Avoiding the Consequences
Can she leave behind the mistake of a lifetime?
No one can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. No one can hear you make a mistake, or cares if you aren’t perfectly put together at all hours of the day. It isn’t a big deal if you did some things you aren’t proud of, or something certain authorities don’t like. In space, what matters is surviving. When everyone has a common enemy, differences don’t matter, only unity.
Which is why I’m going there.
The INSS, or International Network of Space Stations, is searching for their latest round of recruits. Anyone who is accepted to training has a chance at a new life, away from the trials and troubles of Earth Life. And if you graduate, you get a fresh start under the leadership of the Council of the INSS.
I needed that fresh start. I needed that chance at a new life, if I wanted to keep living.
The thought brought me back to the present, and I hastily filled in the blank square with the heading: “Why are you applying for this position?” After the scribbling subsided I stared at my answer, concerned with my apparent honesty. I hope it’s a sign I’m cut out for life in the INSS.
I put the pen down, hesitating, before holding the paper computer up to the sensor. After a moment it sang a pleasant chime, and a female voice said “Your application has been accepted for processing, Stephanie Jackson. Please expect a response within 30 business days. Thank you for applying to the maintenance sector of the International Network of Space Stations. Have a pleasant day.”
I breathed in, slowly, and sighed. It was done. Now to face the consequences.
I pulled up outside the run-down apartment building, looking at its faded façade with new eyes. The old, grey building was once clean, tidy, its entranceway and halls decorated with the latest in modern décor. At least, it was the latest forty years ago, long before I was born. I pushed open the grimy glass door (the lock was broken, and the landlord never bothered to replace it), and made my way across the small open space to the stairwell.
Passing the elevator spaces, I again wondered what it would be like to ride in one. They were still there when I was a kid, one stuck between the seventh and eighth floors, the other open to the fourth. I played in that one with Vikki one day, before our parents found out. Its carpeted floor was moldy from moisture, and the wallpaper was peeling, but you could still kind of see the patterns. A mirror covered the back wall, miraculously still intact. Vikki and I were pretending to be models in front of it when her mom found us. My mom was so mad I thought she would have a heart attack. The very next day Vikki’s dad had boarded up both elevator entrances, so completely not even a mouse could have found its way in.
When I reached the fourth floor, I heard muffled sobbing coming from behind Vikki and Shay’s door. Wondering if Vikki had miscarried again, I hesitated in front of the peeling green door. Last time this happened I tried to comfort Vikki, but she had forcefully pushed me out of the apartment, claiming she wanted to be alone. I figured the rumors of abuse were true, and Vikki was trying to keep me away from Shay.
I shook my head and moved on. If Vikki wanted to push everyone away, that was her decision. Like my decision to leave all this behind. I reached my own place, labeled with a handmade plaque that said “Mr. & Mrs. Jackson,” and unlocked the door. The inside was no less dilapidated than the hallway, but at least everything was clean and in its place. I placed the keys in a small bowl on the kitchen table and hung up my jacket. I went to the fridge and checked its contents. A couple of mouldy carrots and a half-full can of peaches. I’d have to go shopping later.
I abruptly called out “Mom, I’m home!” but didn’t expect an answer. I grabbed the can and wiped off a spoon and settled down on the old couch with my watch phone. Thirty days. In thirty days, I would have my answer.
I had eaten less than half of the peaches when a loud, frantic knock startled me from my thoughts. I put the can on the floor and cautiously rose to open the door. Vikki’s tear-tracked face met mine. Before she could say anything, I motioned her in, glancing up and down the hallway before closing the door. I turned the deadbolt, just in case.
Vikki collapsed on the couch, knocking over the can. Peach syrup dribbled onto the carpet unnoticed. I sat next to her, on alert for any noise from the hallway. I placed my hand over hers as she white-knuckled her knees. “Talk to me, Vik,” I said after a few moments. “What’s going on?”
She took a deep, slow breath before she glanced at the bedroom door. “She won’t bother us,” I assured her. She proceeded to tell me about Shay, and how he treated her when he drank.
“It seems like he’s drunk more and more.” Vikki sniffed, trying to hold her composure. “I know mother made me marry him so I wouldn’t go hungry, and we have food, but…” she bit her lip as a tear tracked down her cheek.
“But you’re wondering if its worth the abuse?” I filled in. She nodded. We sat in silence for a while, still holding hands. Vikki’s hand squeezed mine so tight my fingertips went numb, but I didn’t let go.
“What if we left?”
Vikki sniffed in surprise. “What?”
I was surprised myself but pressed on. “What if we left? Picked up, left all of this behind?”
Vikki was already shaking her head. “I’ve thought of that before. Where would we go?”
“The INSS.” Vikki didn’t look convinced. “They’re hiring right now, in several sectors. There aren’t many prerequisites for maintenance.”
“Maintenance?” Vikki wrinkled her nose. “Like, cleaning up other people’s messes?”
“It’s a chance.” I met her eyes. A spark of hope passed between us.
“But what about your mom?” Vikki asked. “She needs you.”
It was my turn to bite my lip. Vikki saw the glance I gave the bedroom door. “What happened?” she asked concernedly.
I pondered my options. Vikki was my friend, my best friend. It had been a while since we talked, but ours was one of those forever friendships. I had depended on her before, and I needed to tell someone.
“Can you keep a secret?” I began hesitantly. She nodded, reluctantly. “Last night my mom had another episode. When it was over, she told me she was tired of it. Tired of all of it. Then this morning, I went into her room, and she was, she was…”
Vikki’s hand flew to cover her mouth. “Oh Steph, that’s horrible! We need to call the coroners, have them take care of her. Why didn’t you say so earlier?” She glanced at the door as if she expected my dead mom to walk out of it in zombie form.
“I didn’t…I couldn’t…” I covered my face with both hands and tried to hide the emotions. I felt Vikki wrap me in a hug, the first time in years she was comforting me instead of the other way around. I leaned into the embrace for a moment, then pulled away.
“Can you do it?” I asked, looking at the floor. “Can you call?” I felt, more than saw, Vikki nod. I sat numbly as she pulled out her fancy, almost new phone and dialed the number. When she hung up, I rose and said “I need some air. I need to, to... I need time to think.” I left, brushing Vikki’s shoulder as I left in thanks.
Into the hallway. Empty. Down the stairs. The echoes haunted my steps. Out into the light of midafternoon, the summer sun beating down upon me. Down the sidewalk dodging cracks full of weeds. Into a shadowed alley, full of dirt and garbage. A dead end: an old brick wall.
I fell against the rough bricks, biting back a scream. They scratched my hands as I fell, but the pain felt good, real. More real than this day, than all last night as I tossed and turned on the couch, fighting with my thoughts over what I’d done. I had to get out, I had to remake myself, because down here I had made myself a murderer.
I had to get out. And I was taking Vikki with me, even if I had to make sure Shay could never follow us. I raked my hands over the wall again, screaming against the thoughts warring in my head.
I killed her. I killed her, and lied about it to Vikki.
And I liked it.
No one can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.
About the author
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions