Lit Up
Published in

Lit Up



The front door of the Sharp house opens and Shelly steps into the foyer. A column of dust illuminated by the late yellow light sneaking through a nearby window greets her. You can tell by the expecting look in her eye that she knows no one else is home, but she calls out anyway.

The dust swirls around Shelly, and no one answers. She drops her book bag on a bench beside the door and starts up the stairs, which creak loudly in the quiet house.

Shelly seems anxious, like she’s afraid of startling a ghost. She steps into her own room and pauses to look at her phone before turning back into the upstairs hall. Pictures of Dirk and her, taken years ago by a photographer in Bedford during a long-forgotten spring break, watch her from the pale blue wall. She walks to Dirk’s closed door and hesitates before opening it.

Dirk’s room is sanctimoniously empty. You can see the lingering traces their mother left in her last attempt to clean it: a stack of old shirts at the end of the bed, a baseball bat leaned in a corner. It almost feels transgressive when Shelly enters.

Shelly does not pause to look at anything, turn a pillow over, or sit in Dirk’s old chair. She has a purpose. She steps over to Leo’s computer, which has started to collect dust on Dirk’s desk. Carefully, so as not to expose the computer to anything but 120V, she bends under the desk and plugs the power cord in.

The computer starts with a whoosh of the fans. Shelly hits her head on the underside of the desk and then manages to scramble to her knees, where she stares at the computer.

A tense moment passes. The fans die down to a low hum, but the computer seems broken. Then the power ring blinks green and red. It blinks once, twice, three times in some sort of pattern, maybe a message.

(leaning towards the
glowing ring)

So then, you’ve been in there this whole time, right?



For a moment, while the rocket shakes under the exertion of its own supreme effort, Gus is shocked to silence. The two astronauts sitting behind him, ED and ROGER, also pause their button pushing and lever pulling to stare out the window.

A bloom of fire frames the window, turning it into a stained glass masterpiece through which can be seen the astronauts’ final destination. There, swirling in the void, is a malevolent vortex of God-spun cotton candy: the heart of the storm. The clouds approaching the spiral change from white, to pink, to red, and to maroon, which bleeds into black-hole black, inviting them to enter its unknowable depths.

(turning back to pull a
lever and breaking the
storm’s unholy spell)

Hey Gus, you sure ‘bout this?


It’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?

Gus taps the glass of a random sensor to distract himself. Still, he can’t stop from glancing up at the swirl of clouds.


So what you’re telling me

is that that Witch of Coos

that woke us up — that this

is what she had in mind

to go and get us up for?


That’s right.


That’s hogwash.

(giving up on the lever
and turning back to the
glowing window)

It’s duty.

Gus stops messing with the instruments. He turns around to face Ed and Roger with an infectious, but somehow sad, smile.


It’s an adventure.

All three astronauts turn to face the window and the swirling clouds, which take up nearly all their view now. The black eye of the storm stares back menacingly.



The rocket, for all its fire and explosive thrust, soars silently upward towards the clouds. Different sections of it break apart and drift downward as it fast-forwards through its various stages. After breaking free, the rocket engine drifts down slowly in mock weightlessness towards a diamond of light on the earth that you can almost imagine is Mitchell.

At last, only the conical Apollo command module is left. It lingers for a moment indecisively in the atmosphere, and then it explodes forward with an otherworldly interior fire all its own. It meteors across the sky and disappears into the darkest clouds at the center of the swirling mass, above which, where the clouds break, where lies only emptiness and pinpoint stars, the module does not pass.



The plane rattles over a rough patch of turbulence, shaking Dirk awake. He winks and looks around the lush interior of the private jet with half-open eyes.

(composing himself)

Where are we at?

Jason, who sits across from Dirk in a luxurious red chair and sips champagne from a crystal flute, bends to look out a window.


Somewhere over

open ocean.

Dirk twists his face as he thinks quickly.


So how are you involved?

I mean, how did you get to be so…like…?


I was never not involved,

see. I’ve been involved since the

beginning of it all.

Dirk leans his chair up into a sitting position and says nothing, but the way he runs his hand through his hair clearly suggests that he wants to know more.


And you

know, I’ve changed a lot since we were

back in school, when I was Jason

Jack, the budding student.

Dirk twists his face up again.

(after untying his
knotted eyebrows)

Well…where are we going?


Somewhere with a

landing strip, hopefully.

Dirk takes a look out the window himself before settling back, somewhat confused. He opens his mouth to speak, but then an alarm sounds. A light flashes on the plane. Crewmembers run past Dirk and Jason towards the cabin. Jason gives them no attention. As the plan banks into a sharp turn, he manages to take a sip of champagne without spilling a single drop. Dirk, meanwhile, jumps to the window.

(perhaps urgently asking
himself for reassurance)

What’s that?



The plane rattles, and Dirk pulls his pale face away from the window, which is suddenly covered in dark smoke, to stare at Jason.

(in shock, falling into
his chair and holding onto
the armrests for dear,
sweet, reluctant life)

I think that was a missle…or something…

it kind of looked like an old rocket ship…

(forcefully calming)

It’s a nothing.

Dirk only squeezes the armrests tighter, until his knuckles turn white and his nails turn purple.


Everything’s a

nothing now, until it’s not. When

you’re with me, that’s how it is, but

when you’re on your own, you’ll have to

come up with your own story.

Dirk glances back at the smoke-filled window. He winces when the plane rattles and starts to descend.

(smiling at his own
unsubtle abusiveness)

Luckily we were passing by a

Neverland resort.


…and that’s good, right?

Dirk leans forward to look out the window. The smoke clears somewhat, and as the plane descends through the clouds, a tropical island and blue lagoon become visible.


Coming Soon

Missed MitcHELL the first time around? Read or reread the first half of the story here:



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Cole Hardman

Cole Hardman


I’m an engineer with a passion for poetry and literary theory.