top of page
Constellations Orion's Belt Orion's Bow Lovers Star-Crossed Romance Gay Fantasy

Spring 2024

Like Stars on the Wind

A dystopian future fantasy short story about love, gender, and truth by CJ Aralore

Dandelions tickle my ankles as I wade through the green field dotted with yellow blooms like the stars sprinkled across the sky. When I reach the top of the hill, I sit and gaze out at the burnt orange sunset that almost makes the blackened huts below look beautiful.

Still, I can’t forget that I’m sitting atop a coal mine as its dust settles on everything the light touches, including the walls that encircle the town to keep us safe. Or, as safe as we can be with unnaturals spreading a fever.

Movement from further down the hill catches my eye, and I looked down to see a figure searching through the grass. It’s a man with strikingly white hair that contrasts with his youthful dark bronze skin. He’s plucking the few first white pappuses of dandelions that have closed and reopened as puffs.

I try not to watch his lean arms work, but I must fail because he looks up at me. My gaze immediately flicks back to the sunset. I need to tame this habit of looking at other men. It’s bad enough in the mine. I came here to escape. I’m not one of them.

A shadow crosses the sun and I’m so startled to see the young man with white hair right in front of me that I fall backward. Before I can hit the soft grass, his hard grip stops me.

We remain frozen there for a moment, the sunset behind him making his fluffy hair glow like the sun itself. Even his grip burns me like that distant orb. We’re so close and he’s so handsome that I can hear my pulse thrumming in my ears.

Then he uses his hand that isn’t keeping me from falling to pluck something from behind me. Once he has it, he lets me go and I fall onto the grass.

I stare up at him as he adds another dandelion puff to the white bouquet tied to his belt. For reasons I can’t fathom, he’s collecting the weeds. His fingernails are also somehow completely free of black powder.

“Sorry, you were going to crush it,” he says, his smile revealing teeth as white as his bouquet and frizzy hair. “I’m Tarax. What’s your name?”

I’m too dumbfounded to immediately answer. When I don’t, he lays beside me on the grass.

“Have you ever wondered why people compare love to a rose?” he asks.

All I manage to do is shake my head, blades of grass rustling with the movement.

“It’s always how roses are so beautiful and love is beautiful, but love’s more like a dandelion.” He retrieves a puff from his belt and holds it up to the fading light. “Love isn’t about finding beauty. It's about finally being set free.” Then he brings the puff to his full lips and blows.

Immediately, the air is full of the white seeds, and I sit up quickly, brushing them off. I hear him laugh behind me, and the sound fills me with desires I know better than to dwell on.

He sits up too and we remain in silence as the sun passes below the distant wall and the first stars of night appear overhead. Finally, he speaks again. “You ever hear those stories about people turning into monsters on the full moon?” He gestures to the half-full moon rising to take the sun’s place.

An ominous gong echoes on the wind, bringing with it the smell of coal from the mine below. It’s almost curfew. I rise to go and Tarax rises with me.

“Hey, it’s just been me talking,” he complains. “Can’t you at least tell me your name?”

“We should go back to town,” I say instead.

“I don’t live in town.”

Before I can ponder his words, the second gong rings out and I have no choice. I’ve never once faced the wrath of the enforcers and I don’t plan to start tonight. So, I sprint down the hill and back home, trying to forget the white-haired Tarax the whole time. Trying, and failing.

Life in the mine is harsh, but I’m far luckier than most. Because I showed some skills with anticipating where the largest coal deposits would naturally be when I first became old enough to be sent to work, I was given a special place with Odium, the man in charge of operations. Sometimes it seems undeserved and I can feel the weight of the miners' stares as if they’re throwing chunks of coal at me.

“Pay them no mind,” Odium says with a friendly pat. “Jealousy is as ugly a look as the coal dust caked into their skin and hair.”

I try to heed his words. Her words? Odium is physically a man and dresses as such, wearing the same overalls as me. Yet, for some reason, I always get this strange sense that he is a disguise, that she is underneath what everyone sees. It’s a ridiculous idea. Odium isn’t one of them any more than I am.

Still, I remember my desires toward Tarax. How did he manage to stay coal-free? He said he didn’t live in town. “Is there a place where people live besides in town?” I ask without looking up from the plans I’m drafting.

“I imagine there’s plenty beyond the walls,” Odium says, “but they’re far too tall to climb. Besides, they keep us safe.”

“From what?” I ask before I can stop myself.

“From possibilities that are dangerous.” He leans toward my table, the lamplight flickering across my work creating an orange aura around us both. “There are rumors of a place hidden within the walls, a den of disease for unnaturals called ‘the diamonds’ of all things.”

“Diamonds? What does that mean?”

He shrugs before sighing. “You remind me of myself when I was your age, Acum. You’re curious and that leads to freethinking, a dangerous—”

Screams interrupt his words and we both spring into action, grabbing buckets of water. The possibility of a fire in a coal mine is a catastrophic yet ever present fear. But, as we race down the tunnels toward the cries, we come only to a man collapsed on the ground, panting and covered in sweat.

I move to check on him, but Odium warns me, “Stay back. It’s the fever. He must be an unnatural.” He then pulls out his whistle and blows.

Within seconds, enforcers, with their bodies completely covered in protective clothes, rush into the mine. And, when Odium points, they hull away the man. As he’s dragged past me, I can actually feel his body heat and think there almost was a fire, or at least something just as dangerous.

Because of the incident, all operations are suspended while every last worker is checked for a fever. Two more men are dragged away before we’re all sent home for the day. Fortunately, despite the unnatural desires I keep hidden, my temperature remains normal.

As I squint into the blinding light of the day, I’m tempted to return to the hill above the mine. But, is it the escape I crave or seeing Tarax again? My mind answers for me, as I see a distant puff a white, like a dandelion blowing on the wind as it weaves through the crowds of miners returning home or heading out for an early drink.

My feet pull me forward and soon I’m following the frizzy hair between huts and through brush. Eventually it disappears between trees so densely intertwined that at first I can’t see a way through them. Then I spot a small opening, the bark of the parted trees worn away. I slip through and can’t help but gasp.

It’s like being transported to another world. Trees snake upward on all sides, reaching for the sky. Sunlight filters through their leaves, creating dancing shadows on the ground. But, most noticeable, are the twinkling lights everywhere. It’s like the stars have fallen down to the earth and even landed on the trees and people moving between them. Everything and everyone shines.

“I’m afraid you don’t belong here,” a voice calls as a woman with a stern look on her sparkling face approaches. She nods to two others, who join her.

But, before they can cast me out of this dream, the fluffy white hair that drew me here appears and Tarax says, “He’s with me.”

The others immediately back off until it’s just the two of us in a grounded sky of glittering stars. “What is this place?”

He tilts his head, studying me for a moment. “It’s the diamonds. Actually…” He bends over and picks up a small crystal of some kind. “This is a diamond.” He lifts my hand and places it in my palm.

The first thing I notice is how hot his hands are compared to the cool gem.

“Though, you could say all of us here are diamonds too.” He laughs at my expression. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”

I let him take my hand in his clammy one as we explore our surroundings. I realize now that there are starlit huts within this hidden world. This must be where he lives and how he stays coal-free. And he’s not alone.

He seems to not only know but also be friends with everyone. He introduces me to an artist named Eclosion, who says he was born into a female body but has always been male. I think of the intuition I feel around Odium.

Next he brings me to a poet named Sappho. She’s greeted with a kiss by another woman. Beside them is Betwixt, a musician who is neither male nor female. And, as I see two handsome men kissing, my eyes are drawn to the beads of sweat on everyone’s foreheads, sparkling just like the diamonds, like they’re all covered in stardust. Like they’re all unnaturals.

Tarax is in the middle of introducing someone else, but I don’t hear him over the ringing in my ears. I have to get out of here.

I run back through the trees and keep running until I’m in my coal stained home, where I’m safe.

The following day, I try to focus on my work and forget the glittering world that felt both magical and frightening at the same time. I fail, as thoughts of those two men kissing haunts me. Why do I picture my own lips kissing Tarax’s? Maybe because I’m like those men. I may have spent my life running from it, but I can’t run from myself.

I sense Odium watching me and look up just as he raises a hand to my forehead, checking my temperature. He pulls his hand back quickly and looks around. “Acum, come with me.”

Although confused, I obey. He takes me to an abandoned part of the mine that has long since been stripped of its coal.

When we stop, he spins on me, tone serious. “You have a fever.”

I instinctively reach for my forehead and my palm returns damp. I recall Tarax’s clammy hand and wince. He infected me. I pull out the diamond he gave me and throw it down. It shines like a single star in the vast blackness of the night sky.

Odium lets out a long sigh. “I’ve seen the way you look at other men.”

I startle, feeling caught, but he raises a hand to calm me.

“I won’t tell the enforcers. You remind me too much of myself.” He bends over to retrieve the diamond, studying it in the dim light. “I have always felt like a woman, even before I truly understood what a woman is.”

“You’re an unnatural, like me?”

He straightens, gripping the diamond hard in his palm. “No. I’m not one of them and you don’t have to be either. See, when the fever began, I discovered the secret. It isn’t spread by being around unnaturals. No, being around unnaturals simply encourages the cause: acceptance. All you have to do is deny the unnatural part of yourself and the fever will fade. I told myself that who I am inside doesn’t matter. It’s only the outside surface appearance that matters. I am in a man’s body, so I am a man. Likewise, all you need to do is deny your desires for other men and be who everyone expects you to be. Denial is the only way to avoid becoming a monster.”

My eyes widen. “A monster?”

“Have you ever noticed how the fevers get worse around the full moon? Those legends of people transforming into monsters on the full moon are based on true stories of unnaturals.”

“You’ve seen them become monsters?”

He shakes his head. “The constant fear and shame our society pushes upon unnaturals makes sure none ever fully accept themselves for what they are. That saves them. If they were to embrace what they are fully, they would become the things of nightmares.”

Could it be true? Moreover, could it be that easy? Though, as doubts overwhelm me and fill me with fear and disgust, I get my answer. I feel my temperature fall, my sweat evaporate, and my resolve strengthen. I’m not one of them. I’m not an unnatural.

I avoid both the hill and the trees for the next week and a half. And, just as Odium promised, my fever never returns. He also helps me stay focused, getting my attention if ever my gaze lingers too long on a miner’s strong arms. My life goes back to what it was before I met Tarax: dull and monotonous, but safe. That is, until he finds me.

I’m heading straight home from the mine when he corners me. At first I’m so startled to see that frustratingly handsome face that I don’t move, but then I come to my senses and walk around him. He just sidesteps back into my path.

“What do you want?” I snap.

“I want to talk,” he says with compassion in his silver eyes.

I think of saying all he does is talk and then deny his request, but I look up at the drops of sweat running down his forehead from just below his white hair, dripping off his white eyebrows onto his cheeks. There’s far more than last time I saw him and his face is flushed red beneath the bronze. Maybe it's the approaching full moon after all. Whatever it is, I realize I can help him like Odium helped me. So, I agree.

We once again sit atop the hill looking out at the setting sun. He’s the first to speak, saying, “I’m sorry if you weren’t ready. I guess I just saw myself in you.”

It’s ironic to hear him speak the same words as Odium, when the two couldn’t be more different, and neither is anything like me.

He plucks a dandelion puff and blows. I’m beginning to suspect he’s personally responsible for seeding this whole field with the weeds. “You still haven’t told me your name.” When I don’t answer, he groans. “I don’t know what it is about you that makes me so obsessed. Maybe it’s that you’re always locked away in your head and I want to open you up like a dandelion.” He laughs. “Or maybe it’s just because you’re good looking.”

He thinks I’m good looking. Why does that fill me with a feeling of flying? Still, he needs to know what I know. “You don’t have to be an unnatural,” I begin, afraid to look at him. “All you have to do is deny that part of you and the fever goes away. I know, because… I was unnatural too.”

He tries to take my hand, but I pull it away. “You’ve never been in love, have you?”

The question takes me by surprise, but I shake my head.

“You’ll never be able to fully love someone else until you first learn to love yourself.”

“I don’t need love.”

He laughs again, humorlessly this time. “Why did you follow me that day?”

I honestly don’t know. “Curiosity?”

“I think a part of you wanted to find others like you, to belong to diamonds instead of coal.”

“I don’t need to belong to anything but myself.” I start to rise, but he reaches out and grabs my arm. His hand is so hot it almost burns me.

He moves my palm until it’s over his chest. “Tell me what you feel.”

For a moment, I can’t speak as I sit back on the grass. His heartbeat echoes in time with my own, though his chest feels like it’s on fire.

“Imagine this connection with another person. Do you really want to deny yourself that all your life?”

The truth is I don’t, that I’m tired of fighting who I am every day. But I also know the consequences of giving into those desires. I look up from my hand over his heart to his face, and I feel those desires burning within me as if he’s given me the fire in his blood. “Acum,” I say.

He tilts his head. “What?”

“My name is Acum. I… I wish I could, but I can’t.”

“Because you’re afraid,” he says for me. “You don’t have to be. They’ve made you believe coal becomes diamonds through some process that can be suppressed, but diamonds and coal have always existed alongside each other. We’ve always existed. We’ve just been forced to love in the shadows, when we belong to the light.” He places his hand over mine still touching his chest, and I feel his pulse quicken with mine. “You have nothing to be ashamed of, Acum.”

His gaze is so intense that I lose myself in it. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m pressing my lips against his. He lets out a breath as hot as our kiss. It’s brief as a shooting star, but just as otherworldly.

I remove my hand from his chest and stand, startled by my bravery.

“Will I see you again, Acum?” he asks, still seated.

I gingerly touch my lips. They’re still warm. And, before I can stop them, they part to say, “Yes.”

For the next few days, we meet on the hill and tell each other about our lives. He explains how the diamonds took him in when his parents disowned him for being an unnatural, although he doesn’t use that word. He says, “They found out I’m a dandelion, meant to be free.”

I tell him about a life of hiding and of a privilege I never found comfort in. And, each day, my fever grows and so does his. That’s how Odium learns the truth.

He—no, she pulls me aside and whispers, “I told you what you must do.”

“I know,” I whisper back. “And I know you’re just looking out for me, but I’ve never felt this way before. For the first time in my life, I’m able to be myself. I can’t go back.” I look at her intensely. “And you don’t have to either. It’s who you are inside that matters, not the outside. You’re a woman, no matter what anyone else says.”

She reaches out to silence me, her eyes wide with fear.

I turn around to see enforcers approaching, going worker by worker to test their foreheads.

“Stay behind me,” she whispers.

But, when one of the enforcers notices my sweaty body, he rushes over to me. “Were you hiding this unnatural?” he asks her.

She spins and puts on a show of fake surprise. “Of course not. I had no idea an unnatural has been working for me. But check my temperature. I promise I’m not like him.” There’s something new in her voice, mixed in with the obvious fear and fight for self preservation. There’s disgust.

But, before the enforcer can grab me, I run. I keep running all the way to the trees leading to the diamonds. Or, I would have if they were still there.

Instead, a raging fire engulfs the trees as enforcers hull away the fever-reddened inhabitants of the now burning sanctuary. I don’t see Tarax among them. Maybe he escaped, because I can’t face the alternative, that he burned like his fever.

I remain in hiding for the rest of the day and only venture out after the final gong of curfew sounds. As I hoped, the town is quiet, enforcers confident in their victory and the crowds of people tucked safely away in their homes.

So, using the dark as cover, I climb my way up the hill. I’m sweating profusely by the time I reach the top, but I don’t know if it’s the exertion, the fever, or the lingering heat from the now extinguished fire.

The first thing I notice is the field is completely white, every last dandelion ready to set its seeds aloft on the wind. Then I see him. He’s standing in a sea of puffs, collecting them of course, his fluffy white hair making him look like a dandelion preparing to fly.

“You came,” he calls, smiling despite the steady sheen of sweat gleaming in the light of the full moon. “I knew you would.”

I slowly approach him, dandelion seeds scattering with each step. “They burned down the diamonds. There’s nowhere left to go. Your home… I’m sorry.”

His smile falters. “It’s not your fault. And a home isn’t a place. It’s a family.”

“But that ‘family’ was captured by—”

Rhythmic stomping like a heartbeat makes me stop and turn around. There, marching up the same path I took, is an army of enforcers. They followed me and I led them right to Tarax.

“Come peacefully, unnaturals,” one calls from within his protective clothes. Every last one of them is carrying a torch that they thrust toward us. It creates a dangerous glow along the surface of the puffs. They must know what all this use of fire could do to a town covered in coal dust, but they don’t seem to care. All they care about is that we’re not like them and that’s frightening.

When I turn back to Tarax, he mouths one word: Run!

My feet soar into action. A fog of white seeds rises behind me, blinding the enforcers as it becomes a cloud that completely engulfs them. I don’t stop, even as every last dandelion seed explodes into the air, carried high like a million streaking stars.

With no diamonds to return to, we’re forced to flee back into town. He stumbles when we reach a narrow spot between two huts.

“Are you okay?” I whisper as he leans against the wooden wall.

“I will be.” He pulls my face to his. The fever has left him weak enough that I could easily stop him, but I don’t. I let our lips meet in their now familiar inferno.

A shrieking whine sounds from behind us and we pull apart to see an enforcer blowing his whistle, alerting the others to our location. I grab Tarax’s arm and we run.

Every turn we take brings us face to face with more enforcers. Every last one must be out tonight. Eventually we’re corralled into the center of town. We skid to a stop as we’re surrounded on all sides. There’s nowhere to run, but at least we tried.

When I look back at him, he’s hunched over, clearly in pain. I kneel next to him and reach out tentatively. He takes my hand in his, interlacing our fingers. His sweaty palm tenses against my own as our burning hands remain locked together.

“I think I’m falling in love with you, Acum,” he gasps out.

I don’t know what to say. He’s panting heavily and I’m certain my grip is all that’s keeping him from completely collapsing to the ground.

“But, if I love you, I should set you free.” He reaches his free hand up and wipes my forehead. His hand comes away with fresh sweat. “This is my fault. If we’d never met—”

“I’m glad we met,” I interrupt. And it’s true. Despite this ending, I wouldn’t change our beginning. Maybe I love him too. All I know is I don’t want to live without him.

We don’t fight as the army of enforcers surrounds us and we’re yanked to our feet.

“I warned you, Acum,” a familiar voice says and I look up to see Odium, still playing the role that’s expected of her as she presents herself as a man. She approaches and lifts Tarax’s damp head, frowning as she does. “It’s always hardest at the full moon. He doesn’t have long.” She turns back to me. “Then you’ll see the truth.”

I want to protest, to say she’s wrong, but he’s shaking in the hold of the enforcers.

A series of gongs shatters the silence of the night. It’s signaling the end of curfew, but it’s only been dark a couple hours. It’s nowhere near morning.

“What’s happening?” I ask.

She takes a step back, regret clear on her face. “I couldn’t change their minds. The enforcers are ordering everyone out of their homes and here to the town square.”

Even as she says this, enforcers lead residents to the center of town, where they look around anxiously in only their night clothes. Soon we’re surrounded by a crowd of hundreds of fearful faces. I recognize a few from the diamonds. The enforcers have literally brought everyone within the walls to see us.

One of the head enforcers stands in the center of town and calls out in a booming voice, “Witness what becomes of those who choose to live an unnatural lifestyle.” He gestures at us. “This is the fate that awaits if you embrace that which goes against what we all know is natural and safe.”

Murmurs spread through the crowd as they take in our state. By now, Tarax is gripping my hand so tight it hurts. Despite gritting his teeth to silence himself, moans of pain escape his lips.

Odium lowers her voice. “Deny all unnatural desires or the fever will overtake you both.”

I lean closer to Tarax and whisper, “I can’t watch you die like this.”

“I won’t die,” he grunts out.

“Then you’ll become a monster?”

“No. That’s not what we are.”

“Then what are we?” I practically beg. “You don’t have to do this. Odium has been denying who she is her whole life.”

“I won’t deny who I am!” he shouts, raising his head not to look at me, but at the crowd. “I’m not unnatural for who I love. We’re not—” He lets out a low, guttural cry, throwing his head back until he’s looking up at the night sky. “What’s unnatural is denying who you really are!” he calls to the full moon directly above us.

“Tarax,” I begin, but then it happens.

He releases a howl of agony and his back arches. The enforcers holding us are thrown backward as massive glowing wings burn their way out from his shoulder blades. They flicker like they’re made of flames, their light once again turning his hair into the sun. The full moon didn’t transform him into a monster. He became an angel.

A collective gasp sweeps through the night as he rises to his feet, his weakness gone despite him burning even hotter. He continues to rise as he leaves the ground, only anchored by his hand in mine.

“I understand now,” he calls down to me. “Accept who you are, Acum. Love yourself the way I love you. Only then will you be free.”

“But…” is all I manage, my face heating from the firelight of his burning wings.

He continues higher and I begin to lose my grip on his hand. I can’t follow him because I can’t accept myself. Can’t, or won’t? I again look out at the crowd, their faces lit by a mixture of fire and moonlight. The two men I saw kissing smile back at me and I know what really I’ve always known but was told to suppress: I’m worth being loved as I am.

A sudden pain sparks in my body, igniting along my spine before engulfing my back as fiery wings emerge like my old body was mere kindling for them to burn from. And, now transformed, I feel a sense that this is who I always was, who I was always meant to be.

Still hand in hand, we rise together. Below us, hundreds of eyes shine like a sea of stars as they reflect our light. But, we’re not alone. Others in the crowd also accept themselves and ascend on glowing wings.

A few of the diamonds fly along the walls that kept us all trapped our whole lives, their fiery wings igniting the coal dust and burning the barriers. As they crumble to ash, everyone still on the ground can see the fields, forests, streams, and even other towns full of people.

The enforcers try in vein to stop us as even Odium alights on the wind, finally in all her glory. A vast new world awaits us as we prepare to build a new home with our family of sparkling diamonds.

Reborn anew from the power of love, both for each other and ourselves, we soar higher than dandelion puffs finding their freedom in the sky. Together, we shine like stars on the wind.

CJ (he/him) writes speculative fiction from a queer perspective. His short stories can be found in Orion's Beau and the Queer Sci Fi anthology "Rise." His debut novel "Gravity's Fire," a YA romantasy about a runaway teen who discovers magic is real when he meets the boy he dreamed of all his life, comes out September 20, 2024 from Midnight Meadow Publishing.

In addition to writing, he enjoys drawing, making crafts, dollhouse miniatures, animation, music, and spending time with his longtime partner and their animal children. He lives in California, where he has spent most of his adult life working at libraries and helping people find their own quietly life-saving stories.

He can be found online at

Copyright © 2024 by CJ Aralore
Published by Orion's Beau

bottom of page