Okay. This is a dangerous thing to do.
I have this story. It’s unfinished. It has sat – unfinished – on my various computers for four years. Occasionally I open it and think, ‘There’s potential here”. And then I stare at it for twenty minutes wondering variously “What happens next?” or “How does this end? Where’s it heading?”
And then I come up blank, close the document and turn to something else.
So. I’d like to know what you think. Can you see an ending to this short tale which makes it worth telling? I don’t want you to write it for me; just make a suggestion or two. Or not. See how you feel at the end.
The story so far …
By Pete Aldin
“I never knew my father,” David said quietly. He wasn’t really sure why he was talking. Maybe to take his mind off the thick warm air or the hopelessness of their situation.
And why the hell was he bringing up his father? Why now?
Bernard peered at him through the gloom and looked away. A few seconds passed, keeping time with the flicking of the green atmosphere status light. Then the older man said, as if confessing, “I never really knew my kids.”
David reached around to massage his own lower back through his jumpsuit. “I mean, I vaguely remember him. But he left us when I was four.”
Bernard’s eyes had glazed over. “I guess, I got busy. Away on ships for months at a time. Not really there, even when I was there. You know?”
“Why would he do that? I’ve never understood it.”
“My wife, Dianne. Geez I miss her. She was always there for them. A fixture, rock-solid and stable.”
“My Mom, she was crazy as hell. All the time. Mad as a cut snake, actually. Mad like in angry and mad like in crazy. Maybe that’s why he left. Maybe she was that way because he left.”
David shifted his stiff legs, knocking against Bernard’s unintentionally. It was hard not to in the confined space of the lifeboat. Their eyes met and they looked away, suddenly embarrassed. Bernard pulled his feet closer to himself, holding them there for a full minute, then let them stretch as far as they could to rest against the opposite bulkhead beneath David’s seat.
David leaned down and rubbed at his calves. How long they could take it, cramped up like this, he didn’t know. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about whether or not anyone had received the ship’s distress message. He didn’t want to think about whether they were alone out here, no other survivors, just the two of them in an iron cylinder, waiting to die.
But he was, he was thinking about it.
He sucked in another lungful of warm moist air and blew it out hard. “So. What did you do on the ship anyway?”
Bernard sighed. “Engineering. I’m a tinkerer. Making sure things ran properly. Good money. Respectable job. Made the time go quickly.”
“Is that important? Making time go quickly, I mean?” David had always found it bizarre, the human compulsion to rush through life where there was nothing at the other end but death. His gaze took in Bernard’s pot belly, his greying temples and receding hairline, the capilaries visible on his nose. Presumably Bernard had once been as young as him; why would a man want to age fast?
“Sure,” Bernard grunted. “Why not? It’s not like I enjoyed the work.”
“Then why do it at all?”
“Gotta do something. Job is everything. When people ask me what I do, I can answer them.”
David snorted and looked away.
There was nothing to look at. He closed his eyes, feeling guilty for his mocking snort. The older man was pleasant, a nice guy. Even if he was stupid.
“And you, young David? What did you do? I’m guessing kitchen from the looks of your uniform. You a chef?”
He snorted again. “Just a kitchenhand. I was working my passage across to Centauri.”
“And what were you going to do when you got there? Had a job lined up, did you?”
“No.” He thought for a while. “I guess I was going to see what happened.”