Welcome to the special Halloween edition of Thursday Thousand! In February, I began a short project where I had to post a short story every week, on Thor’s Day, that had only one parameter: it had to be, had minimum, 1000 words long. It could be any genre, any length beyond that, and could even contain mild cliffhangers!
Why? Because some of those definitely turned into novels, let’s be honest here. It was in an effort to get myself working, and, suffice to say, it worked. Two of my last posts for the project were first chapters of finished novels that Thursday Thousand helped me get back to.
However, with Halloween celebrations in full swing on the blog, I wanted to bring this back for a special four-week look into some of my spooky stories. In the next four weeks, you’ll get a look at two short stories from my Greek mythology retelling, the first chapter of my faery novel, and another edition of planet people!
This week, in true Mary fashion, we’re ending the Halloween celebrations early with a story about Mars, the sweetest of my planets. There’s absolutely nothing spooky about him, but I love this boy to bits, so I thought it’d be fun to end with him. This can probably be read on its own, but there are some bits that work better if you’ve read the others: Neptune, Earth, Mercury.
And, in the fashion of the planets novel short stories, you also get a music rec! I have a specific song for each planet as it relates to their character, and it took me a while to figure out Mars’. Originally, I had a different song for him, and I really, truly can’t explain why the below song came to fit for him, but here we are. I listened to this for about three hours straight while writing his story, so apparently this is his vibe.
“That is social suicide.”
Mars didn’t say that he knew. He didn’t have to. He knew the whole thing was a terrible idea, but that didn’t stop it from happening. Crushes were like that. Suddenly, you looked up one day out of a daze you hadn’t even realized you’d been in to find that you were hopelessly infatuated with the exact wrong person. He wanted to reach inside his chest, pluck the crush out, and fling it to the stars. There was no point to it. He wasn’t even sure when it had started, just that he’d woken up one morning and realized it was there. He didn’t want it. He hadn’t asked for it. It made no sense.
Without warning, Mars was nearly dumped on the floor.
He smacked a hand against the pale grey nightstand set to the side of the bed at the last second, though his elbow dug in against his ribs painfully. He waited, perched on the edge of the bed, until the bull stopped rocketing through the china shop, and then he rolled onto his back again, looking over to the side.
Saturn was on her knees, having thrown him off of her and clambered up. They were in her room, her massive queen bed sprawled beneath them. She’d recently swapped out the dark grey bedspread for a pastel pink one, and though Mars was still getting used to the new and improved version of her that Saturn was trying out, she was settling more firmly into it each day. She’d decided to ditch the spiteful, angry version of herself that came out of middle school, gone cold turkey and tossed every single piece of black clothing that made her want to eviscerate bullies, and went shopping with her very excited mom, Rhea. One Friday, she was in school in her usual ripped black jeans and dark grey sweater, and on Monday, after ignoring all of Mars’ texts over the weekend, she was there in a yellow summer dress.
“This is the new world order,” she said, and that was that.
Now, in the wasteland of summer, Saturn was in a pair of track shorts that she’d stolen from Mercury, neon orange with a turquoise stripe down the side, and a matching turquoise half shirt that’d come out of her own closet. She had a thin denim shirt thrown on over it because the house’s central air was a little cooler than normal, and her braids were spilling down over one shoulder.
“Alright?” Mars prompted, watching her uncertainly, which was an accurate state of mind considering what came next.
Saturn flung out of her denim button-up and half shirt, revealing a baby blue bra beneath, threw a leg over Mars before his brain could catch up, and leaned down to kiss him. She wasted no time. Before he’d even truly registered Saturn and her warm mouth, her hands were on his, guiding them up to her thighs, which were drawn taut beneath Mercury’s shorts. The shorts left nothing to the imagination, and as Saturn rolled forward to draw closer to Mars, he felt the muscles bunching in her thighs. Her hands came down, one slipping around behind him to press the tips of her fingers against his spine, just the way she knew he liked, and the other fanning across his jaw, pinning him there.
Saturn had been his first kiss.
She’d also been his only kiss for a long time, though he’d rectified that last year, but for so long, it’d only been Saturn, and that was why, Mars reasoned, he kissed her back. It was as familiar to him as Earth’s bleary smile during dawn flights, and it felt natural to flex his hands over her thighs, to sigh as her fingers fit between the ridges of his spine, to tip his head up toward her, her fingers cool against his face.
It didn’t do anything for him, but it was Saturn, and it reminded him of being fourteen, and it was familiar, which was probably why, when the door opened and Mercury careened to a halt just inside, he only blinked stupidly at them for a second before he frowned and said, “This again?”
Saturn eased away gently, pulling at Mars’ bottom lip with her teeth for a beat that actually managed to stir something in him, which was impressive enough that he was slow to open his eyes and look first up at her, and then over at the door. Mercury was fresh from a shower, like he’d just come from the track, and was in a loose white shirt that wrapped nicely around his shoulders.
Saturn tapped his jaw and asked, “Anything?”
Mars crumbled into an eye roll as Mercury snorted and stepped in, closing the door behind him. “I’m still gay,” Mars said as he looked up at Saturn.
“Were you having a crisis?” Mercury asked. He dumped his bag on the small stool sitting at Saturn’s vanity and then collapsed across the foot of her bed. He looped a hand around one of Mars’ ankles and held there as he smashed his face into the pink duvet.
Something hot licked across Mars’ bones.
“That did more than you,” Mars said, jostling the leg not trapped by Mercury. “Wait.” His hands slid up to wrap around Saturn’s hips so she wouldn’t topple when he lifted his head and looked around her. “We are way past the crisis stage. Like, years past.”
“Okay, the last time I walked in on you two making out was because you were having a crisis about maybe being bi, so that’s a fair assessment,” Mercury said before he blew air across the bottom of Mars’ foot.
“Asshole!” Saturn shrieked as Mars bucked, trying to yank his trapped leg back. She went flailing off of him, and Mars nearly elbowed himself in the eye trying to escape Mercury. Saturn flung a pillow at Mercury, who hid his grin in it, and Mars pulled himself upright, folding his legs beneath him. Saturn rolled off of the bed, stepped right out of Mercury’s shorts, and wandered over to her closet to put on real clothes.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Mercury said as he lifted his head, scowled at his shorts, and stole them back. He shoved the pillow under his chest, leaning his elbows on the other side of it. “What’s up?” he asked, looking at Mars. It wasn’t often that they talked without Saturn as a buffer between them, and it was both a little odd and a little heady to have Mercury’s full attention on him.
“It’s nothing,” Mars said quickly, “It was just—”
“Mars has a crush,” Saturn said from her closet. Mars closed his eyes. He wasn’t ready to hear it out loud. He definitely wasn’t ready to talk to other people about it. “I was trying to distract him.”
“And?” Mercury asked.
“Well, I’m still gay,” Saturn said, “And he’s gone right back to thinking about Neptune, so here we are.”
“Oi!” Mars yelped. Something like fear rushed up the back of his throat.
“Jesus fuck,” Mercury whistled. Mars fit his expression into something nasty as he met Mercury’s gaze. “Dude, that’s a lot,” Mercury said.
“I’m aware,” Mars said, “Which is why Saturn was trying to make me not think about it.”
“Did it work at all?” she asked as she leaned out of her closet.
“For three seconds.”
“One, when you were like wait what the fuck is happening,” Saturn ticked off a finger, “two, when I touched your back, you weirdo, and you actually kissed me back.”
“Interesting,” Mercury interjected.
“And three was Mercury, not me.”
“Do you have an ankle kink?” Mercury asked, a slight tilt to his mouth that Mars read as him being a jackass.
“I have a being touched by boys kink,” Mars shot back. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
“Good.” Saturn stepped fully out of her closet. She’d changed into a pair of frayed denim shorts and a loose white blouse that was dotted with sunflowers. She tossed her hair behind her, dropped a pair of sunglasses on, and flashed them a smile. “Call Earth. We’re getting burgers.”
There were exactly zero things that Mars didn’t love about his cousin. When they pulled up outside Mars’ huge house, Earth was already outside on the porch, a backpack slung around his shoulders and the widest smile in the universe stretched across his face as he vaulted from the stairs and sprinted toward Saturn’s dad’s truck. The cabin fit three people easy, but Mars was already in the bed, arms draped over the side as he watched Earth careen toward them. They were like two moons orbiting the same planet, just enough alike that they held the same orbit, but with slight differences that made them shine in their own way. They both had the same unruly brown hair, the same light brown skin, the same jittering joy when it came to just about anything. Earth had always looked more like his cousin than his own family, Portuguese down to his very roots, and sometimes, it felt like he’d always belonged with them.
“Aunt Deimos said she’s not coming out to say goodbye because she doesn’t want to see you in the back of the truck,” Earth said as he hoisted himself up and over. He lost his balance and clambered legs akimbo into the bed, which Mars knew Mercury would roll his eyes at, but Mars just grabbed one of Earth’s wrists and righted his cousin. Saturn started to rumble away after she called a hello back to Earth, and then the two of them were falling down onto their backs, shoulders pressed snug together, to watch the still bright sky whip by.
Earth had a smear of dirt across one of his cheekbones, and his backpack, which likely contained at least one book, was bouncing across the bed of the truck. He had on ratty, grass-stained Converse, which he was currently knocking against Mars’ in a steady rhythm, an Ares shirt that had holes along the hem, and ripped jeans that he’d bought whole and that had simply worn away at the knees because he was always falling everywhere.
“If you walked with your nose in a normal place, terra, this wouldn’t happen,” Mars’ mother, Deimos, always sighed because Earth either had his nose in a book or tilted up toward the sky.
“There’s supposed to be a meteor shower tonight,” Earth said, his voice soft since their heads were so close.
“I know,” Mars said, smiling up at the clouds, “I convinced Saturn to ask her dad for the truck so we could watch it later.”
He practically felt Earth’s excitement vibrate through him before his cousin was lurching upright to stick his head through the window. He’d barely opened his mouth before Saturn said, “Yes, you can invite Luna.”
“But—” Earth tried.
“Yes, she can invite Pluto,” Saturn answered.
Earth flung himself back down into the bed, lifted his arm to check his watch, which was tucked on the inside of his wrist, and then leaned over to grab his backpack to retrieve his phone. He sent off a fast text to Luna, his best friend, before setting it down on his chest and going as still as Earth could, which wasn’t much, but Mars loved that, too.
“Wanna go flying in the morning?” Earth asked.
Mars just jostled him. He didn’t need to ask, but he still did. The answer was always going to be yes, and someday, when Earth was leaving the planet to see space, Mars was going to be the first person there to cheer him on. He wondered at that kind of easiness, of knowing he would be Earth’s best friend until the end of their days, and why it was so much harder to figure out all the rest.
Having a crush on Neptune made no sense, and yet, here he was.
Between the memory of Saturn’s kiss and Earth’s constant chatter of excitement, Mars wasn’t prepared.
He wondered if there was a way to forcibly remove a crush.
What if he just set his sights on someone else and did everything in his power to transfer his feelings for Neptune onto this new person?
Neptune was worse than a bad idea. He’d barely graduated high school because he was so busy caring for his brothers as their sole guardian, and there was a rumor going around that he’d officially adopted them. He was, legally, a dad. Mars was trying to decide between joining the air force and continuing on as a civilian pilot while Neptune was figuring out health insurance for a family.
Infatuation didn’t care about that, though. Infatuation liked the sad tilt to Neptune’s shoulders. It liked the way his pale hair curled wildly during the summer’s humidity. It liked his fine-boned musician hands. It liked the way the pale blue of his shirt made his eyes shimmer like the moon on the ocean when he pulled up into the parking lot next to Saturn’s truck.
“Oh, shit,” he heard Saturn mutter from where she was perched on top of the truck with Venus.
Mercury let out a low, choked laugh from inside the cabin.
“What?” Earth said, oblivious to everything, as he sat up. “Oh hey!” Earth exclaimed before he was scrambling out of the truck bed to say hello to their unexpected guests. Mars had known Uranus might be a possibility when inviting Pluto, but not Neptune. He thought their older brother would be at work, or too tired from all the bullshit of his life to come out, but, then again, Pluto had let them know that he was trying to get Neptune out more, so it made some sense.
Mars forced himself not to slam his head against the truck bed, though it was a near thing.
Saturn slid down off the top of the truck, dropped down next to Mars, and set a hand against his face, turning his attention to her. “Don’t do it,” she whispered.
“Whatever it encompasses, it’s not happening,” Mars hissed, even as his head filled with Neptune’s pale hair and pronounced jaw and soft voice. “It’s a bad idea.”
“I just want to be sure we’re on the same page.”
The door clanged as Mercury got out.
“Duh,” Mars said.
“Good,” Saturn said before she leaned down to kiss him lightning quick, and then she was hopping out to join everyone. Mars lingered for a second longer, trying to stamp it all down, before he flung himself upright and fit a smile onto his face.
Dinner was harmless. Mars got wedged in between Earth and Mercury, who kept stealing his fries until Mars threatened him with a butter knife. Uranus said something about the meteor shower, which set Earth off, who kept getting interrupted by Luna, who was apparently equally excited. Halfway through, Venus lifted a fist in victory, and Saturn let out a war cry of delight. “Jupiter said he’ll swing by after his shift to watch the shower,” Venus said. It was to be a family affair after all, and Mars found himself surprised at how glad he was at the prospect. It was rare that they managed to get everyone in one place.
Saturn and Venus threw out a quick dab, and Neptune’s eyes went wide with horror.
“Oh dear lord,” Mars muttered, hiding his face.
They settled on milkshakes to go, and Earth spent most of the ride to the field giggling as he tried not to spill his milkshake while Mars mostly just choked every time he laughed in response. It was finally starting to get dark when they arrived, and Mars had to express some serious willpower not to start setting out blankets before they actually stopped. When Saturn hollered out the window toward Neptune to slow, Mars and Earth sat up at the same time, looking around. They were in a rolling field with trees just a smudge in the distance and no streetlights as far as the eye could see.
“YES!” Earth screamed, and was nearly flung out of the truck bed when Saturn slammed to a stop.
“Goddamn it, you psycho!” she shouted back at him.
They quickly got to work, setting their milkshakes on the top of the truck before they started undoing the dozens of blankets Saturn had thrown into the bed earlier. There were thick quilts, afghans, and a whole assortment of colors, but they put down the foam camping pads first, spreading them across the bottom of the bed before they started layering the blankets on top. They’d brought enough to create a second spread to lay down on in the field, and Luna and Pluto were at work putting theirs together, as well. Once the base was finished, Earth started situating sleeping bags. He’d brought his and Mars’ from the house, and Jupiter was bringing some extra ones with him. Saturn’s was tucked into the corner, and Mercury had his under his feet, which he passed back.
“Okay if I bunk down with Luna?” Earth asked as Mars unrolled his sleeping bag.
“Yeah, of course,” Mars said. He’d figured that would happen anyway, and was planning on the usual crew in the truck bed—Mars, Saturn, Mercury, and Venus. They would cozy up together while Earth and Pluto snuggled up with Luna between them, Uranus and Neptune at their edges. Jupiter would inevitably go on the top of the truck to get away from them until Saturn dragged him down, and all would be normal.
Mars stole his shake back from the top of the truck, flopped down onto his sleeping bag, and settled in to wait for it to get truly dark.
With the sun gone to bed and the clouds drifted away, the dark sky was strewn with stars, clear and sparkling. The hazy warm day had faded into a cool night, and a light wind whispered through the field that made Mars want to snuggle deeper in his sleeping bag. He was happy to have Saturn tucked into his side, but he wished Earth was on his other side, wriggling with pure joy and anticipation.
“Time?” Venus called out into the dark.
“Probably still an hour,” Luna called back immediately, and Mars smiled. She probably knew the exact time because Earth would be checking his watch every four seconds.
They’d spent the last of the sunlight playing a fast game of touch football that had quickly turned into full contact, and then, as the sun was dipping below the distant tree line, Uranus upended a pile of wood they’d stuffed in the trunk of Neptune’s car, and they built a fire. They didn’t intend to feed it long, just enough that they could try to scare each other with ghost stories and pass some of the time toasting marshmallows. Venus had brought S’mores supplies, and Pluto dripped melting chocolate all over his hands, which somehow ended up smeared on Earth’s only clean cheek, and which of course devolved into an all-out food war until Saturn was shrieking about wasting marshmallows being literal heresy. No one disagreed, and they went back to carefully constructing S’mores until Jupiter suddenly lunged to his feet, ran back to his car, and returned to the hoard of them yelling that they loved him when he tossed down a bag of peanut butter cups.
“I am about to blow your mind,” Venus said, pointing her marshmallow stick at Neptune, who’d been excited just at the idea of a regular S’more.
“Oh yeah,” Mars said without thinking. He’d somehow found himself sitting next to Neptune, and he rocked their shoulders together. Even as his heart stuttered up into his throat, he mimed his mind blowing with an explosion of his fingers around his temples. When Neptune flashed him a quiet smile, Mars thought about throwing himself headlong into the fire.
It wasn’t big enough to do much, though, so he’d refrained.
Now, though, despite trying desperately not to think about Neptune’s smile, he couldn’t quite sit still, and Saturn sighed loudly at him when he shifted for the millionth time. “I swear to Satan, Mars,” she muttered.
“I gotta pee,” Mars said, as much for an excuse about his wriggling as for the truth. He unzipped his sleeping bag, grunted when Saturn elbow him in the knee, and then climbed noisily out of the truck bed.
“Fifty minutes!” Earth yelped.
“You’ll be fine!” Mars shouted back before he jogged away from the truck. Jupiter’s car was parked on the other side of Neptune’s, and he walked past both. It was dark enough that no one would really see him anyway, but the hulk of the cars between him and his friends made Mars feel better about peeing out in the open. He paced away from Jupiter’s car, where Venus had blithely tossed a hulking rock and deadpanned, “If you need to express your manhood, go far away.”
When he was done, Mars headed back toward the cars. He knew Jupiter kept a stash of literally everything in his glove compartment, so Mars ducked in through the open passenger window and rifled through until he found some hand sanitizer. He was still hunched halfway into the car when the driver’s side door to Neptune’s car opened, and Mars jumped in surprise, banging his head off the roof. He let out a litany of swears, clutching his head as he staggered out of Jupiter’s car.
“Shit, sorry,” a soft voice filtered over to him.
“It’s fine, I was the one skulking in the dark,” Mars said as he turned, squinting, and then went still.
Neptune had already turned off the inner lights when he opened the door, but the moon shone clearly across his sharp features. He was half-out of the car, the door held across him.
Mars knew he was staring, but he couldn’t stop. Neptune offered him an uncertain smile and ducked into the car. He fumbled around for a second before straightening out with something closed in his fist. “Sorry,” he said again before he started to walk away.
“Wait,” Mars said, his mouth moving before his brain caught up.
And then, without warning, Earth hollered, “I was wrong!” That, in and of itself, was something they didn’t hear often, but then the sky started to fill with streaking lights, and Neptune’s face opened up. It was like watching a child on Christmas, the way his eyes filled with wonder and his mouth dropped in awe. His fingers loosened a little, enough that Mars could see the small pills in his hand. He thought he remembered Earth saying something about Pluto being so relieved his brother finally started seeing a therapist.
And then, Neptune’s pale blue eyes were drifting down to meet Mars’ brown ones. “You’re missing it,” he said, tipping his chin up.
Mars didn’t even bother arguing with himself. He took a giant step to close the distance between them, spun around, and leaned back against Neptune’s car. He slunk down even as Neptune’s attention stuck on him, and it was only after a second of sitting on the cool grass and thinking maybe this was a mistake before Neptune joined him, sitting near enough that their shoulders almost touched, but not quite. Mars watched him tip the pills into his mouth and swallow them dry.
Mars let his head rest back against the car, and Neptune joined him. “Have you ever seen one before?” he asked quietly as they watched the meteors shoot through the sky.
“A meteor shower?” Neptune asked, his voice whisper soft, as though speaking too loudly would disrupt the magic. “No,” he added, “It’s—”
But there were no words for it. There never was. It was like the sudden onset of infatuation. It was just there, incredible and breathtaking and overflowing.
Mars knew the way this could play out. He could entertain the crush for a little, daydream about the impossibility of Neptune, and eventually, it would fizzle out. He’d endure it for as long as it needed to bet here, but sooner or later, he wouldn’t have to worry about it. It wasn’t like he saw Neptune on a regular basis. It would all blow over eventually.
The thing was, watching Neptune’s eyes fill with meteors and the naked joy at being in the midst of such magic waver across his face, Mars didn’t really want it to blow over. He shifted in the grass, shrugging closer, until he felt Neptune twitch in surprise as their shoulders touched. He looked away from the shower, and over at Mars. “It’s out of this world,” Mars said, eyes locked on Neptune’s for a moment longer before he looked back up at the light-filled sky.
He could let it fade, but something inside of him wanted to be the cause of that opening of Neptune’s face, wanted to crack inside of him and see what made him smile, and sitting here with his shoulder warm and snug against his own, Mars was content to let the infatuation unfurl into something more, something dangerous, something bright and wild.