by Courtenay Schembri Gray

What is life but a series of little deaths? Those impactful, perhaps traumatic moments that take a part of us, all in preparation for our eventual big death—the one we don’t return from. I like to visit mine, from time to time; at the facility on the edge of town. Dad loves to remember his adulthood; the time before—when a firefly was a glowing bug, rather than a moment in your life preserved in a jar.

“So, there were no facilities? You just went about your life… with no knowledge of little deaths?”

“Exactly. The only death we feared was the final one. It was called trauma back then.”

Those poor people. It must have been torturous to suffer without the allowance for future analysis. I have had one of my fireflies under the microscope in the past month—a red moon eclipsing itself. It was born out of a bout of prolonged illness, from which I am still recovering.

The facilities are hooked up to the MEGACOMP, which only authorised personnel can access. None of us know what it looks like—it’s kind of an urban myth in the community. I reckon it can talk; with a mouth and abnormally large eyes. Not knowing is how they keep us in check. All we can do is speculate.

DEDCOM-204 is where my little deaths are stored. I know a guy who works there—Tetra. He lets me hang around when I’m bored. You’re not supposed to eat there, but he sneaks energy bars into my back pocket. Today is cleaning day; I shouldn’t be here.

“Romeda, get your ass behind the counter. You better quit messin’ around, or I’ll get the boot.”

“I’ll tell em’ it was me.”

Tetra grabs a sweeping brush and hands it to me.

“Make yourself useful and sweep your floor. It’s like a goddamn pig sty in there. I didn’t have you down as a dirty girl.”

I flit past a few of the units—alarmed to see grieving families crying over the scorch marks left by the fireflies. Tetra is right, I am woefully unclean. In fairness, I have just been through quite a significant little death. It put me out for two months.

All facility waste gets thrown down a chute—a vacuum of blackness. There are energy bar wrappers everywhere; some are stuffed into holes in the wall. My hologram glitters across the room, holding a clear cylinder housing stars of various colours and shapes colliding. Any recent additions usually flash in a sequence of 5-7-5.

“This is Tetra at DEDCOM-204, would Romeda return to the front entrance please?”

The intercom is needle sharp. Quickly rounding the corner, I see Tetra throwing tomatoes at a group of blubbering people as they hurry out the door—pulp flying everywhere.

“You shouldn’t come here. You weren’t supposed to know!”

“Tetra! What are you doing?”

He gesticulates frenziedly.

“They come ere’ to search for answers, but they’re too late. All of em’ have ascended to MEGACOMP.”

“Tetra, you can’t treat people like that. Imagine if you lost your little sister. Wouldn’t you want to know why?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

I try to rake up the mess with my hands.

“You’ve always been like this.”

“G’wan then, like what?”

“Stubborn. Unfeeling.”

“That ain’t true. I was there for ya’ when your Dad died.”

“That you were, which is why your reaction doesn’t make sense.”

“I mean, you wouldn’t want to find your Dad’s fireflies. Would you?”

I sigh.

“Well, that’s what—”

“No, no, no! I won’t do it.”

“Tetra, please, I’m begging you. I have to know why he did it. He never talked to me, or to mom.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s true what they say; that ignorance is bliss. Let him be.”

An alarm sounds. Tetra takes the broom from my hands and pushes me towards the exit.

“You gotta go, Romeda. You can’t be here.”

“What’s going on? Is it bad?”

He says nothing else. Tetra launches me down the iron staircase, which leads me into the flora nearby. There are long stems and tubular forms—all quite sharp and intrusive. As I blend in with the surroundings, a pack of uniformed guards storm DEDCOM-204. They attach a spherical device to the door. Tetra comes into view; his hands are bound behind his back.

“Ere’, I want an explanation, buddy! Ain’t nothin’ illegal here, just memories.”

They haul Tetra off out of view. The peculiar spherical device appears to vibrate, causing the air to warble as if it is extremely hot. With respect to my safety, I turn and run away from DEDCOM-204. Maybe they will let Tetra go later. Once I am further away, I stop at the café in the middle of town. We’re all eccentric here, but it’s an unspoken fact. Outsiders are the only ones who furrow their brows in confusion when they talk to us.

“Hey, Romeda, did you read today’s DIGIDOC?”

Blethyn, the owner, nods to the DIGI screen in the far corner.

BREAKING NEWS: The Governing Bodies have posed for heavy sanctions to be placed on all Little Death facilities. This decision comes as a surprise to many, who I am sure will be rightfully angry. No comment has been made on this turn of events. Officials stormed DEDCOM-204 this morning in light of supposed misconduct by the staff who work there.

“They’re always messing with our lives, Romeda.”

“But, why? I don’t understand!”

Blethyn shrugs, scrubbing a coffee mug with her hands.

“What will they do to Tetra?”

The DIGIDOC refreshes, bringing more awful news.

All DEDCOM-204 staff will be executed at 12 noon tomorrow. Officials are pleading with the public to help them find a woman who is believed to have been at the facility moments before the raid. There will be a reward for the person/people who bring us closer to capturing her.

“They’re going to kill Tetra! He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

The other customers in the café start whispering. Blethyn whispers in my ear, “You better get out of here.”

Just as I make a run for the door, they rush at me. I expect Blethyn to help, but she disappears into the back room. Three of them carry me over to a table, while another shoves his fist into my mouth. Cowering, I kick as hard as I can. I think I’m hallucinating. Dad is planet hopping; a dozen fireflies swirl around his head.

“It’s ok, darling. I had to go, but you won’t find me. It will be ok, I promise. I just wanted to sleep. Neptune is so blue—like that star cream we tried from that vintage supermarket. We’ll get some when I see you again.”

Through a sandy murk, I see a stark white van with its doors wide open. I am thrown in with little regard for comfort. Someone in a spacesuit watches me as I am driven away. They bounce a ball against the window in a repetitive rhythm as they recite a haiku.

“Give them pearls and they’ll
divide them for themselves. O’
Fathers and their girls.”


Courtenay Schembri Gray is a northern English writer who howls at the moon. She also has a poem in our newest publication!

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