Another Story

Saturday may or may not have been better than Friday. I hate it when I make mistakes (even more when some lovely person will not let me forget it, as if I would). Perhaps more on that later.

For now, hereʼs the start of yet another story, possibly the first section of a novel. Itʼs flat-out science fiction (a warning?), which is tentatively entitled Stars in Heaven. This is the opening thousand words or thereabout…

Today was the day. Daniel had decided: he’d had enough. So today would be the Escape. There would be no turning back…

The boy was confused. He felt attacked by more noise and more people all together than he thought he had ever suffered in his whole life. But he couldn’t be sure: he couldn’t remember everything.

Aunt Sarai said that was all right: nobody could. But Aunt Sarai could remember things about himself that he couldn’t, and that bothered him. She remembered, she said, “when you wandered out alone into the starfield just before harvesting, scaring us all to death and then some, especially so long after dark and them plants just all splinters and burrs and spines and prickers and all…” Ghorf had found him just inside the overgrown mass of glassy spikes and branches, somehow miraculously almost uninjured, “jus’ a few cuts, honey, barely bleedin’, you” — but he couldn’t remember himself. He just knew by now what it was like in the field, especially after this past harvest. How had he not died out there, alone?

Here people were everywhere: the whole If-naryadh’iq square was simply all people, talking — screaming — and running and walking and stopping to finger things in the thousand booths of tanglewood and cotton. He found it difficult to notice any one of them, there were so many.

“Having fun, boys?”

He lied. “You betcha, Unca Rim.”

His uncle had told him this would be the best time he would ever have: tit for tat seemed only fair. His other uncle, Jism, said that. It meant a fair exchange, according to Daniel, who wasn’t his brother; he knew that. Ghorf had threatened a good beating as fair exchange for going into the field alone, so Aunt Sarai always said, but he hadn’t done it. For once. His own miraculous survival saving him from that further injury.

They had all come down from the boonies together, six weeks on the road, half his life it seemed. He hadn’t arisen unpunished during those weeks.

It got hotter the closer they came to the city, down from the hill country, so hot his clothes stuck to him all over his body all the time, even if he got up to walk around the campsite in the middle of the night. He hated that. He hated it now, even as the thousand different people surged around where he crouched in the dirt outside the family booth. The only time he had ever been this hot was sloughing his way in the harvest, hacking through the fingery spines and plucking out the stars themselves here and there, hour on hour until his fingers were bloody, even in the gloves, and his shoulders and arms slashed and hurting. But half that heat was the armor — too much clothing, too heavy for the clear, hot days that made for good harvest.

Now he wore a strap of cotton wound around his forehead to absorb the sweat rolling in saltrivers from the front of his hair, and he wished it wouldn’t flood down the back of his neck. But there was no way to stop that.

“Look at that, kid!” Uncle Rimmon thumbed up and out into the square. A man, seven or eight feet tall, dressed all in fluorescent green, was shoving with ease through the crowd parting like waves around him.

“Pilot,” Daniel hissed.

Ebony flesh glistened, but he didn’t act warm at all. His authority and his confidence swept the ordinary rabble from his path, and he strode away into sunglare out of the immense square toward the spaceport.

“Real damn pilot.”

Uncle Rim was jabbering (“They eat stars, ya know” — incredibly unbelievable as that seemed), but the boy didn’t need to listen.

A pilot by his build and stature, a genuine pilot. Born and bred to the darkness between the stars (“They really do, they eat ‘em”). The boy had heard of pilots, of course. Who hadn’t? Daniel had described what they were like in envy-breeding detail after last year’s harvest trek. But now he’d seen a pilot himself. The man behaved as if he owned the entire square, perhaps even the whole city. Of course, he could go anywhere, pilot a ship to any planet around any star anywhere in heaven. Daniel said that, relentlessly, it seemed, this last year.

“Pretty cocky bastards, them pilots. Betcha ain’t got them back home, has ya?”

Somehow the boy felt unimpressed. Maybe it was the heat.

Uncle Rimmon was always trying to make him look at wonderful things.

Uncle Rim had met the travelers yesterday at the city gates, where he had waited every evening for five days, and guided them to his home, lost in a wild network of cobbled streets.

“Nothing like him in the boonies, is there?”

“No, sir.”

There was nothing like anything like this back home. Just the house and the fields and the road into town and the sheep and the goats and the three horses (two now, since Doc died on the road — and neither of them was at home now, either) and Tom the dog and the plow and the carts and the mountains in the west. And Aunt Sarai. He felt he had left it all behind him forever. Six weeks was such a long time.

He felt alone, even in the square, crushed by the sweating bafflement of so many thousands of legs and shoes, trapped between fat Uncle Rimmon and Daniel, the smell of fish from somewhere making his tongue sweat in the rear of his mouth, the hot sun finding him even in the crowd, even in the little shelter of the boothside.

Suddenly, Daniel’s elbow knocked his ribs. “Jerk,” a whisper — he always called him that — “lookie there!” The hoarse intensity made him look in the direction Daniel’s finger briefly jabbed: a lady wearing almost nothing at all was walking along the booth across the way, a leatherworker’s, as if she felt she too owned the world. She wore, just barely, around her top a blue shiny stuff, and her hips were draped only with yellow gauze. Men were stopped, looking. The boy couldn’t really see her very well. Daniel’s mouth hung open.

“Filthy whores!” muttered Uncle Jism, savagely.

Uncle Rim snorted. “She looks pretty clean to me.” He spluttered humorously. “And if she’s not, I’d clean her up, I can tell you, in a minute!”

“They’re everywhere these days. The whole damn world’s going to hell in a hurry.” Jism looked sour.

Ghorf finally put in his: “Looks alien to boot.”

“Why not?” Jiz spat in her direction. “They all are.”

Daniel was twisting around to watch her as she went around the curve and out of sight. “Boy oh boy oh Jeeziesweetpi—!” he breathed and then jerked, flying into the way, shooting a shower of dust backwards — as Uncle Jism clubbed him a good one.

“Keep your eyes in your own head, boy, and watch the goods!”

Daniel dragged himself up on his knees, glaring under his brows at his uncle. “Thudface!” He crawled back to his spot, beating his hands on his robe to clean the dust.

There you have it, the basic set-up. I sent this story as a PDF to my siblings and got absolutely no response. Anyone out there want to do better?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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