“Oh brilliant ball of delight,” announced Tabitha suddenly, shocking Juma from half-slumber. The Martian drink she’d brought was stronger than he’d ever experienced. He shook his head. Half-past ten – how did it get so late? Juma coughed as smoke from Tabitha’s cigarette snapped strands of grey and purple, mixing with air and finally disappearing.
He staggered to his feet and stood next to her, once again amazed by the whiteness of her skin next to the blackness of his.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
Tabitha smiled. “Oh brilliant ball of delight,” she said again. “Foster us all while we sleep through the night.”
“Oh, a poem,” said Juma. “A poem about the Moon. That’s cool. Can I do the next line?”
The red-haired girl nodded, handing over the cigarette as if this were permission. Juma considered the word of advice that Teacher had given. Don’t talk to her. She’s weird. Then again, all new kids start out weird, and they seem to fit in to the classroom eventually by revealing some endearing quirk or a sense of humor that slots them into a subset.
Not Tabitha. She reveled in her loneliness. A true individual: she stared at the rest of them with green eyes that didn’t understand what it meant to be human. That was the problem with the orphans––you could never be sure where they came from; they delighted in secrets.
Juma didn’t care; that’s why he invited her to his home. “Oh brilliant ball of delight, foster us all while we sleep through the night…Deimos, you’re merely a satellite.”
The girl laughed so hard until she coughed.
“What’s so funny?” asked Juma.
She spoke, her voice girlish yet steady and confident. “You’ve just made a bad poem terrible.”
A silence whilst he digested the accusation. Tabitha spoke again, mimicking Juma’s deep voice. “You’re merely a satellite, boom-boom.”
“That’s not fair,” he said, hurt.
“If only the Dreaded Deimos could hear his ode now,” she said, wiggling her fingers close to her face. She stood and dusted an imaginary layer off her dress. “Never mind,” she said. “It was nice to be with you, boy.”
The “boy” threw the cigarette on the carpet and grabbed the girl’s hand until he knew it would hurt, pulling her back; the girl moaned. When the ash caught fire, Juma had to let go and he stamped it out with his foot. Now his bedroom smelled burnt. “Screw you and your precious rock,” he said. “Go away.”
Tabitha rubbed her red wrist, smiling wickedly. “Just a rock,” she said. “Or is it something else?”
The girl wandered to the red curtains and whooshed them apart, allowing the night to shape the bedroom anew. The neon from the Martian settlement cast a dim orange glow under the eleventh floor window, and the yellow of Deimos peered through like torchlight, as if searching for a missing something. She gestured for the boy to join her by the window. Feeling guilty for the assault, he complied.
“There he is.” Again she copied Juma’s voice. “Just a rock,” and she laughed so hard that an animal somewhere below barked in response.
Angered by her, Juma spoke. “It’s true what they say. You are weird. Stop pretending to be somebody you aren’t.”
“I can’t help who I am, or what shape I take.”
The planet shuddered as a bolt of lightning hit the shadowy pyramid of Albor Tholus, far in the distance; a common occurrence, the two didn’t even flinch. The white burst illuminated the red glory of the planet for the briefest of moments: the mountains, the canyons, the numerous dwellings scattered between the uninhabitable terrains. Mars was beautiful yet intimidating, and full of the suggestion of hidden horror. “I hate you––and your Moon,” said Juma, more child than adult now. “I wish you’d leave.”
“But we haven’t finished our poem yet,” said Tabitha. She recited the words quickly, as if they were a spell.
“Oh brilliant ball of delight
Foster us all as we sleep through the night
Beloved son of the Aphrodite
Your sister awakened…”
The yellow ball of Deimos faded to nothing. Darkness took over the planet. The shadows amalgamated into a great, velvety blackness. Shrieks came from the dwellings below, and fear grasped hold of the humans. Juma felt the cold hands of the girl creeping over his shoulders, as if sucking the very warmth from his body. His knees felt weak and his head fuzzy; thoughts intruded his inner spaces, and he felt Its insatiable appetite; so close, so unending.
Juma closed his eyes and sank to the floor, whispering, “Phobos, leave us tonight.”
When he opened them again, it was only half past ten. Juma ran to the window and pushed his head through the curtain. It was okay, the two moons were still there, circling the red planet, their cool light a constant and dutiful presence. He could hear the sound of nightlife. The sweet smell of cigarette smoke tickled his nostrils, and he let out a nervous snigger.
“Oh brilliant ball of delight,” came the silky voice from behind.