Into the Dark
by Elliott Bell
It was dark.
That’s good, I thought, still groggy with sleep. Dark is good. Dark is safe, and sweet.
My next thought was, of course, that I was hungry.
That’s usually my next thought, nowadays. In fact, I’d say more often it’s my first thought. But this day, this night -whatever it was- was the first real hunger I’d experienced since leaving orbit. I pressed the release button inside of my sleeping pod. I quietly slid down, and floated out feet first, barely glancing at my sleeping crew-mates. Only their feet were visible from their own pods, a pair of light blue socks that matched my own standard issue pair showing within each sleeping capsule. One set of small, feminine feet to my left, a larger, more masculine pair to my right, and an almost grotesquely large pair of male feet directly beneath me – in zero G, it didn’t really matter what direction you slept in. Up and down didn’t have a whole lot of meaning out here.
I made my way to the mess, not bothering to shut the hatches in between units. God, I was hungry. How long had it been since I’d eaten? Eight hours, maybe? Certainly long enough to work up an appetite. I hadn’t eaten before I went to sleep, as I hadn’t been feeling well. But I was certainly hungry now.
What I wouldn’t give for a steak, a big fatty one, medium, just the way I liked it – no, not medium, bloody. Just thrown on the pan long barely enough to warm it, not even seared, and then I’d sink my teeth into it, feel the meat melt into blood between my teeth, down my throat…I felt myself salivating at the thought, and my stomach clenched with anticipation.
Jesus, I must be hungrier than I thought.
I hastily prepared one of the freeze-dried meatloaf meals, shoving it into the microwave with impatience. It was hardly as good as a steak, but I was starving, and somehow I knew a simple midnight snack wouldn’t cut it. A dim part in the back of my mind wondered what time it even was, but I couldn’t be bothered to check, and sat my three minute vigil outside the microwave door, waiting in agony. It was the longest three minutes of my life up until that point, though now I can safely say I’ve experienced much longer.
After two minutes and thirty two seconds of tension, I couldn’t wait any longer. All I could think about was that damn bloody, juicy steak as I burnt my fingers pulling the thin cover off the meatloaf, not bothering with utensils, and pulled a chuck of unappetizing reheated meat out of the packaging and shoved it into my mouth. The center was frozen despite how the outside scorched my tongue, and I gagged.
Ugh, it’s gone bad! It wasn’t just badly cooked, it tasted like dust, the cloying taste of dirt sticking to the roof of my mouth. I was incredulous. These things are supposed to be good for years, we hadn’t even been out for two days and it’s already bad? I was furious, fuming, my hunger feeding my indignation. I spat the dirt-clod of cardboard meat out in a spray of rage.
Just as I considered what a mess I’d made for myself to clean up, a familiar voice sounded in my ears.
“Donna?” Jared was just outside, looking through the open unit hatch.
“What the hell are y-”
Before he could finish his sentence, before he could finish his thought – hell, before I even finished a thought of my own – I lunged. I didn’t even see him, not really. His soft brown eyes, the laugh lines around his mouth, his broad shoulders and the five o’clock shadow he never seemed to be without, and of course those ridiculously large feet – all this was all beyond my awareness. I can’t even remember what his face looked like at that moment. Perhaps that is a blessing.
The only thing I was aware of was the sweet, sticky flood rushing between my teeth, down my throat, down his throat too – assuaging a pain I hadn’t even known I’d felt until Jared soothed it, nourished it, as we floated there, entangled.
As the flood slowed to a sludge, I suddenly felt very heavy. The flecks of starlight outside the small porthole window in the mess seemed so horribly bright, piercing through the cloud of red mist on the thick glass. I closed my eyes and tried to curl up beside him. Pinpricks of liquid kissed my bare cheeks and hands with their fading heat, and I wrapped my arms around him best I could. I clutched at his hand, the left one that wore a gold ring that was mate to my own.
“Oh, Jer…” I murmured, as his ragged gasps lulled me to sleep.
Back into sweet, safe sleep once more. Back into the dark.