One Small Paw

Photo by Pixabay on

As published in The Things We Orbit

As they approached the squat building, they left behind a faint trail of footprints in the gray dust.  The storefront was equally pale and unremarkable, as was just about everything in their prefab world.  Mark often felt like he lived in a lifeless, 3D printed diorama.  And he grew weary of the lack of color, of the minimalism he felt deep in his soul.  The jazz that drove him was long gone.  

After months of pleading, Luka had convinced him to make the trip.  Luka had a knack for searching for needles in the digital haystack. He’d been cradled by the technology that kept them all alive in such an inherently cold and isolated place.  But this time, Luka had topped himself.  A pet store?  On the moon?  Mark could hardly believe it was true.

A tinge of regret swelled up inside of him, making the artificial gravity seem heavier with each step.  The mere idea of pets seemed so foreign, so frivolous.  Borderline irresponsible.

His grandfather’s stories about the early days played on loop in Mark’s head as they entered the store.  The Moon’s modest history was filled with tales of hardship and perseverance.  The pioneering spirit followed by the reality of conservation and survival.  Even as small colonies grew to small cities and generations stubbornly took root, Mark could never quite shake that there was an underlying fragility to their existence.  The old whispers in his subconscious were always the same.  Stay modest.  Stay paranoid even, because it could save your life.

As Luka pulled Mark through the door, they were greeted with stacks of empty cages and a pervasive silence.  A desolate clerk looked up from the corner of the room, his eyelids weighed down by the profound staleness of the air.  The clerk gave them an effort-filled nod of acknowledgement as Luka and Mark took separate paths into the cluttered maze.

Mark’s thoughts turned to all the practical reasons they could never own a pet.  It was sure to cost way too many credits.  What kind of strain would this put on their aging air purification system?  And worst of all, what would the neighbors think?  One thing the Earth and the Moon would always have in common is the vanity and insecurity of its inhabitants.

He was startled when Luka shouted, “Dad! Over here!”  Mark turned the corner, and from the distance he immediately noticed a vivid swirl of orange and scarlet, like hot coals doused with cinnamon.  Luka was standing next to a cage, transfixed with wonder at the red tabby cat before him.

The cat unfurled and pranced around playfully.  It was full of life.  A resounding splash of color in a monochromatic world.

Luka hesitated as he looked up at his dad, and then pleaded, “Can we get her?  Can we?  Can we take her home?”  Mark’s thoughts sped through the list of cons once more.  He frowned, as this made him acutely aware of his “tell me the bad news first” programming.

“What should we name her?” Mark said defiantly.

Luka smiled and responded with conviction, “Mars…”

Buttered Roll

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on

As published in The Things We Orbit

I swear, Sophie is such a bitch.  She wouldn’t survive 5 seconds back home. The way she talks so slow and has nothing good to say about anybody.

I’ll never forget the day Sophie showed up with braces.  You’d think she’d be all embarrassed by it.  Keep her stupid head low.  But she pranced around with her lips open and her big dumb teeth showing like it was a fucking gold medal.  By lunchtime, all the other girls were jealous and wanted braces too.  You can’t make this shit up.

I guess I should stop saying “back home” though.  This is my home now.  And whether I like it or not, Sophie makes the rules down here.  That’s what Rosa keeps telling me, at least.  

Rosa’s the only friend I made so far.  She lives not too far from me.  She’s a bit small for her age, and she’s got the world’s corniest laugh.  “Yuck, yuck, yuck!”  It sounds like those fake laugh-tracks from old TV shows.  The kind they play on loop in nursing homes.  She’s a good kid though.

Rosa’s been hanging around with Sophie’s crew lately, trying her best to act cool and fit in.  She swears that most of them are alright, and she even vouched for me.  But Sophie came up with the brilliant idea of an initiation.  Like they’re a sorority, or something.  According to her, I had to swipe something from the local convenience store.  A pack of AA batteries to be specific, absolutely not AAA.  Like I said, what a bitch.

Now, I knew I could pull it off pretty easily.  The thing is, my Nonno used to own a small bodega, with sleepy cat and everything.  I spent a lot of time there when I was a little kid.  My mom would drop me off when she was “busy.”  He would always make me a buttered roll when I was sad or angry.

He was a real pillar of the community, my Nonno.  He was calm and would greet everyone with a warm, lazy smile.  It looked like his eyes were half closed all the time, but believe me, he saw everything.  Everybody loved him.

Thinking of him made me feel bad for a bit.  Like I was breaking some bodega code of honor.  But seriously, who puts the batteries out in the open like that?  They were asking for it, really.

When it was time, Rosa came into the store with me.  She was the awkward decoy, while I headed to the spot.  I couldn’t stop thinking of my Nonno though.  I kept picturing myself as that dumb, little kid, with my head barely sticking up from behind the counter.

It messed me up for a bit, but then something caught my eye.  I grabbed it and shoved it in my bag without anymore hesitation.  Like I said, pretty easy.

We bolted to the meet-up spot behind the store, where Sophie was hovering with her friends.  Rosa looked like she was gonna puke, but she’d be alright.  Before Sophie could say anything obnoxious, I walked straight up to her and slapped the goods in her hand.

A look of total confusion came over Sophie’s face.  It was priceless.  Finally she said, “What the hell is this?!”

“What does it look like?” I snapped back, as sarcastically as I could muster.  “It’s chapstick.  I figured you’d need it, ‘cause you can kiss my ass!”

With that being said, I just turned and walked away.  I could barely hear all the nervous giggles over the loud “Yuck, yuck, yuck!” right behind me…

Rant of Steel

Photo by Linda Eller-Shein on

As published in The Things We Orbit

“Look! Up in the sky!”

“It’s a bird!”

“It’s a plane!”

“It’s Superman!!!”

Oh, please.  Shut up already.  The mere mention of Superman triggers my gag reflex more than shoving a tree trunk down my throat.  I once strained a muscle from all the eye-rolling.  Superman has to be the lamest, most lazily conceived superhero of all time.  He is super.  Super awful.

It’s not that I don’t like superheroes.  I grew up binging on comics that depicted the heroic exploits of all kinds of colorful characters.  I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.  And I might not wear the licensed pajamas with removable cape anymore, but I still love superheroes.  Superman just never appealed to me.  How could he?  What was his superpower? Oh, that’s right – all of them.  He could do anything.  It was hate at first sight…

“Faster than a speeding bullet!

“More powerful than a locomotive!”

“Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”

Ugh, how can anyone relate to that?  Superman is near-infallible.  He’s too perfect.  By comparison, let’s look at some other heroes, like Spider-man.  He’s a nerdy kid from Queens who is bullied at school.  He gets his freakish powers from an accident, and then quickly learns that with great power comes great responsibility.  He’s got problems.  Big ones.  I know how he feels.

The Hulk is endowed with super-strength, but it comes at a terrible price.  He’s a modern day Jekyll and Hyde with serious anger management issues and a laundry list of mental demons that could bankroll a therapist for life.  Has someone been reading my diary?

Now, Superman.  A muscle-bound hunk who is omnipotent.  The end.  He has no flaws.  His only weakness?  Kryptonite.  A substance so rare that it originates from another planet.  On top of that, the planet no longer exists!  And his other main weakness is a red sun.  Last time I checked, our sun was yellow.  And what do both of these things do to our super friend?  They sap him of his amazing powers.  They make him excruciatingly normal, like the rest of us.  How horrible that must feel.  How will he ever survive?  It’s true that a large amount of kryptonite could technically kill him, but I don’t think he needs to spend too much time stressing over that.  Superman doesn’t have to worry about silly things like getting stuck in traffic, or hemorrhoids.  He’s above that.  He’s basically bulletproof.  Not just to actual bullets, but to most of the things we struggle with throughout our lives, every day, with diminishing returns until we die broken, sad, and lonely.  Thanks for reminding us of how inadequate we are!

And what would you call such a tone-def superhero?  Of course, it had to be “Superman.”  There’s no more cocksure hero name than that, other than maybe “Mr. Fantastic.”  But even worse, it’s painfully unoriginal.  Is that really the best they could come up with?  Why didn’t they just call him “God.”  It’s both inherently corny and hopelessly conceited. 

Speaking of corny, his costume is the most garish blend of bright red and blue imaginable.  It’s like a CNN electoral map come to life, with tackiness projected as the winner in a landslide victory.  He’s the love child of the Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots with a pretentious cape, which serves no purpose other than to make him look dramatic, like a supermodel using a fan for that come-hither, windswept effect.  How vain…

Superman’s overall fashion sense is so warped that he wears bright red underwear over his blue tights.  A questionable choice, both aesthetically and hygienically.  And for his top-secret identity, he matches plain clothes with a pair of black-framed glasses that have clear, placebo lenses.  Not even a pair of cheap, aviator sunglasses from the truck stop.  Are we sure that the big golden S on his chest doesn’t really stand for “Stoopid?”

But really, who needs brains when you’ve got everything else?  Nothing projects this more than Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor.  He has superior intellect, but, in an emasculating turn, is always depicted as bald or balding.  For all his genius, he is hopelessly defeated by male pattern baldness.  What hope does he have against young, strapping Superman?  In the end, he will always be weaker.  A loser by comparison, just like the rest of us.

“Faster than a streak of lightning!”

“More powerful than the pounding surf!”

“Mightier than a roaring hurricane!”

It never ends with this guy, does it?  Superman.  Easily the world’s worst superhero.  As  much as I’d like to prescribe him a kryptonite suppository, we’re stuck with him as a super resilient cockroach of pop culture.  He’s impervious to good taste.  I guess you could add that to his endless list of superpowers.  Like he needs another one…

A Gentle Shove

Photo by Carlos Diaz on

As published in The Things We Orbit

Mick drove their grey Porsche Carrera with a sullen look on his face and dreary eyes. He followed the usual, winding route mostly from muscle memory, functioning as little more than a beleaguered auto-pilot.

He had been itching to get out of that pretentious party.  These kinds of insufferable events were always the same.  He’d be off in one corner, drinking with his astronaut buddies.  And Loretta would be off in another, dutifully socializing with some of the other wives.  What followed was hours of inane banter, some nerd-speak with the Squints, and the requisite glad-handing of generals and senators.  As soon as he left the party, Mick had loosened his tie emphatically.  But now it just hung there, like a limp noose waiting to be cinched.

After years of research, preparation, and missed opportunities, this had been Mick’s maiden voyage.  For years he had been like a child’s balloon on a string, just yearning to be let go.  And ever since coming back, all he could think of was how it had felt to be un-tied to the world.  To finally soar to the heavens and float amongst the stars. The sense of freedom and release was profound, but it was soon met with lingering dread.  The escape was temporary.  The bubble would soon burst.  And everything that was ordinary and unsatisfying about his life was doomed to be even more so upon his return.

As they trudged on in silence, Loretta sat slumped in the passenger seat and stared blankly out her window.  Her uncomfortable heels were off and she had pulled back her long, blonde hair in slapdash fashion.  The darkness hung over them like a heavy cloak, and the headlights struggled to push through the weight.  It was bitter cold outside, but a similar harsh chill resonated inside.  Although she sat next to Mick, they might as well be lightyears away.

As they rounded another sleepy bend in the road, a loud “Bang!” shattered their funk, and the nimble car lurched violently.  Mick’s eyes widened, and Loretta’s hair was shaken loose from her lazy ponytail.  Springing to action, Mick regained control of the off-kilter vehicle and came to a stop at the side of the road.

“What the hell was that!”  Loretta cried out.  “What did you do?!”

“I didn’t do anything,”  Mick protested.  “I was just driving…”

“You can go to space and back, and yet you can’t just drive us home already.  How many shots did you kick-back with those fucking flyboy friends of yours?”

“No more than you did, that’s for sure. I’m not even close to drunk, alright?”

“Well you must have hit something! Jesus, Mick…”

“I didn’t hit anything! I don’t know what that was about. As much as I enjoy being berated like this, again, let’s just go outside and assess the situation.”

“Yes sir,” muttered Loretta. “Why don’t we assess the situation then,” she repeated mockingly.

They quickly exchange a mutual glance of disgust before gingerly stepping out of the car. It feels like entering into a murky vacuum, and their nervous breath is visible in the frigid night air. The thought crosses Mick’s mind that this is somewhat reminiscent of space, but he is also painfully aware of being grounded by gravity’s clutches.

They spend a few nervous moments scanning the surroundings, and are perplexed to find nothing strange about the road.  Mick then runs to the front of the car, and is equally surprised that nothing has damaged his early onset of mid-life crisis.

Scratching his head, Mick then takes a broader look, and slowly starts to realize something.  Loretta notices the change in his expression, and, wrinkling her brow, follows Mick’s eyes to where he is now staring.  It hits them both at the same time.  

While lost in their his & hers malaise, neither of them had noticed where they were. As fate would have it, they were standing in what used to be one of their favorite spots on the planet. A unique little overhang where you could park and get a view of the glimmering cruise ships in the distance, and, if you strained hard enough, the launch site that encompassed so many of his dreams. Their dreams. And the location where Mick had proposed to Loretta.

They looked at each other expressionless, words not coming to their mouths. As someone who lived to explore the universe, Mick was wondering if it was now trying to tell them something. When they had turned that last corner, it was like someone had given them a shove, and now they inexplicably found themselves back where it had all started.

They stood still for a few agonizing seconds before quietly getting back into the car and driving away…

Window of Opportunity

Photo by Pixabay on

As published in Short Fiction Break

Laying down.  Strapped in.  I crane my neck to look out the meager window of the capsule.  Earth looms large like an incandescent, turquoise marble, afloat in a sea of twinkling darkness.  There’s not much for me to do on re-entry, so I just soak it in.  Most astronauts will tell you that they never get tired of the view.  I’m frankly sick of it…

I remember the exhilarating freedom from gravity I used to feel.  The thrill of the escape.  The rhapsody from being one of the privileged few to be unbound from the world and all its conceit.  But I’ve discovered that magnetism is a far more powerful force than gravity.  And I am hopelessly caught in its pull.

Now, I’m not talking about the kind of magnetism you learn in school.  The stuff that pulls your refrigerator door closed or keeps your out-of-date iPad in its case.  This is entirely different, and infinitely more powerful.  I only discovered it when I met her.  Chris.  The person I didn’t know I was always searching for until I miraculously found her.  

For a man of science, this should all be too new-agey to accept.  But the bond between us is so deep, so pure, just so sacrosanct.  It can’t be measured or surpassed.  Our unexpected connection came about effortlessly, and brought with it an innate synchronicity of mind, body, and soul.  It made me realize that I was simply going through the motions of life without her.  A sub-routine dutifully running its programming, on infinite loop, until its eventual deprecation.

It was like this from day one, and it hasn’t changed since.  A magnetic tether connected our hearts, and the more that time and space tried to intervene, the stronger the pull could be felt.  As I was biding my time on the orbital station, it was like each rotation of the Earth spooled that tether further.  Wrapping it around and around like a big ball of yarn, making the chord that much tighter, the yearn that much stronger.

As I turn my head away from Earth, I see the stars streaking by at impossible speeds.  It’s a spastic dance of neon, like a comically fast time-lapse of a highway at night.  I guess you could call this breath-taking too, but it simply reminds me of how fast we’re going.  Roughly 17,000 mph, yet not quite fast enough.  Cabbie, could you step on it please?!

It also reminds me of how, as her star was inexplicably crossing mine, I was brave enough to reach out and grab a ride.  Of how lucky I was to catch that proverbial shooting star before it quickly faded away, granting me the ultimate wish.  It took all of my courage to change my life’s pre-set trajectory, to finally follow my heart, and I haven’t regretted it since.

Lift-off and re-entry have often been described as a series of small car crashes.  It’s not the most pleasant experience, to put it mildly.  But as I refocus my gaze on Mother Earth, everything feels smooth as silk.  I’m buffeted by a newfound swell of emotion.  I don’t notice much of anything quite honestly, since my full attention is on one precious spot of the globe.  I must be the only one smiling inside their claustrophobic bubble of a helmet, but the stale air never smelled so sweet.

As we start punching through atmospheric layers, and a glow appears around the edge of my window, my eyes do not waver.  No glow could ever burn brighter than the energy we share.  Everything else, including the sun, will always pale in comparison.  I know this, and I am grateful.  And I am even more impatient.  Because as I leave the heavens, I know I will soon be back to my own heaven on Earth…