- The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode One
- The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Two
- The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Three
- The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Four
- The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Five
- The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Six
- The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Seven
I Will Never Know You If I Sacrifice the Beast
Illustrations by Morgan Wagner
Something was wrong with that electric guitar. It didn’t have that strange, near-perfect intonation, and the tone was raspy and inconsistent, like a whinny. None of the audience members seemed to notice, but Luna gritted her teeth. She turned to see if Danzi’s reaction was the same, but her fellow extraterrestrial was nowhere to be found. Even worse, the crowd was beginning to bleat, like a bunch of…
…baby goats demanding to be fed. Luna opened her eyes and sat up in bed, shaking the last of the unpleasant dream from her mind. With a wash of consternation, she realized that lately she and her companion hadn’t paid much attention to the animals they’d come to earth to fetch. They’d gotten caught up in things like learning earthen music, human customs, and overall assimilation. And there had been gigs and glory. Oh yes, and then they’d had a falling out. Now what?
Well, at this moment the most pressing matter was caring for these beasts. She pulled back the covers of the bed she no longer found strange, got dressed, and headed out to the land behind her host’s house along River Road. The goats had been keeping the area immaculately neat with their grazing, but she was learning how much work went into caring for an animal.
Hoobie and Froobie, the miniature horses, nickered at their approaching keeper. They seemed mildly annoyed at the capering kids. The tiny goats chased one another around the yard, pausing to butt heads. But a moment later they were bouncing around again.
Is this what it means to be human? Luna wondered. Maybe conflict is part of what life on Earth is like. She trudged into the shed where they’d kept hay and sweet feed.
She swung open the door to find Danzi with an armload of hay.
“Oh, um…hey…get it?” the blonde offered weakly. “Like ‘hey’ when people greet each other and ‘hay’ like what horses eat. Isn’t that what they call a pun? I was just noticing…”
“…that we’ve been ignoring what we originally came here to get? Yeah. Our mission has gone off course in a number of ways,” said Luna flatly.
Danzi’s eyes filled with tears. “I promise I won’t let Raphael or these gigs get in the way of our mission. I just want to try some new ways of writing songs, and if he suddenly changes his mind and wants to be with me, that’s extra.” She straightened her back. “I’m still a priestess.”
A piercing whinny broke the tension, followed by a soft nose that tried to pry open the shed door. Luna scooped up another armload of hay, and the two flung their offerings at the feet of their hungry equine companions.
“I don’t know why the animals are acting so oddly, but I think their behavior could help us figure out what to do next,” observed Danzi.
“We knew we needed them for our home planet, but didn’t really stop to wonder why,” mused Luna.
Danzi piped up, “Because the horses are pretty. Do we need any other reason? They give us joy, and as sacred emotional archivists, we need extra reserves.”
“Look at them. Why aren’t they conspiring against each other?”
Danzi frowned. “Hoobie and Froobie don’t seem to care who has the prettiest halter. They don’t seem to be concerned that they’re not sprouting horns like the goats…”
Luna grinned. “Exactly. They have no agendas. The phrase ‘king of the beasts’ was invented by humans.”
Danzi bit her lip. “What we’ve been doing has been important. Every wish, every forgotten song lyric, every broken heart, nothing has ever been wasted. The collective consciousness of sentient longing gets stronger, and some say it’s even self-aware. But you know what it’s largely comprised of?”
“The past,” the two Narian women breathed in unison.
“And look at those innocent animals,” Luna indicated with a jerk of her chin. “They simply live in the now.”
“We need their energies to balance us when we become weary with everything we’re trying to carry.”
“This sounds more like a terrestrial song. I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Danzi told her partner in anticipation. “Maybe I should call this one ‘A Quiet Kind of Love.’ It might be easier for the natives to process.”
Luna frowned. “What do you mean? We created that magnum opus to be the paragon of all kinds of earthen music.”
“Yes, but I think to be successful, we have to pick one genre and stick to it,” countered the blonde woman. “Don’t get me wrong. The test audience seemed to appreciate our rap-blues-country-punk-reggae-Christian-Latin-electronica-black metal-jazz-off-Broadway masterpiece. But that was in Audubon Park, and I think more than a few of the kids in attendance were on mind-altering substances.”
“You mean what they call hard drugs?” wondered Luna. “I keep reading about how they affect human behavior and perception.”
“I heard they’re also supposed to enhance creativity,” supplied Danzi with a mischievous grin.
“Does any drug do the trick?” wondered Luna aloud.
“I don’t know. Let’s take a peek into Ed’s medicine cabinet and try whatever he has the most of.”
They tiptoed into the bathroom reserved for their host, who was nowhere to be found. Danzi swung open the mirror that to reveal all sorts of wonders: vitamins, aspirin, and a large unmarked plastic jar with bright yellow blobs inside.
“I’ll bet this is contraband!” hissed Danzi, pouring some of the capsules into her hand.
“But the pills look hard to take,” observed Luna, picking one out of Danzi’s hand. They were nearly as big around as her index finger and kind of squishy.
“Exactly! A creativity-enhancing drug probably comes in a challenging form to discourage all but the most serious artists. Watch me now, as I soar…” She filled a glass with some water.
She popped two in her mouth and was just about to drink them down with the water when a polite cough interrupted their daring experiment.
“Um, why are you ladies trying to swallow my foam earplugs?” asked Ed.
The two Narians froze.
Danzi coughed politely. “Ivn’t vis afpwin?” she asked, feigning innocence through a spongy mouthful.
“No, it’s not aspirin, and I think you know that, considering there’s a well-marked bottle of aspirin right next to it.”
“Um, what say we discuss our little plan and forget this ever happened?” suggested Luna brightly.
“What do you mean, we’re having a KINC meeting right here in the back yard?” demanded Weeb. “Isn’t that really risky considering what just happened with People for the Ousting and Removal of Narius?”
Ed shrugged. “If you think about it, it’s riskier not to. PORN is clearly getting bolder, so it’s time that Kindness In Narian Connections ups its game. We used to rent a room in a little Greek restaurant in Old Metairie, but someone began to catch on that we weren’t an organization of songwriters.”
“You probably weren’t weird enough to be convincing songwriters,” Weeb scolded. “If every now and then you’d played a snippet of something people would actively avoid—like songs about shamrocks or lazy cattle—you could have kept your space.”
“Survive and remain,” Luna chimed in archly. “This was actually our idea. It’s going to look less suspicious if we appear to have a gathering of some sort. What actually goes on at backyard parties?”
Ed chuckled. “You name it: birthday celebrations, wedding receptions, baby showers…”
“Do I even want to know what that last one is?” queried Danzi.
“I see some new faces here. Welcome, everyone!” said Ed. The semicircle of people in lawn chairs made the women instinctively want to grab their instruments and perform, but there was too much new information to process anyway. For one thing, the horses and goats had worked their way into the human herd, standing at rapt attention. Some of these attendees had even brought their own pets—mostly dogs and cats, and one tiny brown anole lizard perched on someone’s shoulder. These were animals that would ordinarily harass one another or become fazed by the larger beasts. But all the creatures were uncharacteristically relaxed.
A white cockatiel launched from its owner and landed on Luna’s right shoulder. The bird’s owner, a handsome young black man with bright green hair called out, “Calliope! Calliope! Come back over here.”
He dashed over to Luna. “I’m so sorry, she usually doesn’t like to sit on anyone’s shoulder but mine.”
Luna smiled warmly. “She’s fine! I don’t mind.” The young man relaxed, studying the Narian woman’s expression more closely.
“It’s pretty cool actually,” he crooned. “I’m glad she’s finally getting socialized. Besides, there’s something about you that seems…I dunno, familiar?” Luna patted the space next to her, and Calliope’s owner sat down beside her as Ed clapped his hands to start the meeting.
“This is the first meeting we’ve had in quite some time for KINC, which you all know is short for Kritters, Incorporated,” Ed announced with the smoothness of a salesman. “As you can see, even our furred, feathered, and scaled companions have a vested interest in distributing only the finest quality food. They don’t care that some people say it’s a pyramid scheme, right?”
Luna and Danzi exchanged the barest of glances. Before the blonde could open her mouth, Luna nudged her. There was clearly a reason for this façade.
“Our sales have dropped somewhat in the past month, but according to stocks, that’s happening everywhere. The whole economy is a little precarious right now, but people will always need to care for their animal friends.”
A tiny dog that looked like a cross between a woolly caterpillar and a teddy bear suddenly trotted to the open space and began pacing in anxious circles. A woman’s velvet voice called to him, “Skippy, what’s wrong?”
The feedback humming began to vibrate in Danzi’s earring again. “There’s an infiltrator here,” she whispered to Luna. “My earring seems to hum when something is wrong.”
“Look at the little miniature Yorkie,” someone near them murmured. “They’re good for sensing trouble.”
Skippy started sniffing through the crowd, stopping at the feet of a nervous looking young man clad in a Nickelback t-shirt and khaki shorts.
“Um, isn’t this Mothman Sightings Anonymous?” said the fellow, as a pair of gray tabby cats joined Skippy. The three animals stared at the nervous man, and even the tiny lizard, riding on the back of one of the goats, flared its dewlap in agitation.
“What in the world gave you that idea?” said another attendee. The priestesses were momentarily baffled. The newest speaker appeared to be neither male nor female with a comely face that held a deceptively calm veneer.
“We clearly need to update our records,” whispered Luna to her companion. “I only have things archived for male and female. Humanity is even more complex that I previously thought.”
“Are you looking for something paranormal?” the challenger pressed, running a hand through their short fox-red hair. Skippy took off running toward the front of the house, where members of KINC had parked their vehicles. The goats went cavorting after him in ungainly springing leaps. Nobody made a move to stop the creatures.
“I, uh…never mind,” said the young man, rising to his feet. “Wrong meeting. Gotta go!– Ow!” he suddenly yelped as one of the cats took a swipe at his trouser leg with full claws. He drew back his foot as if to kick the offending feline, thought better of it, then pushed his way out of the crowd. Nobody said a word until the sound of a car’s ignition, the crunch of gravel, and the fading sound of a retreating vehicle had passed.
Skippy returned as fast as his little legs could carry him, barking a tinny triumph. One of the kids trotted after him carrying a license plate in its mouth.
“Good work, you little rascals!” Skippy’s owner cooed, opening her arms to let the tiny dog hop into her embrace. “This little Yorkie is the ultimate bullshit sniffing dog.” She turned to face the baby goat. “And thank you, Frisca, for your tin can-munching strength. Zabe, can you take this plate and find out the infiltrator’s identity?”
The fox-haired person nodded. “I’m on it.” They took the plate and strode purposefully into the house.
“Now that we’ve gotten the mole out of our meeting, let’s proceed with all things Narius!” rumbled Ed, whose was rewarded with soft claps. “You look like you have something to say, Miklos?”
A stout goateed man with long silver hair like a moonbeam rose to his feet. He seemed kindly, but his posture revealed him as a person not to be trifled with. “Animals are the examples we need to follow. I think this is what they’re trying to tell us.”
“Go on, Mister Mihalfi,” someone urged.
“Human thoughts are usually cluttered by ambition and material possessions. They cling to abstract fear that does them no good. Animals have no such vices. They keep emotions pure. Negative emotions exist to protect us, but we must keep them in check and use them to guide us to better choices. Only then can we know ourselves as a species and move forward.
“A hawk doesn’t kill a rabbit because it’s angry. It kills because it needs to eat. It doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about a snake that isn’t there. It doesn’t organize an attack on the eagles…”
“I wish it would, if we have to hear ‘Hotel California’ one more time!” someone called from the back, and the group broke into laugher. Luna and Danzi laughed blindly, hoping someone would explain the joke later.
Miklos waved a hand good naturedly. “Meh,” he said with a chuckle. “If there really are Narians among us, we will be better prepared to communicate with them if we think like animals.”
Someone else made a whooping sound the women recognized as that of a monkey they’d seen in the Audubon Zoo. Again, the group tittered, but Luna stood up. “Hey!” she barked. “We seem to have a connection to animals, but it’s a little more complicated than that!”
The laugher died to absolute silence.
As if their shared spontaneity had never faded, the two Narians stood in unison. “Hi, we’re also newcomers, but as you can see, the animals never issued a warning,” announced Luna. “Would anyone like to guess why?”
The group stared back, bewildered.
“Okay, look, we’ll spare everyone the game of…how many questions is it?” Danzi thought for a moment, then shook her head. “We’re real Narians, and we’re more than a little freaked out that people on Earth know that our society exists. I guess it makes sense that there’s a cult that’s afraid of us and wants to take us down. So we’re pretty ecstatic that there’s a group dedicated to helping us.”
The crowd suddenly began excitedly mumbling to each other.
“Not to be rude, but -” called out another man, “prove it!”
Luna squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and took a deep breath. Suddenly all the cars parked out front started their engines in unison, a few blaring their alarm systems. The group froze again as the full weight of realization hit them.
“Glad to see you haven’t lost your touch with your command of vehicles,” murmured Danzi.
Luna gave her a brief side-eye. “It’s a lot harder than it used to be. I guess it’s part of the tradeoff for assimilating.”
Suddenly, the entire KINC assembly rose to its feet, cheering wildly.
“Maybe it was worth it?” Danzi asked. Luna had no answer.
Danzi had used a microphone many times by now. But the strangeness of a radio station was unnerving: the lack of an audience, the archives of vinyl long since supplanted by digital technology, and the alternating times when the DJ could speak to her and then give her full attention to an audience nobody could see. But she was excited by this new kind of exposure. From the third-story window of the booth, she watched a steamboat chug along the Mississippi River. She could feel, more than hear, the buzz of French Quarter tourists scurrying along the sidewalks below.
She also felt a colossal pang of guilt in her gut. Luna should be here beside her, exploring this new frontier too. She wasn’t doing anything wrong—the other woman knew she was going to be appearing on WWOZ to debut her new song.
There was an unsettling hum in the electronics. The broad-faced woman behind the audio console ran a hand through her brass-colored ringlets but made no effort to fix the irksome sound.
“Welcome to Debris and Drippings, a brand-new show. I’m your host Galina Gautreau, filling in for Marci today, who seems to have had a last-minute accident. And whoops! Looks like we’ve got us a little technical error, because this mic is seriously feeding back. I guess it’s because my guest Danzi Highwood just has too much energy to be contained. I can’t imagine what the vibe would be if you’d brought your partner Luna Madden with you.”
“I couldn’t dream of a career in music without Luna,” Danzi gushed. “But sometimes trying to write songs on your own is a good exercise, seeing your own efforts exposed without help, deciding where your strengths and weaknesses lie. I think it helps you become a better team player if you can first learn some autonomy.”
“I must say, I was hoping to see both of you here today,” said Galina bluntly.
“Well, there’s no use crying over a dead horse in the room,” Danzi tried nervously. Was that the right expression?
“You’re so funny!” squawked the host, beaming until her freckles spread like an oil slick.
The singer was stunned. “Wait, what?” she gasped.
At that very moment, Danzi’s cell phone buzzed with a text. It was only Luna, but the message made her blood run cold: Someone’s taken Hoobie and Froobie.
“I hear you have a new song you’d like to unveil on the show,” said Galina brightly. “Is there someone special out there you’d like to dedicate it to? Even if he isn’t tuned in at this very moment, I’m sure a friend or coworker will pass the news along.”
The blonde woman froze, her mind going completely blank in panic.
“Tell us about this little ditty,” cajoled Galina in a tone that was still oddly casual, ignoring Danzi’s confused and shocked look as she stared at her phone. Danzi’s device buzzed again. Members of PORN willing to negotiate for the horses, but they want both of us present. Riverwalk, fifteen minutes.
“Earth to Danzi Highwood! Do you want to get this man’s undivided attention or don’t you?”
The softness of his lips on hers was burned into her memory.
Then she recalled Narius, the horses, her partner Luna, and the endangered terrestrial society she had come to love. If she didn’t act now, there might not even be a planet for anyone to live on at all.
“I’m sorry, but there’s been an emergency,” she mumbled. “I have to go. Play some Kid Red tracks for me!”
“I hear your guy’s not much to look at, but that you find him to be an angel,” Galina cajoled as Danzi pulled off her headphones and began to stash her bouzouki in its case.
The musician froze. “How did you know that? You couldn’t possibly know that unless…” Danzi caught herself. “You’re into PORN, aren’t you?” She slammed the case shut and picked it up.
“Now hold on, just a minute! This is not about my personal life!” the DJ laughed, but the steel in her voice belied her cheeriness. “Folks, we’re gonna take a short break, but we’ll get back to you with a brand-new mambo.” The ON AIR light went dead.
“I have to help my sister,” gasped Danzi, heading for the door. Something caught her by the collar of her jacket.
Galina spun her around. “Not so fast, E.T.!” the DJ spat, grabbing Danzi’s wrist with a meaty hand.
The Narian had no time for a fancy martial art move. Leaning forward, she bit Galina squarely on the nose, pushed past the shocked woman, and was down the emergency stairs in no time flat.
“My nose!” she heard through the speakers. “You just bit my…! Hello again, everyone. It appears that our guest has had quite the upset stomach, but you’re going to hear…”
Danzi went into hyper focus, bursting out of the door and following her instincts. The Riverwalk. She sidestepped the French Market and crossed the stairs over the high wall and down the walkway running along the Mississippi River. The instrument slowed her progress, but she couldn’t bring herself to abandon it. Her earring began to make a slight feedback hum, getting louder as she drew nearer to her destination.
She didn’t slow down until she spied a cluster of people and heard a tiny whinny rise above the angry crowd shouts. Pushing her way through, she stumbled into the ring, where Luna was facing down crazy man Michael. Hoobie and Froobie pulled at their halters and kicked at the man, who was not backing down. The failed spy from the meeting, still clad in his Nickelback shirt, stood behind the PORN leader and smirked at the two women.
“What are you doing?” bellowed Luna above the din. “These horses belong to us!”
“Hey, leave them alone,” barked a voice. A familiar looked tattooed man stepped forward — Avatar, the man from the tattoo and piercing parlor! “They’re formerly Amish, and they need those animals!” A few onlookers nodded in sympathy, though their expressions remained skeptical as they assessed the women’s modern clothing. “I pierced their ears, and they honestly had no idea what the modern world held for them!”
“Sure they did. I was just at their house!” barked Michael’s accomplice. “They were perfectly capable of using technology.”
“So the infiltrator figured out the true nature of KINC after all,” hissed Luna.
“What do we do now?” breathed Danzi.
“We fight with all of our skills, no matter what the public witnesses. This should have ended a long time ago.” Luna stepped forward until she was within striking range of Michael.
The guy in the Nickelback shirt laughed. “You ladies don’t stand a chance.” He seemed to grow in height until he stood a head taller than the priestesses, his features suddenly changing to reveal a long drooping mustache, waist-length brown hair, and winged eyebrows.
The women grabbed each other’s hands for support. “Lord Snord! You really have gone off your rocker this time!” snarled Luna.
“Obviously. I mean, look at his taste in music!” Danzi added as she put down her bouzouki case and readied herself to attack.
The Narian usurper towered over them, tossing his newly grown mane. “It’s time to blow up this planet and come home, bitches!” he proclaimed.
TO BE CONTINUED
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