This is a copy of my very first published story, first acceptance letter, first thrill of writerly victory. Sadly, the website, Fiction365 has folded, so I present the story here for posterity.
“A Scream For the Dying”
They say that no one on Earth screamed before they died, that nature would never create such an anti-Darwinian model. But no one alive today ever lived on earth, so I have my doubts.
This is the price the planet Mira asks us to pay, it’s said. Mira needs to be satiated. I’m waiting for them to create a God to lay the blame on, but for now Mira is our God. After all, she gave us shelter when the bloated sun kicked us out. She gave us life.
I often wonder what existence would be like if we died quietly, or at least expectantly. Some people do grow old. Mr. Walsh was over one hundred when he finally screamed. By then he was so decrepit his voice was little more than a rasp. Or so I was told.
The only scream I’d ever witnessed left an indelible mark. A young boy. Younger than me. I didn’t know his name. He just stopped, stared up at the yellow sky, and let loose. There was nothing anyone could do. Mira was calling him home.
I practice sometimes. When I’m alone, or deep in the woods where no one would hear me and come looking for my body. I scream as loudly as I can, but it’s always my decision, so my scream ends when I need to take a breath. And I do — take a breath.
The debate is whether or not life is more or less cherished because we will go at any moment. In the most literal sense, we could be talking, one of us lets out a scream, and there’s not even time for goodbye. Personally, I’d rather know when I was going to die. Mr. Walsh led a full life, but did anyone ever ask him how the extra years of stressful anticipation felt? Was he relieved when he finally screamed?
I often tell my parents I love them, just in case. We hug. They tell me the same. Just in case. I hate living in fear … I listen to the radio. It distracts me.
I go to school. Everyone acts normally. Little Franklin, his father died yesterday. Franklin’s not here today. He’s the man of the house now. I wonder if I’ll see him again. The bell rings. I go home.
We continue searching for other habitable planets, but Mira is metal deficient, and the core is deep. Building a new ship will take time.
We limped to Mira, and she took us in. We’re happy to be alive. We’re farmers now. We’re settlers. We’ve been here three hundred years.
I’d like to be an astronaut when I grow up.
If I grow up.
I’m standing in front of my mirror, mouth agape in a silent prayer to Mira. I’m ready. She ignores me, for now, but someday I’ll be hers, and my arrival shall be heralded by my scream.