The Ship

The river of stars bubbled, cooed and hiccuped, making the astronaut stir from their slumber. The river of greens, blues, purples and silver lapped at the astronaut’s legs, engulfing their shins in cosmic dust.

The astronaut’s suit felt abnormally heavy, crushing their spine and ribs into the red and yellow sands of the universe. They slowly pushed their self onto their knees, pulling off their helmet, taking in a deep breath of the radiation around them. They unzipped their suit, stepping onto the icy hot sand in their catsuit.

Looking at all the trees that were colors that had no names, the flock of birds with 4 sets of wings flew out from them, squawking and yelling made the astronaut wipe their face dry.

Their spaceship was miles out, nose deep in a sandbar. They tried to remember what happened but a constant beeping noise got in the way.

“You fell from the sky like a runaway star.”

The astronaut turned around. A person stood a few meters away, but they could tell they were tall, even in their hunched state. They wore a mask with nothing but a straight line at the mouth. A shawl covered the top of their head and went down to their feet. Other than the shawl and the mask, this person was completely nude. The astronaut blushed and looked away.

“Ah, nothing to be bashful about,” the hunched person said, walking over to the astronaut. The astronaut stared up at them. Even at 6’3, the astronaut was dwarfed by this figure. The mask was as long as the astronaut’s torso, the shawl seemed to go on for yards.

“You fell a few days ago. The merfolk tried to save you but your… contraption got in the way so they tossed you ashore. The birds pecked and pecked at that thing but left you alone when they couldn’t get through. The seadogs and landfish tried to devour you as well, but that shell kept you so safe, so there is that.”

“Why didn’t you try to rescue me?” the astronaut asked, watching one of the 3 suns fall behind the horizon.

“I did and still am,” the hunched person grunted. “At night, the lights of the sky swoop down and pull up the dead. I shooed them away, because you were not dead. Just sleeping. And to move a sleeping person when you don’t know who they are is rude. So I watched you sleep and shooed those away who tried to harm you. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Come.”

The astronaut’s stomach growled loudly, their throat suddenly seemed drier than normal. They followed the hunched person through the treeline. Animals watched from the undergrowth, from the trees as the two made their way down the hidden trail. They hunched person huffed and held out their hand, a staff manifesting in their hand. They kept walking.

“Are you alright?” the astronaut asked from behind.

“I am old,” was the reply.

They walked for miles, the second sun having gone down, the sky above the canopy turning into a neon purple. As the butt of the third sun hit the horizon, the hunched person stopped walking, looking up a tree that stood 300 feet tall. Lightning bugs flew among the leaves by the thousand. The tree had windows lined with candles, the door at the base decorated with flowers that had passed on their walk. The astronaut stood in awe, watching the living tree glow.

The constant beeping came back for a moment.

“Inside,” the hunched person said, walking toward the door. The astronaut followed, the beeping becoming louder and louder. The hunched person turned around, watching the astronaut hold their head in their hand.

“You should eat before you go back,” they said, rushing the astronaut inside their tree. They sat the astronaut down on pillow, leaving the area only to come back with a bowl full of soup, rice and a hearty meat.

“Eat,” the hunched person pleaded, the straight mouth on their mask now a frown. The astronaut nodded, their vision starting to blur. The hunched person handed them chunks of bread as a utensil. The food was warm and needed, filling the astronaut’s stomach and soul with ancient spices and slow cooked meat. The beeping didn’t stop however, only getting louder and more urgent. As soon as the bowl was empty, the astronaut laid their head on the pillow, sleep taking over once more. The hunched person took off their shawl, laying it over the astronaut, a small smile now on their mask.

The astronaut gasped, the beeping ringing loud in their ship. The emergency lights blaring alongside the klaxon . Dazed, the astronaut looked around the cockpit before their training kicked in.

They soared through space, one of their engines failing.

“Mission control, mission control, Firefly 1 is going down, I repeat Firefly 1 is going down.”

They tried everything they could to reroute power to the second engine but nothing responded. The astronaut swore loudly, tears falling down their face. Their radio crackled.

Come home,” came from the other end. The astronaut panicked.

“Who is this?! How did you get this signal?! Please respond!”

They continued to soar through space, the red lights still blinking, the klaxon still blasting, the engine having failed almost two hours ago. The astronaut screamed in frustration, wanting everything to just stop. The radar brought up a planet not to far away, so they made the ship go in that direction. As they entered an invisible barrier, the klaxon turned off, the red light stopped blinking. The ship just turned off.

The astronaut’s heart sank. The ship started to nose dive toward the destination planet. Something whispered to the astronaut and they started to remove their suit and brace for impact. As the ship passed through the atmosphere and crashed into the water, the astronaut fainted. The windshield cracked from the pressure of the water, causing water to seep in. Swimming creatures circled the ship, hitting the windshield with rocks and sticks. They reached inside when it broke, pulling out the astronaut and pulling them up toward the surface. They screamed out toward shore, a hunched person yelling back and waving at them. They swam to the astronaut to the red and yellow sands, pushing strands of wet hair from the astronaut’s face.

“What a beautiful two legged creature. Make them come visit us, yes?” the merfolk teased before kissing the hunched person’s cheek and swimming off. The hunched person smiled and waved, sitting next to the astronaut with a grunt. They sat there for a few hours, looking over at the astronaut when they started to stir.

“Welcome back,” the hunched person said. The astronaut looked over at the hunched person, their mask coming into focus.

“You,” they breathed, slowly sitting up.

“Yes,” the hunched person said, holding up a bag. “I brought the food here this time…” The astronaut smiled and took the bag, pulling out a skin of fresh water and guzzling it down.

“Who are you?” the astronaut asked, putting the skin back in the bag. The hunched person’s mask turned into a grin before they lifted it off their face. The astronaut stared in disbelief as they stared back at their own reflection.

“Welcome home.”

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