The Tunnels They Dig
by Zach Powers
I am not floating, I am falling.
Below me is the sky. I am falling towards the sky. I will never reach it. I will never reach it alive. What once was me, long since starved of oxygen, will meet the sky briefly. My corpse will flare. It will vaporize. It will become gas. It will become part of the sky.
I am falling towards myself.
I am surrounded by a thin shell of air that is held in place by this ridiculous suit. I am also surrounded by the sound of my breathing. My breath is the air made loud. Sometimes it fogs the glass of my faceplate. My breath is the air made visible. It only hangs for a minute on the glass. The glass resists the fog. It is special glass made specifically for that purpose. And to keep out cold and radiation. I blow my breath against the faceplate to watch the air fade away.
I hit my head in the explosion.
I am not thinking clearly. I am aware of this, but unable to do anything about it. The very fact that I cannot think clearly prevents me from trying to clear my head.
I have spun so that I am facing down at Earth. I am facing the direction I am falling, like a skydiver. I spread out my arms and imagine the wind rushing past. My breathing provides the sound effect. Whoosh.
My spinning continues and now I am facing the spaceship. The windows glow orange. That would be the fire. Something sparked in a computer console. Something rubber caught fire. The smell filled the cabin. I pried off panels and opened compartments. I could not find the fire. It flared up from behind the attitude controls. By then it was too late.
The other astronaut was a scientist. She was studying worms and the tunnels they dig when weightless. When falling. The bulkhead behind her worms exploded. The explosion threw me against the wall. I hit my head. A piece of metal shot out, spinning, and sliced through the scientist's neck. Her severed head bounced around the cabin. Her blood formed undulating orbs. I was a scientist studying the paths blood follows when weightless. I was charting the constellations in red.
I am an astronaut. I am an astronomer.
I abandoned ship and I am floating. I am falling.
In a small town in Indiana there is a pond where the ducks float on the water. They do not fall. They bob gently. The surface of the water ripples in the chill breeze. The breeze comes from Lake Michigan where other things float. On the shore of this pond there is a boy who will become an astronaut. He throws small pieces of bread into the water. The ducks paddle over and splash their bills against the surface. Sometimes a piece of bread goes unnoticed. It sucks up water from the lake. Slowly it sinks. Slowly it falls.
The boy was once bitten by a duck, and he cries.
The tears gather in the corners of my eyes. When there are enough of them, they break free from my face and float in front of me. They float up to the faceplate. Some bounce off and some stick there. I spin to face Earth again. This time the view is obscured by the tears. They are like dots on the globe marking the cities towards which I am falling. The cities are all very sad. That is why they are marked by tears.
I continue spinning. The spaceship comes into view in time for me to see it explode. It is a bright, silent flash. The body of the ship cracks like a hatching egg, then pieces fly off in every direction. A number of large chunks hurtle towards me. I worry that they will hit me, but they sail past.
I am still breathing. My breath remains loud in my ears, gray on the faceplate. There is a gauge on the suit that tells me how much air I have left. I am not morbid enough to look. I do not need a countdown. A countdown is what brought us here in the first place. Three, two, one - fall. It is the inevitable conclusion to every countdown. What goes up must be sucked into some gravity well or another. Space and time distort and tug, and that is what we call falling.
I see Earth again, the gravity well we call home. Something floats between me and Earth. I look at it. I look past the tears on the faceplate. It is one of the scientist's worms. It is what is left of the worm after a fire, two explosions, and explosive decompression. The little body is torn and mangled. It looks like an earthworm on a driveway, run over and dried out by the sun.
The worm moves. It is alive and wiggling. I am not the scientist so I do not know much about worms, but this does not seem right. It wiggles more.
I hold my breath. Something beeps in my space suit. I ignore it.
The worm is floating towards open space. I do not know the escape velocity for a worm, but I know this worm is free. It is free of falling. This impossible worm will sail off wiggling into eternity. This worm will be the first creature from Earth to visit another solar system, another galaxy.
I will not let it.
I will take the worm with me, or with the worm be taken.
I grasp at the worm from within the thick awkwardness of my glove.
Worm in hand, I float away.
About the author:
Zach Powers lives and writes in Savannah, GA. He is writing this bio himself, and writing it in the third person, which to him feels rather pompous. He is averse to pomposity and is really quite personable. You'd like him. Give Zach Powers a chance. Why do you have to be so judgmental? His work, equally self-absorbed, has appeared in Opium Magazine and Edge Magazine and maybe elsewhere but he can't remember.