Hope, by Klaudia Ksiazkiewicz

The day they found a real beach on Mars was the same day they found a secret pocket of life sealed off in an enormous, hidden cave. Hundreds of kilometres deep inside, where the harsh surface couldn’t freeze it over, the pitch black oasis sustained its own ecosystem.

And I was one of the first to visit it.

With immense effort, we planted our first steps in the blood crimson dirt, already feeling dejected. The planet waged war on us, antagonising us as invaders so that we would stop trespassing on its sacred land. And yet, like Pandora who couldn’t help but open the box, we were filled with insatiable curiosity and greed, which had kept us trudging further into the deep, dark unknown.

And by God, was it rewarding.

The deeper we delved, the warmer it would get for us in our thick space suits. With every step, it felt more and more as if I was approaching a glorious, tropical summer adventure – albeit without the classic sun that provides its signature warmth and beauty.

It wasn’t until our team leader’s light started malfunctioning, though, that we saw a glimpse of the hope buried in the bottom of the chasm.

Sparks filled the darkness – hundreds of them. No one would’ve expected that deep inside its rocky pores, Mars was hiding several bioluminescent spores that twinkled like splatters of neon blood. Like starving hounds, we followed the trail of droplets, until the deafening silence was no longer filled with our hurried steps, but rather with the faint, soothing flow of water.

We did it…we had found the beach!

This hidden space was vast, with the cave ceiling reaching higher than a stadium. The tiny spore breadcrumbs that had led us to this masterpiece were now towering over us like trees, their caps forming a bioluminescent canopy that mirrored the colours of Earth’s setting sun. Filled with psychotic curiosity, I hastily pulled off my fishbowl helmet, and took my first ever lungful of foreign oxygen.

It was hauntingly refreshing.

I wasted no further time discarding my space suit, exposing my clammy, sweaty skin to the hot atmosphere. Over the millions of years that this flowing water had been pouring out of a crevice, and wearing down the walls of this cave, a strip of soft, scarlet sand formed the cave’s shoreline. I stripped until my toes could sink into the sand beneath me, before I submerged myself into the wine red ocean with bated breath.

The water was strangely warm, nearly as warm as my body, as if Ares’ ancient rage had been slowly simmering it over millennia. Soon enough, I began to succumb to the flow of the water, my weary joints and exhausted body floating with ease. Once I closed my eyes, I no longer cared about anything else. Not my crew, not my planet, not about any impending danger. I simply floated through time and space, weightless like a falling star.

I had finally found hope…and I was addicted.

Critical Reflection:

Before writing this piece, I had left to spend a week in Cornwall with my family, going to the local beach everyday. As someone who thrives in summer, and impatiently awaits the one time my family visits a beach together at least once a year, I realised that if we were to colonise a planet like Mars, I would immensely miss the beautiful, salty waves of Earth. Thus, this is how the idea for the first humans of Mars exploring a hidden beach beneath the ground had come to mind. The final, ambiguous part of this piece was largely inspired by this modern experience called ‘sensory deprivation’, where you enter a tank filled with body temperature salt water that makes you feel like a weightless soul floating through space. With this, I wanted to implement an element of surrealness and a dream-like quality, as if the protagonist became bewitched or hypnotised by something magical we aren’t aware of. Furthermore, since Ares is known as the God of Mars, I wanted Greek mythology elements as well as references to him hidden in this piece to add a spice of fantasy. Whoever ends up reading this piece, I want them to feel weightless like my protagonist, in the sense that they can assume for themselves what truly happens at the end; after all, I believe that the best part about space is how wonderfully mysterious it can be.

Klaudia Ksiazkiewicz is Polish, and she is studying Creative Writing at YSJ! Her biggest goal in life is to become an author of Fantasy books with riveting plots and interesting characters, thus she tries to challenge this goal, one creative piece at a time.