Author: Bill Gillard
Vic bellied up to the counter at Plaskett’s Diner and ordered a donut and coffee, black. He smiled, waited for the waitress with the glistening bald head—to each her own—to respond with a smile at his joke, but she dropped the menu in front of him and shuffled humidly to the next customer.
Vic settled into his chair and swiveled it so he could take in the room. Ten tables all filled with the jabbering of languages he had never heard before, if that’s what they were. Some sounds were hushed like the breeze in summer leaves. The corner table buzzed and hummed like the live wires which, judging from the blue arcs dancing among those three seated lovers, they might actually be.
It had been days/weeks/seconds/millennia since Vic’s resupply interport went off course on the Orion route and found its way to Monoceros, which is the surprising location that Vic, who was still coughing up perfluorocarbon from the long dream of space travel, had to check through an actual window before he’d believe it. Nobody had ever ventured out this far—and for good reason. Human anatomy plus even a weak x-ray nova-like A0620 makes for a painful—albeit quick—death.
Nevertheless, here he was, in this diner, inexplicably, and he realized that he was hungry. He swiveled back to take a look at the menu. The donut he asked for had appeared on a black plate with a yellow rim.
He regarded the chocolate torus. There was something about that shape that reminded him of stuff he learned about at pilot school, stuff like singularities and wormholes. He closed his eyes tight.
There’s no way his little pressurized can with its third-hand negative mass thrusters and graviton sail could have avoided the event horizon of that system, the nearest black hole to Earth. He remembered waking up jarringly from the long sleep. He remembered understanding quickly how screwed he actually was. He remembered settling into his seat and cranking the music: Kevlar Medulla’s “Subtonal Opera Number I,” the favorite of his youth, to focus his mind. He remembered vague nausea and the strange blue shimmer as the starfield curved into an ever-shrinking ellipse.
And then he remembered nothing until the tinkling of this bell and the welcoming electric aroma of coffee.
Vic poked his finger through the hole of the donut and lifted it like a ring. He took a bite. Now that was real, he thought. He was sure of that.
A song came on the diner’s jukebox, that oldie by Sir Carter Knowles he used to like.
He turned again to find the room filled with people—actual human people—dressed sharp and happily eating breakfast. At the corner table sat a woman with two small boys. One boy ate oatmeal while he colored his placemat with a crayon. The other held a chocolate donut aloft on his index finger, nibbling the edge and turning it slowly.
The dress the mother wore looked so familiar. She lifted her head and, for the first time, noticed Vic.
A curious puzzlement came over her face.
She lifted her hand as if to wave, but Vic turned away in alarm.
He shook his head, dug his fingernails into each palm to try to wake up.
He took a big bite of the donut that still hung from his finger. He felt his memory, his mind, and his body stretched thin through a prism of confusion and loss.
That’s what he felt like for dinner.