Even the Empty Prayers Are Answered
by Oscar Deadwood
forum: Even the Empty Prayers Are Answered
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..  

Even the Empty Prayers Are Answered


       Nancy took only furtive glances at the other women on this flight. Women in tight see-through dresses and shiny and fashionable boots, women attached to handsome and bronzed and powerful men or women travelling alone as they were powerful and wealthy in their own right. Nancy felt so devastatingly out of place. Her body was the only imperfect one, and she hid it with a long sleeved and one-piece dress that was only slightly transparent, transparent just enough to reveal the color of her pale and young and subterranean skin.

       She could feel the eyes of the other women studying her, as if to say, "what is a subterranean girl like that doing on a flight like this?"

       And the men too, were of a different ilk than those she knew back home in Lower, Lower Michigan. Their skin was the color of some dear bronze, their implanted eyes mirrored and twinkling, their hair platinum or gold and their teeth whiter than a sheet of paper.

       Nancy closed her eyes. Maybe she wouldn't feel so awkward if she couldn't see anyone else. She was good at pretending, and she would pretend she was on this flight all alone.

       With eyes squeezed shut, she thought about her destiny, she thought about Destiny.

       Her solitary interlude was short-lived. The last person to board the ship had the seat next to hers, and she sat next to Nancy as she spoke irritatingly into the clear and plastic cellular headset attached to her left ear.

       "I'll be back in a fucking week and a half, and this shit better be cleared up when I get back."

       Nancy opened her eyes and took in the woman. She was wearing a skintight see-through dress that only hid the areola of her breasts and the region of her vagina. The woman's skin was colored nearly copper and her hair was a long and luminous silver. And the eyes. Nancy had only seen eyes like that on television. They were expensive eyes. No one else on the flight had eyes like quite like this woman's. The eyes were meshed as if each pupil was made up of countless prisms.

       The woman sat next to Nancy and made a face while complaining into her phone.

       "Wouldn't you know it," she said to someone far, far away, "I always sit next to a subterranean, at least this one had the sense to clean herself up before she came above."

       Nancy had been warned before her ascent - before she surfaced at the Winnipeg Exchange - warned of the crassness of the ones who lived above.

       Nancy didn't take the woman's remarks personally; she was remarkably well adjusted for a girl just barely adolescent. The woman was beautiful, and Nancy couldn't take her eyes off of her.

       "Maybe I'll ask Destiny to make me look like her," Nancy mused, staring at the woman and her very, very smooth stomach and her long and polished and well manicured nails.

       But that would be silly, Nancy decided. She would look devastatingly out of place in her subterranean world of cavernous cities defined by large and looming shadows and the shifting and pulsing glow of electric torchlights.

       Only the Above people looked like that, and the Above never came below, unless it was on a screen.

       "I know what I'm going to wish for this time," the woman continued into her phone, removing one of her eyes and polishing it with the fog of her breath. Nancy peered cautiously into the empty socket. She expected flesh and bone to be garishly displayed out of the naked orifice but no; she saw blazing circuits and wires and no signs of raw or wounded tissue.

       God, Nancy thought to herself, that woman really is beautiful as the woman crossed and uncrossed her legs several times. She was wearing thigh high crocodile-skin boots with long and metallic spiked heels.

       "My kids are driving me nuts, my husband too, they all whine so damn much. They want to stay on the Hudson Bay, but everyone who is anyone is going to the Isle of Skye, that's your job, by the way, while I'm gone, list the Churchill Villa and find me a realtor in Scotland…"

       Nancy heard the rumble of the ship's motor, she felt the craft taxi on the runway and she looked out the window and gave a timid smile towards the blue Manitoba sky soaring over the gently swaying palm trees. She looked towards the clouds, whiter than she last remembered, clouds she would soon be interrupting.

       The woman next to her kept on talking, and the timbre and tone of her voice matched all the other passengers on the ship, people with scowling faces talking into headsets or to their partners, the collected voices forming a sort of whining harmony.

       "The Star of Destiny? I go every year, you know, they call it the doorstep of God, but who knows, you never remember what you asked for when you come back. It's just there, like it was part of you even before you left."

       Nancy had given a lot of thought about what she would wish for when she did finally make it to the Star of Destiny. She had won the trip via a lottery. Every year, someone from Lower, Lower Michigan won a trip, all expenses paid, to the Star of Destiny. And once there, one gave a quick and silent and sincere prayer and whatever one prayed for would be granted.

       The thing was, the thing is, the Star of Destiny is as close as one get to God, God can hear prayers clearly from the Star of Destiny, and God never turns anyone away.

       At least that's what Nancy heard.

       And that's what everyone in the world - above and below - believed.

       "So, I'm asking for new kids this time, and a husband, a whole new fucking family. Why? Well Abigail can't dance to save her life and Chandler is soooo freaking weird. What thirteen-year-old boy that you know can't hold a conversation without looking someone in the eye? And he spends HOURS in the shower. So I'm gonna have them replaced. And Bill? Well, you know, his phallic enhancements didn't really do the trick…"

       Sometimes the lottery winners came back and sometimes they didn't. Nancy's family hugged her tightly as they drove her to the elevators. Her mother sobbed in fear and joy. She wanted a better life for her daughter, a life better than the shadowy and dusty toil that would certainly befall a subterranean girl, but she was afraid Nancy might not come back. And her father, he was proud of her, proud of her courage, proud that a girl so young would leave her family so easily; a family she had never spent a night without.

       Nancy wanted to grow up and become a writer. She would ask for talent, maybe, maybe a wealth of ideas that would stay with her until she became an old woman. She would let her writing take her above the ground, and put her in a villa along the Hudson Bay, or maybe the North Sea.

       She told her mother that she would come back, she'd see her soon. She didn't want to leave her family.

       But she didn't want to be a subterranean forever, either.

       The woman next to her was silenced by the ship's thrusters that engaged the moment the craft was airborne. Nancy watched the ground beneath her slip away and soon the blue sky was replaced by blackness and by stars that danced across the window like images of falling snow she had seen on those old movies from a long ago world that seemed so calm and simple.

       She saw the Earth below only briefly, a quick glance above a world she had only known from below.


       The trip to Destiny took about three hours but it felt like forever to Nancy. The people flying with her, they were so rude and miserable, it seemed. They barked commands at the attendants and complained constantly - the drinks weren't blue enough or the seats didn't vibrate hard or gently enough and never in the right places. The whining and complaining wore on Nancy; she had never heard such talk before. The people below didn't care about the color of their drinks and what good is a vibrating chair anyway?

       The ship floated onto Destiny gently, and it was far from a star. It was, it is, more like an asteroid or meteor that enjoys an irregular orbit around the solar system.

       The ship came equipped with a giant dome that shot out of its top and opened up like a transparent circus tent, providing a breathable atmosphere for the passengers of the ship.

       Nancy followed the woman who sat next to her, the woman who did not speak to her once for the entire three-hour trip. Nancy watched the woman deftly walk out of the ship's hatch and onto the smooth and ice-like surface of Destiny, she heard the woman's heels go clack-clack on the blemish free surface.

       The woman, like all the passengers, walked some distance from the ship.

       Nancy followed her, but not too closely.

       The woman looked up into the sky full of stars. Her gaze moved in a furious arch until after a moment, it seemed to settle on a certain cluster of stars.

       Nancy saw it too, a pattern of stars that looked like her mother's face.

       Nancy's mother.

       The woman knelt on the porcelain-like surface of Destiny and bowed her head.

       Nancy turned away and saw the thirty-odd passengers do likewise.

       Nancy followed suit. She still hadn't decided what she would ask for, as Destiny was nothing like she expected. She closed her eyes and thought about all of her wishes. She wanted to be a writer, she wanted to be beautiful but in a more genuine way than the other women on her flight. She wanted to live in a castle in the world above.

       But then she thought of the world above, and if the world above was anything like the people on this trip, well, she wanted nothing to do with it.

       She closed her eyes and said in a voice just barely a whisper:

       "I want to be happy."

       And then she felt a warmness erupt at the base of her stomach and splash across her face, the warmness opening her eyes.

       The image of her mother was gone, gone from the stars, and she couldn't remember seeing anything there to begin with.

       And it was true; she couldn't remember what she asked for. She numbly followed the other passengers back on the ship, passengers already complaining about the trip back home.


copyright 2005 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood:
I have had some non-SF stories appear in Wanderings and Darkervision, and hope to have my first novel "The Trinity" released by Silverthought Press soon.