Transit of Mars
by Judith Field
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
It began with the listless feeling brought on by a Sunday evening. I sat in front of the television eating cheese on toast, watching the news: something about Mars. Charlie, my husband, had eaten earlier and, after drinking for hours, fell asleep in his chair.
Since retiring two years earlier, he spent most of his time in bed. “Because I can,” he said. “I worked for forty years; I’ve earned the right to a rest. And I’ll drink if I want to; I don’t have to get up early.”
I’d tried to discuss it. Did he think he might be depressed? I’d heard of people feeling they’d been cut adrift, after retirement. But he said he was perfectly happy with the situation. If I tried to explain that I wasn’t, his face would shut down and that was that; end of discussion.
His head lolled back and his mouth opened. “Look out!” I shouted, as the plate fell from his lap with a crash and woke him. He turned the television up to maximum volume. “I can’t hear over your yelling,” he said. “Will you shut up?”
I nodded, hands over my ears. He turned it down.
“You weren’t watching it. You were asleep,” I said.
“I was awake. I just had my eyes closed.” He turned the volume up again.
“You were snoring.”
“Shut up, Francesca,” he snapped, in the tones of someone training a dog. He stood up and threw his hands in the air. “That’s it. I’m going to bed.” He turned off the television and staggered into the hall. I heard him lumbering his way upstairs. The bedroom door slammed.
I sighed. Sometimes I wondered if the reason we stayed together was simply convenience. We still had a mortgage; or rather I did, since I was the only one working. We couldn’t afford two places.
I switched the news back on. “And sales of telescopes and binoculars have gone through the roof. Astronomers are out in force, drawn to anywhere with dark skies. You can’t get a room near Galloway Forest Park, in southwest Scotland, where I am now.” A female reporter swatted at the midges circling her head. “All because Mars is closer to the Earth, and brighter, than it has been for 60,000 years.”
“It hasn’t been this close since 57,617 BC,” a man with bottle-end glasses shouted to the camera. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime!”
“But not everyone agrees it’s a time for rejoicing.” The reporter turned to a man in a black jacket embroidered with silver stars: Russell Grant, the astrologer.
“Interesting times,” Russell said. “Very interesting. But we need to be careful. Not only is Mars very close, but it’s the ancient god of war. As it transits into Leo, there’s a strong risk of dormant aggression breaking out in people who are usually docile.” He wagged his finger and grinned. “So look out, starlets.”
“Starlets,” I repeated in a sing-song imitation. “What a load of crap.” I switched the television off again. There was enough aggression in the house already, without any help from the planets. I thought about Charlie telling me to shut up and felt my throat tighten. Why didn’t I fight back? Until I grew a backbone, I supposed I would just have to get on with it.
I’d been sleeping in my home office since Charlie complained that I snored. As I lay on the bed, I looked at the sky through the open window in the wall opposite. To the right, I thought I could see Mars, a red glow among the stars. I closed my eyes but the light remained, penetrating my eyelids. All I want, I thought, is someone to be nice to me. I shuddered at how pathetic that sounded.
* * *
My heartbeat slowed and my temperature dropped. I felt tingling and heard a high-pitched sound inside my head. I knew that my eyes were closed, yet I could see. I was awake. I felt the part of me that usually lived inside my head moving slowly out of my body, driven by the electric feeling. I felt myself edging out of my body into the grey, misty air. The house melted away, and I soared into the sky with outstretched arms through blackness towards Mars.
I stood on a wasteland of brown-red rocks, a crater surrounded by sand dunes. I felt no need to breathe, and my heart seemed to have stopped beating. I stumbled and fell forwards onto my hands and knees in the dust. I forced myself to look up at the jagged mountains on the horizon. Something moved towards me, towering in the darkness.
Into my head came a twisting shaft of light. I buried my face in my arms, but the light corkscrewed into me. Lifting my head, I saw flashes and glints of red light. Blow after blow, rings of light fell onto me from a circular golden blaze with a red centre. I stood up.
A voice came from the redness at the centre of the flare. “You wake me. Why? I am ready to fight.”
I heard my voice say, “I am not your enemy. Help me. Lead me through darkness, to light.”
“I wait alone for four million years. The last of my people on this dead world.”
I whispered, “A Martian?”
“My name is forgotten. I am the last survivor of a cosmic battle between this world and another. I was ready to make peace, if the invaders would yield to me. But they refused.”
I backed away.
“We fought them to the end. But they smashed an asteroid into our world and destroyed the magnetic field. Our atmosphere... gone. And only my energy left on Mars, the astral signature of my former self.”
“I will lead you to the light,” the Martian said. “You too must fight back. Fight and—”
A crash tore away my consciousness, and I floated away through the blackness. I opened my eyes. I was lying on the bed in my room. The window had blown shut. I jumped up, grabbed the catch and wrenched the window open with a jerk that took the handle off in my hand. That’s what you get for eating cheese too close to bedtime, I thought. But it felt real. I lay down again and fell asleep.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Judith Field