January 2018



Just Under the Surface

By: Mary McGaffigan

Just Under The Surface

Worn white sneakers
Traverse across dry oak.
The sun’s rays strike my back,
The sky fills with smoke.

Tenacious skin covered with sunscreen,
I gaze around at the flat.
I feel the sweat on my neck,
And adjust my pink hat.

As we hike through the terrain,
I notice bones very near;
A decayed bison with horns,
Collapsed in its bronze gear.

Arid grass blankets the field,
Amidst multiple holes
Brimming with water,
Boiling hot in their bowls.

Some are crystal clear,
While others nebulous and brown.
Geysers burst into the sky,
And then plunge back down.

I draw close to the pools,
Which reek of rotten eggs.
The steam fogs up my glasses,
The hair prickles on my legs.

Rock mountains tower above me,
Dripping down like melted wax.
Their torrid basins overflow,
And water cascades through the cracks.

After hours of aching feet,
We arrive at the end of the trail.
The light brawls with the oncoming darkness,
But is unable to prevail.

Dawn transfigures into dusk,
The sun descends behind trees.
Dark clouds charge across the sky,
And I know it is time to leave.

 

Mary is a 16-year-old from Massachusetts.



That Blessed Day

By: Kekoa Quereto

It had come, the day had really come. The day that they had prepared for, that he had fired a thousand bullets in preparation for, the day had really come. And he was not sure he was prepared to meet it.

If we are mark'd to die, we are now
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

He ran across the field, dodging around both bullets and spells, wondering how he managed to be so terrible at both. He didn’t fire his gun--no, instead he looked down at his sword, his sword given a single, powerful blessing by Those who had Battled Before. They had lost, but had blessed him in hope that he might win. As he headed into the fight against both organic and inorganic, he prayed. Prayed with all of his might that he might somehow win. And all the time it rang in his head, as it had been ringing in his head the day he found out when the enemy would be invading.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold.
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.

“If I fight for my Friends, then I do fight for my honor!” The blood pounded in his head, but he felt calm this time. So calm. Why? Why would he feel calm now in the heat of battle against these monsters? Because now was the time that the vote of who was to win this last battle—humanity or invaders—would be decided! He would be completely calm, completely ready for whatever happened next.

The war had been going on for almost ninety-nine years—so close to a century now! Why was it that he had to be born a decider, why did he have to be part of the generation to either take it all back or give it all up? Because someone had to fight the glorious battle that could either strip or restore the hope and honor of humanity!

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

Fellowship? Brotherhood? Surely cowardice was not something necessary in this war but neither was fellowship or brotherhood. Depending on who you talked to the war was a result of his “brothers,” fellow men and women opening a portal or alien signal. Aliens, Demons, Fellow Men, who was it all against? Who was it all for? What was it all for?

The answer was survival. No matter how much man was torn away from brotherhood, from fellowship, he would never be torn away from Survival. Bashing through those . . . things . . . on the field made him wonder if that was how he did everything; why he bore through the harsh training, the rough civilian life before, making sure that each and every person was cared for, fed, clothed.
And all before the age of twenty, he thought, dropping his gun and feeling his magic draw thin as he attempted to ration it evenly.

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

The enemy seemed to be waning, their last wave—was it weaker than normal? Could it be that it was the last of this mysterious invader, that he and his troop of only twenty had managed to accomplish what one hundred years of soldiers had failed to achieve?

He looked down and realized that the flickering of the light meant that his magic was dwindling. There were only a few shells in the artillery, and he and the other troops were armed with only their swords and a collection of rag-tag weapons, like hammers and spears. The men had been free to choose what weapon they wanted for hand-to-hand, and he could see why. It was because when the time came for hand-to-hand, then there was truly no chance at winning. No chance at any kind of survival.

Let the men die carrying whatever weapons they wanted to. After all, it was a special day.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."

It seemed to him that he had lived a thousand lifetimes as the enemy rushed near. The cross around his neck dangled, but instead of grasping it he grasped his long, heavy-handed sword to swing at the nearest attacker. A lucky scrape at the organic side of the body—and a piercing screech that nearly made him collapse

Slice, slice, slice again and he found himself shaking as he looked around. Only five left. Five men and women left out of an army of five hundred million. Yes, there were another three hundred back at camp, but for all intents and purposes, five remained of the army.

The last stand.

The last of the three hundred, standing against the invading spartans, attempting to defend a home and an empire that they worried was fading.

But they would stand.

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—

He hefted his sword up and looked at the ragtag weapons brought by his compatriots. A woman with a hammer and shield. A man wielding two long daggers, each about a foot in length. Another woman with a long, heavy axe held in both hands, and a man with an oriental katana, holding it back in its sheath.
These four and him, holding onto whatever they could.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-

One Hundred Years, and it came down to these men, the five.

He knew that they would be remembered, would be heroes even at some point, but in this world or the next?

“You have done well, you men.” It seemed worthy praise, since they were the last five. The last five fighting a war that had been unevenly matched since the beginning.

The thing marching towards them was all cybernetics, wires and tubes and only a single organic hand visible. He saw the suit, knew it was the general, and giggled a little bit. A single patch of organic skin. A weak spot.

The other four soldiers looked confused at his laughter, as surely this general and these four enemy officers, though they be the last, would be the strongest.

“You have done well, but it all ends right here.”

And then the Five Heroes rushed forwards, him crying the loudest that his hoarse voice could as he took in the desecrated earth.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;

He slashed blindly at the general, clouded over by not rage, but by fear. Pure fear and adrenaline. The general swiped most of them away with his cybernetic hand, that morphed into a sword mid-swing.

Left, right, parry, swing.

The woman with the hammer and shield on his left hit her target over the head, and the officer went down. She kept beating, however, until its death was clear and her adrenalin slowed. Then she sat down, breathing heavily, and looked at him.

The man with the two knives plunged through steel, wires, and skin alike. The cybernetic warrior came down into the dirt, and he only stabbed once or twice more. Then he sheathed his knives, and sat next to the woman.

A long, double-headed battle axe went cleanly through the shorter enemy officer, a long vertical slice in half. Was the resulting fluid oil, or could it be blood? Would there ever be a way to know? The woman who dealt the blow finished the enemy, face tight and bleak.

The man with the katana jumped back and forth, waiting for the enemy to be just off balance enough. Then a single slash, straight through the officer, who fell to the ground. He released a deep exhale of a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He shook and had to sit down and stop himself.

In the middle, he found the point with his sword, seeing that all others had been taken down.
Three. A slash through the head, barely deeper than a graze but enough to put him off balance.
Two. Cutting off the organic hand, the one place there would be surefire pain—the screech following verifies that it worked.
One. Plunge the sword straight in and drive, drive, DRIVE.

Looking around he has found himself twenty meters from his allies, who are sitting in dazed disbelief. He walks back to them and recites the final piece out loud, looking down at his watch and thinking through what is left.

Each of the men whispers into their watches, recording the time and date of their last battle. One last action report.

Hidetaka, sheathing his katana, manages to smiles as his final nervousness fades.

Nessa’s axe is stuck in the ground and she knows she does not yet have the strength to get it back.

Julian’s knives, sheathed and gleaming, remain still as he goes up to Elouise and comforts her.

And in the middle is him. Colin Dorian Cloud.

He recites, openly and plainly, his voice somehow coming out crystal clear as he looks across the now-barren land:

“And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their dignities cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day.”

October 25th, 2199.
The day we finally did it.
St. Crispin’s Day. 

 

Kekoa is a 15-year-old from California.



False Steps

By: Lauren Baehr

“Can we talk about this another time,” Sam said, not looking up from his computer, “I’ve got work to do.”

“With you, later never comes! It’s always about work isn’t it?”

“Well, considering we still have to pay off our debt, we don’t have the time to take care of a kid.”

“That’s because you’re stubborn! We could figure something out if you put some effort into it!” Rachel was furious, and it showed in every angle in her body; from her tense stance to her snarling expression.

“This conversation is over. Let me get back to work, so we can, you know, pay for the damn house,” Sam growled.

This sort of exchange had become familiar to the ghost since she first awoke. In fact, the sound of shouting was what woke her up from the hardly-conscious status she had fallen into after her death. Well, it was more the emotion behind the shouting than the shouting itself. She could ignore noise, but feelings were what really caught her attention.

Several months after her awareness had returned, she began to get frustrated with the pair of them, Sam and Rachel. In the first few weeks she had been able to float listlessly, a barely formed mass of ectoplasm. Soon enough, though, she had been forced into greater consciousness, and she didn’t particularly like it. Each argument between Rachel and Sam felt like an unpleasant sting of electricity, and since she couldn’t leave her house—the place she lived and died in—simply leaving the source of the problem wasn’t an option.

When Sam and Rachel had first taken possession of the house, the ghost had been nearly drugged into deeper sleep by the wave of positive emotions that they had brought with them. Her house—the ghost’s house—had nearly looked like the haunted house it was when the couple had happened upon it with their agent. After the ghost had died, the near-mansion had been too expensive to attract an abundance of buyers, and as time moved on it had fallen into such a state of disrepair that no one would have wanted to buy it, even if they could afford the expense.

Rather than seeing a timeworn relic, Rachel had seen an opportunity, and together she and Sam had nurtured the house into modern beauty. The ritual of making the house a home had been much different, but no less joyous, than the time long-past when the ghost’s husband had flitted merrily among construction workers, instructing them as to the specifications of his dream home while the ghost had stood back and smiled fondly.

Sam hunched in front of his computer, as his wife stormed out on him for the third time that week. Sam’s shoulders were tight and his mouth was pinched. He was obviously frustrated, but she was a ghost, not a mind reader, so she couldn’t tell what he was thinking that gave him such a look, but she could certainly guess. She suspected the obvious answer: Sam was likely as upset as Rachel, but in his own, quiet way.

The only ones left in the room were Sam and the ghost, which amounted to no company he could actually interact with. The large windows opposite to the door might have at least brightened his face, but when he had set up the room the desk had been placed facing the wall that the door interrupted.

All she could do was watch them, and perhaps throw a small object when she was feeling particularly temperamental. She didn’t factor into the equation at all, she was just an imprint of memory, dulled emotion, and vague inactive consciousness.

Every moment she spent in this house was a moment that more emotion and cognizance and memory was forced into her. Her past was a smeared blur of black and white, like the movies she used to love to watch with her husband.

She saw some of her past life, in him and in her. Occasionally a disjointed memory would surface, fitting over the young couple like a blurry photograph. Watching them brought the memories—the memories that hurt—back into full color, fleshed out with emotion. She remembered her husband laughing, saying “We won’t be young forever,” and “C’mon sweetheart! We’d have the cutest kids.” She remembered not being ready. She remembered his smile fading more, and his hope waning each time she turned him down. She remembered not noticing his encroaching despair until it was too late to take it back, too late to be honest, to say “Maybe I can do this if it’s with you.” She remembered him getting that damn enlistment letter, and —

She couldn’t do anything. She thought if she had skin she would be tearing at it in an attempt to free herself from the feelings crashing down around her head. The ghost felt the desperate need to do something besides ineffectually throw small objects at walls or push papers off desks or spectate. At that point all that really mattered was doing something to change the helpless state she had found herself in, and get rid of the unwelcome emotions and memories that her present state of consciousness was forcing her to confront.

Stomp, stomp, stomp.

The ghost was abruptly snapped out of her downward spiral of thought, her attention pulled to the source of the noise. The tangible, distracting noise. She focused her attention back on the solid plane, and saw Rachel.

Rachel made her way to the stairs, and the ghost was greeted with a flash of inspiration. This may have solved her problem once and for all if she were lucky, she thought with wicked giddiness.

As a ghost, fifty years dead wasn’t particularly powerful or august, but…she could do small things, such as lifting the corner of a plank of wood at the top of a flight of stairs. It was a simple matter to wrap a small part of her power around the wood of the top step just as Rachel reached it. The tip of Rachel’s toes caught on the slightly raised plank and held as the rest of her continued forward. Rachel tipped forward, and a look of terror crossed her face. The ghost didn’t notice, and it was doubtful that she would have cared even if she had.

A sigh, and then screech of a chair being moved across hard floor echoed from the upstairs office; Sam’s response to the commotion. Sam stepped out of his seclusion looking prepared for another shouting match. Then, inevitably, the grisly scene that his wife had become caught his eye. The ensuing “Oh god” was hollow and choked and managed to nicely echo the horror of Rachel’s expression as she fell.

The body at the bottom of the stairs was a striking sight, the ghost thought. One of Rachel’s legs was twisted at an unnatural angle and one of her hands grasped out across the floor from a broken arm, bone shattered under flesh, and the flesh punctured by the calcium shards. Most striking of all was the head; a fresh puddle of red spread from it, akin, in shape, to a halo from a medieval painting.

The ghost found her beautiful in that her fall was cleaner, crisper, than the death of the ghost’s own husband. His was a messy death. His was, as she was told, an explosive death. There wasn’t enough of him left to bring home to bury.

Sam almost fell down the stairs in his rush to reach his wife. He nearly slipped on a swathe of blood that her uncontrolled descent had left behind. Blood coated his foot, but he was too focused on his destination to acknowledge that he was leaving behind bloody footprints.

Fear was thick in the air when Sam finally reached Rachel. He hesitated, pale hands (not at all like the ghost’s husband, his hands were of a healthy shade of tan) hitching to a stop just before he touched her. He snapped out of his pause quickly enough, and his fingers reached for a pulse. The ghost wondered what he would find.

Tears welled up in Sam’s eyes. So she’s dead, the ghost thought. I wonder if she’ll join me in this state, she mused. Then she noticed Sam fumbling at his pants pocket. He pulled out his phone, and he dialed a three digit number with crimson-stained fingers. Hmm. I suppose I won’t get any company after all, the ghost deduced, neutral even as the phone began to ring.

The tears had been tears of relief. It really was a strange turn of events. Not that Rachel was alive; the ghost didn’t have much thought to spare for that one way or the other. The interesting thing was that she had gotten used to the frustrated tears of Rachel, when the woman thought she was alone to let it show. Sam had never let tears fall.

In the end, it didn’t make any difference to her. The life of Rachel Evans hardly mattered to the ghost outside of the immediate irritation that the apparently still breathing women inspired within her.

The paramedics arrived eventually. They made a big, professional fuss, lifting Rachel’s warped, near-corpse body into the ambulance. Sam followed after, twitching in half-aborted motions, wanting to help but not knowing how, tear tracks marking his face. Slowly the house was drained of life, and a straggling emergency responder eventually closed the heavy wooden front door with finality.

The ghost was finally alone. She relaxed her form, and released her mind, slowly and with great satisfaction. She reveled in her ability to once more be able to fade into an indistinct ectoplasmic mist without interference from bothersome, frustrating residents in her haunted house.

 

 

Lauren is a 16-year-old from Maryland.



Embrace the Fear!

By: Jolie Dunlap

The van shook me back and forth, rattling my bones to the core. I took a deep breath and stared out the window. I felt as if I was as brave as a lion, but as dumb as a dodo. Looking at the beautiful scenery took my mind away from the fear gathering inside of me. It had been three days since my family and I arrived in New Zealand. We had been touring Queenstown, looking at their stores and trying their food; today, we would do the most stupid—and most awesome—thing in our lives. The van hit another bump and I looked up to see an open field with sheep grazing in it. Two small buildings stood out in the vast, rolling field. My sister, sitting next to me, leaned forward and smiled.

“Are you ready?” she asked. I nodded. Half of me was ready but the other half wasn’t.

The van pulled to a stop and the driver stood up. “Okay everyone, we are here,” she said as she slid the door open. Three other people got out in front of us, and then my family got out. I stepped out of the van and looked to my left. There was a waiting room, and to my right was the sign-in room. My family started to walk towards the sign-in building. I trailed behind, and looked at the field. That's when I had noticed dots falling from the sky. They got bigger and bigger as they came into my view.

“Jolie!” my mom said from the door to the building. I pulled myself away from the dots that fell out of the sky and ran over to my mother. As I walked into the building there was a front desk to my right, and merchandise to my left. All the way in the back was an open room with a sitting area in the middle. T.Vs were lined on the walls with pictures of different people flashed on the screens. I wandered over to them and looked at the people.

“I think these are the jumpers,” my sister said as she walked over to me.

“Yeah, did you see the guy that jumped 30,000 times?” I asked. She nodded. I could tell she was excited; her eyes shined and a smile wouldn’t leave her face. My mom came over and sat down on one of the chairs. I walked over to her and she smiled at me.

“I have so much adrenaline coursing through me, I feel like I’m going to die!” she said excitedly. I sat down next to her and held out my hand to show her, palm down. It shook violently.

My dad came over and sat down next to my mom and took her hand in his. He started to talk to her, but I wasn’t listening. Instead, I looked out the window and watched a small Cessna 182 Skylane plane turn into the field and pull up right outside where all the jumpers were folding the parachutes and drinking coffee. The lady at the front desk walked over to us with a paper in her hands.

“Richard?” she asked. My dad stood up and walked over to the lady. They started to talk and I watched as the lady nodded her head and pointed outside the double doors. My dad thanked her and walked back over to us.

“We’re up.”

The lady took us through the double doors and into the hanger. A blast of cold air blew into my face as we walked into the room. She led us over to the left to an open area where some lockers stood by a wall. We put our stuff in them and the lady handed us gray jumpsuits. I slipped it on and zipped it all the way to the middle of my neck. The lady walked up to me with a young man beside her. He was Brazilian, and my height, with a beard. “This is Will, he is going to be your jumper.”

I smiled at him, and he smiled back. “Alright, let's get you set up,” he said and gave me some gloves, goggles, and a white cap.

After we were all suited up we started to head to the plane. There were long metal benches that were bolted to the floor of the plane. Will slid in first, then I did; so did my family, one by one, till we were all squeezed in. Will started to pull, strap, tug, and hook my suit to his. I watched as all the other jumpers did the same thing to each member of my family. That’s when I felt the engines turn on and the plane move. I stared out the window and watched the lavish green fields swiftly go by us, as if I fast-forwarded a National Geographic documentary. The plane lifted from the ground and started its climb. We soon flew over Wakatipu lake, the beautiful ink blue water standing out from the snow-capped mountains that surrounded the lake.

“Are you nervous?” Will asked. I shook my head. I was surprised with myself because my heartbeat was steady and calm. “I’ve jumped almost 11,000 times and I’m nervous,” Will said thoughtfully. “Isn’t that ironic?”

I nodded. My eyes were glued to the window. We were passing over the Remarkables. It had snowed the other day so they were now white. The jumpers said that this was, by far, the most beautiful day to do it. They were right. It was breathtaking. Between the vibrant blue lake and snow-white mountains, we couldn’t have picked a better day.

“14,000 feet!” The pilot called back to us.

Will brought down an oxygen mask that hanged from the roof of the plane. He stretched it over my head so that the mask covered my nose and mouth. “Just breathe normally,” he said. The other jumpers did the same thing to my family. “We're right now dying,” he said with a laugh, “but we’re going to get higher.” He was right, at 14,000 feet the body starts to die. It didn’t comfort me, but it did keep my mind off of what was going the be happening in a few minutes.

“15,000 feet!” the pilot shouted.

My dad was first. The jumper slid the door open. The plane filled with a blast of ice cold wind. The jumper started to shout things at my dad. I couldn’t hear and my heart pounded in my ears. I watched my dad lean his head back onto the jumper’s shoulder. The light next to them was red--3!--my dad grabbed his straps covering his chest--2!--the jumper got into position--1!--the light turned green--they jumped out! I heard the voices of my family cheering him on along with my own voice.

My mom was next. The same pattern. The jumper got into position, my mom grabbed her straps, the light turned green. They jumped. My sister was next--moved into position--grabbed her straps--light turned green--they jumped. My turn.

Will slid us forward to the edge of the plane. My feet dangled off into the space between us and the earth lost somewhere far below us.

Will started to yell. “Put your head on my shoulder!” I did. “Glue your feet to the bottom of the plane!” My feet banged against the bottom of the plane. “Grab your straps.” My hands squeezed the straps. “Okay, here we go!” My heart started to pound like a drum. “Three!”

I shook like a leaf in the wind.

“Two!”

The fear to jump started flowing through my veins.

“ONE!”

I’m really doing this!

We jumped. My stomach tightened and turned. My voice rung in the noise of 125 mph. I felt a light tap on my shoulder and I extended my arms to catch the wind. The butterflies in my stomach disappeared, my fear turned into pure happiness. The thrill of staring down at snow-capped mountains, ink blue water, and the green land below me raced through my body. I felt as if I was on cloud 9. The flight of feeling free. The ice cold wind burned my face but I didn’t care; I was on top of the world and no one could ever change that. I looked down and saw white dots scattered on the ground. They were sheep. Surrounding them were roads, farms, and small buildings. Cars raced below me looking like ants that were scurrying around an anthill, with green hills surrounding them and white blankets covering the mountains.

I looked down at the ground and watched as it started to come closer, but a sudden jerk slowed us to peace and quiet. The sound of wind and the frozen air all came to silence. I was still pumped on adrenaline, but I was at ease. I looked down at the ground still far below me. I looked up and smiled to myself. Though fear stared me down, I stared right back at it, and I conquered my fear to achieve my goal.

“Lift your legs,” Will said as we came into the landing zone. I obeyed his command and lifted my legs. He turned the parachute to the left and started to drift towards the ground. I felt my legs skid on the moist grass and come to a stop. “You just survived 15,000 feet, how do you feel?” Will asked me.

“Awesome!” I said. My other family members had already landed and were walking to the buildings. We got changed, went into the building, and got t-shirts for souvenirs.

“All right, we can go now,” the driver who brought us said. We all walked to the van and got in. The engine started and we turned onto the road and drove back. I leaned my head back and stared out the window with a smile on my face. I did it, and this memory would never leave my heart. The memory of seeing new heights, overcoming a fear, and realizing the achievements that came from it.

Finally, I could say I’ve been skydiving.

 

Jolie is a 14-year-old from Arizona.

 



Nadja, Tell Me About the Tooth Fairy

By: Nadja Goldberg

Vermillion lips delicately poised with peace
Gleaming green eyes to see through the night
A rosy draped gown made purely of fleece
Well before dawn, she takes off in flight.

Without wings she glides through air
Below a rounded moon and speckled stars;
Behind her drifts long locks of hair
Fiery red like the planet of Mars.

About the size of a sponge
She visits each house on her list
Through the mail-slot she does plunge
Sheltered from chilly night mist.

Flying down the hall or up the stairs
And through the door to the child’s room
Careful not to tug any hairs
As under the pillow she does zoom.

Searching for that jagged tooth
Replacing it with a special gift
To sustain the children through years of youth
As soon as they grip the pillow and lift.

 

 

Nadja is a 14-year-old from California.



A Quietus

By: Helen Little

"Just let go! We've made it this far, and there's no turning back now…"

Though she is but a white blob on the black void's horizon, her voice is crystal clear through the headset as she speaks in the cliches of old movies. We are a product of ancient times, she and I.  We are two wrinkled peas of a pod, a couple of old ladies finally saying their farewell to this universe.

 

Margie is considerably braver than I, and has already left on the last adventure we were meant to share.  As for me, I'm incapable of pulling myself away from the sleek, ovular pod that transported our cryogenically frozen bodies from Earth to this magnificent death-bed. The journey held no late night chats over freeze-dried ice cream, no days spent chasing floating water bubbles and laughing at each other's blunders under the influence of zero gravity. There was just before followed by after with a state of nothingness in between, and a significant time leap of 20 million years leaving us not a day older. We had our grounded-in-earth goodbyes, and there is nothing familiar to return to anymore. Our debt to life has been paid, and now it is time to give up our hold on the world and literally leap from the grasp of life.

 

They don't tell you before you head out into the great frontier of space that every attempt at movement will be cumbersome and unwieldy. I thought our journey would be as graceful as the leaf floating through Forrest Gump's opening credits, but now here I am, legs flailing outward as my arthritic hands desperately clench a handle extruding from the outside of our pod. All motion is amplified and maddeningly stays in motion. I move to scratch an inaccessible itch on my arm, and the entirety of the dead-weight pod moves with me. I can't win this small struggle, and it's time to release my grasp despite a constant, nagging thought that it's not quite my time to go. Finally, I turn from the reflection of my bulbous, white helmet on the metallic surface of the pod to the infinite scenery that had been framing my form. The small movement towards the cosmos is enough to release my weak hold on the pod, propelling me out into the great beyond.

 

Margie is steadily receding into the distance while I float, petrified, and she shows no sign of stopping in her determined, rocket-fueled trajectory. She's less of a spot and more of a speck against the flat coin of the black hole that spells out a beautiful end. I'm sure that, to her, I'm but an undefined point of light in a splattering of stars, but from my perspective, Margie is clearly silhouetted as the only speck of light not warped in the presence of the supermassive hole's inward gravitation. Galaxies and nebulae spiral into its dominion, stretched into a kaleidoscope of compressed layers and pulsing, mirrored orbs of light. This is our chosen end, to be reabsorbed by the force that created the very atoms of our beings, and to experience the ultimate power of the universe before fading into eternal darkness.

 

"You've waited 92 years plus a couple million to do this, so can't you wait just a few minutes longer for your frail old friend to catch up?" I yell at the small speck that is my friend of a lifetime long ago.

 

"Get off your high horse and come on over here! When I go in, you're going too!" Margie is practically shouting in my ear to cover the distance, kicking my old arse into gear from a meandering spot near the pod. I activate the rockets on the back of my government-issued suit, feeling fully superhero-like while my bones are rocked from their disjointed sockets and I'm flung, spinning torpedo-style with tumultuous thoughts dragging behind, to Margie and the black hole.

 

Lacking a fundamental understanding of physics, I see a universe concealed beneath a thick cloak of curious obscurity under which no scientist will ever reside. Those stars could be accidental punctures in a seamless, inky-black sphere; the galaxies, swirls of paint left by a giant's brush in the sink; the ever-encroaching black hole, a hurricane's eye intent on spinning matter into the depths of hell. Margie has always seen the universe more matter-of-factly than I, discerning meaning where there really is none and insistent on finding the truth beyond the event horizon. I followed her here as I have through all walks of life, this time to watch the universe fade from existence together.

 

It is a wonderful feeling to fly freely among the stars when one has been confined to a walker for a few decades, and soon I'm sailing past Margie, who is stopped in a place of thoughtful contemplation. Our visors are infinite reflections of each other, and we manage to grasp hands that are encased in bulky gloves. We have nothing but each other out here; no personal items to tie us to Earth, no fear despite the vacuum that surrounds us and the black hole that is ready to stretch our beings into infinitesimally small strings of atoms. I have no more doubts, and we are ready to meet our end together as we start our true descent down to the black hole.

 

Yet, it seems that as we soar closer to the event horizon of tumultuous chaos and a certain painful end, Margie has some last words. She starts with a witticism of a question, saved for this exact moment,

"Ida, do you think you understand the gravity of our situation here?" She chuckles, then continues in a blur of words that just gets faster as we start to feel the gravitational pull of our fate. She is lamenting the past and coming to terms with strife and grief that had been thrown at her year after year. I can hear her relaying her love to the void of the universe, and throwing memories to the wind for me to catch in these last moments. We shared all 92 years of our lives together, brought together in our respective wombs by mothers who met in spin class and kept together by an unconditional understanding of the other. We raised families side by side, and sat back in rocking chairs on a shared porch, watching our families raise families.

 

It is no longer our rockets propelling us as the bulb of black rushes to greet our fall. Hand-in-hand we are plunging feet first, the effects of spaghettification starting to take hold. Margie's vocal stream has ceased with the pain in our torsos, originally a toe tingle that traveled with intensity as our organs started to feel the excruciating stretch caused by an imbalance of gravitational pull on different parts of the body. From concrete flesh and bone to a stretched string of nothing, we had begun the process of reverting back to our original star-dust state as a noodle of atoms. Soon the deep blackness is all that encompasses our immediate vision, and Margie and I slowly revolve around to watch the universe disappear. The pain really isn't anything we haven't experienced, with all of the elderly diseases one could imagine currently finding their home deep in our beings, so we are content for a while longer. I had forgotten to think about the implications of death since relinquishing my hold on the pod, but they no longer matter and the moment is painfully right for the occasion. Margie and I plummet backward as the universe turns inside out and starts to compress the cosmos into a sphere of light, quickly swallowed by unyielding blackness. I find my voice one last time to say,

 

"Marge, I love you…"

 

There is a faint reply of "I love you too Ida, sweet as apple cida..." and then we are nothing.

 

Helen Little is 17 and lives in Nebraska