Somewhere Beyond the Stars
As I wash my hands, I look around at the sparse décor. I don’t know what I had expected but zipping through space on an air train conjures up thoughts of grand glass windows overlooking the galaxies. Ladies with unusual hairdos walking around in skintight jumpsuits serving drinks. Martians and men mingling around oversized, modern couches that stretch from wall to wall.
I’m instead in a cramped cabin with plastic walls. There's a mirror smaller than our porthole centered above a round white sink with a plain silver spout and a toilet directly across from it. I'm suddenly reminded of the ocean cruises people used to take on the water where they slept below deck in tiny, windowless bedrooms. Those cruises had died out long before I was born, but I had watched a documentary with my father on the transportation of the early 21st century and was mesmerized. Airplanes soaring through the skies, the extravagant cruise ships trekking vast waters, and self-driven automobiles lined concrete freeways that stretched across the country.
I imagine for a moment that I'm on back on Earth, treading the waters of the Atlantic instead of hurdling through space at unfathomable speeds to a new world. I close my eyes and pretend that it's 2015 or 2010 or 2012, or whenever, and we're on a luxury vacation, just dad and me. We're rocked to sleep by the waves as we journey toward ancient ruins of Rome or the pristine, clear waters of Greece.
But there are no waves here in space, and my quiet fantasy is interrupted by the sound of our cabin door sliding open. I open the bathroom door and see two large, commanding, men in identical dark uniforms. Granted when I originally boarded, I stumbled through the entire check-in process, still drunk, but I don't remember seeing these uniformed officers then. They look almost militaristic and are a stark contrast to the long eyelashed, squeaky man in the garish impeccably tailored red suit greeting me and handing me my itinerary when I checked in.
"Welcome to Cruizes, Ms. White. We're so happy you're joining us," he crooned. It must have been part of the training to speak to the passengers in the most saccharine of tones. Like when Adriana and my conversation first began. The sweetness in their voices made my teeth hurt. "Bon Voyage!" he called after me.
These men standing in our cabin now make me almost miss that sugary Welcome Man. Almost.
"Alma White?" The slightly shorter of the two blurts out.
"Yes," I hesitate as I start to heard toward my seat.
"Please stay where you are, miss," the second says, his arm moving up in a halting gesture.
I stop, not so much out of obedience but because they've moved so close to me there isn't room to move past them.
"What's going on?" I ask as casually and confidently as I can muster.
"Cabin checks, Miss White. You've slept through the first couple and we let it slide, but now that you seem to be..." he hesitates, trying--and failing--to hide the judgment in his tone. "Well, you are awake now, and we need you to comply with the cabin check proceedings."
Ken looks at me with wide eyes, willing me not to say anything to make this situation worse. Louisa is curled into a ball in her seat, clutching her bear.
I open my mouth with every intention of the snarky response on my tongue, but Ken's shaking his head slowly now, pleading with closed eyes, and I address the officers in front of me, "I'm ready to...comply. Sir." I add the "sir" hastily, unsure of what exactly my relationship is to these men, but in my experience, these types of guys prefer even their spouses to address them so formally.
"You may take your seat, Miss White," the shorter officer directs.
Ken's eyes follow me as I sit down.
"Officers? Or sirs. What is this cabin check? I don't remember reading about this in the itinerary and I--" I start to ask, immediately regretting it.
"Miss White, I need you to stay in your seat and please keep all questions and comments to yourself," the taller man says and I've decided he's definitely the worse of the two. Deep grooves trail his entire face, like they've ben carved into his sallow, leathery skin. His dark, deep-set eyes sit underneath furrowed unkempt brows, and his small mouth sits pursed and impatient under his oversized nose, hairs escaping from the nostrils in all directions. I can't see his teeth, but I imagine them a dark yellow, rotting underneath his lips. He has wide shoulders, carries himself like a house, and is a true soldier, uncompromising in his mission and passionate about...whatever this is.
The shorter man nods in agreement. He is darker complected and less commanding, but he is tall and wide, too. A mustache hides his lips, and somehow acts as a concealer for his entire face. A soldier, yes, but he is harder to read. He lifts a screen tablet from his side and thumps in some commands while we all wait in silence.
"All checks out here, Skinner," he says after a few moments to the taller man--Skinner, I guess.
Skinner looks around the cabin, first at me, then at Ken, and finally lands on Louisa. "And what is this?" He reaches for the bear in Louisa's arms and pulls it from her grasp.
"No!" she cries, and Ken begins to stand before being signaled by the still unnamed shorter man to retake his seat.
"Contraband," Skinner says to Louisa in a reprimanding voice. "This type of item isn't allowed, little miss," Skinner says as he cradles the bear under his massive bicep, smashing it into his ribs. "And I'm going to have to take this."
Louisa's face shines with tears as she pleads with the man, and Ken's eyes are red, his chest moving up and down in deep breaths. I see his hands clutched around the armrests, white knuckles, but he remains in his seat.
Skinner turns to open our sliding door and steps out into the hall.
The shorter man remains and says, "The meal service will be around shortly. Remain in your seat until that time." And with that, he turned and joined Skinner in the hall, shutting the door behind them.
As the men leave us alone in our cabin again, I begin to speak, but Ken holds a hand up to stop me and whispers, "Not yet, Alma. Wait."
Ken places his hand on Louisa, who is still quietly sobbing, tears soaking her red face and pats her gently.
We wait for a few minutes to be sure the men have moved from the hallway, out of earshot of our cabin before anyone says another word.
"Alma, I know what you're thinking, and I wish I had a better answer," he's leaning in now across the small aisle separating our feet, "I don't know if they're listening or watching, but I assume they are, so we have to be careful."
He's looking around the room now for cameras or invisible spies, and Louisa has stopped crying. She is looking around the room for the unapparent bug, too. "I don't know much, but the first cabin check was much less...let's say, friendly."
He stops me before I can say anything, "Yeah, I know, but this was a birthday party comparatively. I don't know how you slept through it, but I--" he stops himself.
"What is it?" I ask.
He waits a beat, forming the question he most wants to ask, as if he only gets one shot, "Alma, why did you come here? I mean, why did you buy a ticket?"
I hesitate. How much does he really want to know? I've only known this man and his daughter for a few minutes of my 27 years, but I somehow feel a connection that I'm afraid I will break at the first opportunity. Something about the truth of "I'm running away because I would rather be alone for the rest of my life than deal with what happened to me in my life on Earth" seems like too much to unload on this man sitting across from me, so I say "Same as everyone else. New adventures, ya know? New...everything."
He's not buying it and he looks disappointed at my answer. "Okay," he says, and it sounds like he's done talking for a while. As he leans back in his seat, Louisa leans forward and in her quietest voice, she says, "Me and daddy are starting a new life without mommy."
Her honesty jars me, but I'm also not sure I know what she means, and Ken is already trying to explain. "Louisa--" he's leaning forward again, too, and it feels like we're scheming some grand plot.
I'm lost in the moment with these two. What are we planning? A great heist, maybe. Perhaps a daring rescue mission.
A voyage into deep space to start a new life in another galaxy.
"My wife, Marion, passed away about six months ago," Ken starts, but his eyes begin to well, and I can see that he's decided on an abridged story. I see his gears turning as he settles on, "We're just looking for somewhere new."
Louisa adds, "Somewhere without mommy."
Ken nods to his daughter and leans in to kiss her head, turning his face away from mine.
I nod to him, suddenly feeling the weight of my petty feelings about the life I'm so eagerly leaving behind. "I bought this ticket because I wanted to be alone. Both of my parents are dead, my mom last year and my dad when I was in high school, and I just don't want to have to pretend for anyone anymore."
Ken stares at me, so I add, trying to lighten the mood of my confession, "You know?"
He nods, and he does seem to really know, and Louisa copies him, nodding along.
"Well, Alma," he says, calculating again. I think you'll get your wish, but I don't think in the way you originally planned."
As he says the words, I realize that whatever is going on in this train, I don't want to be alone at all.
About the Creator
Writing for fun and as an escape from the everyday. After all, what is life for if not to create?
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