Author’s note: According to Sandra Boynton, today is Science Fiction Day. I decided to try and write a sneaky science fiction story that isn’t really very scientific, but at any rate it’s fiction. All persons trying to find a moral in it will be drug out into space and zapped.
“Are we going to Polaris?” asked the old woman across the aisle.
“Yes,” I said. “Polaris is the last stop.”
Why anyone would want to get off the bus on Polaris Parkway, I didn’t know. There’s not even a sidewalk there, just one little island of pavement and an ash tray. You have to risk life and limb crossing a four-lane street to get off the island and into the strip mall; even then, it would take five minutes to walk across the parking lot.
“Polaris is a hole in the sky,” said the woman next to me.
This woman was new. She was middle aged with mousy hair, each strand a different shade of gray-brown. The beginnings of smile lines were forming around her mouth and eyes. She wore a tan knee-length dress so plain and unadorned it could have gone without notice at any time in the past fifty years. Everything about her could have gone without notice– so much so that it was unnerving, like talking to the seat behind her instead of to a human being.
The old woman was still looking at me, with a smile I didn’t quite like. Hers was one of the faces I’d seen every few days on the bus this summer. She never seemed to remember what route she was taking, or where the stops were. Her skin was creased like desert soil, or the skin of a walrus; the color was so ambiguous she could have been any race. But her eyes were light blue.
“Why are you going to Polaris?” I asked.
“Polaris is a hole in the sky,” repeated the strange woman.
Something about that statement sounded familiar to me. I glanced back at the old woman, who was staring at her toes– she wore black, peep-toed shoes and ugly gray stockings. Her dress was brown with little white polka dots– the stereotypical picture of a frumpy old woman’s dress, from any time in the past fifty years. I wondered who had picked it out for her. Her hands were disfigured, arthritic knobs; she couldn’t have dressed herself.
“Are you going to Polaris with us?” the middle-aged woman asked.“No,” I said.
“Not today,” said the old woman.
I looked out the window– sheets of rain were falling, drenching the smudged glass in river after oily river. I could barely see beyond it. Somewhere out there were two lanes of gray road with red tail lights passing us, and a gray median strip; then two lanes of gray road with white headlights approaching us impossibly fast. The cars that passed were somewhat visible through the water, but the cars on the far side were only headlights and a barely perceptible whir.
“You know,” I said, remembering. “I think I read about that once. I had a book of fairy tales from different countries… there were notes in the back. It said that several Native American tribes believed that there were many different worlds, in layers one on top of another, and the sky of one world was the ground of the next. There were worlds below the earth, and their sky was our ground. And there was a world above us where our sky was their ground. The way to get up to the sky world, was to go through Polaris. Polaris was a hole in the sky.”
“They aren’t wrong,” said the middle-aged woman.
I tried to look at her again, but her very ordinariness was so uncanny that I couldn’t.
I’d slept heavily for a couple of nights now, but it wasn’t enough. There was no way to get as much sleep as I needed. Nothing made me feel awake. My whole body felt different—I’d known that it would, of course, but this was worse than I’d thought. It wasn’t at all as if there was a body growing inside of me. The sensation was closer to being inside someone else’s body: a person with an annoyingly keen sense of smell, and who gagged at my favorite foods. Her sense of touch was stronger than mine. Tags and buttons put her in agony. She couldn’t stand the feeling of pajamas rubbing against bedsheets.
And, despite the lack of appetite, she was getting thick around the middle.
In this state, I wasn’t capable of judging whether anything was unusual or not. It could be that what the woman was saying was perfectly normal, and I was the one who was confused.
“Polaris is the last stop.” The woman’s voice was like her appearance—impossibly ordinary, commonplace to the point of being forgettable, soft as the poems that ran through my mind when I didn’t have time to jot them down. “If we could get to Polaris, we could go outside. Really. We could go outside for the very first time. You’ve never been outside in your life, you see. You think you have, but you haven’t. The sky is a lid they threw on top of us. It goes bright blue when the sun shines, and we call that a nice day because we think we can see so well. But we see so much more when it’s dark.”
The woman was holding my hand now. I didn’t realize she’d done that. Her touch was unremarkable as anything else about her.
I was glad she hadn’t reached to grab my stomach. I was dreading the day that would begin.