A Red Wind, Part II


Public domain image.

Dylan Stuflick

In all of my life, I’d never cared as little as I did now. The shackles that bound my wrists and ankles were cold, but I couldn’t feel a thing. The conversations that surrounded me were a dull hum to my ears. I had traveled over three million miles through space without saying a single word to the other convicts aboard the ship. I had no intention of ever changing so.

The ship rumbled quietly as we continued our journey. A stern voice crackled through the intercom above my seat. Only a few of the prisoners near me looked up at the sudden noise, but not many.

“We are now entering Pluto Freedom Center airspace. Please ready yourself for departure and assimilation into camp #B2226.” The intercom crackled off, and those that had stirred settled back into their slumped positions, attempting to resume what minimal comfort they had found before.

The ship’s rumbling became more pronounced as we entered Pluto’s thin atmosphere. Even after all this time, it still barely felt real.

I had shot and killed my wife. That thought ran constantly through my mind, never leaving me. The image of her bleeding body on the ground flashed in the darkness every time I closed my eyes.

When the police arrived, they found me curled around my wife’s dead body, tears streaming from my eyes. They had to pry her away. They didn’t even ask me any questions; it was obvious what had happened. They’d labeled me clinically insane and shipped me out here with everyone else they deemed too far gone.

I was jolted out of my thoughts by a loud thud. We were here.

The intercom crackled back on, a new voice interrupting our quiet despair — this one high-pitched. The voice tried to come off as friendly, but, in reality, it just sounded disconnected. How could someone even pretend to be friendly in our current situation?

“Welcome, newcomers! You are about to enter a new and exciting world full of fresh starts. Here you can enjoy quiet solitude away from the bustling and hectic streets of your homes. Revel in the freedom we provide through our non-interference policy and bask in the pleasant winds and fair weather. With some honest hard work and a smile on your face, you’ll be enjoying your stay here at the Pluto Freedom Center.”

Suddenly, the convict sitting next to me spoke up, a twisted smirk smeared across his face. “Man, I wish I could slap the smile right off his face.” He turned to me, his grin widening. “He should be the one in here, with a voice like that. He must’ve gone crazy having to listen to himself talk.”

I turned away, trying to ignore him.

“Hey, I’m talking to you.” He tried to get my attention again, his smile starting to turn into a grimace. “Say something back, wouldja?”

He was now struggling against his cuffs, trying to inch closer to me, his smile now a sneer. “What’re you, deaf?” I probably should’ve answered him, but I just couldn’t muster up the energy to respond.

Before things could escalate further, the recording faded out and red lights above the doors at the end of the hallway began to flash on and off. Seconds later, the doors opened, letting in a chilling gust. Now that the room was silent, I could hear the air howling as it battered itself against the side of the transport ship. So much for “pleasant winds.”

Everyone’s attention was now completely focused on the open doors, everybody held in horrific rapture by their new future. Even the mentally incompetent were held in terrific wonder by the alien landscape.

I still kept my eyes trained on the floor. I didn’t want to accept this. It was just a dream. I would wake up any second now next to my wife, and she would tell me that everything was all right. I just had a terrible nightmare. She was still there; nothing had happened.

I closed my eyes, but all I saw was the two bloody holes in her chest, and all I could feel was her life dripping away in my arms, through my fingers.

I closed them tighter, tried to shut away the ice-cold wind numbing my skin, tried to close my ears to the sounds of my neighbors being released and herded out into the alien landscape outside those open doors. I tried to ignore the months I had already spent trapped in the nightmare.

Someone came by and released me, roughly pushing me toward what I knew was the direction of the ramp.

Instead of my wife, I opened my eyes to a grim horizon, jagged peaks scattered in every direction. Snow flurried down from a dark, chalky sky, the sun a distant blight in the sky, its warmth a long-forgotten memory.

I trudged along with the others as I was herded to the bottom of the ramp. I stepped out onto the rocky surface, the ground jagged and unforgiving under my cheap shoes. I had already begun to feel the effects of the cold on my hands and face. Anything exposed to the elements was growing numb.

“I think I just really want to slap someone.” The same man with the twisted smile turned to me again, all thoughts of my earlier unresponsiveness seemingly gone. “You ever get that? I think that’s normal.”

Looking at him, I realized that this would be my future, no matter how badly I wished it was all just a dream. You didn’t hurt this much in a dream. You couldn’t feel this crushing weight in a dream, no matter how nightmarish it became.

“You just gonna ignore me again?” His smile began to turn ugly again, curling down at the edges.

I had a feeling it would be a lot more dangerous than a dream too. I couldn’t hide like this forever. If I tried, I’d only get hurt. “No, that’s not a very normal thought,” I whispered.

“Good!” he said cheerfully, “Who wants to be normal in a place like this? Not me, that’s for sure.” Just like that, his smile returned and he skipped to the front of the group, heedless of the warning shouts from the guards.

Definitely more dangerous.