Lynx -- flash fiction by Arim Lim
The boy sits, hunched and unwashed, his skin illuminated by the glow of fishtanks and nighttime-simulating LEDs. The light dances a wild tango over the ceiling, but the room is otherwise dark.
What is he looking at, with his fingers pressed to the glass? A worn sticker proclaims in faded red DO NOT TOUCH. As if used to being ignored, its edges curl up into itself. His breath fogs up the pane, he wipes it away with his sleeve.
Outside, the black of space yawns.
In the exhibition, walled by glass, is a lynx. It would be more appropriate to call it a facsimile of one, maybe something that used to be a lynx, or something that would become a lynx. Either way, it was a strange, liminal creature who was firmly within the subfamily of Felinae. Not that it knew, not that the boy knew, and not that it mattered. Its eyes turned in its sockets, the color of salt.
The boy sits, scared and utterly fascinated. He has been smuggled onboard by his mother. He can still remember her rough hands on his shoulders, a thumb pushing his chin up so that he could look into her eyes. Be careful, she’d said, and the boy had cried, because he’d never seen his mother show any fear before, but here she was now, glossy-eyed with it. She’d wiped his tears away with the backs of her fingers and his runny nose with her scarf. It had been pooled loose around her arms, along with her hair, which she usually kept in an artless bun. All around them, other parents, friends, and teachers had been doing the same: wiping tears, exchanging urgent farewells, a kiss or two or three. Mementos being pressed into palms, I’ll be there. I’ll see you again. I promise. What use is a better world if you won’t be there with me?
The smell of sadness is overwhelming. Crushes him like fumigation down a rabbit warren’s entrance.
Back to the maybe-lynx, who can sense his anxiety, even through the glass. Thousands of years of mammalian interaction would not be stopped by a transparent layer of amorphous silica. Its whiskers twitch, its breath comes soft and quick through its pink flared nostrils.
The red glow behind in in the corridor means “grave danger.” It means, “evacuate immediately”. He does not know this. Outside in the emergency bay, they believe that everyone has been accounted for. In the control room, the walls are also lit red with countless warnings. An engine failure was infecting the computer; the ship’s heart was seizing, electric cells necrosing from the inside out.
The maybe-lynx presses a small paw against the boy’s smooth palm. The glass might as well not have been there. Is he shaking? Is everything else shaking?
Back down on Earth, everyone’s hopes had been riding on Lazarus-18, but now its chassis is devoured up by heat and light in an explosion that turns the night into day.
Arim Lim is a high school junior aspiring to be a functional adult. Their hobbies include digital art and tinkering with code. They are a die-hard Twin Peaks fan, and will never shut up about it. Their work has been published in Body Without Organs.