This short story is posted in Science Fiction.
It’s time for another of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenges, and this week’s is pretty bizarre. Fairy Tales, Remixed.
I hope you enjoy!
Rose Petals Spinning in Space
by Rick Cook Jr
She was awake for two years all by herself, running system diagnostics, maintaining the ship, checking the garden to ensure the water tubes nourished the plants and flowers. The tulips grew, but the roses never bloomed.
To amuse herself she wrote trashy romance novels and hid them in the ship’s logs, too embarrassed to ever read them again. She played chess with herself. She found the vibration hotspots.
Another two years to the colony. She visited her children once a circadian cycle, leaving handprints on the frosted windows of their sleep pods. Two bright stars on the civilian vessel full of pilgrims. Her eight year old daughter, so like her father in appearance and temperament, survived the one in a million collision.
The comet trail had been beautiful before it had been deadly. From afar as it passed her by, two ships meeting on an empty sea, the sunlight reflecting off the particles like a dust cloud in its wake, she wished to wake her children to see the wonders of the universe. Gases bloomed in color, glowing reddish yellow. Then the debris from further back on the comet trail peppered the side of the ship.
Fifteen pilgrims died in that emergency and an entire section of the ship had been jettisoned to save the craft entire.
A time of darkness came upon her, days passing in the blink of an eye or taking so long new stars could have formed in the void. She did the only thing she could think to do short of going for a forever spacewalk: she revived her daughter from suspended animation.
Scarlet pretended to water the flowers, seeing in her mind the flow of liquid pouring from a container she did not truly hold. She had chores to do here in the garden, numbers to record, spectrome-whatsit to measure the light. Mama would be angry if she didn’t finish them before she played, but she couldn’t help it. And Mama was always angry or sad now.
She asked, “Do you think she was just alone too long?”
Jeffrey said, “We should really hurry up with the chores.”
Scarlet huffed. “You’re no fun, Jeffey,” and then a spike of pain lanced its way behind her eyes. “I mean Jeffrey.” She swayed and lost her grip on the rail. When she opened her eyes she was upside down, spinning. Jeffrey came to her side and helped set her rightside up.
“Just the spectrometer is left. Come on, Scarlet, we’re almost done and then you can go back to Mama.”
Scarlet rubbed at her temples, then shrugged Jeffrey away. “I know, I know. Why won’t you come meet her? All she does is drink more when I bring you up and I don’t understand why.”
Jeffrey ignored her and read off the spectrometer. She pressed the digits as he dictated, and her eyes fell on the flowers.
“Why don’t the pretty red ones ever bloom? It’s always the mustard yellow ones.”
“Maybe the roses don’t belong here.”
“But it would be ever so nice to see it act like a real flower for once instead of being all boring and shy.”
Jeffrey laughed. He produced a deep green stem with a dark red bud on top and handed it to her. “I have to go, Scarlet. If you plant this with the others, and it grows, I’ll come back to you.”
“Don’t be silly. Where are you gonna go? We’re inside a big metal container, like a pill sailing through the universe’s stomach.” She smiled. “Hey, do you remember when you got sick from that hot dog and- and…” She trailed off and that spiking pain erupted behind her eyes again, and she clenched tightly to the rose stem, drawing blood from its thorns.
“What was I saying?” she asked after a moment, but Jeffrey was gone.
She wrapped her hand in a bandage from the first aid kit and took the rose to her mother. She climbed out of her alcohol stupor long enough to wonder, “I thought I told you not to touch the plants?”
“I didn’t, Mama. Jeffrey gave it to me.”
Her mother squeezed her eyes shut. “There is no Jeffrey, Scarlet. There never was.”
“No, Scarlet!” her mother cried. Scarlet felt her own tears well up inside her and come bursting forth.
Her mother hugged her, and Scarlet snuggled into her mother’s embrace. “Let’s go replant this, what do you say?” her mother asked.
Scarlet sniffled and nodded. They put the stem into the nutrient-rich rose patch, but her mother frowned. “This isn’t the same color as the others.”
Scarlet nodded. “It’s Jeffrey’s favorite color.” The pressure behind her eyes swelled at mention of his name, and then she tried not to think about him and it went away.
Her mother winced. “I like blue myself. But they wouldn’t approve anything else but tulips and roses for non-dietary plants.”
“Do they have blue daisies on the colony?” Scarlet asked.
Her mother chuckled. “Maybe they do, my little girl. Maybe they do.”
They didn’t speak of Jeffrey again, and Scarlet stopped seeing him. Her mother stopped drinking quite so much. Scarlet didn’t even understand where she was getting it. Maybe she was drinking the medical supplies.
Then one day Scarlet was in the garden room, checking the numbers and the spectrojigger, and she used her arm to rotate in place, then kept using her momentum to spin quickly, like a top who’d never stop. She giggled, and started to sing:
“Ring around the rosie, Jeffrey’s full of posey, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” but she couldn’t fall down.
She tried again, spinning faster now. “Ring around the rosie, Jeffrey’s full of posey, ashes, ashes, we all float down!”
And the memories of Jeffrey came crashing down as the blood clot in her brain, unseen from the accident her mother had never told her about, slipped free from where it was blocking her memories. She died spinning, a smile on her face. It seemed to her that Jeffrey was there, holding out his hand to her, and she reached for it.
When her mother found her hours later, still spinning, she hardly noticed the dark red rose spreading its petals.
So the challenge was to take a fairy tale, a la Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and then roll a random genre, mash them together, and retell a fairy tale with a genre twist. I chose The Rose – go ahead and read it, it’s only 150 words or so – and rolled Space Opera. I’m not sure I did “space opera” correctly, but it’s at least a dramatic story in a science fiction setting, so hopefully I’m forgiven that.
Also much shorter than my usual. The longer I tried to think of ways to expand it out the worse it got.