Rumors are floating around of children having memory loss while playing on their own in the new Star Light District. After solving two mysteries, Haley “The Sounds” Riot and Robin Bee venture to the Underground Zone of Aequus to uncover the truth.
This story is number 3 in The Sounds’ serial, with Body Drop and Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village being the first two. Be sure to visit the new Serials section to catch up on continuing stories.
Haley and Robin stepped off the elevator as a sasquatch, a minotaur, and bipedal humanoid mechanical got inside. While the sun was shining above ground from where they came, an artificial starry night sky illuminated the Star Light District of Aequus’ Underground Zone.
“Now that we’re here, how do you suppose we find some parents willing to talk to us?” Robin asked her human girlfriend.
Haley pulled out her music player from her pink hoodie. The small, rectangular device had only physical buttons and no holographic interface. There wasn’t a speaker or way for her to listen to the music, but the song titles provided her hints about the future and revealed hidden truths. She felt confident after solving a murder at a concert and a mystery surrounding an abandoned village. Now she wanted to discover why children in the district reported memory loss.
“How do we find affected parents?” Haley said to her music player and then pressed the shuffle button. “‘Guided by Angels.’”
The two scanned the lobby for any artistic interpretation of the mystical and religious winged creature. Haley started with the ceiling, searching for any angel consultations. With no luck, she looked lower at the golden flora walls for any angels but only saw 12-foot tall statues of notable vampires.
“Found one!” Robin said, pointing to a fountain with three statues of angels.
“Great work,” Haley thanked Robin as they walked over to the fountain.
A ghaukvoi mother and her child watched streams of water and flames perform a coordinated dance around the towering angel statues. Haley was dating a ghaukvoi, so she was familiar with their biology and customs. She could tell them apart from tutelagions as ghaukvoi had pointy ears and varying shades of blue skin and hair. In contrast, tutelagions lacked hair and genetic diversity.
“Excuse me, but has your child complained of memory loss?” Haley asked.
“Yes, but so has practically every child here has lately,” the mother answered.
“You don’t seem concerned,” Robin said.
“We’re pretty sure it’s all some sort of prank or trend the kids are into these days.”
“I think there might be more going on,” Haley expressed politely. “I’m investigating this mystery. You can call me The Sounds, and this is my partner, Robin.”
Robin waved hello.
The mother crossed her arms. “What will this cost me?”
“Nothing,” Haley said, talking with her hands. “I’m technically not an officially licensed detective, so this is more of a hobby right now.”
The mother checked on her child, still enjoying the water show. She sat on the black granite bench with Haley and Robin doing the same.
“My name is Aura,” the mother said. “What would you like to know?”
“Have you noticed when your child’s memory is missing?” Haley asked and quickly added, “Or other children from parents, you know.”
Aura sighed and thought for a moment. “Sometimes, when I would let Uris here go play with his friends, I would ask him what they did, and he would blank out on me.”
“Is there a spot they tend to play?”
“They run all over the district.”
“Have you tracked Uris’ movement with his networker by any chance?”
“I have, but there was no data,” Aura said. “It was like wherever he went when he claimed he didn’t know, his networker wasn’t working.”
“That is weird,” Robin commented.
“As I said earlier, I’m not too worried about it. Uris hasn’t come home injured, and neither have any of the other kids from the parents I’ve spoken with.”
Haley bowed her head. “Thank you for sharing.”
Aura returned the bow. “May the Goddess guide you in your quest.”
The water show ended after a finale involving a large burst of fire and water. Uris clapped. His mother chuckled at his enthusiasm.
“Wait, I just remembered something,” Aura said. “I don’t know if it’s relevant, but the first time I remember this happening to Uris, he came home with a new hat. I asked him where he got it, and he said he didn’t remember.”
Haley nodded. “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Uris ran up to his mother, and together they left the angel fountain.
Robin turned to Haley. “So, what’s next?”
Haley held up the music player and asked, “Where should we go next?” She pressed shuffle. “It says, ‘Put Your Records On.’”
Robin paused for a second. “What does it mean by ‘record?’”
Haley shrugged. “I swear, some of these songs are not from our solar system.” She held up her purple networker hanging around her neck in the shape of two beamed eighth notes. “Hey, networker, what are some things considered a record besides information?”
A spinning rainbow holographic ball projected from her networker. It then morphed into a vinyl record with a text box beside the artwork.
“This is the closest match based on your conversation,” the networker answered. “On Earth, they have round black discs called records that contain music.”
“That’s our answer!” Haley exclaimed, putting her devices away as she stood up. “There must be a music lounge nearby.”
Haley grabbed Robin’s hand and rushed over to the nearby information kiosk – a full-body holographic virtual intelligence of the district’s founder. From Haley’s preliminary research, Iris Ironglass built the community seemingly overnight, while Iris reported the project was years in the making. Iris wore a two-piece sparkling white dress with a long trail for the interactive kiosk.
“Wow, look at her dress,” Robin said, admiring how the silky smooth the dress looked against Iris’ dark skin.
Haley stroked the side of Robin’s arm. “That would look good on you too.”
Robin’s cheeks brighten. “Please. I prefer my leggings and sweaters.”
Haley beamed with love and faced the kiosk. “Back to the task, could you tell us where we can enjoy some music?”
“The Star Light District has 16 music venues,” the virtual Iris replied.
Haley scratched her short rainbow-colored hair. “Hum. Any of them play records from Earth?”
“There is one venue – Celebration – specializing in playing records from Earth.”
“That’s our place!” Haley said. “Send the directions to my networker, please.”
“Directions sent,” the kiosk replied. “Thank you for visiting the Start Light District.”
Haley led the way, taking them down a corridor. While Haley focused on getting to the destination, Robin darted her head from statue to statue. There were no shops or homes in the passage – just the starry ceiling and giant sculptures. Although, she did spot a few static posters featuring Iris advertising affordable homes coming soon. The advertisements lessened her worry, but not completely.
“All of these statues are kind of creepy,” Robin said, walking closer to Haley’s side.
“At least they’re too tall to be real people.”
“Real people?” Robin repeated, shocked.
“Yeah, I read this protector report about a detective who caught a gorgon turning people into stone for an artistic statement.”
“That’s wild,” Robin mumbled. “Never going to look at a statue the same way again.”
The corridor opened up into a hub of small shops of homes. Purple streaks of light dominated the hub, making the area feel more youthful to Haley than the previous hub’s golden motifs. Across the central playground, Haley spotted the wooden sign for Celebrations, between a salon called Sister Golden Hair and the hoverboard shop, Landslide.
“Found it,” Haley proclaimed. “Let’s go.”
Children of various species ran around, playing tag, climbing over the replica spaceships, and making noise with the neon flower musical lights. As the couple crossed through the playground, Haley hopped on a series of light-up tiles while Robin walked by her side. Each tile flashed and color and played a musical note, bringing a smile to Haley’s face.
“Perhaps we should keep an eye on these kids?” Robin asked.
While still moving forward, Haley consulted her music player. “‘Left Alone’ is the answer I get. Steady the course!”
Upon entering Celebration, the venue positioned itself like a bygone era with wooden walls, seating, and tables. Despite the choice of materials, the calming fire-glow lights glistened against the wood. In one corner, two couples spoke with each other while their kids played games on their networkers. Haley and Robin took a seat at the bar. Haley ran her finger against the countertop.
“Smooth,” Haley whispered, then she spotted the record player on a shelf. “Excuse me. Is that a record player?”
The tutelagion mixologist finished squeezing a lime and handed the drink to a customer. “Yes, it is. The song is Last Friday Night by Katy Perry. But, before you ask, I have no clue what she is singing about. When is Friday and what’s so special about it? I just love collecting records from Earth, even though they are insanely expensive. Anyway, can I get you two anything to eat or drink?”
“I was hoping to get some information.” Haley paused, searching for a name tag. “Aspen. What do you know of the missing memories of the children in the Starlight District?”
“I used to think it was a rumor until some parents nonchalantly brought it up,” Aspen replied. “No one seems worried about it. Maybe kind of annoyed, if anything. Why do you ask?”
“I think there’s something bigger going on,” Haley explained, keeping her voice down. “I just can’t figure out what. Does the phrase, ‘Cowboys Don’t Cry’ mean anything to you?”
Before Haley ventured to the Star Light District, she directly asked her music player who was responsible for the missing memories. The device responded with the song title, Cowboys Don’t Cry. She nearly threw her device across her home in frustration from the cryptic answer. She asked for motivation and got the answer, Mad World.
Aspen chuckled. “You know, we had Iris Ironglass personally stop by last week for one of our Bloody Orangeritas, and there was this kid. The kid scraped his knee and was crying pretty loudly. She kneed down by that kid, kissed his wound, put some healing gel on it, and then pulled out this weird hat from her purse. She put it on the kid and said, ‘Cowboys don’t cry.’ The kid calmed down.”
Robin awed. “That was nice of her.”
“Yeah, Iris is more approachable than people assume,” Aspen said. “Speaking of which, there’s that kid. He’s still wearing that hat.”
Haley and Robin watched the human child in the tan cowboy hat run past Celebration and out of sight.
Haley stood up. “Thanks. We should go.”
“Enjoy the day,” Aspen said and walked over to a group of customers.
Haley and Robin followed the child. The child ran down the corridor from where they originated. The child disappeared behind a statue. They waited a moment to see if the child would reappear, but when he didn’t, they went to investigate. Behind the stone figure was a large grate for a ventilation system.
“Well, I’ll be,” Robin said. “I knew there was something creepy about this area.”
Haley scanned the area to ensure no one was watching them and then pulled the cover off. She stuck her head and looked down the shaft.
“This looks big enough for us to crawl through,” Haley said as she started to crawl inside.
“Wait. Are you serious?”
“If kids are crawling through this, then this has to be safe.”
Robin grumbled and got down on her hands and knees. “I guess you have a point.”
Haley gently pushed open the grate, crawling out into a construction zone. The two crawled 30 feet before reaching the end. They took cover behind a pile of wood boards and peeked over.
Dozens of children were all wearing various hats and were building homes and businesses. The children operated with the professionalism and skill of adults. Haley looked around for any adults but didn’t spot any, so she checked her networker.
Haley groaned. “My signal is blocked.”
Robin checked hers. “Well, I guess we know why tracking was lost.”
The grate behind them slammed open. Haley and Robin turned around, their hearts racing. Exiting the ventilation was Uris, wearing a black top hat.
“Uris?” Haley asked. “What are you doing here?”
Uris did not respond. His eyes were steady as he stood up, ignoring the couple. As he stepped away, Haley grabbed for the hat. As she pulled the hat off, a pair of shadowy hands from inside reached for Uris’ head and pulled themselves back onto his head.
Haley let go. “What was that?”
“You should leave,” Uris spoke, with an echo like two people speaking simultaneously.
Haley pulled on the child, turning him around. “Not until I get some answers like who are you and what have you done to Uris?”
“My identity was forgotten ages ago, but I mean no harm to this child.”
Haley tightened her grim and raised her voice. “Then why are you possessing this child?”
“We are repenting for mistakes in a past life. We were in the Underworld when we found ourselves floating upward one day where we got caught in these hats at Ironglass’ boutique. We told her our stories, and she came up with this idea to make this area better. We only wish to help.”
Robin placed a hand on Haley’s shoulder. “This whole topic sounds like a wild ethics debate.”
Haley loosened her grip on Uris. “Yeah, but why children?”
Another voice behind them spoke. “Children have a strong sense of good and innocence which keeps the spirits in check.”
Haley and Robin turned around and looked up to Iris Ironglass towering over them. Although she wasn’t wearing her trademark dress, she sported a cropped white hoodie and black leggings with the same class.
“The children are perfectly safe, and I ensure that happens,” Iris continued. “Granted, I did have one rouge spirit temporarily possess me, but they’re gone. Adults with these spirits are not a good mix, but as they help, they find themselves freed. Call it karma, balance, justice, whatever, but everyone gets a happy ending. Take a look.”
Haley and Robin stood up, looking over the construction.
Iris pointed to a large building. “We’re about to have the first school in the Underground Zone. I know it’s a mad world out there, but this whole area is going to be more than just entertainment.” She turned to Haley. “So, how about you let this whole mystery drop, Haley Riot?”
“How did you know—”
“I had an identification scanner installed in the vent,” Iris interrupted.
Haley took a deep breath. She pressed the shuffle button on her music player. “‘You’ve got a friend.’”
For this short story, I knew I wanted to write another mystery with The Sounds. The concept of children missing their memories was inspired by the writing prompt: “Mysteriously, children are starting to lose memories. You’re a detective assigned to this case, and you just found out what is causing them to forget.”
As with past stories featuring The Sounds, I asked people to submit songs for me to incorporate into the story. Some of the songs were used as messages given from the music player while others were worked in other ways. The songs were: Cowboys Don’t Cry by Oliver Tree, Put Your Records On by Ritt Momney, Mad World by Tears for Fears, Left Alone by Fiona Apple, Last Friday Night by Katy Perry, Sister Golden Hair by America, Landslide by Stevie Nicks, You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor, Celebration by Kool & the Gang, and Guided By Angels by Amyl and The Sniffers.
Thanks to Mikey Marchan for the story artwork!
Thank you for reading!