by Jenny Harding
Howard stood on Arabian Terra, gazed at Planet Earth shining in the Martian sky, got back into his spacecraft and came home. Astronauts can find it hard to adjust back into the humdrum when they return from a trip to outer space. Many compensate by taking gravity-altering drugs but Howard ate pies. Whenever he pined for the excitement of rocketing about the galaxy with everyone watching him on TV, which was often, he bit into a delicious pie with buttery crumbly pastry and an unctuous filling that squidged between his teeth and out the corners of his mouth.
Within six months of returning from Mars Howard put on so much weight that he got stuck every time he tried to squeeze through the hatch of his spacecraft, which put the Galactic Exploration Programme behind schedule. The British Space Agency (BRISA) moved him to the Visitors Centre where he had to spend his days trying to explain why there are no Martians on Mars to groups of small children. He was most put out. He had been to Mars and back for heaven’s sake! They should give him a more prestigious role! He was so miserable that he ate even more pies and put in a formal complaint about his shabby treatment.
BRISA summoned Dr Elvis Micro, their most esoteric scientist, and told him to find a way to cure Howard’s pie addiction so they could release him from the Visitors Centre, return him to the Galactic Exploration Programme, and head off his formal complaint.
Elvis’s first thought was to remove all pies from the places that Howard frequented. But Elvis indulged in the occasional pie himself and decided that Howard having an incorrigible pie addiction was not a good enough reason to deprive everyone else in the vicinity of pies. A more satisfactory solution would be to remove Howard from the pies rather than the pies from Howard. All Elvis had to do was procure a conveyance capable of reaching such a high speed that it could arrive at its destination before it set off. Howard could then be conveyed back to the eleventh century, which was before the advent of pies in this country, and stay there until his pie craving diminished.
A conveyance that conformed to Elvis’s exacting specification was constructed and the time of departure arrived. Elvis and Howard stood by the conveyance staring at its hatch for quite a long time as the realisation dawned on them.
‘Perhaps you could breathe in,’ suggested Elvis.
‘I don’t think so. I ate too many pies for breakfast.’
‘Dammit!’ said Elvis.
‘Does this mean I’m going back to the Visitors Centre?’ Asked Howard.
‘Suppose so,’ said Elvis.
‘Dammit!’ said Howard.
‘Does this mean you’re not going to withdraw your formal complaint?’ asked Elvis.
‘Too right,’ said Howard.
Jenny Harding enjoys fiction of all shapes and sizes. Her work appeared in the Small Worlds anthology published by the University of Brighton and was shortlisted for the 2015 Fiction Desk Flash Fiction Award.