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๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—š๐—ถ๐—ฟ๐—น ๐˜„๐—ถ๐˜๐—ต ๐—–๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ฒ ๐—›๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ฟ

๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜›๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜š๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ



The crowd cheered wildly when Stan Belts drove his #12 Late Model across the finish line at the Santa Maria Speedway, nosing out his cross-state rival from Stockton. Before the winged sprint cars could be pushed onto the dirt track for the next event, Carl left his seat and headed for the beer booth.


Heโ€™d been sitting by himself in the grandstandโ€™s top row for two hours, breathing in high-octane gasoline fumes. A horde mobbed the beer booth, eager to refill their 16-ounce cups. Carl removed his earplugs and shook his head. The world seemed too loud and he felt woozy from the fumes.


In the sea of grease-stained baseball caps, bald heads, and a few ponytails a swatch of bright color caught his eye. A girl with ragged hair the color of almost-ripe lemons stood at the counter and ordered. She turned toward Carl, a cup of beer clasped in each hand. Their eyes met and she smiled. Carl frowned. Holding two cups of beer meant sheโ€™d obviously come to the races with some gearhead boyfriend. But then he felt stupid for thinking otherwise.


She pushed toward him. The crowd seemed to magically give way. She stopped in front of Carl, leaned forward and kissed him on the lips.


โ€œCome on, darlinโ€™. We gotta hurry before the next race starts.โ€


โ€œAh . . . do I know you?โ€


โ€œDonโ€™t just stand there, come on.โ€


She walked ahead of him, her curvaceous butt clad in skin-tight jeans, her sequined tank top showing plenty. Strange colored tattoos covered most of her upper arms and shoulders with mathematical notations and word fragments. Her chartreuse hair moved like a beacon through the crowd. Carl followed her back to his seat.


โ€œHow did you know . . .?โ€


โ€œIโ€™ve been watching you,โ€ she said. โ€œYou look different than the rest.โ€


โ€œThanks for being kind and saying โ€˜different.โ€™โ€


โ€œWhere I come from, youโ€™d be the handsomest one there.โ€


Carl grinned and bowed his head, his face burning. โ€œNot many women would kiss a man they donโ€™t know.โ€


โ€œYeah, so?โ€


โ€œDonโ€™t get me wrong. Iโ€™m not complaining.โ€


She turned sideways on the bench and faced Carl. โ€œWho wears a blazer, slacks and tie to a dirt track race, anyway?โ€


โ€œI used to come here as a kid. Iโ€™ve got some . . . some time now. I teach advanced physics at the University.โ€


โ€œYeah, I figured. Go ahead and drink your beer before it gets warm.โ€


โ€œThanks. Here, let me pay you for the suds.โ€


โ€œForget it. Weโ€™ll settle up later. So arenโ€™t you gonna say something?โ€


โ€œAbout what?โ€


โ€œMy hair. Do ya like it or hate it?โ€


โ€œIโ€™m sure Iโ€™ll love it the more I get to know you.โ€


โ€œGood answer. Itโ€™s natural, you know. No dyes.โ€


Carl scoffed. โ€œCome on. You must have an interesting gene set.โ€


โ€œMy nameโ€™s Alcina.โ€


โ€œIโ€™m Carl.โ€


โ€œCool.โ€


โ€œDid . . . did you come here by yourself?โ€


Alcina grinned. โ€œNah, my friends are hanging out in the pits. One of them has a car that ran in Showroom Stock.โ€


โ€œDid he win?โ€


โ€œNo, she didnโ€™t.โ€ Alcina smiled, slid her arm around Carlโ€™s waist, and leaned her head on his shoulder.


She smelled like lemon blossoms on a hot August morning. He turned his head and kissed her, her dark eyes closed, pale lips parted. He half expected to wake up in his room at the Travel Lodge Motel where heโ€™d been holed up for the past week, ever since his wife kicked him out. This is some kind of waking dream he thought. But when he opened his eyes after the kiss, Alcina smiled at him. Her hair burned in the late afternoon light.


In a tight three-column formation, the field of Outlaw Sprint Cars circled the track, waiting for the green flag to drop. The roar from their 900-horsepower engines made conversation impossible. Carl replaced his earplugs. Alcina pulled her ragged hair over her delicate pierced ears. The grandstands shook as the crowd stood to watch the start. Twenty-one methanol-powered racers shot forward, their roar loud enough to distract motorists on the nearby freeway.


Carl and Alcina held hands and watched. With only a third-of-a-mile oval track to work with, the sprint cars did more sliding into corners and slamming into each other than flat out racing. Methanol fumes burned Carlโ€™s eyes and he dabbed them with a tissue. Alcina sat upright and stared wide-eyed at the racers, mascara-laden tears streaking her pale cheeks; she looked like a beautiful female version of Alice Cooper. Carl offered her a tissue but she ignored him.


After several spectacular crashes and race delays, about half the field crossed the finish line, exited the track and shut off their engines, their silence deafening.


With tissue in hand, Carl turned to Alcina and said, โ€œHere, let me.โ€


He wiped the black tear streaks from her cheeks, wetting the Kleenex to remove smears. Her lips trembled and she kissed him hard, her entire body shuddering.


โ€œYou . . . you really like racing, donโ€™t you?โ€ Carl murmured.


โ€œYeah, the power of machines . . . โ€


โ€œHuh. I felt the same way once. But my interest shifted to larger forces: energy, matter, gravity, cosmic inflation, that kinda stuff.โ€


โ€œYeah, those things are really cool. But the rumble of race cars does more for me, turns me on.โ€


โ€œAh, and I thought it was my professorial personality.โ€


She laughed and kissed him on the nose. โ€œCome on, letโ€™s get outta here.โ€


โ€œWhat about your friends?โ€


โ€œI told them not to expect me back.โ€


Carl smiled. โ€œPretty sure of yourself, arenโ€™t you?โ€


โ€œIs that a problem?โ€


โ€œNo, no.โ€


In silence, they drove in Carlโ€™s Prius to the never-closed Dennyโ€™s in Pismo Beach. Carl ordered coffee; Alcina ordered a Grand Slam breakfast with extra bacon.


โ€œSo, do you live around here?โ€ Carl asked.


โ€œNo. Iโ€™m from a planet far away.โ€


Carl chuckled. โ€œAh, do all your citizens have chartreuse hair?โ€


โ€œYeah, mostly. But the lucky ones have blue or purple hair; comes from cross-breeding with the Calcidites.โ€


โ€œHuh, all we have here on earth are a few redheads. Your home must be exciting.โ€


โ€œI suppose. So what about you, how come youโ€™re out here trolling for babes since youโ€™re married?โ€


Carl remembered his wedding ring and grinned sheepishly. โ€œWell, Iโ€™m living in a motel while my wife figures out if she still loves me. I suspect she doesnโ€™t.โ€


โ€œHowโ€™d that happen?โ€


โ€œYou really want to know?โ€ Carl leaned back in the booth and fingered his coffee cup.


โ€œIโ€™m always interested in what attracts and repulses humans.โ€


Carl laughed. โ€œYeah, repulsive, the very word my wife used.โ€


โ€œIf you donโ€™t want to tell me, thatโ€™s cool.โ€


โ€œShe complains Iโ€™m married to my work . . . sheโ€™s right . . . but then thatโ€™s probably just an excuse.โ€


โ€œYeah, itโ€™s easy to lie, especially about love or its opposite.โ€


โ€œSo whatโ€™s your story?โ€ Carl asked, smiling. โ€œHave you been on earth long?โ€


โ€œNot so long, maybe three of your years.โ€


โ€œHuh. Except for the hair you fit in well.โ€


โ€œThanks, thatโ€™s the idea.โ€


โ€œDo you have . . . a boyfriend?โ€


โ€œNot here . . . and Iโ€™ve been gone too long.โ€


Alcina warmed her hands around her mug of tea and gazed out the window at the black sky full of stars and galaxy clusters. Their silence deepened.


โ€œSo what about your tattoos?โ€ Carl asked. โ€œI think some of the notations are part of calculating the red- or blueshift of stars or maybe vacuum decay.โ€


Alcina smiled. โ€œYouโ€™re the first person to recognize them. I love cosmology.โ€


Carl laughed. โ€œMost humans think thatโ€™s the art of making people beautiful.โ€


โ€œCosmology and cosmetology are both beautiful.โ€


โ€œWell you definitely donโ€™t need the latter. Youโ€™re . . .โ€


Carl sat back and stared at Alcinaโ€™s face. He could have sworn that her eyebrows were dark arches stretched across a perfect pale forehead. But now they matched her hair, blazing green-yellow. And her eyes had changed from dark to a hazel color. Probably just fancy contact lenses, Carl thought. But the eyebrows; maybe Iโ€™m remembering wrong . . . sucked in way too much methanol fumes. The blazing eyebrows made her look happy, accessible, more vulnerable.


They exchanged synoptic versions of their life histories, with Carl doing most of the talking and Alcina volunteering little. But when they talked science, Carl realized that she knew her stuff. She probed the depths of his knowledge and seemed to be mentally cataloging everything he told her. After a couple hours of intellectual sparring, they ended up debating which model of the universeโ€™s demise was most probable.


โ€œWell, whichever one happens, our sun will die long before the universe does.โ€ Carl sat back, feeling smug about his pronouncement.


โ€œYeah, maybe your star will be gone. But mine . . .โ€


โ€œRight, right, the one that warms your planet, far far away.โ€


โ€œCarl, you have some very . . . very useful ideas.โ€


Carl grinned. โ€œThank you. Thatโ€™s high praise coming from a brilliant extraterrestrial.โ€


Alcina didnโ€™t smile. She reached across the table and laid a hand on his arm. โ€œWe should go.โ€


โ€œYes, we should.โ€ Carl noticed for the first time that very fine chartreuse hair covered the tops of her lower arms, giving then a golden glow when light flashed across them. Her eyes had turned the color of new pennies.


โ€œYour . . . your hair is changing . . . and so are your eyes,โ€ Carl stuttered.


โ€œDo you like them better now?โ€


โ€œYes. Youโ€™re beautiful.โ€


โ€œGood. Letโ€™s go.โ€


โ€œAh . . . to my place?โ€


โ€œSure.โ€


Carl hurriedly dumped some cash onto the table and they left the almost empty restaurant. He felt awkward, not having been with a woman other than his wife for more than a decade. They drove in silence to the motel. Inside, Carl apologized for the mess and hurriedly straightened the bed covers. The lights clicked off. Alcina had removed her clothes. Her hair glowed in the dark, a bit disconcerting, but it made navigation easier.


They made frantic love until every bone in Carlโ€™s middle-aged body ached from his effort to keep up. Spent and out of breath he collapsed onto his pillow. With Alcinaโ€™s head resting on his chest, he fell fast asleep.


A strip of morning sun shone through the curtains and cut a light path across the motel room. Carl woke to an empty bed. He checked the bathroom. Alcina had fled, leaving nothing behind but memories of the day before. He dressed and walked to the motel lobby where a free continental breakfast awaited. The manager brewed a fresh pot of coffee and bade him good morning.


โ€œSay, you didnโ€™t happen to see a young woman this morning with chartreuse hair?โ€ Carl asked sotto voce.


The manager grinned. โ€œNo, sure havenโ€™t. And I would remember something like that.โ€


Carl nodded and fixed himself a bowl of bran flakes and coffee. During the following week he couldnโ€™t stop thinking about Alcina. His graduate class in astrophysics seemed dull and incomplete without her agile mind probing his knowledge, pushing him toward a better understanding of the cosmos.


Carl drove to the Speedway on Friday night and sneaked into the pits, asked the gearheads if theyโ€™d seen her. Most just laughed when he described Alcina as the girl with yellow-green hair. He retired to the Dennyโ€™s restaurant, sat in a booth and tried to remember what quadrant of the night sky had dominated her attention. His own image reflected in the window glass. He stared, wide-eyed. The ends of his hair had turned chartreuse. By the next day heโ€™d become one of them. โœฆ






Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and two plump cats (his in-house critics). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, and novels. His short stories have been accepted more than 450 times by journals, magazines, and anthologies including The Potomac Review, The Bryant Literary Review, and Shenandoah. He was nominated twice for Pushcart Prizes and once for inclusion in Best of the Net anthology. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist โ€” who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.


Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE
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