This story is by Catherine Callicott and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The doors whispered open and a gasp escaped Aurora as the air stuck to her skin like a hot glove. She raised a hand against the intensity of the sun. This wasn’t right, this was too hot. Someone from behind bumped into her as she stepped back between the doors. People, more people than Aurora had seen in her whole life, teemed around her.
“Watch it,” a boy near her age said without stopping.
“Aurora?” Her chaperon had paused in the sunlight. The brightness made the angles under his brow sharp and defined, like the ink drawings she used to scratch out on her halo-pad.
“Is it okay to go out there?” her voice trembled and she hated it. Hated being afraid of where she was supposed to have come from.
“What? Of course, it’s a little humid today…” His expression cleared and he held out a hand to her. “I understand, this is all new. Come with me it’s perfectly fine.”
“It feels like the earth is sweating all over me.” She took his hand, it was cool but offered no relief from the blazing torch above.
“It doesn’t get hot up there, does it?”
Aurora shook her head. “No.” Her gaze lifted to the horizon which was littered with stark rectangular buildings. Where was it? Her head swiveled and she twisted herself around seeking the sight of it, although she knew it would provide little comfort. It was up there, and she was down here.
“You can’t see it right now. The moon, right? That’s what you were looking for?”
A vehicle glided forward, the wheels hushed against the electric
Aurora frowned. “You can always see Earth. It’s always there, lurking over our shoulders from every window.” The door opened with a soft click and Aurora slid inside.
“Middlemas Academy,” the chaperon said. “Good luck Aurora.” The door closed and the driver punched in a few keystrokes, then leaned back into his seat waiting for the car to take over.
Aurora sighed. She knew she wasn’t going to like this place. Nothing she had seen so far had given her any hope of changing her mind.
“I’m not going to like it.” Aurora crossed her arms and stuck out her lower lip. She glowered out the window at the blue blemish that marred the perfect black of space.
Her mom wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “You will. Just give it a chance.”
“I don’t see why I have to go. I want to stay here, with you.” Aurora turned her brown eyes to her parents. She hoped their increasingly dewy appearance would sway them.
Aurora’s father stepped forward. “Sweetie, you’re fourteen, and it’s time. There’s a reason we send our children away. Believe it or not, you need more than your parents and the ten other kids in this station for a fulfilled life. And, you need to see what Earth is like. You can’t just spend your whole life looking down on it. You’d wonder… eventually.”
Aurora’s toe had become increasingly interesting and she studied it hard. “Do you miss it?” she asked, not looking up.
Aurora couldn’t see her mom’s smile, but she could hear it. “I do. The colors, the smells, the feeling of everything. It can’t be described. You’ll see.”
“Then why don’t you come down with me? Why do you guys have to stay?”
“We have our jobs, Aurora. We can’t just leave them.” Her father’s brows furrowed and she could tell she was losing ground instead of gaining it.
“Plus, we have Jimmy,” her mother added, bouncing the sleeping two-year-old gently in her arms as emphasis. “He’s way too young to begin muscle training for the gravity difference.”
A loud cough broke the dreamed memories of her family. Aurora’s head snapped up, her cheek sticking slightly to the smooth surface of her desk. The rows of chairs in the classroom were empty and the teacher loomed large in front of her.
“Aurora, you can’t keep doing this.”
“I know, I’m sorry Ms. Melane. The doc said it was temporary.” Aurora shoved her book in her bag and pushed past the teacher. The hallways were swollen with students moving to their next class.
“Oh, look ladies. Our little alien has finally woken up. What’s wrong Aurora Borealis? Is our Earth gravity too hard for you to take?”
Aurora’s cheeks burned. She had always thought her name beautiful, inspired by the glowing colored rivers of light that crowned the ends of the Earth. She hadn’t realized it would be just one more thing, along with the transient narcolepsy caused by her body adjusting to the new environment, that would set her apart from the other students. And when the teachers bragged about having a student who had been born on the moon, it made the others dislike her even more. She didn’t fit in anywhere and she didn’t want to. Aurora walked away from the group of girls, her pace fast and her mind set.
Nobody stopped her as she shoved the double doors open. The barest breath of cool air kissed her skin as she walked across the field into the wild rim of trees that tangled on the edges of the ordered campus. She needed some space to herself. At the academy, there was always someone watching, someone judging.
Aurora blinked trying to make sense of what she saw. While she had slept, color had been sucked out of the landscape, replaced by the comforting tones of white, gray, and black. Hues of home. But it wasn’t right. Unnatural silhouettes crowded around her. Over-sized plants they called trees. That’s right. She wasn’t home. She was on Earth. Although a strange part of Earth where it looked as if the two worlds had collided into one.
Aurora stood up and brushed leaves from her pants. She turned her head, looking left and right. The change in light didn’t help her orientation. She was still lost. Nothing looked familiar, even the sight of the full moon shining down on her. She sighed and picked a direction, heading off into the tangle.
Sounds assaulted her from all directions as she walked. Earth was so noisy. On the moon, there was only a perpetual low hum peppered by the murmur of voices. A stick snapped under her foot and she jumped, pressing herself against the trunk of a tree. Her heart throbbed in her chest.
“Ok, Aurora. Think, think.” Aurora scrunched her eyelids to concentrate, although thoughts seemed to run from her like the harmless electric vornados they used to chase on the station. The hair on her arm stood on end. Making its way up her arm was the dark shadow of a large eight-legged insect. All attempts at thinking stopped. Aurora shrieked and ran blindly into the thickets. This place was hell. Why would anyone want to live on Earth?
Aurora crashed through underbrush and trees, snagging clothes and skin on passing branches until she reached the edge of a small pond. The black expanse was like ice, reflecting the full, luminous moon like a mirror. Hypnotized, she sank to the ground without bothering to check for anymore strange creatures.
After a few minutes her breathing calmed, but her heart ached like she had never felt before. Tears trailed down her cheeks as she watched the slow glide of the moon across the water. The air was thick with the essence of marsh.
The music of crickets wove through the reedy brush, and the call of owls hooted in the distance. It wasn’t too bothersome, not really. Aurora closed her eyes and listened more closely. A single joyful chirp rang from one tree. The bird trilled again, and as if on cue, was returned from another tree. Soon, all the nearby trees burst with song. Aurora had never heard sounds like this. Before, here on Earth, it had all been noise.
When Aurora opened her eyes again she was surprised to see a faint lightening over the tops of the trees. The sky continued to brighten, more quickly than she would have imagined. Oranges and pinks slashed the sky bringing color back to her surroundings. Now, the pond reflected Aurora’s first sunrise. The world was waking up around her.
Aurora took a deep breath and her mother’s words came back to her unbidden. The colors, the smells, the feeling of everything. It can’t be described. A smile spread across her lips. No, it could not be described.
An ant marched along the length of her finger and Aurora took a moment to look at the complexity of the body, his large eyes, and how tiny legs supported his body. She placed her finger on the ground and the ant moved along, intent on his mission. Aurora had a mission now too. Her eyes turned west. She knew how to get back now. Back to her new home.