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Authors: Wendy Mass

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BOOK: Every Soul a Star
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I’m starting with the labyrinth, since that way I also get to daydream while I work. Yes, we have a labyrinth. We built it a few years ago, and it took all summer. Mom read in a book that if you’re going to open a campground in the middle of nowhere, you have to offer the guests unusual activities to keep them occupied. After all, there’s only so much swimming in the lake, fishing, hiking, playing on the playground, and roasting hot dogs and s’mores one can stand. Although I personally never get sick of s’mores.

At first I thought Mom was talking about building a maze, and I got all excited because I pictured these big green hedges and it being all sort of Victorian and fairy tale–ish. But she explained that a labyrinth and a maze are two very different things. A maze is like a game: you can’t see where you’re going and the entrance and exit are two different places. A labyrinth is an ancient series of spiraling circles created on the ground with stones that you walk through. You’re supposed to ponder some big question like what you should be when you grow up, or if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? (I say no, because a sound is only invisible waves in the air until it hits someone’s ear, but Kenny says yes because the resulting crash would still cause vibrations, and the earth itself would “hear” it.)
when you reach the middle, you’re supposed to get your answer. So far I haven’t had too many big questions to ponder, but I find that my daydreams are really vivid when I’m walking it. Almost like visions. It’s pretty cool. Kenny was really disappointed that it wasn’t going to be a maze. Every now and then I find a stuffed dinosaur or some mythological beast like a gryphon or a scary plastic minotaur in the center, and I have to bring it back to his room.

Besides the labyrinth, we created five other Unusuals. Campers can pan for gold (also known as gold-colored plastic nuggets) in a small stream that runs alongside the campground. They can paint whatever they want on the wall of the Art House, and when that gets filled up, we’ll start on the floor and the ceiling. The Art House is the only cabin we don’t rent out because Kenny swears it’s haunted, but I’ve never seen any ghosts. He claims it’s haunted by the ghost of the great Galileo himself (Galileo was our old cat who died when Kenny was four, not the famous scientist, although the cat was named after the scientist, obviously). When Kenny was five, he came running into the kitchen screaming and waving his arms, “Great Galileo’s Ghost, it’s hot out!” The phrase has become our family’s way of swearing without actually swearing.

In the back room of the Art House is Alien Central, where campers can monitor the computer that sweeps the sky for alien radio transmissions all day and all night. We’re part of an organization called the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Our computer is one of millions that analyze radio signals as they come in from outer space. It’s a very popular Unusual. Everyone wants to be the one in front of the computer when the first alien signal comes in.

Besides finding aliens, people can walk through the Sun Garden and tell the time by the shadow they cast on the ground. It took us one whole winter to make the giant sundial out of mosaic tile and concrete. Up the hill from the Pavilion with all the picnic tables and grills, we have the Star Garden, where guests can try out a bunch of different telescopes and binoculars that astronomers have donated to my parents over the years. Our campground is pretty famous within the astronomy community. We have Star Parties each year where people come from all over the country to stargaze together, since the skies up here are so dark and wide. My whole family is trained on how to use the equipment, but most of the guests request me. I know the difference between a reflective scope and a refractive scope, and the names of most of the craters on the moon. I can point the campers in the direction of newborn stars in the Orion Nebula or a dust storm on Mars as easily as telling them which way to the restrooms. And if we’re lucky enough to see the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis, I’m out there with hot chocolate and warm blankets. If pressed, I can explain that the reds and oranges and greens that billow down from the sky are different types of gas atoms and molecules colliding with solar particles. But mostly I just like to enjoy the show.

No other campground in America has six Unusuals. Most don’t even have one. They require a bit of upkeep, but we don’t mind.

“Make sure you pack the dirt down tight, Ally,” Dad warns, as though this is my first time doing this. I know he’s just tense because in all the years we’ve been here, we’ve never had more than two hundred campers at once. And now we’ll have over a thousand. Pretty big difference.

“And after you’re done, please check on the other Unusuals, and no skipping the Art House like last time.”

“But Dad, that spider was as big as my face. Bigger, even. It could have eaten me in one bite.”

From behind me I hear Kenny laugh. But there’s no meanness in his laugh; there never is. Kenny is one of those rare people who are all goodness. That’s not to say he doesn’t do the typical annoying little brother stuff like grab the last buckwheat pancake off my plate or stick a wet finger in my ear. But he’s also really smart and pretty funny. If I had to pick anyone to grow up with in the middle of nowhere, he’d be the one.

Kenny joins us and says, “You can sleep outside half the night, but a little old spider freaks you out? All sorts of things could be crawling on you. A lot big-ger than that spider, I bet. I’ll show you my chart at lunch.”

“First of all,” I reply, “this was no little spider. It had a
It had a
soul, intent on eating me. And second, I am not sleeping when I’m out there on my lawn chair. I am intently
And third, I don’t ever want to see that creepy chart of yours again. I had nightmares for weeks the last time you left it open on the kitchen table.”

Kenny is determined to get his name in the history books by finding a bug that hasn’t been discovered before. He keeps a huge sketchpad with drawings of every creepy crawler he’s come across since he was five. He then compares the drawings to pictures of bugs in the encyclopedia-like volume
The Complete Bug-Hunters’ Guide to Insect Life in America, from Ants to Zarthopods.
The title alone is enough to curl my toes. I can deal fine with your regular garden variety bug. It’s just when one has an overabundance of legs, or is of a size more commonly associated with a household pet, that I get freaked out.

I prefer looking up, rather than down, and have a different plan to secure my immortality.

I’m going to discover a comet.

According to the rules of comet-finding, my comet will be named after me. Even if I’d wanted to name it something else, I wouldn’t be allowed. Every time it circles around the sun and approaches Earth, excited onlookers will exclaim, “There goes Comet Summers, isn’t it bright? Isn’t it amazing?” My grandpa had hoped to find a comet or an asteroid but never did. His eyesight wasn’t so good, and even powerful binoculars didn’t help after a while. If I find an asteroid I’m going to name it after him, because you can’t name an asteroid after yourself. Don’t ask me why—that’s just the way it is.

“C’mon, Ally,” Kenny says, picking up one of the long flat brooms. “I’ll help you.”

“Don’t forget to fill out the logbooks,” my father says over his shoulder as he walks away. “Things are going to get crazy soon, and you need to keep organized.”

Kenny whispers, “You know he’s saying that because he and Mom were arguing last night and he wants to keep the peace. She’s the only one who checks those boring logbooks.”

“Mom and Dad were arguing?” I’d heard them whispering loudly to each other, only to stop when I walked in the room, but I didn’t think much of it. I figure they don’t get much privacy and it’s not my business if they don’t want me to hear something. I bend down to snip at some roots while Kenny starts his slow smoothing process. It would go faster without his help, but he’s usually good company.

“I did hear one other thing,” he says, even though I hadn’t asked. “But it didn’t really make sense. I probably heard it wrong.”

I pick up a twig off the path and toss it into the woods that surround the labyrinth. “What did you hear?”

“I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything. Never mind.” He begins smoothing faster, not even looking for bugs. Something is up. I reach out and put my hand on the broom to stop it. “Just tell me,” I say firmly.

“Okay, okay. I heard Dad say, ‘But Ally wears a meteorite around her neck. The kids might not understand.’”

My brows crinkle. “
kids? Why wouldn’t someone understand my necklace?”

He shrugs. “That’s it, that’s all he said.” He goes back to brushing the dirt path. “I told you it didn’t mean anything. I probably heard him wrong anyway.”

“I guess,” I say, picking up my own broom and entering the first circle. I reach up with my other hand and clutch the pouch around my neck, feeling the familiar lump inside. As always, it makes me think of Grandpa. He is the reason the Moon Shadow Campground exists. He started my mom on her love of the stars, she got my dad hooked, and the rest is history. And it was all because of a rock.

When my grandfather was ten years old, a rock fell from the sky and grazed his left ear. He was lying on the grass at the time, staring up at the stars. Convinced that a piece of the moon had broken off and landed on Earth, he ran inside to show his mother. She was more concerned with the trickle of blood that was sliding down his ear onto his neck. She wouldn’t even look at the shiny black rock until she had dabbed some whiskey on the cut.

At first his mother was convinced the rock had been thrown by a mischievous neighbor boy named Hank, but an investigation determined that Hank was “indisposed” at that time, which was the polite way of saying that Hank had eaten some bad carp that he had fished illegally from the river behind the glue factory and had been stuck on the toilet since dinner.

The next day my grandfather’s father brought the rock to work with him at the factory and on his way stopped at the local library, where apparently all the smartest people in town worked. The head librarian took one glance at it and announced that my grandfather had indeed been struck by an object that had been hurled out of the heavens—a meteorite. Now my grandfather’s father, he was a nice guy, played ball with his son, went to church on Sundays, but he never did have much aptitude for science. Noticing his blank expression, the librarian explained that a meteorite was what happened when a meteoroid broke through the earth’s atmosphere, but didn’t burn up like it was supposed to. The meteorite, she explained, was made of iron, and was probably a tiny chunk of an asteroid. The librarian made some calls, and found out that as long as the meteorite wasn’t found on government land, like a national park or the White House lawn or something, the person whose property it lands on is the rightful owner.

That weekend my grandfather’s parents took him to the five and dime store, where my grandfather picked out a small blue pouch about the size of a deck of cards. His mother punched holes in it and looped a leather string through them. My grandfather dropped the meteorite in the pouch, tied it closed, and slipped it over his head, where it remained for the rest of his life. Well, he took it off for showers and swimming, of course. And when he slept. And anytime he had to wear a suit. Oh, and to wash the pouch occasionally. But other than that, it thumped on his chest in tune to the beating of his heart. Or so he claimed.

As a kid, he showed the rock (and the scar on his ear) to anyone who would listen, and explained that the odds of getting hit by a meteorite are a trillion to one. While I would have thought this would make him really popular, it didn’t. It did make him really interested in space though, and in the way that all the planets and stars and galaxies are kept in a delicate balance. He worried that because a piece of an asteroid had landed on Earth, the balance of the universe was disrupted. He became obsessed with trying to even things out by bringing a part of the earth up to the sky. He figured spotting a new asteroid and having it named after him would even things out. But just in case he never found one, he had a backup plan. When I was one year old, he put a pen in my hand and guided me to sign my name on a piece of paper. I’m sure it wasn’t legible, but that signature was scanned into a computer and put on a disk along with Grandpa’s and my parents’ and a half a million others, and that disk is a billion miles away, circling Saturn right now in the

By the time he died, I had already inherited Grandpa’s love of the stars. Then I inherited the meteor-ite, too.

I haven’t noticed if it has negatively affected my popularity status or not.

But why would my parents be arguing about my necklace? I’m now standing in the center of the labyrinth, where everything is supposed to be clear. But it’s not. I can’t wait till tonight so I can talk this over with Eta and Glenn and Peggy, my three best friends. I just wish they could talk back.

But that’s what happens when you all live on different planets.



Melanie sticks her head in my room. “Are you ready, Bree?”

“Five more minutes.” I squeeze past her and duck into the bathroom. She follows me and hops up onto the counter to watch me put on my makeup. I never mind when she does this. I figure as her older sister, it’s my job to educate her in the ways of the world. She’s only eleven and doesn’t wear makeup yet (although a little blush wouldn’t hurt), but our mother’s certainly not going to teach her. Mom loves to tell us how she hasn’t worn makeup since her wedding. I guess scientists don’t need to look good.

When I get to the part with the eyeliner, Melanie scrunches up her face as usual. “Doesn’t that hurt?” she asks.

I shake my head. “It doesn’t hurt today, it didn’t hurt yesterday—when you also asked me—and it won’t hurt tomorrow.” I finish lining my eyes, smudge ’em a little, and turn to her. “See how my eyes look even bigger now?”

BOOK: Every Soul a Star
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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