Timothy Wilkie

The June Editor's Pick Writer is Timothy Wilkie

Feel free to email Timothy at: timwilkie09@gmail.com

timothy wilkie

by Timothy Wilkie    

“This shall be its earthly doom; the dead live there.”
—Mary Shelley

The air was heavy and stale and slowly, very slowly, I was becoming aware of a musky odor in my helmet. I closed my eyes. I wondered if I were asleep or dead; either way, the intense darkness was the same. It was dark as night and as silent as the grave.

A jagged ray of sunlight struggled through the cracks in the rocks, sparkling moments of truth messages from the other side. “You’re alive!” they cheered.

It felt like spiders were crawling all over me as I lay there in the dark. I tried to ignore the tingling feelings in my fingers and toes.”Yes!” I cried.

Thump! The sound filled my mind and vibrated through my body. A slight smile came to my lips as I realized they were already clearing the stones to get to me.

The smell was awful in my suit, even worse than when Kim and I had the flat on Railroad Avenue next to the stockyards. So close to rescue, yet my thoughts drifted. Even though Kim had begged me, I wouldn’t move away from the stockyards. I was stubborn that way. I took great satisfaction in holding out to the very end and pride in knowing I could do it better than anybody else. I would hold out to the very end now.

The suit felt tight around my chest and I squinted my eyes so I could see better in the overwhelming darkness. It pressed in on all sides and made it hard to draw a breath. My tanks were running out.

I raised one eyebrow and opened my eyes slowly. My mind seemed a world away from my body. Simple tasks like raising my finger or wiggling my toes were now impossible for me.

I lay there, perfectly still under this heavy cloak of darkness. Where did the light from the rescuers go? Did they, give up, deciding I was hopeless? Or were they caught in a rock-slide of their own?

I was shaking and sweating all over, struggling for each breath. My head was throbbing as the air inside my suit grew thin. I was trapped within a coffin of stone, struggling in the grip of a living nightmare. I was imprisoned under a rock-slide, millions of miles from home.

The spider sensations were gone; even spiders needed air, I reasoned. Far away adrift in a secret sea of stars alone, alone, always alone. Death would come creeping long before they could dig me out this. A red light flared in the darkness warning me that my oxygen was running low.

“My name is Penn,” I whispered out into the darkness, trying to stem my own panic. Somehow just hearing my name out-loud seemed to help a little. There was no doubt in my mind that my friends were trying to get to me. But terror arose just the same its icy fingers clutched around my heart at the thought of never being free or seeing the stars again.

They would reach me but it would be too late for the stars. That was the drawback of being the ship’s captain. I knew the limitations of our equipment. I would never again see the sparkling jewels in the night time sky or hold Kim in my arms.

Agony gripped me and tears welled up in my eyes. Don’t waste your air with tears, I thought. Then my face changed, my eyes narrowed and my mouth hardened in determination. My right leg was pinned under a boulder. I was absolutely certain it was broken but there was no pain. If the grim reaper was coming for me, I wouldn’t go silent into the endless sleep. I’d hang on to the very end; I was good at that I had never lost an argument ever.

All my life I had dreamed of going to Mars. I was too young for the first mission in 2037 but when the opportunity had come around again I had jumped on it. I had been out of the lander for only a few minutes when the rock-slide encompassed me probably caused by the Lander’s rough landing. A missed landing site had put us about five hundred miles off course.

My eyes were blinded with tears with the thought that at their current, rate my team would get to me too late. It would be too late for me and too late for the stars that I longed to see again. Stop, I thought, stop feeling sorry for yourself.

I closed my eyes and returned to the shores of the Rainbow Sea. Pitch darkness colored by the whirling dance of Tachyon particles. There was comfort to be found on the shores of the Rainbow Sea, shapes ever changing in their hue were my companions.

As a child I had lived in Luna City a Moon colony. At night before I went to sleep I would close my eyes and visit the shores of the Rainbow Sea again and again. The Luna dome was no barrier to Tachyon Particles. So every night I would visit them just before I went to sleep. I would sit on the shores of the Rainbow Sea and watch them dance. Being the only child on a moon base can be very lonely. I would close my eyes and visit the Rainbow Sea alone, always alone.   

Slowly and painfully I put my fate into the hands of my two rescuers: Dana Race, a microbiologist, and Major Luis Bowman, my co-pilot; the other two team members Charlie and Kim were high above us still in orbit. They would never know the thrill of walking on the surface of Mars and I would never see my darling Kim again.

I shuddered. It was getting cold, That meant that the heater in my suit was failing. My lips curled into a sneer and I gritted my teeth against the bitterness.

I could hear Dana and Luis talking through my earpiece and I wished at that moment that I couldn’t. “We have to try,” Dana said.

Was there any other option? I thought. Did Kim know? Did she know that her soul mate was trapped under a ton of rocks and it was a miracle that he was still alive?

I shrunk back within myself, and only then realized that there was a large rock wedged under my back. There was no pain, just a little pressure. If I had been smashed against a rock, I should be in agony…unless my back was broken and all the nerves severed.

I closed my eyes again, fighting down the despair that threatened to engulf me. Back to the darkened shores of the Rainbow Sea where fireflies of light played in color all around me, forcing down my panic. I made myself concentrate on the colors. I peered into the darkness and watched them, red, blue, and purple as they did their madding dance of appear and disappear.

We had come here seeking life and instead I had found death on this alien soil so far from home. I lay there completely rigid hardly daring to breathe while tickling finger sensations started at my toes and moved up my ankles. If my back was broken, then they were phantom nerve pains.

Then a voice, really just an abbreviated breath, started to speak. “Penn! Are you there? Just hang on, baby, they’re digging you out.”

With wild joy, I realized that it was Kim’s voice, high above me in orbit. I wanted to answer but because of the thin air in my helmet I couldn’t get the words out. Please Kim, I thought, just keep talking. I don’t want to die alone.

Into my mind came the memories of my life with her on our first date, She had chattered nervously. We had both been at the Air Force Academy and in our last year. We had rented a big homey room off campus. The landlord had been a thin old woman who used to hit her ceiling with a broom handle when we made too much noise during sex. There had been no doubt back then that we would be married someday and we were, right after graduation. When the Martian expedition was announced, Kim had said no, she wanted to start a family but as per usual, I had overruled her.     

“You two have to work faster,” Kim said. “The sun is setting.” The nights on the Martian surface were impossible to survive. Between the cold and the massive sandstorms, death was almost assured.

I shuddered again. It was getting cold, really cold. I could feel it on my face. Suddenly the red light went off and the air felt like gravel as I breathed in. It was like a belt was wrapped tight around my chest and somewhere in the distance I heard a voice say, “Hurry!”

It was too late and for the first time in my life I knew the only way to win was to lose. If I hung on, then two of my friends would die needlessly. If I let go then my heart monitor would flat line and my friends would be able to make it back to the ship before night fall.

Silently I mouthed, “Kim I love you,” and then I closed my eyes and let myself go. Once again I was standing on the shores of the Rainbow Sea, only this time I wasn’t alone there were others standing there smiling at me, motioning me to join them and look at the lovely colors.

Timothy Wilkie is a writer living on the water front in Kingston NY. He has two grown sons: Justin and Blake, and his Golden Retriever Marley.