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Rustic Stars
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Summary

Every year, the people of Borne come to Sunder to celebrate The Parse, an annual tradition where anyone wanting to get married and have children must participate.
This year, Innis’ uncle is forcing him to compete.
East is heartbroken when he finds out, because it could mean losing the boy he loves. Enraged, he decides to enter The Parse as well, hoping to keep Innis, but he needs a partner.
A chance meeting with Samone, a girl cursed to turn into a siren every day, offers him exactly what he needs. Her curse can be revoked by a boy, making East an opportunity of a lifetime for her.
Their goal leads them to keep each other’s secrets, because if the truth gets out about who they are, Sunder would be merciless with them.

Published: J. Luis Licea on
ISBN: 9781310024566
List price: $2.99
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Author

RUSTIC STARS

J. Luis Licea

Rustic Stars

© 2015 by J. Luis Licea

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author. The exception would be in the case of brief quotations embodied in the critical articles or reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

J. Luis Licea

JLLicea.Blogspot.com

To am_besten

Who once stole my star

And to everyone whom one day lost one

Part I: The Things We Share

"To offer friendship to someone whom is looking for love

Is like giving bread to someone whom is dying of thirst"

1 – Shiver

SAMONE

I scrub my legs until they’re soft, until they hurt, until the skin on them starts bleeding.

When the sun falls, I am a normal girl of fifteen, with short black hair and brown eyes. I have a sharp nose and thin, pale lips. I’m not very tall. When the sun rises, I am a siren. Nothing really changes, except that I grow a fish tail, get covered in green, shiny scales that are hard as shells, my teeth turn sharper, and I can hold my breath for three hours—give or take.

When I’m a siren, I cannot hear, but I can speak.

When I’m human, I cannot speak, but I can hear.

The bucket of fresh water that’s beside me is nearly empty. I didn’t use it properly again, and if I ask my grandmother for more, she’ll pull my hair, slap me, and lecture me about being quick when I wash. Today, I’m not in the mood for that, so I stand up and pour the remaining water over my head, and hope it reaches my feet and cleans them of the blood and the mucus my skin expelled in the attempt to heal itself from the harm I’ve done to it.

I grab the rock I scrub with and put it in the bucket. I walk down toward my house. Out of habit, I try to speak, in case my curse elected to be nice with me and allowed me to keep my voice. I try to sing, to mumble, to scream, but all I can muster is a hiss. It isn’t all bad, I suppose—my hearing is returning. I hear the waves lapping over the sand behind me, and the rustling wind.

My grandmother is sitting on a wooden chair outside our house. She’s been watching me from there. It’s for my safety, because no one knows I can turn into a siren—few know I even exist.

Your food is on the table, my grandmother says without looking at me as I hang the bucket from the stubble of one of the lemon trees. Did you wash all right?

I nod.

You reek of fish.

I think she hates me some days. I can’t blame her. I hate myself, too.

Did I forget to mention I walked down the hill naked? Yes, I’m naked. I wish my grandmother would leave me the bucket of water along with something to cover myself with, but no, she never does. It’s almost as if she enjoys seeing me suffer through the cold. If I ask her for a blanket, she’ll yell at me, and say I’ll scare people. They’ll think I’m an animal roaming the hills at night. She says I’m less likely to be seen if I’m naked. I don’t have to walk so much, so I can run, she says.

There’s a blanket hanging from a lemon tree as usual, so I grab it and cover myself quickly. I’m not ashamed of my body, so I don’t do it because I’m afraid someone might see me. In fact, I’d be glad if someone saw the body I love.

Come on now. I have to work in the morning, my grandmother says. She’s watching me, sitting there like a tree, as if she’s part of the chair. I don’t even know what she does for a job. I could ask, but she wouldn’t tell me. I could assume, but since I spend my days in the sea, I’ve never known what a job is.

I walk up the two steps and walk into the house. I try to get to my room quickly so that I can change and go eat. I’m starving. In my room, I find my undergarments and sleeping robes. Most of my clothes are sleeping robes—one long piece of fabric. Since I’m never human during the day, I don’t need normal clothes, like those dresses, sewn with different colored fabrics and textures women in town wear.

I walk outside again and to the kitchen, which is a different building, a few feet away from our house. I unlock the wooden door and walk in. The clay floor is cold against my bare feet. The kitchen is small. We have a few pots and a few plates—made of clay as well. Our chimney sits at the far end, where my grandmother cooks for herself and me. A squared table sits in the middle of the kitchen. That’s where my food sits, in a bowl, covered with a fabric, and protected with the chopping board. It’s so the rats don’t come poking at it. Or, okay, my cat, which by the way just came in to see me. I want to pet it, and hold it, but it’s been shedding too much hair lately, that I decide to put my foot upon its back instead and feel it purring.

I remove the chopping board and the towel. The smell hits me like one of my grandmother’s slaps. I’m eating lamb tonight. It’s been months since I’ve had lamb. I was tired of eating chicken and greens and fruits. I hate fruit. I shiver at the thought. The lamb is a bit spicy, but I can handle it. I grab a piece with my fingers and put it in my mouth. My mouth turn watery and my insides roil, as if I awoke the monster in me.

I eat silently, chewing every piece of meat carefully. My cat walks around my feet and I try to push it away, but I don’t dare. I like the company. Before I finish eating, it leaves me. Apparently, a rat awoke its appetite and now has gone to chase it.

I place the empty bowl in a bucket for my grandmother to wash in the morning, and go outside, locking the kitchen door behind me.

My bed of hay is something I look forward to every night. We have to change the hay every two months, because of the peculiar smell it accumulates overtime—something wet and acrid.

I blow the candle and my room goes dark. I get in bed and stare at the ceiling. I wish I didn’t have to waste time sleeping. I wish I could go into town and meet new people right this moment. I wish someone would know about me. I wish they knew I exist. I know that’ll never happen.

If they knew I was half fish, they would hang me in the middle of the plaza and burn me as they burn the witches. Actually, no. They would skin me alive first. Yes. That’s the only way they’d get rid of the thing they fear, and the only way they’d turn me into who they want me to be. After that, they’d burn me to ashes to cleanse my mind, my body, just as they burned my mother.

I fall asleep and wait for my nightmares to come crawling onto me.

They do.

I dream that I’m running in the dark. I don’t know who’s chasing me or why I’m running, but I run. I can’t see what lies in front of me, but I can feel the ground beneath my feet, and the air biting my skin. I run. I can’t scream, as I have no voice. I can hear them. They chase me. I feel them. When I think I’m safe, at the end of this empty dream, all I find is a tall wall of fire waiting for me at the edge of the darkness. When I try to turn back, go back to where I came from, they are there, the eyes. They stare at me. I can see them shinning, glistening with the wall of fire that burns me deep inside.

I wake up screaming.

I don’t have time to cry anymore. I can’t cry for something I can’t control. Yes, it scares me to have those dreams, but that’s all they are, dreams.

I make myself believe that I’m okay, and will always be okay.

I jump out of bed and walk outside. It’s nearly dawn, so I get out of my sleeping robes and undergarments and run toward the beach. I’m more careful, because sometimes men wander in the sea at this hour. I run, bending down as much as possible. The morning is cold, but I ignore my body’s complaints. It’s only for a little bit, this feeling.

I reach the white sand and run to the rocky shore. There’s a cave not far from here, and I need to get there before sunrise. It’ll be easier for me to swim east when I’m a siren.

I’m climbing rocks. They are sharp, so I try to be careful and not slip. I make it into the cave today. The sun rises quickly and I begin to feel the pain. My lungs hurt. They burn; they burn as if I had inhaled fire, the fire from my nightmare. My stomach shrinks. My skin stretches and begins to cover itself with green scales. I feel as if the bones in my legs break. They creak, snap, and join. I take shallow breaths, while holding my lower body in the water to ease the pain.

I breathe painfully as I begin to jerk.

The sound of the waves goes away. I cannot hear my heart beating. I cannot hear my tail beating against the water. I scream out of pain, out of anger, out of loneliness, but all that comes out is a sweet, mellow cry.

2 – Torpid

EAST

If I were bigger, would I be stronger?

I follow my brother Vinci through the crowded street. He’s carrying about seventy pounds of ropes upon his back, and I’m carrying an anchor that proves to be too much for me.

My fingers go numb and I lower the anchor and set it on the ground as people walk by without paying much attention to me, the weak boy whining on the street.

Sunder is usually never this crowded. Many of the strangers are from Borne—the town at the north. They visit Sunder every year to celebrate The Parse, an awful tradition where you have to prove yourself worthy of finding a partner for life.

Hurry up. Dad’s going to be mad at me, Vince tells me with a stern look upon his face.

I stare at him and breathe out heavily. Coming, I reply, and pick up the anchor.

My dad owns thirteen boats, and we go every day to the beach to help him get them ready in case someone wants to rent one from him. My job is to clean them in the afternoons. I like doing it, because they are not big boats, like ships, like the ones the people from Borne have. Our boats are small, since they are mostly used for fishing and enjoying oneself.

I run after my brother who got lost in the crowd of strangers, and find him near the bridge, which is the middle of our town and the beach. We walk east on the white sand until reaching the shop, which is where my dad keeps his boats.

What took you so long? my dad says to Vinci, who places the ropes on a table that sits near a window.

I place the anchor on the floor and stretch my back. Thirty pounds of metal is too much for me. I’m skinny, maybe because I’m only sixteen. Even though I’m tall, I can’t lift my own weight. I have tried. No use.

Vinci looks at me, and my dad nods. He just blamed me for being late! What an ass. It was his fault. He was talking to a girl on our way here, that’s why we came late. It wasn’t me. I want to say that, but if Dad finds Vinci was being kinky, he’d get in trouble. Then I’d get in trouble! I’ll keep my mouth shut. Whatever.

I have a big surprise for the both of you, my dad says, and signals me to go with him. Come, East, you’ll want to see this.

I wouldn’t miss it! He never has surprises for us, so it must be something good. I hope it’s good. The last time he had a surprise for us was when he caught a swordfish. The whole town saw it. His fortune didn’t last—the glory that is. People here, somehow, and for some reason, are very small-minded, and tend to stick to their own mindset.

Vinci grabs me by the shoulder and we walk behind our dad, who’s heading outside, to the beach. If the surprise is another big fish, I won’t be surprised at all.

What do you think he will show us? Vinci asks me, his strong arm around my neck.

I can’t breathe, so I don’t think of an answer.

I had to keep her by the cliffs, because the beach isn’t deep enough during low tide, my dad says without looking behind at us. I had to sell a few boats to get it, but I’m sure it was worth it. You’ll like it because you’ll like it or I’ll strip off my name.

Vinci and I laugh. Dad always makes the same threat. He says he will take away his name if something he does isn’t suitable. I don’t think he’ll ever lose his name, which by the way is Herus. He still jokes about it. I’m sure it’ll rain fire the day he does, which is never.

We walk west, to the cliffs, which are tall, and stand at the edge. The air is powerful, and I can feel the waves crashing against the sharp rocks that lay below. They roar insatiably.

There! Do you see it, my sons? our dad says, pointing a finger to the sea.

Vinci is in awe, and I can’t see anything. I stare far into the blue sea, but all I see is…well, sea. I look closer, stare where Vinci is staring. Then I see it, near the rocks, below, is a ship! Not a boat, but an actual ship.

I’m surprised, and I don’t know what to say. I mean, sure, this is a huge surprise, but I wonder so many things now.

Why? I ask.

Well, my dad says, I think a whole lot more people will come from Borne this year. We can make more money with this beauty. Now, East, your job is to keep it clean when it’s not in use. Vinci will take care of repairs, as he always does with the boats.

How am I going to clean that thing? It’s huge! I say, reproachfully.

You don’t have to do it alone, says my dad. I do need it clean by tomorrow morning. And trust me, it’s not—he makes a funny face, which make me lose my smile—clean at all. Tonight you can work on her.

I groan and frown.

Vinci laughs at me. Don’t worry, brother, I’ll help you tonight. Just tonight, eh!

I grin, suddenly coming to a realization. Can I invite Innis? He could help us. I wish my dad hadn’t heard me, but he did, and I can see him frowning. Vinci is looking at me dangerously. His eyes are nearly screaming at me, madly.

I shouldn’t have said it. Why? Because Innis is a boy; because I’m a boy; because Innis is the person who has my heart; because we can never be together in the eyes of anyone. Being us, together, is dangerous, deadly. Vinci and my dad know I don’t enjoy the company of girls, and that Innis and I have been in love with each other for over a year now. My dad has never liked the idea that I share feelings for a boy. He hates it. Completely. Everyone does, which is Sunder kills men like me.

I lower my head and bite my lip.

Yes, you can invite Innis to help you and your brother clean our ship, my dad says after staying quiet for what seemed years to me.

Vinci opens his mouth and smiles widely. Ugh, he acts like an asshole.

Just remember not to get too— my dad begins, but I cut him off.

I promise I won’t kiss him, or hold his hand, dad. I won’t. I’d never do that anywhere away from our Secret Place.

My dad approaches us and gives us a hug that fills me with joy.

Careful with the hair, Vinci says. His hair is fine. What he means to say is that our dad should probably stop hugging us, or someone might see us and begin to question his manliness.

I have a few things I need you to do, Vinci, our dad says after finally letting us go. I need you in the shop for a little bit. He looks at me now. East, I think your friend Delta was looking for you. Why don’t you go find her and see what she needs? Come get your brother later on so you can start cleaning the ship.

I nod, smiling, thinking about my best friend, Delta. I bet she’ll have a heart attack when I tell her my dad bought a ship. A stroke when she finds out I’ll invite Innis to help us clean it.

Have you named it yet? I ask before I head down into town.

I call her Vorota, my dad replies and stares at the ship again, which dances peacefully on the water that cheers because of its existence.

You didn’t think of a better name? Vinci asks, and our dad breaks into a laughter. Seriously, you could have named it after me.

I giggle and turn toward Sunder as my dad tries to explain to Vinci why he chose to name the ship Vorota. I wish I could stay and hear Vinci argue, because he always has great excuses to change something or make it better according to him, but I have many things to do today.

I find the strength in me to run and do it. I run as fast as I can down the cliffs and then onto the white sand. I cross the bridge and enter Sunder again. I slow down so I don’t crash against anyone on the street.

I need to find Delta, but my heart tells me to find Innis first.

Follow my brain, or follow my heart?

I follow the one that speaks louder.

3 – Euphony

SAMONE

Oysters are my favorite snack.

I could eat them every day if I could. Since I’ve found that some oysters have pearls, I’m always looking forward to growing my collection. I have, if I can count right, nearly two thousand pearls. One quarter of those, which are black, are my favorite.

Among my favorite food are fish, shrimp, and crab. I