Thursday, July 25, 2019

7/25/19

The Horizon Eternal
By Andrew Johnston


Ten thousand miles from home. Already I feel the loss of gravity's embrace, the wisdom of up and down that I had taken for granted in my terrestrial life. Moment by moment I shed my attachments to the old place, and with them go my very sense of reality, my notions of self and place. Here I am, caught between a moment of truest regret and the trackless void. But what lies beyond...oh, what must await these eyes beyond that void is surely worth this mere apprehension, this transient discomfort.

Ten million miles from home. I can scarcely breathe for the terror worming through my flesh. Fear rides alongside me now, whispering dark words into my ear, hectoring me with dire predictions of what awaits us. One erroneous calculation, one inadequately secured seam, one unforeseen celestial body and I am no more than a handful of dust scattered across the whole of existence. I am bent to the waves of fate and the whims of the cosmos, and why? What deceiver spirit convinced me that there was wisdom in this exodus?

Ten billion miles from home. I have found some peace in my mission, at least for now. The doubts still wound me, but their voices are muted now, lost within a quadrillion cubic miles of oblivion. That fury at myself has passed, and all that remains is the mission. Yet, I have also discarded the thrill of the voyage. Terror and wonder have both faded from my eyes. Have I so soon become jaded? Is my very soul preparing me for disappointment when this vessel at last alights on that dead rock?

Ten trillion miles from home. The machines that propel this fragile body through the endless expanse are falling silent one by one. The monitor tells me that all is still well but this is nothing but a fantasy dispensed by a machine that knows only what is placed before its mute sensors. Deep in my soul, in a place where instinct triumphs over false rationalism, I know what will soon come. Fear is gone; it is death that perches next to me. If this beast is fixable, then it is well beyond my meager gifts. My time grows shorter...and yet I feel so little. What has become of me that this does not evoke emotion?

Location unknown. This elegy for my mission and my hopes of discovery shall be my last attempt at communications with home. It seems I will never reach that rock, and I will never know if my final missive has reached my old superiors. Am I a cautionary tale, or a martyr, or simply an unforeseen cost in a vital mission? Ah, I will never know. All is quiet now, within and without. I feel no fear or anger or regret. The machines have gone to their resting places, and now it is my turn to offer my life to the void. The voyage has prepared me for this. To my fellow explorers: I wish you luck, and wish you the serenity I now know when your time finally comes.


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Born in rural western Kansas, ANDREW JOHNSTON discovered his Sinophilia while attending the University of Kansas. Subsequently, he has spent most of his adult life shuttling back and forth across the Pacific Ocean. He is currently based out of Hefei, Anhui province. He has published short fiction in Nature: Futures, the Arcanist and Mythic and will be featured in the upcoming Bad Dream Entertainment Horror/Humor Anthology. You can learn more about his projects at findthefabulist.com.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

7/18/19

The Rings Are Lovely Tonight
By J. David Thayer


Shyleama sat at the table, staring over a cup of coffee long since gone cold. She was still in there somewhere, probably. But for now, all that sat in that chair was the shell of who she once was. Who she was just yesterday. Like the skin left behind by some burrowing insect that only returns to the surface every dozen years or so to mate and molt, her emptiness rendered her practically transparent. She needed me by her side with my arms around her, but I couldn’t. Not yet. I was emptied too. I couldn’t even stay inside the house. It was a beautiful night for that time of year. Far more beautiful than it deserved to be.

The rings are lovely tonight, I thought, as I sat on my back porch looking up at them once again. Our home is the moon Tretus, which orbits within the ring system encircling Ricchus—a dizzyingly hostile gas giant, some ten-thousand times our size. Its gravity pulls on our core without ceasing, causing the great seismic eruptions that give us warmth. And like most moons, we are tidal locked in orbit, always showing Ricchus the same face. Reminds me of so many people I’ve known. Anyway, this means half of Tretus sees the inner rings and the planet, filling the sky entirely at all times. Prime real estate. The other half of the moon, where I live, sees only the outer rings. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I was a kid I used to marvel at the rings luminescing the sky. Solid bands of countless chunks of ice and dust and rocks, floating in a circular current forever. Our gravity causes a ripple in the flatness as we scoot along, like blowing on a bowl of soup. There is something very beautiful in those quiet, endless laps around Ricchus. To me at least. Not so much the whole of it (pictures of which you’ll find on the merchandise in our gift shops), but in the way all of those individual particles move in concert. A ballet of patience. I used to imagine drifting out into space to join the traffic, my atoms gradually splitting apart until I became no different than the other matter caught in timeless gravity. The lovelier I imagined the rings, the more deeply I wished to join them. It was my meditation before I was old enough to be taught such things.

When Father left on his last mission, I was twelve years old. His container vessel never re-turned, owing to an extremely short and lethal gamma burst. It was an impossible coincidence. They were exactly where they had to be for the ship to perish—almost like the neutron star took aim on purpose. When I heard the news, I ran out to the back yard, lay on the ground, and closed my eyes as tightly as I could manage. In an instant, I was drifting out amongst the frozen debris. My entire body was blowing away like sand and without pain. I very much wanted to stay up there. Lose consciousness, memory. Give in to the cold and the quiet and the pull. If I could have disintegrated myself by an act of shear will, I would have done so that night. But I had Mother to consider. And my two younger brothers.

#

As the years wore on I found less and less time to mediate on the rings. Obligations took priority, and rightly so. But every once in a while, I’d almost forget. Sometimes I would catch myself staring out the window of the tram on my way home from working at the hospital. It would be so easy to slip away, if only I would allow it. String enough sleepless hours together and you almost have to will yourself to remain constituted. Edges get fuzzy. Sometimes the rings would take me for a minute or less, and then I’d snap back into reality and responsibility, my scrubs stained with the daily evidence of need. I served a tangible purpose every day. It was enough.

Eventually, Mother passed and Elgen and Lextre headed out on their own—the former left for the Academy, and the latter to work in the yttrium mines on Kaysis. Lextre even started a family. I was a very proud uncle, but Kaysis is remote, so we rarely saw each other. I think it was about this time that I began to allow myself to relax, but only a little. It was also when I first met Shyleama.

She came into my life at just the right time. I was experiencing a bizarre sort of empty-nest loneliness, and she was rebounding from a dreadful first attempt at marriage. Truth is, I had never given any thought to what life would be like once we reached this stage. I missed my mother and brothers terribly, but I could not suppress my giddiness. There was a new freedom in my soul. I was so happy. We were so happy. I actually felt guilty about being so happy. I could almost hear Mother saying, “I’m so glad I finally got out of your way so you could start enjoying your life.” And what’s even worse: she would have meant it. It’s hard to explain.

A year later Shyleama gave birth to Jorkin. We only thought we understood happiness before he came. In some ways, our lives both began and ended the day he was born—in the sense that we no longer lived for ourselves or even for each other. We lost ourselves in Jorkin completely. He was our own giant planet, and we became his rings, circling around him. Protecting him. Reflecting his beautiful light. That was seven years ago.

#

Today a medic transport came to the hospital from a school. An elementary school. Of course I recognized the uniforms immediately; no one buys that shade of olive at random. Shyleama always hated it. Ricchus is so large it acts as a sort of vacuum cleaner for our neighborhood in our solar system. For millions of kilometers in all directions, all the stray chunks of asteroids and comets and such are pulled in towards the center. Sometimes they make it all the way to the interior of the planet. Wonderful displays when they impact! Great plumes of venting gas that mushroom out and then arc back into the sphere. Sometimes new asteroids join the lovely rings. They cause a mild uproar, briefly, and then fall perfectly in step with their new brothers forever. And every so often a body will crash directly into Tretus. There is too much interference in the sky for us to detect their approach until it is too late to seek shelter. And besides, where would we go? A large one may spell doom for us all one day; it’s a reality we accept and ignore.

The meteoroid that struck the school today was about two meters in diameter. Nowhere near large enough to disrupt life on Tretus, but plenty large enough to level a building. And it certainly did that. I found my son in the third car. His light was already gone, but he was still beautiful.

#

I sat on my porch, looking at the sky and still wearing my scrubs. Jorkin’s dried blood was on my arms and my chest where I held him against me, begging in vain for him to return to us. Shyleama joined me eventually, when she found the strength to stand. She was always the stronger one. We sat together in silence because what good were words? Even the tears had stopped, for the moment. We had exhausted them, but they’d rally soon enough. Finally, my wife spoke because one of us had to.

“The rings are lovely tonight, Reeklid.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I was just thinking that.”


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J. David Thayer is an educator living in Texas. His works have appeared in The First Line, The Last Line, Dizzy Emu Publishing, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Film Festival, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bewildering Stories, 101 Word Stories, and Pilcrow & Dagger.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

7/11/19

MAKING MY WAY BACK TO CAMP
By John Grey


My surroundings
are slowly consumed by darkness,
an upper jaw of sky,
a lower of rocky soil.

It swallows the theodora stand
down to its roots,
piles on the nesting xotls.
Valleys go quietly.
Even the distant hills
are ultimately gulped
to nothingness.

Sure, a moon rises
but it’s ineffectual,
until joined by another,
and then a third.

These modest satellites
band together,
focus their reflected shine
on a hollow here,
a tree trunk there,
even a man
who’s trudging through the gloom.

The Zanxian night
makes a meal of the light
but leaves me crumbs enough.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

7/4/19

L'appel du Vide
By Daniel R. Jones


Ol' Glory
calls to me, sometimes
from up there in the silvery dust
where it was planted
by Neil and Buzz nearly 50-years-ago.

It's the only flag
that never goes half-mast, they say,
atop a celestial landscape,
unwavering in a wind-less space,
untouched by Earth's tragedy:

No humans there
to lower it when tragedy strikes.
No humans there
to cause the tragedy, either.
It calls to me sometimes,

to escape this ball of dirt,
all its festering blight

in pursuit of the serenity of space:
new adventure, new mystery,
New Glory.


- - -
Daniel R. Jones is a writer from Indianapolis, IN. He earned his MFA degree at Lindenwood University. Previously, he's had work published in the South Bend Tribune, In the Bend, StarLine, Parody Poetry, and he won an award for best poem in the 2013 edition of Bethel College's Crossings.


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