I got the call. 13 days and 4 hours ago. I was due to go 6 days ago but they couldn’t find me. I thought they might go ahead without me, find someone else. But they didn’t. I’m in a dull room waiting for my safety briefing.
Did you know that the Ancient Greeks began the tradition of putting candles in birthday cakes? They would bake a round honey cake and stick candles all over it as an offering to the mood Goddess, Artemis. The cake symbolised the moon and the candles the moonlight. Stick a candle in the moon on your birthday. Weird how traditions start and then centuries later we all just do this crazy shit, no questions asked.
I had always known that this day would come, though I prayed each year that it wouldn’t. I have seen friends and family go up there and, though they’ve all returned to Earth, they never really returned. So when the little red phone rang in the corner of my living room 13 days and 4 hours ago I decided to ignore it. But it kept ringing. I left the room, sat in the bedroom. But I could still hear it. I left the house, went to the diner across the street. But it kept ringing, I could still hear it. I paid 35 bucks for a night in a motel across the city but when I walked into my room it started again. It kept ringing, I could still hear it, I could see it. The phone was on the small wooden desk next to the single bed closest the door.
I turned to leave the room and was confronted by the motel owner out on the walkway. He handed me a red telephone. The wire was extended across the walkway, down the staircase, across the parking lot and into his office. His forehead looked damp.
“It is the telephone. For you, friend.”
I took the receiver from him and he held onto the base whilst I spoke.
“When we call, you answer the phone.” The voice was low and lacked any variety in pitch.
“I didn’t realise you’d called.”
“We have been calling for 9 hours and 46 minutes. You will be transported to your local station from this location in 8 minutes. You will receive basic training and in 6 days 14 hours and 6 minutes you will launch. Happy Lunyear Jack.”
I put the receiver back on the base and the motel owner wrapped his thick, hairy arms around the red telephone, cradling it back to his office whilst muttering something about long distance charges.
When the door to his office shut I waited for a couple of minutes before thinking; I can just leave. So I did. I left and I ran home but when I got home the phone was ringing, only this time it wasn’t the red phone in the corner of the living room. It was the green phone that hung on the kitchen wall. I picked up the receiver and then quickly slammed it back onto the base. For a few seconds I found peace, but it began again. It seemed louder this time, as if the noise was shaking the phone from the wall.
I walked up my stairs and into the spare room, opened the door of my oak wardrobe and stepped inside. The phone kept ringing, I could still hear it. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again I had no idea how much time had passed, but I was hungry. Very hungry. So I left the safety of my closet and tiptoed downstairs, careful not to disturb the telephone that continued to shout angrily at me. I carried as much as I could from my pantry and took it back to my hideaway. The following days felt like months. I would wake up, shovel some of the dried or tinned food into my mouth, sip some of my water rations and then place my hands back over my ears and crouch into my usual position, just waiting for it to be over. I had never heard of anybody evading their Lunyear, but there’s a first time for everything. I wondered how long it would be until they gave up.
I had survived in my wooden bunker for 13 days and 2 hours. The ringing never stopped. Now a new sound joined in the cacophony. Two short, sharp, raps on the wooden door. I stayed perfectly still. Nothing happened for a moment but then, suddenly, the doors swung open and I was exposed.
The motel manager stood in front of me, in my bedroom, holding his red phone in his hairy arms, the lead trailing off out of my bedroom door and down the stairs. “It’s for you. The telephone.” He said, his voice sharper than the last time we had met.
I took the receiver from him.
“There is a car waiting outside. You cannot escape your duty, Jack.”
I placed the receiver back on the base and the motel manager turned to leave, bundling the trailing red lead into his arms as he walked out of the house and down the street, muttering about having to untangle his impossibly long telephone wire when he returned to his office.
I unfolded myself from the closet and sheepishly made my way downstairs. When I opened the front door, my driveway was lined with large men in black suits, at the end of the tunnel of men was a black SUV, the rear passenger side door was open and one of the men gestured me inside.
I stepped into the vehicle and sat back.
“You’re late.” Came a high pitched voice from the driver’s seat. It sounded annoyed. I looked up but could not see who was driving the car, there was a tinted barrier between the front and the back. I sat in the back of the car for almost two hours before it pulled up in front of a launch pad, to the left of the launch pad was a small porta-cabin.
“Get out. Go in the cabin.” Came the squeaky command from the front.
I exited in silence and walked towards the cabin, opened the door and took a seat facing the small, square television.
And now, here I am, 13 days and 4 hours since I got the call. Waiting in this dingy room for further instructions. The television flashes on and a man appears on the screen. He is dressed all in white and he is smiling disingenuously. The signal is poor and the picture is grainy, the image on the screen is skipping every few seconds.
“Hello passenger and Happy Lunyear.” He says cheerfully. “Today marks the commencement of your single shift towards the betterment of mankind. I hope you’re excited!” He says, jumping in the air and clacking his heels together. “First of all, let’s…” the image skips and his voice is lost as static blares from the speakers. He bends back into focus on the screen. “your uniform, passenger.” As the words reach my ears, a door to my left slides open to reveal a wardrobe with a number of identical space suits hanging from a rack. Each has the sizing denoted above, ranging from XXXS to XXXL. “Please choose your suit and put it on now.” I walk over and grab the one labelled S/M, jam my legs into the bottom of the suit and then stretch my arms through it. I pull the hood over and zip it shut at the front. My head is now encased in a clear visor that circles the diameter of my face and neck. The suit seems to fit ok.
“Before you step into the magnificent rocket to begin your commute, I will walk you through the procedure upon landing.” The sound is not coming from the television anymore, it is playing through the suit, directly into my ears. His voice is much clearer than before. “When you land you will disembark the rocket immediately and you will make your way over to the lunar mine where you will be greeted by a further tutorial video. This video will explain what your job will be for the next 8 hours. When your 8 hours is up you get back into the rocket and you return home, your duty to humanity fulfilled.” The image on the television skips again but the sound remains clear. “Now all that’s left is for you to strap yourself in and enjoy the ride! Power to the planet!” He shouts with his fist raised in the air.
The screen turns to static and the sound is fed in through my suit, it surrounds me and I begin to feel claustrophobic until that familiar violent ringing cuts through the noise and the static fades to nothing. The telephone on the table next to me is ringing and I pick up, though I’m unable to put the receiver to my ear owing to the suit I have on. I hold the phone in front of me and a voice is played through the suit. “Get into the rocket.”
I leave the porta-cabin and walk towards the huge rocket that sits on the landing pad. I climb a ladder that leads to a small port hole in the side of the rocket. Once I have squeezed myself through the hole I find myself in a seat that is facing upwards. I amend my position accordingly and as soon as I am comfortably in the seat, a number of straps snap around me, securing me in place. I try to move them but I cannot. They are locked in.
“Take-off in 10-9-8-7…” I grit my teeth when, suddenly, a fine mist is sprayed from the inside of my helmet into my face. It smells pleasant, sweet, but it almost immediately sends me into a state of unconsciousness. I can hear the number 4 being announced…
When I open my eyes I am unsure how much time has passed. The port hole next to my seat is open and I can smell gunpowder. The straps that locked me to my seat have now released me. I clamber out of my seat and descend the ladder.
I step off the last rung of the ladder, onto the moon’s surface. I am eager to return home as soon as possible.
A shoulder brushes past mine. I turn to see who it belongs to and I am faced by a near perfect clone of myself. Only not quite perfect, there’s something about the eyes. He climbs the ladder and steps onto the rocket as the door bangs closed. The engines begin to fire up. I turn to witness the surface of the moon, expecting the vast emptiness that you see on the postcards. Instead, what I am greeted with is a cluttered landscape. Makeshift tents are dotted along the rocky terrain and hydraulic-fracturing equipment bobs up and down everywhere I look. There are tens of thousands of people manning the rigs and hauling rocks.
The rocket’s engines louden, and it begins to leave the ground.
“NO!” I shout. Scrambling back towards the vesicle that carried me here. “NO!”
But it’s too late. I can only watch as it slowly disappears into the vastness of space, trying to ignore the faint ringing left in my ears.