Ask the Next Question: stories + images inspired by Theodore Sturgeon - Bron Treanor
I originally wanted to write a story in response to "Bianca's Hands," partially because I was excited by the writing itself, and partially because it had some questionable themes that I thought could use an updated response. But, of course, when I sat down to write, I ended up writing something completely different...
Like a lot of Sturgeon's work, my story has a speculative setting, but it revolves around a traumatic human situation that many of us will experience in our very human lives.
Full of Infinity
by Bron Treanor
Kitty's grandpa was dying. They were alone in the little ship, grounded on Earth because space made Grandpa's legs swell.
She looked up with a start. He didn't usually call her by her name anymore. He called her demon or hussy or bitch more often than her name. Her lovely Grandpa who never had an unkind word, and never, certainly, a rude word to say in his life. Calling her a slut and a beast.
She leaned over him, looked into his eyes, and she saw that he was looking back at her.
"What can I do?" she asked.
Kit watched as her grandpa faded out and his eyes filled with something else.
"Paint the windows," he whispered. "Stop them from getting in."
"Who?" Kitty said, but she already knew.
"Stop them," Grandpa hissed.
"They aren't gonna get in," she said. But she knew they were already here.
Back before Grandpa's ball bearings got loose (as he referred to it himself, on his good days) he could see faces in ordinary things. "Lookit that guy, Kit,” he would say, chuckling. “Lookit his ridiculous face.” And Kitty would stare at the grain in the wood, or the cracks in the plaster, and she wouldn’t see it. Later, when the ball bearings started to rattle around, he began to see more faces, everywhere.
“Lookit that one,” he would say, staring down at his hands with his lips twitching in fear and wet at the corners. “Lookit his screaming, Kit, he’s screaming.”
Goosebumps flushed out all over Kitty’s body when he described their mouths and their fear-stretched eyes, but she didn't pay it too much mind until she started to hear them.
They screamed—all of them. A tinny horrible sound.
"Get the paint," her Grandpa cried. "I can see 'em in the windows."
Kitty knew. She could hear them. So she got to work painting black over the ship's windows.
When she went back to tell Grandpa that she'd done it, he was dead. His eyes were closed and he didn't look peaceful and he didn't look scared, he just looked dead, and Kitty felt like she might split into pieces and die right there, too.
But she didn't. She pulled the blanket up over his face and waited for the invisible screaming faces to stop. To shut up. To just end and let her out of the misery. But they didn't.
She looked around and tried to find them in the metal joints of the main hatch, and in the shiny face of the food rehydrator, and on the backs of her hands, but she could only hear them, and they screamed and screamed and screamed.
She pulled the ends of his still-warm blanket to her own face and tried to cry into it because it was supposed to smell like her grandpa—old flannels and leather and instant coffee—but it didn't. She sat on the bed and stared at the blacked-out windows. Should she just go? Go out to the stars?
She stood suddenly and pressed a series of screens. Yes, yes, yes, she poked. Confirmed. The ship whirred to life and lifted up with that gentle thrumming it always gave as it pushed its way through the atmosphere.
She made herself a cup of instant coffee and pretended that the smell of death and fear and pee was leather and flannel instead.
It took about two hours—straight up—to get into the lovely soft black of space. She couldn't see it, but she knew it was there because the screams stopped.
The relief she felt was so strong it would have made her giddy if she wasn't sitting with her back pressed against the body of her grandfather. She listened for other things besides screaming and was overwhelmed:
She could hear the stars. They growled out a deep mindless sound, a consuming sound. Planets gave great tuneless sighs and they could rock her to sleep if she let them. Her little ship hummed a sad working song. Things were moving up here, living and dead and full of infinity.
BRON TREANOR grew up in the redwoods of Northern California. Her writing is eclectic, but usually doesn't stray far from literary horror. She currently teaches Writing Studies at American University in D.C.