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Emergency Exit

Jarod K. Anderson is a fan of pulp detective novels, tattoos, the autumn months, and all things science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Midnight Echo, and elsewhere.

Formerly, Jarod taught English at a University in Ohio. Currently, he works to raise money for a wide range of college scholarships. He writes about education by day and ghosts, monsters, and magic by night. He lives in Central Ohio with his wife and two rescued pups. Find Jarod online at: jarodkanderson.com.

My gut says that stepping out into hyperspace would be the same as suicide, but I've lost my hold on what that might mean.
Thinking is hard inside the ship. My brain chemistry is not what it once was. Chemistry is not what it once was.
We were proud to enter the program, sitting in the terminal, waiting for the sustained electric tone that invited us to enter the ship. We boarded with pure, childlike faith, our winter coats and carry-on bags in hand, departure papers crisp in white envelopes.
At work, they threw me a retirement party. I remember a flying saucer cake, "Safe Travels Spaceman," in blue frosting.
I thought it was a good thing I was doing. A brave thing. Vital.
No one I knew had returned from the ships, but that didn't seem important. Volunteers returned as heroes. It was on the news. Sometimes, test pilots and test passengers gave talks at the Westerville community center, but I never attended one.
At Columbus International Airport, we all compared notes while we waited, searching for someone who knew a past volunteer. A cousin. A coworker.
No one did. Not a peep.
We lied through tight smiles, repeating slogans of adventure that gleamed in our minds like chrome rockets. A toddler in the seat behind me screamed when the doors hissed closed. Her parents looked apologetic as if screaming was an unreasonable response.
Humanity needed volunteers. The Earth was giving up on us, and animal tests had taught us everything they could. We were doing important work. Vital work.
I never felt liftoff, but the stars streaked past the windows just like in the movies, bright slashes across the blackness.
It didn't last.
The neon star-trails bled dirty light until there was nothing outside but a beige glow, featureless and aggressively benign. The brochure said they solved the key problems of human aging and fragility, the way time eats us like water carves valleys in stone.
Vital work.
Days passed and more than days. We weren't tired or hungry or sick. The ship didn't have restrooms and nobody missed them. No complaints. Not a peep.
It's hard to do much without time. Events don't line-up in tidy sequence the ways we take for granted, moments strung together like beads on a chain. Your brain does what it can; refusing to let go of linear time, using subjectivity the way your blood uses clotting.
Not perfect. Still bleeding out understanding.
I wanted to reach the emergency exit and eventually I found myself in front of it. I didn't walk there. The red lever felt electric in my hands, pins and needles.
The little girl hadn't stopped screaming, bleeding out sound in a single sustained tone.
I concentrated on pulling the lever and hoped something would change. Forever is more alien than any strange planet I could have imagined. Humanity needed volunteers.
Still bleeding.
Thinking is hard inside the ship.
I remember a flying saucer cake, "Safe Travels Spaceman," in blue frosting and the doors hissed closed.
At the community center, I heard slogans of adventure. I heard good things. Brave things. The tone in my ears was long and electric and made me think of a little girl's scream. We boarded the ship.
Volunteers returned as heroes.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 14th, 2016

Author Comments

I love stories in which reality stops cooperating with the characters on a fundamental level. It can be an objective loss of reality like in Jeff Vandermeer's wonderfully creepy Southern Reach Trilogy or a more subjective shift like in the powerful short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. As a reader, I just love that eerie feeling when my most basic assumptions about the world of the narrative start getting tossed out the window. That's the feeling I was aiming for in "Emergency Exit." I'm fascinated by madness, whether madness of a character or madness of the setting itself.

- Jarod K. Anderson
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