The Man in the Pillbox Hat
by Mjke Wood
Owen laid the mobile phone back onto the smooth, yellow tree stump that served
as his table. It had a full charge and three bars of signal. The only reason it wasn't
ringing was because nobody was calling him. He didn't want it to ring, but until it
did that knotted rope of anxiety that coiled in the pit of his stomach would only
He was being stupid. He should have gone to meet Carol. He should be standing to
attention, now, on the pitching deck of the USS John F Kennedy, the token male
amongst the dutiful and obedient Astronaut Wives Club. He had chosen, instead,
the company of his sheep and his goats on his hill farm overlooking Coniston
Water. He had chosen to stay in a place where there was no TV and where the only
mobile phone reception was up here, on top of the small hill behind his farmhouse.
He loved this exposed position and soon the rain would come, Owen could smell it
in the breeze. He had no shelter and he didn't care. He had the rough bench that he
had fashioned as a boy with his own hands; he had the tree stump table his father
had crafted; he had mobile phone reception, of sorts; and he had the finest view in
all England. What more could he ask?
Well, he could ask for the safe return of Carol, his wife. Carol Dawson, the first
woman -- the first person -- ever to set a footprint on Mars.
He could ask. Part of him wondered, though. It was a nasty, selfish dark side that
Owen hated and that he tried to lock away and subdue. But the creature was there,
cajoling, asking the question: Do you really want her back? Really?
Because she had changed. How could it be otherwise? She had been to Mars.
And these thoughts had nothing to do with choice. A safe return was not a
foregone conclusion, it never had been. But now? Well there were problems. The
heat shield: the press were giving the crew fifty-fifty. Hell, fifty-fifty had been
good odds at one time, in the space game.
Two things could happen: Carol Dawson and her fellow astronauts might soon be
Or they might be ash.
And one way or the other the phone would ring.