Literary Speculative Fiction

Where are they going? 

Beyond the sky, behind the moon,

To wait for us someday soon. 

        ~Cold War-era children’s lullaby


lena had planned it this way from the beginning, before the Agency had recruited her, before she began tracking the moon’s phases on the dormitory wall, scratching hash marks into the baseboard where the Matron wouldn’t see. She had known her path since her parents had disappeared one rainy day while she was at school: the door ajar, the kettle boiling over, her father’s trumpet still warm with his breath. Olena had stood in her empty house, cold dampness creeping up her stockings, and listened to the rain hitting the tin roof until dark. Then she’d closed the front door, bolted it, tucked herself into her parents’ bed, breathing in her mother’s rose-water perfume with each toss and turn of the linens, and began plotting her course.  

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        Olena steps onto the lunar surface, her body buoyant, and tromps across the ashen terrain, regolith clotting in her boot treads. She hears the triumphant voices from Earth feeding through her red spacesuit, a cacophony of cheers and static echoing inside her helmet. But Olena ignores them. She clicks off the comms device and leaps toward the darkened horizon with no tether to hold her back.

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         Before the Matron arrived, Olena had lived alone for weeks, curling up inside the upturned bookcase of her abandoned home. She’d wrapped herself in her parents’ scientific papers, reciting their long equations as they had once done, solving gravitational potential energy and orbital mechanics as they’d swept the floor or peeled potatoes. 

        At night, she could not sleep in her room but climbed up along the middle hump of her parent’s bed, the no man’s land between their indentations, and slept fitfully, dreaming of shattered glass, her mother’s scream. In the morning, the sheets would be damp from her tears and sweat, but Olena dared not wash the linens, afraid to wash away her parents forever.

       Sometimes, she would attempt to play her father’s trumpet, pressing her lips to the cold metal. Olena’s father had begun teaching her to play before he was taken. But Olena had been reluctant. She disliked the way her lips buzzed after practice, the discordant moans that sputtered from the horn. But in the emptiness of the house, her off-key scales rose around her like phantoms of her parents, keeping her company. Even when she wasn’t playing, Olena kept the trumpet’s mouthpiece in her pocket, the weight of it comforting. 

        When the Matron came, Olena hid beneath the false floorboard in the pantry, where her parents had sometimes buried their work in case of a raid. But nothing could protect the girl from such a force. 

        “She can’t be far,” the Matron had growled. Olena had heard the hall closet open and cupboard doors slamming against the stucco walls until bits of plaster rained to the floor. An astringent smell of lye soap prickled Olena’s nose as she heard a satisfied gasp from above. The floorboards above her splintered, and a gloved hand grabbed her before she could scream.

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        For years Olena lived in the dormitory with other children of dissidents, children the government deemed too valuable to kill–until the Matron decided otherwise. 

        Olena had slept in the root cellar for a week, three days longer than the last girl the Matron had punished, locking her in the dark. Olena was there when the rebellion began. 

        She could hear screams and gunfire. Somewhere in the dormitory, a radio shuddered into static and then squealed an emergency signal. Olena crawled toward the cellar stairs, her feet heavy and numb, and looked toward the door. As she dragged herself up the steep wooden slats, her blackened toes limp beneath her, a sliver pierced her hand. 

        “…taken over the streets…Agency has captured Czystarnsy and intends to return the once-deposed Huba to power….” Olena heard the radio report from the top of the stairs through the thick door. A scream cut through the announcement, and glass crashed like a plate thrown against the wall. Boots stomped across the kitchen. Olena panicked. She peered down the cellar’s wooden stairs, stretching out like teeth, waiting to devour her feet. But then the boots disappeared down the hall and up the back stairwell. She heard the Matron’s voice now, scolding and harsh, with a tinge of something else caught in the back of her throat. Fear, Olena thought. The Matron is afraid

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        Olena bounds across the moon to the edge of the crater, the one that shares her family name. Standing there, her boots edging the darkness, she thinks once more of the hash marks on the wall, of the punishment in the root cellar, and of the Matron. She wonders if the Matron cried when the rebels marched her to the pits, the red Agency uniforms blocking the sun as she died. She wonders if they had bothered to cover her, shoveling the dirt back over her or if the Matron had been left out to the elements, to the carrion birds and stray dogs. Had frostbite disfigured her nose, gnarled her fingers before Death had wrapped around her, pulling her into the earth? 

        Olena fumbles for the trumpet mouthpiece from her pocket and tosses it into the pit. She hears voices again, soft and familiar, singing a tune the children sang in the streets. It fills her head as she climbs down into the crater. As dusty hands reach out to her, Olena knows she is home.

Author Bio

Shelly Jones (she/they) is a Professor of English at a small college in upstate New York, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Podcastle, The Future Fire, and elsewhere. Find them on Twitter @shellyjansen or at Shelly Jones, Ph.D.

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