To the Stars

One night before I went to sleep, I asked Dad what my name meant. He was fighting to keep his newspaper open against the swells from a pod of right whales that meandered past the open window, but I remember exactly what he said:

“Come, little Wren, and listen to a story you have never heard before.”

He told me what life was like long ago, before the Inversion.

He told me how the world used to be covered in trees, not like the kelp forests we have now—these trees had thousands of leaves that changed colors. The leaves would fall off each year and drift down in big piles, and children would play in them. I didn’t understand how the currents wouldn’t carry them away, but Dad told me not to worry about that.

In these trees, he said, there were animals covered in things called feathers.

“They were called birds, and they swam through the sky like the whales and fish do now. Some were even faster than barracudas!”

“But how did they swim so fast?”

“Well Wren, these feathers—think of barbs on a sea urchin but covered with hair—were all over their fins, letting them go anywhere they wanted to.”

I asked him where all the birds are now.

“I don’t really know, kiddo.” He sighed and stared out the window for a while before saying anything. “Some people think they all went away somewhere else, while others think they’re still swimming, somewhere far above. But no one has seen them, so we really don’t know.”

No one knows why the Inversion happened, but my teacher said that we used to live above the water. The sky was still blue, but full of air, and we lived on land where the water met the sky. Then the water started rising, slowly at first, but then by several feet each year. Year after year, city after city became submerged until one day even the tallest building was fully under water.

The history book says that some people started breathing the water, and so humans survived.

We still have these things inside us called lungs attached to our gills, so we know it has to be true. That’s why we float up through the sky when we die, because there’s still some air inside us that can’t get out.

“We named you after one of these birds, Wren, and though we’ve never seen it, it’s a reminder of something too precious to forget.”

I sat beside him and stared past the whales in the sky for a long time that night, wondering if one day, when I float toward the stars, I’ll get to hear the wrens sing.

Spencer Kalan

Spencer is an avid writer that wrote for Verge Magazine and his school newspaper in his undergrad. After finishing his Master's from the University of Glasgow earlier this year, he could hardly wait to write for fun again.

Hailey Renee

Hailey Renee Brown is a professional illustrator born and raised in mid Michigan. A former field biologist, she moved across country from Michigan to New Jersey, also moving from science to commercial art. A professionally trained artist, she attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. She was selected the recipient of the 2017 Norman Maurer Memorial Award as well as the 2019 Joe Kubert Jumpstart Project.