#$#$#$: How to Fake a Moon Landing, v. 4.0 :$#$#$#
By Mike Meginnis and Christopher Newgent
m: You sit in the cockpit of the fiberglass rocket at the center of Death Valley, strapped into a chair. You knew that the spacesuit would be hot, but this is ridiculous: it feels like you might die. Various LEDs and digital displays signifying nothing blink in a pattern that was briefly fascinating; now you have it memorized, in all its eccentricity; now it is boring. There are no windows in the fiberglass rocket. There are several tools on a tray beside you: hedge trimmers, a hand-held fan, a handgun, a pair of gardening gloves. The camera crew reminds you to pretend that you can't see the camera crew. You can leave the rocket by climbing down the ladder in the cockpit's center.
c: Am I wearing my helmet?
m: It hangs on a hook on the wall. (The director, reminding you before and after speaking to pretend he isn't there, congratulates you on your attention to detail.)
c: I put on the helmet, make a show of securing all the fasteners. I want to put on a good show most of all. See how I grab the gun, how I go to the ladder and climb down.
m: Several more cameras watch your descent. Of course they can only use one angle in the final product, but that doesn't mean they can't try several out. You pause at the ladder's center to say the words you planned and practiced, the words that children will memorize, the words they will play on every television, every radio, in the country:
c: "There are places we were never meant to go."
m: The caterers and the lighting men and the mic operators and the animal trainers and the key grips and the best boys and the gaffers give you their most thunderous applause.
c: I close the hatch behind me, look around.
m: The Other Astronaut is already on the Death Valley moonscape, very slowly skipping around the desert as if underwater (or, more to the point, on the moon). You have never seen the Other Astronaut without its opaquely visored helmet. You have never really heard its voice (only grunts, muffled by said visor, and chewing sounds between). It was promised that you would be the first man on the moon, so his presence on the ground is very upsetting. It was supposed to be you. To the east, the caterers lay out bagels, shmears, donuts, finger sandwiches, cocktail weenies, coffee, orange juice, bottled and mineral waters, soda, tequila, and various pills. The fiberglass rocket towers to the west. North is Death Valley. South is Death Valley, and several dozen people you've been ordered to ignore.
c: I go to the Other Astronaut. I look where it is looking.
m: The Other Astronaut, now that it sees you (or seems to see you), stares at you directly, dead on. (Or seems to.) Its arms hang limp at its side, like the arms of a child stunned by a camera. It might be breathing.
c: I will not be swayed. It has already taken First on the Moon from me. I will look where I want to look. I look at myself in its visored mirror of a face. I want to strangle it, but the suits are too thick, I know.
m: The Other Astronaut appears perfectly willing to stare back at you forever. Perhaps it sees its visor in your visor. Or it may see your human eyes. It rocks slowly backward and forward on its feet, rising and falling very slightly, as if to simulate floating, or perhaps some unknown property of the moon's gravity.
c: I point the gun at its belly. I say, "You've taken everything from me."
m: The crew, the caterers, the gaffers, etc., gasp collectively. They should have known what would happen. You see, in the Other Astronaut's visor, a vision of the Other Astronaut with your wife. In the vision, it stands in profile. As your wife approaches, also in profile, the visor retracts upward and into the helmet, revealing not a face but an absence where the face should be: like a crater's deepest shadow. Your wife puts her head inside the absence and rubs the Other Astronaut's back and arms, grasps his gloved hands. She lifts one foot off the ground. It might be your imagination. It might be a memory. Still, there is the sight of her hair flaring out on the back of her neck from the pinch of the visor as it lowers back down, as if to devour her.
c: I raise the gun to the memory in the mirrored visor. I pull the trigger.
m: The Other Astronaut accepts the bullet like an insult; its body shudders, the visor cracks into a spider's web of injured glass, but there is only black behind it. The bullet does not exit through the back of the helmet. The Other Astronaut seems fine. Your audience (the crew and caterers, etc.) applauds.
c: I crawl into the black behind the bullet hole. I become the Other Astronaut so I can feel the touch of my wife in the absence of my face, the touch of my wife against my back and arms. I miss the touch of my wife. I walk as the Other Astronaut, south, into Death Valley, which is also the moon.
m: Your empty spacesuit stands where you left it, in the shape of a man in a spacesuit. It casts a long, dark shadow. The director and the cameramen and the boom mic operator and all the rest follow you into the Death Valley moonscape, pointing out inconsistencies as you go: "Of course it is all the wrong color, but we'll take care of that by shooting it in black and white, so no one will know the difference. The clouds are wrong, too. The moon doesn't have clouds. And the sun wouldn't really look like that on the moon but no one will probably notice. And where is the Earth in that sky? We need someone to go over the horizon and hang a globe off of a fishing rod. Who wants to do that? But the biggest problem is all these little weeds and cacti." There are, indeed, too many weeds and little cacti. No one will believe it.
c: I fear for a minute that I should have brought the hedge clippers instead of the gun, but ultimately decide the director can take care of it. I walk farther into Death Valley.
m: Your shadow grows longer with each step. The director and the crew attempt to pull the weeds as you walk, falling steadily behind you, until it is only one camera man and the man with the boom mic that follow you, and these men at some distance, the boom far too far to hear you, the camera watching you from very far away, so that you are very small. Someone over the horizon is dangling the Earth sphere from the fishing rod, but even from here, you can see the line.
c: This is far enough. I crawl out of the Other Astronaut. I stand in its shadow to protect my naked body from the Death Valley sun.
m: The Other Astronaut regards your body as if it were an overripe banana burst by the sun.
c: "I am leaving you here."
m: The Other Astronaut grunts, chews, swallows. Either it is asking you if you even care about the mission anymore or your guilt makes you believe it is.
c: "What is our mission?"
m: The Other Astronaut audibly licks its lips and belches. You think this means something like, "To make them believe that we went."
c: "There are places we were never meant to go."
m: It coughs in a way that might mean, "That's why we aren't really." It produces a small American flag from one of its suit's pouches and waves the flag slowly back and forth. The fabric seems stiff, over-starched.
c: "Put it there," I say. I point at the ground. I think of camera angles. I think, The cameraman should be able to get a great shot with the flag in the foreground and the Earth globe to scale in the background. I think of depth of field. I look back to the cameraman and director and boom mic operator.
m: The director is still pulling cacti from the sand. This one's on you. The Other Astronaut does as you say, and the crew looks to you for instruction. They want to know who will stand beside the flag, and how.
c: I stand in the Other Astronaut’s lengthening shadow. I feel very small. Am I small enough to stand by the flag?
m: You can be if you want to. But you have to remember all your worst memories -- all the things that made you feel forgotten, neglected, unwanted, alone.
c: I turn back to the Other Astronaut. I look back into its shattered visor. There is the memory again, but it is fragmented into all the pieces of shattered visor. I remember everything one hundred times.
m: Tell the camera.
c: "I remember everything one hundred times."
m: You are very small, very naked, very alone. Even the flag seems to tower over you, though it is really your height. The sun is setting. The globe bobs on its fishing line. The Other Astronaut's boot is dangerously close. The boom mic blots out the sky and reveals it all again as it bobs above your head like a threat.
c: I stand next to the flag, look into the camera. I do not care that I am naked. I do not care that people will look at me and say, "If they were on the moon, his skin would be boiling." I do not care that people will not believe the director's story. I do not care about the mission. I stand next to the flag.
Bio: Christopher Newgent lives in Indianapolis, where he founded Vouched Books to promote small press literature in his city. His first chapbook, The Fullness of Everything, just released from Tiny Hardcore Press.