Author: Faye Zhang

Warm sand on the beach. The remnants of dead volcanoes, smooth and sharp all at once. Rows of the shadowed silhouettes of pine trees, jutting up into a blushing evening sky. Her house, shaky on stilts, bleached bone white by ocean sun. Home.

The tinfoil craft begins to shake and sputter. The low fuel light blinks persistently in the corner of her vision. She looks up from the faded photograph, clutched tight between trembling fingertips. She swallows down the fragile understanding of a landing sometime in the very near future, and holds on to the metal rails that encase her more fragile body.

Soon, she will step out into a world newer than new. She will find moss green lakes or perhaps scarlet sky. Perhaps wasteland mountains, rocks stripped bare of life, a world raining dust instead of water. Perhaps.

A pink light floods the window of the spacecraft. To be the first. That thought drives an insatiable, cavernous hunger that threatens to swallow the space between her ribs. She focuses on the dark, blurred horizon that begins to come into view. Begins to take shape and line, begins to resemble rows of jagged teeth.

The first, she thinks, and maybe the last. Her fingers curl tighter around the cold metal of the bars. The thought leaves her breathless. Eager, maybe. Scared, almost. Her eyes flutter shut. She can feel the pull of the land beneath the craft. A new gravity, a stronger gravity, drawing her in, daring her down.

She waits for the painful jolt and anticipates the sudden stillness. She gets what she waits for.

Her tongue darts out, licking the dryness of her lips, tasting the salt of her sweat. Her grip loosens. In, out. In. Her lungs are full to bursting.

The door clicks open.

Warm sand. Rows of pine. A pink light so bright it threatens to blind.

Dozens of stilts snapped in half, edges rough and splintered like broken toothpicks, forgotten stakes driven deep into the ground.

She steps out into a world newer than new.