One Way Or Another

There was a knock at the door.

Max jerked his head round and stared at it for a long second, then turned back to the movie. Candy stretched, slowly extending her long legs and arms, like a cat on a sunny windowsill, if a cat were to wear a pink negligee.

“Aren’t you going to get that?” she asked.

“What?”

“The door.”

“There’s no-one there.”

Candy giggled. “But I heard someone. They knocked. Didn’t you hear it?”

“There’s no-one there.” Max continued to stare at the screen. Candy rose and slunk over to his chair. Candy never walked anywhere. She glided, she pranced, she flowed, but to describe it as a walk would be to ignore the overt sexuality of her every movement. She knelt beside him, one arm draped over his shoulders, playing with his hair with her other hand.

“You need a haircut,” she said.

“It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not. It’s getting long. And when did you shave last? Let yourself go, Max and I’ll find someone else. Someone who cares about their appearance.”

Max sighed, eyes still on the movie. “Fine, fine. Tomorrow. I’ll get a shave and a haircut tomorrow. Happy?”

“Always, darling. Who’s at the door?”

“No-one. I told you, there’s no-one there.”

There was a knock at the door.

Max stared at the screen, ignoring it.

“See? There’s someone at the door. Can’t you hear them knocking?”

“It’s just the structure contracting with the cold, that’s all.”

“No, it was someone knocking.” She sat back on her heels. “How long have you been here?”

“Six years.”

“Six years, seven months, fifteen days. And in all that time, have you ever heard it make a noise like someone knocking at the door? Answer the door.”

“I’m watching the movie.”

“You’ve seen this movie a hundred times, Max. You know every word.”

“It’s a good movie.”

“Why won’t you answer the door? What are you afraid of?”

“Nothing.”

“What? Are you scared it’s a Jehovah’s Witness? A travelling salesman? The bailiffs?”

“I’m not scared it’s anybody, because no-one is there, understand?”

“Why do you keep saying that? You can hear the knocking.”

“Because it’s a vacuum outside, all right? There’s nothing out there, not outside the door, not on this moon, not within a billion miles. No-one! No-one’s there because no-one can be. There’s just me, you get it? Just me. Now shut up and let me watch my movie.” He thumbed the remote control, increasing the volume.

“They can’t get in, Max. The inner door of the air-lock is open. You know they can’t open the outer door unless they can cycle the air. Why don’t you just close the inner door?”

Max continued to stare at the screen, his lips syncing in time to the dialogue.

There was a knock, this time at the window. Max angled his chair so that he couldn’t see the glass.

“See? It is someone, Max. Just look at the window, darling. Look, there’s someone there.”

“There can’t be. I told you.”

“But maybe they landed a ship. It’s a vacuum, right? So you wouldn’t hear it land. No sound in a vacuum. Maybe it’s a rescue party.”

“After six years? I was meant to be here for six months.”

“Perhaps there was a problem.”

“For six years? What sort of problem would delay them for six frigging years? ”

Candy leant in close, her lips a fraction from his ear.

“Max, darling. You know I don’t like to see you unhappy. Just look darling. Just see who it is. You can always send them away again. Just look. What harm can that do?”

There was a knock at the window, an insistent tapping. Unable to stop himself, Max glanced at it. Outside, half-hidden in an EVA helmet, an anxious face stared back. The head was enclosed in a tight-fitting skullcap, but the face was unmistakably female.

“Ooh, look,” said Candy, as Max jerked his eyes back to the movie. “It’s another woman. Come on, Max, let her in.”

“Leave me alone.”

“But it’s a woman, Max. Maybe we could have some fun. You’re getting bored of me. Don’t bother to deny it, you know I can tell. In a few weeks you’ll get rid of me. Maybe she’ll agree to a threesome. What do you say? We can take turns, me on top and her down below, then swap over. Yes? You’d like that. You always did.”

“Shut up.”

“But why not? Come on. Have a bit of fun.”

“No.”

Candy stood up, a pout on her face. “Why not?”

“Because she’s not real, okay?” screamed Max suddenly. “She’s not there. I’m hallucinating.”

“How do you know?”

“Because she’s not! If they were going to rescue me, they’d have done it years ago. You think they care about the instrument readings you make me take every day? You think they care about me? You think they even remember me? She’s just a figment of my imagination. She’s just a projection of what I really want.” Max turned from Candy, grinding the heel of his hand into his eyes. “Just like you,” he added.

“Stop it, Max. You’re scaring me.”

“It’s true. How did you get here, Candy? Where did Lola go before you? What would a stripper be doing on a science mission?” He stood and whirled towards the face at the window. “Shut up! Just shut up!” The woman stopped tapping, startled. Max turned back to Candy.

“I made you up, okay. I made you up, and Lola before you, because I’m here all alone, I mean, more alone than any human being has ever been. You know what that’s like? You know what it’s like to know that you’ll spend the next forty years without ever speaking to another person, never feel another touch, knowing the worst sex you ever had is better than anything you’ll ever experience again? You know what that does to a person? Six months, yeah, someone can cope with that, knowing that he’s going to be relieved, but for the rest of his life? A man would kill himself rather than face that alone. That’s why you’re here, you understand that? I keep the place running, record the data, shower and shave, keep alive because you make me. That’s how I keep sane, okay? I keep sane by having an hallucination as company.” He started weeping. “In order to keep sane I had to go mad. What does that say about me? What sort of twisted, sad individual does that make me?”

“Hush, Max. Hush.” She reached out and Max allowed her to hold him gently as he wept. “You’ve been such a good boy, such a strong man. And now it’s over, see? Now it’s over and they’ve come to rescue you. Now you’ll be able to talk to real people. And I’ll still be there, in your dreams at night. It’ll be fine. Just answer the door, my brave, strong lover.”

“No.” Max stepped back, wiping his nose with his sleeve. “No, I can’t.”

“Why not, Max? I don’t mind. Real friends are better than imaginary ones.”

“But there’s no-one there,” said Max. “She’s just another hallucination.”

“If she’s an hallucination, how come she’s outside, Max?” said Candy quietly. “How come she’s not already in the bedroom with us?”

Max shrugged and turned his back on both Candy and the window. “Because,” he said quietly.

“Make her come in, Max, if she’s not real.”

“She won’t,” said Max. “That’s the whole point, don’t you see? I’m tired. I’ve had enough. If you weren’t here, I’d be dead within a day. I don’t want to carry on anymore. I don’t want to be alone, I don’t want to spend an eternity doing the same pointless things to survive day after day. I don’t want you, or Lola, or any other imaginary friends. I just want it to end.”

“So let her in, Max.” Candy’s voice sounded distant. “She’s come to rescue you, so you won’t need to be alone.”

“Yeah, let her in. Let her in and persuade me to take a walk outside to her ship. And when I get there I can take my helmet off and this whole thing will be over. Is that what you want, Candy? Well, is it?” He turned. The cabin was empty. The other woman was still at the window, though, staring at him intensely.

“So, it’s over then?” he asked her, knowing she couldn’t hear him. “One way or the other.” And he turned towards the airlock door.

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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