Monday, July 31, 2023

“Sing Back the Stars” • by Jenna Hanchey


It was prophesied that the world’s end would be hearkened by starsong. Jesse wondered what it would be like, hearing the great balls of fire burst into heavenly music. Would it sound like her dad’s opera? Would it be beautiful and sad, as they watched the demise of Earth? Or perhaps angry and mean, taking joy as the world burned? Would she even get to hear it, before death claimed her?

She shivered, curling tighter under the blanket on the couch as her dad cooked dinner and danced around the kitchen to The Magic Flute. His silly movements eventually overcame her fear, and she laughed despite herself.

“Why are you always singing and dancing, Dad?”

“It keeps the joy alive, sweetheart. And it’s our joy that holds back the starsong. As long as we sing, they don’t have to.” He twirled over toward the couch, extending a hand in invitation. “Your Papa loved it when we sang and danced, remember?”

Jesse took his hand. She did remember. A year is a long time for a 10-year-old to go without her second parent, but they’d had nine wonderful years together first. A dull ache filled her heart, mixing and mingling with the delight she got from dancing with her dad, until the two couldn’t be separated. Pulling out of his embrace, she crossed her arms. “Sometimes it’s hard to be joyful, Dad.”

His face softened, and he placed a hand lovingly on her tense shoulder. “I know, Jesse. I know it’s hard. But sometimes the most beautiful songs are the ones we sing through the pain.” She hugged him tightly, neither giving a thought to their burning dinner.

As the days grew colder and the stars grew brighter, Jesse could almost feel the joy draining out of the world. Dad still sang and twirled her around the kitchen. But their home had begun to feel like the last bastion of light on Earth.

Bit by bit, person by person, the world stopped singing. Silence settled with the finality of death.

Jesse felt it happen in the dark of the night. The moment when the stars paused to gather a deep breath before they would start to sing. Her heart fluttered with that indescribable feeling, that intense mixture of joy and pain, and she knew what she had to do.

Snatching her scooter from the garage, she tremulously kicked off. “Nulla impresa per uom si tenta invano,” she began, voice strengthening as lights flicked on in the houses she rode by.

A street-and-a-half later she was belting at the top of her lungs. “Ahi, vista troppo dolce e troppo amara.” She felt the sweetness and bitterness both. Holding an image of her Dad and Papa in her mind, Jesse sang through the pain.

And oh, how she sang! The little girl on a scooter flew through the neighborhood, lighting up houses and hearts with her tiny yet mighty voice.

Even the stars held their breath, listening.



Jenna Hanchey has been called a “badass fairy” and she attempts to live up to the title. A professor of critical/cultural studies at Arizona State University, her research looks at how speculative fiction can imagine decolonization and bring it into being. Her own writing tries to support this project of creating better futures for us all. Her stories have appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Little Blue Marble, and of course, Stupefying Stories, among other venues. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @jennahanchey or at