Mother gave us everything. Food to eat. A place to sleep. Everything we could ever need, she provided for us. She took care of my brothers and sisters too. And how did we repay her?
We gave her ungratefulness hastily wrapped in a dollar store bow. Had all of the fun we wanted without ever thinking of the pain it put her through. Threw away all the gifts she gave us like they were nothing. Only stopping to think of her one day out of the year, then it was back to our bullshit.
We thought since we were grown-ups now, that we were immune to punishment. You remember when your mom used to say she brought you into this world and she can take you out? Well, ours was ready to take us out.
She gave us hints that we were getting on her nerves. At first, it was just heavy sighs. We noticed that the hurricanes were getting stronger and happening more frequently. Her burning rage was definitely enough to scare us off. The brushfire season seemed to last longer and longer. Pandemics broke out. She even tried to shake us into submission. The quakes became scarier and the resulting tsunamis were just her tears of frustration when she realized we still weren't listening. But then, she decided to take a more direct approach.
Jared Steiner was living his best life. He was getting fat donations from his buddies in the oil industry to keep deflecting questions from climate change activists. Why should he care about their opinions? They weren't going to help him cover the payments on his new convertible. Mr. Steiner did all he could to make business easier for his friends up at Pierce Solutions.
Together, they, and others fueled by greed, were slowly heating up the planet. But Steiner loved vacationing in Florida anyway. Yes, the glaciers were melting but maybe those living up north would soon get to enjoy their own tropical paradise. Besides, he hated the cold weather. He was doing the rest of the world a favor. Then, on July 5th, 2021, something really strange happened.
The night before, he had just enjoyed a lovely evening with his wife at The Chateau, where reservations were rare unless your pockets were as large as Mr. Steiner's gut. They watched colorful explosions splatter the dark sky outside the restaurant windows. They were excited to catch their early flight to Miami to get some much needed tans.
Mrs. Steiner didn't care how her husband made the money he did. She just never wanted to see it go away. She was addicted to this lifestyle. She had grown up poor and her mother always told her she should marry rich. Always reminding her daughter how all men are a disappointment. “And if you're gonna marry a disappointment, at least get with one that takes you on shopping sprees.” She never had another perspective on the issue considering her dad left them both a while ago.
Who cares if she didn't really love Jared? He thought she did and that was all that mattered. She daydreamed about her flashy lifestyle while watching the lights flash in his glasses. Then after hearing a pause, she realized how long she had been ignoring him while he was speaking with her. In a panic, she said "Yeah... that's crazy."
"It WAS crazy, wasn't it?” he giggled between bites. She would never know what the topic was about.
The next morning they landed knee deep in the humidity and tourists. They shuffled out of their first class seats and promptly into a taxi headed straight for the beach. It was a scorching 87 degrees out. They laid down their giant towels and got lathered up in sunscreen. The skies were clear and they could hear the distant cry of seagulls. Today was going to be perfect. After lowering their bodies onto their sandy mattress, they rested their eyes.
Steiner was startled from his nap to hear his wife screaming. His eyes flung open and the first thing he felt was his body shivering. Mrs. Steiner had taken off. He was confused and noticed their sunkissed paradise had turned dark and cold. He now saw why she had run away. It was hailing.
He usually didn't mind being a deep sleeper but he was seeing the drawbacks all of a sudden. Steiner hastily lifted himself onto his feet as fast as he could. He felt little thumps on his skin as he got up. He made a beeline for the boardwalk. Regrets shot into the back of his brain like a failed attempt at saving a hostage. Only now did he loathe his sluggish physique. Thump. He struggled to run through the icy dunes.
The hailstones only got bigger, as if they were mocking his large size. Trying to compete with him. Taunting him. Thump. It felt like baseballs raining from the heavens onto his head and shoulders now, but he was in no mood to swing. For the first time in his life, he felt true fear. Thump. All the millions sitting in his bank couldn't save him now. Thump. But through the mess that was blocking his view, he could see the boardwalk up ahead. Thump. Thump. If he could just get underneath those wooden planks, he would be safe. Home base.
The only warmth was the steaming air coming from his lips and nostrils as he forced his legs in front of him. Thump. He took one to the shin. The only thing that kept him going was the thought of stopping even for a second and being pummeled to death. Thump. There was no time to think of the impossibility of what was happening. Thump. He just wanted out of this nightmare.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. He dropped to his knees and could barely hear the ice exploding far above him. He was panting like an antelope that had narrowly avoided becoming dinner. He had made it. He took his phone out of his pocket and dialed his wife. After two rings he heard "Sweetie?" He was relieved.
"Yes honey are you alr-" was all he could manage before he became the human version of bowling pins. The planks above him had finally caved in and an enormous stone landed on the back of his neck. Strike. News stations were baffled that day. Nothing like this had ever happened before or unfolded so quickly without being detected by weather radars. The world was in shock. But only for a couple weeks until the next distraction came along.
It would take a few more coincidences before we noticed what was really going on. Clearly, justice was being served. But since seeing is believing, most people kept ignoring the obvious. Well, mother wasn't having that. I'm sure you've had situations where if your sibling misbehaves, you both get in trouble? Well, we were all caught in some shit now. On Evacuation Day, everything happened so quickly. A blur of horror painted in our minds by some demented expressionist. Let’s just say I’m lucky I had finally become a permanent employee with the California Aeronautic Alliance a month prior. Quakes. Eruptions. Tornadoes. Lightning. Everything. All at once. Nothing but smoke and screams. Most didn’t want to leave their families behind but we knew there was never going to be a reunion. Even though we just happened to have a rocket ready, we are lucky to have escaped under those conditions. I remember shaking along with the Athena II, wondering if we were gonna fall right back down.
That’s how I ended up here. Looking out the window of The Falcon at the place we used to call home. She was a pretty thing. A greenish blue marble just floating there looking so peaceful. But we knew what she had become. And even though we were on bad terms, we still needed her help. Now was she willing to give it to us? Not with her current attitude. We could try asking the nearest exoplanet if we could borrow some resources. But even if we got an answer, I doubt we'd be able to go pick them up over four light years away.
So me and the rest of the Falcon 5 had been chosen to go down and take it.
We'd only been out of cryo for about a week. The rest of the colony had a million questions for us since we were the first to ever survive being frozen. I told them it felt like a long ass nap. Me and the other four didn't mind volunteering to become popsicles since we had lost everything anyways. Kind of wish I never woke up to be honest. Reality was just a nightmare at this point. But the rest needed us. We were gearing up now to head down to the thing that almost killed us three years ago. It was perfect timing.
A meteor shower was about to rain down on the planet in a few hours and our plan was to hide amongst them when they entered the atmosphere. Supplies were running out and The Falcon was falling into disrepair. Some sections of the space station had to be decommissioned after they became unsafe to inhabit. As miniscule as it seems compared to the billions dead, getting over 30 people up in orbit here was quite a feat. But if we want to keep the human race from going extinct, it was time to scavenge for resources. If there was anything left.
I felt something on my shoulder. “Yo, Terry.” I turned around to see a scrawny alien floating in front of me. Well, at least he looked like one. It was just David from the observation deck. Since there were only five cryogenic pods, everyone but us had suffered muscular dystrophy and other effects on their bodies from being in zero gravity for so long.
“Hey Dave! You guys ready for us?” I asked. “Of course, everything is looking good. I just wanted to thank you guys again for doing this. I’d rather die up here as a stick figure than go back to that hell hole” he said. I made a confused face. “What are you talking about? Your team said the weather’s been beautiful there for the last three years” I said. “Well no shit, because WE aren’t there!” he laughed.
Humor was really all we had left.
“Alright, I’m gonna catch up with the rest of the crew, hope that deathtrap y’all built for us doesn’t explode!” I joked as I pushed myself through the circular entryway towards the loading bay. “Hey at least we’ll get a nice firework show before we all starve” Dave said as I flew past him. Right before I turned the corner I flicked him off. He returned the favor.
I pushed a few buttons on the PIN pad to the airlock and it opened with a loud, repetitive beeping. Gripping both sides of the door, I flung myself in. Then I pulled a green lever inside and the door shut quickly. I entered my PIN again on the opposite side of the small room and it opened with the same, annoying beeping. “Oh wow, he actually made it! What took you?” our first medic Epiphany asked. Before I could speak, our second medic Jay interrupted, “Since he’s the captain, he’s too good to board the same time as us.” Our engineers Paul and Jessica chuckled. It was nice to see smiles on my crew’s faces. These didn’t look like the same people I had been frozen with. I enjoyed it because I knew things would change once we landed.
I responded as I closed our cabin door. “Chill. I was just using the bathroom since this makeshift crap doesn’t have one. Unless one of you brought a bottle for me?” Epiphany cringed “Nah, you good. Take all the time you need. It’s not like meteor showers are rare or anything.” “OK then.” I smirked then floated over to my seat at the control console. Once I was buckled in, I consulted with my engineers who would ensure we had a safe trip. “Hey guys, did you check all navigational systems? How is our fuel and oxygen levels looking?” Jessica spoke up, “We’re looking good, just enough to get there.” “I’m just hoping they’re right about those unused rockets, cause I don’t know if this thing would make it back to home base.” Paul remarked. Me too, I thought. “I’m sure we’ll find something. I mean, everything can’t be ruined down there.” Sounding sure of myself was the easy part. Actually believing my own optimism would be near impossible. “Can you all hear me good?” a voice spoke from inside our helmets. “Loud and clear, Dave. I think we’re ready for takeoff.” “Alright, everyone. Your destination is the CAA launch pad... assuming it’s still there. We are sending coordinates now and will keep you updated if anything changes on the surface. But you should be good to go in about an hour. Meteors are just now starting to hit the northern hemisphere. We scheduled a window of time for you during minimal activity to reduce the chances of a collision. Your mission is to retrieve as much as you can from the list of supplies I transferred to you and see if there are any rockets intact in the underground silos that we can use to get you back to The Falcon.” “Copy that. We’ll wait for your signal,” I replied. Jay was the first to break character. “You scared?” he whispered to me. The others were busy double checking that we had everything we needed before launch. “If it was just me, yeah” I whispered back. “But I got you guys to help me. I know you’ll be there with a big ass Band-Aid if any of my body parts get blown off in a crash.” I smiled. He didn’t smile back. “Not scared of the trip, but our destination. You think it’s still alive? What if it can tell the difference between us and a meteor? Then what?” I paused for a moment. “There’s no point in worrying about it. If it kills us, it kills us. But I’m tired of hiding up here. We’re the colony’s only hope so that’s why I’m staying strong. Trust me, this whole idea of going back scares the shit out of me too. Why’d you think I was in the bathroom so long earlier?” He smiled at that. Time seemed to go by so slowly and I probably would’ve taken a nap if my anxiety wasn’t keeping me wide awake. “OK Falcon 5, we are all set to start the countdown.” “Alright Dave, whenever you’re ready,” I said. “Starting the undocking process now.” We could hear the sound of our ship detaching from the station and looked out the windows to see us slowly floating away from it. We waited patiently for the countdown. Once we were a safe distance away from The Falcon, David’s voice came back into our ears. “10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…” We all held our breath. “Launching thrusters.”
We must have all had “kick me” signs taped to our backs because those thrusters were brutal. You try to brace for it but nothing can really prepare you when it actually happens. I could see us flying away from the station on my rearview monitor. We were on our own now. I could also see the moon behind us as well. The colony had decided that the best time for us to pay mother a visit would be at night, to avoid being seen. We don’t even know if a planet had the ability to see, but anything was possible at this point and we weren’t taking any chances. But I hadn’t really taken a long look at the moon in quite some time. Since I turned 14, now that I think about it. A full moon just felt like bad luck. For some, it’s because of werewolves. For me, it was because of a car crash. I was resting my head on the window sill in our living room, admiring its beauty. I waited patiently for headlights to illuminate our tiny driveway. Mom had been at work all day and was running to grab me a birthday cake before heading home. She always gave 110% when it came to caring for others and fighting for a better future. I think that’s where I get my stubbornness from. Well I guess it had been someone’s 21st birthday as well because some kid decided he could make it home safe after his first time at the bar. He didn’t. Luckily, she survived. But ever since that day, she had become mute. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her. We found new ways to communicate. She loved to put sticky notes all around the house. Had lots of fun sweeping those off the ground. I learned to read body language and facial expressions a lot quicker too. One of my favorite things she would do is make origami figures to express how she was feeling on any given day. Little sloths if she was feeling sluggish. A raven if she was sad. Bulls represented anger. And the one I loved seeing most: a dog. It meant she was happy. Pretty much every dog I ever met had been in a great mood. Naturally, she lost her job at the call center where she worked. So the next couple years drained up what savings she had been putting away for me to attend a nice college. I had to step up my grades after that. I turned 16 right around the time money dried up. I had to step up after that too. I was able to find work at a grocery store to help cover bills. I worked in the bakery section. Where we sold cakes. Most kids my age couldn’t imagine wasting their summers away at a job, but I figured I owed it to my mom. I didn’t mind having her live with me, at least until I could buy her the house she deserved. I was just returning the favor of her sacrifices she made to be a single mother. I wasn’t about to make her regret it. “Terry, look!” I was brought back to the present by Jessica pointing towards our ship’s left porthole. It was a once in a lifetime sight. I had only seen a few shooting stars back on Earth but we were riding right next to some now. Amazing streaks of blue racing us to the finish line. Too bad it wasn’t a fair race, since most of them would burn up in the atmosphere. Wish I had a camera so I could’ve got some great shots. But nothing would ever top seeing that in person. As mother pulled us closer, we started to look like a meteor ourselves. We were now traveling inside a red plasma that made the inside of our cabin even brighter. I hope the heat shield they were able to build with the limited materials was enough to keep us from cooking. The cabin shook around and all of us tried to remain calm. After a couple hours, we had reached the last stretch of our descent. “Alright guys, we are almost to home base!” Paul said excitedly. “Our cameras at the nose are showing that the launch pad is still intact.” “Good, deploy the parachutes, cut the thrusters, and brace for landing.” I replied. Paul and Jessica flipped a few switches and we were shaken violently from the drop in speed. “Uh, captain we got a problem,” Jessica said in a panic. “Only parachutes 1 and 3 have been released. Number 2 looks like it’s stuck.” I let out a very unconfident, “Ah shit.” “Hey Dave, one of our parachutes is failing to deploy, is there anything we can do from our end?” His voice blared in our helmets. “No, from what I can see it looks like it only opened halfway. Must have been an installation issue. But I think two should be enough to get you guys on the ground. But it ain’t gonna be pretty.” I found a spark of bravery to keep my crew’s morale up. “Alright, we’re just gonna have to deal. We’ll keep you updated on the landing.” Not much further. I could see the west coast getting closer and closer on my monitor. It showed that we were right above Cali now. I couldn’t see them in the dark, but I missed swimming in those warm Pacific waves on my days off. Maybe I’d get to wade around in them again one day. It was weird living in such a big city before but not seeing any proof of it ever existing now. No shining lights to cheer you up like at the end of a cramped airline trip. Just shadows to help keep our visit a secret. Hell, I’d take darkness over the amount of fire that we saw last time we were here. Our seats jerked around more violently than ever. Paul kept us updated on our altitude levels. “31,000 feet. 28,000 feet. 23,000 feet. 18,000 feet.”
We were south of the city now and I could see the skyline. In the faint moonlight, I could barely make out the tall buildings. There was a lot less still standing than my last visit though. “14,000 feet.” But something stood up even taller than the buildings. Although I couldn’t see it very well, judging off the jagged shape, I knew it had to be the result of all the earthquakes on Evacuation Day. This wasn’t going to be the same planet we left behind. “8,000 feet. 5,000 feet. Alright everyone, brace for impact!” Paul shouted. Through our front window, we saw the launch pad becoming larger by the second. Then, there was nothing. I woke up to alarms going off and the smell of smoke. I opened my eyes a little to see Epiphany holding my head in her lap and my helmet lying near my feet. “Are you with me, Terry? Say something if you can hear me.” she said. “Something” I managed a smirk. “Okay, good. A part of the ship came off during the landing and smacked you in the head but I think the rest of us are alright. Can you move?” After lifting my arms and legs to make sure they still worked, I felt around my body to check that there weren’t any other pains besides my throbbing headache. “I think I’m fine, thanks for the help.” I reassured her. She handed me a pain reliever which I washed down with the water pouch in my suit’s front pocket. I turned my head to see my crew assessing the damage of the ship and Jay checking everyone else’s vitals. He saw me roll over to get a better look at the damage. “Have a good nap?” he smiled. “Not exactly.” I frowned. Then I chuckled. I sat up and looked around at our cabin. It looked like the inside of an egg that hadn’t been cracked hard enough to open up, but it was close. My engineers walked over and kneeled down beside me. “So... I don’t think this thing is getting back off the ground for awhile” Paul remarked. “We can fix it if we find some major parts, but yeah, we’re probably better off looking for those rockets.” Jessica said. I gazed at my crew, relieved that we had made it back to the surface alive. “Alright” I smiled. “Let’s start looking.” The PIN pad to our door was cracked and the screen was dark so we pulled the emergency lever next to it. The door flung open, then fell off. I was about to take my first step on solid ground in three years when Jay spoke up. “Wait. You think mother heard us crash?” We all paused for a while and listened closely. But all we could hear was the sound of crickets in the distance. Besides that, it was very quiet. “Well if she had, I think we would’ve seen her reaction by now.” I joked. I held my breath and exited the ship. We had actually landed right next to the launch pad. My first instinct was to look up. I was used to seeing stars on The Falcon but never got a view like this when I lived on Earth. Especially with all the light pollution coming from our CAA offices, we never got a good look at the sky when at work. But now, it’s like the entire universe had come out of hiding along with us. It was probably the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Like a god had thrown glitter of all colors into the heavens. I thought nothing could kill this high until we started walking and I finally looked at the ground again. I’m glad we arrived at night, because I don’t think any of us were ready for what was waiting for us. Skeletons. Everywhere. It was bittersweet seeing all the pretty flowers sprouting out of skulls and rib cages covered in vines. We had just enough moonlight to avoid stepping on them. These poor souls were probably trying to get aboard our ship on Evacuation Day at the last minute. But nature was doing just fine in our absence.
We made our way over to the old CAA building we used to work in. We shone the flashlights mounted on our suits to get a better look at the structure. All the windows were broken and large cracks covered the walls. Our team would have to be careful exploring it. The front entrance that once had automatic sliding doors was gaping open with shattered glass everywhere. It crunched under our boots as we walked in to take a look at our old workplace. As we shuffled in, you could hear the sound of small animals scurrying away to hide. We knew The Falcon hadn’t detected any signs of human life down here these past three years but standing inside this silent, dark building that was once teeming with hundreds of passionate workers really drove it home for us. All the jokes we cracked with each other about the new hires, the celebrations we had when CAA made a major breakthrough in testing our rockets, and the warmth that came from all your coworkers pretending to forget your birthday then surprising you in the break room with cake on your lunch break. All gone. There wasn’t any time to reminisce though. I directed the attention from my crew that was paralyzed by disbelief. “There should be a cache of supplies in the basement so let’s head there. The elevator is obviously not an option so let’s hope the stairs haven't collapsed yet.” We passed the crumbling remains of the front desk and headed to the entrance of the stairwell across the room. The door was somehow still on its hinges. I flung it open and dust flew towards us as it bounced against the wall.
After a couple of flights we reached the storage room. This door wasn’t as lucky and was resting flat on the ground. Saved us the hassle of breaking it down since this room was usually locked and only meant to be accessed in emergencies. But now there was no one left to protect it from. We got in and directed our lights towards the few shelves that were still standing. Jessica was the first to pick up a can. “Oh nice! Looks like this stuff doesn’t expire for a couple more years.” We all started checking the shelves for food that was still edible. This room was enormous and based on what we already found, we guessed this place was jam-packed with tons of useful stuff. I noticed Jay had turned away from the shelves and was reaching his hand under his helmet visor to wipe his face.
“You alright, man?” I asked. “”Yeah,” he sniffled, while holding one of the cans. “It’s just the last time I had Spam me and my bro were frying up some together at my gram’s house. A week before Evacuation. Never thought I would miss this cheap shit.” He looked up at me with a teary smile. I put a hand on his shoulder to comfort him and heard a loud smack behind me. The room instantly dimmed as some of my crew’s lights went out. And before I could turn to react, mine did too. I woke up with a worse headache than before and felt that my mouth was gagged with some kind of cloth. It was daytime now. Things were a bit blurry but I squinted to see my surroundings. My arms and legs were tied together with rope. I was lying down and strapped to the back of something that was moving. Some kind of cattle?
I couldn’t really move my body to get a better look at where we were headed but I did recognize where we were. It was the road I had driven on to go home everyday after work. We trudged along a while longer and I looked over on the side of the street I lived on. I saw my neighbors old apartments had been reduced to rubble. But as we were passing by my old apartment I noticed it was still standing somehow. I seen someone had left a bunch of trash on the front porch. Probably after looting it during the end of the world. But then I looked closer. No, it was something else. My vision was starting to clear up more but I still had to squint hard to see what was littering the front of my old home. It looked like a bunch of shells standing up but that didn’t make sense. We were still pretty far from the beach. I looked harder. It was a bunch of hermit crabs. Well... paper folded to look like them anyway. Mom?
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! :D If you liked this or have suggestions on what I could have improved, message me on social media at @lensmakesart or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there is enough demand, I may consider fleshing this idea out in a full book or series. I post a new short story here every other month, so stay tuned! :)