As he stepped out of the elevator, walked across the lobby, and out into the midday sunlight, he found himself truly realizing: this was it. Twenty-two years and this was his #last day.
Approaching the idling car, he leaned down and grinned at his wife through the passenger side window. As he opened the door and sat down she turned to him. “So, you ready?”
He laughed, feeling an unseen weight slipping away. “Oh yeah. I’m ready.”
Approaching the headwall he saw the feature which gave this hike its name: the entrance to a massive crack in the stone.
Entering the #crevice he saw a band of blue sky above, a rill of water trickling past his feet below.
This place was its own world, of cool water and moss and granite. He watched as a dragonfly flitted past. “Hello!” he shouted, listening to his voice echo off the sheer walls.
“Hello!” a voice answered back. A voice not his own.
He knew that experienced divers moved with #minimal effort, allowing them to burn their air more slowly and extend their dives. But on his first trip down he quickly learned that theory and reality were very different things.
As he added more air to his BCD, trying to arrest his descent, he looked over to see an enormous sea turtle gliding past. Astonished, he watched in wonder, his heart rate and breathing slowing as the world paused around him.
As he looked at the confused crowd before him, he knew he’d need to #repeat the instructions. Not that he was surprised. His students rarely got it on the first try.
He restarted the song on his phone.
“Alright,” he began, the first notes of “Fishin’ in the Dark” filling their air, “you tap your right heel twice, then your right toe twice. Then tap your heel, tap to the right, then your toe, and then…”
He examined his fingertips, the faint remains of calluses a #vestige of his long love of music. He couldn’t remember making a decision to stop playing. Yet somehow days between practice turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and before long he’d just… stopped.
He lifted his old guitar out of its case, the sweet scent of spruce filling the air. As he played a chord, the bite of the strings both painful and familiar, he couldn’t help but smile.
She opened the book and picked another question. “Alright,” she said, looking up at her husband, “What do I want my life to look like in five years?”
His husband paused. “You know, I really don’t know,” he replied.
“Well,” she said, “I want to create a new technology, become enormously influential, a hero to the people, an #icon, a beacon of the future.”
“Huh,” he replied. “I was gonna say we’d finally gone to Australia.”
“It’s #Christmas, Theo,” Hans replied with his characteristic confidence, “It’s the time of miracles. So be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock.”
Theo turned back to the terminal. “This job would be a lot easier if that asshole actually told us the plan,” he said to the glowing screen.
Oh well. He just had to crack this safe. Then, go grab the ambulance they’d use for their escape and they’d be home free.
What could go wrong?
He always got nervous on the #eve of a launch. Thirty trips to orbit, a dozen to the moon, and still he got nervous. Yet this felt different.
He read the mission brief again, rehearsing each beat. Launch to orbit, boost to the moon, rendezvous with the Ancile, then a nine month trip to Mars.
His phone lit up with a notification. “How you doing?” Jess texted. His mission partner was always checking in.
He hesitated. Then he lied.
“‘The comedian’s japes and jests filled the jocular crowd with great #mirth.’” the editor read aloud, pointing at the offending paragraph of the draft review.
“Yes,” the junior reporter replied, a confused look on his face. “I’m sorry sir, I don’t understand the issue.”
“Are you a time traveller from the 1800s?”
The reporter paused, shifting uncomfortably.
“So, how much further to camp?” he asked as he gently removed his boot, his ankle already clearly swollen.
“About 10k,” his friend replied, inspecting the ankle before wrapping it in a tensor #bandage. “Given it’s all downhill, normally around two hours. But with this injury? My guess is at least four.”
“So we’ll be setting up in the dark. Great.”
It was at that moment that they felt the first few drops of rain start to fall.
Standing before the microphone he knew he was facing #imminent disaster. When the first bars began his grip on the microphone tightened, a bead of sweat forming on his brow. Looking at the screen he saw a portent of his pending doom, a bouncing ball as cheerful as it was terrifying.
Before he knew it the moment was upon him and unbidden the words came: “You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life…”
As her fingers moved across the keys, the intricate melody filling the concert hall, she knew this performance was special, her fingers flowing instinctively, their motions smooth, precise, #flawless. When she reached the end of the piece, the last note lingering in the air, she leaned back, taking a deep breath, her eyes closed. For a moment the audience paused, stunned, before surging to their feet, transported by the magic they had witnessed.
Stepping to the edge of the diving platform he felt a sudden #surge of adrenaline. He was surprised how much higher it looked up here than it did from the pool deck.
“You can do it, son!” his dad yelled from below, an encouraging smile on his face.
He felt his heart pounding, his palms sweating, his vision narrowing.
He looked down one more time, then stepped back from the edge.
He took a deep breath.
They felt the press of acceleration as the rocket engines, a cluster of metallic grey #bells visible on their monitor, began belching fire into the cosmos. She sighed and turned to her partner. “So, we still on for pizza and margaritas when we get back?”
“You’re damn right!” he replied, grinning with excitement. “After three years on Mars I am in desperate need of melted cheese and…”
At that moment they felt the ship lurch beneath them.
“So wanna hear something weird?” he said, taking off his jacket. “I just ran into #JohnMastodon on the way into Walmart. He was standing there greeting people and handing out cupcakes.”
His wife looked up from her crossword. “No kidding!” she said. “I heard he was downtown yesterday giving out free hugs. Apparently he emits the subtle odor of vanilla and clove.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I heard the same thing. Truly we don’t deserve him.”
“I’m telling you,” Paul said, his eyes following the goldfish as she circled the bowl, “she knows her #name. I’m sure of it.”
“Oh come on,” Greg replied, “how would you even know?”
“Lucille,” Paul said, waving at the glass, “hey, Lucille!”
Years later, and after a few drinks, Greg would swear that goldfish tilted its body and, with a flick of its little fin, waved right back.
“Holy shit,” he said, astonished. “We gotta tell Rich about this!”
Rich, resident conspiracy theorist, was surprisingly respectable, his closely trimmed beard and precisely styled hair giving him the air of a moderately successful realtor. “Levitation, huh?” he said.
“Yeah, like I said on the phone, a full three inches!” He could feel his friend leaning in.
“Two and a half,” she corrected.
“I’m just rounding to the nearest #inch!”
As his feet left the floor Rich leaned back, his face #neutral. “I’ve seen better.”
By some miracle the physicist kept his face carefully #neutral. “Bitcoin?” he replied.
“Yeah!” the investor said, grinning with an energy that could only be described as manic. “Bitcoin! This ‘fusion’ thing could be huge for our crypto portfolio. We used to just fire up old coal plants, but the damn government put a stop to that.”
“Wow,” the physicist replied, beginning to question his life choices. “That’s, uh, too bad.”
“The Green Mile,” he replied. “Now that movie is #cathartic. Hits me in all the feels. So what about you?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” his friend said, “The Wrath of Khan.”
“Wait,” he replied, incredulous. “Like, Star Trek?”
“Yeah man. That ending? ‘I have been and shall always been your friend’? Dude, I bawl every time.”
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Alright, let’s watch that!”
When he heard the scraping he knew it had happened again. “Damn it,” he muttered, a sinking feeling in his chest. “Doug is shoveling our walk again, isn’t he?”
His wife pushed a curtain aside. “He’s just trying to be nice,” she replied, watching their neighbour work.
“But now I have to #reciprocate!’ he said, throwing up his hands. “We can’t be in shovel debt, honey!”
She looked at her husband. “What broke you?”
He turned to her. “I wish I knew!”
The snowflake could feel the wind speed pick up as it fell, it’s excitement rising with every gust. “Oh wow this is amazing!” the snowflake said to a nearby flake as they swirled and danced together.
“This isn’t even the best part!” the other flake replied as an updraft caught them, carrying them over the #cozy houses below. “Once this #blizzard really gets going and those wind gusts pick up, it’s gonna be great!”
Replacing the tea #cozy, he took a sip of steaming oolong and smiled as his daughter scrutinized the board, the white and black stones forming an intricate pattern between them. The game was a close one, far closer than any they’d played yet, and it was now down to one last life and death problem. When she confidently smacked her stone down on the board his smile opened into a grin. “I resign.”
“Now,” he said, pushing his glasses up his nose, “having filled out form 15 stroke D you can head to the office on the third floor to fill out a form requesting a project manager be assigned.”
“Alright, and then we can get started?” she asked, exasperated, the #capricious corporate bureaucracy slowly chipping away at her remaining humanity.
“That depends on a number factors. Here, let me show you the flow chart.”
“A #frozen margarita,” he said with a sigh.
“Really?” she replied, “that’s it? That’s what you’d pick?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice wistful. “A nice lime margarita. Mezcal. Smoked salt on the rim.” He pushed his shovel into the red soil.
“Shit. Now I want one!” she replied. She looked up at Phobos passing overhead, just visible in the Martian dusk. “Alright, when we get back to Earth, we’re having pepperoni pizza and margaritas.”
“No! Quit looking at me like that!” he said, refusing to make eye contact. He could feel her gaze on him.
“It won’t work. I’m #immune to your little tricks.”
She continued to stare at him with those big eyes, a plaintive look on her face.
Minutes went by.
“Fine,” he finally said, getting up and going to the treat cupboard. “But only one.”
She wagged her tail enthusiastically and followed him into the kitchen. How did she always win?
It seemed like a good idea when he’d first gotten off the lift. “Sure, let’s do that double black,” he said. “I think I’m ready.”
As they approached the edge of the first pitch he felt his self-confidence #plummeting. “Uh. I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” he said.
“It’ll be fine!” his girlfriend replied, flashing a huge grin. “You got this!”
He took a deep breath, feeling her infectious enthusiasm. “Alright. Screw it. Let’s go!”
They stood before an enormous wall of steel, pipes, and cladding made of exotic materials, the machine a culmination of decades of research representing the absolute pinnacle of human knowledge.
“What you’re looking at,” the physicist said, barely containing his excitement, “is the first example of break-even #artificial nuclear fusion.”
“Incredible!” replied the investor. “And how many Bitcoin did you say we could mine with this?”
So for anyone following me, you should be aware that I hope to do the MastoPrompt every day in December, which means your timelines will be occupied by bad microfiction inspired by the prompt word of the day. You have been warned! Or… inspired…?
He stared at the screen, fingers poised over the keyboard, waiting for a #stroke of inspiration. Writer’s block. It had been a while. But here it was, that old familiar friend, the kind that you can lose touch with for years and then pick up right where you left off.
Maybe if he tried something different. “You know,” he thought, “I’ve never broken the fourth wall.”
At that very moment he was overcome by the feeling of being watched…
“So you say you can levitate by sheer force of will?” the man asked, the editor of a local conspiracy theory newsletter.
“That’s right. A full three inches!”
“Two,” his friend corrected. “You gotta stop embellishing things.”
He waved her back.
“Alright, come down and we’ll test the #veracity of your claims.”
“Great!” he replied, hanging up and turning to his friend. “Alright, let’s go! But first, where’s my measuring tape…”
He gently brushed the dirt away from the new find, an Egyptian cosmetic #palette, perfectly preserved, its face adorned in delicate carvings.
“Beautiful,” he muttered to himself, already thinking of the paper he would write about the piece.
Until, that is, a man with a hat and a whip came charging through his dig site, gunfire following in his wake.
“My mom was right,” he thought, “I should’ve become a dentist.”
The sheet of paper lay before her, an infinity of possibilities. She made the first fold, aligning point to point, the crease #crisp, precise. Working, her hands traveled through valleys and over mountains, her mind calm, focused.
Done, she leaned back, sighing, only to be startled by the sound of chirping! Looking down, she gaped as her little sparrow took flight, vanishing through an open window.
Smiling, she reached for a fresh sheet of paper.
As they walked the planet was visible through the ship’s dome, blue-green against velvet blackness. “So they organized society around this ‘money’,” she said, still unable to believe what she was hearing.
“Correct,” he replied, “and those with the most were venerated above all others and seen as a source of safety and security.”
“And this ‘Douglas Adams’ that you mentioned?”
“He was one of the few who realized the whole thing was a bad idea.”
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