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#thesideshow May 27th 2016 Flash fiction Harold Goes to Mars by Mackenzie Hurlbert

When Harold gets to Mars, he won’t miss the hum of his neighbor’s lawnmower at 7am on a Saturday. He won’t miss the wannabe hoodrats his roommate hung out with or the shitty Honda he drove to his shittier job in the shittiest town. He won’t miss the feel of grass under his toes or running through the sprinkler. Because he’s not a kid anymore and he hasn’t been one for a while. Now his frown lines are deepening and the bags under his eyes are morphing from flimsy Ziplocs to thick and itchy potato sacks. He rubs a little at them now and then places his hands back on the armrests. That’s what they’re there for, aren’t they?

Harold can feel the vibrations of the rocket course through his seat and into his spine. He watches his once home become the size of dinner plate. Blue plate special, he thinks and chuckles to himself. It’s been four days since the lottery paid him—they took a third out for taxes, of course. No, Harold’s not going to miss much from Earth. He’s not going to miss the playful pop of guns a street over or the taste of a cold can of Natural Ice with a little salt sprinkled on the lip of the rim. And anyways, they’ll probably be shipping them up here in the next few years.

When Harold gets to Mars and moves into his luxury lifetime space suite, he’s not going to miss the trees and their gangly, flailing branches. He’s ordered a ficus in a pot—that’s enough nature for him. Harold’s not going to miss the chatter of his landlord’s daughters playing tea outside or the smell of arepas from the cart on the corner. Up on Mars, he hears, people eat modified tube-food created “to withstand time and provide a high caloric value.”

He’s heard they have to ship water up in large canisters and humidify the air because Mars is so dry. So dry and hot and empty. No children to chatter or lawns to mow. Just redness and a dark, cloudless sky. He will not miss Earth’s moon, a bobbling golf ball, so perfectly round and white. Instead, he’ll have two moons, both irregular and spinning like lopsided tops, each with one long end wobbling around and around. They’re named by his travel brochure as Phobos and Deimos—Latin, it says, for fear and panic. Harold doodled scowling cartoon faces on their pictures while waiting for launch. Phobos is tombstone grey and Deimos orbits in a creamy white gleam, the color of a polar bear or a white Russian. Harold shivers. A white Russian would curdle on Mars and a polar bear would die, no doubt. They’re dying anyways on Earth, though aren’t they? Harold laughs and the stewardess gives him a nervous smile. Don’t worry, he tells her with his eyes, I’m just a millionaire laughing about the unfortunate state of polar bears. He can use words like that now, “unfortunate,” considering he is out of his shittier job in the shittiest town.

He leans back, and as he drifts off to sleep with five hours left on his rocket ship one-way trip to Mars he doesn’t dream of bullet holes, his asshole boss, or his hoodrat roommate. He doesn’t dream of early morning walks when the world takes on a soft grey fuzz and the paper woman with no teeth silently delivers bundles of damp news to doorsteps. Instead he nestles into his seat, leaves his hands on the trembling armrest, and lets his mind wander off to a world of red dust and heat so thick you can’t walk through it. He dreams of his future ficus tree, still and contained in a terracotta pot, and dinners by his space suite window looking out on a saffron sky where the earth in all of its greatness is reduced to a speck on the horizon, and where fear and panic hang in plain sight overhead.

Mackenzie Hurlbert is a writer, dog fanatic, nature enthusiast, and travel addict. When she’s not reading, writing, or playing with her dogs, she enjoys eating mashed potatoes and crocheting tortoise cozies for her Russian tortoise Sascha.