Remains of the Stars

Lucy Zhang


The Star Bodies feed on grief. That’s why they stick so close to earth, flickering down at humans, waiting for them to wander outside, shed a few tears, get swallowed by the sky. Then the humans return to their beds and wake to regenerate their grief yet again. There’s nothing wrong with feeding the Star Bodies. The government recommends it as a fast, therapeutic fix for depression. Norah’s dad spearheads the SKY BRIGHT campaign: “fast and free antidepressants to make our skies brighter.” Norah’s dad thinks people are too sad, the Star Bodies too hungry, drugs getting expensive too quickly, the resources to make the drugs—allium, Van Gogh polymer, SUMAC mineral, and several other newly discovered materials—dwindling. “Star Bodies don’t need to eat that much,” Norah tells dad. “They can get by just fine without any.” Which is true. Norah and her lab group have published the research on self-sustaining Star Bodies isolated from other celestial bodies, stripped of grief and isolated from human contact.

“Just because you don’t need something doesn’t mean you’re better off without it,” dad lectures. He calls her kou men—a penny-pinching witch. Norah thinks dad is just upset she rejected his attempt to visit under the excuse her apartment is too small to house another. The Star Bodies congregate above Norah’s city, which Norah thinks is the real reason dad keeps calling her about visiting. Not because she hasn’t gone home in a decade.

When Norah discovers Star Bodies buried close to the roots of the Nova Trees in her backyard, she hypothesizes that the Star Bodies careened toward earth millennia ago, now blanketed under layers of dirt, dormant. Norah thinks this is why the Nova trees in her backyard glow a bit brighter. Her home’s popcorn ceiling, chipped cabinets and creaky floorboard don’t feel so bad when she can watch the Nova trees twinkle at night by the window. Sometimes she’ll turn off all the lights so the Nova trees shine brighter. Then she’ll walk, hands pressed to the wall, guiding herself to the backyard where she’ll prop the doors open and let her rooms eat up the light. Her own sanctuary without lab equipment and Petri dishes and scalpels and sealed Star Bodies blinking and dimming.

But the longer Norah spends in front of the Nova trees, the more the trees thin and lose their leaves. Then, the Star Bodies begin to surface. At first, Norah doesn’t notice. The heads of the Star Bodies manifest as shallow bumps in the ground, still sheltered by soil and patches of weeds. But as the days pass, the bumps grow bigger, the soil no longer capable of full blanketing. Small patches of white begin glimmering from below. Norah tries to cover them with soil. She digs up earth from the flat, untouched area of the yard and builds mounds over the white spots. It takes no longer than a day for the Star Body heads to poke out once again, this time more prominent, now protruding too high from the ground for Norah to cover back up in one day.

“I have a campaign near you, so I will swing by next week to visit,” dad texts her.

By now, the Star Bodies have nearly fully emerged from the ground, and the Nova Trees have gone completely dark. Norah tries to push the Star Bodies back underground, beat them with a spade, hack their tops off with shears. But Star Bodies are strong, which she is well aware of. That’s why it’s so tough to extract grief from them in the lab. They hold onto it tight and will only let go if they sense a greater opportunity. The lab group keeps Norah around to loosen up the Star Bodies, prime them for experiments. They all know she’d once tried to off herself—it made the local news and nearly lost Norah her postdoc position until the lab group reached out with an opening. “You just need to be around whenever we perform any extractions,” they’d said. “And keep yourself in a working state,” which meant: don’t kill yourself, although you can think about doing it. Although, for how tasty a meal Norah imagined herself to the Star Bodies, they never ate her grief. They’d simply hover close to her body, stroke her arms and neck, wind themselves around her torso until they found a comfortable position to rest on her lap. While the Star Bodies were most relaxed, the other researchers extracted the grief.

Norah thinks her grief must be, at best, inedible. At worst, repulsive. She is, after all, “Nasty Norah” who was found digging through the dumpster for food because dad wouldn’t let her have more than a half bowl of rice. “The daughter of a government official needs to maintain her figure,” he lectured.

Norah is unable to keep the Star Bodies down. Instead, they rise and rise until they hover just below the rooftop. The Nova trees have warped and twisted, no longer standing tall. Instead, they bow downward. When they rise too high for her to reach, she begins to pray they’ll return to the galaxy overnight. She still has several days before dad visits. Surely enough time for the Star Bodies to drift away. Dad has begun to text her more frequently: “Have you tried the new Star Body therapy I published? I’ve received good feedback so far from local clients, so it seems promising. I’m sure it’d work well in a Star Body dense area like yours.” Followed by, “My hotel canceled on me, you still have a spare guest room right?” And “See you soon, I will bring you those sautéed whole-body-and-head shrimps you liked to eat when you were little.” Except Norah doesn’t like to eat those shrimps. She hates the hassle of tearing the head off, staring at the beady black shrimp eyes, peeling the shell and its hairy legs until the only bit of flesh left has been wiped clean of flavor. She hates that when she tries to eat the shrimp whole—head and shell and legs, dad accuses her of savagery.

Another night passes. The Star Bodies have stopped moving, hovering in place, moving slightly as Norah walks from room to room. They gravitate toward her, illuminating her path, the halls, the closets, the desk space she never bothered to equip with a lamp. “What do you want from me?” Norah asks them. They don’t reply, naturally. Dad will arrive the next day. If he sees the Star Bodies, will he stuff them into sealed crates and truck them back? Will he have her tout her happiness thanks to her own live-in Star Bodies on national news? Dad is a big character, always making gestures while speaking, always enthused by the tiniest suggestions, always quick to shoot down counterpoints with his witty, roundabout logic. The type of logic that could convince Norah that she’s happy.

Dad texts: “Can’t wait to see you, love you.”

There are still several hours until he arrives. Norah drags her shovel outside, the blade leaving a long line through the dirt. She begins to dig at the base of the Nova trees, fiercely pulling up roots and snapping down branches. It must be because there’s still a bit of life left in the trees. If she unroots them completely and turns them into piles of wood, surely the Star Bodies will leave.


Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Split Lip Magazine, CRAFT, The Spectacle, and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbooks HOLLOWED (Thirty West Publishing) and ABSORPTION (Harbor Review). Find her at or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.



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