he was told. There were stars of all different sizes, twinkling in all the colours of the rainbow: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, just like a collection of rare jewels.


But he did manage to hide one small one in his pocket while his mother wasn’t looking.


When they reached home, Alfred hurried to his room and carefully took the tiny green star out of his pocket. He tied a string round it so he should not lose it, then let it float gently towards the ceiling, where it hung like a balloon. He turned off the light and lay on his bed with his hands behind his head, watching the star twinkling in the darkness.


As he watched, he noticed some minute specks of light circling the star - three or four, perhaps: he wasn’t quite sure how many he could really see. He pulled the star down towards him to look closely. The smallest, faintest voice that could ever be heard caught his attention: it seemed to be coming from one of these tiny planets - the one closest to the star, a planet slightly larger than the others.


Alfred bent his head to bring his ear as close as possible to the planet. “Hello!” the voice was calling, over and over again. “Can you hear me? Can you can hear me?”


It did not seem possible that the voice could be calling to him. Again and again it called, until Alfred began to hear the sound of tears, as if the caller were crying in his desperation to attract somebody’s attention. “I can hear you,” said Alfred, whispering for fear of deafening the poor crying spirit. “Who do you want to speak to?”


The voice fell silent. Such relief was in it when it spoke again: “You! It’s you I’ve been calling!”


Alfred was amazed: that some being on a planet so small he could scarcely see it wished to speak to him. “Who are you?” he asked, “What do you want?”


“My name is Alfred,” replied the tiny voice. “I need help.” He explained that he was king of the small planet, and his people were starving. Year after year the crops had failed. All the stores had finally been consumed and there was no longer a scrap of food anywhere on the planet. He begged Alfred to help him.


Alfred sat back on his bed to think. He had no idea of how he could help; but the desperate pleading of the tiny king and the faith he had shown in his ability to do so echoed in his mind, forcing him to act. He went downstairs to the kitchen and made a peanut-butter sandwich, which he took back to his room and held up against the starving planet.


But it was no good. The people on this minute speck of light were unable to deal with the giant sandwich. The cries of their king grew ever more desperate. There were tears of frustration in Alfred’s eyes as his heart was ravaged by his inability to help. He put the sandwich in his pocket, placed his hands on the string that he had tied to the star and began, tentatively at first, to climb up.


The ascent was easier than he had expected: it seemed no distance at all, till suddenly he was beside Alfred the king. Above them burned a beautiful green sun. Beyond that, he could see nothing, but knew that the walls of his room, his cupboard and his toys, were out there somewhere.


He took the sandwich and gave it to the king, who began immediately to distribute it among his people. To Alfred’s surprise, the sandwich seemed unending. The whole planet was fed; warehouses were filled; new stores were built to hold the surplus, and still there was much left over. Night and day the people feasted and rejoiced.


By now, Alfred was feeling sleepy. “It’s my bedtime,” he explained to the king, “I have to go home now.” Thousands gathered to speed him on his way. He was showered with the most valuable gifts and the heartfelt thanks of all on the beleaguered planet. Sadly, he made his way back down the string to his bedroom. Somehow, by the time he once again stood in his room, all the gifts he had received had faded away to nothing.


Alfred pulled the star down into his hands with the string and put it in an empty matchbox on his window-sill. Then he washed and went to bed.


The next day, after school, he again took the star from its box and lay watching it as it floated just below the ceiling of his darkening room. He must have fallen asleep, for he found himself suddenly awoken by his mother shouting at him, furious. “I thought I told you to put them all back!” she screamed. “Don’t you ever listen to a word I say? Do you think I say all this for my health?”


Alfred didn’t answer, but slowly pulled the star down from the ceiling and was about to put it back in the matchbox. “I want that put back where it belongs!” his mother continued. Alfred knew he had no choice but to do as he was told: his mother, once she had got something into her head, would never let it rest. He took the star outside and let go of the string, watching so sadly as it drifted up to its appointed place in the heavens.


His mother, however, would not be appeased. “You wait till your father gets home!” she threatened. “He’ll know what to do with you!” And when his father arrived, Alfred was duly summoned from his room while his mother, painting the whole story in the blackest of possible colours, explained exactly why there was no hope for the boy other than a life of hopeless recidivism. His father wearily told him off, as was expected of him, before retreating into his newspaper.


Alfred wandered miserably back into the garden. His star was shining brightly, directly over his head. It had been so wonderful, so special, to have had his own little star, for however short a time.


He could see the string, still attached to the star, shining in the moonlight. It had stretched as the star had sailed upwards: he could still reach it, if he stood on tip-toe. He took hold of it in both hands and began to climb.


It was a long, long climb; though somehow he didn’t tire as he made it. Alfred was never seen on Earth again; but there, on that distant planet, circling his star, Alfred lived happily ever after.

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