“What the p’nong is this?” I said, slamming the plastic crate onto polished a synthsteel table. Amy, the bartender, turned around from where she was hanging some kind of banner.
“It’s your costume for tonight, sweetie.” She went back to the hanging, a pattern of orange circles, white ovals, and black crescents, each with a crude printed face. The shapes vibrated gently in station gravity.
“Costume for what?” I picked up the box with my lower arms and riffled through it with my upper ones. It was a length of cheap black plasticloth. I examined it for a minute before figuring out it was a sort of cloak, with holes for my head and all six appendages. The sleeves were all tattered and trailing, and the hood was so deep my head wouldn’t even be visible. It seemed a terrible choice for a musician.
“It’s Halloween, silly!” She didn’t even turn this time. “You agreed to play holidays.”
“Proper holidays,” I said, grimacing. “The Eclipse Festival, Harmonics Night, Harvest of Poetry.” I knew I was being petulant, but I made an attempt. Humans expected it from their musicians.
“It’s a big party night on Earth, we’re expecting a lot of traffic, so wear the costume.” That was when I noticed her face paint. It was a vivid shade of green. She was wearing an impractical black gown instead of her usual ship suit. A pointed black hat rested on the bar.
“Then why haven’t you cleaned properly?” I asked, taking in the room for the first time. The counters and corners were covered with wispy strands of white plant fiber. The stage was dusty, and the edifice of a ruin had been left there.
“Those are decorations, Ch’Brun.”
“They’re unsettling.”
“I was going for spooky.”
“Just what kind of holiday is this?” I asked. My elders thought I was crazy to run off to human space chasing gigs. Sometimes I agreed with them.
“For some humans, it’s a day of remembrance for the dead, but for others it’s a day for dressing up, eating candy, and getting scared.”
“Wait, your civilization frightens itself for fun?” I wasn’t surprised. Humanity seemed to have a collective fetish for destructive behavior. But since I was already working in an establishment that served weak poison as a recreational activity, this didn’t seem out of character for the species. “That’s so human. Give me a few standard hours to research and I’ll see what I can do.”
A few hours later, I took the stage. It was dark, it was grimy, and the house was full, just as she said. There were humans in all kinds of costumes, mostly mythological archetypes like Amy’s witch and a variety of living corpses. Humans have a ton of hangups about death, I guess. There were also costumes based on characters from popular entertainment programs, historical figures, and even elaborate jokes. It was all very weird, but it made a kind of sense. The humans came from a world with only one sun, which meant they had as much darkness as light. They lived in a world that developed scientific understanding of the universe relatively late, and was delayed by a few notable collapses of civilization. They had a talent for stories. So they found ways to laugh at the darkness. They practiced scaring themselves so they wouldn’t be afraid.
I fluttered my robe dramatically as I sat down on the fake step and pulled out my instrument. It was a fretted, stringed instrument similar to human ones, but it had multiple resonating chambers and was meant to be played with all six hands. Amy nick-named it the Ultra-Cello, and it kind of stuck, although my music teacher back home would probably have fits if they heard. In deference to the holiday, I had placed a representation of a human skull over the pegbox.
I flourished my arms, waiting for silence, then began to perform an ancient traditional hymn I discovered in my afternoon’s research. I sang out, a voice shouting against the darkness. The crowd cheered in recognition and glee, and sang along with religious enthusiasm.
“I was working in the lab late one night…”

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Cover photo by Derek Hatfield, used under a Creative Commons, Attribution license.

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