Aphelion Issue 277, Volume 26
October 2022
 
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The Old Astronaut

by Charles E.J. Moulton





"Atmosphere: Semi-Terrestrial. Oxygen: breathable air for humanoid life forms."

Gordon gazed out the window at the desolate planet before him. The door had a green light blinking above it, slow and steady.

"Unlatched."

The soothing female voice seemed to wait, just like before, like a wife waiting for her hubby to come to dinner.

"You may enter the environment."

Gordon pressed the red button, making the door of the rocket hiss ferociously, growling its disapproval and finally clonking open.

With a careful step, Gordon walked out, the soft sand so similar to another place he had seen before.

Somewhere.

He looked up into the sunshine.

Two suns.

Other suns.

Another galaxy.

And then, this weird fog.

Weird, because the fog reminded him of home.

Home?

Really?

No, one foggy day back during his childhood on Earth.

His mom had warned him not to go to far away into the fog... or at least not beyond the playground.

Voices. Gordon now heard voices in the distance, far away. Children's voices.

He looked straight ahead, trying to decipher what lay beyond the fog.

On a distant planet, a replica of his hometown.

The city of his youth, so long gone, this, his last mission to find... what was it? Quattrolithium? Zubariastrium?

Gordon had tried everything he could to avoid this place. He had even forgotten why, he just knew this all seemed familiar and that he kept repeating something. Something he had kept doing.

Going back.

The loop.

Maybe his family had been right. Maybe he was way too old for this.

And yet, his detector told him that he was to find what he sought sooner than later, in more ways than one. He was here for a reason, he knew that now.

Every time, he had forgotten why. This was not the first time.

The streets of his youth, now desolate, greeted him with an empty threat.

Then, the playground, the boy, the swing, and that kid halting the swing, looking up, seeing the space man.

The old astronaut remembered now. He had been ten years old when the vision of the astronaut came hitting him with mystery, the vision his mother talked him into disbelieving afterwards.

One moment passed, like an eternity, and the astronaut remembered feeling drawn toward his younger self so often now.

The boy was off the swing, the swing squeaking, an abandoned boy before an unoiled thing, staring at the astronaut, the astronaut drawn into that other reality, around the time loop into the curve.

"Who are you?" the boy whispered in a high croak.

"The reason you became an astronaut," Gordon answered.

He looked back into the disappearing time portal.

The boy shook his head.

"Your future self."

"I don't understand ..."

"Live a good life," the old space man said, making a split second decision, leaving the boy standing where he was, the old astronaut jumping back into the time portal, the past a question mark, the future a possibility.

It was not until he saw himself back in his own reality that he realized what it was that he'd done. He had let his younger self go after having relived his life, almost loving the vicious circle.

He looked up again, the skies strange, the fog lifting.

Gordon found his Quattrolithium and a little Zubariastrium to boot and found himself flying home, happy to have remembered, happy to have made the leap.

When he came home, he found himself greeted by his wife, daughter, and grandchildren.

Everything seemed to be back to normal until he saw his home office. Three Pulitzer prizes, four Triathlon awards and that little golden guy with a bald head for ...

"Escaping the Loop"?

What was that?

A movie?

An Oscar?

Had he really pursued that author's career he had feared and neglected after meeting himself at the playground this time around?

The pictures of himself on the moon were still on the wall, him in his seat in the spaceship during his first mission, taking his daughter to the ramp, holding his doctorate from the University of Galactic Aeronautics.

Then there were pictures of him signing autographs in a bookshop and cutting a red ribbon in Hollywood.

He couldn't recall even being in Hollywood.

It was then that he saw the note. It was pasted on the wall right next to the lamp standing on his desk.

Gordon sat down in his armchair, carefully taking the note off the wall.

It was written in purple ink.

"Gordon," the note began, "this is me, your future you. My wife will probably wonder why I have a letter to myself, but knowing you will be returning from your last mission soon, this has to be written.

Many times, you turned into me. Many times, you forgot about it.

Why you chose to separate us and break the loop at this time I will never know.

All I know is that it all came back to me, having relived my life so often.

We were the victims of a space-time-anomaly centered around that fifth planet in that other system around the two suns, and we were cursed with partial memory loss.

And yes: you did buy your very first purple pen recently. So, yes: this letter was written before you left for my last mission.

You remained an astronaut, but also became a famous author, as well.

The other thing, well, you will find out. All I can say that you or me, we must've switched into an alternate reality at some point.

Don't worry. That's okay, too.

It doesn't really affect your life.

Oh, yeah, if your wife ever talks about what happened in Reno at the Casino, just say you were drunk.

Here's a kind greeting to Gordon from Gordon: enjoy sunny America!"

He put down the note, baffled and quite startled.

In a daze, the old astronaut walked out upon his balcony, breathed in deeply, looking up onto a clear blue sky lit up by two yellow suns.


THE END


2016 Charles E.J. Moulton

Bio: Mr. Moulton grew up in a trilingual and artistic family and spent his childhood on stage. He played his first role at age 11 and has since then acted and sung in over 100 stage productions. His publication credits include horror stories for SNM Magazine and Aphelion, historical articles for Socrates and Skirmish and literary fiction for Idea Gems and Pill Hill Press. Mr. Moulton enjoys versatile creativity, is married and has a daughter. His last Aphelion appearance was The Stranger in our September, 2016 issue.

E-mail: Charles E.J. Moulton

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