The Kite Maker is Brenda Peynado's science fiction novelette of how humans cope with alien contact.
After aliens arrive on earth, humans do the unthinkable out of fear. When an alien walks into a human kite maker's store, coveting her kites, the human struggles with her guilt over her part in the alien massacres, while neo-Nazis draw a violent line between alien and human.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||6 MB|
About the Author
Brenda Peynado's stories have won an O. Henry Prize, the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award, a Dana Award, a Fulbright Grant to the Dominican Republic, a Vermont Studio Center Residency, and other prizes. Her work appears in The Georgia Review, Daily Science Fiction, The Sun, The Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other journals.
She received her MFA at Florida State University and her PhD at the University of Cincinnati. She teaches screenwriting, fiction writing, and worldbuilding at the University of Central Florida.
She is the author of The Kite Maker, a Tor.com Original.
Read an Excerpt
You've never seen a kite fly until you've seen an alien fly one. Dragonfly wings on their backs trembling with anticipation, these deep sighs from their purple mouths as they're unrolling the spool. They run with their slow, spindly legs to let the kite pick up speed. When the diamond of cloth is let loose from their skeletal hands, you can see their armored shoulders strain to rise up with it. As the diamond dips and rises on the string, you can hear these great yips, then these wavering trills and the desperateness of their song, how they want to be up there. There were thousands of them at the park the other day, and I swear to god I cried hearing those songs ripped from thousands of alien throats.
A few of them try to hide this surge of emotion when I put the kite in their hands. Tove was like this. First time he came into my shop, he tried to keep his eyes closed, his black eyelids flickering with the effort. He walked in pretty stiff for his kind, pushing his skinny feeler legs barely out in front of him, like he was sneaking in on tiptoe. But the little hairs on those legs bristled, and finally, he flicked open his black lids.
Can I help you? I asked. I never knew what to say around them. It seemed like everything I said was wrong, loaded with some hidden meaning I didn't intend. I still remembered the moment they first arrived, their spaceships burning through the atmosphere like comets, like falling angels, and how we'd surrounded the ships in horror, aiming for their thin legs with anything we could find, because the rest of their bodies were armored but the legs snapped like pencils. I had done these things myself, when the boys were small, out of fear, but there was no taking it back now. The ease of killing was just so natural to us from when bugs had encroached on the territories of our houses. Now the aliens kept my shop afloat, seeing as they were the only ones who wanted the antique toys I dealt in. These days all the humans wanted were tech-gadgets, anything with the hint of looking alien, a taste of the exotic. Kids weren't even flying remote helicopters anymore, not even drones. Now you could roll into a suburb and the kids in the front yards would be flying around mini Dragonfly Arks, playing at intergalactic war, the losers crashing down into the home base dirt patch they called Earth. Kites, spinning tops, these were ancient toys for kids these days, more alien even than the Dragonfly tech we'd dragged out from the ships before the aliens could start fighting back. Teenagers were covered in Dragonfly tattoos and alien symbols.
Tove inhaled sharply, his Dragonfly body puffing up for a moment. He looked around my dusty shelves of wooden and metal toys. Miniature trains, yo-yos, weathervanes, carved boxes, maracas, tin soldiers. The pegged wall of kites, bright and colorful like those old collector's rooms of dead butterflies stretched open to display their wings — this was the only wall he didn't look at, as if he was infinitely aware of where it was.
I am Tove Who Battles Photons, he said in the strange way they always announced themselves, his voice flickering in and out of human range.
Anything you need? I said.
He said, A wooden top. Maybe a kite? Or a game of the dominos?
I used to be able to scalp them for all the technology they could spare just for the kites. Since, they'd learned to feign nonchalance, but a good antique dealer knows the market. I led him straight to the kite wall, the sailcloth breathing with the breeze he'd let in.
Tove scanned the price tags and shook his head. Maybe not, he said in that gravely voice.
I knew what they did for money. Because their wings and legs were built for gravity and atmosphere thinner than ours, they didn't move fast, couldn't fly, were unsuitable for heavy lifting. Jobs like construction and fieldwork were reserved for humans. But their hands, their fingers were so nimble, so thin and skeletal they swished through our atmosphere like singing blades. Needlework, precision jobs, diamond cutting. They would do all of this for less money than our most meaningless jobs. They slept in giant warehouses that companies had built for this purpose. But everything they made felt strange, built for another world. Cloth rasped in a way that felt hollow to our ears, jewelry they'd cut reminded us of scales instead of gold. Alien-made. All the brawny, tough-man jobs were sources of human pride, if you could have them. In this way, I was more like the Dragonflies than the humans, my craft something that had become disgusting to most people, a sign of weakness.
I heard people passing on the sidewalk outside. I held my breath. Sometimes I got a hard time from angry groups who still weren't pleased that the aliens had landed, no matter how many of us were won over, no matter that there was no decent way to get rid of them. A group of anti-miscegenation skinheads had been roving the strip, and it would be the first time they came in my store. I'd had bricks thrown through my window a few months before.
But the footsteps passed.
Next time, I said to Tove, exhaling.
It wasn't about the money. It was about pride in something I'd done, about art. I'd made each kite with my own hands, thread and needle, stick and lathe. I dyed the cloth myself into tapestries that could be seen from the ground. It wasn't that they couldn't make their own kites or that there weren't a few other holdout kite makers. The Dragonflies sometimes made them out of paper bags and twigs. Sometimes they even made them out of scraps of nylon they'd quilted together, stolen from the factories where they worked. But the alien craft makers reflected their own predicament in everything they made. These clunky, makeshift things flew poorly; they only reminded people of how stuck we were on the ground by their gracelessness. Mine were art, the aliens told me, they were more than the sum of their parts. Mine had the lift, the weightlessness that made you feel like you could rise up there with them the kind that dragged your heart up by their string. They told me it made them feel like they were back home, like they had never been stuck here, like thousands of their own kind were still family-swarming around their sun. Dragonflies dropped in my store often, like moths to light. Profits went up. Now, I could make the kites as big as I wanted. I had one as big as a hang glider in the backroom. Eight hands would have to hold it at once to keep it on the ground.
I went to return the kite from his hands to a wooden peg on the pegboard wall. I brushed his feeler hands as I did, the millions of hairs on his black fingers tickling me. I felt my face go hot. I knew I'd done something wrong instantly.
Tove withdrew his thin arm as if he'd been burned and said nothing. He left the store in the same tiptoeing way he came.
* * *
I went home to my human-made house in the suburbs. In the dusk, I always half-expected another ark to fall, the parabolas of broken ships littering the sky. But it had been fifteen years since they arrived, more since they first headed for earth, their home world eaten by a red giant sun, only enough fuel and years to reach the closest habitable planet, break their ships open like eggs in the atmosphere, and never return. Now, when I rolled into my driveway, the kids roamed the neighborhood playing humans and aliens, hitting each other with electronic wands that dissipated on contact so that no damage could be done. We didn't have any aliens on our side of town; the children considered weak played the aliens, eyes big, offering no resistance. If they fought back, they were scolded, That's not how it happened.
I closed my car door. Mini-ark toys floated above my head, dipping around me as they fought and crash-landed in a sandpit. My boys seemed to have outgrown those games. They sat around the kitchen table watching holograms instead of homework.
Help me with my bags, I said, and it took them several seconds before they shifted to indicate they'd heard me.
My oldest, Aleo, brought in my bag of nearly finished kites I would work on later that night and tossed them in the corner of the kitchen without looking. He had a disdain for the things. Nobody at his high school wanted to look like poor alien kids, who were always flying kites and never wore clothes, only tiny threadbare baby shoes that protected the ends of their delicate legs from the pavement. Of course, no human would ever be confused with being an alien, of looking like a Dragonfly, but you might be confused with looking poor, and sometimes that was almost as bad. We weren't poor exactly, but no matter how much money I made off of the kites, we weren't rolling in it.
Benon hugged the paper sack of groceries. He was wide-eyed, and I knew he was bullied when Aleo wasn't around.
How's the schoolwork coming? I asked as I threw broccoli into a pot.
What's cooking? Aleo asked without looking up from the hologram he'd started watching again.
Benon held his nose. I didn't make any excuses for my cooking.
When we sat down to eat, Benon said, About homework ...
Shoot, I said.
I have a history report. It can be about anything.
I froze. I knew what he would say before it was out of his mouth. Of course he would, always playing the alien in the neighborhood games.
I want to write about the Fallings, he said.
I pressed my lips together hard. Aleo shoved more food in his mouth than I thought it was possible to swallow. Something black flashed from under Aleo's sleeve as he reached for more food. I grabbed his hand and pulled up his sleeve. What is that?
Nothing, he said, yanking his sleeve back down again. But I'd seen it. Alien script: the swoops and careful circles, the spheres with the arrows shooting out.
Is it permanent? I said. Do you even know what that means?
Aleo mumbled something.
Benon said, Mom, you were there at the Fallings. You saw it.
So did your brother. Aleo, what does it mean?
I don't remember ship, Aleo said. I was only a few years old.
What does the tattoo mean? I insisted.
Aleo slammed his fork down. It means Aleo Laughter in the Air.
I snorted. Laughter in the Air? Really? Can you even read it?
He didn't answer.
Mom, Benon whined, I want to know what it was like.
I didn't say, How could you own up to all the things you've ever done that shamed you? How could you look backwards while stepping over the dead bodies in the way?
It changed everything, I said.
I got up from the table. I was no longer hungry. I shut myself up in the backroom for the rest of the night, turning a group of sticks smooth in the lathe. One thick, long branch was earmarked for the large kite. When I picked it up, it felt just like the weight of a baseball bat, the only weapon I'd had when I'd headed to the first Arkfall. I swung it in the air, the heft just right for making contact.
* * *
In late summer, the skinheads started setting fire to some of the shops that catered to Dragonflies. It was illegal, and also ridiculous. The world would change without them whether they wanted to or not. But a bakery down the street that had hired a Dragonfly to decorate the cakes had burned to the ground.
The skinheads were already on the wrong side of history, but it only made them cling harder to old hatreds. Some groups were angry because the Dragonflies were taking up resources, others because they'd taken their jobs. Others were staunch on no human-Dragonfly love. Our species were so different we couldn't procreate together and the religious zealots claimed that without the sanctification of children, the union was unnatural, disgusting. Bestiality, which was a sin. Religious pundits who were horrified at what they'd done tried to justify our cruelty by saying the Dragonflies had no souls. Some of them believed that the aliens were playing a long con, coining the term: There's more than one way to colonize an earth.
* * *
It was months before Tove walked into my shop again. I wouldn't even have recognized him — I had a hard time differentiating them — except he had that strange way of walking like he was feeling his way around a cage. The bell tinkled, and he tiptoed in again. From Benon's history report, from which he walked around the house spewing facts, I knew that their religions focused on the legs as the expressions of the body. The rest of their bodies were so rigid, but the legs could curl like delicate antennae. If they could express their souls, it would be through the way they walked.
We're closing soon, I said. I hoped he did not remember my touch.
Tove's top antennae drooped.
But if there's something I can do? I said.
He tiptoed through the aisles of shelves, ended up at the kite wall like I knew he would. I hopped off my stool. He set his fingers to glide across the sailcloth of the cheapest kite, a red one that pictured the deserts of Mars. I could tell it wasn't his favorite. His eyes, remarkably human, roved all over the wall.
There was one on the bottom shelf that was my own favorite, painted mostly blue like it would melt into the sky. A big no-no in the kite trade; amateurs stuck to reds and oranges, colors that would be easily seen in the clouds. But I was an artist and hated rules. I wanted the kite to blend in. I wanted the kite to look like a ripple across a mirror, like a great tide welling up under the surface. It wasn't the cheapest, but I was determined to see it in the sky. I always made my customers take their kites across the street to the park. I told them it was to verify that they were satisfied, that the kite worked. But mostly I was watching them, trying to understand the alien emotion that racked their bodies as they let it loose.
How about this one, I said picking it up.
He purred from his throat, smashed his eyes shut against the blue.
It is not for me, he said. I would have to ask.
Who is it for? I asked.
My sons, he said.
Benon had informed me that the Dragonfly women gave all of the material gifts to the offspring, so I knew something must have happened to Tove's mate. If the thing happened fifteen years ago, I did not want to know. My own mate had left me around that time, for another woman across the country. It made you realize you didn't even know yourself, he'd said, that we didn't even know who we'd become. He wanted to start over with someone else, with this new understanding. He said, as he closed the door softly for the last time on me and the kids, How can you love like that, not knowing what's inside of you?
I hadn't argued.
I'm sure they would love it, I told Tove. These sell quickly, so I can't promise to hold it.
It is about choice, he said tersely in his accent. His voice sounded like a bad radio, wavering in and out. Their own language was spoken on a frequency that sounded to us like silence and hums.
Benon had told me that back on Sadiyada, none of them gave orders. If a shuttle-full of Dragonflies were about to drive over the cliff, the passengers would say, A cliff! rather than Stop! or Turn Around! They believed in pointing out what was there rather than compelling action. When they had realized their sun was about to engulf their planet, they merely built the ships, let anyone who wanted board the one-way ticket, the ships that would fall apart on atmospheric impact, and the others just stayed behind, burned up with the sun. Sons, mothers, lovers, all of them separated, and no matter the love between them, not a one would beg, Come with me. They just waved goodbye.
And then they got here, and they were assaulted with demands. Come out, come out unarmed, give us everything you have, defend yourself, fight back so we can excuse what we've done, proceed this way to the camps, work, work, buy. Buy. I pressured them all. I can't imagine the shame, on top of everything else I had caused.
I nodded to Tove, who put my favorite kite down to look at another. Choose whichever you'd like, I said, a demand disguised as a choice.
Two teenage voices began yelling outside the store.
I pushed Tove quickly into the back workroom. He screeched softly, his hairs smashed down underneath my palms. Stay here, I said, and don't come out until I tell you. Tove said nothing.
Trust me, I pleaded. I had to leave him there, stuck among my half-finished projects and the cardboard boxes.
I got to the front counter before the bell tinkled, before bald heads rushed into the room, the baldness a physical refusal to be like the Dragonflies with their million bristling, feeling hairs. They blew in with chants of Bugs are Bugs!
Any bugs in here? the leader asked.
No, I said quickly. I stared them down. I recognized one of them, an older girl that Aleo had brought over once after school. Then, I thought she'd been nice, shy, had always called me ma'am. The baldness was new, her scalp paler where hair used to be, and it made her look alien herself. I could tell she recognized me too, the way she wouldn't meet my eyes, and she hunched her shoulders and tried to melt behind one of the others, a burly man with a sweatband around his forehead.
Lady, I could have sworn, the ringleader said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Kite Maker"
Copyright © 2018 Brenda Peynado.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author,