John Sleeps Under the Stars


John T. Anderson
42 Foliage Lane
Hapdorn 5A03F

10 Eighthmonth 4599

Dear Ken,

There are a lot of things about living on an alien planet that you just don’t expect. Not even when you’re well prepared!

It was a long time ago when I first met Bobo in Pittsburgh. You remember, I had an automobile accident and had to ride the bus. At the time, it didn’t seem like my lucky day; but in retrospect it was the luckiest day in my life! You remember how Bobo came to my UFO club and confessed all—and was laughed out of the place! He was the victim of gentle derision, and the meeting lasted longer than usual as a result. That was the fateful night I drove Bobo home, and chanced upon the shuttle from Earth Watch Base!

From my brief exposure to Bobo and his colleagues on the shuttle craft, I knew that Homeland would be a better place, filled with nicer people. And so it is... but I never expected red peas, I never expected yodeling in the Thorgelfaynese national anthem, and I certainly never expected that as an alien from outer space I would be accused of having two hearts!

These memories do bring a chuckle or two, and I’m sure that they bring a smile to you too. Most of the differences between Homeland and that other planet (upon which I had the misfortune to begin my life) are minor. Sometimes they are disorienting; sometimes they’re charming; and most often they are improvements.

But I thought this one was downright odd at first!

On cool summer nights, when the weather is nice and the sky is clear, there is a very odd custom. Especially if it’s a three-Moon night. I can’t tell if it’s local to Hapdorn, or just our neighborhood, but people actually go out and sleep on the lawn!

Yesterday was the Fth, a Seventhday, and the middle day of the weekend. I was out mowing the back yard as usual when my neighbor called to me over the fence.

“John!” she called, gesturing at me. I really would have preferred to have gotten my chores finished before chatting with her, but she’s such a nice old lady I can never resist. I turned off the lawn mower, and walked over to the fence, wiping the perspiration from my brow with my forearm.

“I know you are new to the area,” she began with massive understatement, “So I just thought I’d tell you about tonight!” Her face beamed with excitement like a child.

“What’s happening tonight?” I asked casually, stuffing my gardening gloves into my back right pants pocket.

“It’s a three-Mooner, and the weather will be cool, the sky will be mainly clear all night, and there’s no chance of showers!” she announced grandly.

“So?” I asked, shifting my weight to my other leg. I was impatient to get this conversation over with and the lawn mowed, but I tried not to show it. If I did, she didn’t notice.

“It’s a perfect night for sleeping out!” she said, making a sweeping gesture with her arm. Then, sensing my confusion, she explained, “My husband and I like to bring out a thick blanket and put it right there,” she indicated the middle of her yard, “Then we lie out and watch the sky and wake with the dawn! Oh, a mountain dawn is so pretty, and we are so lucky to be in the mountains here!”

I slapped my neck to get an insect, and I remembered that insects have a natural aversion to Homelanders and Hugmups, but they apparently think that Humans are quite tasty. I guess Homelanders could sleep out under the stars without much fuss.

Apparently the whole neighborhood coordinates this informally. They even go so far as to turn out their lights so that the stars will be more visible. Someone even asks the City of Hapdorn to turn off the street lights in our area! I was a little alarmed to hear this at first, but then I realized that with Hapdorn’s crime rate, darkness is more likely to cause stubbed toes than foul play.

She rambled on forever about what a lovely experience this is, and expressed her hope that Panu and I would participate, or at least extinguish our lights between thirty o’clock in the evening and sunrise. I blandly expressed my willingness to comply, and she ambled off, happily attempting to hum a tune. (I suppose she could carry a tune in a bucket, if it had a tight-fitting lid.)

So I got back to mowing the lawn and forgot all about it.

Panu and I finished watching television at about 1D:20; a half past twenty-nine. I picked up the novel I’m reading, but Panu bolted from his chair and began stomping around the house, turning out all the lights!

“Hey, I want to read!” I protested, holding my book protectively.

“Not tonight. It’s a sleep-out night!” he said firmly. “Put that book down and help me!” He was carrying a pile of blankets from the upstairs closet and his toolbox. He sat in the chair next to the only lamp in the house that was still lit and rummaged through the toolbox picking out metal clips.

“Just what on Homeland do you think you’re doing?” I asked.

“I can sleep on a blanket like everyone else,” he said, “but the insects think you’re a smorgasbord. We need to make you some protection so you can sleep out!”

I realized he was trying to reinvent the sleeping bag, which would have been very thoughtful of him, except that I didn’t want it done.

“That’s very kind of you, but I think you’re making a mess of it,” I observed. “Anyway, I prefer to sleep in my own house and in my own bed!”

Panu didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. With just one glare he overcame all protests. Realizing that I was participating in this “sleep-out” on a like-it-or-not basis, I got up from the sofa with a sigh and walked over towards him. I took away the blankets and the clips. My old boy scout days came in handy, and I improvised a sleeping bag in no time. Panu was mildly impressed.

We finished closing down the house and were busy spreading out our blankets in the backyard long before thirty-one o’clock. Everyone was out and about; even children who had gone to bed earlier were awakened so they could sleep outdoors with their parents. There was quite a buzz of conversation floating through the neighborhood!

The cheery face of our next-door neighbor was barely visible in the dim Moonlight. (We may have three moons, but they aren’t really much to look at.) “Hi, John!” she shouted gaily over the fence, “Isn’t this exciting? It’s a perfect night!”

“We haven’t had a sleep-out night this good since ‘8D!” her husband announced, but she gently controverted the date, and then they settled on ‘90 as the year of the best sleep-out ever. I guess older married couples are the same everywhere.

Panu stretched himself out on his blanket, and looked up at the sky. “Amazing how many stars you can see when they turn off the street lights,” he remarked, and I guess that would be impressive to someone who works in an observatory.

I was grumpily snuggled into my make-shift sleeping bag. Teddy (my Hugmup) wanted to get in it with me, but that wouldn’t do at all! He finally resigned himself to the grass next to me. By the glow of my watch it was thirty-two oh-eight, just after midnight.

Then I looked up.

It was a beautiful night, the stars were bright, and clouds were few. Panu oriented me by indicating the celestial south pole behind us, and then waved his arm in a broad arc to indicate the celestial equator spread out before us. He taught me all the constellations, including the Falling Scepter (that’s where you are).

“Is the Falling Scepter visible in the northern hemisphere?” I asked.

“It is just on our side of the equator, so it’s only visible up there when they’re having summer.” Then he added, “Of course, it’s winter there now.”

Panu explained which stars had found utilitarian value in ancient times as navigational or agricultural aids. I learned a lot of ancient mythology and literature, and why the constellations have the names they do. A couple of the other planets in the Tau-Cetian system were visible as bright stars. Panu gave me the astronomical facts on them. The whole neighborhood was out admiring the stars, watching the moons rise and the constellations wheel around the south pole as the night progressed. Panu kept his voice low, so I fell asleep in the middle of one of his explanations. He didn’t mind.

We are lucky that are house is on the corner of Foliage and Greenway, facing north. The view was unobstructed to the east, and superb!

I really slept well under the fresh night air!

I awoke just as dawn was turning up the house lights, and woke Panu, as he had requested. (Since I am from a planet with a shorter day, he knew I would wake earlier.) The constellations had rotated since I fell asleep, and the Falling Scepter had fallen completely below the horizon.

First, the fringes of the eastern sky turned red, and the black of the night sky turned to dark blue. The red, changing to yellow and milder colors, gradually advanced towards the west, gently snuffing out all the stars as it went.

We lay there drinking it in.

Great mists swept grandly through the trees on the mountainsides, and the insects began tuning up their instruments. Birds fluttered and called in the trees overhead, and a gentle breeze dispelled the mists and warmly announced the day.

It was daylight! We arose and stretched our bodies. What an exhilarating experience! I thoroughly enjoyed it, even considering the rash I got from an insect bite on my neck.

I think that I can safely say that one of my best experiences on Homeland so far is the planet itself!

Sincerely yours,
John Anderson