Month: June 2016

Stars Are Wild

I opened the door to the ship’s studio and waved frantically for Gracie to stop playing the omniboard. She lifted her fingers and the beautiful music echoed into silence. Her glare scorched me. I wasn’t supposed to interrupt her when she was composing, but this was too important.

“Gracie,” I said, leaning down to give her a kiss. “I’ve got news. We have to cancel all your shows for the next month. Something better has come up.”

She narrowed her eyes. Her latest song, Stars Are Wild, was number one on six of the fifty worlds, and we were in the middle of a multi-world tour to promote it. The entire year was booked solid, and she was playing at the best venues known. What could possibly be better than that?

I sat down and activated the HV, enjoying Gracie’s confusion. “Just watch,” I said.

A woman newscaster began talking. She stood before a large grove of trees, each one covered with striking violet-colored leaves. In the distance, an ethereal yet familiar tune played.

“What is this?” Gracie asked, looking at me, then back to the holo.

“Watch,” I said.

The newscaster spoke: “Something amazing is happening on the little known planet, Autumn. The Music Trees have woken up. This is how they used to sound.”

A low, hollow fluting sound filled the cabin. It was an eerie, haunting echo that froze my blood. I had heard variations of it many times. Gracie’s song, Stars Are Wild, had been inspired by those same tones, but she had heard them in her dreams.

“Corris,” she squeaked. “My song.”

I grinned from ear to ear. “I know. Just shut up and keep watching.”

“And this is how they sound now,” the newscaster said.

I watched Gracie. The music that poured forth paralyzed her: a thunderous multi-tonal orchestra with delicious melodic curls and waves of harmonics. Tears poured from her eyes as the music carried her away.

“She’s calling to me,” she whispered, gazing at me. “She wants to me to visit her and sing to her.”

I stifled my own tears. “Keep watching. There’s more.”

The newscaster began to speak. “To this date no one has been able to decipher any meaning behind the tree-songs. And until just a few days ago, nobody has been able to make them change their tune. Millions of tourists visit here each year and sing to the Music Trees. They have never reacted like this. The secret apparently lies with the new hit song, ‘Stars Are Wild,’ by the phenomenally successful young musician, Gracie Megan Sparks. A visitor was playing her song when the trees began to sing back. He turned it off and they became silent. Mind you, the trees have never been silent before. He turned it back on, and they began singing again. Even now, the trees will not sing unless Sparks’ song is playing. So far, no word from Sparks’ camp. But she should know that her song is not only popular among humans. The Music Trees like it too.”

“I don’t believe it,” she said. “All this time, that’s what I’ve been hearing.” She trembled as she leaned against me.

I wrapped my arms around her. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know. I mean, why me? Why my song?” She looked at me dolefully.

“I don’t know, honey,” I said. “But I guess we’ll find out. We’ve already got an invitation from Autumn to go visit. I was waiting for you before I answered.” I hoped she said yes. I was tired of touring. We could use a rest–if I had my way, a nice long rest.

“Her name is Oora, Corris,” she blurted. “I shouldn’t know that, but I do. How is it I can hear her?”

“You’re a musical genius, love,” I said. “I’m not the least bit surprised. Now, stop worrying. Let’s go to bed and sleep on it. I’ll tell Carlos to navigate a new course to Autumn and we’ll figure out what’s going on.”

She nodded, looking again at the image of the purple trees on the holo. They were incredibly beautiful. What, I wondered, had we gotten ourselves into? Gracie writes one hit song, and now suddenly she’s communicating with a mysterious tree-like creature on the other side of the galaxy. The question was: Why?

The Exchange

Evan met the love of his life while he was on an awkward date with someone else. It had been arranged by a professional matchmaker. His date was Liz, and she managed accounts at a corporate medical sales company. Her profile suggested a beautiful, intelligent woman, so Evan decided to give the date an honest attempt.

They went to a seafood restaurant and the art museum downtown. She picked her teeth at dinner and discussed her dog’s lengthy veterinarian history. Evan tried to be interested. He tried not to stare at her cleavage, which served as a landing place for bits of food throughout dinner. He tried to ask her about music, philosophy, sports or anything else, but she kept veering back to her damn dog. He tried, and that was what mattered, wasn’t it? That’s what he would tell people later: he tried. By the time they arrived at the museum, he was already counting the minutes before it was socially acceptable to part ways.

Her heels clacked on the white tile floor. The corners of her mouth were still stained with au jus from her prime rib. Yes, she had ordered prime rib at the city’s finest seafood establishment. He should have met her at a chicken wings restaurant.
In the bright museum lights, her black dress was obviously faded and stretched beyond its capacity on her stomach and hips. Chopin’s Nocturnes fell like soft rain through the speakers, and Evan tried to let the music absorb his negative feelings.

“Ugh, I hate it when the pictures are blurry like that,” she said, pointing at Monet’s “Water Lilies.”

“It’s Impressionist art. It’s supposed to look like that,” Evan said, barely able to disguise his disgust. “You’ve heard of Monet before, right?” Please say yes.

“Yes, duh. I’ve heard of him,” she said with an eye roll. “I just think it’s stupid that we’re supposed to stand here and praise something that looks like a child did it.”

“Are you being serious?”

“Yeah. I mean, ok, so my friend Caroline went to one of those drink and paint places. You know, the kind where you bring a bottle of wine, and they tell you what to paint. Well, her wine was French, and the class was for a Monet painting, which she thought was fun because Monet was French. So the instructor was this absolutely fine specimen of man, but he was gay, not that she minded. He was just eye candy for the evening, you know. So they start drinking and he tells them what to paint, one stroke at a time. And Caroline was totally sloshed by the end. I mean just wasted. She had to take a cab home, and she said the cab driver smelled like marijuana. So they’re painting and getting drunk, and at the end, her painting looked almost just like this. So why should I respect it if my friend Caroline, who couldn’t paint to save her life, could go get toasted with a class of other ladies and a gorgeous gay man and come home with basically the same thing?”

All of her stories were like that, meandering and full of extraneous details.

“I don’t even know what to say to that,” he said as they wandered away from the Impressionist exhibit.

“Well, here’s what I suggest. Say this: ‘Hey Liz, let’s leave this boring museum and hit a night club and go dancing.’ That sounds pretty good,” she said with a horse-toothed grin.

“How about this? Hey, Liz, why don’t you leave this museum since you find it boring? Go find a nightclub or whatever you want. I don’t think this is going to work out.”

She frowned and tilted her head to the right.

“Fine,” Liz said. “You’re a terrible listener, by the way. You should work on that before your next date.”

Then she spun on her heels and clacked out of the museum. Evan wandered to other exhibits, his sense of relief growing with each new room. Why was it so hard to find a good date? The women his friends set him up with tended to be one thing or another: beauty or brains, sports or art, fashion or philosophy. The women the matchmaker set him up with were bottom of the barrel types who were so desperate that he couldn’t tell what else they were. Or they were so classless that he couldn’t imagine any man of taste wanting them, like Liz. They were all so damn talkative. He’d barely said a word the entire evening. She hadn’t even asked what he did for a living.

Evan plopped on a bench in the sculpture hall and gazed around him. And that was where he saw her. At first it was curiosity that drew him to her. She stood alone under an arch in the wall, a Roman style toga draped over her body, carefully arranged so that the right half of her torso was exposed. He circled her looking for a plaque or some indication of her name and creator.
As he walked around her, Evan studied her features. The delicate curve of her breast and up-tilted nipple was superbly crafted. Her waist formed a gentle concave slope to her hip. Evan sucked in his breath. Her face was exquisitely carved with high cheekbones, eyes that were neither too round or too almond shaped, and wisps of wavy hair were sculpted into bands atop her head which cascaded down to frame her face. She was perfection in white marble.

“I wish I knew your name,” he whispered. “I wish I knew anything about you. Where you’re from, who made you, anything.”

Did she tremble? Was there warmth emanating from her marble curves? Perhaps it was his imagination. A raspy alto female voice interrupted the eerily eloquent violin strains of Ravel’s Berceuse sur la nom de Gabriel Faure, startling Evan.

“Attention visitors. It is now 9 pm, and the museum is closing. The museum will reopen at 10 am tomorrow. Thank you for visiting and have a wonderful evening.”

Tomorrow, Evan thought. Tomorrow I’ll come back and see what I can learn about her. He walked slowly away from her, looking back often. The security guard was too busy scrolling through his phone to notice the strange look on Evan’s face.
The next morning, Evan returned, and after casually strolling the other rooms as long as he could stand it, he hurried to the sculpture hall. The bench was too far from her for Evan to study her features with the attention she deserved. When he asked the burly security guard to move the bench, the guard laughed in his face.

“Sure, buddy,” he said. “Anything else you’d like to rearrange in here? Want me to move the sculptures around too?”

The Rain Dancers of Solis Planum

Knuckles rapped against the front door. The sound made me flinch, and I sprayed hot glue across my tired fingertips.

“Christ’s sake,” I said, wiping my calluses dry. I hauled myself to my feet, grumbling. Nobody ever came knocking with good news, anymore.

I cracked the door enough to see the boy’s face. It was that kid, Manny or Marty or whatever, from the hotel. Smooth-skinned, pale-eyed, and even taller than me. An Outer Colony tourist, through and through. His face beamed with hope.

“Lucita’s busy,” I said, a bit too harshly.

His cheeks sank. Behind him, the rain fell on the Martian wetlands in a slow rhythm of big drops. In the center of our floating parking pad, a sleek double-seater sat on cooling vertical jets.

“The Dance is tonight. We’re all busy.”

He nodded. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Could you tell her–”

I shut the door, and shuffled back to my chair. The living room was a mess of faux feathers and polyester ribbon. It looked like a flock of plastic turkeys had dropped down the airshaft and exploded.

“Who was that?” Lucita stood in the hallway, eyebrow arched.

I waved a dismissive hand. “That boy. I told him you’re busy, because you are. We’ve still got all this lace to tie for the costumes, and we haven’t even strung the lights yet.”


I was making a move to sit down, but she stepped into the room and planted her hands on her hips. I wasn’t about to give her any extra height on me if this was gonna be a real argument, so I stood my ground.

“I’m not dancing,” she said.

“Like hell you aren’t.” I tried to keep my lip from twitching, the way it always does when I just said something I wish had come out nicer.

“It’s a stupid dance.”

“It’s your birthright. This is the Toloi Homestead, not some Daedalia slouch. Your grandmother was Mars’s greatest Rain Dancer–”

“Have you looked outside? It never stops raining. Maybe the dancing made sense back in New Mexico, or when Mars was still dry. But now the whole thing is a joke.”

I pursed my lips. Same damn argument as last year. Probably every year, since Thomas died.

“I don’t ask you to dance every day–”

“I’ve been slaving over these costumes for weeks. And the cleanup’s even worse!”

I rolled my eyes. The melodrama of youth. You’d think I was running a penal colony. “Why do you think Marty and the others are here to begin with? It ain’t the weather.”

“It’s Manny, Mother.” Her face ripened to a deep pink. “He’s from Callisto.”

“Whatever. If it weren’t for the Dance, he’d be vacationing on some Europan resort right now.”

That got her to bite her tongue. I seized the opportunity.

“You’d do yourself a favor to keep that boy at arm’s length. I know his type. He’s hunting for a native girl. Something exotic to take home and show off to his buddies.”

Lucita threw her arms up, and her fingertips grazed the ceiling. When my great-grandpa built this homestead, nobody could’ve imagined how tall we’d be in just a few generations on account of the lower gravity. Now all of us had to duck through doorways and make sure to keep our hair from getting sucked into the vents. Of course, nobody could’ve imagined we’d have to hoist the damn building onto stilts to keep it above the waters, either.

“How are you so sure?” she said. “You’ve never even given him a chance to talk.”

“I don’t have to. Already know what he’s gonna say.”

“He’s with the Brigade. He helps people, Mother. More than you can say for yourself.”

I drew in a breath to retort, but she beat me to it.

“I’m gonna enlist.”

I clenched my hands into fists, and I could feel the tiny aches in each joint. “Like hell you are. You belong here.”

“Nobody belongs here, anymore. The Outer Colonies–”

“The yuppies can have their Outer Colonies. Cultural black holes, every one of them.” I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation with the Dance just hours away.

“Mars is a complete failure,” she said.

“It’s our home. Always has been.”

Lucita eyed me skeptically, and I swore under my breath.

“Long as you or I can remember, at least. The answer is no. You’re not going anywhere. I need you here.”

“I’m an adult, I’ll do as I please. You can have your stupid backwater traditions.”

I was shaking so hard I couldn’t respond.

“Dad would be on my side,” she said. “He always was.”

That was all I could take. I pushed past her and stormed out the back, grabbing my coat and emergency gear on the way. Outside, at least nobody could tell my tears from the rain.

Tucky Sinkowa’s Fabulous Magic

On the second day of summer break 1997, Arvin Gupta’s best friend in the world, Tucky Sinkowa, showed Arvin his fabulous, sparkling magic.

The silence that followed Tucky’s illuminating pink display, which had lit the entire basement and the brightly colored borders of the yellow vintage movie posters Tucky’s father hung defiantly during the divorce proceedings, was a silence that came only after moments of great revelation. It was not unlike the time Tucky told Arvin in confidence of his first wet dream. Then they were huddled in mummy bags beneath the massive wooden entertainment center in Arvin’s living room. The credits of ‘Life of Brian’ rolled above them as Eric Idle sang, hung high above the desert sands, an ornament dangling in the idyllic blues of the television sky, his whistles filling the awkward spaces between the boys’ uncomfortable pre-teen breaths. Then, Arvin knew what to say.

But that was weeks ago. And this wasn’t a wet dream.

An itch crept up Arvin’s leg brace. He dug at it with a pencil, eager to return attentions to his magical friend. “So you’re like a fairy,” Arvin said finally.

“No, idiot,” Tucky said.

“Well, I don’t get it,” Arvin said. He thought for a moment. More scratching. “Just to confirm. You’re not gay?”


“I don’t know. You acted like you had this big secret. I just thought–”

“Just shut up, Arvin. This is serious,” Tucky said.

“Yeah, but I just want you to know it’s totally fine if you are. I mean my mom, she had a gay friend before–”

“Dude, really. Just shut up. This isn’t about you,” Tucky said. His sweaty palms ran through his greasy mop-top as he began to pace the room, bouncing from corner to corner like a trapped fly while Arvin sat motionless and watched.

“Sorry,” Tucky said. “I didn’t mean to cut you off. I know how hard it is for you to talk about her.” Smells of Fourth of July picnics wafted through the room. “But really, Arv, you can’t tell anyone.” His high-pitched voice was hushed and urgent, clearly sore. The ask was unnecessary because the boys both knew Arvin didn’t have anyone to tell.

“You’re a superhero,” Arvin said. “Can you imagine what Becky would do if she saw this? She might actually notice you.” She was all Tucky talked about lately, unattainable, pretty and popular.

“Cool it, okay? Becky can’t know. No one can. I know you think this is cool, but it isn’t. It hurts. My throat and eyes burn, my hands sting, and it, it just sucks, okay?” His voice cracked. He wiped his brow. Yellow sweat stains from generously applied anti-perspirant clung to his tee and resembled melted butter on rice. “I’m like Jubilee, the lamest X-Man ever. Who gives a damn about Jubilee? No, I’m even worse than her. I can’t even control this… this thing.”

“What do you mean?” Arvin asked as he tucked his bad leg beneath his blanket. His brace caught on its thick fibers.

“Like, sometimes, stuff just comes out,” Tucky said.

Before Arvin could ask from where ‘stuff comes out,’ the stairwell lit up. A shadow bent and crawled down the steps, finally resting on Tucky’s bony shoulder. “Boys,” Tucky’s father, Red Sinkowa, said from above.
“Lights out.” He paused. “What is that ungodly smell? Christ, are you two lighting firecrackers in the house again?”

“No, Dad,” Tucky said. He shuffled to the window and cracked it open. “Just burned some popcorn. We’ll be quiet.”

“Don’t be quiet. Go to bed.” Red had a woman over, Janelle. Janelle reeked of hairspray and cotton candy. Her nails were long and blue. Family dinners with her were strained conversations between bites of rubbery pizza and lukewarm breadsticks. She was not bookish and kind like Tucky’s mother, Alice, the elementary school librarian.

Alice would have let them stay up.

And so they went to bed. Arvin spread out on the floor in a tangle of patchwork blankets and old bed pillows beneath the lumpy couch that Tucky occupied. The putrid after smell from Tucky’s display had faded into something more pleasant. Something like jello. Arvin looked up at Tucky’s feet hanging over him, periscoping out from a moldy blue blanket, and he thought of his friend, the guy attached to those little feet. This magic, curse though Tucky thought it was, was the best thing that had ever happened to Tucky whether he knew it or not. It was a way out of dingy basements and torn families. A path to recognition.

Arvin’s heart pounded with excitement. Before Tucky’s powers, it had only been a matter of time before Tucky moved on to greener pastures rife with better friends, friends who could go out, run and play sports, friends who weren’t afraid of cars and had the shiny new learner’s permits to prove it. But now, overnight, Tucky had become a freak like Arvin, and Arvin felt a profound and moral obligation to help Tucky weather this crisis by honing his sudden and mysterious powers.

“Arv?” Tucky whispered.

“Yeah, Tuck?” Arvin said.

“Do you ever think about them?”


“Your mom and sister,” Tucky said.

“All the time,” Arvin said, scratching at his brace.



“Please don’t tell anyone,” Tucky said. “I want to make it go away before we go back to school.”

In sixth grade, Arvin learned to practice active listening in Ms. Gilroy’s social studies class. It was a few weeks after his mom and sister were buried, and he had only recently returned to school. None of his peers seemed to know how to act around him, so they reached some sort of unspoken consensus to ignore him. His tragedy followed him with every limping step, leaving silence in his creaking wake.

Arvin’s therapist had told him to open up, to put himself out there and show his friends that he was stronger than his bad leg, but he had no friends because they had abandoned him. And he was weak. So he stood in the back of the room and watched alone as rows of his classmates, pubescent pre-teens in tiny desks, partnered up to rephrase and regurgitate key terms from mindless conversations. He had given up on participating in the activity and had started a slow, shameful walk to the front of the room to notify Ms. Gilroy.

Then Tucky came over and asked to be his partner.

Now sensing the distress in his friend’s muffled voice, Arvin sat up and looked Tucky square in the eyes. “You want to make it go away before we go back to school?”

“That’s what I just said,” Tucky said.

“But why would you want that?”

Tucky didn’t answer.

Cool summer air crept in from the open window and filled their lungs with sleep.