Short Story Competition – Third Place: Terminal Velocity

TERMINAL VELOCITY

By Casper Rudolph

1

For billions of years have I voyaged across the luminous emptiness, rocketing amongst silent worlds. I am bound to journey onward through this timeless haze, in the absence of any company. Over the aeons I have forgotten my point of origin and my destination has always been unknown to me. Though I am so very weary, I am ceaselessly chasing a faraway tomorrow along these starlit lanes to a place where I may finally lay myself to rest. Oh, how I long for the unfelt embrace of deepest sleep…

2

Before me I see the infernal giant rising from beyond floating debris, its scorching claws crunching everything within reach. I am almost sure that it has set its eyes on me, already licking its lips of flame, always hungering for consumption. As I blast with extreme velocity at this behemoth of fire, I behold how it devours other travellers of stone. Helplessly they fall prey to the raging monstrosity, only to disintegrate inside its burning heart. I, too, shall be eradicated as thousands of fiery tongues trace me. It is inescapable. Inevitable. Oh, the heat! How it burns my outer shell! How it shakes me to my core! How it cracks me! I can take no more.

Nothing will stand the test of time. Everything dies. It is a truth universally acknowledged. But what is the cause of all the destruction that is upon us? It has to be this searing beast. Now that I am so close, confronted with its awesome power, I realise this.

Then I come to understand something else: this gargantuan predator roams not by itself but in a pack. It’s these remote pinpoints that have been lighting my way, watching me everywhere I wander. Oh, the sheer thought of it, the idea that the beast is but one from many. If a monster like this holds such catastrophic power on its own, I can only imagine what it’s like when they unite to take all of existence.

First it draws me near but then it begins to push me away, as if it has decided that it does not want me, after all. Some unfortunate drifters are swallowed before me while my course is being changed for reasons unknown. I thank the wildfire for sparing me and sail on to nowhere, away from the terrible heat and back into the cool calmness of the cosmos.

3

I venture forth until she appears up ahead in my galactic path. Where the flaming creature had been terrifying, she exudes an aura of peace as she beckons me. Whether I want this or not, I am forced to go where destiny takes me, and if she ushers in the end of my journey I shall gladly join her in all her blue and green glory.

She appears to be smaller than most others I have passed by, but she is beautiful from here. As I come ever closer, I begin to notice the sapphire surface and emerald exterior that covers her completely. She does not seem to be polluted by vast sky-scraping towers or airborne crafts, nor poisoned by artificial gasses or punctured by mighty drills like so many of her brethren. She hovers undisturbed, a haven of serenity. She reminds me of something from an obscure past, long ago, but I can’t quite open my inner eye to it. Nevertheless I accept her welcoming embrace, giving myself over to it. Yet I cannot shake the feeling that, in a strange way, it’s like admitting defeat.

4

She softens my approach, slowing me down as she gently holds me back with unseen hands. It is like the starry galaxy, which has always been my world, gradually transforms into this large, round body. She is an entire microcosm of her own, absorbing the radiant darkness.

At last it dawns on me that even this beautiful living globe, overgrown with all the vegetation—the green trees and the bush and the grass—is a threat.

I break through an invisible barrier, catching fire in the process. It sears my skin of stone and deepens the cracks made by my earlier encounter with that colossal destroyer. I scream in my mind as I stop flying and begin to fall, trapped in her powerful, gravitational grasp. She ignites me; I become a ball of fire.

As I descend and the prolonged flares expand the cracks, I am fully aware of my own collapse. I leave a trail of crumbs behind as I cut through this bright sky. It hurts how I come undone, how my body is ripped apart, how my skin is shredded to little bits until I am reduced to a small boulder, barely able to contain myself.

Then I hear a roar. There, taller than the trees surrounding it on that mountain, stands a grotesque, dominant animal, sweeping its tail as it focuses on me. How alien does the brute appear to be, with those minuscule arms dangling on its chest, the rows of teeth and those black eyes. But suddenly it’s out of sight, for I blaze past, over valleys and forests and mountaintops and volcanoes until there is nothing but ocean for miles.

Below I see the blue stretch of water, glistening in the light of a distant sun. Though this planet has decelerated me, I still fall fast, and the following moment I crack open the surface, water splashing as I impact, my skin sizzling out in an instant. I’m washed away by these waves, sinking into the depths.

5

It seems fitting that even this underwater realm, nearly as black as the void outside, is illumined by coruscating creatures. Only these strange, small monsters are harmless to me. They swim by with incandescent scales. Some have orbs swishing back and forth on their heads. How restricted they are in their freedom; how restricted all living things are within their own limited zones. They are merely able to go where their environment permits them to roam, much like myself, even if I have crossed a seemingly endless vacuum.

Finally my remains touch upon the sandy bottom of this deep rift and I lie still. My journey has come to an end. Isn’t this what I wanted? Isn’t this what I needed? What I’ve been craving? Oh, it seems so unfair to lie here, of all places, but where would I rather be? I don’t belong anywhere, you see.

I submerge into a slumber, dreaming of the stars, wondering what it would be like to cruise among them once more with an unbroken body. And in this death-dream a vision is presented to me—an image of who I used to be. A planet like the one that’s smothering me. I was torn asunder by war and this little piece of mind is all I have left. I can almost remember, nearly conceive my past self, but before I manage to do so I fade out like an extinguished nova…

The End.

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