1. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode One
  2. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Two
  3. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Three
  4. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Four
  5. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Five
  6. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Six
  7. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Seven
  8. Narius

But the Shadows Danced Too Much for Me to See

Illustrations by Morgan Wagner

For an emotional archivist, Luna was strangely rattled by this newfound pang of guilt. She tried to push it to the furthest corner of her mind as she took in the cheery hodgepodge décor of the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse.

A slender young man sat at a woefully out-of-tune piano, fingers dancing across the keys to create a funky clatter. The women could never have coaxed such a vibrant groove from the pitch-perfect keyboard on their first terrestrial show, and they were transfixed by this wooden box. He announced the next song as being by the late Professor Longhair, then narrowed his blue eyes as if bidding the musical legend to reveal an echo of himself. The piano cooperated, adding charm to the ambience. The room vibrated with the lingering essences of excited novices making their debuts and seasoned performers test driving their new material.

But Luna couldn’t get the image of Weeb’s hurt expression out of her mind, especially because the original mission of the two extraterrestrial women would have betrayed him.

If only they’d had a chance to tell him that they had changed their goals and that they didn’t want any harm to come to earth – or him. This new experience of human friendship was more valuable than all the pretty little horses they’d planned to take back with them to their home planet Narius.

Danzi, who normally made ebullient chatter, was silent and pensive. She, too, was trying to process all these new feelings as well as decide what their new plan should be.

Despite the colorful stained-glass window behind the stage and the smell of coffee inside, the rain outside wasn’t helping the vibe. Danzi stalked back out of the front door to assess the atmosphere, frowned at the absence of people, and muttered, “Y’ed varda lodar ves.”

Within a minute, the sky cleared like a halo around the venue and the tinkling of the piano keys swirled through the street instead of raindrops.

Curious onlookers began to flock to the front door. They grinned at the young pianist, ordered coffee, and gathered to listen and fill the tip basket.

It seemed like only a heartbeat later that they were on. They didn’t have a set list or a plan. No problem, they’d done this a million times by now, just letting the music channel itself through them.

Danzi picked up Ed’s bouzouki and Luna sat down at the piano and placed her hands on the white and black keys the way she had seen the player do – but nothing happened. Why didn’t the songs come? Were they going to have to write them in advance, the way terrestrials seemed compose?

At the very least, they could jam, a term they’d learned for spontaneous collaboration. “I’ll think of something happy,” muttered Danzi to her partner. “Like a song for Raphael, and maybe he’ll find his way to us. What will happen when we’re together finally?”

Luna rolled her eyes, but brightened when the blonde woman started a rhythmic groove on her bouzouki. All it took was a spontaneous chord pattern. Luna followed, delighting in the weight of the piano keys and deliciously imperfect jangle of overtones. Their vocal harmonies pushed and pulled as the song changed rhythms, became a suite, then finally a forty-five-minute concept piece.

The tips basket made the rounds, and by the time it returned, overflowing, as the last chord faded, audience members bubbled over with questions. “How long did it take you to write that song?” asked a sweet-faced matron.

“We didn’t really write it. It just happened. Isn’t that how this works?” said Danzi, ignoring her companion’s warning ankle kick.

“Dude, that’s just so cosmic!” said a young man.

“I, too, believe it’s cosmic, and I wanted to offer you my services,” chimed in a third person, a dumpy, dough-faced man whose voice sounded as if he were smuggling peas in his nose. He pushed past the matron to get himself closer to Danzi. “My name is Michael. I am a psychic astrologer to the stars.”

“Oh, you are named for an angel too!” squealed Danzi. “Do you know Raphael?”

“The stars need counsel?” wondered Luna aloud. “Do you mean celebrities or astronomical objects?”

Michael’s eye contact seemed exaggerated, a behavior the women had not yet witnessed from anyone else they had met. His short oily black hair was plastered against his skull like a thin cap and he smelled of poor hygiene and obsession. “I can tell you what the future holds for you, if you just tell me your dates and times of birth, as well as your geographic locations.”

Both women gave him blank expressions for a split second too long. They hadn’t prepared their backstory for that! And what did the planets in this solar system so far from home have to do with anything?

Michael smirked. “Don’t worry, I’ll be in touch with your manager soon.” He picked up a shabby leather briefcase and headed for the door.

“Ick,” Luna shuddered as he disappeared into the night.

***

Ed tried in vain to reassure them, but the thin, worried timbre of his voice wasn’t fooling anyone.

“I’ve known Weeb for a long, long, time,” he told them. “Sometimes he gets a little…funny, especially when it comes to women. Did he tell you that his ex-wife left him while he was at work, taking a number of his valuables and all the cash they’d been socking away for a romantic getaway they’d been planning?”

Luna and Danzi were momentarily struck mute. They had never even bothered to ask him about his likes and dislikes, his childhood, or his hopes and fears. What sort of friends were they?

“By the way, I have a couple of messages for you two,” continued Ed, smoothing over the uncomfortable silence. He fished a couple scraps of paper from his pocket and handed them to Danzi. “Marci called this morning. She has a radio show wants you to play something on WWOZ – they cover a wide range of music here in New Orleans – I think they even go out over the internet. The other call was from some guy who wouldn’t leave his name. He said he wants you to do a paying gig in two days at some venue called The Crescent City Dinner Theater. I’ve never heard of it – must be new.” He arched an eyebrow. “That would help me with recent expenses.”

Right. This whole bit about earning money and making a living was becoming a pressing matter. They were doubtlessly using up some of his resources.

“Can you do a show in two days?” Ed was not going to let them lose this opportunity.

“Of course we can!” chirped Danzi. “And we’ll do our best show ever, and the, um, money can be a start for earning our keep.”

***

In the privacy of Luna’s room, Danzi looked troubled. “Weeb is the only person who knows our true origin,” she said as soon as the door closed, “and the only one who knows that we have to assimilate before we can try to get jobs.”

“We can go job hunting in a couple of days. Today let’s address the elephant in the room,” Luna said firmly.

“What? Where?” Danzi looked wildly around, but only saw the goats and horses playing out in the yard.

“Look, I don’t understand what it means either,” Luna sighed. “But it’s something that earthlings seem to say when there’s an obvious problem that no one wants to talk about.”

“That’s weird. Why don’t they just say that instead of making up a story about an animal that isn’t there. Anyway, I think I know what you’re going to say…”

“Songwriting,” they breathed in unison.

“It seems as though the more we interact with humans, the more we experience emotions like them, which is beneficial to our sacred tasks,” observed Luna. “But we’re able to create music spontaneously less and less.”

“In short, we’re losing our Narianity,” Danzi mused.

“Well, there’s no use crying over spilled milk…no, there isn’t really any spilled milk. Let’s try to keep using these terrestrial expressions, and maybe someday everything will click. What we need to do is create some prefabricated music. I read about a formula they use for what they call a ‘hit song.’ The people who do it well sometimes make a lot of money selling what they write.”

They fired up Ed’s computer to analyze every song that was trending on popular radio charts. Four hours later, they lay exhausted on the floor surrounded by scraps of paper covered in scribblings.

“Let’s hope this song makes sense to the earthlings, because it’s one big sewage tower to me,” moaned Danzi.

“This is the ultimate human experience,” Luna reassured her. “A gangster who woke up this morning and his baby done him wrong. So he tries to overthrow the police with his pickup truck at a line dance. But the girl in question is an anarchist, so he rolls up some sort of plant in a piece of paper, sets it on fire, inhales it, and then Jesus and Jah offer him eternal salvation. One verse should be in another terrestrial dialect that I don’t understand. I think it’s called Spanish…”

“You mean we have to learn more than one language to communicate with earthings? American is hard enough.” gasped the blonde.

“Apparently so,” sighed Luna. “But don’t worry…we can fill it out with a kind of electronic dance groove. I saved a set of oyster shells from the last restaurant we went to, collected sound samples from passing cars and clubs we peeked into. Check it out…” She picked up an empty bivalve, its original owner long since eaten. As she opened it, a deep floor-rattling musical loop suddenly poured forth. The volume startled them both, and Luna snapped the mollusk shut, hoping Ed didn’t hear.

“Wow, I can’t believe terrestrials only try to capture the sound of the ocean with shells,” Danzi murmured.

Luna shrugged. “Maybe they don’t have the knack for programming mollusks.” She continued reviewing their new composition. “Anyway, after the dance mix, there comes the part where we strum as hard as possible, scream about blood and somebody named ‘Satan,’ then finish off with those unusual chords I showed you. We take turns improvising in a form called ‘trading eights,’ then go back to the head and finish with a mighty grand finale, in which all the characters come back to life and take a bow. Did I miss anything?”

Danzi pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. “This is never going to work!” she wailed. “We’re beating a dead horse. Hmm. I wonder how you say that in Spanish?”

“We’re what?” Luna exclaimed, glancing anxiously out of the window.

“It’s another terrestrial expression,” Danzi gabbled. “I think it means doing something pointless.”

“That’s just horrible! But stars to you for picking up on that one.”

Danzi quickly pecked at the computer keyboard and struggled through the syllables that appeared on the screen. “Gol-pe-and-o a un ca-ball-o mu-er-to. Hey! Spanish sounds kind of like Narian.”

“Whatever. Look, we’ve got to try to look as terrestrial as possible, especially now that we’re in the city that’s home to the cult of Narists,” Luna said firmly, although this was clearly an order, not a suggestion, but Danzi raised no objections. Rooting out this little band of humans who knew about their home planet was their reason for coming to New Orleans in the first place. People for the Ousting and Removal of Narius, or PORN for short, had its headquarters here somewhere, and it was up to the two priestesses disguised as gigging musicians to put an end to whatever scheme this cult was planning.

“Let’s buy some more clothes, maybe at some of these thrift stores,” Danzi suggested, lifting the mood. “We’ve earned enough from busking and coffeehouse tips even after we give Ed some for our ‘keep.’ As we make more money, we’ll figure out what to do. I’ve been scribbling some notes in my sketchbook and I think I have some idea of how people attire themselves in different ways, which they seem to refer to as styles or fashions.”

“You know what we’re missing?” The golden centers of Luna’s irises widened every time she got an idea. “I’ve noticed that nearly every earthling has holes in their earlobes—sometimes even their eyebrows, nostrils, and even navels—from which to hang decorations.”

“Are they born with the holes?”

“No, I think they get them added.”

Danzi shuddered, fingering her ear. “Sounds painful. Years ago our librarians recorded earthen civilizations that required blood sacrifices. Could this be a lingering tradition?”

“No idea. Come on, let’s catch the Magazine Street bus. I saw some interesting used clothing stores there. Many women on this planet seem to find shopping to be therapeutic.”

***

Their new attire did in fact cheer them. They sauntered down Magazine Street feeling as if they’d had a successful expedition of foraging for provisions in the wild. Luna’s handcrafted patchwork jacket, flowing skirt, and stylish velvet hat not only carried the energetic imprints of the Bohemian former owner, but they also made her feel like she had…what was it? She couldn’t quite put an earth word to it. Danzi went for something more edgy in a studded tank top, leather pants, and motorcycle boots. They each carried an extra surplus of jeans, sneakers, t-shirts, and attractive blouses.

A strong smell of blood, adrenaline, and antiseptic stopped them both in their tracks as they passed another store. The sign above the open door read Dancing Shadows Tattoos and Body Piercing. A quiet hum of a machine buzzed away in fits and starts inside.

Luna flashed an excited look at Danzi, and before she could protest, pushed her over the threshold into the store. Half curious and half compelled, they tried to look nonchalant. A cheerful-looking young man with a long beard and colorful fish tattoos covering every visible inch of skin flashed them a grin. “Be right with you ladies,” he said, not missing a beat with the ominous apparatus in his hand. “I’m just finishing up the last few details of this ink.” He sat stooped over a reclining chair where a middle-aged woman alternately grinned and winced. Transfixed, they watched him methodically paint in the color of a blue-eyed octopus on her leg, only pausing to wipe away blood from time to time.

It was only a magic moment before he wrapped up the woman’s leg in a bandage. “See you next week,” he said, patting her leg. She waved as she limped out of the shop, smiling despite clearly being in some pain. Sliding his glasses to the top of his head and tossing his gloves into a bucket, He turned his attention to the women, eyeing their virginal white skin with great anticipation, “What can I do for you?”

Luna drew herself up tall in what she hoped was an imperious stance. “We need some holes in our ears. We have finally broken free of…” She tried to remember what she’d read about small bucolic societies that existed in some isolated corners of the continent.

“…the farm,” Danzi supplied weakly.

“Aha, reformed Amish?” chuckled the fish-tattooed man. “Well, my name is Avatar, and I can definitely hook you up. Earlobes are the most common, but here are some pictures if you want to go for something a bit more … unconventional.” He glanced at Danzi. “Especially you,” pointing to her belly button peeking out from the bottom of her tank top.

Danzi scanned through the photos and pointed to one that said conch. Luna looked dubious. “Are you sure…?”

“Yes, let’s do this!” Danzi snapped. Avatar instructed her lie down on a table, opened up a fresh set of instruments, and wiped her ear with antiseptic.

“You ready?”

She gritted her teeth and nodded, locking her eyes on Luna for support.

“Deep breath, and…” He shoved the needle through the tough flesh. Danzi grunted.

The brunette hovered, fascinated. “Wow, I had no idea there would be so much blood…”

“Unngh, shut up, Luna,” growled the newly wounded Danzi.

“I guess it’s because the human head is so vascular…”

“I said shut up!”

Half an hour later, they emerged from the shop, dazed but euphoric. Luna sported four tiny silver rings in each ear, and Danzi had made it through one more in each lobe.

The moment they stepped outside, Danzi suddenly seemed to forget her pain. “What’s that sound?” she blurted out, looking wildly around her.

“What sound?” asked Luna.

“A humming. I can feel it in the base of my skull. Are you picking up any frequencies?”

Luna’s brow furrowed in concern. “Not at all. Come on. Let’s go soak our wounds in some salt water like he told us. Remember, no sleeping on your side for a while!”

Danzi followed slowly, trying to ignore the humming. She concentrated on their upcoming show.

***

The sign for the Crescent City Dinner Theater was lit with a single dirty yellow bulb. The only working streetlamp on the block was flickering on and off. Luna paid the cab driver as they scrutinized what looked like an old church with a weathered wooden door under the sign.

“Maybe it’ll look better from the front,” Danzi piped up with false optimism as they emerged from the vehicle.

The driver popped the trunk and Luna frowned, pulling their instruments out. “This is the front.”

The second Luna slammed the trunk closed, the cab driver hit the gas and disappeared into the darkness leaving the two women alone on the deserted street.

They picked up their cases and walked to the door.

“Should we knock?” Luna asked.

“You don’t knock to go into a restaurant.” Danzi summoned her courage and pulled the heavy door open. “After you,” she said uneasily, peering into the hazy interior.

“Is this the right night? Maybe we’re too early.” Luna stepped into a dark empty room gripping the handle on her guitar case. Their hearts fluttering like moths, the duo headed towards a string of dim multicolored lights along the far wall that looked like it could be a stage, the uneven wooden floor creaked under their feet.

“I don’t smell any food here, just some sort of nasty incense,” the blonde rattled on nervously. “It’s like dried blood and turnips. And why aren’t there any chairs for an audience to sit in? There’s just a big circle painted on the floor…”

“Shh. Someone’s here “Hello?” Luna called out to a shadow approaching them. “We’re the musicians. Where are we supposed to set up?”

“I can’t even see a way to the stage with these confusing shadows,” complained Danzi. “It’s almost as if there are a bunch of candles…”

“There are candles. Hold on, someone else is coming…”

“Lots of someones!” Danzi whispered, starting to panic. The women pivoted as the dark murmuring shadows moved in, forming a circle around them.

Luna grabbed her arm and they froze in the middle of the floor. “Danzi! Remember all those rumors we heard?” she hissed. “This isn’t a gig. It’s a meeting for a…”

A burlap sack came down over her head from behind and her guitar case was ripped from her hand.

“…band of resistance fighters,” hissed a man’s voice into her ear.

Another sack was roughly shoved over Danzi’s head, brushing painfully against her newly pierced ears, and an onslaught of feedback shrieked against her skull.

To Be Continued…

 


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