by Kathy Steinemann
A Sci-Fi short story written by Kathy Steinemann
Narrated by Christopher Herron
A young woman must survive, stranded on a harsh planet as she battles to maintain her sanity.
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I want to extend a huge thank you to the author of this piece, Kathy Steinemann. She helped give me my initial push to make this project a reality.
Kathy is an Award-winning author who has loved words for as long as she can remember, especially when the words are frightening, futuristic, or funny. She’s fond of speculative fiction and rarely misses a day at her favorite pastime—writing.
This story is one of several intended for an anthology called “Zarminixia.” It appeared in Vræyda Literary MacroMicroCosm #3 in January, 2015.
She’s also recently had her work published in Mad Scientist Journal, Shoreline of Infinity, Boston Literary Magazine,
Pidgeonholes, and The Quarterday Review.
You can find out more about her at http://KathySteinemann.com or check out the links to her facebook, twitter and amazon page.
Bristi fled into a deep darkness that looked like a cave. Lightning ripped through the black sky. Flesh-eating rain pelted the ground, throwing up splashes that glistened with every bolt of brilliance that lanced through the night. A voice whispered in her ears. Or was the voice inside her head? Bristi. She shivered, and her broken right wrist throbbed.
Ten days since the shuttle had crashed on this desolate moon, and she had learned that only the careful could survive. Tears filled her eyes as she remembered what the rain had done to Monndolor.
Monndolor, who had wanted to surprise her with a honeymoon on Zar III. How could she say no? Monndolor, who hadn’t told her until after the crash that the landing zone was in a restricted sector. How could she stay angry at him? Monndolor, with his silly smile and—
Neither of them had smiled when most of their food supply, thrown from the shuttle when they crashed, had been consumed by the rain. The rapacious liquid had assaulted the provisions like an acid bath, reducing it to a quivering mass of ooze and then … nothing.
They had stayed in the shuttle until the rain stopped. Then they set out with a makeshift umbrella fashioned from a panel of the airlock. They hoped to find a high spot where the emergency beacon could relay their distress call. Mother planet Zarminixia glowed large in the sky, but something in Zar III’s atmosphere blocked every attempt to communicate.
They searched for seven days.
Then the wind came up and whipped their umbrella away, carrying it through the treetops. Monndolor chased after it and fell into a fissure. Bristi tugged with her good arm, feet braced. But Monndolor’s leg was so firmly lodged that she was unable to pull him free. She cursed her broken wrist. Cursed Zar III. Cursed the rain.
With dusk came black clouds and the smell of an impending storm. Monndolor ordered her to take cover. “Bristi, go. You can’t save me. Go. Now!”
She hesitated, gazing into her new husband’s tear-filled eyes, then fled to a nearby cave as the first drops of rain pelted his head. One moment he was a living, breathing being. The next he was—
Her body shook with sobs. Now she was alone in this hostile environment. Lost. Low on food and water. Monndolor. I miss you. I love you.
The emergency beacon in her pack was a faint glimmer of hope, but she needed to find a place where her transmission could get through. Until then, she was a prisoner.
The twittering sounds of alien animals announced the arrival of dawn. Bristi hadn’t been able to see them clearly, but none of the creatures she encountered were larger than her foot. They were mere rustles in the ground flora: bushy tails and grey, furry hindquarters skittering away from her. Occasionally she could see dark brown eyes peering from the underbrush.
Water gurgled nearby: water as corrosive as the rain that created it. Bristi frowned. How do the local plants and animals survive? Immunity? Different metabolic makeup? She murmured, “What would I know? I’m not a scientist.”
Her thoughts continued to ramble as she set the emergency beacon on the floor of the cave, sipped the last of the water in her canteen, and shook her pack upside down to remove any food pellets she might have missed.
Just one pellet bounced out. Do I eat it now? Or wait?
The gnawing pain in her stomach answered her question with a demand that left little choice. She chewed on the last pellet until it was mush, massaged it against the roof of her mouth with her tongue for several moments, and then swallowed. What will kill me? Thirst? Starvation? Or the rain? She decided that when she couldn’t go on any longer, she’d sleep in the open and let the rain claim her body. That’ll be faster than starvation or dying of thirst.
A quiet voice urged her. Eat. Drink.
She screamed. “Get out of my head.” I’m not going crazy. I’m not going crazy. But as much as she decried the thought, she told herself that only a demented mind would create the torture of a ghostly voice that followed her wherever she went. Sometimes she missed Monndolor so much that the voice sounded like his.
Bristi pushed through scratchy underbrush, broke her fingernails on rocks, and tried unsuccessfully to climb a tree.
Mid-morning, atop a hill covered with star-shaped purple flowers, she peered in all directions. A blue peak surrounded by mist stood in the distance: the tallest point within view. It’ll take me days to reach it. Her shoulders slumped.
A nearby rivulet trickled down the cliff, beckoning her. Drink. Drink. Alien bushes enticed her with their sweet smells and branches laden with colorful berries. Eat. Eat. The voices continued to haunt her, urge her.
Her chin sank to her chest. Poison water. Poison plants. No, you won’t get me. I’m not giving up.
She trudged toward the peak while the sun soared higher: a merciless furnace of red that tortured her with every step. Her tongue swelled in the heat, and she licked her lips to moisten them, but they blistered and bled. She walked and fell and stumbled and crawled and crept. Until she found herself back on the barren plateau where Monndolor had died.
Bristi knelt. And wept.
She lapped at the few tears that fell onto the rock, but its unyielding roughness cut into her tongue. She lay on her side and with a sob, stared into the distance. Her breathing slowed, and her eyelids fluttered closed.
As darkness descended, she rolled to her back, holding her shattered wrist over her heart, and watched the gathering rainstorm while she whispered, “Monndolor. I love you.”
Bristi sensed warmth and light. The forest and rocks glowed with an iridescence she had never noticed before. Am I dead?
A small animal with fuzzy whiskers, tiny round ears, and wriggling nose stared at her. It turned up its mouth with an expression that looked like a smile, then skittered backward and twitched its fluffy grey tail above its head. Its intelligent brown eyes glistened. She heard the creature’s thoughts. You have returned.
A cacophony of unseen voices assaulted her. Then a familiar whisper slipped into her consciousness. Safe. You’re safe, Bristi.
She felt for a body that wasn’t there, with fingers that no longer existed. Tried to speak, but heard her own confused words emanate from somewhere within. Monndolor? Is that you? Where are you? What’s happening to me?
The animal cocked its head. Do not be frightened. He is near. Mother Rain returns what she takes, in better form. Please follow me.