by Michael Shammas
The dark cloud spread like oil in water. Already it smothered Asia and North America; now it swelled over Europe. Its hunger would not be sated until the whole planet suffered underneath the horrific mass.
Some bright spots still flared on the planet’s surface, sending up fresh plumes of gas. Felix Larson found it somehow reflective of humanity that even in its dying breath it still worked for its own destruction.
He glanced at Natalia. The Russian cosmonaut had pressed her face to a window and tears streaked from her blue eyes like drops of blood. Each time the space station orbited Moscow she’d inhale sharply, as if she expected her city to have survived, to have somehow escaped the fate of all the others.
Felix shed no tears; humanity wasn’t worth it.
Gazing up at the moon as a child, he’d thought differently. The stars contained so much possibility back then. Life had a certain shine to it that it lacked now. Even when his parents died in some sort of bizarre car accident he had persisted.
For there was still the moon.
Later in his life he’d gaze up at that bright white light whenever he felt worn down. Three months ago he’d held onto it more than anything.
“You can’t leave us now,” his wife had said.
“I have to.”
“But the children won’t survive without you. I won’t.”
“How can you be so heartless?”
“You don’t understand,” he told Cynthia in that cramped hospital in Miami as the cancer slowly consumed her body. “Now’s my chance. I’ve dreamed about this my whole life. I’ve suffered so long.”
For a long while his wife coughed. Then she said, in a very low voice, “You don’t know anything about suffering.”
Her last words to him.
He left the hospital and made straight for the launch site. He took a picture of himself in his spacesuit and texted it to his children.
He didn’t get a text back.
Minutes later he strapped himself into the shuttle. NASA’s director gazed into the launch vehicle at him and Felix thought rather cynically that this fat man would be the last thing he saw on Earth until he got back.
“You ready?” said the man.
Felix thought of his unsatisfactory farewell to his wife. How he hadn’t talked to his kids in a week…then he thought of the moon. The stars. “Yes,” he said, suddenly very excited, “I’m ready.”
Three months had passed. He gazed out the window. He thought he could see Miami shining dimly through the dark cloud. No, he thought, only another nuke.
“It is the Ouroborus,” Natalia said.
“The Ouroborus. The snake that eats itself. That’s what the Earth is.” Felix remembered that she’d majored in literature and mythology. “That’s what we are.”
He thought of the sadness he felt now, the hope he’d felt before when he looked up into space, at the bright moon. Space—the world held so much wonder for so many people.
But it was only a dark emptiness.
That disappointment hurt the most. It made the guilt ten times heavier. Maybe Natalia was right; he’d destroyed himself like the Ouroborus, and he’d dragged his family down with him.
An image of his wife came to mind. “Do you think Cynthia is okay?” he asked the Russian. “Her and the kids?”
“Who are they?”
“Oh,” he said, “right.”
He saw a brief image of Natalia again, saw her reaching for the bottle of pills despite everything he told her, but it flickered…
The dream lifted.
He opened his eyes and forgot the dream, the memories within memories. Through the window he saw the same thing that greeted him every day now—a black rock. When the clouds had cleared Natalia and he had hoped there might be some green left, some blue, some hope for humanity.
But it was just a shell, void of all life.
Natalia’s body floated motionlessly in a corner. She’d committed suicide weeks ago when the clouds had dissipated to reveal the emptiness, when hope had drained away like water down a drain. He’d tried to convince her not to, but to what avail? He’d be dead soon anyway. He gazed at the packets of liquid space food—mashed potato was the only flavor left.
He didn’t bother to eat. Today was the day. The empty planet’s gravity had become too much for the old space station. For moments longer it floated above the orb and then descended fast.
Everything protested against the shuttle’s descent. What was left of the atmosphere burned and scraped against the descending object in a brilliant orange-yellow glow.
He gasped at what he saw as he fell. The Mediterranean, murky and disgusting. Within seconds some old stone temples came into view. The landmass was vaguely shaped like Greece, but he couldn’t be sure.
He closed his eyes. Just a bit longer…
The station slammed into the ground.
Moments, hours, days later—it didn’t matter—he opened his eyes and tested his hands, his legs, his feet. A miracle. To good to be true.
He still lived.
He crawled out into the bleakness and cursed his luck. The sky looked a brilliant orange, painted forever by the engines of man’s destruction. The rubble beneath might have been a city once. An ancient temple stood in front of him. It seemed too absurd to be true, but someone had spray painted the side of the stone structure with a circular snake, mouth clasped on tail.
I have nothing, he thought as he gazed at the horrific view. But then he saw the setting moon, half-obscured by the horizon. Through the orange sky it still shined whitely, the same as it had always been—more brilliant, even. No, he thought, I still have hope.
He stood and took a tentative step away from the shattered shuttle. Then, as fast as he could, he ran towards the horizon.
Towards the moon.
Michael Shammas is currently a student at Duke University studying Political Science and English. In his spare time he enjoys reading, writing, and playing guitar. You may visit his blog at michaelshammas.wordpress.com
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