“Do you think people living on other planets have the same existential questions that we do?”
“What are you talking about?”
Zach and Mell lay in separate tanning beds in preparation for going to the desert for their annual one-week vacation to escape the coldness of the city. Their skin simmered and the room permeated with the odd smell of them roasting.
“Imagine you’re in space—”
“But I’m not. I’m in a tanning bed.”
“Yeah, but try to use your imagination.”
“Don’t have one.”
“What? Yes you do. Everyone has an imagination. If you have thought, then you have imagination.”
“Nope. Got rid of it when I was a kid. Realized that it was too damn sentimental, so I tossed it in the garbage with all my other memories.”
“What’s your point?”
“So, you don’t have any existential thought? You don’t think about your existence in any capacity?”
Mell heard Zach’s bed open, and then the wet slap of flesh padding across the room’s carpet. Zach rummaged through a cooler of beer and soda, then the snap of carbonation escaping, like a relieved sigh. After a few gulps, Zach placed the can on a side table and went back into his assigned bed.
“What were you going on about?”
“Existentialism, you know, beyond what we feel here on this planet and if there’s a difference if we, or, I dunno, others were suddenly on another planet.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You’re so full of questions. It’s kinda discouraging to be around you.”
“You can be so difficult some time. I’m just trying to occupy time.”
“Then go to sleep.”
“They say we shouldn’t go to sleep.”
“Set an alarm.”
“You know me, I never get up to alarms.”
“Then listen to music.”
“If I’m not dancing to music, then I’m falling asleep to music.”
“Why can’t you answer my questions?”
“Because I don’t like be overburdened by thought.”
A knock at the door, along with the familiar tapping of dollar-store prosthetic nails ticking on wood. Then came a screeching voice, “How are you guys doing in here?” Zach and Mell must’ve mumbled, because the voice repeated itself, accompanied with a: “Can you hear me okay?” They decided it would probably be better to answer less the voice showed itself.
“Yeah, we’re fine,” they said in unison.
“Great! Just let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your experience with Destination Hot as Mars Tanning Salon and Transportation Services any better.”
The voice carried off down the hall and out of ear shot. The crack of another door opening and the voice echoing the same spiel as before started.
“I think I hate her.”
“What? Pssh. She might be annoying, but she’s nothing to hate.”
“You’re too forgiving. I don’t understand you.”
There’s an eerie pause in the room. One in which they both, for some reason, manifest respective questions. Zach: If I stare at these fluorescent lights without blinking, will my eyes turn a few shades browner? Mell: If I stare at Zach through both tanning beds, will he be able to perceive me looking in his general direction?
“Stop looking at me!”
“How could you tell?”
Mell went back to twiddling her thumbs, literally. She stroked her arm hairs gently back and forth, drifting off and jerking back awake suddenly. Eventually, she slammed her head into the ceiling of the tanning bed. All Zach heard was a thick thump.
“What was that? Are you okay?”
“You know, I think these places should have like televisions or mp3s built into their beds.”
“But eventually the plastic would degrade and melt over time.”
“Well, I need something to keep me awake.”
“Alright, fine, I’ll talk with you.”
“Really? That’ll be swell.”
“Please don’t sound so excited.”
“How much longer do you think we have to wait?”
“A few more minutes at most, I think. I’m starting to hate these mandatory tanning sessions just to transport to Mars.”
“It’s for our safety.”
“But my skin feels all leathery by the end of it. I feel like I’m wearing a cow, like my very own skin isn’t even mine and I’m wearing this thick cloth around me. It’s just strange.”
“I think that might be a side-effect of particle disruption process and not the actual tanning.”
“No, I’ve heard stories from people that get normal tannings on Earth. They relate a similar experience.”
“But tanning’s different here.”
“Well, it has something to do with chemicals and light features. I don’t know. I’m sure there’s an expert that could explain it to you. Maybe even that nice front desk lady that was just here.”
“Please, don’t even mention her. Her voice is like a thousand crickets chirping while someone scratches their nails on a blackboard.”
“Ugh, that gave me a slight chill.”
“I don’t like the visual of sentient crickets screeching on a blackboard.”
“Who said they were sentient?”
“No, they don’t necessarily need to be sentient in order for them to screech across a blackboard.”
A loud thud sounded accompanied by a prompt ding to indicate they could get out of their tanning beds. Mell and Zach lifted themselves out, each grabbing for complimentary bottles of water. The water went down with desperate, loud gulps. It felt as if they hadn’t had anything to drink for days, though it was more like a few minutes—a side effect of traveling through space to a different planet.
“Your skin is grey.” Mell laughed at Zach.
“Yours too, you know?”
“Damn, you’re right.”
They both examine themselves for a second, as if they don’t recognize themselves.
“I wonder when they’re going to fix the Grey Martian Syndrome of transportation from planets.”
“Probably never. It always takes them forever to do anything around here.”
“Well, are you ready? I want to explore the Anotombie Dunes first.”
“Fine, but only for a couple days.”