Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs
By Russell Nohelty
65 000 words/ 341 pages
Sci-fi/ YA book, but for very mature kids.
Warning: There is some strong language and the book deals with abuse.
Sammy's had a tough life. His father is abusive. His mother is an alcoholic. He developed pulmonary fibrosis from asbestos and need an oxygen tank to breath.
His family is poor and getting poorer.
One day his mother's had enough and steal him away to a life on the run. She'd rather be a fugitive than subject Sammy to his father's rage.
It doesn't take long for life on the run with a sick child to catch up to her. In order to keep Sammy alive she has no choice but to move in with her emotionally abusive grandfather.
Sammy just wants a normal life. He just wants to get along, but when he meets a homeless alien that all changes. Now, he has to help her fix her ship and get off the planet.
This is a book about families, broken homes, and the power of friendship. Whether you enjoy whimsy, dark humor, or coming of age stories, there is something for you inside these pages.
Russell Nohelty is a writer, publisher, and speaker. He runs Wannabe Press, which publishes weird books for weird people, and hosts The Business of Art podcast, which helps creatives build better businesses.
Russell is the author of Gumshoes: The Case of Madison’s Father and My Father Didn’t Kill Himself, along with the creator of the Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, Gherkin Boy, and Katrina Hates the Dead graphic novels. He makes books that are as entertaining and weird as they are thought provoking.
Social Media Links: @russellnohelty on Twitter and Instagram. /russellnohelty on Facebook
Well it wasn’t really a bang.
It was more like a slap. Well, exactly like a slap.
Actually, it wasn’t really a slap either. It was – what’s the sound a fist makes when it connects with a woman’s jaw? Like a woomp, or a thud, or a thwonk.
Well, that was the sound. The sound of my mother being punched across the jaw by my father; her hair, her body, suspended motionless for a second, then falling gracefully in slow motion, as I watched horrified and petrified, nestled in the corner behind her.
He’d aimed for me, but Mom jumped between us so that I wouldn’t face his assault. She always did that.
She told me that the initial blow was always the worst; that she became numb after the third or fourth hit.
At least that’s what she told me. I never believed her. I too often saw the pain on her face when he kicked her ribs for the eighth and ninth times. I watched helpless as the tears welled in her eyes. It was hell.
Dad screamed the vilest things imaginable while he beat her. I blocked out the worst of it through years of willful self-delusion. But a few burrowed deep into my memory. I used to wake at night, drenched in cold sweat. His screams jolted me out of my daydreams. They snapped me back to reality.
“You vile, worthless WHORE!”
“Lying sack of shit!”
She spent weeks in the hospital, battling to breathe, hoping to die. Punctured lungs, broken noses, and cracked rib cages became the norm; Police reports and flimsy denials, standard operating procedure. He didn’t like lies, but truths only made him madder and the beatings more vicious. After a spell we kept our mouth shut and did our bid –hoping to one day get paroled.
Mom wouldn’t let him take out his anger on me. Not on her twelve-year old baby with an oxygen tank; not to the little kid whose simple existence was a miracle. Not to the kid that she made this way.
And I don’t mean in the way her egg and his sperm did the freaky-deeky so I could eventually be popped out nine months later.
Though of course that’s 100% accurate in the most literal sense; I mean you could interpret it that way for sure. But more so my condition was brought on by their negligence.
I have a condition called pulmonary fibrosis. There’s a couple of causes from genetics to environmental factors. It basically meant my lungs were all messed up, scarred over, and didn’t work right. If they worked worse, I’d be on a lung transplant list, but they work just well enough that I’ll just have shitty lung disease for the rest of my shortened life.
Now, one of the causes of pulmonary fibrosis could have been my mother smoking during pregnancy. As much as I’d love to blame her for that, she took impeccable care while I baked inside her. She didn’t smoke, took prenatal vitamins, listened to classical music, and stayed away from fish. She didn’t even drink. Not one drop. It wasn’t until after my diagnosis that the pills and booze took hold.
No, the cause of my condition comes from being poor; really, really poor; so poor that we couldn’t afford adequate housing. Poor enough to squat anyplace that accepted our meager cash, even if it meant buildings riddled with asbestos.
As a child I was susceptible to all sorts of things that my parents’ immune system could withstand.
I’m 18 now.
I was 12 during this story.
I was 8 when they diagnosed me.
That’s the worst part. My condition wasn’t some genetic defect. It wasn’t some moment-of-birth botch. It wasn’t something I’d lived with my entire life.
I remember being a normal kid; playing sports, running, jumping, living outside a protective cocoon. I remember biting into a fresh apple without tasting sand. I remember breathing without pins and needles stabbing my lungs. I remember a life where my parents didn’t blame themselves for my existence, where even for a moment we were blissfully happy.
I mean blissfully happy. Over the moon, laugh every night, Norman Rockwell, Kodak stock portrait happy. The kind of happy we would nauseatingly shake our heads at today. The kind of happy that breaks my heart to think about, because I can never have it again.
Seven though, that was a magical year. Dad came home every night to a warm cooked meal. He regaled Mom with stories of his day as she sat enthralled on the edge of her seat. We made pillow forts and watched old movies that went way over my head, all cuddled up around the shitty CRT Dad found at a yard sale. We were dirt poor. We didn’t care though. We didn’t need things to be happy. We just needed to be together.
It wasn’t meant to last though. I started getting winded at soccer practice, then I could barely make it home from school, my chest began to burn and ache throughout the day and into the night. Then, the wretched coughing started, followed by the blood.
We went to doctor after doctor after doctor and our meager finances ran dry, but Mom and Dad were vigilant. They endured any cost, no matter how high, to ensure that my health was sound.
Specialist after specialist shook their head and confirmed my parents’ worst fears. By my eighth birthday it was a foregone conclusion. They didn’t get me toys, or video games, or even books. They got me two shiny oxygen tanks. I still use them to this day. Happy Birthday to me, right?
As you can imagine, having a kid that lived off oxygen tanks, with hardly any immune system, all because you couldn’t afford a nicer place, puts a strain on a marriage financially, emotionally, and physically; even to the most well-adjusted, intelligent, and/or thoughtful among us.
My father was none of the above. Seeing a constant reminder of his shortcomings was too much for him to handle. He, who was supposed to protect me, instead created a feeble monster – kept alive by tubes and machines.
It pissed him off. It pissed him off more every time he looked at me. He was too simple, too stupid, and too cowardly to look inside himself – to beat himself, so he redirected it out onto everybody around him. He was once a gentle giant, now he was consumed by rage.
My mother’s love, on the other hand, collapsed upon itself like a neutron star. She grew numb and callused. She gave freely and unrepentantly to my father, who for decades fed off that love to make it through the day. When his rage boiled over, she loved harder and harder. Surely her love could bring him back from the brink. Surely they could get through this together. Surely, she would not have to go it alone.
No matter how much she gave, it fell into a black hole of rage and bitterness. He shunned her, ignored her, berated her, and eventually beat her when she tried to reason with him. It’s very hard to love a man that changed so violently and so quickly. She gave everything of herself away to him and she had nothing left for the child that needed it.
All she could do was use her numb, powerless body to take a beating for me. She had no other way to show her love. She’d given it all away, and my disease overloaded her circuits. It overloaded both of their circuits. I was the surge that fried their marriage.
What a shitty place for an eight-year old to be.
Mom was a night owl by necessity if not by choice. She hated sleep. More so, she hated dreaming. Once she dreamed of nice homes, butterflies, and fairy tales; that her life would be better, hopeful, possibly, even kind.
Those dreams soured in my ninth year and curdled in my twelfth. By then she hated dreams, not for the nightmares, which showed her the true horrors of her mind, but for the dreams, which filled her with the hope of a better life. There was no better life for Mom, and she hated the flutter in her stomach that accompanied that moment of wakening where she believed her dreams were realities.
Cheap wine helped. Lots of cheap wine. She wasn’t picky. It never filled her with restful sleep, but it blocked her dreams from invading her reality. Five, six, some nights eight glasses of wine would be the only thing that allowed her to sleep. When we couldn’t afford wine, she skimmed my pills. She skimmed a lot of pills. I learned to live in pain to numb hers.
The night after her vicious beating she wandered up to bed early, nursing her wounds. I begged her to call an ambulance, but she refused.
“I know my own body, Sammy. I’m fine,” she assured me. One day those words will be emblazoned on her tombstone. “You can get to bed yourself tonight”.
Mom never let me get myself to bed. Something was amiss. Every night she tucked me in, kissed me on the cheek, and pulled the oxygen mask over my face.
Oxygen masks are uncomfortable to sleep in. The plastic tube tickled my fingers or wrapped around my turning body, waking me abruptly and unkindly.
I stopped wearing them most nights. Lying in bed never did much to aggravate my condition. My heart calmed, my breathing slowed, and my body stopped shaking profusely. Only my mind raced faster in the darkness.
I never slept well. I tossed and turned. I twitched and fidgeted. I sighed and harrumphed. I jerked awake and laid silently for hours. I peeked into hallways and listened for fights, whether arguments or bare knuckle brawls. I stared at the ceiling or out the window toward the stars, wishing I could get lost in them forever. I waited patiently for an ambulance or a weekly run to the emergency room.
In those rare instances when I slept early and deeply – when the stars aligned, and the sleep fairies released me from their lambada between awake and sleep – those were undoubtedly the nights when I woke gasping for air.
Those nights worried me the most – ironically, they kept me up more than any other. I hated choking and gasping for every molecule of air. But more than that, I feared an oxygen tank exploding in the night and killing me in my sleep – or worse, leaving me disfigured and even more crippled. I feared I would never wake up and I feared I would.
I enjoyed dreams though, when they came. My imagination was the only place I could become normal again. My dreams weren’t filled with the knights, Dark Knights, spaceships, fantasies, or wild pursuits that accompanied most peoples’ dreams. They were filled with the simple moments, the lost moments, the hopeful moments that were never meant to be.
I dreamed of my fourth birthday, when my Father built a swing set out of discarded lumber. The stupid thing wouldn’t sit straight, and after a week it crumbled to the ground. “But I built it, Sammy. You have to give me credit for that.”
I did of course. It did little to offset the brutality of his later years, but he did get credit for being a good father eight years of my life. I dreamt often of him carrying me around the house in his arms when I was just a tiny poop machine. He sang to me; terribly, of course, but he sang to me. The look of love in his eyes in those dreams, I tried to hold onto that, remember that there used to be a warm hearted man where now a cold, brutal monster lurked.
Dreams never filled me with the pain and suffering they elicited in my Mom. Dreams were what my life should have been; could have been; might have been; and one day might be again. I know it was a stupid thing to hope, but hope is all somebody sickly has most days, most moments of most days. Pills, injections, doctors, abuses, and constant pain drove you insane, something had to pull you back from the edge. For me, it was those dreams.
It was well past midnight when her frail hands jostled me awake. I’d been deep in a dream about my father teaching me how to grip a baseball bat. Mom clamped my lips tight. “Get up. And be quiet about it.”
“Don’t question me! Just do it!” I hadn’t heard my mother stern in a long time.
Her frail desperation masked the fire of a warrior; a determined, stoic yeoman. Most people, places, things, and even ideas would have petered and died when faced with the Hell she dealt with on a daily basis.
“Stay quiet,” she said. “Grab your oxygen tanks.”
“Where are we—?”
“Just grab them, alright?”
I scooped up my two tanks into their ripped backpack case and squeezed her hand. Her pulsed thumped loudly through her cadaverous fingers.
“Careful,” she whispered over her shoulders. “Only step where I step.”
I mimicked her pointed feet as we tiptoed down the hallway and down the stairs toward the front lawn. It was slow going. My mother calculated every move carefully, tiptoeing over the cracks and loose floorboards of the landlord’s shoddy ramshackle house.
Every move she made was masterful, a stroke of genius. It was as if a ballerina replaced my mother. She knew which floorboard wouldn’t creak and where the safest landings were. She slid ever so carefully down the banister so that the middle three stairs wouldn’t squeak – and jumped off centimeters before it swayed and cracked.
We eventually reached the front door. She swung it open just enough to avoid tipping off the rusty hinges and slid me outside. Her face peeked out of the door, then disappeared back inside.
“Run!” she screamed through the partially closed door. I stood frozen for seconds that felt like years. I heard Mom’s ragdoll body crash against the door with a heavy thump.
My feet separated from my brain and rushed forward on their own. They slammed into the door once, twice, three times. My brain knew it was a bad idea, but the rest of my body didn’t care. My tiny frail body reared back a fourth time and finally crashed through the door.
The force knocked Dad over. He stumbled backward against the staircase.
“You little shit!” he screamed.
Mom stuffed her keys in my hand and shoved me back out the door. “Go! Start the car!”
I’d never done anything like that before, but I obeyed. My chest burned with a fire I hadn’t felt in a long time; panic, excitement, my lungs collapsing. I had to fight through it. My mom’s life depended on it. I saw the fire in my dad’s eyes. Rage overtook him completely. There was no semblance of humanity in him, nothing could hold back his fury. If I didn’t get Mom out tonight, she’d be dead by morning.
I heard her scream again and again as I fumbled with the keys. I managed to open the door and slide into the driver’s seat. Mom’s belabored breath struggling out a whimper through the door. “Hurry.”
The neighborhood’s normally darkened porches suddenly illuminated. I didn’t care. My father didn’t care. Even the neighbors didn’t care. They just wanted to make sure that their cars weren’t being robbed or vandalized.
I stuck the key in the ignition and turned until the car puttered to life. Mom sprinted out the front door. “It’s on,” I shouted. “Hurry up!!!”
“Move over!” she yelled.
I scooted myself into the passenger seat just as she jumped inside; her nose bled; her eye swelled. She wheezed in pain as she threw the car into reverse and tore out of the driveway, taking the mailbox with her and barely missing a neighbor’s cat.
My father leapt out of the front door and flung himself on the car as my mother shifted the car into drive.
“Whore! You dumb-freaking whore,” he screamed. “Stop this car right now or I’m gonna kill you!!!”
Mom clenched her eyes closed and floored the gas pedal. Dad lost his balance and crashed into the windshield. He bounced as we sped up and hit the roof, caving it under his massive weight.
He rolled off the trunk, limp and motionless. The last thing I remember was watching my father lay on the ground, blood pooling around him.
I hoped he was dead.