Short Fiction by Clint Monette
There was a stream I used to go to with my little brother. He was always bigger than me, but he was still my kid brother. We would dip our toes in the cool water, but we’d never go in. Little creatures would swim past while we would sing the songs we’d heard, discuss the girls we saw, and sometimes talk about faraway worlds. It was his dream, not mine, but I always listened.
If I let him, my brother would talk and talk until the sun went down. It was nice hearing him talk. He so rarely talked when others were around. Other people thought he was dumb, but on the banks of that stream, he would dream of other worlds. In his mind, all those far off places with their strange names had their own stories.
My brother always had a way with words, a way that he didn’t like showing people. When he spoke of other worlds he spun truth and fantasy together to create places that felt real. These were places that no one else had ever been too. Places that we could only see hanging in the sky, but on the banks of that stream, my brother and I would go to them. He was my tour guide, and I was his passenger.
When the shipbuilders came and asked for volunteers, my brother raised his hand. Some people laughed, but not me. They knew there would be tests. They thought he would fail, but I knew differently.
The first time he wore a pressure suit our mother was crying. I nearly cried too. We were both proud, but I think she was sad too.
We watched through lenses and listened for transmissions as his ship approached that other world. A blue one like ours. The world was alive, and I could hear the excitement in my little brother’s voice. I could hear him describe things from down there, each one more fantastic than the last. He had the words for it, more so than his shipmates. He had the words for it because he had been preparing for this moment without really meaning to.
Everything down there was so much bigger. With greens that stretched up from the ground, and thick-skinned creatures that were tall enough to eat the green down from the sky. In places bodies of water could stretch from horizon to horizon. The whole world seemed to be covered with unimaginable life.
They landed and explored, reporting new discoveries each day. Every rock they kicked over and every sample they studied revealed more surprises and wonders. I loved listening to my brother, and other people loved listening to him too. He had captivated our whole world by telling us of a whole other world. It was all more fantastical than anyone could have imagined. Anyone except my little brother.
At home, the storms came. Sandy storms that covered our whole world. So thick we couldn’t go outside. Our top minds thought the storms wouldn’t last, but they told my brother and his shipmates to stay longer just to be safe. They had food and plenty of water. They could wait until the planets aligned again.
When the orbits were ready for my brother to come home, nothing was better. Even the shipbuilders, the smartest of the smart, had given up. They told my little brother and his crew to stay there. They told my brother things would be better if he stayed.
My brother’s shipmates asked a lot of questions about the logistics of the next launch window and remaining fuel, but not my brother. I think he knew the truth. He knew they were never coming home.
The stream where we used to sit and talk is sand now, but I still sit there imagining the water running over my toes and wondering what my brother can see today. He’s still up there on that little blue ball, third from the sun, with its one giant moon and a whole world of life. My brother still talks to our dying red world, and though I can hear sadness when he speaks, I also hear enthusiasm and wonder. He holds all our wonder now.