She absently digs beneath a fingernail at the red dirt. It stains everything. Even if she were able to wash every speck of oxidized dust from her body, her traitor skin would still harbor the mark of living on this Godforsaken rock. Discolored palms, blemished nail beds, a reddish-orange mottle like faded blood splashes across her body. It gets into the pores, and no amount of scrubbing can take it away.

She squints out the window. Her reflection warps in the clear, industrial plastic keeping in the air. The temporary shelter distorts her face and accentuates the dark bags that cling to her eyes. Her tight lips are drawn down by the exhaustion and stress that threaten to overtake her. She barley hears the muffled sounds of desperation behind her.

She can’t look at herself; forces herself to focus on the damnable panorama that reaches into the dawn. Red, like the stained husk wavering in the reflection.

She once thought of these craggy rocks as a blank slate, a place of great promise and glory. The mission was to give birth to greatness here, but something was waiting for them in the dust whipping through this planet’s thin atmosphere. She knows now, but it’s too late.

She rips herself away from the window, craning around to face the consequence of naivety. Her green eyes bulge with adrenaline that slashes through her veins. The whites of her eyes are light pink and glimmering with tears. They sting from the microscopic dust specks that tattoo them. Her hand shakes, gripped tightly around the bright yellow handle of a utility knife. Its razor sharp blade flashes in the worklight shining from above.

They stare back at her from the floor, bodies quivering. It’s like they know how fear should look, but they can’t quite wear it right — as if something essential was lost when they tried to fashion it. She cringes inwardly, biting back terror as it tries to claw its way out of her throat.

The one impersonating the Commander groans beneath duct tape wrapped tightly around his mouth. She’s gagged them all; couldn’t listen to their lies anymore. One of them is crying, another tries speaking around the makeshift muzzle. They wear her colleague’s faces, trying to confuse her. She’s sure they’re attempting to wiggle an ankle from the duct tape or unbind a hand from behind a back. She can’t wait any longer.

Kathy turns back to the window. Her stomach seesaws with burning sick and her mouth goes dry, leaving microscopic clots of grit behind. Her heart’s relentless thumping vibrates her entire body. She feels like she might shatter.

She plunges the knife through the temporary plastic. It takes all her strength to push the tip through the protective skin, gashing a long slit, exposing the swirling, pulsing claret dust beyond. The writhing heap of imposters behind her screams and thrashes. Atmosphere hisses away as it’s sucked through the hole’s greedy mouth. It gobbles up their air, slurping like a criminal long starved for gruel.

It won’t be long now.

Horror, thriller, sci-fi … all are synonymous with author M. F. Wahl. Dark plots and a keen focus on character development will keep you chained to each frightful word. Wahl is a proud member of the Horror Writer’s Association and her first novel “Disease” is will be released by Stitched Smile sometime next year. Visit http://mfwahl.com/ for more information, or to get on the mailing list. You can also find Wahl on Facebook and Twitter.


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