Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Nobody Ever Talks About How Cold and Vacuous Space Is

The Story of Ghost Law | Chapters 23 + 24

Chapter 23

I woke up in excruciating pain, my hands bound behind my back. My throat was dry, apparently from untold hours of uninterrupted shrieking and at least two hours of harmonizing “The Longest Time.” When I finally got my eyes to focus in the musty room, the first thing I saw was Scary’s ghost-white complexion. A calmness washed over me like aloe on a sunburnt shoulder. But then I noticed she was trapped in a giant pickle jar.

“Oh. You’re awake,” she sighed unenthusiastically. “At least you stopped singing.”

“Honestly, I feel like I’ve been unconscious for, like, 80 percent of the past week,” I said.

“Yeah, your skin looks very refreshed,” she said.

“So what’s the status,” I said. “Did we win?”

Scary’s exhale nearly fogged up the entire jar.

“No,” she finally said. “We didn’t win.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I managed to take out two of the aliens while they were distracted with lasering your groin.” She nodded toward the two fish-like creatures slumped in the corner. “But there was another one of them hidden in the vents that I didn’t account for. It snuck up behind me with the jar.”

“Where are we now?”

“We’re locked in a closet on their ship. They’re towing our ship. When they found out you smoked all their Marlboros they decided to take us in as hostages.”

“That’s kind of flattering, if you think about it,” I said, always “Mr. Brightside.”

“Well, they made sure to let me know they’d still be losing money on the deal. They’re running out of cigarettes themselves and are in a pretty bad mood.”

“Wow, they sound really addicted,” I coughed, desperately looking around for any butts they may have left on the floor. “Maybe this will be a good for them in the long run or something.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not good for us in the long run. They’re on edge and trigger-happy. These beings are very schedule-oriented and don’t like surprises.”

“Well, they’re going to have to endure one more surprise,” I said, easing myself up the lamppost and to my feet.

This seemed to rouse Scary a bit. She looked up at me, hopeful. “We’re busting out of here?”

“Yes,” I said, quietly slipping the birthday candles back into my butt pocket. Her idea of a surprise escape was much better than telling them my birthday was coming up (I’m also older than I look, which would definitely surprise them — I look 22–23, sort of like a bloated Guy Pierce if he fell down a staircase every day of his life). And even if Scary’s idea hadn’t been objectively better, it was difficult to not be pulled in by the tide of her eyes when they lit up with an idea — I felt as though I would follow her anywhere. “Yes, of course,” I said.

“Well, lucky for us, it looks as if they just tied your hands with tissue paper,” Scary said, her mind clearly concocting an escape plan now. “You should be able to bust out pretty easily. They clearly didn’t think much of you.”

“Hehe, yeah, big mistake,” I said, my voice cracking as I tugged nervously at my bonds. Yes, they were made of tissue; but what Scary didn’t seem to appreciate was that it was way more than just, like, one tissue — it was a whole bunch of them wrapped together. Combine that with having just been zapped with the force of a thousand suns at the intersection of my thighs and abdomen, and ripping out of these bonds was going to be harder than it looked.

Still, I didn’t want to let her down — or die at the flippers of a hostile space alien crew, for that matter. So, while she strategized in her jar, I carefully reached into my other butt pocket and slipped out my lighter, which our captors didn’t bother to take from me, either (but they had taken my Invisalign, which was weird). I figured a quick singe of the tissues would give me enough momentum to tear the rest.

But I forgot that I’m really bad at using lighters, particularly when I’m using them behind my back and still coming down off a gasoline high.

I flicked the flicker and could tell it was working well enough by how warm I began to get. I took a moment to enjoy that. No one ever talks about how cold and vacuous it is in space. A moment of cozy warmth is worth appreciating. Life goes fast and if you don’t stop and —

That’s when I discovered that the flame hadn’t stopped flaming and the whole tissue bonding had caught fire. On the plus side, the tissues incinerated and my hands were freed. But as I’ve come to expect, there’s always a downside — this time it was the fact that now my shirt sleeve was on fire.

This particular blunder was harder to hide from Scary.

“What the heck?!” she inquired.

“Starving, thought I’d get a little fire going,” I said, covering my ass. “How do you like your eggs?”

The little fire on my arm caught the scent of the gasoline I’d spilled all over the rest of myself and I suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree that is also on fire. All that practice screaming really came in handy because it was like second nature to me now and I fell right back into it without a hitch.

This time, however, my mind continued to work and I searched it for another solution. I landed on what seemed the only viable solution left: bust open a window and let some goddamn air in here. Still on fire, I picked up the base of the lamp and approached the window, the open cosmos only inches away. “Hulk smash,” I whispered.

Chapter 24

It was difficult to hear what Scary was shouting over the roaring flames engulfing me, but I got the impression she was cheering me on. The glass of the spaceship’s window was surprisingly thin and only took a few hearty whacks to start to crack.

When it came right down to it, this was what I was best at: destroying, flailing my arms, half-listening. My parents’ primary art collection consisted of the shards of antique china I’d accumulated from every “you-break-it-you-buy-it”-type store I was foolish enough to wander into in search of a toilet.

Pets were out of the question when I was a kid, particularly after I attempted to hug my brother Chuck’s goldfish and wound up swallowing all the aquarium gravel.

It wasn’t long before these clumsy, destructive traits of mine spilled into my relationships, and shards and splinters of the metaphorical variety built up like a wall between my family and acquaintances until I couldn’t see over it anymore.

But maybe this time, here in this spaceship, finally, this unwanted talent for cracking and crunching would save me and a new friend I was beginning to care about — someone who also had chips and cracks in her own past.

As I lifted the lamp for what I believed would be the final heave against the cheap glass, I turned around to give a smile and a wink to Scary.

Maybe she just couldn’t see me very well on account of all the flames incinerating my clothing, but she was looking at me horrified and waving her arms — almost as if to say, “Keep it up, champ! You’re doing great, even though I look horrified at what you are doing!”

Bolstered with newfound confidence, my final swing at the window was even harder than I anticipated, and thus resulted in not only the lamp flying out, but also all the oxygen.

It was then I realized my mistake: Before I busted the window, I should have said, “Sorry, Scary. But I need a little space.” It would have been very cool.

Then I realized my second mistake: Space has no air and will kill us all. After the window busted open, Scary and I were flung across the room and slammed against the cold metal wall.

It was at that exact moment that one of the fish creatures burst in, no doubt to see what all the “ruckus” was about. Scary and I watched as the poor fella was sucked across the room and right to the window, which he plugged with his rump.

With the cosmos adequately corked by an E.T.’s keester, Scary and I dropped back to the floor — relieved — and filled our lungs with sweet, sweet air.

My fire had been blown out. It was almost like a birthday wish.

The next chapter of Ghost Law drops July 26. Catch up on past episodes here:

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r.j. kushner

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