New Writing


Shea Evans

Spaceman Michael Langford Hocksetter sat at the edge of his porthole and stared down at the distant earth. He sighed. The planet hung suspended in inky nothing, framed by the starry host of heaven, and the sight of this, inspiring to most people, caused Mr Hocksetter only bitter disappointment. His feelings were unexpected and unwanted. Three weeks prior to this moment, when he had left earth, his excitement at the prospect of his first holiday in space had consumed him entirely.

The small blue globe on which he had spent his entire life lay a few thousand miles in front of him, and by coincidence its current face was displaying his native Australia. Michael observed the continent and noted that it looked like an enormous half-eaten pancake, abandoned by some full breakfasteer, and saw with a pang of jealousy that dark clouds were gathering at the country’s eastern coast. He picked out his hometown of Gosford and deduced that in about three hours his mother would begin taking his parents’ washing in, folding it and stacking it in her never-ending quest for cleanliness. Mr Hocksetter, who had treated himself to this holiday for his fiftieth birthday, was almost as big a fan of thunderstorms as he was the unknowns of the galaxy.

At the sight of the impending storm, which appeared to be quite serious, Michael bemoaned the fact that there was no atmosphere in his current environs apart from still and perfectly regulated oxygen. How he longed for a breeze! The orbital station on which he now travelled, though many magnitudes larger than the antiquated ISS, still somehow felt cramped and stuffy. This added to his discomfort, as did the sight of his country’s arid interior, and he began to feel hot under the collar. He got up to decrease the climate control a few degrees, then sat back down and began to ponder how his dream come true had turned so sour.

Back on earth he was known by his peers as ‘a space guy’, and had forever been obsessed with the various facets of astronomy and cosmic travel. Single-minded since childhood, his passion, unlike the moon he had so recently loved, had never waned until now. In primary school his room had been decorated to the furthest extent with glowing stars and hanging models of rockets weaving through hanging models of the solar system. His bedsheets had been patterned with lunar craters, and it was his dream above all dreams to become an astronaut at the forefront of space exploration. This dream was crushed in high school when he discovered, with some surprise, that though man had invented crafts to take him beyond the stars he had still not yet invented cures for short-sightedness or flat feet. Stuck with a life on earth, Michael determined to become an astronomer and geared his education toward that end.

In university he studied all the necessaries and became the heads of all the right clubs, the observation of space and the aim of someday going there his top priorities in life. After university he gained employment in an observatory, and gazed with joy each evening at the unknown things which lay just beyond his grasp. Suns, galaxies, comets, billion-year-old supernovae, Saturn’s rings, he looked through with his telescope into the peephole of this other world with a lust for the unearthly that was insatiable.

So when the chance arose for Michael to purchase discounted tickets for a stay at the LunaCorp moon resort, followed by an orbit of earth, he launched himself forward. Such trips were becoming more affordable around the time Michael turned fifty, something he was grateful for given his astronomer’s wage, and he began counting down for his departure. At the beginning of his voyage, three weeks ago on the day of lift-off, Michael had been trembling with excitement. His wife, Anne, had accompanied him on the train to Brisbane spaceport, a journey which took slightly less than an hour, but he was almost unaware of her presence. The thoughts racing through his mind, ‘I’m going to space, I’m leaving, I’m going to the moon’, were set on a cycle that was uninterruptible and brought fresh waves of joyful anxiety with each repetition. There was room for little else in his mind, and when it came time to part from his spouse at the check in lounge he grabbed his luggage (which she had been dragging behind him) and darted ahead in a cold sweat to take his place in line without saying goodbye. Anne hadn’t held it against him, she knew his entire life had been building up to this, and wished him well.

Remembering this now as he sat beside his porthole on the thirteenth level of the orbital station, Michael’s gut twisted. It would be easy enough for him to call home and apologise, but he just couldn’t bring himself to stand up again. Instead he continued to think, and he realised that he could trace his current discomfort back to the moment he boarded the LunaCorp moon shuttle.

After passing through the shuttle’s airlock and a narrow corridor, Michael and the few others he’d walked with came out into the passenger area. This was a large open space populated neatly by about a hundred seats, most of them already filled, and as Michael staggered to find his place under the weight of his awe he admired the assembled throng. This was a wonderful mix of people, from very young children to men and women much older than himself. There were all colours and shapes, races and sizes, and each face seemed to bear the same expression of stoic determination. The sight of fellow space-farers filled Michael with such camaraderie that his eyes began to well up as he approached his chair, finally amongst people who could understand his passion. His hopes for humanity were restored in the faces of these brave adventurers, whom he immediately regarded as brethren, and Michael saw that the new generation of explorers had risen. This feeling lasted until shortly after lift-off.

The launch itself was a religious experience, convincing Michael beyond all doubt that God existed. Words here would fail to capture with any proper accuracy what this felt like, but Michael’s life was forever afterwards divided into pre and post launch. He’d recall the force of the thrust every day for the rest of his life, and when alone would close his eyes and smile at the memory of the apocalyptic shuddering that tore through his body and caused him to sweetly desire death. The sound of the blast was deafening as it bore them up through the air, and did not lessen until they’d exited the atmosphere. Upon having left earth’s upper limit, everything changed. The sound of the rocket diminished to a low drone, and the vibration subsided. Michael’s first perception was that many people were crying, and when he forced his eyes open he realised he was one of them. That so many were moved to tears as he was brought on fresh feelings of togetherness, and Michael’s heart swelled as he wiped his face and applauded with the other passengers. Two hours later, about halfway to the moon with five of the infant passengers still crying, the feeling had worn off entirely.

Michael tried to ignore them, he really did, but it was impossible. The acoustics of the shuttle amplified and projected the infants’ screams straight into his eardrums, and this was not the only annoyance. Two old women sat either side of him and spoke very loudly to each other, leaning across him to be heard over the babies. This blocked access to his armrests and the view from their shared window, forcing him to listen with hands folded in his lap to conversations about menopause and pancreatic cancer. Lunch proved a welcome distraction, but Michael was again annoyed when he finally managed to tear open his foil packet and was met with a congealed cloud of cold peas and gravy floating in front of his eyes.

Above all the air just wasn’t right, it didn’t circulate well and sat uncomfortably at the top of the lungs without the restriction of gravity. After enduring all of this, Michael’s spirits were lifted when the announcement came that they were beginning their descent to the lunar surface. He rallied himself for the landing, which was not as intense as take-off, and made his way down to the LunaCorp resort airlock with haste.

Standing behind the doors with half-a-hundred other passengers, Michael prepared to enter a high-minded and scientific world totally free of the sordid conversations of elderly women. He knew in his mind that just beyond the doors lay the pinnacle of human engineering, the frontier of his species’ pioneering nature, and the zenith of all man’s achievement. When the pressure on either side equalised and the airlock hissed open, his heart dropped. With one look he saw that this was more planet vacation than science-haven, such was the crowd ahead and the neon. The fifty others around him surged forward immediately to join the seething mass, fearful of being left out, and Michael caught snatches of conversation as they choked the doors.

“Quick! Let’s hit the beach for a closer suntan.”

“I NEED a moon shirt!”

“Daddy, can we go to MoonDonalds?”

Michael’s mouth hung agape as he looked around, disgusted and stunned as he remained alone in the airlock with a suitcase of precious observation equipment in each hand. He began to move forward, fighting against the throng as he read the overhead directions to his hotel, and was horrified with each step. Michael saw several chubby families in Hawaiian shirts, he saw vendors, stores, money changers, restaurants, toilets, fountains, a casino, an ‘adults only’ venue, a cinema, and a waterfall. When he finally made it to his room he fell exhausted onto the bed and did not go back out, but lay there in his clothes until sleep came. For two weeks he would battle with the crowd in order to access the ‘outdoor’ areas and set up his equipment, but the commercialisation of the whole experience just defeated him. He spent the third week in bed watching David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth’.

It just wasn’t as special as he’d wanted, humans had conquered space and dressed her up in plastic to be paraded around and walked all over. The access was too easy, his dream open to an infinite amount of people who hadn’t dreamed it as hard as he had. How could there be three separate McDonalds on the moon? The thought made Michael feel violently ill, as did the never-ending amount of neon which lit the resort and made viewing the already dim stars difficult.

As he sat and stared down at his far away planet, he felt things about it that he never had before. He jealously missed it and its fresh air, missed the bush, and the beach, and his wife. A gladness of heart that he had not had for three weeks came to him when he thought of arriving home tomorrow, of embracing Anne and sitting down on their gravitationally stable couch. He found that he could not wait to be away from space, and at the moment he had that realisation, a voice came clear and soothing across the station intercom.

“Honoured guests,” it began, “due to heightened geo-political tensions on earth it has become unsafe for a shuttle to re-enter the atmosphere. As a result, your stays have been extended pro-bono for one month. Please enjoy your extra time with LunaCorp in any way you wish. Thank you, and have a nice day.”

When the voice cut out there was a brief moment of silence, then Michael heard the collective roar of triumph from the space tourists in the surrounding rooms and floors. He went over to his bed, lay down with a pillow pressed gently over his face, and began to cry.