It’s a warm Sunday night in early October, and my best friend Brownie and I sit high up in the bleachers next to a small baseball field. Behind us is a large parking lot, attached to our town’s only shopping mall.
“I can’t believe you’re considering it,” I say.
“Why not?” Brownie takes a swig from a serpentine blue bottle hidden inside a paper bag. He doesn’t look at me. “It’s a way out of here. A better one than most. I thought you wanted out, too.”
Brownie became Brownie in ninth grade, when he used the skills acquired in Home Economics to whip up a pan of pot brownies with a stash of weed he’d stolen from his brother. He brought them to school the next day and made everyone high at lunch. The incident almost got him expelled, but he was surprisingly unenthused when it didn’t. He has been Brownie ever since, and the gears in Brownie’s head are always turning.
“I do want out, but we’re graduating this year,” I say. “I know June seems far away, but it’s really not. Just be patient.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’ll probably have a fancy college to look forward to. I’ve got shit.” He takes a couple of sips.
“It’s too early to know if I’m going to college,” I say. The truth is, I’m near the top of my class and will probably be accepted somewhere. Whether I will attend is another matter. “You know my parents can’t afford it if I don’t get enough scholarships. But you could come with me. We could live together. You could get a job, and even take a class or two if you want. I hear tuition isn’t too bad if it’s just a class or two at a time.”
“I’ve had all the learning I can take, thank you very much,” Brownie says. “No college classes for dummies like me.”
“Don’t say that.” I reach out and pat his shoulder. “You’re the smartest kid I know. Way smarter than anyone else at our school. Way smarter than me, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, well, whatever.” He shoots me a quick glance with the slightest hint of appreciation. “Any smarts I might have still aren’t enough to get me out of this shithole.” He looks down at the shimmering drink peeking from his paper bag.
“Dude, you don’t know that,” I say. “You’re young. You could move anywhere, do anything.”
“With what money, dumbass?” he yells, the vein on his forehead popping. Brownie has worked after school and on weekends ever since he was legally able to, at age fourteen. He’s eighteen now, but I know he has very little saved, because his folks always need help with this or that. Or at least they claim they do.
I don’t say anything. There is no discussing things with him when he gets angry like this. I just focus on my own bottle, tracing the opening with my finger.
Brownie turns around in his seat, toward the mall. His face is now illuminated by a bright blue light that’s coming from the mall’s parking lot. I can see him relax in the cool glow.
“So you’re seriously thinking about it?”
“Yeah,” he says.
“In other words, you’ve already decided to do it and there’s nothing I can do to change your mind.”
He smiles and nods. “Pretty much.”
I glance over my shoulder at the mall. The parking lot is taken up by a large oval spacecraft, one of a few hundred that have descended all over the world in the past several months. I’m not sure what made them choose our backwater little town as a recruitment spot, but they have. Something about good-quality water and soil, and people being healthy. I wish I’d paid more attention to the news when they first landed on Earth.
“You know this is insane,” I say.
“Why?” Brownie finally turns to face me. “Why is it insane? My folks will be set for life. My dipshit brother, too. They’ll want for nothing.”
“There are other ways to take care of your family, Brownie,” I plead. “You don’t have to do this.”
They want volunteers, all youths between twelve and twenty-two. The volunteers will be analyzed and bred on the new world. They will live like kings, the ads say, but they will never come back.
Brownie’s eyes focus on the cobalt-blue spaceship humming in the parking lot.
“Well, you certainly chose one hell of a way to get out of finishing high school,” I say.
Brownie grins ear to ear. “Maybe they should’ve expelled me when they had the chance.”
“I will miss you, dumbass.” I grab and squeeze his shoulder.
“We can write to each other, you know,” he says, as if we both didn’t know that would never happen. It wouldn’t happen even if the distance between us weren’t about to be measured in light years.
“It’s going to be a great adventure,” I say, and raise my root beer in his honor.
Brownie nods and smiles, but his eyes are glistening, wet. He says nothing as he extends his arm and clinks his winding blue bottle against my stubby brown one.
Then he turns back toward the glow coming from the spacecraft, and downs his otherworldly ale in a few large, desperate gulps.
Biography: Maura Yzmore is a Midwest-based author of short fiction, often dark and speculative. Her flash can be found in Flash Fiction Online, Bending Genres, trampset, and elsewhere. She also writes angsty romance as Fiona Embers, with a debut novel forthcoming from Evernight Publishing. Find out more at maurayzmore.com or come say hi @MauraYzmore on Twitter, Bluesky, or Instagram.