Chapter 4 ★ Windsock People

Ru knew her brother could hear the shrill sound when he dropped the empty ravioli can and ran to the living room with her. She scrabbled at the patio door there, but it hadn’t been opened in years and neither one of them could remove the safety bar. The two of them scrambled over the side of the sofa and crouched behind the backrest.

Gravity changed course. Every tile in the room clattered, the air in the house pulled, drained towards the kitchen light. Then, a flash — but not a flash of light. Ru’s eyes struggled to focus. It was glowing, but everything it touched changed color instead of lit up. It was as if she was looking at a film negative of the room. Her own skin flushed sickly blue, the shadows of the furniture turned white.

There was something solid in the kitchen when it faded. Two shapes, hovering just below the ceiling. One was gray and long, shaped like a thin tornado, the other looked like a giant burnt marshmallow. They had cat eyes, narrow slit pupils with glowing violet and green irises. The creatures had catlike mouths as well, crinkled skin like the surfaces of a dried lake, and something tilted above the tops of their bodies. A ring, a cold halo.

“A windsock and a marshmallow,” Jayson murmured. “Too bad we’re dreaming. I could have sold this as one of the legends.”

Was there a legend already like it? It had to be a dream, Ru agreed silently, but the thought didn’t make her feel any better. Most of her concentration went into keeping her breathing quiet and slow. She was trembling, and she wasn’t sure if it was fear or because the room felt so cold. She wanted to wake up and get a thicker blanket.

The gray creature opened its mouth.

The sound tore into Ru’s ears like the scream of a jetliner. She and Jayson both hunched and clapped their hands over their ears, but it did nothing to ease the pain. Each syllable the creature pronounced sent a rush of searing needles stabbing through her veins. Her heart struggled to find its own rhythm again, struggled to work at all, as if it were pumping wet cement. She barely noticed the creature had spoken at a normal volume.

The negative light flashed again, and the voice stopped. She sat in a limp ball, stifling sobs. If this was a dream, it was the worst nightmare she’d ever had. She only dared to move again when she heard a human voice. A woman.

“That should take care of it.”

Ru and Jayson exchanged glances. Jayson’s dark eyes were full of surprise and hurt, but otherwise his face was calm. He peered over the top of the couch again. With all effort to contain her terror, her mind screaming that it was just a dream, Ru eased herself back into a kneel.

Humans stood in place of the floating creatures. One was a pale, shapely woman with silver hair, so shiny it was almost metallic. Split white bangs framed her young face. The other was a tall, square man with hair that looked like an oil slick. He had beady eyes, a vivid enough shade of green for Ru to see a good thirty feet away, and a hard face she couldn’t imagine with a smile. Both were dressed in tight black clothing and armor that reminded Ru of SWAT uniforms. The woman wore a belt of square silver plates on her hips.

The woman surveyed the kitchen with narrow eyes, eyes too similar to the form she’d taken a few moments earlier. The way the man followed her every tiny footstep made Ru think she was in charge. He winced slightly when he spoke to her. “Are you sure they’re here? It looks empty.”

“Maybe they’re aliens,” Jayson said.

Ru jumped at the sound of his plain-spoken voice. The intruders had to have heard him. Clearly, he’d already forgotten what pain a simple dream could put him through. “Get down!” she hissed. “They’ll see you!”

Before the last word left her lips, a shadow fell over them. Ru shrieked and nearly slipped off the couch. The woman, in less than half a second, had crossed that thirty feet of space without a footstep. Jayson’s eyes widened, but he stayed upright, even showing a hint of defiance. The woman’s expression, however, softened into an excited smile. “Crowe, look! Children. How cute!”

Jayson became more than defiant now, indignant. Ru almost relaxed, but when Crowe joined his partner, she understood letting her guard down was a very bad idea. His scorn was directed at the woman, though. “Sylph. Sylph!” He reached for her shoulder, then thought better of touching her and waved his hand in front of her face. “This could be a trap.”

“Why are they afraid of us?” Sylph wondered absently.

“It is the sleeping planet.”

Jayson barked a laugh. “Please. I’m not afraid of you.”

Ru watched her brother out of the corner of her eye and tried to resist curling into a ball again. It didn’t seem like he was being very smart, but it was a dream. Wasn’t it? Ru wasn’t so sure anymore. She tried everything to wake herself up. She purposely scrambled her thoughts. She pinched her own arm. She tried falling asleep, as impossible as that seemed.

“No?” Sylph said.

Jayson tipped the bill of his cap up. “I’ve had scarier dreams than this.”

She looked on the verge of a laughing fit. “Dreams?”

“Yeah.” Jayson crossed his arms. “You can’t be real. Giant living windsocks and marshmallows — I won’t even tell you what’s wrong with that — can’t turn into people.”

“Jayson, let the windsock people turn into whatever they want!” Ru squeaked.

A threatening look flashed across Crowe’s face. Jayson made a mistake, Ru realized, mentioning he’d seen the alien forms of the intruders. She felt queasy with terror. Crowe forced Sylph aside and held his hand in an upturned claw, straining as if he was trying to lift a heavy door. “I don’t care what they are,” he growled. “They’ve seen too much.”

Green fire burst from his palm. The sickly flames forced into a ball. There was no smoke, but a distinct stench filled the room and froze Ru in place. She felt cold and hollow, like the entire universe had been emptied except for her. Sylph stood calmly aside. She would not step in.

It’s a dream, Ru thought again. The words were as empty as Crowe’s flames. The fire did nothing to his gloves, but as the fireball grew it stung Ru’s skin like a bad sunburn. She couldn’t back away, she’d forgotten how. The green light of the fire filled the room, turning the quaint garden wallpaper into a toxic wasteland. Then the light went cyan, then blue. The flames lashed out, eager to be released, to consume.

The blue light. It wasn’t coming from the flames. It was shining behind Sylph.

“Look out!”  Sylph screamed. Crowe had just enough time to turn his head.

A brilliant torrent of blue-white light blasted out of the kitchen. Wind roared through the house. The floor rumbled as if a train was passing through. Papers fluttered into the air. That horrible rasping voice tore from Crowe’s throat in an agonized scream, but its effects were nullified by the sound of the light. The alien man became a silhouette as the light ripped into him. He was shredded, faded as he lost form. For a moment, Ru thought she saw a bird, a crow flapping its wings before it winked out of sight.

The light merely passed over everything else it touched. It packed into a solid point, a ball that shined like the sun, only blue. Four delicate beams formed a cross from its center. Soft tendrils of cerulean flame flowed around its edges.

When Ru finally realized what she was looking at, her fears tripled. If the aliens didn’t fry her, she and Jayson would certainly be lost to the Blue Star.

Sylph’s arms were raised defensively, her teeth bared. “What are you doing here?”

“Leave immediately, or you will share the same fate as your guard.”

Ru felt fear momentarily give way to surprise. The Star’s voice was sweet and clear, the sound of wind chimes in the breeze. Most legends did not have the Star speak, but those that did told of its ferocious, howling voice, all the thunder of a storm contained in a few words. Maybe this wasn’t the Blue Star, but Ru couldn’t think of anything else it would be.

Sylph gaped at the Star, then at Ru and Jayson, and her expression changed several times in a few moments. Confusion, realization, and a deadly glare aimed squarely at the two children. Ru wanted to wither up at that. Then the negative light flashed again, and Sylph was gone.

They sat absolutely still. Ru heard Jayson’s breathing, soft and even, but he was shaking.

Here they were, facing a legend. The very symbol of their town and the unknown, the Blue Star. It was looking at them. Ru didn’t know how she could tell, it didn’t have a face, but she knew.

“Please do not fear me,” it chimed. “Though many have vanished before me, I will bring you no harm.”

Its crystalline voice sounded like a mobile. The way the fire flickered gently around its edges brought heaviness to Ru’s mind. She set her head on the backrest of the couch, and found the dreamless sleep she was looking for.

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