Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Fairy Tale

“Father? You’re staring at the stars again.”

“It is what I have instead of television.”

“What’s television?”

“Something from the old days. A magic box that told stories.”

“Were they good stories?”

“Sometimes. Mostly not.”

“Did you have a television?”

“My dear child. I had four.”

“Why would you need four? Did they tell different stories?”

“They all told the same stories. But many people had more than one, which they kept in various places around the house in order to make sure there was one everywhere they went.”

“There must have been lots of televisions!”

“There were. But there were lots of people too.”

“How many? More than I can count on my fingers?”

“More than there are stars in the sky.”

“Is that why you spend so much time looking in the stars? Because they remind you of how many people there used to be?”

“More because they remind me of how many futures there used to be.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You only have one future to worry about, my dear one. It’s tomorrow. Your big question is whether we’ll find food, or go to bed hungry. I lived in a time when there were many futures.”

“Like what?”

“Like the many where I would get to go to the stars.”

“Nobody can go to the stars!”

“No. They can’t. We couldn’t either. But for a time, we thought it was something worth imagining.”

“What could you possibly think you’d find there?”

“Sights that no one had ever seen. Creatures that no one had ever imagined. Beings so amazing that it could fill your heart just to walk among them.”

“How could you imagine such things if it was so important that they be beyond your imagination?”

“We could not, dear one. So many of the beings we imagined were just like us, except with extra eyes or limbs; but otherwise just the same, in their habits and in their ways of thinking. Even the strangest ones, most of them, were made out of parts from our own world, that were well within our power to see, if we just turned our heads. We used to argue with each other about how limited our imaginations were, and we argued even more about whether it made any sense to look to the stars at all.”

“You know the answer now, don’t you, Father? It came to nothing.”

“Did it?”

“The stars don’t put food in our bellies now.”

“Or then, dear one; but we believed in feeding more than our bellies.”

“Are any of your stories even true, father?”

“Which stories do you mean? The ones about the stars?”

“No. The ones about what the world was like, when you were young.”

“Which of those are you having so much trouble believing?”

“Were there really so many people? Did they really ride in boxes that moved faster than the fastest man could run? Did you really have other boxes that could tell stories? Did you travel across the sea, and into the air? Did you really think that you could go to the stars, too?”

“All this time, have you thought that I was lying?”

“I believed your stories when I was a child. Now I don’t know. Now I think that the people you came from might have been mad.”

“They were, my dear child.”

“And you?”

“We were all mad. Every one of us.”

“Did you have anything to do with burning it all down?”

“I think everyone did. None of us were innocent.”

“So it was all pointless, then. Including this staring at the stars. What good does it do you?”

“As I say, my child: it is what I have instead of television.”

“I’m hungry.”

“And what I have instead of food.”

“You are nothing but another mouth to feed.”

“I always was. But once upon a time, there was so much food it didn’t matter.”

“You really have no answers, do you?”

“No. I don’t. I never did. But once upon a time, when I looked at the stars, I at least had the questions.”

“And what good did that do you, father? Having the questions?”

“Once upon a time, the questions were everything.”

“I’m tired of being angry at you.”

“I’m tired of you being angry, too. Would you like to sit together?”

“If you can tell me one of your stories and make me forget my belly for a while.”

“All right. What kind of story would you like?”

“One of your more pointless ones. About the stars.”

“All right. Once upon a time, a brave traveler landed on a distant world . . .”

Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro. A sixty-year old bearded white male showing extreme love for a cat of siamese ancestry.

Adam-Troy Castro made his first non-fiction sale to Spy magazine in 1987. His books to date include four Spider-Man novels, three novels about his profoundly damaged far-future murder investigator Andrea Cort, and six middle-grade novels about the dimension-spanning adventures of young Gustav Gloom. Adam’s works have won the Philip K. Dick Award and the Seiun (Japan), and have been nominated for eight Nebulas, three Stokers, two Hugos, one World Fantasy Award, and, internationally, the Ignotus (Spain), the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France), and the Kurd-Laßwitz Preis (Germany). The audio collection My Wife Hates Time Travel And Other Stories (Skyboat Media) features thirteen hours of his fiction, including the new stories “The Hour In Between” and “Big Stupe and the Buried Big Glowing Booger.” In 2022 he came out with two collections, his The Author’s Wife Vs. The Giant Robot and his thirtieth book, A Touch of Strange. Adam will be an Author Guest of Honor at 2023’s World Fantasy Convention. Adam lives in Florida with a pair of chaotic paladin cats.