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News & Features » June 2019 » “Homecoming” by Jessica Hertz

“Homecoming” by Jessica Hertz

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, Earth may be better off without us after all . . . 

Homecoming
by Jessica Hertz
Earth, 2785.

The soil smells sweet—rich and earthy with a faint whiff of sulfur from a geyser somewhere in the vicinity. A salty sea breeze skitters across the ground picking up the aroma of copper and tin.

The astronaut inhales deeply.

She would have missed this, had she remembered it. It was good that she had no memory of her life before she was three, when her parents whisked her away from a dying Earth to the colony on the moon. Of course, she had learned about the earth in school, about the dead animals and the dead plants and the dead people. She assumed it would reek of death, but all she can smell is loam.  

She hadn’t wanted to come—she’d drawn the short straw, as it were. Who would go and see if there was anything left? Not I. Not I. Not I. But someone had to go, even if they went unwillingly. She wasn’t brave. She fought against it. But eventually they shoved her into the rocket and now she is here.

So she travels the earth, seeking signs of life. She finds no humans, no animals, no plants, but she does find things that are alive in other ways: the deep canyons of what was once known as the American Southwest; the waterfalls of the island called Iceland; the cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula; the Giant’s Causeway of Ireland; the crashing waves of the beaches of southern Africa; the volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands, smoldering gently like sleeping dragons. The moon isn’t like this, the astronaut thinks. The moon is just an inanimate rock, dust all the way through. But the earth is alive; its mountains and oceans and caves and lakes are themselves living things.

Things that are alive know things, and so she speaks to the earth, pressing her ear to the ground to hear what it says. The earth speaks to her in an antediluvian language, words forming in the subtle sound of churning rock: crust to mantle to core and back again.

The earth asks how have they survived—those few remaining humans on that dead rock—so far away from home? She responds that she doesn’t know, and it’s the truth: she doesn’t know, not anymore. How had she ever survived away from this place? She turns the question back to the earth, wanting to know how it had survived all of that destruction.

The earth responds to the astronaut with the voice of an old, forgotten god: I was here before you. I will be here after you. New life is already blooming in deep water vents. Perhaps the next version of humanity will be wiser.

The earth sounds tired. The astronaut understands this bone-deep exhaustion. She wants to lie here, to never move, to let the planet hold her as a mother holds a child. The astronaut sends a message back: Nothing alive. Return trip not possible. It’s better this way.

The earth thanks her, and she lies down on the ground, digs her hands into the soil, and closes her eyes. The earth rocks her to sleep, the planet’s heartbeat and hers intertwined.

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JESSICA HERTZ has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Columbia University and a Master of Arts in Theatre from Hunter College. Her flash fiction piece Migratory Patterns of Birds was one of 17 finalists in the Iceland Writers Retreat’s 2019 competition. This is her first time in publication.

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Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jun 28, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



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