Contest #232 shortlist ⭐️


Science Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

To be honest, I feel a little hornswoggled. That’s a great word, isn’t it? Roll it around in your mouth a little bit, “Hornswoggled.” It’s a mouthful and sounds lovely, so impressive and playful. It simply means hoaxed. And if you think about it, the word lives up to itself. It’s a game of a word, sounding cute and fun, that you can use to trick someone into doing things. Pretty sneaky, if you ask me.

Anyhow, paint me hornswoggled.

I took the job—well, l was talked into taking it—by my very persuasive agent, Stella. “Girl, it will be great for your career,” she said between sips of her Cosmo. We were having lunch at the Pomodoro in LA, and as I stirred my coffee, I waited for her to lower the boom and just go ahead and quit me like Laurence did. Only she didn’t, not really anyhow. Instead, she worked on getting me to ship myself out. Her plan was part clever, part evil. Oh, it was all in the context of fixing my ailing career and rebooting my life, but nonetheless she was unloading me. “It’s only for five years, dear,” she said, adding, “It’ll be an adventure. You could do with a change. Think of the new vistas! I envy you. Mars, can you imagine?” She drained her glass and most of my hesitance. She has that kind of effect on people. I gave in.

Jesus, what a dope I was to listen to her.

Now, don’t get me wrong, as convincing as Stella is, the money spoke louder. In the end, so did the opportunity. I mean, it was big bucks, and this was indeed a chance for a much-needed do-over. So, God bless her, I took her advice and stepped with trepidation towards the offer. (Can’t say “jumped at” that would be a big, fat lie.)

Think of it this way: if you were a burnt-out artist, with no family to tie you down anymore, and you had the chance to be the ‘Artist in Residence’ (Per Stella: A one-of-a-kind position, mind you! There's no name for the ceiling this shatters! Jump at this chance!), why the hell wouldn't you take it? I couldn’t think of a reason either, dammit.

Jesus, what a dope I was to drop everything and take it.

Well, I sold what was left after the divorce (his lawyer was better, so it wasn't much), and took the job. I cashed in and headed out. The Colony sprang for the cost of training and travel. Training was a great distraction from my troubles, even if there wasn’t much to it. Most of it was about what to do in a minor emergency. The remainder was on how to stay the hell out of the way in a major emergency. They had professionals for the big stuff, we colonists just had to not impede them. The ride out was 18 months in a big tin can named “Free Throw.” I suppose the trillionaire owner was a basketball fan or something. I was headed away from my wreck of a marriage and career. All in all, it was a very pleasant trip. I met some cool people, made some plans, struggled with my creative block, thought about things, and slept. A lot. It was the depression obviously. You don’t need to be my overpaid therapist to understand that.

Anyhow, I hopped my ass out here on the transport ship and, boom, pow, here I was doing art and shit right out here on the forever ochre planet.

Artist in Residence my ass. There's not much here to be artistic about. Mars is pretty dull, for real. Everything is so goddam orange. Imagine every dull shade of orange you can, hushed and flattened with everything covered in the pumpkin spice colored dust of Mars. Dull orange, tiger’s eye, matte copper, muted rust, dusty sienna, maybe a little bit of bland brandy punch thrown in for good measure. It’s everywhere; including inside the habitats, despite the overworked air scrubbers going full-time. There’s a fine skin of it everywhere you look.

Even the sun—just a small disk at noon—looks orange through the thin, grimy atmosphere that almost constantly swirls and waves. And when there’s no wind, the orange grime just sits there like some stupid, rotting jack o lantern. Like an idiot I looked it up once, orange is in the 585-620 nanometer range of the visible spectrum, and everything here seems to fit neatly therein. Looking it up helped nothing. Even the goddamned gray rocks are orange.

None of this was in the brochure, of course. The downside is never in the brochures. They mentioned the hazards, of course, and trained you for them the best they can. But they can’t prepare you for how oppressive this place feels in tangerine monochrome.

Van Gogh once wrote to his brother—in a discussion of color theory—that "there is no orange without blue." For a genius, he was full of shit. Standing on the edge of this crater with a dust storm headed my way—and me about to open my helmet like old Vincent opened his head—I have to say that on fucking Mars orange is all there fucking is. Fuck it, fuck blue, fuck Mars, fuck the colony and fuck you Vincent Van Gogh wherever you are in hell. I'll see you there soon and I'm gonna rub your nose in anything orange the devil happens to have laying around.

Blue my ass. Starry night my ass.

Sonofabitch. The storm is getting closer.

Jesus, what a dope I was to come out to the edge of this crater without checking the weather.

There are easier ways to do this…

And tomorrow, once the news breaks, the story will be that the famous artist Janice Demboskey, Émigré/Artist-in-Residence at the Mars colony, steeped in depression after a failed marriage and crumbling career, unalived herself on the edge of a crater as a dust storm overtook her. She made a wreck of her life and career and couldn’t hack it out at the Mars colony and ended it. Yep, that’s what she did. Well, it won’t really say that, but it ought to.

If I can just unlock this fucking helmet.

January 12, 2024 22:36

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:34 Jan 23, 2024

I have asked this question to newcomers here a lot. Why is it that their first story is always a hit and it start diminishing from second upwards?


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Joseph Ellis
11:37 Jan 20, 2024

Short, amusing, a little disturbing. Nice job Tim.


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Christy Morgan
19:16 Jan 19, 2024

Very well done, Tim. I much enjoyed the read...I felt like I was right there with Janice in the tangerine monochrome!


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Mary Bendickson
18:43 Jan 19, 2024

Congrats on shortlist. I lost count of how many first entries won this week but congrats and welcome to Reedsy. Impressed by all the colors of orange.


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