I’m writing a series of novels: the Seeking Scylla series. Some characters dance on the edges of the narratives. Some never make it in. In Beyond Scylla blogs, I share stories and vignettes about these characters.
Ash to Ash
You sink into the seat away from the controls and amber digits.
After a year of I want to be alone —LEAVE ME ALONE!— now you are.
“How long does she have?”
You sank in your chair when the doctor couldn’t answer. Needles of important things to do pierced and threaded through sinews, bone, muscle; impatient fire in your fingers.
“Won’t you stay?” she pleaded, but the important things insisted.
“What’s the point? We all die anyway.”
Transactions. Birth. Death. Love. Loss. Missions. You turned away from the decay on her breath, the saline of her tears.
You lean forward to punch another control. You’re a hero here. They see you here. Important things to do here.
She’ll be ash when you return. If you return. The decades sink into amber, beginning to harden even as the ashes of a shared life cling to your skin.
“Ground control to Pilot Siôn. Ground control to Pilot Siôn. Come in.”
You wait a beat before you respond. Important. Control.
You reach for the controls and press, “Pilot Siôn here.”
The bright blip of the screen makes you blink as you lean into the last communication before transmissions wither in space, the last tether to earth, to her, to hunger and love. The last conversation before the amber swells and closes off your world, your weary past.
“She’s gone, Pilot Siôn.”
They wait for a response, an acknowledgment. You share the important things, numbers, readings, the last of your projected coordinates.
In three weeks, you’ll reach your planet of water and light. Supplies for three years.
I’m important, flying further into the void.
You’re 20 million miles away when she draws her last breath, a lonely sigh in an empty room.
You race into millions of miles of darkness as others pick up her pieces, as a stranger sweeps her ashes into the urn, as the amber hardens.
Your lungs fill with pumped oxygen, your skin chaffs against the suit that protects you from unfriendly environments.
You’ll die alone. You know it. And your last breath will be drawn inside suits and capsules, a lonely sigh in distant space. Yet you’re at peace. Transaction complete.
What’s the point of it all? We all die anyway and sink into the amber.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022.
I’ve read it twice, each time I delve deeper into the true meaning of the story.
Your writing moves me as few others can!
Thanks, Diane. You have no idea how much I need that some days (or maybe you do, you’re a writer!). This little drop dispelled so much self-doubt that I swiveled to look back at Doubting Dolores and yelled: “See!!! It matters!”
Such a powerful short story. Alana ramblinwitham
Love your taut, powerful writing. Always so evocative.
Thanks, Laurie. Means a lot, especially from another writer.
Wow, Pennie. So very powerful.