To my Father-in-Law,
I wait because there is nothing else I can do.
I write because there are things I must say in hopes
this record of what my family has endured falls into
your hands. Besides, there’s nothing else for me to do
except wait for rescue or the end. Staring out at the
stars no longer holds my interest, only terror. The fuel
is spent. The air grows more frigid by the second. The
flames in the lamps are beginning to fade as the air
grows thinner. I know I should extinguish the lights but
cannot face the darkness.
Leather straps hold my children securely in
uncomfortable chairs fastened to the metal walls. Mary,
Elizabeth, and Peter are delightful children. Mary is
ten and already a big help to me. Elizabeth is a year
younger and longs to be a teacher. Peter is only seven,
yet there are few farm tasks he cannot handle. He
reminds me of his father. They are blessedly oblivious
to what is happening, thanks to strong doses of
laudanum. I’ve allowed myself a small amount to ease my
nerves and calm the pain of multiple bruises. It is with
grief I tell you Little George is long past suffering. I
long to undo his wrappings and gaze upon his sweet face.
Only the memory of his mutilating injuries stops me.
We’d been warned the trip’s beginning might be rough.
Instructions were given to make sure the straps were
fastened tightly. Ned fastened in George himself and
surely took extra care. I tell myself repeatedly it was
accidental that our boy, only three, slipped out in the
crushing force of takeoff and flew against the wall.
Yet, I can’t help reminding myself Ned’s actions are
why we are on this Moon-bound spacetrain. Do you
remember his temper? It is the one trait he inherited
from you. He killed Mr. Johnson, who only asked for
repayment of money rightfully his – a loan given to us
during a time of great need.
He came to our sod home requesting repayment. Ned
explained to Mr. Johnson we had no money and asked for
another month. Mr. Johnson suggested if that was the
case, our oxen could serve as repayment. This sent Ned
into a rage, for he had no other way to break the hard
ground. Not wanting the children to witness their father
in such a state, I took them inside. Moments later, I
heard the gunshot.
I rushed back outside to find Ned shaking, still
holding the revolver in his hand. He looked at me, his
expression one of horror. To be honest, I don’t know if
it was horror at what he’d done or the realization of
what this would mean for his family. If it wasn’t for
us, he’d have bravely faced any punishment for his deed.
We both assumed he’d be sentenced to hang.
Remembering my wedding vows of "for better or for
worse," I visited him as much as I could while he
awaited trial to assure him I’d do my best to provide
the children with an adequate life. I put on a brave
face despite knowing part of me would die with him.
Truly, over the years of our marriage I’d grown to love
Ned very much.
Imagine our surprise when the judge offered Ned an
alternative -- the chance for free land and a new start
helping to colonize the Moon, as well as a full pardon
of his crime. He immediately accepted the offer,
intending to go alone with the promise of sending for us
if it were ever possible.
After the agony of waiting for his sentencing, I
could not stand to be separated from him any longer. Ned
and I finally agreed our family should remain together.
I’m sure you were not far from either of our minds as we
made the decision that we should all emigrate.
I can’t deny I was equally excited at the
possibilities of such an adventure. I immediately set
about packing with the same eagerness I’d done when
preparing to travel with him to Kansas. We had only a
few days before starting the journey to Florida where
the spacetrain waited.
During the trip south by wagon, boat and train, there
were frequent lessons to teach the men about the
spacetrain. I sat in a few times when the children were
sleeping. To my dismay, we’d be unable to take most of
the meager belongings with us. Since we’d be unable to
cook, pre-cooked food would be provided. We were told we
could bring one outfit each, but during the actual
journey to the Moon, even the women would have to wear
special garments with trousers that covered the entire
body from ankle to wrist to neck. Leather caps and
goggles were necessary due to the risk of injury from
even the tiniest of crumbs or debris in the acceleration
we’d encounter. I lost the argument to bring the
children’s schoolbooks, though they agreed to a few
pencils and a tablet of paper to assist with lessons. At
least they did allow each family or group a Bible.
Despite the information we received, we found
ourselves unprepared for the monstrous size of the
spacetrain. Surely there were mountains smaller in
height! I could not see the engine through the clouds
and fog. When I commented, Ned explained to me that
although most people called it in a spacetrain, the
mechanics and fuel which would blast us into the heavens
were actually contained in the caboose at the bottom.
What I thought of as the engine was merely a cone or
point to help us achieve flight into the heavens.
Somewhere along the way to the Moon, each individual
cabin would split away from the main part of the train
to complete the journey on its own power.
Upon reaching the Moon our travel cabins would become
our homes, as no one expected any native building
materials to be found. At least by then the fuel and
storage lockers could be cleaned and used as living
A daunting series of platforms and ladders outlined
the spacetrain. We were taken in hot air balloons to our
assigned cabins since it’d have been impossible for even
the strongest of men to climb more than a few sections
on his own power. When they gathered us all in the
balloon launch area, I was appalled to see that the
majority of those who would help build the Moon colony
were men, rough men with few manners. There were few
other women and even fewer children. As we waited for
our balloon assignment, I tried to shelter the children
from the foul language and women who flirted
shamelessly, but it proved difficult.
My children were thrilled with the balloon ride until
it began to rock a bit due to the winds at the higher
elevations. Elizabeth began crying and clung to fabric
of my hideous trousers while Pete and Mary merely fell
quiet, refusing to look over the edge of the basket.
George, however, took great delight, laughing and
clapping his hands. Once we were helped onto the
platform and into the cabin, he wiggled from my arms and
ran about the best he could manage in the small cabin.
Even after Ned had performed the pre-flight checks on
the various machines within the cabin, George was full
of life and refusing to calm himself. I tried to grab
him, but even in the small space he eluded me.
"We only have a few minutes," Ned shouted over the
rumble and roar starting to shake the spacetrain. "Strap
the other children in, then yourself. I’ll take care of
I did as I was told, the other children giving me no
trouble. Ned finally managed to wrestle George, spanking
the boy as he rushed to fasten him against the wall.
"Make sure the bonds are strong," I said
automatically over George’s howls of protest. What
"They are!" Ned assured me, rushing to his own spot
just as the rumbling of the engines turned to a full
blasting roar. I could see the near panic in my
husband’s expression as he finally buckled his last
Has anyone ever endured such a crush of pressure as
the spacetrain blasting from the ground towards the
stars? I still wonder how we survived those initial
moments. The scientists told us to expect some
discomfort, some increase in gravity, not the agony of
an invisible stone crushing us against the wall! I
suspect those buried in avalanches or the collapse of
coal mines suffer less pain and fear.
During this nightmare I witnessed George struggling
to reach a strap which had slipped to his neck. You can
imagine my desire, my basic instinct, to reach my son! I
struggled to free myself of my straps, though at that
point it was too late. I was unable to move to help him
such was the pressure which now pinned me in place.
I cried out in anguish. When the forces finally
eased, I managed to turn my head to look at my husband.
He was also weeping. Whether out of guilt or grief, I
don’t know. It was the only time I’d ever seen him cry.
Ned was a good man despite occasional outbursts of
temper. I still believe this though I’m sure Mr.
Johnson’s family would disagree. They know him only by
one action. I know him from years of marriage. After
all, what other sort of man would step forward to marry
me under the circumstances?
Do you remember when I first came to your family’s
home as a governess to tutor your young, motherless
daughters? Did you ever know my family had once been as
well to do as yours? I don’t recall you ever asking,
just inquiring about my references and education. A
series of crop misfortunes and bad investments followed
by the fire which destroyed our main house and a number
of slave cabins left us destitute when I was barely
thirteen. Several hungry, hard years passed before I
learned of the governess position and ventured to your
family’s plantation, eager to once again be part of a
large, comfortable household under any terms. You hired
me that same afternoon.
I thought you’d fallen in love with me. Maybe in a
way you had. Why else would you sneak flowers and other
tokens of affection into my room while warning me not to
let the slaves know, as they had a tendency to gossip? I
try not to believe you were merely toying with my youth
and naivety. I had little knowledge of men and women the
night we encountered each other in the library. You
spoke tender words leading to kisses which quickly led
to more. I’m still embarrassed and ashamed to admit that
even to myself. Did you seduce me or did I allow myself
to be used?
Even now as I wait and remember, I’m uncertain.
How puzzled I was when you avoided me the next few
weeks. Now I realize you quit me because you’d achieved
the ultimate prize of my purity. I suspect I would have
been left with nothing but my lost virtue had I not
found myself with child. When I told you, I expected you
to behave like an honorable man and insist on an
immediate wedding. Imagine my shock when you called me a
whore and even accused me of fornication with your
overseer. You ordered me from your house and property
immediately as your daughters, attracted by the
shouting, watched from the partially opened door.
I had nowhere to go, no one to whom I could turn for
help. Can you blame me for my outrage?
Your son had far more honor than you ever did. When
his sisters told him what they’d heard, he came to my
room as I packed and graciously offered to marry me
though we’d hardly exchanged more than a few words
during my employment. How gentlemanly and handsome Ned
was as he took my shaking hand into his to make the
proposal, saying he was sure we’d come to love each
other. For the sake of my baby, I agreed.
Upon hearing the news, you were furious – more
furious than your earlier outburst. You ranted and raved
about how Ned marrying your governess would hurt your
social standing. You disowned your son on the spot,
sending us out into the night.
Now that I have children of my own I wonder even more
how you could claim Ned was no longer your son! The
thought appalls me and speaks volumes of your nature.
Ned assured me the estrangement was worth saving my
honor. He repeated it often as the years went by and our
affection for each other as well as our family grew.
Did you ever receive word of the birth and death of
your daughter of a fever less than a year later? There
was no church in the area thus neither priest nor
preacher to perform a proper burial. Ned dug the grave
as I roused myself from sorrow long enough to read a few
passages from the Bible. We didn’t have the luxury of a
proper period of mourning. Winter was coming and there
were preparations to be made.
I was fortunate in that Ned did not fear hard work
though he’d previously never experienced it for long
periods of time. When the strain of building our sod
home, shelter for the animals, and plowing the land
became too much, his temper would surface. Perhaps I was
fortunate in that his anger did not manifest itself in
striking me or our growing number of children, but he
would rant and rave about little things such as cold
biscuits for breakfast. Sometimes he’d storm out of our
home, disappearing for hours, a few times overnight. Ned
always apologized when he returned, begging my
forgiveness. When he had money, he’d bring candy for the
children and perhaps calico for me.
Because I knew he truly loved me, I learned to wait
for his return.
I suppose none of that seemingly distant past matters
now. What’s done is done now that your son is dead. He
doesn’t have to endure this final suffering. Ned doesn’t
have to look upon his remaining children strapped
against the metal wall of a moon-bound cabin.
Not that we’ve been forced to spend the entire
journey fastened to the chairs. As soon as the
turbulence of trip’s beginning eased, Ned released
himself from the straps. There is no gravity once you
are in space so he floated to me much like a feather
caught in the wind preceding a storm while ordering the
children to stay where they were for the moment. They
were hysterical yet did not argue. Ned took my hand and
together we swam through the air to poor George’s
mangled body. We both already knew our son was dead. I
wrapped my arms around George as Ned held me.
At some point, my husband released me to retrieve a
sheet from our one trunk. This time is a blur to me
although I recall our belongings escaping when the trunk
was opened and floating about the cabin as Ned struggled
to wrap the sheet around George. Realizing our other
children needed me, I gained enough control of my grief
Once again, we did not have time to properly mourn a
lost child. When the sad task of enshrouding George was
finished, Ned began checking the gauges as he’d been
instructed to do. In a voice rough from crying, he
announced we had air and heat and power. He offered us
hardtack and bottles of water, though no one could bring
themselves to eat or drink.
We spent most of our time in the straps to keep from
banging around the cabin. I occasionally read from the
Bible and drilled the children on various verses to pass
the time. Sometimes I’d hold a tablet against any
available surface so Peter could practice writing his
ABCs. We took turns opening and peering from the various
small windows, including one to which a small telescope
had been attached. The Moon looked horrifically bleak
and gray though Ned led us in discussions of how we’d be
the first to colonize it, which always excited the
children. He talked about how we’d have to dig wells for
water and irrigation as the Moon’s ground was desert.
We could also always see at least one other cabin,
sometimes several. Chemical lights lined the outside of
each cabin, allowing them to be visible against the
stars. At times, we could even see the Earth, truly a
There was no way to mark the passage of time, or even
of day and night. The clock had been broken by our blast
into space. Thus I don’t know how long we’d been
traveling when Ned, upon looking out, came to me and
told me in a whisper there was a cabin not far from us
whose lights were dimming. He needed to go see if he
could be of help.
I urged him to wait for the rescue cabins. Surely
they’d pass by sooner or later.
He asked me if I’d seen one.
Indeed I hadn’t. We were told should trouble occur,
there’d be help. We were also told the journey would be
an easy one, yet George was dead. I reminded him the
cabins were full of criminals, some murderers.
My remark brought a smile to his face as he reminded
me his own crime was why we were on our way to the moon.
Reaching out, he ran his hand across my leather cap and
I’m sure longed to do the same to my hair, something he
often did back in our sod home. He explained he could
leave our cabin through the waste locker and enter
through theirs since there were levers both inside and
I argued no further. Although space would be bitterly
cold and airless, Ned assured me he’d hold his breath
and swim to the malfunctioning vessel just as he did
through our own cabin.
The lockers were created so that our bodily wastes
and other trash could be vented into space. We were
supposed to send any bodies out the same way. I’d
refused to do so with George. We’d left one child in the
dirt of Earth so would bury our son in the dust of the
You may not understand the power of family love but I
thank God your son did.
Normally, we’d open the locker to place the trash
inside. Once done, we’d tightly seal the locker before
pulling a lever which retracted a door to the outside
allowing the waste to be sent into space. This time, Ned
entered on his own, and assured that I’d tightly shut
the cabin door, he nodded to me.
I pulled the lever. Ned drifted into space. I watched
as he swam a few strokes then stopped moving, simply
drifting as if floating in a pond. I shouted his name.
My hand automatically went up in anticipation of opening
the locker and going to my husband. Only Mary’s cry of
"Mother, don’t leave us" stopped me.
Knowing I could not follow your example and forsake
my own children, I ordered them away from the windows.
Gently, I explained their father had sacrificed himself
in an attempt to help others. Is there a more honorable
death? I immediately went back into our routine of food,
Bible verses, and even a few singing games to distract
them from the horror.
It was Pete who first complained of dizziness and a
chill in the air. I checked the gauges and found them
dying. Even the mechanical sounds to which I’d become
accustomed seemed to be falling silent. The
chemical-created lights which lined the walls dimmed.
Although I frequently looked out the windows, I never
saw a rescue cabin.
That’s when I began losing hope.
That’s when I made the decision to have the children
take the laudanum so the last moments of their lives
would not be one of fear.
I now wait with my children as they sleep and die.
My husband murdered a man who owed him money.
His father murdered us all.
Amanda felt her grandson wiping her cheek with his
handkerchief. "Oh, dear, John. She didn’t sign it. How
will we ever find her family? I’ve seen lists of those
sentenced to the journey, but there were no women or
children on it."
"Find the family? Surely this monstrous father-in-law
is long dead."
"Yes, he would be, I suppose. Perhaps there are
nieces or grandnephews. It would be a shame for her
memory to be lost."
John nodded. "There was a Bible found in their cabin.
I only glanced at it. I remember there being some family
information. My apologies as I should have made notes. I
will write the society and ask them to provide a list."
"No," Amanda replied as she refolded the letter. "Let
me, though I don’t suppose there’ll be time to receive a
reply before your next launch."
"There should be. I don’t intend going back up myself
until after the New Year."
"Wonderful!" Amanda said. "That should give me plenty
of time to prepare to go with you."
"Go with me?" John exclaimed. "Grandmother, have you
taken leave of your senses? Space isn’t a place for
"Well, from this letter you brought me, I see that I
won’t be the first. I know the dangers and I am going."
"You are far too old!"
Amanda squeezed his hand, smiling up into his green
eyes. Eyes that were much like his grandfather’s, framed
by red hair. He still looked so boyish, so young. "I’ve
spent my life waiting for something: adventure, letters
from your grandfather when he was a soldier, for your
father to return from space and now for you."
"I’m going whether you like it or not." Amanda
released his hand, stepping back while not letting her
John sighed, nodding once.
Amanda smiled and slipped her arm through his as they
strolled up the lane to the house, the horses and buggy
following slowly behind. Using her free hand, she
slipped her bonnet back and felt the sun’s warmth on her
face. "I’m quite finished with waiting."