‘I’m gonna get away from this place some day, you know.’
A teenage boy looked up into the sky and said the words countless teens in countless sleepy little towns have said and thought, probably since the beginning of time. And just as everyone before him had and everyone after him would, he meant it with all his heart, knew without the hint of a doubt that he’d go to exotic places and do important things. He was fifteen, after all, and sure of a great many things.
His youthful outlook didn’t extend to his appearance’ he didn’t have a man’s figure and was still having problems growing a mustache’ he just looked tired. His hair was baked and dusty, his skin was tanned, already beginning to wrinkle, droop, and grow leathery. He had all of the beauty of a blown-out tire on the side of a road. Everything about him looked worn and used. From a distance, he might have been an old man, he carried himself such.
His friend sat on the ground under the shade of a rare tree as the dust from the almost barren landscape whipped by the both of them and stung the little flesh that they left exposed, but neither gave any notice to it. The friend uncorked the large, squat bottle he’d brought with him but waited to drink from it
“God bless ya’, Justin, you was born on this planet the son of a farmer, yo’ father was born on this planet the son of farmer. His father was born and died on this planet the son of a farmer, same as his father before him, same as every damn body far back as anybody can remember. An’ I say planet, but that’s just bein’ generous. You know ain’t none of ’em left this goddamn county, neither. You’s is gonna’ be a farmer just as they is. It’s best just to a’cept it now. Ain’t such a bad life, anyhow, that you got to go on and on about how ‘you’s is gonna’ run far, far away,'” he mocked in a falsetto, “like you always does.”
The friend took a swig of some vile brew that didn’t do much in the way thirst or taste, but helped lower his inhibitions and raise his blood alcohol level, as was his intention. He was also fifteen, but muscular and ruggedly handsome, possessing all the pleasurable attributes of youth. He was already shaving, something which irritated the other boy to no end, and had a disarming smile that came easily, making him well liked almost without exception. He was attractive in manner, more so than appearance, and able to get the favorable attention of women almost twice his age, though the results of this attention led to rumors the boy never acknowledged or discredited.
Justin scowled, an expression that made him look even older and more unattractive, but didn’t look at his friend in the eye. Instead, he preferred to watch the rocket that traced its way up the sky, off above the horizon. He imagined himself in one of them, leaving to go away from this place and touring the entire galaxy, from one end to the other—but his friend kept talking.
“An then you’s is gonna’ get a girl pregnant, prob’ly marry her, have a couple of kids yo’self. You’s is gonna’ have a son that’ll grow up to be a farmer, and a daughter that’ll grow up to get pregnant by and marry a farmer. Then you’s is gonna’ die here. But this ain’t so bad a place to live or to die. They’s is worse places out there, you know.”
Finally Justin gave up his delightful reverie, conceding that for the time being it was ruined.
“No, I don’t know, Dylan. That’s just the point,” he said, turning back around, “I ain’t never been further than twenty kilometers from my own damn house. I come to town with my old man to pick somethin’ up and then I go back and help ‘im on the farm. I don’t wanna’ spend my whole life just goin’ back and forth. I don’t wanna’ spend my life workin’ like a dog just to scrape out a livin’ on some backward planet, in some backward quadrant an’ end up just another broken down old geezer with nothin’ to show for it.”
“Hell boy, ain’t nobody wanna’ do that,” Dylan agreed as he downed another mouthful, “If I had my choice, I’d marry some rich little thing in the Central Planets and have all my cares taken care of till she kicked the bucket an’ I could take the rest of her credits for my own self. But that ain’t gonna’ happen, now is it? As it be, our fates is sealed. But they ain’t bad fates. I hear o’er in the North Quadrant the damned trolls be bombin’ they’s own cities for no reason. Hell, total war is goin’ on on some planets, pirates is razing cities to the ground, people killin’ one ‘nother over land and resources. Now tell me, who in they right mind is gonna’ come out here? People have trouble makin’ enough to feed themselves. There ain’t shit worth takin’. We’s is secure. We’s is secure, you fucker, an’ I’ll take security and boredom over ‘citement and danger every damn day of the week. Nothing gonna’ happen here, nothin’ ‘ticularly good, nothing ‘ticularly bad. An’ nobody from here gonna’ do nothin’ important, neither.”
“Not me,” the boy argued stubbornly, “I’m a-gonna’ do somethin’ with my life.”
“Yeah, says you,” Dylan laughed, “says you.”
“Yeah, says me.”
Dylan drank, but said nothing more. Justin felt satisfied that he’d won that exchange. They let an awkward silence hover for some time, Dylan drinking, Justin looking at nothing in particular until someone else broke it for them.
“Come on, boy,” a man called out to Dylan as he threw a sack into the back of his truck, “We’s’d better be gettin’ on home, lest yo’ momma have my ass for messin’ around in town too long. And you’s better drink the rest a’ that fo’ we get home, ya hear? You know she don’ like it when you drink in front a’ her. An’ when momma ain’t happy—”
“Ain’t nobody happy,” Dylan finished as he got up and jumped into the back of his dad’s truck next to the sack, “Later, Justin.”
Dylan’s father walked around to the driver’s side of the truck but before he got in, Justin started walking up toward him.
“Uh, Mister Rhodes, you seen my old man in there?” Justin asked uncomfortably. Dylan’s father glanced back at Justin before facing away again.
“Well, yeah, I seen ‘im. Listen boy, you’s best find yo’self some place to wait fo’ a while. He prob’ly gonna’ be a long time comin’.”
The words proved all too true. The sun had already sunk far behind the horizon when Justin’s father finally came out of the same all-purpose store as Dylan’s father had, staggering. Unlike Dylan’s father, he had nothing in his hands except a bottle half full of liquor.
“Gawddamn thieves in this town, boy, a bunch-a gawddamn thieves,” his father slurred as he slowly made his way over to the tree Justin had been dozing under, “Did I ever tell you how-”
“Yeah, Pa, you told me,” Justin said, attempting to avoid the same speech he’d heard too many times, “You actually manage to keep any of the money from harvest this time?”
“Don’ you take that tone with me boy, I’ll-”
His father lurched forward and tried to take a swing at Justin, but instead he lost his balance and fell on the ground, vomiting. Justin sighed. He helped his father up and started walking them toward the truck.
“I didn’t think so. Come on Pa, I’ll drive.”