by Baird Nuckolls
She came to Keystone West in the Cotton Candy Nebula to get away from the routine of her life, the humdrum stress that wore her down like a nearly flat sine wave. She wanted to sit by the pool slathered in sunscreen and sweat, broiled by the fiery blue sun, reading a trashy novel and drinking some sickly-pink concoction that the pool bartender had splashed over frozen helium in a plastic cup. Staring off toward the Cuban archipelago, her eyes pinched against the sharp sun, she could hear the fluted call of Gentian tourists beyond the wrought-iron fence.
She couldn't sleep the first few nights in the sticky heat, but after a few days of no schedule and no real conversation, she slept like the dead, falling into bed as the rowdy young Falindal offspring on their gap-year tour pedaled past on the way to Duval Street for their night of drunken revelry. She woke in the dawn to the crowing of a flexi-cock and found her way down to the dusty street in the lavender half-light. Walking through the empty streets, she looked at the decaying architecture and the aggressively carnivorous vines overgrowing fences. Stopping to read a historical marker that was hidden in an riot of greenery, she discovered four vegan chicken-bots roosting in the trees just inches from her face. They stared at her in alien, transgendered silence, hoping she would move along so they could sleep.
The smell of hot caffeine stereo-isomer drew her down to the waterfront, to a stand frequented by unshaven dock workers and a few bare-footed beach bums, who stood over their steaming dark brew, inhaling brain cells, firing new neurons in the cool damp day.
Later, she wandered further afield, renting a quadricycle to circumnavigate, past faded cera-melt bungalows and shoddily constructed time share communities clinging to the edges of the airport. The strips of crude consumerism gave way to graceful old homes hidden in groves of tall native trees, ceiling fans stirring the porch air, bird-bots calling from the hidden shade.
The abandoned Federal fort was all flat light and crumbling brick, a home to feral feline-reciprocals; the most promising part was the cache of iced H2o for sale in the lobby shop. She understood, standing on the end point of land, looking out of sand bars and shallows filled with waving aquagrass, why Hemingway drank, surrounded by legions of six-toed cats. She'd visited his home once in the original Key West, wandering the grounds and staring at the books behind glass in his study, the deer mounted on the wall over his desk and the descendants of his cats lounging on the wrought iron furniture beside the faded aquamarine pool.
She rode through the oldest part of the habitat, as tour buses rumbled by on the cobbled streets, their garbled narrative announced on the breeze, their aisles filled with off-world visitors stupefied by rum drinks and the heat. From every street corner, young people hawked day trips on giant heliospores, spun their daydreams of jet pack flights, bikinis and umbrella drinks to the crowds. She ignored them all, searching out the secret gardens instead.
The last night of the week, she stood at lands' end and watched the blue sun sink into the ocean, far from the raucous crowd at AltMallory Square. Keystone West had become a private oasis, the heat burning through the fog in her brain, replacing the sharp edges of her toil with the worn down and faded colors of the town. She found herself amused, renewed, content. When it was time to leave, she contemplated slipping the ties of her life and remaining behind, washed up on the silicate beach like so many before her, seduced by the lure of ease.
But it wasn't entirely necessary to leave the ease behind. She packed her sunglasses, along with a few nautilus fossils to remind her of the sound of the foreign sea. The chicken-bots raced across her path and under the porch as she walked away. They would await her return in the cool shade.
Copyright ©2012 Baird Nuckolls. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form, including electronic, without the author’s express permission.
If you like this story, check out Baird’s other stories, published on this site: He Preferred Red, Jet lagged and Scarred.
Baird Nuckolls left her heart in Key West one Spring Break and longs to return. She is a writer and editor, living in Northern California.