Author: Neil Otte

Sean sighed as he leaned his head back against the tree. The good ones always left him with this amalgamation of thoughts and feelings, this clash of excitement and longing with the realization of routine and boredom.

He closed his eyes and listened to the water in the stream and rustle of the leaves. He felt the warmth on his bare feet where they encountered the light at the edge of the shade. This is why he came to the park to read. The solitary quiet made the transition back to reality somewhat more bearable.

It had been this way ever since he first realized the marks on the page conveyed meaning, created worlds that couldn’t be seen with his eyes. Thomas, Winnie and Piglet, Max; they took him with them. Taught him loyalty, goodness, and perseverance. Let him step into their worlds and wonder if he could ever be so daring, or humble, or wise. Then, as he grew, he rafted down the Mississippi with Tom and Huck, ate hotroot soup at Redwall Abbey, climbed Mount Doom with Frodo and Sam, and fought chaos with Pendragon and Lord Foul with Foamfollower and Bannor. Then he had discovered that heroes were not always make believe. He circumnavigated the earth, climbed Mount Everest and explored the South Pole with real people.

But he was born too late for that type of real-life adventure. Everything was charted and analyzed. Plus, he was stuck here in this remote corner of the universe where life dribbled by in a monotonous, mind-numbing rhythm. Digging minerals out of the ground day after day. Mom and Dad said they were a “tight knit community”. He longed for a new face, a new horizon. He had never seen an ocean or mountain with his own eyes. He had never been more than 110 km from this little nowhere where he was born. He wanted to go, he wanted to do and be! Adventure, excitement, heroic deeds were what he was made for. If only he could have been born 500, 200, or even 50 years ago. Then he would have lived a life worth living. Then he would not have to live with this constant ache and yearning.

He felt it first as a deep, bone resonating vibration that was far below the frequency his ears could discern. The vibration increased until the leaves were dancing on the limbs above him and he could hear the deep rumble as it climbed up the octaves. He glanced up just in time to see the stars beyond the park’s observation strips occluded by a blunt, massive object as it hurtled past. He glanced at his comp pad. Exactly what he had been thinking. Five ten on the dot and another 210 metric tons on its way in-system to the Goslar refinery station. The same thing three times a day, every day. His eyes strayed toward the brightest star, the Sun. Somewhere in that general direction was Earth, where it started, birthplace of the human race. Oh, to be free to walk under open sky, to have a whole world to discover.

The 5:10 meant that he only had half an hour to get home and cleaned up. He tucked his comp pad into his satchel as he loped over to the slidewalk. He was supposed to meet Chip and Zee and take the tube to Crystal Creek Cavern where they had just opened a soaring park over the thermal vents. He could do some browsing on the tube. He needed a new book.