Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. I hope it’s true. Those bastards left us here to starve, so it would be only fitting that they choke on their own voices up there in the stars.
A mass exodus of human parasites and yet the most parasitic of all are the ones that take to the skies to infest galaxies unknown. Textbooks used to say only the strongest and smartest animals survive extinction and go on to produce a crop of more-perfect offspring. I guess money really could buy you anything.
Electricity crackled, tearing my gaze from the night sky. The downed power line is beginning to sputter and spark beneath my outstretched hands, so I give them one last rub in the heat of the transformer and push up from a squat. Fires can’t burn for more than several seconds here anymore- not enough oxygen. But hey, plenty of electricity.
I sling on my backpack and pick up my rifle from the pavement. Strong weeds had pushed up through the fissures in the highway like some grotesque, slow motion birth, and I pick my way through them by the soft red light of the moon, making my way back toward the old airplane hangar. Sometimes I pretend the creaky quonset and expiring spray planes are my personal jets and chateau where I sip mimosas and snort blow in a satin dress. Anybody who’s anybody waits behind the velvet rope for hours, just for me to turn them away and say, “better luck next time”. I say it out loud to the crickets and empty city up ahead.
“Better luck next time.”
All the eyes of the night turn to look at me and the trees gossip from across the ditch. We boiled ourselves like frogs in a goddamn pot. Burned up all the oil and gas and the oxygen went with it. Eventually, people’s brains started frying and babies were born with shriveled up raisins in their heads.
So, the upper class bought sleek air-oxidizers that matched their refrigerators. Meanwhile, we trailer trash were dying off by the thousands. But evolving. What usually takes millions of years only took seven generations because the only people that lived long enough to rock their trailers were the ones that had lowered oxygen dependencies. Usually from long lineages of chain-smokers and incest. They called us the Zombies because a lot of us went braindead from oxygen deprivation but kept on living. Poor and stupid. Soon The Arc was built- a great monstrosity of human innovation that everyone with a six-figure salary clamored to get a seat on. It's orbiting up there still. Or so I’ve heard. It’s been over 100 years since the Leaving.
My head is cranked up to the stars again. I blink away the film of imagination and come back to Earth. The night peepers crescendo back to full volume now that I’m out of my head, and the trees resume their whispering. I’d daydreamed for nearly a mile; the quonset has risen from behind the overpass and waits for me at the next approach. My boots crunch gently on the dying road and the gaping mouth of my home waits quietly from its nest of trees. I tuck my tongue to the back of my mouth and flutter it, mimicking a mourning dove’s call as I approach the ajar hangar door.
Silent paws jump down to the cool concrete inside. I hear them padding only by way of carelessness- she knows it’s me approaching. I whisper to her through the rose-colored night.
“Freya, guess what I found?” Her eyes glow from inside the dark of the hangar. “You won’t believe it!” I say a little louder, already shifting my bag and gun from my shoulder, kneeling as the hangar swallows me up. I draw a rectangular can from my bag and peel back the top. “SPAM Freya!” She immediately snatches it from my hands. I listen to her raspy tongue on the metal can and the sweeping of her great tail across the concrete.
One precious thing the Zombies agreed upon after the Leaving was to release all livestock and zoo animals. Nothing existed for humanity’s enjoyment anymore, things only fought to survive. Eventually, in the absence of feigned intellectual superiority and ownership complexes, some animals began to see humans as mutually beneficial. Freya almost killed me when we met but then decided not to. Why? Beats me. Maybe she knew about SPAM and saw a skinny black-haired can opener.
Suddenly, Freya snaps upright and goes rigid, looking out the hangar door. My heart pangs and we both hold our breath- my eyes widen pointlessly in the dark and my ears pull on my head, straining. The dark leopard slinks to the front of the quonset, staying out of the pale pink glow of the moon that hangs just inside the open overhead door. I'm frozen, breathing in tiny puffs through my nose so my ears can focus. Another Zombie? This far outside the city? No... they only travel in packs and even I would have heard the likes of that snapping through the trees. My lungs ache and the arm propping me up is getting weak, but I stay tense and still.
The wind picks up, the trees raise their voices. Crickets and frogs fall silent. My eyes widen further, thirsty for light. The trees grow louder still, yelling over each other, their tones turning desperate. The quonset creaks, bolts groaning between tin sheets. My mind is drowned out by the roar of the wind and then a hot, blinding light rips into the sky and pierces my bulging eyes. I fight the overwhelming brightness and just like that, it disappears.
What the fuck was-
Like ten thunderclaps at once I hear the impact from somewhere in the trees. The woods shudder and goosebumps wash over me. I scour the sky where the light vanished but it hasn’t left a trace. Freya’s tail flicks across the floor somewhere in the hangar and I feel around for my bag and rifle.
They're strapped to me once again and I beckon Freya to follow me into the night. A meteor? A piece of space garbage? My mind buzzes and my nervous system switches from hunted to hunter as we make our way across the field to the trees.
Freya bounds quietly ahead, only the rustle of the brush hinting at her presence. We traverse the gentle woods, my apprehension blossoming into anticipation as I revel in the mystery. Abruptly, I smell something sour and burnt and the air changes thickness. It gets stronger and stronger until I feel like I've wandered over the threshold to a different planet. Freya shoots up a tree and disappears into the canopy. Shifting the butt of my gun up against my shoulder and finding the trigger with my finger, I walk on. Sensing a breath of open space up ahead, my heart bursts again. The clearing comes into view, but it doesn’t smell like a meadow. It smells like broken trees and fresh ground. And hot titanium; shining like fresh blood in the glow of the moon.
The craft is mangled and burnt, metal wrenched away and blown through. My eyes run madly all over the wreckage like rats on a carcass as I stand dumbfounded in the trees. It's disc shaped, 100 yards from end to end. I've studied enough memorabilia from the Leaving to know that this wasn’t a ship made for battle as the artillery holes suggest. This was an escape vessel.
I’m dizzy as I step from the wood line and approach the smoldering mess, my eyes wide and hungry again. Why would they send this back? Who shot the holes in it? There was never any proof that alien life existed, and the Arc was built to withstand a nuclear blast. My mind walks a hall of mirrors, disoriented and bumping into itself. An escape pod. Escape from what? Why just one? I pick my way across the wounded ground and walk the length of the dead ship. Machinery whirrs and malfunctions inside the silver hull and I hear glass crackling. My breath shuts off and my ears stretch again. The trees whisper. The glass-breaking is pointed- in the cadence of someone walking over it.
My gun is pressed to my face in an instant. The blood in my neck pulses so hard my eyes blur with each beat, so I hit my knees and try to shrink amongst the wooden wreckage. A louder smash, a metallic squeal, and a human emerges from the busted navigation dome. My eye strains through the scope and my body short circuits as I watch them struggle and collapse on the surface of the vessel. I wait in a frozen moment, the trigger half pulled.
My mind slowly swims back together and I lower the rifle. This is a big ship for one person, but more than one survivor is exponentially unlikely. Armed with probability, I rise and make for the vessel. No doubt Freya is watching from the trees, her pupils huge in the night and locked on the figure that spilled from the ship. The mangled metal provides footholds a-plenty but I take care not to slice myself on the jagged edges. No more humming comes from the ship- all computers and motors are dead and cold. This finality soothes my nerves just a little. One more overhead grasp and strain brings my head above the silver plateau and my eyes find the rumpled body. It's as still as the rest of the ship. Wrestling up and over, I come to stand 20 or so feet from the bloody heap and I draw my gun again, stalking like Freya. The pale pink sheen of the ship’s surface surrounds me like a frozen lake and I walk as if the ice were thin. A rhythmic sound comes into focus as I approach, and I realize the being is breathing. It wears a pressurized suit that has punctured and there is blood shining everywhere. A face with a breathing tube still attached looks up at me.
Standing over the body, I wait until its eyes find the muzzle of my rifle before I speak.
“Why are you here?” My voice shakes even though I’m shoving my gun in their chest. A jaw moves beneath the mask but no words make it out. Leaning close to the battered face, I ask again. Their eyes shine with fear and they writhe like a wounded animal. My gut twists and I jump backwards, snapping my gun to my shoulder.
“Stop! Why are you here? Where’s the Arc?’ I yell from behind the scope, my voice sharp with fear.
They've stumbled to their feet now and are looking at me with rabid coyote eyes.
“Where’s the Arc?” I demand again.
A muffled answer is mumbled from the breathing tube.
The trees hold their breath and mine is knocked out of me. My mind flies away on the wings of a million questions but there’s no time for that because the bloody person across from me has drawn something that glints long and sharp from their tatters. Something like “stop” or “no” pushes up from my chest but it’s too late. The crack of my gun booms through the trees, slapping the peaceful night in the face. They crumble down for good this time and lie bleeding on the cold metal surface. I stand paralyzed, finger still clamped down on the trigger.
About the Creator
hi :) I write short stories and poetry about emotions, experiences, and interactions with the universe, others, and nature!
Most my stories are fictional, but some are my real life experiences as I remember them.