Spaceman

coming of age fiction

Short Story

He could see the constellations from his bed. His dad taped up little plastic glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Some were in the shape of actual constellations, most weren’t. There was a small rusty tin spaceship on his bookshelf. It never got dusty, Wes made sure it didn’t. His walls had atomic-age posters, his desk was covered in books about space, and Wes wanted to leave the planet as soon as he could.

Wes’ parents didn’t talk much at dinner anymore. The only noise was slurping, chewing, and swallowing. His dad would say how good it tasted, his mom would say thank you, and then they’d all go their separate ways. Wes knew it hadn’t always been like that, but he couldn’t remember when it wasn’t.

At night, after he was supposed to be asleep, Wes would grab his flashlight and read his dad’s old comics. The room would be just barely illuminated by the smothered light under the sheet. One night the yelling coming from the living room was louder than usual. This was the last night before Wes went to space.

He cracked open his door to look. It was his mom and dad standing in the middle of the room trying to stifle their voices. Wes didn’t know what he expected to see. His dad saw him, but didn’t say anything. Wes closed his door.

Early morning. It was the weekend, so Wes didn’t have to worry about school. He found an old painter’s suit in the garage, one of the cheap plastic ones. That should be good enough to keep air inside. Under the sink in the half bath is where his mom kept her cleaning supplies. There were some yellow rubber gloves in a bucket. She usually used those every other Wednesday; Wes figured she wouldn’t notice them being gone. He grabbed his rain boots, and the suit was almost space-ready, he just needed a helmet.

His dad used to own a motorcycle. After they had Wes, Wes’ mom made him sell it. All that was leftover was the helmet. It sat on an old metal shelf in the basement, dusty, but still usable. Wes carefully pulled it over his head and looked in the mirror. His costume was perfect. Straight from NASA itself, or at least, that’s how Wes saw it.

Wes opened the front door to leave for his journey, he didn’t know when he’d be back-he couldn’t. Space is an unforgiving place. A place not made for promises. To say what could’ve possibly been the final goodbye to his parents, Wes went to the living room. His dad and mom sat on separate ends of the room. Mom watched TV, his dad read the paper. Wes told them that he’s leaving. They didn’t look up.

He grabbed his wagon and brought it to the hill behind his house. The weather was good, consistent. Perfect for takeoff. He sat in his wagon.

10.

The engine shook.

9.

8.

7.

A dull roar filled the air. Every sound was muted with the exception of the counting.

6.

5.

4.

Ignition.

3.

2.

1.

Wes looked to Earth for the last time.

Liftoff.

 

Space was brighter than Wes expected. It made the levers and buttons in the cockpit harder to see. This was a lone journey for Wes. It was meant to be that way.

He saw things he’d only seen in his books. Moons. The planets. Their intense color coming through the blackness.

And it was quiet. Not a forced one like at the dinner table. A true quiet.

The wagon wheel popped up. Wes stayed on, but the speed increased.

Wes stared out of the small round window, inches thick, but it still displayed the confusing combination of intense darkness and light in perfect clarity.

The wagon leaned to the side. The two left wheels came off of the ground.

A red light began to blink. A slight beep repeated itself over and over. Wes propelled himself through the zero gravity back to the cockpit. The ship vibrates, more than what was usual. Wes knew it was going down.

The wagon tipped over. Wes fell out. He rolled to a stop, his suit torn open.

The ship was destroyed.

Wes woke up surrounded by smoke from the ship and an alien fog. Fire covers the ground. He studied the environment. His memory was fuzzy. Silhouettes were approaching.

They picked him up. They hugged him. They apologized. Wes’ memories returned.

And he saw planets and the stars and movie nights and going to the park.

And he remembered his parents.

And they remembered him.

 

more by TYLER CLIFTON

photograph by NASA

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