by Karl W. Bokelmann © 2001

I remember back when I was a kid, I donít know how old. Not quite so old that I didnít mind it when my father put his arm around my shoulder one warm summer night while looking up into the star-filled sky.

"You see that bright, reddish star just below the Moon," heíd said. He held out his arm straight, pointing. "Thatís not a star at all. Thatís Mars. The closest to the Earth itís been for as long as I can remember."

Iíd looked up into the night sky countless times before, awed at the pinpricks of light scattered in that featureless field of black velvet. I remember being pissed-off that they were so far away, that what was known about them was pretty much theory. I could hold a seashell in my hand and wonder what forces of nature impelled whatever creature to form that near-perfect spiral of rock-hard material that was its home. The Stars? You could look, but you couldnít touch; like Momís Blue Willow collection and Dadís tools.

"Some day, weíll go to Mars," Dad said, attempting to instill wonder in my young mind. "Man will live there."

Iíd thought to myself at the time, I ainít gonna hold my fuckiní breath, Dad.

* * *

My son kicked at the dusty, red soil, sending up small clouds of dust that drifted a few meters and settled back down on the rock-strewn surface. A band of indigo hovered just above the jagged, black horizon, the light of the retreating day fading into the equally inky blackness of the star-littered sky above.

What has always struck me was the silence of the place: No crickets chirping, no birds singing, no dogs barking. Just the hiss of dust storms and the whistle overhead of passing shuttles.

Phobos began to peek out from behind a mountain, an orange waxing orb that paled in comparison, size-wise, to Earthís own Moon. My son was standing with his head tilted back, straining to take it all in. Heíd catch himself from falling backwards, stumbling on the small rocks. Heíd reorient himself and tip his head back again.

"Whatís that bright star up there?" He thrust his finger in the air.

"That?" I answered. "Thatís not a star at all. Thatís a planet. Planet Earth."

"Earth? Isnít that where we came from?"

"Yes, thatís where we all came from. Except you kids. You were born here."

Earth. Now uninhabited; a hothouse breeding plague and pestilence. Quarantined.

"Some day weíll go back to Earth, huh, Dad?"

"Yeah, sure." I ainít gonna hold my fuckiní breath. For sure, this time.

x x x

Read more Flash Fiction? or Back to the Front Page?