“You cannot live in a bubble” says Sal Buttaci hosting the first annual writer’s retreat on Mars.
Oh! How pleased I am to say, Literati,
that one of our very own writers is the Sal survivor of time/space travel. Salvatore Buttaci’s imagination is light-years ahead of us, but he has circled about to land this story into our contest that requires the prompt: “I swear it’s not too late.” If you would like to launch your own career follow these parameters and shuttle your entry or re-entry or re-re-entry (you are allowed three entries) to firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.awordwithyoupress.com/category/contests/peggy-dobbs-1-announcements/ You could win $500 and the envy/contempt of your fellow authors!
by Sal Buttaci
Don’t even bother doing the math. A light-year was nothing to make light of. Back then space travel to an unappealing moon was as far as we got.
Astronomists mostly spent their time hoping and wishing for stronger telescopes than the Large Binocular Telescope squinting on a mountaintop in southern Arizona. While it was capable of showing a spiral galaxy 102 million light-years away, our hands were tied when it came to flying there. Translating the distance into real-years, the ones we live and die by, was approximately 599.66 trillion miles away. At a speed of 160,00 mph, considering only one light-year each way, the roundtrip would require a mind-boggling 8,500 Earth years. Multiply that by four and Alpha Centauri is just over the hill.
Space travel was the least of our worries. The new year of 2096 began with the same melancholy with which the previous year ended. Hope was a dead thing. One had only to look around to realize the red-white-and-blue patriotism of bygone years had bitten the dust and there appeared no resuscitation forthcoming. The rage was Latin, as if learning this dead language would bring back the glory days of Ancient Rome or of America.
We were not a nation of united states anymore. The South had risen again, winning this time, and proclaimed itself free from the talons of the Republicratic government that had bled them dry. A successful secession flashed the go-ahead sign to other states who did likewise. The great American pie reflected the slicing work of a blind man.
Okay, so now you know the situation. Why should it matter? It’s a personal story. We all have one. And like most of them, love is what it’s about. Love and the loss of love.
Short of being canonized a saint in a godless society, astrophysicist Sergio Peterson invented in the mid-winter of that same 2096 year the “tempus-spatium machina,” the time-space machine that had warped both time and space.
The time-space machine? Sergio Peterson never neglected to add this caveat emptor: “Every machine has its flaws. Perhaps even the tempus-spatium.” But we never took that warning to heart. We saw only the distant stars hanging up there in galactic skies once unreachable. Perhaps an incalculable number of stars had already been extinguished, but those remaining beckoned us to sail those skies in search of habitable worlds.
Space ships were built to accommodate Peterson’s flashboard dials which a navigator could adjust by converting light-years to mega miles to an incredibly abbreviated number of years.
A successful virgin voyage to Alpha Centauri made WingStar Plado Chang a decorated hero. Now it was my turn. Suspended beyond Alpha Centauri, #12682, a planet remarkably like our own and renamed Salvete –– Welcome –– awaited me.
Laura was the woman I loved. Even in the darkest days and nights when no one found reason to celebrate, to dream, to believe in better times, my Laura smiled through the negative haze that fogged us into walking, talking defeatists. She was everything to me!
“Don’t go,” Laura said again as I stood on the inside of the front door. “I’m afraid, Aaron. Something will happen––”
“Nothing’s gonna happen, Sweetcakes. I’m invincible, remember? I’ll be back.”
“Famous last words.”
“Don’t be like that. I’m going to Salvete and I’ll come back. Just a few years. Can you keep busy that long? Read those Stephen Queen novels you’ve been saving for a rainy day.”
“I’m serious, Aaron.”
“So am I.”
“About you not coming back.”
I crossed my heart, then saluted and said, “I am WingStar Aaron Mendez, #291440. I have nothing else to say. Rank and serial number. No state secrets. No bedroom secrets either.”
Laura began laughing, against her will, but laughing nevertheless. I embraced her. When I kissed the softness of her lips, I felt the heat of her tears sting my cheeks. “Don’t worry so much. I’ll be home soon.”
When I headed towards the curb where WingMaster’s black military sedan was waiting with open door, I looked back. Laura was at the window, but she did not wave goodbye.
Salvete proved a barren wasteland except for the crimson spice fields extending into the distance. Above them a comforter of blood-red sky covered them. It was desolate. Nothing anywhere. The scientists had hoped for intelligent life, but, since landing there, I was the only one.
Four and a half light years away, I spent lonely months missing Laura. Nothing like distance to make the heart grow fonder. I swore I’d make it up to her. Packing spice samples to take with me, I boarded the one-man ship and headed home.
Five years had passed since I’d kissed Laura goodbye. Except for a splash of white at my temples, caused by what they called “time/space trauma, I looked the same. At thirty-six I had traversed a good chunk of the galaxy, returning none the worse for wear.
But from the moment I landed, I could not say the same about America. It was different. Older. Gone the hope reborn. A church marquee read, “It’s 2151. Have You Repented Yet?”
Peterson’s machine had malfunctioned! Off by only a few decades, it had spared me, but little else. A stranger in a strange country.
When the door slowly opened, I saw her leaning on a cane, looking nothing like the daydream I played in my head these past years. The old woman was Laura. Her twisted mouth trembled but the tears would not flow. Eyes once dazzling blue as sky and sea blinked now at what must have seemed so cruel.
I reached out and draped an arm around her stooped shoulders. I moved my face closer to hers, trying to wish away the sallow flesh furrowed deep with wrinkles and see once more the beauty of my Laura that time had stolen from us. Frightened, whimpering, she tried to push herself free.
“Laura, Laura, I swear it’s not too late.”
Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared widely. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. His poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Author‘s Info, A Word with You Press, and AustinBriggs.com.
Sal Buttaci is a former English instructor at a local community college and middle-school teacher in New Jersey, who retired in 2007 to commit himself to full-time writing.
His collection of flash fiction Flashing My Shorts is available in book, e-book, and audio book versions http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci/dp/0984259473
His latest collection of short-short fiction, 200 Shorts, is available in book and Kindle editions at
He lives happily ever after with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.