“Escape Velocity” by Karisa Tell is the second place prize winner for our 2019 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers, selected by Tope Folarin, and Karisa’s first publication! We are honored to share this incredible story of addiction, hope and family. In Tope’s words, “I love the wide scope of this story, how capacious it is, and also how very intimate. There are many moving parts to this story, but they all work seamlessly together. I loved getting lost in it, and then finding myself on the other side, still whole, but changed.” What are you waiting for?
There were no applicant requirements: people of all ages, income levels, and nationalities, the website said, could become a Martian.
The night I saw the advertisement, Oliver was out and we were all up: Aunt Jody was scrubbing ancient remnants of my mother’s burnt molasses cookies from a tray we ought to have given up on years ago. Dad was sitting before the television, a comedy with a laugh track and lazy physical stunts beaming onto his motionless eyes. And I was on my computer picking up digital breadcrumbs to an unclear destination. I was doing my game, the one I do when Oliver might be dead: click on whatever I want, then click somewhere else from there. See how far I get when (if) Oliver comes home. The game was of neither skill nor chance, lacking in rules, no way to win or lose or even know if you’ve finished playing.
It was a banner ad across the top of an article about the Carnivore Diet, which I’d landed on after skimming a story on child Instagram influencers, linked from a listicle of fan theories about a show I’d never seen. What was the worst that could happen to my computer, from clicking on One Weird Trick for Losing Belly Fat or sponsored links by Taboola? If we got a call that Oliver was in jail or he’d OD’d again, would I care what might have infected my computer? Rootkits, worms, cookies, whatever. It was my only liberation, this clicking game.
Go to Mars, the banner ad said. Apply here to become a Martian.
The page showed a man’s face, halfway between giddy and diffident, his lips lifting asymmetrically to show only one tooth.
Terry Xiao, 54
“The people on this mission will live on in the history books, like all the great colonizers. I view the colonization of Mars to be a necessary next step for the preservation of the human race. Manifest destiny, man!”