SentientFood

Pack a lunch if you’re going to the moon… (1995)

“I — I — I want to go with — with you.”

“Now Charles, you know you can’t do that,” his mother replied.

“W — well, if I can’t go with you, I want to go to the moon.”

Charles’ mother kissed him on the forehead, checked the brakes on his wheelchair, then waved goodbye to him.

“You know I can’t take you to work with me, and, as for the Moon, well…. Goodbye, honey. I’ll see you when I get home. Make sure you’re back from the moon by the time I get home.” She smiled, closed the door behind her.

Charles slapped at the control for the wheelchair, released the brakes, and rolled into the living room.

“I — I — have to go some — somewhere,” he said aloud. He looked around the room and shouted, “I ha — have to go some — somewh — somewhere but he — here!”


He rolled from one side of the room to the other, looking for something to do. He couldn’t reach the board games in the cabinet. He couldn’t handle the video game controller without dropping it. Every time he dropped it, he lost a life in the game. He quit playing shortly after.

He rolled into the kitchen looking for breakfast. He had not eaten yet and his mother had not had time to fix anything before she left. He rolled over to the refrigerator, yanked open the door, and pulled out the milk carton. He set it on the counter and reached down and retrieved the cereal from a cabinet. He moved to the other side of the kitchen and reached up to try to get a bowl. The bowls were almost too high on the wall. He stretched, pushed himself up on one arm while grabbing with the other hand. The stack of plastic bowls came crashing to the floor, bouncing off Charles on the way down. He had to lean over the side of the chair to get one of them off the floor. The chair started tipping. charles screamed and leaned the other direction as quickly as he could. The chair righted itself. charles sat there breathing heavily, bowl in hand.

He shifted himself from the left to the right. He cried out. He spit on the floor. His partially useless arms slapped across the arms of the chair, threatening to knock him on his side just from the fit he was throwing.

When his tantrum had run its course, he returned across the kitchen to pour the milk and cereal into the hard-won bowl. All the effort tired him. The milk sat on the counter with the spout folded open. The cereal bag remained unclosed. Charles fell asleep there at the counter, crying.

Charles looked out over the moonscape; he was rendered speechless by the beauty. The pristine rolls, buckles, and craters made him feel happy to just be alive. He pushed up from his chair and he floated above it, moving in time to the music in his ears. He floated, he stroked, he crawled his way through the air, miles at a stroke, continents in a single breath. He swooped, he climbed, he dove, he floated. He saw faces in the rocks. The men in the moon, he thought.

He looked closely at the faces. Men, women, and children looked up at him. There were faces of people he knew; there were strangers. The higher he rose, the stranger the faces looked. They became ugly, deformed, demented. Then the faces changed altogether. They quit being human faces and merged into something else. Charles started panicking. He flailed against the nonexistent atmosphere. He grew short of breath, though he had not even been breathing the moment before. He struggled to get back to the safety of his chair. He looked forward. The chair beeped and flashed; a beacon in the distance. He was almost to the chair when he started falling. He could see the surface of the moon rushing up to greet him. The falling feeling lasted forever. He fell through the surface, deep into the mantel, splashed through the core and out the other side. He fell and fell and fell. There was no end to terror.

His heart pounded in his ears. His eyes snapped open. His whole body tensed at once. He looked at the clock on the kitchen wall: it was twelve-thirty. The air conditioner was blowing cool air on his face. The phone was ringing. Charles looked from the clock to the phone. Charles watched as the answering machine picked up and unloaded its recorded greeting over the wire. He listened closely to see who was calling. It was his mother.

“Charles, where are you? Why don’t you answer the phone?”

Charles answered the disembodied voice.

“I’m right here. I was asleep.” He looked around, surprised at the clarity of his words.

“Charles? I’m worried. Will you answer the phone?”

Charles did not move. He still sat stunned. It had been so long since he had been able to speak clearly, he didn’t know what to do next.

“Charles, that’s it. I’m coming home. You’d better have a good explanation when I get there.” There was a click then the machine turned itself off. The new calls number flashed. Charles recovered enough to move over to the machine. He reached up to press the button. He expected his hand to tremble. It did not. His hand smoothly moved from the chair to the machine and presses the correct button on the first try. The message was the same. He had just heard it live not a minute before. His mother was on her way home. She would not be happy with him because he didn’t answer. All he’d have to do is tell her he was asleep, he thought. That would do it, he said to himself. He pondered what had happened and what would happen.

He didn’t want to make his mother angry. She had such a temper. She should scream and yell, even though she was normally a kind woman. Anytime something had to do with him, though, and the condition he was in, or how he got that way, she would explode is fits of rage. She would curse his father. She would curse herself. She would curse anyone and everything having the misfortune to come within earshot. She hated his father for what he did. She hated herself for letting it happen. She hated Charles for being the way he was, even though there was nothing that could be done.

Charles looked around the kitchen. He saw the milk and cereal. Quickly he closed the milk carton, rolled down the top of the cereal bag. He put them away. The prepared bowl of cereal sat on the counter. He took it, rolled over to the sink and poured it down the drain. In seconds, the extra cereal bits and milk were washed away. He left the bowl sitting in the basin. There was nothing left to do but go into the living room and wait for his mother to arrive.

Charles felt himself floating again. This time he perused a reddish-blue landscape. Olympus Mons rose before Charles’ eyes. Charles’ body arced through the air, hurtling toward the great mountain. Standing at the base were people. Their faces were distorted beyond recognition. The closer he got to them, the blurrier their faces became. He was almost on top of them, floating above, before his vision cleared and he could see their faces distinctly. These were the same faces he saw on the lunar surface., There were people he know, people he did not know. The bodies stayed constant, but the faces continued to change, from one to another. Charles remained suspended in place in the atmosphere, while a whole landscape of images scrolled beneath him. His chair was nowhere to be found. The faces he could see grew stranger and stranger. The features became more inhuman. Some of them tried to speak to Charles. he could see the lips move. He could hear sounds. He could not understand the words. The syllables sounded almost English, but the sequences were nonsense. Charles shook his head. He tried to tell them he couldn’t understand. He didn’t know what they were trying to tell him. One of the people reached up into the sky, its arm growing longer by the second, incredibly long, unbelievably long, and grabbed Charles by the lapel. Charles shook, not from fear, but from the hand which held him.

“Charles, wake up!”

His mother held both his shoulders and was shaking violently. When he opened his eyes, he was staring directly into hers.

“Hello, Mother.” He voice was smooth, missing the hitches that had become part of his speech.

“Charles? Are you alright? I called. There wasn’t any answer. I come home. You’re here, asleep, no, passed out. What’s wrong Charlie?”

“Nothing, Mother.” Charles’ expression was as smooth as his newfound voice. “I must’ve just been sleeping. I was having some weird dreams. That must have been it.”

His mother looked at him closely while listening to him speak. She noticed the change, her left eyebrow raised, her sign of inquisitiveness, but she asked nothing about it directly.

“What kind of dreams are you having, Charles? Nightmares?”

Charles sat there, unanswering, his eyes staring into space.

“Charles, I asked you a question. What kind of dreams did you have?”

“It was a wonderful dream, actually, Mother. I went to Mars, and to the moon. I was free of the chair, I was free of the problems. I floated, I swam, I drifted. It was incredible.”

Charles’ mother sighed.

Charles continued. “Mother, there, it was like I never had the accident. I liked going to the Moon, Mother.”

“Now Charlie…” She looked at him for a second, then continued, “I’m sure you did, honey. You do know though, it was just a dream?”

Charles grew immediately angry. His cheeks flushed, his breathing quickened. His words, though, were calm.

“Mother, I don’t think it was _just_ a dream. I actually feel better now. Dreams don’t change you are physically. I feel more like I used to.”

His mother placed her hand on top Charles’ head and tussled his hair.

“Oh Charlie, I know this has been hard. It has been on both of us. You know what the doctors said. You might get better some days, others will be worse. This is just one of these better days.”

She stood, looked at Charles again, then walked back into the kitchen. She called out as she left, “I’ve got to go back to work, Charles. I’m happy you’re okay. You really shouldn’t worry me like that.”

“See you when I get home, Mother.” The words barely escaped Charles’ lips. He could hear a door shut and his mother’s car start.

Charles tried to sleep for the remainder of the afternoon. Occasionally, he would doze, but the dreams eluded him. He wanted desperately to fly to some far-away planet; he wanted to float above the lunar landscape; he wanted to speak to these amazing beings who changed their faces (and their shapes, Charles guessed) at will. Charles yearned for the freedom he no longer knew on Earth. The sleep that came was simply sleep. No dreams attended his hopeful expectancy. It was an eternity before the afternoon ended. Early evening arrived and with it returned his mother.

His mother asked him about the rest of his day, asking if he went to any more planets, or had talked to any more aliens. Charles answered truthfully, telling her that there had been no more visits yet. His mother let the matter drop, confident the matter was closed, explained away as the fancies of a young boy. Charles thought no such thing, but was glad to have the matter dropped, regardless. He was confused and hurt that there had been no more contact. Dinner and the evening television watching passed uneventfully. Charles finally went to bed. In the night, the darkness came.

Charles dreamed that night. He looked for signs of his lunar or martian friends; the twisted metal blocked his view. He yearned to hear the confused babble of the ever changing voices; the screech of tires and the banshee scream of twisted, distressed metal overwhelmed everything else. He wished again for the freedom he knew earlier as he remained confined under a plastic dashboard. He felt a chill though his warm blood soaked his clothes and skin. Charles clawed for freedom. He remained trapped in the nightmare that was his life.

Over the ridge of the dashboard, one of Charles’ lunar friends appeared. Charles was so happy to find a friendly face he disregarded his pain. Charles found it impossible to disobey when the figure motioned for silence.

“You will be coming with us, tomorrow, Charlie. We want you with us.”

Charles nodded.

“Where would you like to go, Charlie?”

Charles could only say one word. “Moon.”

Tears started rolling down his cheeks. Charles looked past the wreckage to the lunar landscape, blurred and distorted through his tears.

“To the moon you will go then.”

The serene image was gone, replaced by the blinding pain of the wreck. Charles smiled in his distress.

Charles and his mother sat at the breakfast table. She had taken the time to fix a bowl of cereal this morning, unlike many of the previous mornings.

“How did you sleep, Charles?” She looked into his face, seeing the dark circles under his eyes.

“Okay, I guess. I dreamed about it again.”

“The Moon?”

“No, the accident.”

Charles’ mother’s smile turned to a frown. “Oh no, not again, Charlie?”

“Yes, Mother, again. But this time it was a little different. This time, one of my friends came into it, and gave me something to look for.”

Concern quickly replaced the frown.

“What do you mean, honey?”

“I’m going to the moon again today, Mother. I am going there to stay.”

Fear supplanted the concern.

“Charles, are you talking about those people you saw in the dream yesterday? I thought we had cleared all that up.”

“Well, Mother, you said they were just part of a dream. I saw him in the middle of a dream. Maybe you’re right. Regardless, I’ll be going to the moon today. I wanted to say goodbye.”

The fear melted into motherly condescension.

“Well, a trip to the moon is going to take at least all day. Do you want me to make lunch for you?”

“No. Mother, I don’t think that will be necessary. The trip really doesn’t take that long, after all.”

“In that case, make sure you’re back for supper. I don’t want to eat alone, tonight.”

She grinned at him. He just nodded and didn’t say anything.

As soon as his mother had left for work, Charles set about getting ready for his trip. He made sure his room was cleaned. Everything he could reach from his chair was dusted and straightened. He made his bed. He rolled to the living room and threw out all his old magazines and papers. He turned off the television and the stereo that he normally left running, even when he wasn’t watching or listening. He rolled back into his bedroom to await his journey.

Charles closed his eyes and breathed slowly. He let himself fall, trying to find himself in sleep. He counted, one two, one, two. In moments, he was dozing. The sound of scraping metal startled him to awareness. He didn’t wake up, but rather, he noticed where he was. He was in the car; his father’s car. The collision was in progress. In slow motion, Charles watched the other windshield explode in a shower of glass, at first, crystal clear, then quickly crimson. He watched his windshield rush to meet him. He fell back, the dashboard followed, pressing, crushing, pushing the very breath from his small chest. He was about to scream out in pain, just like the first time, just like he did every time. The scream did not come. Instead of a scream, a song emerged. The music of angels poured through the small vocal cords of a dying child. Charles looked around him; the music melted away the crumpled metal, washed away the blood, swept the debris from his lap. It freed him to float above, up, toward the sky. He reached up with his arms, palms outstretched, reaching for something he thought he could never obtain. The Earth receded below him. The Moon grew large. There was no breath. There was no pain. All that existed was the beautiful sight of the Earth and the Moon and the music that propelled him from one onward to the other; his freedom song.

Drifting lazily over the lunar landscape, Charles relished his freedom. He turned, he twisted, he walked through the almost non-existent atmosphere. He moved all his limbs freely. He tried to jump for his relative joy. He failed because he had nothing to jump against. He laughed at himself and the silliness of it all. He laughed with joy, he laughed with clean humor, he regaled in his healing. Below, he saw bodies and faces, the faces shifting and changing against the static bodies, like spinning wheels on a slot machine. Charles tried to ask questions between his fits of laughter.

“Why did you want to bring me here? Why me and not someone else?”

The voices answered, but Charles could not understand. The sounds seemed English to him, but he still could not understand what the voices said. He shrugged. The voices continued, a cacophony of discernable tongues, none of them communicating its message. Charles shrugged again. He returned his attention to his flying.

The landscape rolled beneath him. The people followed as if they hovered slightly above the surface. Slowly, Charles began to lose altitude. He swooped gracefully, but each time, he did not rise as high as the last. He was being forced to the surface, ever so slowly, ever so gently. It was more than an hour before he finally set foot on the surface. When he did, one of the beings was beside him. They were alone.

“Who are you?” Charles asked.

“I am all the others, and you, as well. Then again, I am nobody.”

“You don’t make any sense. You can’t be me. I’m me. And how could you be all these other people?” Charles shook his head in confusion.

“I am what you make me to be.”

Charles realized they were both speaking in English.

“You’re the one who asked me where I wanted to go, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but that was really you.”

“What about all the other voices? Who are they?”

“They are me. I am them. You are them.”

“You’re still talking in circles. Please stop. I don’t understand.”

“The voices are in you, Charlie. Different parts of your own mind. We are all you. You are us. We found you, and in turn, you found us. We are now one. You give us shape; you give us existence. In return, we are giving you freedom. Freedom from all the things that hold you down. That is why we brought you here, Charlie. We are in your debt.”

“Still, why me? I didn’t find you. I wasn’t looking for you. I was just sleeping one day and up you pop. Where did you come from?”

“We come from as far as the furthest star, but as near as your own will. Without you, we should not be here.”

“You would not exist if not for me?”

“Does anything ever really start or stop existing?” The being shrugged. “Did you exist before we made ourselves known? We all are, Charlie. Them, you, me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will, in time.”

Charles had been grinning and crying from joy. In an instant, his spirits fell. The tears of joy changed to tears of sorrow.

“What about my mother? Will I ever see her again? I mean, I told her goodbye, but I didn’t really think I’d be gone forever.”

“You may go back someday. There is much to learn, though. We will not hold you here, but you will come to understand. You need to wait before returning.”

Charles nodded his head in agreement, though his face belied his utter confusion. He didn’t want to go back to the chair. He wanted to keep the freedom he just found. He wiped his face on his forearm, brushing away the wetness.

“Okay, well then. What’s next?” Charles asked.

“Whatever you want,” was the answer.
Charles’ mother came home from work earlier than normal again that afternoon. She could not focus on her work. She kept thinking about her poor son and his strange behavior. She gave up after two hours of struggling to concentrate. She picked up the handset to call Charles, but placed it back in its cradle without dialing. No, she thought to herself, I’ll just show up. She did show up, only to find her son unconscious in his chair. His breathing was so shallow she couldn’t find any sign of it at first. She screamed. She grabbed his wrist. She felt a pulse there, however faint. His lips were curled upward, exposing his canines. His mother looked into the silent, sleeping face, and imagined the sneer she saw was a smile. There was a twitch here and there as the muscles involuntarily flexed. She could not see the joy in the expression. Her own sorrow shielded her from the truth. All she could do was mumble her son’s name again and again between the dry sobs that escaped through her lips. Charles’ lips twitched again; it the only response she got from her son for a long time.