Written by Mickey Hunt – “Welcome to the edge of the universe,” I said cheerfully. “The very edge.”
The clutch of tourists easing into my parent’s store seemed overawed. At night, part of our sky is lit with nebulae, pulsars, galaxy clusters, and all sorts of stuff, but the rest of the sky is black, pitch black. As far as anyone knows, no electromagnetic phenomena, gravity, or nothing ever emanates from out there.
“We’re stocked with souvenirs, snacks, drinks, contraband cigarettes, and camping supplies at wallet gouging prices,” I said as the customers fanned out among the aisles. “Hot showers cost a fortune per minute.”
“Excuse me, young fellow. Postcards?” the sweet little grandma asked.
I stepped around the counter to show her the rack for our best seller: a jet black card with the caption ‘Beyond the Horizon’.
“I’d like a dozen,” she murmured to herself.
Tourists. I don’t figure what they’ve come to see, but they know how to spend.
“Where’s the hotel?” a man in a sweater and shorts asked.
“Our planet doesn’t have hotels, sir, since it’s a park, except for the few concessionaires like us. If you want a room, you’ll have to stay a parsec or two closer toward the Center.”
“That’s too bad,” he said. “We’ve come so far already.”
“We have plenty of camping spaces,” I said. “Campers bring lawn chairs, extra blankets, and sit up all night staring into the dark void.”
“Do you rent gear?”
“Whatever you need.”
Early in the off-season, two of my school buddies thought we should take an adventure. Dad owns a junker Galaxship that once carried the mail, so my friends and I took it apart, cleaned everything, recharged the quantum cells, put it back together with the safeties disabled, and loaded up all the canned beans, frozen steak, citrus concentrate, and beer it could hold. We charted a course directly away from the Center and launched.
At first it was fun. I mean, because even scientists never attempt this. Before long it got boring, but honestly, when we weren’t lifting weights and watching movies, or playing video games, we slept. Outside, absolutely everywhere was black, black, black, as we traveled four years as close to c² as we dared.
Then one of my buddies, Janos, said, “We should stop.” So we did, and other than the ship not rattling and shaking, we’d have hardly known. We looked homeward to find that the universe had shrunk to an infinitesimal spark of light.
“Holy Higgs Boson!” Janos said. “We flew faster than we thought.”
I took a picture.
A quiet minute afterwards, my other buddy, Rasper, said, “I’m scared. Let’s go back now.” So, we did. The tiny dot of the universe grew until four years later (minus a month) our planet emerged into view.
When I walked into the store, Mom asked, “How was it?”
“Okay. I’m glad to be home. It’s not so bad here.”
“That’s how I felt,” Dad said. “You’re just in time. The tourist crush begins this weekend.”
Anyway, that picture I took of our infinitesimal spark? We couldn’t decide on a caption, but we make a ton of money from the new postcard regardless. Maybe, just maybe, I can now afford to go someplace really fantastic and astonishing, like Auntie Katum’s moon back in the Milky Way for a slice of her famous blueberry pie.
Bio: Mickey Hunt explores the universe from his base in East Asheville. He has stories forthcoming at the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and the Mad Scientist Journal, and you can learn more about his work atwww.chaoticterrainpress.blogspot.com