Swing on a Star

0921 - StarMaidThere are many kinds of mermaids. Sirens. Whatever you want to call them.

The mermaids you know, the kind on earth, the kind that spend their lives in the ocean –  they have fins and tails and can breathe saltwater as well as they can breathe air. Their inspiration is bilingual, in a sense.

These sirens, their bodies hybrids of human and fish (well, really porpoise – they’re mammals, after all – how else could they interbreed?) are thought to call ships toward rocky endings in order to find new blood  – new partners – with which to mate.

It’s not true, of course. Just a tall tale told by sailors who saw lonely comrades jump overboard because they fell in love with a voluptuous figure, a beautiful face, a lustrous head of hair.

But my kind… my kind swims through a different sea. Instead of starfish, we have actual stars to play with… like that old earth song. “Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar?”

And we do. Swing from one astral body to another. Play hide and seek inside nebulae. Have incredible games of follow-the-leader through asteroid fields. Surf on solar flares. Like humans, and saltwater mermaids, we are made of stardust, but we are a bit more of the star than the dust.

Also like our cousins on that big,  blue and green marble, we love to dance.

Our cousins – sisters, really – dance on sand or stone, under constructed roofs, or under the moon. They dance with partners, sometimes just for fun, sometimes as a precursor to another, more private sort of dance.

But while we do merge with others of our kind from time to time, our dancing is pure art. Or pure physics. You decide.

I have pirouetted around Pluto and jitterbugged in and out of the rings of Jupiter. I’ve mamboed from earth’s moon to the mountains of Mars and bopped my way to Betelgeuse. Or at least, that’s the closest description I can come up with in human language.

Because when we astral mermaids – starmaids – dance, we make dark matter wish it were light. We grab onto the tails of passing comets and let the whiplash whirl us across the cosmos. We spiral around the Milky Way to the beat of the Universe’s heart.

And then we rest.

We are not the sirens you thought you knew. We don’t call astronauts to mate with us… though we do peek into passing ships, and flash space station viewports, and when we aren’t dancing, we do sing.

Our call isn’t easy to discern, but if you listen to the sounds your scientists refer to as “space noise,”  – listen with all your imagination – you might – just might – be able to hear our song.

Image copyright: Hugh Pindur

 

 

Zenia’s Bedraglon

0930 - Bedraglon

 

“Mama! Come look! There’s a bedraglon on the beach! We have to help it!”

 

“A what?” My child confused me sometimes.

 

“A bedraglon,” she repeated. “You know, when a thing is all mussed and tired and fade-y it’s bedraggled, right?”

 

I couldn’t fault her vocabulary. Since moving to Vios, she’d had little to do but read. She read in the house when I was preparing our meals, or in the back of flitter when I made house calls. And as the only xeno-veterinarian in the colony, I made a lot of house calls.

 

But the girl was still talking.

 

“Well, the animal on the beach is a dragon. And it’s bedraggled, so it’s a bedraglon, and we have to help it.” She looked up at me with her liquid blue-grey eyes, the color precisely the same as that of the stormy skies above us. “You can help it, can’t you, Mama?”

 

Ah, the faith of fools and children! You must never intentionally break either. “Let me get my bag,” I told her. “And I’ll see what I can do.”

 

The little girl half-led, half-pulled me down the beach from our back door, to where the poor creature had collapsed in the surf, and I had to admit, her name for it was sadly accurate.

 

I’d only ever glimpsed these native flyers in the air, and once I saw the evidence one of them left behind on one of Mr. Copnick’s sheep, but I’d never been up-close-and-personal with one, and even as a sodden heap, it was a bit intimidating.

 

“Easy there,” I said to it, speaking as I would to a spooked horse. “I’m here to help.”

 

It seemed to understand that I meant no harm because its dark eyes brightened slightly.

 

I walked around the creature making a visual assessment, and that’s when I realized what had happened: the poor beast had been snared by a fisherfolk’s drift net. Long since banned for ocean use, these nets were used on Vios and other colony worlds to catch aerial prey. Specifically, the fisherfolk here cast them out from trawling shuttles to snare the flying turkeys that had become one of our staple foods. Apparently, even when used in the skies instead of the seas, they still caught other creatures unintentionally.

 

“Zenia, darling, will you do Mama a huge favor and bring the big shears from my bag?”

 

“Okay!” She trotted over with them, carried point-down as I’d told her so many times. “Can I help?”

 

I hesitated. I needed someone to keep the dra – bedraglon – calm, but I wasn’t certain it was safe. I did my own sort of casting out, probing the creature with my vet-sense. There was no return crackle of danger, so I took a chance.

 

“Go sit near its head, sweetie. If it lets you touch it – like this -“ and I demonstrated, giving the animal’s side a firm but gentle stroke with my flattened hand “- then pet it, and talk to it. Talk soft and slow, like you do with Spot.”

 

Spot was our dog. Or cat. I hadn’t yet determined if the local domestic was analogous to canine or feline house pets, but we referred to them as Viosian Cloud Leopard Dogs, and almost every family had adopted one.

 

“Okay, Mama.”

 

I gave the bedraglon – I was thinking of it that way, by then – a few minutes to settle, and was relieved to see that Zenia had dropped into a cross-legged position and coaxed the great beast’s head into her lap. Then I went to work with my shears.

 

Freeing the first wing was easy enough, but the second was folded backwards and the ribs were straining. I had to find the tension point before I could start snipping and balancing it with one hand while I clipped the strands of the net with the other was a little awkward. But I managed, and even though it felt like hours, it was only a few minutes before the animal was completely free.

 

I sensed the bedraglon’s motion before I saw it move. “Sweetie, move back,” I warned, but my daughter was already up on her feet.

 

The animal rocked back and forth a few times, then got to its feet. It snaked its thick neck around to look at me, then blew warm air into my face. I could have lived without the strong scent of masticated fish, but I understood it as a gesture of thanks.

 

“You’re welcome,” I told it.

 

I walked toward the front of its body, running my hands along its side as I did so. Nothing felt wrong, but what did I know? What surprised me was that it wasn’t scaled like a lizard or leathery like bats. Rather it had the coarse hair of a Terran hunting dog. A pointer, maybe.

 

By the time I got to where my daughter was standing, the bedraglon had turned back to look at her. She also received the animal’s breath of gratitude, and her expression of disgust only matched her delighted giggles for pure adorableness.

 

We watched as the creature launched itself into the air, and if its first few wing strokes were a bit wobbly, who could blame it.

 

I expected that would be the end of our first encounter with Bedraglon Zenian, as it was officially named, but about a week later as we were sitting on the sand right below our house, a shadow obscured the twin suns for a moment and then our friend was standing before us.

 

Zenia was racing toward it before I could even get up, but I needn’t have worried. The bedraglon had lowered its head so my daughter could hug its neck, just like she had with our ponies back on Earth.

 

My husband came out to join us then, bringing me a glass of iced mint tea. “What’s going on there?” he asked. “Should I worry?”

 

“Nope,” I told him. “That’s just a girl and her bedraglon. It’s all good.”

 

And it was.

Art by: Rasmus Berggreen – http://conceptartworld.com/artists/rasmus-berggreen/

 

 

Twirly Girl

0893 - TwiirlyGirlShe twirls.

She has to, you see, because Mommy put her in the dress with the floofy skirt to take pictures for Grandma and Grandpa, and it swirls when she moves at all, so full-on twirling is required.

She manages to stand still for the pictures. Out on their wooden porch, leaning her back against it, she smiles for the camera, but in her head, she’s already on the lawn, twirling in the soft, cool grass.

As soon as Mommy says the pictures are done, she kicks off her shoes and runs down the steps, stopping near the big tree where Grandpa hung her tire swing last year.

She twirls.

She spins round and round until her head is as dizzy as the wind-tossed leaves on the branches above her, and then she collapses onto the grass and squinches her eyes closed and lets herself get lost in the spinny spacey feeling that comes from twirling.

When she opens her eyes, she thinks she’s become one with the earth, because she can feel the world spinning and see the clouds circling above, and she thinks it’s the best feeling ever.

She twirls.

Even when she’s twelve, fifteen, seventeen, twenty-two, she keeps doing it whenever she has a private moment in the yard, or on the beach at the summer place Mom bought with her new husband.

She doesn’t need a special skirt anymore.

But when things press too close, or her head and heart are too full, she channels her inner child and spins and spins until she can’t keep her balance, and falls, laughing to the ground.

She likes the beach best… warm sand, the ocean tickling her toes… she’s lying there, feeling the world spin with her when a shadow falls over her.

“You okay?” a male voice asks.  “I saw you fall.”

She sits up, and her brown eyes lock onto a pair of blue ones that rival the ocean for depth and purity.

“I’m good,” she says. “I was… it’s hard to explain.”

“Spinning,” he says.

Twirling,” she corrects. “It’s like getting high… only cheaper… and…”

“Can I try?” he asks, interrupting. He extends a hand, and she takes it, letting him help her to her feet.

She twirls, and he follows her, only this time instead of collapsing onto the sand, they spiral into the waves and come up, soaked and silly with joy.

“I’m Eric,” he tells her.

“Sophie. I mean, I’m Sophie.”

They go for a burger and a beer and talk long into the night. She’s too old to need to sneak back into her mother’s house after a date, but at the same time, she’s a little disappointed Mom isn’t on the couch, waiting to grill her.

She twirls.

Only now it’s not always literal twirling.

Sex with Eric, that’s a kind of spinning, swirling dance, too. It’s so good. He’s so good. And he gets her. Like, really gets her.

At their wedding… they dance respectably while people are watching, but after the guests leave, they go back to the arbor that was placed on her grandparents’ broad, cool lawn, hold hands and twirl under the stars until they’re twice drunk, once from the champagne they drank earlier, and once from their shared motion.

“I’ve been thinking,” Eric says, “about what brought us together.”

“You found me lying on the beach,” Sophie answers.

“No, that’s how we met. What brought us together was centripetal force.”

“Centripetal?”

“It’s when spinning pulls an object toward the center. You’re my center. And I’m yours.”

“I love you,” Sophie says, because what else can you say when your heart is still swirling?

“I love you, too,” he answers, “Twirly girl.”

Just Desserts

666 - Route 666

They were somewhere in the desert, the one that spanned Nevada and Arizona but changed names, or spellings anyway, at the state line. Mojave, Mohave, either way it was Mo-freaking-hot-as-hell.

Tracy could even see the heat waves rolling up from the ground, making the endless stretch of empty road look more like rolling sea than a black asphalt river bleeding its way across the parched flesh of the empty land.

Sure, there was another car from time to time, but mostly the only thing that punctuated the monotony was the occasional mournful whistle of a cargo train – they were automated, those things – and over a hundred cars longs – and their whistles made Tracy shiver every time.

“Too much a/c?” Steve asked? The outside temperature gauge read 106 but it was 72 in the car.

“No, just the train whistle.”

“You like trains,” Steve reminded her.

“I like passenger trains,” she said. “These cargo things… they’re more like ghost trains. Sometimes I think maybe it’s just one endless train on a loop, never ending or beginning…”

“Drink some water, babe; you’re dehydrated.”

“I’m not!” she insisted, but she reached for her water bottle anyway, and took a healthy swallow. “How’re we doing on gas?” The design of the dashboard meant she couldn’t read that information from the passenger seat.

“We can make to Flagstaff.”

“Oh. Goo – Shit!” A red sports car had come zooming up beside them in the wrong lane, nearly clipping her mirror. “That wasn’t the same car we saw leaving Vegas?”

“I think it was… ”

Tracy reached out and teased the nape of Steve’s neck. “Crazy.”

“I know.”

They kept on driving, stopped at a couple of truck stops for bathroom breaks and gas. And then, just outside Flagstaff, they turned off the interstate, following suggestions to a tourist destination on the old Route 66. “I-40 parallels it along this stretch,” Steve told her, when Tracy questioned the detour. “There’s a ghost town with a burger joint that supposed to be to die for. They keep it open for tourists.”

“What tourists?” Tracy wanted to know.

“I guess there are more than we think.”

Tracy shrugged. “Sounds fun.” They weren’t in a race, after all.  They were headed to a new life in a community of artists and writers in Taos, New Mexico, but their schedule was their own. So why not enjoy a slight diversion?

Unlike the Interstate, the road they turned onto was faded and crumbling at the shoulders. The paint marking the lanes was barely discernible, but ruts in the road marked the divisions as well, or better.

The burger joint – a roadhouse, really – had a rusty highway sign on the top, Tracy froze looking at it after they got out of the car. “Steve. There are three sixes on that sign.”

“What?” he said. “Baby, we really need to get some protein in you.”

When Tracy looked again, the sign was a normal Route 66 sign.

Inside, the place was full of tourist kitsch. Stuffed jackalopes and Route 66 t-shirts were everywhere, and the song – that song – blared from the speakers.

A tired waitress in a polyester uniform greeted them with a dusty smile. “Welcome to the Roadhouse.” She reeled off a list of specials and left them to decide while she went to get drinks. A few minutes later, they were sipping iced tea and waiting for bacon and cheddar burgers.

“You headed somewhere specific?” the waitress asked, when she brought their food.

“Taos,” Tracy said.

“Nice town,” the other woman answered. “You’ll like it there. Best cheese enchiladas ever come from Gloria’s. Don’t miss them.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Tracy said.

The burgers were wonderful. Steve ate his own and half of hers, but that was typical. She ate all of her own fries, though. They had garlic on them. They watched people come and go as they ate – families mostly, and a few couples like themselves – but then he entered.

Tracy could tell he didn’t fit. Didn’t belong. His teeth were too white. His sunglasses were too expensive. His t-shirt had a logo that meant it had cost more than their typical electric bill.

“Can I get service?” he asked loudly. He’d barely been waiting fifteen seconds.

“I can seat you at the counter,” their waitress offered. “If it’s just you.”

“Fine, I guess. Could you wipe the grease off it first, though?”

Tracy couldn’t see his face, but she could practically hear him rolling his eyes.

“Asshole,” Steve muttered under his breath.

“Bet you anything he’s the guy in that red penis-car that keeps almost killing us,” Tracy whispered back.

In an attempt to wait him out, to not be ahead of him on the road, they decide to order pie and coffee. Tracy went for peach – her favorite – Steve was excited that they offered strawberry-rhubarb. “Good choices,” their waitress approved. “You want a la mode? It’s on me.”

“Because we’re going to Taos?” Tracy asked.

“Sure. That.” The waitress gave asshole-customer a furtive glance. “And because I know you don’t want to be on the road with him. I can tell.”

“He’s… we keep running into him. I guess the upside is that he’s the one who’s been caught in every speed trap since Vegas,” Steve said.

“Don’t doubt it.”

“A la mode sounds fantastic,” Tracy smiled. “It’s summer, after all. Thanks.”

“You bet.”

They finish their dessert, by which time the guy with the attitude has disappeared. “Bet you anything he’s from L.A.,” Tracy said, as they paid the check. “Leave the waitress a generous tip.”

“I left twenty-five percent,” Steve said.

“And that’s why I love you.”

“Not for my hot body?”

“Well, that too.”

They paused for a selfie in front of the roadhouse. It was dark by then, but there was so much lighting in the parking lot that it might as well have been noon. There’s a mark on the ground telling people where to stand so they can guarantee the sign is in the picture.

Back in the car, they headed back to the Interstate, only to be halted by flickering red and blue lights. “Sorry folks,” a highway patrol officer says, coming up to their window. “Gotta redirect you. To get back on Eastbound 40 do this…”

Tracy took down the directions with the “Notes” app on her phone. “Can I ask what happened, Officer?”

“Bad accident,” he said. “Speed demon in a red car wrapped himself around the signpost on the ramp.” He took a beat, then added. “These roads… they may seem flat and empty, but they make you cocky. You drive safe, hear?”

“Sure thing, Officer.” It was Steve who answered.

They follow their detour directions which take them to a ridge on the other side of the Interstate. Looking down, they can see the car that was smashed. No surprise, it was their “friend” from the road. The asshole from the  roadhouse.

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Steve said.

“Hush, honey. No one deserves that. Not really.” She paused. “We should go.” But their vantage point also let them glimpse the sign from the roadhouse, and Tracy shivered when she saw it. Checking her phone, she confirms what she’d seen before. The sign on the roof. One side was the normal road sign for America’s most famous highway.

The other? It had three sixes.

Get your kicks on route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.

Uneasy Lies the Head

662 - Uneasy Head

“They whisper,” the Crowned one heard her confession. “They whisper all sorts of things to me, and I’m never which advice to follow.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Big Nose said I should trip Samuel as he was reaching the top of the stairs. I thought he might tumble and slide. I didn’t expect to hear the cracking sound. Or for his head to turn all the way ’round like that.”

The Crowned One frowned. “Samuel died at the bottom?”

“He was very pale… and so quiet. There wasn’t any blood though. I thought there was always blood when people die.”

“Not always, Georgia. Not always. What other whispers have you heard?”

“Twisted Lip said Nanny was plotting against me and I should switch my teacup with hers.”

“And did you?” the Crowned One was concerned as well as curious. What would the child’s answer be?

“Yes, I did. We’re looking for a new Nanny now. Because that Nanny started foaming at the mouth and then went all twitchy and fell off her chair. She’s not dead though, just really sick.”

“I see. It would seem Twisted Lip’s advice was wise, then.”

“Yes, but… I miss Samuel.”

“I am certain that you do. You and he have always been good friends.”

“Except he said that he would ascend to the throne because he’s a boy even though I’m six weeks older,” the little girl announced. “And Mother said those rules don’t matter anymore, because she sits on the throne now, after all.”

“Yes,” the Crowned one confirmed. “Yes, she does. Have you spoken to your mother about these things, Georgia? Told her what the Advisors are whispering to you?”

“I have,” she told him, nodding her head up and down. “She said it’s the way of things. People always try to eliminate the people who have power so they can have power instead. And sometimes we must act to protect our own interests.”

The Crowned One understood his role in Princess Georgia’s life. As a former head of state and current, well, state head, albeit a disembodied one, he was to offer the child as much wisdom and guidance as he could. He had hoped this could have happened without so much intrigue. He had fervently wished for a lot less murder. But it was the way of the world. The other heads – former guards and statesfolk, all – would whisper to the Heir, their advice to be heeded or not, as the child’s will dictated.

But his counsel was given openly.

At that moment, he wished he could give more than counsel. A friendly hug, perhaps. A pat on the head. But the reality was that this small girl was, at ten, already more ruthless than half a dozen mercenaries. She had to be, if she truly meant to take the throne someday.

All he could hope was that his wisdom would temper her more… expedient… choices.

“Dark Eyes also whispers,” the young princess offered, perhaps to assuage his obvious unease. “Dark Eyes says I must remember to be compassionate, when I can.”

“That is wise advice,” the Crowned One said.

“I’ve tried to heed it. Benjamin and I have been playing together since Samuel left us.”

“Since he died, you mean?”

“Yes, that.”

“It’s good that you’ve reached out to his little brother.”

“Benjamin will never sit on the throne.”

“It is highly unlikely that he will.”

“But… he makes me laugh, and when we are together, I don’t focus so much on the whispers I hear from the Heads.”

“It’s good,” the Crowned One said, “that you can still be a child from time to time. Stay young as long as you can, Georgia.”

“I will try.”

“It is late. You should rest.”

“Yes…”  She released the magic holding him in place, and the Crowned One floated up to the Keeper’s Space. “Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight, Georgia.”

The little girl was soon asleep. But the Crowned One was still fretting. She was becoming too hard, too cold… he was concerned. A leader must be able to act swiftly and make tough decisions; it was true, but a leader must also be able to be lenient, to know when kindness was the better path. He would speak with Dark Eyes in the morning. They would push Compassion at her a bit more heavily.

A line from Shakespeare went through his brain, and he chuckled softly. Old Will had really nailed it with that one.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

 

 

 

 

Eternal Companion

656 - Eternal Companion

You’re the same in every city. Every country. Every continent. You have been so ever since Velázquez first used you as the model for one of his gods.

You knew he would.

How could he resist?

Your flowing platinum hair. Your alabaster skin. The faint glow of otherness about you. These things made you compelling to men and women of all walks of life, so why not one of the world’s greatest painters?

But then his vision changed.

Ever the storyteller, Diego chose to tell different stories with his paintings. Instead of capturing encounters between gods and men, he focused on the earthiest of the earthbound. The kind who most people made a point of never seeing: the poor, the ugly, the ill, the malformed.

But you; you were beautiful, and you knew it.

So, you went on a mission to show off your terrible, dangerous beauty.

Killing sprees across every city in Europe. Milan. Paris. London. Madrid. Amsterdam. Rome. Berlin. There was no pattern. You went wherever your bloodlust took you, leaving your crimson stain on the statuary, since you couldn’t leave a tintype or photograph.

And I watched you.

I watched you grow paler and more luminescent as last vestiges of humanity were bitten from the necks of your victims and spit, sizzling, to the ground.

Your humanity, not theirs.

And I began to wonder who the real victim was: those whom you killed; you, who did the killing; or I, who allowed it all to continue.

If I were a stronger person, if my resolve were better fortified, this is the point in which I would inform my readers that I’d left you, or better, that I’d committed the ultimate act of altruism and driven the final stake through your marble-esque chest.

But I am not that strong.

And love can be so weak.

And so, because through it all, my angel, my demon, my eternal companion, I do love you, I offer you my neck, and hope beyond hope that in doing so, some of your madness is abated.

After all, the blood is the life.