I was recently doing some spring-cleaning on my computer and found some old short-stories. Below is a submission I wrote for a competition last year under the theme of Home.
Let me know what you think of what I called, Dare to Call Home.
The Vessel travels at the speed of light, clusters of giant stars burning with a zealous fury as it soars past.
The colours blur into one wall of hot energy, a great zoetrope of fire and gas rippling violently around us. Our virgin eyes have never witnessed such a wonder, the fiery impartial givers and takers of life, forever exploding, but we dare not stop to bask in their glorious heat. We dare not slow down even by a fraction of a second.
The faster we travel, the slower we age. It is not until one reaches that inconceivable speed of light when ageing stops completely. That is why we mustn’t slow down. If we age, we die.
I study my young, unmarked face in the mirror, my fingers sweeping across the elastic smooth skin of my cheeks. They briefly circle the supple rose lips before descending upon the sharp point of my chin. I trace the line of the jaw, back towards the pointed ears and my fingers slowly slip through the glossy strands of golden hair. Cobalt blue irises stare back at me, bright, yes, but sorrowful. It is my ninety-fifth birthday, and there isn’t a mark, a single small blemish on my body to prove it.
I feel perpetually selfish for being ungrateful for the gift of youth that has been granted upon me. People back home would die for immortality. The irony of that statement hangs in the air, mocking me. Not immortality, home. Could I still call it so?
I think of my brother left behind, born seven years after me. Was he even still alive? Or had his life been extinguished years before, his body long ago rotting to dust, returning to the damp earth from which our ancestors came? The circle of life, am I even part of it anymore?
I imagine what his face would look like if he was alive. Eighty-eight years on Earth. Dark crevices etched into his forehead like deep dry ravines, his eyes sunken and black, his mottled cheeks sagging below his jaw. Oh, how I long for the brutality of time, the bearer of age, the giver of peaceful death.
My time on Earth had been so short. The memories of my life spent there were a few small spasms of emotion, of blurry images with no defined lines and no defined meaning. But, of course, there are still some sensations that come floating back to me.
The soft itch of emerald blades of grass as they scratched the back of my neck, how they used to flick through my fingers as my hands swept across the green verges. The warmness of the sun, its gentle rays of sunlight radiating upon my skin, seeping through into my chest, warming my heart. The salty tang of the ocean breeze permeating my nostrils, the dry sand scratching my bare legs with the wind, a gratifying soft sting. The trees murmuring and whispering, the birds whistling and chanting, their harmony slipping into my ears, forcing me to remember their melodic tune. And, of course, the heavenly smell of fresh rain, a mustiness that seemed to cleanse, to make me feel at home. Heavenly wasn’t a strong enough word for that sensation. Earthy. Yes, better. Something that could only be experienced on Earth, that one blue speck of dust thousands of years behind us.
And yet, do these memories speak the truth? Or are they just desperate hallucinations in my ageless, ancient mind?
I drop my gaze and slip out of the small cabin that I could call home, but I dare not. The light is sheer white, no warmth, bouncing harshly off the silicon and plastic walls, as I walk down the perfectly perpendicular corridor to the cafeteria.
Other passengers are already at their tables, invisible walls around them as they eat in silence, not daring to glance in each other’s direction. It hadn’t always been like this. At the dawn of our voyage, we had swapped stories of our lives, yet none of us had barely existed in the world, eager to ignite a bond, to become, dare we admit it, a family. But time, or in fact timelessness, has made us distant, unable to relate even in this shared existence. I had forgotten their names years ago. We are unnamed insignificant hazes in this Vessel travelling at light-speed, promising us a new home, one day, someday, possibly no day.
My hand pulls the lever that delivers my daily sustenance: the grey slab of concentrated vitamins and proteins, everything my youthful body needs in one convenient brick. Convenience, I question? When time itself doesn’t even exist, why is ‘convenience’ so impertinent?
Something else slides out of the small opening today, slipping onto the plastic plate I hold in my hands. It’s a tiny baked biscuit in the shape of a birthday cake. It doesn’t have my name, nor my age. They try not to exaggerate birthdays here, I recall. As if they were afraid the date would remind us how long ago we had left home, left our families behind.
My teeth bite down into the rubbery texture of the grey substance. If it had a flavour my tongue had long ago forgotten it. I feel the lump slipping down my throat, dropping into my empty stomach. Gone were the days when eating was pleasurable, it was no longer ritual but routine. I feel annoyed at how sated I am after swallowing the last soft pebble of protein; accomplishing its purpose. Like every day, my stomach betrays my tongue.
I miss the tangy burst of a cherry tomato as my teeth bite into it, the sweet juices cascading down my throat. I miss the satisfying crunch of a crisp green apple, it’s tartness puckering my lips. I miss the bloody juice of red meat, the tendrils of muscle and fat breaking apart as my teeth tear through them. Most of all, I miss the silky smoothness of chocolate as my tongue massages it within my mouth, melting it, spreading spasms of sugary joy rippling through my body.
I begin to wonder whether these sensations had ever been just as intense as I remember them now. Again, I question my fantasies, my dreams.
The great vast windows of the cafeteria look out upon the endless landscape of stars and nothingness and everything. I often wonder what it would be like if I flung myself out into the universe hurtling past our ship. My body would still soar at light-speed, that was the law of inertia; I would be a tiny blurry bolt of energy and matter. What would become of me then? Would my death come swiftly? Would an eagerly awaiting star consume my little fleck of life? Or would I simply suffocate, my lifeless body to become another shrapnel of atomic garbage in the graveyard that was space?
That thought is not a sombre one, but it is neither pleasurable. I slip my empty plate into the waiting chute and abandon the rest of the passengers to their lonely thoughts. For a second, I pause, lost, wondering whether I should visit the tiny room I do every year. I promised myself, like every other birthday, that last year would be the last, that I will no longer dare to succumb to the past. But, alas, my feet betray me, and I find myself outside the door. One last time, I convince myself, unconvincingly.
I slip inside.
The video room is dark, dusty, unused. Nobody dares enter it anymore, it’s forgotten to everyone but me. A dim, forbidden closet of painful memories. I feel my nimble fingers brush over the tiny keys and switches that suddenly flicker to light and the room ripples into commotion, the air buzzing with electricity. I can hear the room warming up, it’s electronic breath growing louder and deeper as it wakes from its deep sleep. I almost hear its disappointment, it’s anger of being roused, once again. Who dares disturb it’s respite this far in the journey.
My finger hovers over the familiar button for a moment. It isn’t too late. I should leave. My hand stays, so I must too, and one long finger taps the knob.
The wall of the room erupts into the bright menagerie of moving colours, as the scene is splayed upon it. My heart begins to flutter, an alien sense of pure emotion, as I look upon the home I left lightyears ago.
The dirt is a deep vibrant vermilion, intermingled with a burnt orange. The sky is a sheer blue, unblemished by clouds, the sun a white orb shimmering down upon the rich earth. There a few dry scrubs of broken brown shrubs, but they are consumed by their intense canvas, insignificant, lifeless.
The wooden terraced house looks beaten and worn, the white paint peeling off its walls. The windows are tainted with red dust, a few panes cracked. My eyes find themselves in the film, my figure standing on the porch, surrounded by family, as we wave at the camera. I look the very same but so different. I’m full of life, my eyes bright, innocently eager for the timeless journey set before me.
My brother stands next to me, his arm wrapped languidly around my shoulder, his youthful grin radiating light. Had he kept that smile? Or like me, did he lose it long ago to memories and grief? On my other side, slouches my mother, looking so small, so fragile, wet tears slipping down her rosy cheeks. And my father stands behind us all, tall, stoic, not a tear in his eye, but a chiselled pride etched upon his stony face. An unfounded, wasted pride, I thought.
I feel my arm reach out, longingly. I wish, no I beg for the memory to consume me, to suck me back into that forgotten reality. I can feel the flicker of something, a diluted emotion. A sense of security, a sense of warmth that I had taken for granted all those years ago, in that other life I once lived. And now, I feared, I knew, it was lost forever.
I stare at the moving image for minutes that seem to span hours, before I can barely take it any longer, the grief threatening to burst from my chest. With a quick flick of my hand, the video disconnects and I stand alone in the sheer darkness, the ochre image still burning into my eyes.
I return to the unbearably lit hall of the vessel outside. I long for the sheer whiteness to scald the image of my family out of my mind, to give me some reprieve from the memory that attempted to tear me apart, but alas, it seems to burn ever stronger in my brain. I slip to the front the Vessel and sit at the great cathedral-like windows that stare out at space. Other passengers sit watching time itself slip past. Are they too trying to scour their mind of memories, hoping that the bright colours of the stars would heal their pain?
I lay huddled, my knees to my chest, my eyes hazy but wide. They focus on the black spot directly in front of the ship, head on. The stars and asteroids and comets speed past in blurs, but that black spot, the dot, the pinnacle of the horizon remains a black pit floating straight in front of us. We race towards it so desperately, but it doesn’t grow any larger, any closer. Always right out of our reach.
For a second, I think I’m proven wrong as the darkness seems to grow, but I am deceived by my own eyes. I drift off, a blackness consuming my eyes, and I feel my back slide down and slouch.
I dream I am alone, floating in space, my arms and legs far apart, outstretched. There are no stars, no planets, no light. Just myself and the eternal unfathomable darkness that consumes everything bar I, forever destined to be alone.
I judder awake and the voice emanates across the Vessel’s forgotten loudspeaker. I glance around and notice, too, the similarly confused expressions of other passengers, of the unlikely intrusion to our solitary lives. I realise it’s the first time I’ve heard a voice besides the sad one in my own head for years, decades perhaps.
“Ladies and gentlemen, passengers, we have reached our destination.”
And that was that, no great climax, no spectacle. The announcement was more suited in a train lounge than at the closure of a seventy-lightyear journey to an unknown world. I feel the sudden rise of anxiety starting to radiate within myself but also in the sudden movement of the passengers. We dare not look at each other, not closely, not yet, but I feel the small inkling of excitement. An emotion that hadn’t dared to ripple through the Vessel in what seemed like millennia.
And then we start to slow down, the stars we pass becoming easier to distinguish. Not blurs anymore, but hazy orbs. Then they become clearly defined spheres of rippling gas and then, after that, they grow sparser as we keep slowing down. And then there is only one star, a burning white hot behemoth that roars on the horizon. Though we can’t possibly feel it, we know our curse has finally been lifted. We can age once more. And then we see it. The fleck of dust, our destination.
As the Vessel floats towards it, my eyes scrutinise its surface, unbelievingly. It’s as blue as the old home we left behind but lacks its green lushness. Its sandy land is an atomic tangerine intermingled with golden hues.
The Vessel shudders menacingly as it penetrates the planet’s protective layer. Bright yellow and orange sparks flick up from the ship’s pointed nose, and I raise my hand to shield my eyes. Eventually, it breaks through and I peer over the surface, the virgin land, not yet impregnated by the weird parasites that called themselves, Homo Sapiens.
The colours of the planet I dare to call home dance upon my eyes.