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My Life Soon Ends 0

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Sunrise bounced through our plastic dome inching closer to my eyes on the pillow. I looked at the divergence of yellow and red light flaring through the bubble and then across the room. The sixth day of Shepard seemed it would shape up as a typical butterscotch day. I saw the sun’s reflection on the large dome of MaxPol. The sun woke me everyday, but the reflection wasn’t always there. Pioneers colonized Mars 160 years ago by surviving the solar flares in eco-domes with a limited atmosphere shielded from the neural damage of radiation. Those before me found a way to release water, and they invented calendars, fashions, and traditions. They built the central colony of MaxPol and spread out from there. I understood the privilege the pioneers gave me. Every person born last on Mars understood the sacrifice required for the next generation.

Maggie put on a white dress for the afternoon transformation ceremony. She transfixed me with her smile. I looked past her to the mirror as she added a garland of chamomile to her hair. She mirrors Aleren. In the reflection, my grey hair frames the wrinkles around my eyes. With her beauty, my life soon ends.

Maggie stood still in front of the mirror admiring her reflection. She finished up her hair and let her arms fall straight down. I stared too.

“You will make a beautiful bride.” She blushed at my comment. “After the transformation, you will meet your partner. Then you will make handsome babies.”

“And go like you,” she added.

“You must produce at least three children as a Last Born,” I reminded her. “There is no reason to rush.”

“And when those children are born, I will go.” She sighed.

“All Last Born villein must repay steerage,” I said. “And you are the last to repay.”

A generation of villein before, myself, and now my daughter Maggie all preordained to settle the debt.

“This planet requires too much,” Maggie said.

“It only seems that way because of all the work we must do.”

“No,” Maggie said. “Mars owns us until we die.”

Grandmother Viola agreed to the villein contract with the Interstellar Transport and Exploration Company in an attempt to escape Earth. She longed to reach past the stars and make her mark. With her signature, she agreed the next three generations of her brood would work as miners, scientists, and in my case, a Last Born. All Last Borns married after the transformation and raised a family. We taught the Martian traditions and prepared our children for the work. Some of our children work in the distant settlements of Mars or become apprenticed to a scientist here at MaxPol. In most cases, like my middle son Adam, we never see them again.

When Maggie reached the age of viability when the fears of death passed, roughly one sol, her mother walked out of our living pod to end her life. She birthed three children, as promised, and had nothing left to do. Aleren dressed in a white robe, weaved flowers through her hair, and slipped out of our pod onto the soil of Mars. Beyond the dome, the air was thin and Aleren had only a few precious minutes to reach the pedestal. I stood with my two boys and daughter watching her walk away. I was proud of Aleren despite the tears rolling down my cheek. When she finished walking, she raised her arms upward, and turned toward our window. Maggie rushed to the window while Adam held my leg and hid his face. Zach stood stoically next to me. She ended her life on Mars with no regrets.

Aleren dropped to her knees and her head began to swell. Seconds later, her white robe exploded upwards in the wind and she was gone. Aleren aged 16 sols, gave birth to three children, and completed her transformation.

After Aleren transformed, I continued teaching our children the Martian traditions and duties passed down by the pioneers. In time, they began to forget their mother despite the picture of her face in the hallway. When he turned 16, Zach apprenticed to a climatologist. Later, Adam went to the far colonies to work in the mines. Maggie was born last, roughly three sols after Adam, and never knew Aleren. I added two sols to my life due to Maggie’s learning difficulties. Looking at her today, you would never know she was slower than the rest. When she leaves our dome, I will have aged 27 sols, fathered three children, and will walk on the surface of Mars to join Aleren.

“Father, are you thinking?”

I shook off my melancholy. It struck me I should not upset her before the transformation ceremony.

“I was remembering your mother.”

“I only know what my brothers have told me,” Maggie paused. “Why did she leave us?”

“She realized her purpose,” I replied. “Her benediction and death allowed you to live.”

I needed Maggie to understand the gift Aleren gave her.

“I barely passed one sol,” Maggie said. “I never had a chance talk with her, learn from her, or gain her wisdom.”

“All Last Borns have one job; to ensure life goes on. She spoke to you often in your crib about the future.”

“A baby maker, you mean,” Maggie said. “Enough. It is time us breeders became naturalized freemen.”

“Your mother was very proud you would be a Last Born,” I said. “Your children will be citizens,” I paused to look her in the eyes. “The first generation of Free Martians.”

“And I will not be able to see it,” Maggie said.

I gave Maggie credit for grasping the gravity of her transformation. And it gave me pause; I would not see my family earn citizenship either. Zach and Adam would never be freemen, but at least they had the chance at a long life. I did have that comfort to fall back on. And Maggie would be the final Last Born. My grandchildren would decide the future for themselves and their children.

I placed my pressed white robe on my dressing table. After the transformation ceremony, I would come back alone and prepare for my passing. Maggie would be off to the breeder colony and will miss it. Just as well; Maggie didn’t remember Aleren’s passing and she wouldn’t remember mine.

Under the central dome, the transformation candidates stood on a transparent stage. Maggie embraced her friends and I could hear their laughter above me in my seat. All the Last Born fathers sat away from the rest. The audience cheered as the chancellery read the names of those moving on.

As a group, Maggie joined the Last Borns by holding her right hand equal to her head and reciting the vow. Each swore to build up the community, teach their children, and carry out their purpose. At the end, the chancellery invited the honored Last Borns to stand. We stood and the crowd cheered as the chancellery thanked us for completing our service.

Everyone became silent for the marriage partner epistle. Maggie gasped when the chancellery chose Charles, a tall, black-haired Last Born, for her partner. I imagined their handsome babies.

At the end of the ceremony, Maggie approached me with Charles walking a step behind dragging on her hand. She seemed assured. I tried to act casual but my happiness betrayed me. Tears welled in my eyes and I pulled her close.

“They made a good choice,” I said. “Your children will be strong.”

“Yes, I suppose.” Maggie took a furtive glance back at Charles. “He is as good as anyone.”

“I guess you two are off for your training?”

“Yes. We learn the private bits about each other,” Maggie said.

“Don’t practice too much.” I couldn’t help myself. Maggie punched my arm and Charles became scarlet.

“It looks like they want you to go.” I pushed Maggie and Charles toward the stage. “I am sure everything will be fine.”

Maggie wrapped herself around me dropping her head on my shoulder. She wept and pulled me closer. I rubbed her back and whispered, “You make me proud.”

“I love you too,” she said.

Maggie avoided an awkward goodbye. I stood with the other Last Borns watching her leave. Soon I stood alone with nothing left to do but return to my dorm.

I dressed in my transformation robe and reflected on my life. None of my children died, they each learned something from me, and there was nothing left to teach them. The last thing to do was complete my transformation. Before the ceremony, I transferred my credits to Maggie, uploaded my last words, recorded a congratulatory video for my grandchildren, and pressed my robe with an iron. I fingered the trim on the collar feeling the intricacy of the lace. Everything seemed in order.

At central day, an alarm sounded and a happy voice reminded me to proceed to my affirmation. This was it. I would perform the last part of my vow.

I climbed up to the airlock between our dorm and the outside dome. Across the complex other Last Borns also entered their airlocks. I counted as many as six other men. Not as many as in the past, but still a sizable number. I realized I had never spoken to any of them.

Over the speakers the Requiem Aeternam began to play in the airlock. I decided this was a fitting anthem for my end. I took a deep breath and let it out. The door opened and the atmosphere blew out the rupture in the dome. On Mars, I lived a total of 27 sols. On Earth, I would celebrate reaching the age of 50 years. For the first time I felt tired.

The final moment of my life I practiced sols ago with Aleren. We each let out our breath like we were coming up for a dive. We giggled when we had to breathe in. Now outside it was difficult. I felt the effects of the vacuum on my face and my lips tingled from the lack of oxygen. I failed to realize how hard it would be. Yet, I wanted to experience my death. The moisture in my eyes evaporated and my lungs started to freeze with my slow exhalation.

Aleren made roughly 40 steps before the wind scattered her across the surface and I wanted to walk as far as the platform. Yet, I had not counted on the difference in our age. My heart struggled under my exertion and I walked less than 20 steps. I managed to reach a small rise in the dirt. I climbed over it, dropped to my knees, and realized death was near. My eyes began to burn, so I closed them, and let the sun warm my face.

As I gave in to death, the ground under me opened and I dropped beneath the surface. I tumbled down and landed with a thud in a dark hole. I could see nothing but black; did somebody dig me a grave?

“Place him in the bateau and run to the compression chest,” a male voice said.

The taste of oxygen differed from the thin nitrogen and carbon dioxide of the surface. I took a shallow breath. It felt cool in my aching lungs. Around me I heard voices, but my eyes were blind. Nothing took shape.

“It may be too late,” said a female voice.

The transformation prepares us for the responsibility of ensuring life begins on Mars, I thought. Each Last Born teaches, scolds, counsels, and nurtures their children. I let out a final breathe.

“We must save him. He deserves to know the future.”

“Adam?” I thought I heard the voice of my middle son and realized it was a dream. His voice took me to my memory of all of us standing together for a portrait under the middle dome with the yellow sun shining behind us. I smiled thinking about them as my transformation ended. I knew Mars was a better place.



The Devil Knows You’re There 1

He hung 100 feet above Fremont Street, like Superman, tethered only to the narrow ribbon of wire in a harness. Unable to twist and look up at why he was stuck, he looked down at the street instead. A sea of tourists moved below him as if he was another attraction. A small boy let go of a smiley-face balloon and started to cry.  A bald dude stared at him in a peewee muscle shirt. A ragged homeless man bumped the crowd begging for a dollar. A topless brunette in a devil’s costume waved at everyone while holding a red fan over her exposed breasts.

Mark had promised a different outcome. (more…)



A Ghost Story – Ghosts Wished People Believed 0

ghost story, creative writing, short story, ghosts, haunted house, football, magic, fantasy
A few of the residents believed they lived in a haunted house. To the ghosts, it seemed unlikely anyone believed. They bumped into the living without the slightest notice. Sometimes they made a sudden movement to remind each other they were still around. They bounced among the residents coloring happy memories or darkening deep regrets. Never had they sparked passion in the hearts of the living. The ghosts wished people believed.
 
Tommy woke from an afternoon nap. He rubbed his eyes, stretched up his arms, and crunched his knuckles. A ghost bounced a light stream around the cracking fingers. The light then flashed away. The ghost hung above the bed. An idea popped into Tommy’s head. He smiled at the sudden thought.
 
This time he would do it. Weighing only 98 pounds, more or less, his mother had told him he was too small to play football.
 
“You’re better suited to chess,” she would say.
 
But he wanted to grind his toe in the grass and scuff up his shoes until they were green. He yearned to slip the shoulder pads on, bury his head in the helmet, and chew on the mouthpiece.
 
Today he would race down the field and catch the winning pass. This was going to be his year; he would not be too short, too skinny, too uncoordinated. He was playing football, no matter what. Of course, mother would never approved. He let that thought slip away.
 
He climbed to end of the bed on his elbows and pushed up to the edge. His spindly feet touched the cold floor. He jerked up before setting them down again on the concrete. Should he stay in bed?
 
He considered his plan. It is nice and warm in here. He looked back at the paperback he was reading. The next chapter could be good. He snapped out of his doubt. No, I have to do this.
 
Across the street from the old house, two teams gathered on a long field of green. Tommy grabbed his helmet and shoulder pads and rushed across the street. He slowed as he reached the edge of the grass and paused. He thought better of the idea. He turned back.
 
Tommy missed his chance to retreat. A large hand grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled out on the field. On the line, a hulk known as Smasher thumped Tommy’s helmet down hard over his head. Tommy bit down deeper into his mouthpiece. Smasher smiled a deep satisfying grin. He crouched down opposite the wimpy football player.
 
“You’re going down,” said Smasher. Tommy cringed. “Not likely,” he said under his breath. Tommy breathed in and stared into Smasher’s eyes. Blood gathered in his veins.
 
Tommy slipped sideways to avoid the mass facing off from him. Smasher followed and crouched back into a stance. Tommy trembled at the thought of grizzled terror bearing down on his small frame. He stepped backward and started to pull up but missed his chance to flee. The quarterback counted down, the ball snapped, and both lines pushed together. Tommy froze.
 
He started counting. One, two. Tommy didn’t get to three.
 
Smasher lunged forward before grabbing Tommy by the waist. He twirled Tommy above the crumbling defenders. He pushed him high above the tangled bodies and laughed. Smasher curled the smaller player downward and then pushed him back up. A weak scream escaped from Tommy as Smasher reached higher and higher. Tommy hung above the field in slow motion. He could see the entire team below him collapsing into a twisted heap. Smasher dropped his prey.
 
Before falling onto the mangled mass, Tommy saw an entire stand of cheering fans. The crowd vanished in a blink as Tommy landed on the pile below. Mom would not like this, he decided.
 
Tommy lay on the ground for a few more minutes before pulling himself up. He limped to the side of the field and fell down again on the grass. He stared up at the clouds rolling passed. He smiled a satisfied grin. After a few minutes, two orderlies placed him on a stretcher and carted him off to the infirmary.
 
“What you don’t seem to remember,” said the nurse “is that you are 84-years-old and too fragile to be playing football.” She placed an ice bag on Tommy’s knee. He covered the bag and smiled up at her.
 
Both men sat in the library playing chess and grinning. It had been a good day.
 
“And you, Mr. David Lemboski.” The nurse pushed away a wandering hand from the bottom of her skirt. “You should be ashamed of yourself. Trying to pick up a grown man over your head!” She smacked the back of his head and walked away to the nurse’s station.
 
“You know Smasher,” Tommy said. “I never felt more alive.”
 
The two men turned to the chessboard between them. Smasher picked up a rook and put his queen in jeopardy. Tommy considered a sudden revelation. “Mom was right. I should have stuck to chess.”
 
Touching the ceiling, two ghosts hovered above Tommy and Smasher feeling very alive. They then floated through the pieces on the game board. Tommy and Smasher advanced through the squares. The ghosts picked up speed and flew across the room.
 
They drifted over to join a group of other faded personages. Both ghosts shined brighter than the rest. One in particular seemed very pleased and she beamed a sliver of light down to the chessboard.
 
Tommy looked over at the two happy ghosts and winked. A wave of happiness extended from the ghost of his mother to his eyes. He chuckled. She nodded in approval. Tommy realized it didn’t matter anymore what she thought.
 
The line of ghosts drew inward forming a common light, floated through the chess pieces, and then shot out the window. Tommy watched them disappear. The truth was very clear to him. They lived in a haunted house.
 
 Copyright 2013, Michael S. Sommermeyer. All Rights Reserved.

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