Counterfeit Stars

The stars hung from strings. As the metal shapes of the mobile bounced off each other, Martha whistled. She heard the guitar in her heart. Her ears remained empty. She traced the memories of a strumming hand. Her fingers stretched into the old chords. It didn’t matter.

No one heard guitars anymore.

A fist clanged against the outside of her ‘pod. “Martha! Hey, you gotta come out! We’re starting the Feast!”

She sat up on her bunk. “Start it, then.” Even aggravated, her voice rolled soft and deep.

“We need you to sing!”

Martha wrinkled her nose. “Have Mikedi sing. Or Pallest.”

“We need the best!”

She squeezed her eyes shut. “My voice glows cold as the stars.”

“Martha, please!”

She heard the sound of scuffling and hushed voices. A deeper voice, gruffer, sounded. “Martha Tempest, Daughter of Ragnarok, come forth. It is by the starlight of your voice we heal. Our wounds are deep, and only you may ease our pains.”

Martha dragged herself off the bunk and across the ‘pod to the hatch. “Samuel, an empty heart can share no lesson.”

“Perhaps an empty heart may be filled by what it gives.”

“I hate you, old man.”

“And I you.” Martha heard the gentle smile in his voice.

She leaned her forehead against the hatch. “They’ve all gathered, haven’t they?”

“Of course.”

She squeezed her eyes shut once more before reaching for the hatch release. The metal ground notes she had never been able to place in chords. Thick metal swung out. Cool night air embraced her. Samuel soon followed, his frail arms wrapping around Martha.

“My children will never know what a guitar sounded like.”

Samuel nodded. “Not unless we find different wood. I doubt we will, though. The vegetation here sings a unique song. Why would its lumber resonate to the tune of a different world?” He released the young woman. “It’s best to say farewell to the past. Our planet is lost to us.”

Martha stepped away. “It didn’t have to be.”

“And if we had stayed?” The old man shook his head. “The Rain came the very night we sped away. The very night you were born.”

“You don’t know they’re gone.”

“On every world the Rain fell, silence reigned. We have no reason to think that earth escaped the deluge.” He raised a finger. “We do have every reason to be thankful, though.”

“Sure. We flee spiritual and military persecution and crash-land here. I do remember that, you know. And now we couldn’t run away if the Rain followed us. Now we’re stuck here. And here’s so much better, isn’t it? Not enough food. No real shelter except the ruins of the soulbarge that dragged us here. The waters might be tainted, so we might end up dying in a few years anyway. Yeah. Lots to be thankful for.”

Samuel stepped past Martha into the ‘pod. “Every night, you fall asleep under metal stars. Why?”

“I like remembering where I came from.”

“Ah. But these stars are not your home. Your home is out there.” Samuel waved toward the blank metal ceiling. “Why would you accept something that is so inferior? The real stars burn with passion. I’ve seen them up close. One flare can leave you blind if you’re not careful. These will only blind you if you poke yourself with them.”

“Fine. They remind me of where I came from.” Martha crossed her arms.

“Ah. What counterfeit memories.” Samuel chuckled. “Metal stars when you refuse to be thankful for the real ones.” He peered into her face. “You long for what you never had, yet you refuse to be thankful for what is right before your face.”

The two looked at each other for a long moment.

“Now, I do not intend to miss the Feast. Sarai Kenner made her pasberry kringle, and if nothing else, I think I can be thankful for that.” Samuel stepped out of the ‘pod. “I would rejoice if you would join us. If not, though, I will mourn that you choose metal stars over true ones.”

His steps faded into the quiet, quiet night. The hatch creaked open behind him. In the distance, Martha heard laughter.

She slunk to her desk and plunked down. “Access: Classical guitar playlist. Play random.” The sound of strings filled the metal room. Martha closed her eyes, leaning into the memories. The sound caressed her cheek and filled her ears.

A note hung in the air too long. A chord progression interrupted itself. The entire thing collapsed.

“Selection corrupted,” the computer reported in sterile tones.

“Remove from playlist. Continue.”

A cantina plucked notes from the air, rich with the juice of pleasure. Martha closed her eyes to savor every bite.

“Selection corrupted,” the computer interrupted.

“Remove from playlist. Continue.”

A lute suite bowed before entering in its formal tune. Martha bent to return the bow.

“Selection corrupted.” The computer stopped the dance from beginning.

“Remove from playlist. Continue.”

Again. And again. And again. Martha removed selection after selection. Some songs lasted twenty-four bars. Others never made it past their opening chord. The last twelve strings died with a sterile voice reporting corruption.

“Remove from playlist. Continue.”

“No selections remain.”

Martha’s eyes fell closed. Her hands balled into fists. Useless fists.

Laughter leaked into the ‘pod from outside. She turned toward the hatch. She stood. One step. A second. At last she stood under a dark, dark expanse. Toward camp bright lamps corrupted the sky with their light.

She set out toward the wilderness.

Spreading weeds crackled under her feet. A few tried to wrap thin leafy tendrils around her ankles, but she broke off the creepers with a step. She passed a few sleeping weeds, their fronds wrapped around trapped rodents, their roots already stealing nourishment from their prey.

Martha climbed a rise and looked down into the valley. She heard the music of the stream. It played over pebbles and rocks, a rippling melody that never ended. A rodent scurried, its claws clattering a staccato rhythm. The wind whispered lyrics Martha could not identify.

Yes, this world had music. She had known that. Samuel didn’t have to remind her. Every place had music.

But she could not be thankful for this world while she mourned for the old.

She poured out her dirge. Martha’s throaty voice filled the valley. Scurrying rodents and crackling plants stilled their music and listened. Martha’s wail echoed. Her heart melted into song. Loneliness found a home in her notes. The discordant notes, the howl of pain, they told her story. Words were unnecessary.

Her last note lingered. A leading tone. A story unfinished. A song yet to come.

Another voice picked up the melody line. Masculine and rich, it ran up and down the minor chords Martha had built. It hung on the third, on the note that could turn the entire song upside down. It hung on the note that might become a major chord. A happy chord. His song flirted with the possibility but never accepted the proposed change. He ended on that third, waiting for someone to decide if it would become minor or major.

“Samuel. You’re not to sing anymore.”

“How could I not?” came the gruff reply. “Your music calls for another to join you.”

She turned to face him. “I don’t need you to change my music.”

“Would that I could. No, I cannot change your heart. And it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth sings.”

“You’re missing your kringle.”

“You are more important than my stomach.”

“And your voice is more important than my song.”

“Perhaps.” He nodded. “And perhaps your song holds more meaning than you realize.” He turned toward the camp. “We feast tonight to remember. When we arrived here, when we fell into the crater, only ruins and rubble surrounded us. Bitter tastes filled our mouths. We lost everything. Not just our music, but our families. Our food! Our safety.”

Samuel sighed. “Many chased after counterfeit stars after we fell. They wanted it to be here what it was there, with just a few differences they’d fathomed on the long ride. They thought something could be the same. But nothing was the same. We so often delude ourselves into thinking that nothing changes. No, everything changes. Even us! The only One who remains the same is the one who guided us here.

“They chased fake stars. They didn’t see that the stars here are different.” He raised his arms to the heavens.

Martha followed his gesture. The shape of the Milky Way glowed brighter here than back on earth. The stars alone lit the weedy landscape.

“Martha, they lost themselves. Our first years here were hard because they still sang the old songs. Only when we found the song of this land did we prosper. Only when we saw that we had new stars to chase. We had to say goodbye to the old stars, the ones that we left behind.” He turned to gaze into her eyes. “And that is your song. It is farewell to the old stars. It is recognizing that they were good at one time, but now we have been blessed with new stars.”

Samuel held out his hand. “Help us to say goodbye to what was good. Only after we say farewell can we embrace a new hello.”

Martha considered the hand.

This world had songs. It did not have guitar. Now it couldn’t even echo with the recordings of guitars. But it held other songs.

She kept her eyes on the outstretched hand. “It will take me a long time to find the land’s songs.”

“No one asks you to premier an anthem tonight. Help us remember what we’ve lost, so we may be thankful for what we’ve gained.”

A stream sang over her pebbles.

Martha took Samuel’s hand.

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2 responses to “Counterfeit Stars

  1. This is haunting. It sounds like you pulled a little of your inspiration from the first Thanksgiving story in the New World. It fits, and fits well.

    I wonder what “the Rain” was? Was it a play on words, a “reign”, of a futuristic super-dictatorship? Or was it some sort of celestial event, like if the Solar System went swooping through some part of the galaxy with a high population of asteroids or something that “rained” destruction on the Earth?

    It’s hard to be thankful for peace when you’ve never known chaos and war.

    • Yep — I tried to fashion this after the first Thanksgiving. It’s gratifying knowing that it worked! Thank you for the compliments.

      Honestly, I have no idea what the Rain is. I wanted some force out there that kept them from even the possibility of going home. I may use the name again and flesh out the concept.

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