Published on 2012/03/18

Stay The Night

Paul Malone

“What we’ve got is gold,” Ralee says, his fingers entwining Alyenja’s, his forehead touching hers. Underfoot, photosensitive sands begin to fizz and spark as the nearest of the binary system’s suns—a tangerine giant—rises from the ocean and bathes Alyenja and him and all the other weary revelers scattered along the beach, in blossoming warmth.

Last night had been the final party, so they danced around the bonfire into the quiet pre-dawn where the music seemed so out of place. Then, as had been their custom in an unacknowledged courtship that spanned a decade, Alyenja made to leave, but Ralee grasped her hand and the words, “Stay the night!” gushed from him. It felt like coming up for air and stepping over the edge all at once. He might as well have said those three words. Alyenja faced towards her forest home behind the dunes. Her hand pulled ever so slightly in his. His grasp faltered and he opened his mouth to stammer an apology. Fool to think she felt the same. Then she turned to him, her expression one of anguished joy.

In the gathering dawn Alyenja looks down at their clasped hands, as if contemplating what has transpired—their crossing into a fleeting paradise. When she looks up, her spiroidal pupils dilate, and she observes the air about them. “We’re shining bright, Ralee. Like we’ve never done, like we never will again,” she says, her voice faint, drowned by the endless whoosh of the surf. But Ralee knows what she means: the aura of love pales the most spectacular sunrise.

The others are stirring, stretching out, fanning their wings, now transparent, soon to be shed. Even from this distance Ralee can make out his kind: Their sides are lined with fleshy sockets ready to open in supplication to the loving tendrils of their ancient mother. But benevolent love or not, he feels his own sockets constricting. When Ralee returns, finally of age, Her tendrils will coil inside him for the last time and bind him forever. Then his wings will slough from his shoulders, and his breath will no longer be his alone, and his mind will merge with Hers, and all his kind, and all his kind that came before. Then the boy whose name was Ralee will be no more than a whisper in a dream.

“Let’s run away,” he says.

Alyenja blinks slowly, searches his expression as if waiting for the punch line. “You really want that?”

“I want you.”

“You have me, Ralee. I’ll never forget.”

In a chrysalis rising into space like a paper lantern, in a seemingly eternal slumber, that is how Alyenja will leave this tropical moon. She was spawned here from an ancient egg, eons ago before her ancient mother set off into space, leaving a trail of pheromones for her offspring to follow. Perhaps Ralee’s and Alyenja’s mothers had been sisters or close cousins. Perhaps they had a falling out or maybe they just needed their own space. Whatever the history, they weren’t saying. Alyenja’s chrysalis would follow the trail, guiding her safely through space, across the galaxy if need be, to the loving tendrils of her ancient mother.

Ralee shoves this thought aside. “Let’s stay together.”

Alyenja raises her hands, shows Ralee her now almost translucent palms. “I can’t stop this. It’s my nature.” On her sides faint sockets—still virginal—have risen in anticipation. Alyenja slowly runs one hand over them. “Every summer has to end.”

Ralee observes how the sockets swell, just like his. There is no use fighting it. “But there won’t be another summer.”

“No.”

Ralee’s home planet hangs in the morning sky like a plump cherry. His flight will be short; no chrysalis required, just his wings carrying him through the gulf of space. Then he’ll think of Alyenja, of their night together, and he’ll ache as though he might well die. But there is no time to think about that now: His kind are beating their wings, readying to depart. He feels his own wings trembling, capturing the sunlight, his core heating ready for flight despite his yearning to remain with her. Down the beach one of his friends springs into the air and waves for Ralee to join him. Ralee nods. What else can he do?

Alyenja steps back, the remaining color in her face fading, leaving only a ghostly outline as though she were made of glass. Ralee can no longer read her expression, but he imagines she is smiling as she always has. A radiant being. He reaches out and runs his fingers down her cheek. Remember, he thinks.

Effervescent sparks spray high into the air. For a final moment Ralee sees Alyenja amidst the fizzing platinum curtain, and then she’s gone. “Alyenja?” he says, his words lost in the crescendo. There is nowhere else to go but home.

Many days later, just before Ralee soars down into the bright burgundy light of his home planet’s atmosphere, he looks back. The moon looks like a brilliant blue pearl with a lush green core. From it he imagines a swarm of chrysalis rising silently. Inside one, a part of him is carried away forever.


Paul is an Australian speculative fiction writer living in Austria.