"Little Alien Flute Girl"
Tsoupra made her first flute from a bone. A bird bone, Athena guessed, for the flute was small and more like a whistle. And yet it produced too many trills for its size, and
attracted all sorts of birds.
They flocked in, willow tits from the banks of the Boidomates river down below, and
larks from the hidden ravines of Pindos, and sparrows and robins and the ever-
pestering pigeons. They perched atop every branch of the oak tree and sang along the tunes her little alien girl composed on her not-really-flute. When Athena tilted her head that way, she could almost hear the tree sing along. And why wouldn't it? Her grandma's great-great-great-grandma had brought it here as a sapling from the sacred grove of Dodona, she'd been told. If its kin could whisper the words of the gods in days long past, why couldn't this youngster sing along with the silly, happy tunes of her mute little girl? But the happy trills didn't last long. Their fleabag of a cat enjoyed the constant inflow of prey a little too much. And when the half-eaten birds started to pile up, Tsoupra tossed her flute into the ravine near their shack. Athena thought this the end of her musical endeavors. You can't keep her hidden forever, she'd been warned.
Virgin help her, she'd try her best. But she was getting old. Her eyes had lost the
sharpness of her youth, and her bones ached when the wind blew from the north. So
better this way. These days all phones had cameras, drones were the new favorite
plaything of kids of all ages, and such a feathered gathering would eventually catch
someone's attention. Three days later Tsoupra made another flute, gods knew from
what bone this time. The birds cared little for the hoarse, raspy sounds of this one, but
not her scrawny goats. First they gawked at this cacophony flowing out from the crude
flute and the narrow chest of her willowy girl, their eyes crazed as if staring into a raging wildfire. Then they bleated as if moonstruck. And then they danced, leaping and twisting their wiry bodies in angles usually achieved only by the cat. They danced and kept dancing, eyes unblinking and bloodshot, like the time they'd ventured into a hidden cannabis field three ravines away. This time, the cat hissed and fled to a safe spot atop the oak. How in God's name had Tsoupra crafted such fine flutes? Athena knew nothing about music. The few books and magazines she could afford during her grocery trips to the nearby village were mostly cheap,used kids' books--fairy tales, history and mythology, and Tsoupra's favorite: superheroes and comic books. Their ancient TV rarely worked any more, and a computer was out of the question--not on her measly pension. Perhaps she'd learned that from her now dead kin on their now dead planet? One evening while Tsoupra lay fast asleep on her cot with both the cat and the dog beside her, a peaceful entanglement of feline and canine and pale girl limbs, Athena pried the flute from under Tsoupra's pillow. She held it up to the light. How had Tsoupra managed that? She'd been born this way, her late guardians had told Athena, with her left hand crooked and almost useless. And yet the holes along the flute were perfectly placed, perfectly drilled, and in the spaces in-between coiled hair-like carvings of vines and leaves and flowers and dancing goats.
Athena returned the flute beneath the pillow and spoke nothing of it.
And what could she say? If it kept her little girl happy, that was all that mattered. Her
little orphan deserved more than this secluded, impoverished life. More than growing up in the wilderness, in the company of animals and one cranky old woman. And certainly more than what awaited her if others learned of her existence. They'll come to take her from you, she'd been warned. Athena clenched her jaw.
No. They won't. She went to check her late husband's rifle again.
They won't. Did Tsoupra guess Athena's troubled mind? Did she read her thoughts, as
her kind could? If she did, she did not show it and Athena never felt delicate, ethereal
fingers inside her skull. Her girl was too polite to pry this way. She kept playing her goat-rallying flute, and after a while the cat learned to dance along, and then Tsoupra joined in, and Athena's front yard and vegetable garden hosted a maelstrom of animal and girl limbs that could shame the Maenads' dance.
Then dawned the day that Tsoupra made a new flute. A different flute. Long. Too long.
White. Too white. And when she placed her thin, ash-rose lips around it, no happy trills,
no goat dance flowed out. Rather, a deep, solemn sound. A death march was the
thought that buzzed behind Athena's ears before she swatted it away. No. Tsoupra
knew she wasn't allowed to venture around the ruins of the old Nekyomanteion any
more, where ancient priests consulted with the dead to advise the living. But where else could she have found that bone that resembled a human shin bone? The goats
scattered to the ravines and the chickens formed a trembling feathered bundle in their
pen, and the dog howled when Tsoupra played. Only the cat lingered, her yellow eyes
focused on empty spots, watching the dark corners of their shack, where dirt mingled
with ash and turned to fog to rise in a dark, thick mist and dissolve again in specks of
dust and shadows. Athena didn't want to, but sometimes her head tilted that way on its
own--the secret way--and she caught a glimpse of the Unseen. Ethereal forms glided
through dust and shadows, some dark, some luminous, some whispering, some silent,
and some with claw-like hands grasping at anything and failing to hook over and over
again. And her gut knotted and warned her that, sooner or later, one of them would not fail.
“Tsoupra...” Her plea to her little girl to stop left her lips, barely a whisper,her eyes now
too heavy, her mind too foggy to resist the coming slumber. Did Tsoupra hear her? Did
she stop? Athena could not tell,for the room around her swirled and shifted until it
settled to the cave where she'd found Tsoupra and her guardians ten years ago.
Refugees flocked to Greece from many places, but she'd never expected to stumble
across refugees from distant stars. Now, in her vision, only the Old Poet now waited
there, but old no more. He stood slim and straight, clad in ankle-long colorful robes, so
unlike the shriveled,dying man Athena had first met. When he died, she'd buried him
with an old copper drachma in his mouth, just in case, so this land's deities wouldn't
shun him. He fixed his pupil-less eyes on her face, dark and yet smiling, while the rest
of his gray face remained frozen. He spoke to her with thoughts and images and
feelings projected into her mind, and the slightest tingle down her spine. When his voice reverberated through her skull, he sounded like how she imagined Grandpa Aesop would when he reciting his tales. “They are coming for her. The men in suits, the men of letters, the men with guns. They are coming.”
“No!” Her cry shattered the vision, and Athena sat up, breathless. She came to in
complete silence. Both her girl and her cat gawked at her. Had they heard Old Poet's
warning too? While Athena went to check the rifle yet another time, Tsoupra slipped out of the shack, her narrow shoulders slumped, and she scurried towards the ravine.
Athena never saw or heard that damned flute again,and pushed all thoughts of it out of
her head, and she never again wondered from what bone in God's good earth it had
been made. The days turned to weeks and spring slowly turned to summer, and the day of St. John's Feast on the Summer Solstice approached. In older times, bonfires would light up every square in every village, and girls with flowery wreaths would dance and jump over them, and toss little tokens into clay pitchers, so the saint would reveal to them the man they'd marry. And the nymphs and the dryads would peek from amidst the trees and chuckle and giggle at the thought of a Christian saint playing Cupid. And Tsoupra forgot her flutes, too busy being a girl, and made wreaths from wildflowers for her and the cat and the dog, even some for the goats, who--of course--munched the lot. No men came. And then, in the chilly hours before the dawn of the Summer Solstice, with the Morning Star still above the horizon, Athena awoke once more to the sound of a flute.
Blinking sleep away, she shuffled her feet to the front yard and there Tsoupra was.
Beneath the oak,dancing with the cat, playing a flute so thin and fine and silvery-white
that it could be one of Athena's thicker knitting needles. Athena rolled her eyes and
shuffled back to bed. Come morning, this new flute was nowhere around, and perhaps it had been only a dream.
Then they came.
The moment Athena heard the jeep's engine roar, she grabbed the rifle. “Tsoupra! Get
Of course Tsoupra didn't. She sat atop the lowest of the oak branches and kept
stringing wild roses to make another wreath for the cat, who watched the dirt road
beyond their fence, ears flattened and her tail wild. The Old Poet's warning had been
Three men came out of the black car with the tinted windshield: a man in a suit, a man
with a gun, and a man with a cross. Papa Elias. Of course he'd come along. Trust the clergy to meddle where they don't belong.
“Get out from my land!” Athena tried to fire a warning shot. The rifle jammed. Of course
it did. After her husband died, she did her best to keep it clean and oiled, but no one
had showed her how to properly do it.
“Now, Athena, there's no need for that,” said Papa Elias. He rushed to her, the lines on
his face deep with concern--the same concern he'd shown her after her husband's
passing, when he tried to explain how he couldn't possibly give a Christian burial to an
atheist and a communist. And exactly like then, he reconsidered when she hefted her
walking stick like an axe.
“There's perfect need for that,” she snapped and shoved his black-clad bulk aside to
deal with the other two. Just a few feet away, the man in the dark suit had approached
the oak. He'd look like an elementary school teacher, if his skin wasn't a little too pale,
his figure a little too thin, his obviously tailored suit hanging on him as if a size too big,
and if he weren't clutching his briefcase in a white-knuckled grip.
“So it's true,” he said, licking his thin lips.
Athena's gut took a dive for her slippers. Atop the oak, Tsoupra met Suit's gaze with
those huge eyes of hers, her needle-like flute in hand. The cat growled, but then again
the cat also growled at falling leaves and buzzing flies.
“Come down, girl. It's okay. I promise,” Suit said and managed a smile--the kind of smile the cat probably flashed to naive mice to coax them out of their holes and into her jaws. He shuffled through his pockets and produced a candy bar. “See? I've brought you a gift.”Tsoupra craned her narrow neck a little, the cat's ears perked up, but neither of them moved. After a long-held breath that burned Athena's chest, they both settled back down, regarding the invaders with the aloof superiority of ancient bloodlines. Athena let out a long sigh,but then her breath hitched again when the man with the gun strode forward.
“Move aside, doctor. That's what stun guns are for.”He took another step forward. The
same moment he took aim, Athena marched on, raising her walking stick, praying for a
well-balanced blow to his head with all the strength her aching bones could muster.
At that exact moment, Tsoupra brought the silver flute to her lips. The gun did not fire.
The walking stick stopped mid-blow. A long note flowed out of the flute and rose
upwards, like a morning lark singing a prayer to dawn. And from behind the oak, the
face of a dryad peeked at them. Chestnut eyes set on a face that was now leaf and now bark sparkled with mischief. She tossed back braids of moss and vines, and raised a hand of delicate twigs, calling the others forth. The others? Nymphs and dryads and satyrs and centaurs and maenads and creatures Athena had no name for, creatures that should not exist, not any more, they were stories, just stories, they should be dead now, in this time of mobile phones and cars and airplanes, and... Athena's head buzzed. The stick slipped from Athena's grip, and yet it didn't fall down. Still in mid-air, it stemmed leaves and branches, and flapped its newly-spurted foliage with the determination of an eagle. Another flap, and it soared and snatched in wooden talons the gun,and then flew away toward the canyon. Atop the oak branch, Tsoupra played tunes unheard on this land since a time long gone. And yet Athena found herself tapping her foot,snapping her fingers, nodding her head to follow along. How could she not? She'd heard the tune before: parts of it had survived in lullabies, in folk songs for weddings and funerals, battle songs, even Papa Elias' hymns. And when the dryads swarmed her and pulled her in their spiraling dance, she joined in. And she didn't care. She didn't care what that gossip-monger of a priest thought of an old woman with her hair loose in the morning breeze who was leaping and hopping about with the grace of an arthritic donkey. She didn't care if the priest himself shared cups with the centaurs. She didn't care if the nymphs poked and prodded the Suit and tried to pry the briefcase he clutched with such resolve, or for the papers that went flying about when they finally tore it from his clutch. And she didn't care for the soldier wrestling a satyr or two--it was wrestling, wasn't it? But she did care about that faun looking too much like her late husband, like her Yannos, who left too soon. It would always be too soon, one year or one decade or five decades, and she missed him. She missed him every day and every night, and oh that wine is too sweet on the tongue, too burning down her throat, too tight around her heart and where's Tsoupra? Is she still playing? Is she still safe? She must see if she's safe, her little alien girl, her daughter from a distant star, where is she? And why are her lids that heavy?
Athena awoke to the next day's first light, her hair disheveled, her tongue bitter and her throat burning, and her back against the trunk of the oak tree. She looked up, but no sign of either girl nor cat, and even the rooster's call sounded drowsy. The others were in similar stages of disarray, and didn't object when she made them bitter coffee. Nor did they object when she herded them to their car, and they all avoided her gaze.
“What did we come for?” asked the Soldier, fumbling with the keys in the ignition. “A
creature, I think?”
“It was just an albino goat,” Athena lied, and was certain she heard snickering from the
upper oak branches. “No creature here.”
“Yes. An albino goat,” said the Suit, his eyes unfocused, still clutching his now lighter
“I'm late for mass,” slurred Papa Elias. “Let's go.” And as they drove downhill, missing a tree or two by a hair's breadth, a long, mocking note from a silver flute followed their
departure. Soon other sounds joined in: pan's pipes and tambourines and cymbals and
lyres. So that's where Tsoupra had run off to. Athena straightened her clothes,
straightened her shoulders and followed the music into the forest. She hadn't leaped
over bonfires for decades. About time that changed.
Christine Lucas lives in Greece with her husband and their horde of spoiled animals. A retired Air Force officer and mostly self-taught in English, she has had her work appear in several print and online magazines, including Daily Science Fiction, Cast of Wonders, Pseudopod/Artemis Rising 4 and Nature: Futures. She was a finalist for the 2017 WSFA award and is currently working on her first novel. Visit her at her website!