The Last Adam

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story of a man who becomes stranded in space after watching Earth become a world of fire.

Submitted: May 08, 2017

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Submitted: May 08, 2017

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Year: 2088

 

The astronaut floated inside Destiny, USA's lab in the new, recently launched International Space Station. The room was white with streaks of black and silver running across the walls, lined with disparate machines and a large concave window on the opposite end of the entrance. He was the first person sent up to work on a last few kinks, but two others from Russia were scheduled to arrive in four hours. He could hardly wait to split up the remaining load with them, and given the time it took to get from Earth to ISS he guessed that they were on their way soon. After fixing up the communication system the last couple of hours, he decided to take a breather.

 

He held a picture of his family with one hand and a Polaroid camera with the other. He positioned the photo in front of the large twenty-inch thick glass window that gave a stunning view of Earth, left it hovering in place, and took a shot. He wiped the sweat from his brow and ran through his black hair while the film came out like a ticket. The ISS, even before its spacious upgrade, had always been a little too warm to his liking, but since he was by himself perhaps he could adjust the temperature for the time being.

 

His lips curved to a smirk as he carefully removed the picture from the slot, wiggling it as its colors emerged. He thought of Zeke, his cheeky four year old son, aspiring to be like him, dreaming daily of riding out to space and exploring its endless mysteries. If he had a penny for every time he asked to board a spaceship like his father, the astronaut reckoned he could afford another child. Though the missus, Ava, might've had some words about it. She, like Zeke, was a lover of the final frontier. No matter how many times she'd deny it, she felt somewhat envious of her husband's line of work, but not out of hate, never. Who wouldn't want to see the universe from his perspective?

 

So today, even if the astronaut wasn't exactly taking his family of space freaks with him he instead took a photo from home and took a photo of that inside the ISS. Once the freshly printed film's colors settled, he held it ahead of him; it had the picture of his family with a bright, giant Earth behind it and the blackness of space filling the top corners. The picture he took from home was of Ava attempting to give Zeke a kiss as he pulled away from her. If only stars shined in photos as they did right now.

 

"A photo of a photo taken to the next level," he said to himself feeling proud. Just as he was about to place the present in his pocket, his hazel eyes caught something strange on Earth, a thin line that faintly glowed red. He looked out the window at the enigma and came centimeters away from it, becoming wide eyed and confused. The crooked red path travelled from the southern part of Mexico all the way to central California.

 

He pulled back and put away the pictures in his pocket, then wiped the glass with the sleeve of his shirt and looked again. The line was still there - if anything, it had gotten longer.

 

A blue light bulb in the corner of the room began flashing, followed by a soft, high pitched beeping from the radio below it. The man quickly twisted his body then pushed himself off the window, hit the wall with his shoulder, and picked up the transmitter.

 

"Hello?" he said, but no one responded.

 

"Hello? Houston, can you hear me? Hello?" He pulled it away from his ear. "Don't tell me I messed this up..." The astronaut turned his head; the line now zigzagged its way up to Canada, down towards Columbia, and in the middle of it was a forming tributary that headed east. He let go of the transmitter and went back to the window. "What the-"

 

There was a pop of static and a woman's distorted voice cut through. "..ny! ...opy...tiny!"

 

He turned and scrambled to the radio. "Houston? Hello, do you copy?"

 

"..you...py...Destiny! Do you copy?"

 

He let out a breath. "Yes, yes, Destiny copies," he said hurriedly. "You're breaking up, but I copy, but hey, look, there's something going on down there, okay? I'm not sure what it is but-!"

 

"Destiny! Do you copy? Hello? This is an emergency!"

 

The transmitter creaked from his grip and his jaw locked. "Houston, can you hear me, do you copy? Houston? Shit." He opened the panel next to the radio and examined the cords, tracing each differently colored twine with his fingertips as the woman continued speaking.

 

"Destiny, we don't know if you can hear us, but there's some type of global catastrophe going on." His fingers stopped for a moment, then continued. "Multiple earthquakes occurring all over the world, and we aren't able to contact anyone from the west coast. We fear that the San Andreas Fault finally gave in."

 

"Earthquakes?" His vision snapped toward the window again and suddenly the room felt chilly. Numerous red lines began appearing across the globe all at once, causing him to squeeze and yank out a cord. "Shit! Not now, not now..." His fingers briskly followed the cord to its end and found another that was loosely plugged into its port. He pushed in both, took the transmitter once more, then the sound of an explosion erupted from the other side.

 

"Houston?!"

 

"...Destiny," the woman groaned.

 

The man gritted his teeth, his eyes becoming glossy as his vision darted back and forth between the window and the radio. "Houston? Please, do you copy? What's happening?"

 

"We -ar you, Destiny," she sighed out. "We're not sure, Adam, what d- you see up there? What's -oing on? It's, it's ch-os here."

 

Adam covered his mouth and swallowed his spit. His lips parted to speak, but choked for a second when Zeke crossed his mind. "I'm not sure, alright? Th-the Earth looks like it's, I don't know, cracking? And glowing red. But how is that even possible?"

 

"I w-sh I could tell you, but w-'v- got some time. A bit shake- up, but we can exp-dite the pro- *BOOM*" The radio went silent.

 

"Houston?!" The astronaut looked toward Earth and gasped. In just a short amount of time the world broke like an eggshell. Fissures riddled the planet, and miles-high geysers of dense lava burst from below, burning everything in their path. Clouds swirled together scattered around the Earth, and on the oceans appeared giant whirlpools visible even from space.

 

Screams erupted from radio, muffled cries of help echoing from person to person. "Dest-," the woman said weakly, "we -on't kno- how long ou- commu-cations will –ast at this rate. What is happening now?"

 

"The world is...it just looks like it's breaking apart." He let out a long breath and wiped away his eyes. "Houston, this better be a joke." There was stillness between them, magnified by the growing mayhem and countless other noises, and the weight in his heart felt heavier with each breath. The woman sniffed and let out a sob. "Houston?"

 

"If what –ou sa- is tru-," she said, her whimpering and sniffling clearer to him than the words spoken, "you ha-e to do someth-, y- –ht b- t- -st pe-- a-ve."

 

He struggled to understand. "Houston?! Repeat last message, Houston!"

 

"Destiny-" and the feedback disappeared.

 

The shrieks, cries, explosions; the sounds of chaos was gone, but the reticence was more deafening. He shut his eyes tight, rubbing his fingers together, and his nose stung from the rose-scented perfume his wife wore. "Hello?"

 

There was a bright flash and Adam's muscles tensed when he looked toward it. As if USA's Midwest couldn't hold its own weight, the land cracked like lightning striking the sky, and the rest of Earth became a colossal, disordered mesh of red, brown, and blue.

 

"No," he whispered. "No, no, no, no, no." He slammed the transmitter against the wall. "Houston! Houston! Don't you fuck with me, there's no way this is happening! What the hell is going on?!" He huffed and puffed against the device, yet again silence was the answer.

 

Still in disbelief, Adam hastily made his way to the bay. There, he put on his spacesuit and tethered a cable on his waist. Once secured, the airlock doors closed behind him while the one ahead of him slid open. From his feet, a radiant glow of crimson and orange emitted from Earth inched up his body, and it all but confirmed his fears while he drifted outside with staggered breaths.

 

Monstrous hurricanes have formed and wreaked havoc on the grounds they travelled, with winds so vicious that not even the strongest mountains would remain whole. The color of the continents changed in frightening speeds like candle fire burning paper, lava shooting out from below in tall towers and arches. Clouds dissipated, replaced by dark billows of smoke that blanketed the skies. The oceans endlessly beat against the coasts, chipping away at the edges as if they were sculptors.

 

Adam broke into tears; he started gasping and reached out a trembling hand towards Earth, shook his head, and watched it with strained eyes become a world of fire. After a few minutes he went back inside, took off his helmet, and looked at his woe-filled reflection from its visor before throwing it across the room, hitting the wall with a gentle thud. He pulled his hair then ran his forehead against the wall repeatedly, sobbing harder and becoming surrounded by the tears he shed as if they were watchful sprites empathizing with his loneliness.

 

What happened and how? The questions kept repeating themselves in Adam's head. Everything was fine not even twenty minutes ago, then the whole world suddenly decided to commit suicide? Where was the explanation, clues, the warnings? They could predict when meteors would hit Earth and had means to deal with the problem, but were blind to Earth's own demise? The thought of his wife and son gone, never to be seen again, was what almost destroyed him completely then and there, but in the midst of sadness something pierced his heart.

 

He inhaled deeply and calmed his breathing. There's no way everyone would've died, right? he thought. There are billions of people, some surely survived, and he held onto that belief. Adam wiped away his face, sniffling a few times before stopping. Through his dark, glassy, red eyes was a flash of confidence, and he spent the first month alone doing whatever he could to oppose the obvious.

 

Adam constantly switched between the different nodes and labs inside the ISS, stubbornly attempting to make contact with the countries he could possibly reach. U.S., Japan, Russia, Canada, and the different countries under Europe, but to no avail. Usually there'd be three to six people on board the ISS, but circumstances made Adam alone. The two others, obviously, did not make it. Because of that, Adam worked almost every minute that he could. All non-essential on-board experiments were ceased and all non-mandatory systems and nodes were cut off from power.

 

Throughout the days, he spoke with himself for conversation. It was simple things at first – what do we need to do today? Where's that tool? Did we fix this already? We should eat now. But Adam was a smart man, he knew this, and he also knew that being alone can do one of two things to the human mind – to become peaceful, or to be destroyed, and on the second week it burdened his thoughts.

 

"It's not the first time you've been by yourself," one side of him said, beginning the argument, "you even used to seek out places where you could do just that. You like being in solitary."

 

"That's true, but the only times you've done that is when you needed to clear your head to focus and you'd never stay for too long," the other replied, "The longest you've ever been alone someplace is a week, during that time you were up at your grandparents' cabin."

 

"In a way, am I not doing that now? Maybe not clearing my head, but focusing, and I can't think of any other place where no one will bother me, so what's a few more weeks then? I can find others. If I can be alone with my thoughts for a week-"

 

He closed his eyes and tilted his head. "No, that's not right. Things are different this time. Before, the world didn't end, and you always had somewhere to return to. You knew it in the back of your mind that you had a home. Can you say the same now?"

 

"I don't need to return anywhere. This place is my new home."

 

"Yet, it's empty. When you come home, there's supposed to be family waiting for you, people you love, there always has been. You can call this your new home all you like, but it doesn't change the fact that you're alone here, and who knows for how long."

 

"Things change, people adapt, and you can do that. Soon enough, there will be people waiting here for me; there's a way."

 

"What is that way? What other person has been through this, how do you even know for sure that there are survivors? If something like this had happened before, it'd be impossible to hear about it. These are uncharted waters, you don't know what demons swim beneath it or when they'd drag you below. Think like a scientist would."

 

He sighed and opened his eyes. "...am I in over my head?"

 

"You might be."

 

His determination wavered, the fire he had found inside him only a week ago already extinguishing, and right before it was completely doused a familiar voice invaded his thoughts.

 

Don't give up now, honey.

 

Adam's eyes flashed. It was light, happy, a voice that had helped him in many occasions. He'd heard her most of his life whenever he contemplated life decisions, but what confused him was that she never offered her knowledge unless Adam spoke to her first. Nonetheless, he felt thankful for her intervention. Even in death it was as if she knew when her son needed her most.

 

We never give up on family, right? Not until we know for sure, she said. Look at this place – could you imagine if you were able to bring them here? Despite the circumstances, wouldn't Zeke and Ava just love it?

 

Adam scoffed and shook his head at his laughable resolution, and considered himself lucky she didn't give him a stern lecturing. "Yeah, you're right."

 

So keep going.

 

Adam inhaled deeply and cleared his mind. "Thanks, mom."

 

The days after the short conversation, Adam spoke with her more and avoided looking out any window. Whether hovering by for a second or ahead of it for hours, he did what he could to avert his gaze. Was it denial of what happened, did he not want to accept the end of Earth? No. He accepted it, he saw what happened, he heard what happened; he wouldn't be running around if not. But, thanks to his mother, what he still didn't accept was that everyone suffered, and that among the survivors of Earth was his family. He just needed to figure out where they were, how to contact them, and how to get there and back.

 

He thought it was sensible, genius even. The ISS always had an emergency spacecraft meant for Earth landing and the ISS was stocked with supplies that could last for many months without restocking, oxygen included. There was the obstacle of finding a suitable place to land, and an even bigger one in finding a space shuttle to bring survivors back up, but Adam kept on. It'd be a race against time, but he believed everything would work out and that they'd invent a way to live out their lives, to repopulate the human race, even fancying it as a modern retelling of Adam and Eve with their own little twist. He held onto what he believed to be hope no matter how farfetched, but there were times when people didn't want to face the harsh reality staring right at them. On the second month, he was forced to do so.

 

Adam, inside Destiny, checked the systems with an onboard computer. The Polaroid camera drifted by and blocked his view before he gave it a light tap. On the corner of the monitor was a yellow ALERT box that consistently blinked, and the astronaut yawned and rubbed his eyes.

 

"I'll check this out, then head for bed," he said to himself. He slapped both sides of his cheeks twice and stretched his arms up, then went back to the computer. Only a couple seconds later came another yawn and his vision became blurry. He squinted and tried hard to read the words on the screen.

 

PANEL #3, OBSTRUCTION DETECTED

 

He wiped his eyes. "Again?" He glided backwards then flipped to face the ceiling. On it was a small, green panel door that he opened, and inside was a toothpick stuck between different colored cords. "I keep forgetting about these." He plucked it out, examined it, shrugged, and placed it between his lips.

 

He flipped again, his back resting against the ceiling, and yawned once more. His eyes drooped, rubbing them making no difference, and he cracked his neck, each pop releasing a tinge of relief his body welcomed. He removed the two photos from his pocket and examined them like he did every day, and that's when an idea came to mind.

 

"Maybe I should take more shots." He looked down at the camera straggling along the room and began thinking of all the places he could go to in the station that would look good for another photo of a photo. There weren't very many places that were as scenic – maybe he could instead move some things around to at least make it decent. He closed his eyes and imagined how big Zeke's smile will be when he comes up regardless of the appearance, and for the first time since his isolation he almost smiled himself.

 

Don't be stupid, a voice invaded, the man's tone deep, condescending, and drawling its words, you know you'll never see them again.

 

Adam let go of the photo and flipped upright, holding his head and looking around the room, weariness ripped away, his heart pumping harder.

 

Why are you even doing this? Aren't you... a scientist of some sort, someone who looks at things with logic...

 

It wasn't Adam's voice, definitely wasn't his or his mother's, and it bothered him, but not in a way someone hearing voices would. The one he heard was eerily familiar, and it felt like a sharp claw was gently tracing every nook of his brain.

 

...so why aren't you doing that?

 

A more familiar tingling began to crawl up his legs, as if hundreds of little spiders latched on and climbed, and a faint whiff of burning wood and rubber pricked his nose. A memory began to manifest itself, but the only thing he saw clear about the clouded recollection was a bonfire.

 

They're gone, it hissed, accept it!

 

His hands dropped to his sides; that rang with him. "No," he murmured, "that's not-"

 

Don't listen, honey. Don't forget, scientists also explored possibilities. Isn't this one, especially this one, worth exploring?

 

Now it was his mother, who wasn't wrong either, and Adam again felt ashamed for even thinking of completely abandoning his own family.

 

Kid, the other voice said, I'll repeat myself once. Don't. Be. Stupid.

 

He took a short breath. In the entirety of Adam's life only one person had ever referred to him that way. In an instant, the memory became lucid. The sensation in his legs, the scent he smelled, it came rushing back from years ago. He was a child, only ten years old, and he stood frozen watching his model spaceships and astronaut figures up in flames in his backyard. Adam wanted to yell, he wanted to plunge his hands into the fire and save his toys, to tell the person who stood next to them to stop, someone that his subconscious pushed all the way to the back of his mind hoping to be forgotten.

 

Adam laughed at himself. "I'm going crazy. It was me and mom, and now you, out of all people, is in here too? Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised."

 

That's right, honey, you shouldn't be. After all, he abandoned us, his family, and now he's telling you to do the same to yours.

 

Listen kid, I don't deserve the Father of the Year award, I'll give you that much, but I've always been a no-bullshit show. And what you're doing now is a whole lot of it.

 

"Shut up, you were full of bullshit," Adam whispered, "you don't get to do that, you don't get to come here now. You left us twenty-five years ago, and I barely gave a damn when I found out you died sixteen years later. This is you trying to burn what I love again."

 

You've got some spunk in you now, huh? Not like the softie before, then again you were, what, like fourteen the last time I saw you? Ask yourself this, kid, why the fuck do you think I'm here now, after all these years? It wasn't my doing that you're hearing me, there's reason for it and it sure wasn't me suddenly feeling up to the task of becoming the father you cried for. Not like I could be anyways, I'm dead, remember? And I'm inside your head. So again, ask yourself – why now?

 

So am I, don't forget I'm also here now, honey. There's a reason for that too, and that's for me to shut out your deadbeat father's venom-filled voice.

 

Kid, isn't she here, hell, always? Her being dead and being here doesn't mean jack, isn't it smarter to listen to someone who hasn't been, the one that just happened to pop up now out of all times? This is you needing me.

 

And just how many times has he done that, Adam?! How many times did he come back to us, told us we needed him, and left, repeating it until he couldn't get anything out of us anymore? Don't you remember?!

Adam squeezed his head and screamed out, "Of course I remember! Just-!"

 

Then it's obvious that you shouldn't listen to him!

 

Wasn't it your mother who urged you to listen all those years ago? She was the one that told you to hold out hope and kept taking me back, despite how much you despised me. I could always see it in your eyes, the way you looked at me changed along the way. You even knew that I knew. You were done with me way before your mother was, but there was always that little glint, the one that always came back when I did, the same one that always went away when I did. It was her who really kept that going, wasn't it? She could've saved you years of pain. And at the end of it all, I wound up leaving for good anyways. What if she's doing the same now with your family, huh, giving you false hope, setting you up for an even bigger upset like she had many times? Think about that, kid.

 

Be quiet! I would never hurt him, never! I wouldn't do that to my son!

 

But you already have!

 

Adam closed his eyes, brought his knees closer to his stomach, and yelled, "Shut up!" silencing the both of them. He stopped moving for a moment, letting his balled up body float around the room waiting if they'd return, and was only left with the whirring and buzzing of the machines between the walls. When he opened his eyes, they became wide and suddenly the voices were of no concern to him; he faced the window, and for the first time in a month he faced Earth completely, or at least what was left of it.

 

The world was dark, burnt, and had a faint red glow beneath its black, barren lands like heated charcoal. The absence of the oceans showed just how deep and vast their territories once were, now looking as if chunks of Earth were taken with giant bites. There wasn't any sign of life, nothing green or blue or white. Would it even be possible to survive in that world?

 

He panted, breaking into a cold sweat, and turned away biting his lip and curling his toes. He blinked rapidly and faced Earth again, and the red glow beneath the whole United States pulsated brighter and brighter. At the center of it, the ground moved as if the land was breathing, and with each inhale the mound became bigger, with each exhale deeper. It bloated up one last time and a fountain of lava exploded from beneath, the incredible force strong enough to send enormous rocks soaring through the sky and into space. A group of them headed full force toward the ISS.

 

Adam, staring on in a trance, did not notice them immediately. When he realized the rocks were getting bigger, closer, he flinched and scurried away. "Shit, shit, shit." He pulled himself out the lab and into the hall, and clutched his arms to the railing attached to the walls. He put his head down and braced for impact.

 

There was an audible bang and the station rocked slightly, soft sounds of scraping metal traveling down the paths. Little thuds and clinks accented it, then a deep, guttural boom joined the chorus. Adam hit his head against the wall and the lights began blinking red. Soon after, alarms blared and the ISS shook violently. He held on, the veins on his forearms showing as he jerked back and forth. An explosion came and the air sucked out behind him instantaneously with a deafening, airy roar, almost yanking off his hold.

 

"BREACH IN BAY. BREACH IN LAB COLUMBUS. BREACH IN MULTIPLE NODES. ACTIVATING AIRLOCK DOORS," an automated voice announced.

 

Adam's hands turned red, and one by one his fingers lifted up from the rail. His right hand flung back and he grunted as he pulled himself closer with his left, but his grip loosened and his entire body got sent flying backwards. He rotated his position and at the sight of the wall he headed for turned to his left and collided with it, producing a nasty crack from his forearm. Instantly pulled forward, he rammed into pipes with his right shoulder and felt a bone pop out. His body wrenched as he took hold of one of the metal tubes with his left hand and screamed, the bone in his forearm bending, cracking, and threatening to snap.

 

Adam peeked below his flailing legs; at the end of the hall, the heavy airlock door was a third of the way down, behind it was the dark and unrelenting cold abyss of space. The pipe creaked and bent and his grip weakened. He attempted to swing up his right arm, but it barely moved before a surge of pain shot through his shoulder. The tube creaked again then was ripped from the bottom and Adam gritted his teeth from the sudden jar, his sweaty palm sliding down the rod inch by inch. To his horror, his hand reached the jagged end of it and he propelled backwards.

 

He spun his body to face the door, a little more than halfway down, and purposely crashed and plowed against the various machines, cables, and tubes built into the walls and grasped at the railings, doing what he could to slow his speed until the door completely closed. He was some yards away from certain death when he spotted a bar hanging from above. He kicked himself up in midair and inserted his left arm in the space between the ceiling and bar, hooking to it for dear life with the pit of his elbow.

 

Adam yelled, his arm completely enveloped with agony. He clung on for what felt like hours, his lungs going dry from the air being sucked out. Finally, the force that dragged him grew nonexistent and became quiet, his ears ringing with a high pitch from the abrupt change in volume. He let his clutch go and lingered, taking time to catch his breath and let his body rest. The red bulbs flashed one last time before the guiding lights on the floor lit up dimly, a number of them no longer working. After a few minutes, Adam slowly made his way to a first—aid kit.

 

He floated next to a large locked panel, a number pad built into the wall next to it, and pushed four digits individually. The locks shifted and the door slid open, and Adam took out the kit inside. He examined his right shoulder, about a couple inches lower than the other, and brought up his left hand, carefully poked and grasped around it, then placed it on the bicep and squeezed. A pang enveloped both of his arms causing him to yelp. He let go, opened the kit, removed the painkillers, and swallowed three of them. He got the two foldable splints and bandages and left them in midair.

 

With eyes closed he took deeper breaths, his nose flared and lips sucked inside, and in one quick motion he gripped his biceps and shoved it up forcefully, pushing the bone back with a loud pop. He slouched forward and clenched his teeth tightly, piercing his lips and tasting iron, becoming lightheaded while his consciousness faded in and out. With his right hand he gave his injured forearm a light squeeze, forcing himself awake with the pain, and just as quickly squeezed again, much harder. Adam screamed as he felt the fractured ends of the bone grind and snap together in place. He let out a long groan; his head felt even lighter, but he couldn't relax just yet.

 

He lifted his arm up between the two hovering splints, held them against the skin, and sluggishly wrapped it together with the bandages. It wasn't as tight as he'd hoped when he finished, but it was good enough, and there was the problem of finding something for his shoulder, but seeing the ISS in its current state, it could wait. For the first time since he's been alone in space, he was thankful for being in a place without gravity; it helped ease the discomfort.

 

Adam entered Destiny and got on the computer, the screen full of alerts, warnings, and damage assessments. The Europe lab, Columbus, was completely blown away, leaving only Destiny, and a good portion of the bay was in no better shape. Many of the station's nodes and systems were damaged, supplies dwindled, and with what was left it'd be more difficult to fulfill what he wished for. His mouth formed a thin line and he pinched the bridge of his nose, stopping the tears from flowing. He gulped then patted his pockets, but his body froze when he felt nothing inside them. His jaw locked and he searched around the room in a panic, grumbling with each turn of his body and fearing for the worst.

 

When his eyes darted from one end of the room to the other, he spotted a thin film levitating near the window, and scattered in space behind it were supplies and tools that were sucked outside from the several breaches. He inhaled a breath of relief; it was the picture, the one from home, facing his direction and hardly moving from its position. It did little to compensate for what was lost, but it was a ray of sunshine in a never ending rainstorm, a silver lining. So what if mostly everything else floated out in space? All Adam needed to continue was this, his family. He went to it with a hand stretched out, getting closer, his eyes yearning to look upon his wife and child, when suddenly his fingertips struck the glass.

 

His brows furrowed. "No, please, no," he said, then slapped his hand onto the window. "No!" Among everything outside, the picture was with them.

 

He made his way to the bay in a rush, paying his injuries no mind as he hit walls and corners. The door to it was locked, and no matter how many times Adam entered his code it refused to open. He punched the keypad and gritted his teeth, the pulsing pain from his broken bones and swollen fingers doing nothing to stop him. "Fucking open, damn it! Open!" He punched it again over and over and over, and kept going until his arms went numb and his knuckles bled, droplets and strokes of dark red encircling him.

 

His jabs eventually waned and he curled into a ball; he felt desolated, truly hollow as if his heart was missing from his ribcage and a never ending hole had replaced it. His one and only memento was so close in distance, but still so far and out of reach. His eyes were sore, parched, and heavy, and the tears he had left to cry floated around him or dried. He skipped back to the lab with a blank face, but stopped when he passed by the intact Russian storage room. He turned around and went inside, then rummaged through its emergency supplies. Hidden behind it all and covered in cloth was a bottle of cognac and vodka. He had heard about the Russians allowing their cosmonauts to bring alcohol with them in space, but the thought didn't cross his mind until now. He wasn't even sure if they were allowed to bring this into the ISS, but none of that mattered. He was glad; all he wanted to do was drink away his sorrow.

 

Adam returned to Destiny with the cognac bottle at hand. The computer screen was again filled with alerts and warnings, but he shut it off. Outside the window the picture was still there, hardly moved from its spot and idly floating. Behind it was a massive, blazing crater on Earth. Flames danced around the rim and all the way down to its deepest, lava-filled base, a fiery eye that watched Adam suffer.

 

"They're gone," he whispered.

 

Finally get it, kid? his father said, I'd hate to tell you I told you so...

 

"Then don't." He hovered next to the window and stared at the picture. He was expecting his mother to intervene, but her voice stayed silent. "Nothing to say now, huh? You never did like being wrong."

 

After everything, the reality of his situation finally settled in. Never again would Adam embrace his wife, no longer would he feel her warm skin press against his body, nor feel her heart beat against his. Never again would he taste her splendid cooking, or smell that other lavender perfume he said he didn't like her wearing, but grew to love. Never will he ever again experience his child wrap his tiny hand onto his finger, hanging on to dear life as he and Ava swung him strolling down the sidewalk. Never will Adam live out the plans he had in store for Zeke's future, ones that used to make his heart flutter like the first time he met his wife.

 

Never will he ever become the father he wished his own was.

 

Adam flipped the bottle upside-down and raised it, leaving a mouthful's worth of cognac in midair, and snapped at it. His face crunched, his throat and taste buds stinging from the smooth, floral, bitter flavor as he swallowed.

 

Attaboy! If I knew this is what you meant when you wanted to take some shots, I woulda been more encouraging.

 

"Definitely not the shots I had in mind," he said, then poured more, drank, and repeated until the liquor tasted like water and his head arched back, the room spinning. Without realizing it, half the drink was gone.

 

Oh ho, slow down there water buffalo. Is this how you look when you're blasted? Someone is going to regret this later.

 

"Shuddup, shtupid old man." Adam swung the bottle ahead of him, the alcohol fully set in, then heard a low clink. Next to the bottle spinning and floating along the room almost unseen was the toothpick. He took it between his fingers and examined it closely.

 

"Sho, tell me, how the fuck did you shtay in the room, but not my pictures, huh?" he said drunkenly, chuckling, "You can't tell me, can you? You, you got no face, no mouth, hell you belong in mouths, and I'll put you right back in mine once we're done, and no brain, and here I am tryna talk to you, a toothpick. This shituation is so fucked up-" he stopped for a moment and took a short breath. "Huh. Shit-tuation?" and he began to cackle and held up the bottle. "I'm the last person alive! That makes me leader of everything, the king, and my first royal decree is to make 'shituation' a real word!" and he laughed some more, louder, his insane chortle filling the room like a gas.

 

His laughter subsided and he poured out one last gulp of cognac and swallowed it. He felt a twinge in his head as the liquid travelled down his throat and his lightheadedness reached an all time high. His vision blurred, soft and steady blinks setting in. He placed the toothpick between his lips while his gaze melted into a fog of eyelashes, and soon his cement-laden lids came down as his consciousness dimmed.

 

Best hope you've got strong coffee and greasy burgers around here, his father said, the voice light and hazy, you'll need it, and Adam fell asleep.

 

Hours passed before a noise shook him from his alcohol induced slumber. He opened his eyes and was immediately met with a pounding headache, making him shut them tightly as he wiped away the sweat on his brow, the slightest movements causing him to feel exponentially worse. There was a twist in his stomach, he was thirsty, dizzy, and his consciousness slipped away even now. Adam couldn't remember the last time he had a hangover. College?

How you feelin', kid? Not good, I assume, haha!

 

Adam's teeth clenched and shit his eyes tighter; his father's voice was louder than usual, and his stentorian laughter echoed inside Adam's chiming head, diminishing into silence. Then, his ears twitched.

 

The noise that woke him came, a light clink and scraping. Was it the bottle again? He opened his eyes once more and looked around for the sound and saw the cognac bottle floating next to the computer, striking a corner of the monitor and rolling backwards and the toothpick almost perfectly still above it. He groaned, reached for the bottle, and took it by the neck. He pulled it away, held on to it, and fell asleep for a few seconds before the clinking and scraping returned and woke him for the second time. It wasn't from the bottle, and from the corner of his half-closed eye a shadow dashed across.

 

Adam sprung upright and turned. "What..." then the blue light bulb started blinking. He moaned and took a deep breath, the pain in his head thumping even more, and powered up the computer. The screen flashed on and the scraping returned. He snapped his head toward the sound and the warmth of his body disappeared. He saw...something, something long and curved outside of the window slither away to the edge, something like a tail.

 

Uhh...'the hell was that? his father asked.

 

Adam stared and puffed for a few seconds, then ran his hands down his face and slapped his cheeks. "This is what you get, Adam. You hear dead voices... now you're seeing things. Damn hangover doesn't help either," he said. "You need more rest. You'll be fine after." He believed it only for a second.

 

It was light, almost inaudible, but he heard inside the walls of the lab if he intently listened, the hushed scraping now partnered with muffled taps against steel, his predator circling the room.

 

Kid, I don't think you're just hearing things.

 

Adam steadied his breathing, attempting to convince himself the ISS was only settling like a house would, but that was foolish. He knew better, he knew the only sounds that should've been coming from within the walls were the whirring, buzzing, and hissing of machines that he was so familiar with. It even went around at a steady, almost menacing pace, and he couldn't completely disregard what he saw outside of the window no matter how hard he tried. The current state of Earth and lack of explanations made him think anything was possible.

 

"Was it coincidence this happens just hours after that gargantuan explosion?" he said. "Maybe it was inside one of the rocks that hit the station, maybe it rode on top of one and somehow survived the impact."

 

Honey, his mother said, breaking hours of silence, I'm no scientist and you probably don't want me here, but how would that even happen?

 

Adam brought up his hands to his temples and said, "I don't know." After a few seconds, he stopped and squint his eyes when another thought came. "How did the noises get inside the walls?"

 

His father scoffed. A hole, obviously. No other way to get inside anywhere.

 

With the amount of damage the station took from being bombarded, Adam nodded and thought it was a plausible explanation, if not the only one.

 

The hair on his arms stood when the sound made its way out the door and into the hallway. Adam's body was sore and his eyes ached to be closed, but he couldn't rest without figuring out the mystery. He followed keeping his ear pressed against the cool walls, continuing on until he reached the airlock door that saved his life. His eyes narrowed and he peeked out the small circular window; outside in the star speckled universe, he could still hear it, but he couldn't determine where it was coming from anymore. Was it still inside, or was it really outside instead? Coming from the left, right, above?

 

Adam remained still and his heartbeat accelerated little by little, eventually beating against his ribs like a wild animal in a cage trying to get out. There was something wrong, the air around him grew heavy and his gut bellowed it. The gaps between each tap became shorter, quicker, and crescendoed, and Adam's arms and legs felt numb as if he just finished running, like something unseen watched and chased him through the dark, hidden from prying eyes. The tapping became as loud and rapid as a machinegun, deafening with its approach as it rushed from all around him.

 

Silence.

 

The air turned light; both his breathing and heart slowed, and the weakness in his body left him slowly, but still felt sick. Was that it? he thought.

 

It was then that something appeared and towered over him from behind. Adam froze. He heard a snort and hot air blew down on top of his head. A chill inched up his spine, the heat of his body seeping out from his pores. If its overwhelming shadow wasn't enough of an indicator, he could feel it in his rattling bones and he dared not to move any more than he needed to, let alone breathe. His shaking lips were the only thing he couldn't control. His head throbbed, a worm of pain wrapping around it and growing unbearable. It took all the courage in the universe for his quivering eyes to glance up at the reflection on the window.

 

Behind his sweat plastered face was a wall of black, blocking his view of the hall. Descending from the top was a reddish ball, unrolling into a forked tongue behind his ear, close enough for him to feel the warmth of its viscous, thick saliva. Adam hyperventilated, his chest growing heavier with each breath, his head doing the opposite.

 

Nothing there, nothing there, he chanted in his head, gulping. It's impossible, there's nothing... Adam turned around.

 

And he was right. He released a relieved breath when he saw nothing but small loose objects dallying about. There was no noise, no shadow that hung over him, it was all gone. They were only illusions. He sighed deeply, wiped the sweat from his face, and massaged the sides of his head with his trembling fingers to ease his ever-growing headache. He chuckled.

 

"I'm going insane."

 

Something else inside the station other than him? Preposterous, how could he have thought otherwise? He was a man of science, and both he and his parents were right - it was time that he started thinking like one again, thinking rationally and logically. There was no way something from Earth was shot up here and lived to infiltrate the ISS. Just no way, no matter how real it all felt, it was all the imagination's doing.

 

Right?

 

Adam heard a hiss above him.

 

Kid...

 

Honey...

 

He looked up, and he formed an uneasy smile.

 

A thick, black, eel-like body, the length of it twice as long as Adam, was sprawled on the ceiling. Its six legs, tapered to a point like a scorpion's, were stretched from wall to wall, and the head, with its long neck coiled across its back, stared him down. It had big, empty sockets on its red, mask-like face, but small, soulless, beady eyes at the center of them. its large, half-open mouth gave a glimpse of an equally large set of human-looking teeth. It smiled at Adam and dropped its tail on his shoulder, slimy, warm, and slithering its way down his arm. He yanked away and screamed.

 

Adam hopped backwards away from the creature as it rotated its long body upright and landed on the ground. It stood tall with its neck slightly bowed so it wouldn't hit the ceiling.

 

"Not real, not real, not real..." he kept saying, profusely shaking his head, "This is impossible." He squeezed his injured forearm and let out a short cry, hoping the pain would make the illusion go away, but only blurred his vision and made his head lighter. The beast was still there, and it walked after him taking its sweet time, the recognizable tap, tap, tap filling his ears again. Its scaly chest puffed up and it released a high-pitched shriek. Adam covered his ears and pushed down as hard as he could, but it did nothing to stop his head from feeling more rattled, from feeling real pain.

 

He slouched forward, his brain vibrating like a recently struck church bell. "It's real," he whispered. He looked up into its eyes, wide, strained, and looking for amusement.

 

Honey!

 

'the hell you looking at, kid?! Run!

 

Adam turned around and scurried, pushing himself off the walls and pulling away as fast as he could. The monster chuckled deeply and followed him, casually striding along and mocking him with an oversized smirk. What was that thing, and what the hell was it doing here of all places? Adam knew that it could get him at any time just by the sound of its steps; they weren't nearly as energetic as they were a short while ago. It was only a matter of when the creature would get bored playing with him.

 

What could he do? There were no weapons stored inside the ISS, let alone anything that could do significant damage. There was hardly anywhere to hide, and his breathing was even heavier now, his crippled arms hardly having any strength left to pull, even in zero gravity. He had to stop somewhere, but his instincts screamed that no place would be safe from his pursuer for long, but he had to. He couldn't keep moving forever, he had to do something, and the only thing that came to mind was to trick it somehow. He had to make it go someplace else away from him while he'd rest and think of a better plan.

 

When he reached a corner he checked behind him. The monster was halfway down the hall, a good distance away if it doesn't decide to move faster. Adam snapped his head back ahead of him and moved forward, out of sight, then scanned for a place to hide. He passed by two other rooms before deciding to enter the third. Save for the light coming through the doorway from outside it was completely dark, but would that be enough?

 

No way that thing will keep going and pass by an open room, his father said, and Adam agreed. He looked around at the trinkets around the hall and found a small wrench. He took it, flung it across the other side, and entered the room. He floated to a corner and placed his back against the wall.

 

He listened to the faint sounds of tapping echoing down the halls, gradually getting louder, occasional snorts causing his heart to skip a beat. When the footsteps reached outside the room Adam held his breath while it passed by, watching its shadow casted from the doorway. It disappeared and continued on for a few paces, then stopped and shuffled back. The shadow reappeared, and Adam watched its wide head turn sideways, stretching from its body and into the room.

 

Adam remained deathly static, his breath held as the head inspected its vicinity. It turned left, above, then towards him. Even from this distance it was hard for him to make out its features, but their eyes locked. Its eyes squinted, became wide, then squinted again and creeped towards him. When it was close enough, he vaguely smelled its heavy, pungent breath as it brushed past his cheeks, his own struggling to climb up his throat. He saw the monster's eyes were split into three pupils and filled the entire iris, staring right into his soul. He bit his tongue to stop himself from screaming. His diaphragm tightened and his ribs constricted from holding his breath. If he released it now, he'd give the monster a face full of breath that screamed Here I am!

 

clang reverberated from behind the creature. It smiled, flashing its uncharacteristically white teeth in the darkness, and quickly retreated its head and moved on towards the sound. Adam sighed; it took the wrench long enough. A small victory, one he knew he shouldn't take for granted.

 

It didn't take long to decide on what to do. Given the limited options, Adam could only conjure up one way to be rid of his unwanted visitor – throw it back in space. If he could get to Destiny's computer, he could override the airlock door at the end of the hall to open and vacuum it out, then all he'd have to do was hold tight and wait. He rested for another ten minutes, hoping the churning in his stomach and the battering in his head would subside, but it provided little comfort.

 

This is your only chance, kid.

 

"I know." A couple minutes later, he continued to the lab.

 

He took a brief peek down both ways of the hall. Hearing and seeing nothing, he moved out cautiously then made his way. Even if his whole body groaned, Adam took care to make as little noise as possible, profoundly afraid of alerting the monster of his whereabouts, but to also let him hear his own surroundings. After all, it wouldn't do him any good either if he came face to face with it instead by accident.

 

He tuned out the machines and listened for anything that didn't belong. A thud, short buzzes, erratic beeping, then a snort. Adam stopped; it came from ahead and it was close, most likely just around the next corner, but so was the lab. He moved up to before the turn then rested the back of his head against the wall.

 

Should he peek? If he wanted to continue, he'd have to, but what if that thing was looking his direction, what then? It would be over in an instant. Maybe he should wait instead, listen to its footsteps like he always had and wait for it to get far. But how long would that take? Each passing minute his body felt worse from his injuries and the stupid decision to get drunk, and if he were to wait he knew it wouldn't get better. He needed proper aid, food, and water. And what if it walked towards him? He hardly had any energy left, he couldn't possibly outrun it, and there was nowhere to hide nearby.

 

Adam thought hard about it, knowing full well his next choice would be life or death. He took a breath, then stuck out half his face around the corner – to his relief, the monster had its back turned while it stood in the middle of the hallway, some yards past Destiny. Its head wriggled left and right, checking the nearest room and an opened panel, then stopped and looked ahead. Adam squinted his eyes and glimpsed at the lab's entrance, then suddenly the creature inhaled and released another ear-splitting shriek.

 

Adam moved out of view and held his head, the pain reaching unnatural heights as if numerous nails dug into his brain all at once, all over. He couldn't think about anything else, he couldn't even scream. Did he not act quickly enough? Was he going to die, right now? It certainly felt like it, and he wouldn't last much longer. When it became silent, his ears continued to ring. His eyelids sagged, his consciousness barely present until the ringing faded away. Every twitch of his body sent a jolt of pain to his head, struggling to even breathe, and his vision blurred occasionally.

 

He stood up straight, taking a soft, deep breath, then looked down the hall. The monster started walking away again, and Adam zigzagged his way to Destiny without hesitation. He reached it, and halfway through entering came another shattering cry. He lost consciousness right then and there, his arms and legs becoming immobile, and he wasn't even sure if he felt the pain anymore, his body went numb. The monster was angry now, it wanted to end the game.

 

His momentum at the least floated Adam inside Destiny. He continued on course and hit the ceiling with his head, sending a devastating shock of torment down his spine. Adam woke from it, but barely remained that way. His vision was foggy and cleared every few seconds. Confused, he had the cognac bottle in his hand and the toothpick was still in front of the monitor. He threw the bottle aside and pulled himself down to the computer, the entire screen filled with blurred and blinking yellow boxes he couldn't read, then a shadow.

 

He didn't see it until it was too late.

 

A thick tail wrapped around Adam's neck and choked him. He struggled and clawed at it, the last of his breath being taken away, but they were nothing but playful slaps to the monster. Adam turned his eyes to the left and saw its head peeking in from outside, its smile even wider now with its black gums showing.

 

Oh jeez, Adam, his father said, real concern in his voice.

 

I'm sorry, honey, his mother sobbed out.

 

There was nothing he could do now.

 

He couldn't believe that he put up with it for so long if it was going to end like this; he should've gave up, killed himself rather than giving this thing the pleasure to do so. But more than that, he couldn't believe such a thing even existed.

 

His head dropped to the side, hardly breathing, and he instantly became relaxed. The pain throughout his body vanished bit by bit like ribbons being pulled and unknotted. He felt a warm embrace shroud him; it was Death, and it wasn't cold in the slightest. His vision cleared again for a moment and he was able to read one of the blinking yellow boxes on monitor.

 

OXYGEN DEPLETED

 

The tail around his neck disappeared into thin air, the monster outside the lab no longer watching him, but there never was one. Adam scoffed.

 

"You idiot..." he muttered to himself.

 

He dallied around the room, waiting for his final breath, then hit the window with his cheek. His eyes, barely open, grew slightly wider when he saw his family's picture. It was at the other end, more than half of the photo already hidden past the edge. Soon enough, it'd be completely out of sight.

 

Adam let out a tear. He watched the picture inch away from view and passed on to the next life along with it, with hopes that he will be able to greet his family on the other side with the same warm embrace.

 


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