The following short story is rated PG-13 by Clark and all of his little voices for drug use and language. It’s inspired by David Bowie though, so you should read it.
Its street-name was “Space Oddity,” and Thomas was marketing it as “The best damn thing you’ve ever smoked.” Some college kid at UCLA had made it in a lab in an attempt to make a hallucinogenic as strong as LSD, minus the possibility of a bad trip. While the long-term effects were still unknown, once smoked, the user entered a state similar to lucid dreaming, where they could do anything they wanted. Time felt exponentially longer while using Space Oddity, allowing the user to trip for perceived years, if they took a big enough hit.
Thomas had gotten three ounces of Oddity from an old, high school friend, Brian Gray, who attended UCLA and was in the same fraternity as the guy who had cooked it.
“Helluva drug,” Brian had said, shivering in the mist just outside of the hipster coffee shop at 5 that morning. “The guy who made it goes by “Black Star” or some crap like that. He wasn’t actually gonna sell it, but I grabbed this during a rager.”
“You stole it?” questioned Thomas, feeling the plastic container in his jacket pocket.
“He’s got pounds of the stuff.”
Thomas had smiled awkwardly and after a drawn out goodbye walked back to his car in the parking garage, nervously studying each passerby. He had gone back to his apartment, and texted a group of his more adventurous friends, hoping that his phone wasn’t tapped by the NSA. They all answered in a similar way: “Have you tried it yet?” Hell no, thought Thomas, who knows how bad this screws up your body. He tried again, sending the text out to even more people, but every response boiled down to the same five words as before. He went into the kitchen, hoping to find bread for grilled cheese, and heard his phone buzz. He ran back into the living room and saw it was a text from his girlfriend.
Spending the night at parent’s. Breakfast tomorrow?
Sure, replied Thomas, before heading back into the kitchen.
He put the cast-iron skillet on the stove, turned the heat to medium, and opened the fridge to find the cheese and butter. Cast-iron skillets took too freaking long, but his girlfriend insisted on using them over the far easier non-stick, aluminum pans. Cheese, cheese, cheese echoed through his head like a skipping record, and his eyes passed over the bag of EXTRA SHARP CHEDDAR! three times before he finally saw it. He grabbed the cheese and set it on the counter, right next to the stove, then walked over to the couch in front of the television, sitting to wait on the “Freakin’ Amish pan” to heat up. He lit a candle on the coffee table for a wavering bit of company.
He glanced up at the television which was on mute. The stock market was falling, a new rebel group in the Middle East had risen up and taken four cities, and a 737 flying from Russia to the United Kingdom had been blown out of the sky, possibly by the same group of rebels. All at once, as an explosion filled the screen of the new channel, the cast-iron pan began to smoke, and Thomas’ phone buzzed with a message from his girlfriend, what time? Thomas realized that he had very little control over the world, much less his life. It didn’t really matter what he did, and he was quite certain that he would remain in the lower working class for the rest of his life. His girlfriend had no intentions of marrying him (or anyone, for that matter), and even if he did convince her to make that sacred vow, they would both die after a few decades and turn to dust six feet underground. Shit. What was the point? The nihilism he was feeling was nothing new, but it had never come at quite the intensity that it did that afternoon.
“-has confirmed that the second flight to Mars is on track,” said the reporter, breaking through Thomas’ black thoughts, “and the ship will launch from Cape Kennedy at 4 o’clock this afternoon.”
I always wanted to be an astronaut, thought Thomas, staring blearily at the television screen. I wanted to be so many things, and I didn’t even seriously try for one of them.
The smoke detector began its feeble beeping, running on nearly dead batteries, and as Thomas got up to pull the pan off the stove, he glanced at the box of Space Oddity.
“It’s kinda like that movie, Inception,” Brian had said, “you can do whatever you want.”
Thomas grabbed the box, opened it, and winced as a metallic odor came out of it. Space Oddity came in tiny, chalky tabs, and there were several hundreds of them in the box. “I’m not gonna smoke any,” said Thomas, lying to himself, “just gonna see what they look like.” He stared at the tablets, his mind wondering what all he might have accomplished had he put his nose to the grindstone as a high-schooler.
Hell, his girlfriend would be gone until the morning. He walked over to the pantry, reached to the very back and brought out a small pipe. He placed four of the tiny tablets in the pipe, and crushed them with his finger. The matches were in the bathroom, and every step he took there was an opportunity to stop, dump out the pipe, and figure something else out. A queer feeling arose in the bottom of his stomach, and some remnants of a conscience fluttered to life, trying to stop him. He grabbed a match and lit it the second strike. He brought it to the pipe and inhaled deeply. A tone began in the center of his brain, and he stumbled back to the couch, curious as to what the effects of Oddity would be. There were two tones now, and they ran out of his ears, traveling down Thomas’ arms. His last conscious thought was simple. That was a mistake.
“Ground control to Major Tom!” a voice woke him out of his daydream, and he looked around him. He was in a small, spherical room, a countdown clock straight in front of him. “Are you alright, Major?”
Tom nodded his head. He had trained his whole life for this moment. Of course he was alright.
“The nausea of the takeoff should be dulled if you take your protein pills. They are over on the counter.”
Tom stood up, and saw what looked like a kitchen counter, one that he vaguely recognized, and popped the pills in his mouth. The taste reminded him of burnt grilled cheese.
“Alright, Major,” came the voice, “take your seat. Commencing countdown. Check the ignition!”
Tom felt the engines rumble beneath him and heard a weakly beeping voice countdown from 10. He pulled his helmet on and gripped the handles next to his seat.
“God be with you!” called ground control, as a roar filled the air.
Some vague bit of humor in the recesses of Tom’s mind made him want to reply, “and also with you,” but he kept his mouth shut, in the fear of losing the protein pills.
The very next thing he knew, he was floating, still strapped to his seat. He must have passed out.
“This is ground control to Major Tom,” came the voice, “you’ve done it! The last step is to exit the capsule for the walk!”
This all seems to be quite unorganized, thought Tom, as he floated towards the door, silent as the space around him. He opened the door, and floated out, feeling freer than he had in a long time.
Thomas had stepped outside of the second floor apartment, conscious of almost nothing. He walked to the railing, and looked over.
“This is Major Tom to ground control,” said Tom, surprised at his own voice, which sounded slurred, “I’ve made it out, and I’m in orbit around the ship.”
Tom heard cheers through his headset, and for a second, he was content. The next instant, he swung around and saw the earth. He saw the wars in the middle east, and the famines all over Africa. He saw the murder of children and the destruction of societies. The world was how it was, and he could not change it.
“Tell my wife I love her,” said Tom, just before he ripped the wiring out of his suit.
Thomas had walked back inside and written a note to his girlfriend, “I love you. I’m happy. Hope you’re happy too.” He then leapt off the deck.
He saw the angels and felt them take him away.
“THOMAS!” screamed his girlfriend, tears streaming down her face as she shook her boyfriend. She had gotten home at eight in the morning and found Thomas lying underneath the balcony, his body splayed out from the impact of his jumping off the deck.
“Ground control to Major Tom!” came the voice into Tom’s ear, his consciousness fading, “Can you hear me? can you hear me? can you hear-“
Thomas’ girlfriend dialed 911, and the ambulance arrive within twenty minutes, right as his fever began to develop.
Tom was on a volcanic planet, and he was in a psych ward. He was surrounded by photographers and surrounded by dancers and nuns. Black Star, the UCLA student, had not fixed the possibility of a bad trip. He’d merely strengthened its powers of illusion, and made the illusion seep into the real world more.
The ER was nearly empty, and Thomas was rushed into an operating room, the lights flickering, as Thomas’ friends gathered in the lobby. “Did you hear about Thomas?” they asked each other, none of them truly believing that their friend had tried to kill himself.
He couldn’t hear anything, regardless of how loud he screamed, and the photographers wouldn’t stop taking the goddam pictures. Now the photographers were talking behind his back. “I always knew he would OD,” and, “He was always a junkie.” Then, everything went still.
The heart monitor was beeping off rhythm, as the doctors and nurses scrambled around Thomas, hoping to find the root cause of his problems. Thomas’ girlfriend fell to her knees crying.
CHAOS was the word that burned through his mind, as dust swam before his eyes, and he knew he was dying. The angels had done this to him. His consciousness left his body, and he saw his rotting skeleton, encrusted in jewels on a far away planet. His girlfriend took his skull, and then they all worshipped it. Every last one of them. He was happy.
The candle Thomas had lit at home extinguished itself, a ribbon of smoke soaring towards the heavens.
Inspired by the music of David Bowie, specifically Space Oddity, Ashes to Ashes, Hallo Spaceboy, and Blackstar. RIP