This is an unusual post. My wife submitted a short story to what she thought was a reputable magazine, but now it appears that it was a scam. In an effort to protect her work, we are posting her story here, so that the thieves cannot claim first publishing rights. This has not happened before and we are unsure of what to do. This was the best plan we could think of. We apologize for any confusion.
Nights on Mars are absolute. There’s no gentle transition of twilight here. The axis tilts and the light is gone. The artificial lights along the path are watery and pale. I take short hopping steps, and puffs of red dust bloom around me. My Fae heart aches for twilight. I miss the colors, the sounds, the scents that appear during that wonderful in between time of day and night. Sunsets, only on Earth.
Living on Mars is like living in a Russian Nesting doll. Arching domes inside larger arching domes, all designed to keep us safe from the harsh nothing of Red Papa Mars’ lack of environment. We’d figured out how to get the gravity working. I can feel the hum of the massive generators under my feet as I lope home. If I stand still, the vibration rumbles through me.
Air and atmosphere are the problems. Air likes to leak. It stays put fine in the small, sealed confines of our dwellings, but once you go outsideit permeates the domes and goes. It needs to slip through the domes though, there’s only 200 people here, but that’s a lot of carbon dioxide. The power grid can’t run the carbon filters and keep gravity steady. We need some green growing in this soil, but we’re not there yet. You can’t take a nice evening stroll without putting on a heavy O2 suit.
Trapped under glass, trapped in our suits, nowhere to go but from one windowless box to another.Why I didn’t stay home?
My home, the Fae homeworld, died a long time ago. The technology that made it possible for us to travel to Earth to inspire legends, is what destroyed it.One malfunction, one mistake, and we went from legends to refugees in one day.
At the same time, the remnants of that tech is what made this little colony possible. Life loves irony.
I try to push my foul mood aside. It was a rough day at the lab. The cotton plants weren’t doing well and a coworker wondered very loudly, why Dr. Tinker Bell didn’t just wiggle her nose to make the plants grow?My skin flushed hot and I knew my frost-gray eyes were filled with angry red embers at the memory.I should have said, “That’s Dr. Space Elf to you, and I don’t wiggle!” But I never think of good comebacks in time.
“Chuck is trash,” I hiss inside my O2 suit. He is also my neighbor.He’s in charge of Maintenance and Sustainable Waste Management, which is funny because he never seems to be clean. His face is never shaved, his clothes are always rumpled, and he’s always surrounded by a sour odor. His dwelling is as new as mine, but there are black stains running down the roof like tears and the standard white color has turned a sooty gray. I pause outside of his dwelling, hoping he somehow felt my glare through its thick steel walls.
Mar’s dead soil hasn’t stopped me from having a garden of copper wire trees and fuzzy red felt apples. Chuck’s yard is littered with things that he has broken. Twisted metal husks of machines and food. The waste of it is obscene.
Our greenhouses are doing well, but to toss out meal remains instead of composting them was inexcusable. Sustainable waste management is his job!
He didn’t used to be like this, he used to smile. Chuck arrived with the “mini wave,” a small batch of professionals with their families. A little test run to try to see if this little spit of land could be a real home.
There are 12 children currently on Mars, including his son, Teddy. Teddy was wonderful. That seven-year-old was like all the colors of twilight bundled up in a round bellied package. I had first met him on my way to the labs. He was hopping around,making red dust clouds. He ran to me and asked if he could make space pies out of my red felt apples.
Now I risk being late so I could walk him to class, but we haven’t done that in a while. The few times I have seen him, he seemed off, as if he was getting sick. I hope adjusting to Mars wasn’t too much for him. If he can’t thrive here, then he’ll have to leave. I’ll miss my little bear.
I stop glaring at Chuck’s filthy hovel and turn to head home when something moves. My eyes go wide as one of the pieces of debris stands up.
Aliens?I think as my stomach twists.
“Can I stay with you?” a tiny voice asks.
“Teddy?” I gasp. His O2 suit is filthy. It’s so covered with dust and grime that he blended in with the rest of junk.
“Pleeeease.” His little plea knocks me out of my shock. I take his hand and walk him inside.
I peel him out of his suit. His clothes are stained and hang off of him. The sharp bones of his wrist jut out. His little pot belly is all but gone, and there are dark circles under his brown eyes. He goes right to my fridge and starts eating. Confused, my gaze shifts from him to the dirty suit in my hands. The grime is leaving streaks across my own. I take it to my work room. It was a miracle he could see through the muck on the helmet. I take it apart and start cleaning out the oxygen tubes. How can dirt get in there? It’s almost as if the suit was vandalized on purpose.A mental picture of all the rot surrounding Chuck’s house flashes in my mind.
Why would someone with a child live like that?
I return to the kitchen and see that he was still eating, crumbs dotting his face.His eyes are filled with a hunger that has nothing to do with food.
“Can you fix me? I’m bad luck.”
My jaw drops as the color leechs from my skin. Fae coloring reacts to emotion and I saw my onyx black skin turn a cold gray.
He continues, “He says he’s too small and I’m too big. That Mars will eat us up.”
My mouth is dryer than the planet, but I’m able to speak. “Is that why all your food is outside?”
He nods, “If we’re skinny then Mars won’t eat us. Dad says Mars wants to gulp us down. I think I’m making my dad sick, like I did my mom.”
I read Chuck’s file, so I know what happened to his wife. Some humans don’t adapt well to parenthood or to space.
“You’re not sick, your dad is,” I say, and he starts crying. I hold him and curse myself for not seeing how skinny he was. I scoop him up and tuck him into my bed. He’s asleep before I’m done pulling the blanket to his chin. It must be hard to sleep when you think you’re killing your dad.
I stare at Teddy’s sleeping face, the circles under his eyes like bruises. He’s so small.
I rifle through my drawers until I find a special plant extract. I’ll have to secure these drawers since Teddy will be staying with me, now.
When our world died, we gave humans every reason to want us around. We knew their, “Dude, faeries are real!” sense of wonder wouldn’t last. Our tech gave them Mars, but thereare things we saved just for ourselves.
There’s a lot of human folklore about Fae. We denied it, of course, most of the stories are nonsense.We can shift our coloring to blend in, our height to hide from predators, which is probably where all those tales of tiny elves hiding in tress came from. That was evolution, our science enhanced it.
I lean over sleeping Teddy, and gently scrape my teeth across his skin, just hard enough to gather some cells and to swallow some hair. He stirs and I freeze. He stills and snores.
I can feel the child’s DNA hopping through my bloodstream. It was like swallowing a ray of light.
Time to shift. My onyx black skin dissolves like melting snow. It becomes paler, the room spins as I become shorter. I put on Teddy’s cleaned O2 suit and make my way to his home.
The dwelling door recognizes Teddy and slides open. The place smells of mold, dust, and rot. The litter wasn’t just outside, it started in here and overflowed. Chuck, sitting in a chair his head back, staring blankly at the ceiling, not wondering where his son was. Empty containers surrounded him like a nest.
Acidic bile rises in my throat, but my new little boy voice is sweet when I call, “Dad?”
I can hear the crack of his neck as he turns his head toward me.
“I got something for you, dad. It’s medicine.” I hold out the small vial. “Mars can’t get you if you drink this.”
His eyes are red rimmed, when he speaks, I notice that some of his teeth are gone. Blood dribbles from his lips.
“Teddy!” he exclaims, he sounds happy to see the son he kicked out. “I found a way to stop Mars too.”He stumbles toward me and opens his palm. He’s holding his teeth, they glow like pearls smeared with red.
“If we give Mars little pieces of ourselves, he’ll leave the rest of us alone.”
Oh boy, Chuck is gone.
“It’ll only hurt a little,”
He’s looming over my Teddy costume, his eyes fixed on me. Has he always been this big?
He tackles me to the ground. The vial rolls from my hand as Chuck tries to pin my head between his hands.
“It’ll hurt just for second, son,” he says as he rises his fist to knock my teeth out.
My Teddy costume rips away and I’m back to my own height and strength. I shove him off me. His eyes narrow and I grab the vial before standing.
“You’re sick, Chuck,” I say and hold out the vial. “Drink this before you hurt Teddy.”
He sneers, “A magic potion from a friendly space elf?”
“That’s Doctor Space Elf to you. Now drink it.”
He starts to convulse and a river of brown vomit spews from his mouth. I shove my own bile down and back away from the chunky mess.
“Beat you to it,” he says between wet heaves.
I pick up one of the containers on the floor. He drank cleaning fluid.
I crouch down next to him. My vial wouldn’t have hurt.
“I didn’t mean to,” he says between eruptions. “Mars is too empty. It ate me up. I couldn’t,” more wet splats hit the floor.
“Teddy, let Teddy be okay.” He’s praying.
Fae don’t pray. We never thought there was anything above us, then everything we knew died and we had to adapt. Chuck wanted to adapt, but couldn’t. I place a hand on his shoulder as the poison works its way through him.There’s no point being mad at a dead man.
He slips to the floor and he’s gone.
Teddy clings to me as his father’s body is removed.
“Was it me?” he asks.
I hug him close, “No, it wasn’t.”
“Was it Mars?”
In a way it was, but I shake my head for his sake. I lift him up so our eyes can meet.
“My human mother said something wonderful to me after my planet died.” His eyes are red from crying. I swallow my own tears and keep going, “She said that today isn’t the day that your world died, it’s the day magic returned to Earth.”
He puts his head on my shoulder and our helmets knock together. I feel his arms squeeze me through my suit.
“Today isn’t the day your dad died, today is the day we became a family.”
He rises his head and his brown eyes are piercing. “Mars won’t get you, will it?”
I stare at the great expanse of the empty red plains surrounding us. Olympus Monslooms huge and indifferent in the distance, making our little dome seem as fragile as a bubble.
“No, Mars won’t get me. We’re going to turn cranky Red Papa green and sweet.”
He smiles, and the beauty of a thousand sunsets is in that one smile.
I became an orphan and Earth gave me a new home. It’s only right that I make Mars a home for this orphan.