Author: Joachim Heijndermans
Darren rushed into the bathroom as if hell was on his heels. With his shoulder, he slammed the door open. From the corner of his eye, he spotted a figure that stood before the sink, greeting him with a “Pardon me! Growing a tail here!” as he bolted into the stall.
Hunched over the metal bowl, he cursed himself for drinking all that coffee earlier. Seven cups! He swore that, from now on, crisis or no crisis, he’d stick to water or a nice herbal tea.
He cleaned himself off, buckled his pants, flushed and headed to the soap dispenser. It was then that he recognized the man by the sink. And after the morning they had, he doubted he’d ever forget that face.
“Hey! Carter. Jeez, sorry about that. Too much coffee. And the wife has me on this fiber-rich diet and…well, you know what I mean,” he mumbled.
“Yeah,” Tom Carter mumbled weakly.
“You doing all right? I don’t know if the bosses mentioned it, but you’ve been cleared for leave of duty. No limit. Come back whenever you’re up for it. No rush, you hear?”
“Yeah,” Carter muttered.
Darren washed his hands, letting the warm water pour over his stubby fingers. “Can I ask you something?” he said.
“What?” Carter replied.
“What was it like? I mean, being snapped loose like that? Tumbling around out there, with nothing to slow you down? Christ, I’d piss myself all the long way. That’s why I signed up for command deck duty. I could never do the walk. Space scares the piss out of me.”
Carter shivered, his head hung limply as his chin touched his clavicles. “I…” he muttered.
“Jeez. I’m sorry. I never know when to shut up. The wife always gets on my case about that. I just wanted to say how glad we all are you managed to get back to the ship. One in a million chance, right?”
Carter turned to Darren. His lip trembled as a lone tear rolled down his face.
“Jeez. I’ll…I’ll just leave you be. Take all the time you need, all right?” Darren said.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to…but I was so scared. Cooped up in my suit. Falling forever. I just wanted to come home.”
“Of course you were scared. It’s space. Anyone would be scared. What do you have to be–?”
“I said yes. I said yes to him…her…it..”
“What?” Darren whispered, recoiling as Tom Cater’s left eye turned a mix of red and purple.
“It couldn’t get onboard. I was terrified. I didn’t want to die. It offered to get me back to the ship if I would let it…” Tom said, his voice cracked in agony. “I couldn’t say no.”
“Say no to who? Carter, what happe–,” Darren began before his voice gave out from shock. He stammered, unable to find the words, while Carter’s eye-sockets expanded to the size of dinner plates. Darren peered into the void that leaked from Carter’s eyes, whose lips quivered as if he stood in an ice storm.
“I…I can’t stop it,” Carter stammered, as he fought to suppress the smile that slowly grew on his face. He failed. His face shattered into pieces, while the void within him crawled into their reality.
“Hey, Darren,” said a different voice, cutting through Darren’s eardrums like a knife, as it peeled the layers of matter and reality around them apart, flaying all that ever could be. “Smile.”