Aphelion Issue 287, Volume 27
September 2023
 
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A New Sun is Born

by Meg Smith




The month of May made Kildie wonder about adults.

Her mom was taking her and her younger brother, James, to a birthday party for one of her mom’s friends, but where, Kildie knew, there was the promise of other kids their age, kites in the image of dinosaurs, sharp wooden “play” swords covered in tinfoil.

“You should be glad!” Kildie overheard a neighbor say to her mother. “Jeremy’s nose is always in his phone. It looks like a growth on his face!”

The fact was that phones frightened Kildie. They ferried faceless phantoms, with messages of vague dread, and she couldn’t tell if they were adults, or other kids, or just robots creeping from waking nightmares.

At 11, she knew she should feel differently about them, but couldn’t. At least a kite, or a tinfoil-covered sword, were real. She could hold them, and control their power.

In any case, her mom had already said they couldn’t afford more phones. No “extras,” since dad went to live “with one of his grad students.”

Neither Kildie nor her brother understood what that meant – they had a perfectly good house, and no reason for their father to live somewhere else. When Kildie snuck into her dad’s office on what she was sure would be her final visit, she saw a photo on the desk, of a smiling, young woman, who appeared to be looking at something beautiful, and far away. The picture was right next to a picture of Kildie and her brother, which she knocked into the trash, dumping some tissues on top before scurrying down the hall.

The kids at the party were the same kids whose parents were loosely connected by friendship, work, family, and a love of arts. They would go to exhibit openings, and argue with each other in the car on the way back, and pronounce the artists’ names all different ways.

Kildie liked art, inasmuch as she liked drawing with crayon and using kids’ watercolors, even though at 10, she’d been told both by adults and kids that she was too old and should be venturing into other, more messy media.

At the party, the adults were clustered at picnic tables under blue accordion tents, atop a scraggly hill of grass, flowers, and saplings. Kildie drew a sharp breath of ease when she saw that she could not spot her father, or the “grad student,” among them.

But she’d also overheard a phone conversation between her mom and one of the adults at the party, and it was clear without being clear that everyone would be invited to different gatherings from now on.

A path led down a mild slope to an open lawn, framed by trees, with a splintered barn huddled at the edge.

The kids did not go into the barn, nor were they tempted. It was too engaging to play with the swords, run with the kites, and even have stuffed animal races. The stuffed animals didn’t run; the kids held their stuffed animals and ran breathlessly as the stuffed animals’ proxies.

No one really won, because the straight racing lines broke down shortly after leaving the invisible start line, and everyone would start running a sloppy, circular course.

One of the kids was a girl, Shana, Kildie’s age. Shana liked dragons and unicorns, too, although she possessed a more confident attitude toward phones. She even had her own.

“Let’s take a selfie!” Shana yelled, and brandished the phone like a magical talisman. In the photo, Kildie, who was not quite ready, made a slight, puckering look, while Shana beamed like a kid in a juice commercial on TV.

“We’ll do it over!” Shana announced. This time, they were both smiling, their arms about each other, and the noses of their respective stuffed giraffe and stuffed crocodile peeking into view.

The adults had brought a great assortment of food to the party. There was some standard cookout fare, like coleslaw and meat patties, but also spicy chicken dishes, and bubbling meatballs that were actually made from a plant whose name Kildie could never pronounce or spell if she took a week to try.

Inside the house was a spread of the most glorious desserts, but all the kids were admonished that they could not go to them unattended. A ring of adults, cloistered in the house, saw to that, and they themselves were engulfed in a heavy cloud Kildie knew was pot. No kid had an adult in their lives that didn’t smoke, although they warned the kids that smoking too much of anything was bad for the lungs.

On the way through the house to the backyard, Kildie glanced at the desserts, slightly startled when she saw some cupcakes in the shape of skulls.

Outside, one of the adults said, “I’ve got to get that skull cake mold!”

Another adult, in a tone that struck Kildie much like the tone of a girl at school: “Everyone has one of those!”

Shana sputtered and declared: “She’s the biggest snob!”

Kildie’s face must have registered bewilderment, and a tinge of panic. Shana grabbed Kildie’s arm and dragged her to the side of the barn.

“We’re not supposed to –” Kildie gasped.

“We’re not going in there,” Shana assured her, then rubbed Kildie’s forearm. “I grabbed too hard, sorry.” After a moment of silence, Shana said: “Listen to her voice. She thinks she knows everything.”

Kildie laughed. Shana insisted, “I’m serious, babe, all the way in the car, my mom goes, ‘Oh I just can’t wait to hear about the ‘recent’ trip to Paris, and how dreadful the wreckage of Notre Dame looks!’”

They strained to listen, but the noise of James, and another boy hitting each other on the head with rocks made it difficult. Finally, Kildie and Shana shouted in unison: “Be quiet!” The boys retreated a ways, but the rock-hitting continued.

After a minute, the adults' conversation came into focus, over laughter, and the agreeable, distant buzz of classical music from a snappy, new electronic gadget in the house.

No one was talking about Paris, but someone did say, “I’d love to go to the real Library of Alexandria, before it got torn down. But I got to see the new one in Alexandria, with my Rotary group. It was amazing.”

There were mutters of approval and admiration, and Kildie was beginning to think the old and new libraries were probably pretty cool. None of the jerk kids at school were likely ever to step foot in either place.

Then, like a sharp jab of a wasp that has stumbled while in mid-flight: “Well, the thing about the first library is we have no remains. Only records from the Greeks saying what books were bought.”

The person who started the conversation said: “Yes, I just said that. There is only a basement.”

Shana pulled Kildie closer. “See what I mean? There she goes. The lady talking about the library actually went there, and that other one is ‘blah blah blah blah’ like she built it.”

Both girls started giggling, with no more effort to keep their amusement to themselves.

But it gave Kildie a dull sting of despair. If that’s what adults were like, she didn’t feel much in a hurry to grow up, despite getting taller and feeling a yearning, growing a little more each day, to wear makeup and try mincing around in her mother’s heels.

And maybe, go to Paris, and the Library of Alexandria, and see them for herself. Travel the world, and not be expected to take the word of some know-it-all at a party.

It wasn’t long before the voices from the adult conversation became muddled, and the only distinct voice was the woman who claimed to have secret knowledge of the Library of Alexandria.

Another girl, Pamela, ran up to Kildie and Shana, and said a cornhole game was about to start. Cornhole was a little redundant and boring, but also a game in which Kildie found herself surprisingly facile. Shana could read her desire, and said, “Okay, sure, let’s go play.”

Kildie shivered, knowing that any person could just seem to get what another person wanted or felt. Shana had that power, and Kildie wondered if she, too, would grow such an ability, along with her emerging wish to wear makeup, heels, and to travel the world.

Near the area where the kids played, a table had been set up, with plastic cups and dispensers for an assortment of drinks: lemonade, punch, and water.

All the kids knew that this was because the adult drinks in adult dispensers were at the top of the hill, near the food, and some in the restricted area near the desserts.

Kildie didn’t mind. She knew whatever the adults were drinking, it seemed to be connected with their sitting around, talking, laughing more, and laughing louder and a little more argumentative. “Who knows if Cleopatra was Macedonian?” someone ventured.

The now-familiar voice began: “Most scholars believe she was Macedonian Greek, but also had Persian and Sogdian Iranian ancestry. But according to the latest hypothesis by Ahmed Issa, of the ministry of tourism and antiquities…”

As the cornhole bags landed on the boards with a gravelly thud. This sound jumbled with the adult chatter from the top of the hill, which was getting a little louder and sillier.

“Look at my cats!” An adult voice demanded, in a childlike squeal. Kildie knew this meant someone was taking out a phone, and scrolling through pictures of their pets, while other people yelled, “Oh my god, look at its foot, its toes are so pink!”

Kildie loved cats, and they had one cat, Smarkie. Kildie was beginning to think maybe that was one benefit of a phone, looking at cat pictures.

Something hard hit her in the back of the head, and she stumbled.

“You idiot!” Shana screamed, not at Kildie, but a boy behind her, named Sevin, who was giggling triumphantly. Shana wasn’t having it. She lunged at him, grabbed him by the back of his T-shirt, and hurled him into a gaggle of balloons, bumbling low to the ground because they were blown up by mouth. Several popped as he landed on them.

Sevin yelled something incomprehensible in protest, but everyone was now huddled around Kildie, who rubbed the back of her head, and looked with some bewilderment toward the sky.

“Don’t mind him, he’s like, from anexoplanet,” Pamela said.

“Okay,” Kildie said, struggling to find words to string together.

“Are you okay?” asked a boy, Arun, anxiously.

James said nothing, but looked up with frightened eyes.

Kildie shook her head violently. “No,” she insisted. “I’m fine.”

“Let’s finish the game later,” a slightly taller, older boy named Mannix. Kildie looked toward him, amazed by his mass of dark curls and flashing eyes. Her heart quivered with a new sensation she couldn’t quite identify.

“Yeah, good idea,” Shana said.

Mannix smiled at Kildie, and Kildie reflexively looked down before looking up again and smiling. She touched Shana’s arm, but it was cold, and Kildie realized: Shana was upset, and it had something to do with Mannix and Kildie smiling at each other.

But Kildie didn’t voice this. Her head still hurt dully, she was tired, sweaty and covered with dirt from all the exertions of the day.

The warm sun and soft breeze that had beckoned the New England spring was now ebbing, and the coolness of evening was beginning to creep in, bringing with it shadows and that apprehension that sometimes came with the approach of night.

In the midst of the cool air came the mournful sound of a rock band, from another party at another, nearby house.

The music prompted tears to spring from Kildie’s eyes. It was a song about a place with friendly fires, to spend the rest of one’s days. But to Kildie, it sounded more like losing someone, or something that would never return.

“Let’s get some lemonade,” Shana suggested, grasping at Kildie’s hand, and the cold, angry feeling had abated, which gave Kildie relief.

She’d played with Shana many times in these gatherings, but now, she felt a great helplessness at the idea of there ever being anger between them. At the same time, she glanced to her side, and Mannix was smiling, and heading for the drinks as well.

Kildie looked away, and although she knew it was silly, she furtively hoped Mannix was going for the punch or water.

What if there’s not enough lemonade for all three of us. The thought incited a quiet panic.

The adult laughter seemed to rise to a crescendo, mixed in with words, more laughing, and tension: “That’s well-trodden ground. My first husband was a zoologist. He told me those same things. It’s called heterochromia.”

“What about the calico cat?” someone asked, only he had to repeat it, because the first time, it came out like, “Falico fat,” and someone else remarked, “Yeah that’s how I felt after looking at the dessert tray!”

More sloppy laughter. Kildie thought she also heard weeping, but she couldn’t tell.

The kids stood, uneasily, slurping at their drinks. The lemonade ran out in a thin trickle.

Kildie turned to Mannix and said, “You can have the rest of mine, I’m done.”

She half-spun to look at Shana, but Shana was looking up at the budding trees, as if she saw a spirit or something no one else could see.

Kildie didn’t say anything to her, but Shana nevertheless made a shushing sound.

“What?” Kildie said, surprised at her own irritability.

All she could hear was the rock music, along with some laughter and slurry talk, maybe from the neighbors who were playing the rock music.

The classic musical hummed and swelled, but the adults up on the hill talking only sporadically, and in short bursts, barely words.

The kids all stood, looking from one to the other, empty cups in their hands, before letting the cups fall to grass, almost in one motion.

“Come on,” Mannix said, glancing toward the top of the hill.

But Kildie stepped ahead of him, looking back at everyone and motioning with her head for them to follow her. And that felt good.

They assembled in a huddle, with Kildie in the lead and Shana and Mannix slightly behind her.

At the top, the adults were wilted across the picnic tables. A few of them lay on the ground untidily, and some drooped over the side of scattered folding chairs.

One man, his phone still loose in his hand, made a gurgling sound, bubbles forming around his mouth: “Fluffy.”

Incongruously, the cats, who Kildie knew weren’t supposed to be let out, were stepping about cautiously, brushing their tails against the picnic table legs, looking quizzically up at the children before looking about, sniffing the spring air.

“Um,” one of the kids said.

This time, Shana had no great pronouncement to share. She was weeping silently, looking in the direction of a woman in a blue sun dress patterned with flowers, whose face was pressed to the surface of the table, as if listening for something.

Kildie put her arms around Shana, and Shana collapsed into her embrace.

Some of the kids remained silent; others began to whisper, almost as in a language only they understood.

As Kildie rubbed Shana’s back, Mannix said: “I’m going to look inside.”

Kildie put an arm around Shana, guiding her in the same direction.

A few moments later, Mannix came out of the house, silent, and shaking his head. Kildie saw a tear spill down his cheek. She remembered: Mannix’s dad was one of the adults at the bivouac near the dessert table.

The classical music was now blending with the rock music, and Kildie realized, there were no more human voices coming from that direction, either.

Some of the kids began meekly approaching some of the adults, shaking them, tapping them sharply, and then stepping back with a mix of revulsion and grief.

An absurd chorus of tweets, pops, and a Katy Perry song erupted, and several kids, including Mannix and Shana, began grabbing at their pockets. Of course. They had phones.

Kildie stepped toward Mannix, and he to her.

“Look,” he said, showing her his phone. Someone named Jibby D wrote “Dude WTF my Dad was in his car in the driveway he’s fkn gone”

“Hello, hello?” Shana’s voice quivered. A voice on the other end, sounding like a girl like them but slightly older, said clearly: “He tried to grab my skirt and I swung my backpack at him, and fell over! Blood and bubbly crap all over his face! I mean, a backpack couldn’t kill someone, right?”

Shana’s last shred of composure evaporated. “Look, I’m stuck here, and no one can drive. Are you saying Uncle Figgy…”

Kildie cast about, looking for James, and then yelled his name.

He had headed back down the green slope, and was gathering up the tinfoil-covered swords.

Overhead, a strange wash of blue poured, and at first, Kildie thought, clouds, it’s going to rain.

But it wasn’t rain clouds.

Kildie looked up. The sun had begun sliding west, partly obscured by trees, but she realized: this was not the regular sun.

The sounds of kids weeping, simpering, and even wailing, and the plinking sounds of notifications on phones, sporadic ringtones – one was an elephant trumpeting – surrounded her, dimly.

Kildie and Mannix called to her, but she kept looking up, and then gestured for them to do the same.

A great sphere loomed nearly overhead, dark and purplish, radiating graceful tendrils of light that were almost beautiful.

“Why,” Kildie said. It was a commandment. “Why did you do this?”

There was a warmth encircling her waist, and she realized it was Mannix, embracing her, trembling.

“Is this, like, everywhere?” Shana said in a weepy tone. Kildie could tell Shana was trying to regain her characteristic composure, but was struggling.

Kildie wanted to sit down, to think, to shut her eyes, for just a moment.

Someone was crying about math homework.

Another kid blurted: “My dad’s homeless!”

Someone else cried, “What about my fish? I have to get home to feed them!”

A cat brushed against Kildie’s leg. She reached down to pat it, and felt the vibration of purring.

Kildie looked again at the strange, new sun; the old sun was still there, sliding away indifferently and taking its remaining light with it. Kildie knew, of course, the sun was over a 100 million miles away, and couldn’t care less what was happening on Earth.

And, as someone had retorted to the woman who knew everything: “The sun’s gonna explode in 5 million years and kill us all anyway,” and she had corrected him: “billion.”

But this sun was entirely different, in every way.

This sun radiated no heat, but an authority that was more personal, like a sun she might paint with her little kid water colors. This sun, unlike the one at the center of the solar system, the one that would snuff out one day with no regard for any living thing, was both killing, and caring.

It needed someone to talk to.

“It’s me,” Kildie said aloud, with a sigh.

She looked down, and Kildie and Mannix were looking at her, nodding. Shana’s face was slightly twisted; Mannix was serious, but calm.

Kildie turned to look at the other kids, some hugging the forms of some of the adults, one kid scarfing up the remains of an uneaten dessert; several were jabbing at phones and crying, one girl said: “He just wrote, ‘I love,’ that’s it!”

Sevin, the boy who had thrown the cornhole bag, had taken a fishing hat off a man’s head, and put it on his own. “Golleee,” he intoned.

Somewhere, from another house, or out on the road, there was a howl of pain, and Kildie couldn’t tell if it was an adult, or child.

“Okay.” she said. Then she said it again, louder. “Okay. Stop. Stop, okay?”

Something surged within her, and she shouted, “Okay, everyone, shut up! Look at me!”

The sniveling grew fainter, and most of the kids looked to her, some in surprise, some with palpable relief that someone was taking charge.

“So,” Kildie began. “We’re going back down the hill, and we’re getting the swords.”

“What for?” James demanded. “They’re fake.”

“Not anymore,” Kildie admonished him, and acknowledged to herself, it felt good to have that power, reserved in her house for her mom.

Mom. She winced for a moment, and pushed the pain away. She looked at James, thinking how she now had to make decisions for him, for all of them. Would he be good, or would he turn into something inept, dangerous?

Let’s go,” Kildie said, and once again, the kids formed a clumsy line behind her, just as they had to go up the hill.

Now, they were going back down, back to the kids’ area. They bent down and gathered up the tinfoil-covered swords. Some held them tentatively, others with a sense of grimness.

“Hey,” said a girl, who Kildie knew was named Stacy. “Does this mean we’re not kids anymore?”

Kildie said, “Yes. No. Actually, it doesn’t matter.”

She saw Shana rub her forehead, and Mannix looked down, with a slight, serious smile.

“What about the stuffed animals?” Stacy asked.

There was an assemblage on the grass of plush bears, dinosaurs, and a cheetah, where they had lain since the end of the stuffed animal race.

“Go get your stuffed animals,” Kildie told everyone. “Let’s get in two rows.”

Why two, she wasn’t sure, but it sounded right. Then: Maybe because that way the line won’t be too long, and no one at the back will get lost.

“Are we going somewhere?” a boy named Frank asked fearfully.

“Yes,” said Kildie. “We have to find the other kids who are alive.”

“Why?” demanded Sevin.

Arun said, “Stupid. We have to get everyone together. If we don’t, they’ll become our enemies, and we’ll all have to fight.”

Kildie gestured toward Arun and said, “Yeah. That’s right. Plus, some of them might be really little, and all alone. We have to help them.”

In truth, Kildie had only the vaguest outline of a strategy. She looked up to the strange, dark new sun, so involved in their lives in a way the old sun never was.

She knew the plan had something to do with getting as many kids together as possible, on their side. Because somewhere, others, like the mean kids at school, were also getting together, with no adults around to control them. Maybe the new sun would help, or maybe just hang back, like the old sun.

There was only one way to tell.

The phones were growing quieter. They were running down, Kildie thought, even if now and then came a stray sound, including a line from a song by Taylor Swift.

She and her mom would sing Taylor Swift songs out loud in the car, and her father had hated it.

Kildie fiercely swiped away a tear.

“What about the cats?” a girl named Pam asked.

For a moment, everyone looked behind them, and the cats had fallen into line, brushing against the legs of the kids at the end of the rows.

A sensation struck Kildie, like a stab of lighting in her heart: Smarkie. Her cat.

One cat stood up on its hind legs, its front paws resting lightly on a girl’s leg. The girl leaned down and picked up the cat, which settled onto her shoulder.

Kildie nodded, and looked forward. “Pets, too,” she said.

“Even my fish?” asked the boy who had been worrying about fish.

Without looking back, Kildie said, “We’re going to find as many kids and pets as we can. But we have to do it together.”

She nodded again, gesturing her sword. “Let’s go.”

Stuffed animals tucked under one arm, their tinfoil-covered swords held straight, they began the trek out of the clear, to the footpath that led to the road.

The rays of the old, receding sun, and the fantastical swirling rays of the new sun, met in a dance of darkness and light.



THE END


2023 Meg Smith

Bio: Meg Smith is a writer, journalist, dancer and events producer, living in Lowell, Mass. USA. Her poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Aphelion, Dark Moon Digest, The Cafe Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Sirens Call, and others.
She welcomes visits to her website.

E-mail: Meg Smith

Website: Meg Smith's Website

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