Today’s writing prompt comes from Writing Without the Muse: 50 Beginning Exercises for the Creative Writer by Beth Baruch Joselow.
Imagine yourself on a journey to a place you have never visited before. There are so many __________. And the quality of the __________ is amazing! You’ve never seen anything that looked like the __________. This is a place to write home about. Write a letter to someone you like, telling her all about your surroundings.
I know things have been difficult between us in the past, but if you’re reading this, that means you read the envelope, saw who was writing, and put everything that happened between us aside for a moment. I hope that’s the case, otherwise these are just empty words, no more meaningful than if I called them out across these frigid plains.
I’m in the war now, you know. Of course you know, the envelope should have been delivered by some military courier. Is it strange to get a letter written on paper? Back home, paper is such a commodity, I never would have guessed I’d be scribbling on some now. But we’re too far out to send any messages across the relays. Besides, a video log might shock you – to see how young I look. Even at Near Light Travel, everyone back home has probably aged a good number of years.
I can’t fathom how long it’s been, but we haven’t gotten any mail. The trips are too expensive. I won’t be getting any mail for at least another year or so. And who knows how long it’ll take for this letter to reach you. That’s why I’m sending it to you. I don’t know whether or not my parents are even alive. Tell them I’m sorry, would you? I mean, if they are still around. And that I love them.
I just wanted someone to talk to, someone I hoped would listen. This place… it’s like that ancient story we all read back in college. Like the deepest level of hell, a frozen lake where the worst sinners are sent. Except the devil isn’t the one that’s holding us for all eternity, it’s the planet itself.
They say we’re fighting for something here. Resources, maybe. But I can’t understand it. There’s nothing here. The windows are too thick, and even if they weren’t, they’d be too caked with ice and snow to see anything. But when we bulk up and slide into our heat suits, I can see the wasteland we’re fighting against. I can’t believe these things can survive out here. It doesn’t seem natural, it doesn’t seem right, that something with a heart and a brain could function in this place.
The wind is almost too severe to stand upright at times. We have to carry cables with us, creating a path that inches forward through the blizzard day by day. But that wind, it makes for some wild skies. Do you ever use that painting pallet? Who knows, there could be better programs out now, but I remember the landscapes you created. You always made such wonderful clouds. It’s a small detail, but they always looked as if they might float right off the screen. I can barely describe the sky to you. It’s possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve seen. The sun in this system is a supernova and flashes brilliant emerald greens against the whiplashed clouds. It moves like a dancer, it’s hard to take your eyes off.
The ground is much less forgiving on the eyes… and the body. The snow is too white – it’s blinding. The mountains shoot out from the land like spears: sheer cliff faces, walls of solid ice, flats made up of razor-like crystals that will tear through any protective gear. We lost a man a few days back. He slipped into a valley and skidded down the slope, each turn tearing into his suit and flesh. The valley was slick with blood, but it wasn’t long before it was slick with red ice. We didn’t dare chisel him from that place. It’s his tomb now.
I think this may be the fate of each of us. If the land does not kill us, these creatures will. The weapons the military has given us, each one requires weeks of training to use. To this day, I cannot understand what makes each machine work and how it intends to murder whatever is in its path of trajectory. Even holding those gargantuan things does not bring me comfort. I remember when my dad taught me to shoot with his rifle. That was a fond memory. But there is nothing fond here. The creatures move with a swiftness that is beyond understanding. Our shots are targeted at shadows that some of us only pretend to see so as to not go mad in the stewing tension. We’ve seen what those things can to a man.
I don’t want you to fear for me. In fact, maybe that’s probably asking for too much. If you’ve read my letter, that’s enough. This is my life. This world of endless white noise and feigned shadows. If this is hell like that of that story, then it is an accurate one. A hell fit for betrayers.
I may die here. And even if I ever return, you may grow old and die long before I do. It is a hell like no other. I don’t want your sympathy, Coral. I just want you to know that I will always regret what happened between us. Maybe this is my payment.