Nightflight to Venus

by Sarah Kontopoulos

Art by Susanna Herrmann

What would it take to go even farther next time? To be away longer? Judith’s eyes traced the border of the yellowing water stain on the white acoustic ceiling tile above her bed. It seeped across the metal grid into the next tile, blooming into a pallid rust flower.

If I start here in Seattle at 10 o’clock, where could I go in four hours? Or six? She weighed and measured places and their distance from her body.

Last night it had taken just over an hour to travel with her mind to the MoClips cabin on the Washington Peninsula and back—or so said her standard issue wall clock. About half the time it took her physical body to get there by car.

She was surprised at first, to project out of her sleeping body. Disbelieving, she’d hovered over it up by the rust flower watching her own peaceable breathing for several minutes. How many years had it been since she had separated this way? She couldn’t remember. And when did I get so shrunken and old? Also unclear.

And then, in a blink, Judith stood in MoClips on the dark rocky shore. Black water lapped cold at her toes. Its nighttime chill was muted, but she felt it.

I guess you never forget how. Like riding a bike.

A group of surprised mallards glided by, quacking their rebuke: “What are you doing here so late? My word, and in her nightdress, no less!”


Judith looked up the slope past the beach grass to the vacant dusky cabin she and Steven bought it in the late 60s, over 50 years before. He’d been gone ten years, and she missed his calm strength every day. His even keel-ness.

Ordinarily, her family would be curled up inside the house. In the early evening, the cloud-tinted front sheers drawn open, a cozy television and table lamp glow illuminating the living room. They watched movies and cuddled together under snug blankets Judith knitted for them. Later, upstairs, children and grandchildren drifted into a sweet deep slumber, a single night owl nosing a book.

I did get back early this time.

Back in her room and in her bed, Judith heard a car crunch over gravel in the parking lot outside. Its headlights reflected off the closed vinyl window blinds, casting shuttering searchlight lines into the room. They hurriedly ticked across the minty curtain next to her, as if from a distorted rectangular disco ball, and then across the coordinating wall at the foot of her bed before disappearing. Afterward, the room lay still except for the nocturnal whirring of her roommate’s CPAP machine.

How far could she go if she left early? Maybe Sedona.

Further? The desert…yes, back there.

But in one night?

Not this night, though they wouldn’t be woken for at least two more hours. Judith centered her hands across her belly over the fine sheet and thin coverlet draped over her. Both also in mint. Despite their bareness, they cocooned her.

Next time.

She closed her eyes and slept.

The next night she fell asleep earlier but didn’t make it to lucid until halfway through the night. Too late to go farther.

So, instead, she went back to her parents’ home on Whidbey Island and dangled her legs off the southern edge of the asphalt roof, overlooking the vegetable garden. In the darkness, loose shingle grit scratched the back of her knees and quadriceps as she swung her legs, sprinkling crushed stone granules down below.

Her parents had favored root vegetables: orange Tendersweet carrots, buttery gold potatoes, Walla Walla sweet onions, and ivory sugar beets.

Tell it again, the kids would beg. So, Dad told again the Montana harvest tales of running behind the rickety beet wagon tottering on its wooden wheels, brothers and sisters competing to see who could mine the most “white gold,” and how he’d learned at dusk from the farmhands all he knew, and ever needed to, about playing baseball.

Well, it used to grow vegetables, anyway.

Now, large concrete pavers mapped out a different garden, for repose. It grew resin wicker furniture, a shade umbrella closed in nyctinasty, and an ashy fire pit, and sprouted a hot tub instead of beets. The new family living there were all asleep, like her. Do any of them wander, too?

Next door she peered through the top row of windows of the smaller of two Tuscan-style villas. Her breath left a barely noticeable residue of fog on the glass.

Even the fusion red Tesla Roadster inside slumbered, dreaming of long Sunday drives to Oak Harbor. It was likely unaware that its garage succeeded the farm outbuilding of her birth by 70 years, and her birth preceded Whidbey Island’s first hospital by almost 40.

The twilight morning sky overhead started lightening toward dawn, so she blinked herself back.


“Good morning, Miss Evelyn. Good morning, Miss Judith.” From above she saw Marisol squish across their viridescent room in her white Angel Lites to open the vinyl blinds to the morning.

Marisol rubbed Judith’s shoulder. “Time to wake up, Missus. It’s a very beautiful morning.” She walked past the dividing curtain to Judith’s roommate Evelyn’s side. Evelyn’s alert and anxious face lay in wait.

“Marisol, I had the most disturbing dream last night.” Evelyn held her right arm out expectantly.

“Oh, reeaally? Tell me, Miss Evelyn.” Marisol reached back, grasping the arm, both women leveraging their angle to raise Evelyn to a seated position so she could turn and face her nighttime guardian, a grey bedside commode. Marisol lifted her hands to its foam-gripped armrests.

I wonder if Marisol knows her hair is thinning on top. I’ll bet she can’t see it. Judith would never tell her.

“I was at the Friends Meeting House, waiting for the Spirit to find me. It hadn’t found anybody else yet, either. Suddenly, I felt it! I stood up! I was going to speak, and then…and then…”

Evelyn’s eyes widened, whites bared, as spasmodic rigidity tightened in her neck and shoulders, “…when I stood up, I was the only one with clothes on!”

“Oh no, Miss Evelyn. That is very upsetting. Don’t be embarrassed. It was just a dream.” Marisol winked and patted her back. Evelyn’s body released.

Evelyn was a Quaker, a nudist Quaker, who frequently disrobed. That had been her comfortable normal for a lifetime—why would she change now? Two or three times a week, visitors passing their room viewed her splayed naked on her bed, which was the first inside their room. Lately, forgetting where she was, Evelyn had started undressing in the dining room or the rehab gym. The staff was unphased and kindly directed her to her room.

Marisol helped Evelyn settle onto the commode seat and called to Judith over the light dribbling sounds of urine tapping into the hollow bucket underneath it, “Alright, Miss Judith, almost your turn. Time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty!” she chuckled.

Marisol pulled back the curtain and stood over Judith.

“Are you awake, Missus?”

Judith cracked her eyes open. “Good morning, Miss Marisol,” she said.


It was just before midnight on Friday when Judith was startled awake.

“Oh! I’m wet! Help! I’m weeet! Mamaaa!”

They put Evelyn in generous adult briefs that slipped on like underwear. But two or three nights a week when a brief failed to contain her, a slow-creeping, sour ammonia spill overflowed to the bed pad below, soaking the bedsheets, and wafted over to Judith’s side.

Judith prayed as she pulled the call light string. Please, please, don’t let it be Rick. Minutes passed.

“I’m all wet. I-I need to get up. I have to go potty!”

From the other side of the curtain, she heard Evelyn struggle to sit up and then flop back. Thank God. The alternative was disaster if she ever succeeded. She had fallen before.

After fifteen minutes, Judith knew it was him. The fastest he’d come was half an hour. The slowest–two hours?

And then he’d yell at Evelyn, “Ugh, again? What are you, a baby? I should rub your nose in it. That would teach you.”

Why does he repeat that garbage? Doesn’t he hear his father’s voice? Judith would never tell him. And she wished once more they didn’t need him.

After almost an hour, Evelyn reached her limit.

“Riiiiick! I’m weeeeet,” she screamed.

Even within her perpetually shifting fog, Evelyn eventually remembered who was in charge, who could help her—if he would—when she sat in her own stink and wet.

Rick loped into the room then, first to Judith’s side to reset the call light, and then to Evelyn’s.

“Rick! I’m all wet!” Silence. Judith heard another CNA enter the room.

Judith pictured Evelyn imploring them with the whites of her eyes, while the two men ignored her. Wordlessly they transferred her to the commode, stripped her clothes and sheets, remade the bed, redressed Evelyn, and put her back to bed. The sound of one pair of feet leaving the room. Then a quick, dull papery thump against something on the bed.

“Owww!” Evelyn howled. “I didn’t mean to do it! Ri-hi-hi-hick!” she began to wail.

Judith imagined he’d shoved her shoulder or her bad knee. Not hard, not enough to really hurt, but enough to startle, intimidate, and upset. Judith’s stomach burned.


Late on Saturday night, though by then it was early Sunday, Judith returned from another journey away from her sleeping self. She delayed going back to her body and bed and wandered the quiet halls, pausing at the nurse’s station.

Rick sat staring at his cell phone, while another man fiddled with the brown plastic stir stick in a white Styrofoam cup of vending machine coffee. Like Rick, the long blue lanyard around his neck was printed all over with the same repeating acronym: CNA—certified nursing assistant. But the name tag attached to it was flipped over, and Judith couldn’t remember his name.

“How’s your kid, man?” the CNA asked.

Rick was engrossed in a video on his phone and didn’t hear.

“…code named, The Stargate Project. This secret US military unit was co-created by the Defense Intelligence Agency, or ‘DIA,’ and Stanford University’s remote viewing lab, called ‘SRI,’ and was active from the early 70s until 1995 when it was closed due to a lack of replicable findings. Reportedly, only ten men remained as remote viewers at the time…”

Judith rolled her eyes. Ten men, ten men. They never got it right. Not ten “men” who were remote viewers, ten couples.

You’re right, but you know we can’t tell anyone, Steven would say.

One paper misreported it 25 years ago, and now the story was perpetuated on and on in every new iteration.

You know it’s classified information, Steven gently reminded her again. Let it go, Jude. And she had…mostly.

“Yo, Rick. How’s Shelley?” Rick looked up at his daughter’s name.

“She’s good. Yeah, thanks for askin’. She’s real good. I hadda fight her mom to see her but I got every third weekend.”

“That’s great. So, you get a weekend off every three weeks now, huh?” The CNA chortled. Judith leisurely floated down the hallway away from them, only half-listening to the conversation.

The next weekend after a breezy trip around the Seattle Great Wheel, Judith looked down at the scene unfolding on Evelyn’s side of the curtain. Rick hulked over a sleeping Evelyn with his right arm pulled back. Quickly, with his pointer and middle fingers, he jabbed Evelyn’s hip hard, followed by her neck. She cried out in her sleep.

The nights Rick worked, Evelyn woke crying more than usual, and now Judith understood why. When he wound up again Judith swooped down and finger punched his shoulder, throwing him off balance.

“Enough,” she hissed.

Rick gasped and recoiled, hearing nothing. Just be satisfied with scaring him, she told herself. But the slow sear had re-awakened in her stomach.

Rick hurriedly searched the room and bathroom, checking and rechecking that the women were asleep in their beds, and then, rubbing his shoulder, hurried toward the doorway. Judith held up the hem of her nightdress to kick him in the backside, propelling him through the door.

Yelping, Rick ran up the hallway, checking over his shoulder for the poltergeist or serial killer that would surely follow. Judith flew behind and alongside him in an invisible rage. The scorch in her belly fueled an inferno. Every few seconds she assaulted some part of him–elbowed his ear or struck the back of his knees, making him pitch forward.

How do you like me now? she seethed.

“Gotta go take a leak,” Rick called to the other CNA as he rushed by him.

Judith launched herself into the bathroom ahead of them, so when Rick locked the door she was already inside. He hugged himself, shaking and muttering.

“Don’t- don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me,” he whimpered.

Judith moved in close, so they were nearly nose to nose, examining his face. He was younger than she’d thought, with a lingering eruption of facial acne. Not a day over 25, she guessed. He was just a kid, really. A boy-man. He stared through her, waiting.

What’s your best-case scenario here, Jude? Steven’s rational voice cut in with a favorite crisis question from their CIA days. She circled Rick and studied him in the mirror from behind.

When Rick looked into the mirror, he shrieked. They were faint, but Judith’s outline and face were visible behind him.

They can see us in mirrors?! Judith felt the incredulous thrill of unexpected new power.

Rick looked around cautiously, bracing for what might come. Ghost in the mirror, yes; ghost behind him, no.

Before Judith could make her next move, he spoke to her:

“Mom? Is…is it you?”

Hmm, didn’t see that coming. Well, whatever worked. Judith gave a dramatic nod.

“I thought it was you. I miss you so much, mom…Ashley left, and- and Shelley’s eight now…but, you probably know all that.” He paused.

“I’m tired, Mama,” he whispered. A tear streaked down Rick’s face and fizzled out Judith’s anger. Even so, she scowled and cuffed the back of his head. He still needed to get the message.

“Why are you so angry? I never hit her again after you died, I swear,” he offered. Closer, getting closer. Judith prodded him in the hip and neck where he had poked Evelyn.

“Ouch! The old lady? Is that why you’re mad? Shit. She’s crazy! And she makes so much work.” With both hands, Judith shoved him hard in the shoulders, causing him to lurch toward the sink. “Okay, okay, I get it, I’ll leave her alone.”


Satisfied, Judith backed up, preparing to blink back to her room.

“Wait! Don’t go! Don’t leave me again. Please!”

His vulnerability surprised her, and he appeared at that moment to be about twelve, all knock-knees and horse teeth. Too big for his skinny boy-man face, and far too young to know about divorce or working so many long hours and days without rest. In his face, she saw that there was still a choice about the kind of man he would become. Steven’s question bobbed in her head.

And then, surprising herself this time, Judith stepped forward and slowly put her arms around him, embracing him deeply. The hug was brief, but it felt real, as real can be. She wished for him to be the kind of man he might be, and hoped it was still possible, before blinking out.

Judith kept tabs on Rick through the summer and early fall. Made sure he didn’t see her, of course. He wasn’t friendly, but he never hurt or yelled at Evelyn again.

Late on the last night, near the end of October, Judith lies awake in the dark listening to the velvet purring coming from Evelyn’s side of the room.

Overhead, the rust flower has been replaced with two new white ceiling tiles. Suspended over her, they portend an inviting fresh start. In the hallway, she hears Marisol squelch by, and, after smoothing the coverlet over her body, Judith falls asleep content.

Nineteen hours later, Judith stands barefoot in her nightgown facing westward at Sotol Vista Overlook in the Texas Chihuahuan desert. The light abates toward dusk and a black-tailed jackrabbit leaps through her legs. The warm air smells fresh and dry.

It took more than half the time it would to drive here. Three hours slower than when she came regularly in the 1970s–the same decade as the building of Whidbey Island hospital.

Not bad for an old lady.

The sun set more than an hour ago, and she’s missed the dramatic chiaroscuro play of bright sunset and shadows across the desert plant life: Rosetophilous Scrub, Feather Dalea, Agave, Lechuguilla, and others. Now the same flora bears witness as the sky around them moves from the sunset auburns and golds of civilian twilight to the darkened indigo of nautical twilight, where only dark shapes appear silhouetted against the dimming background of the sky. The deep canyon awaits in the distance.

She imagines how it went early that morning when Marisol tried to wake her:

“Yes, Miss Evelyn, I’m coming!” Marisol is on Evelyn’s side turning off her CPAP, pulling back the covers to help Evelyn sit up. Evelyn puffing to catch her breath, then whisking back the curtain to Judith’s side.

“Are you awake, Missus? Time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty.”

No response from Judith, save slow shallow breaths and a Mona Lisa smile.

And then the LPN, and then the RN, and then the nursing director trying all they can to wake her up.

Now she glides through the cool night air toward Santa Elena Canyon where the Rio Grande emerges between the V-shape of sharply vertical limestone cliffs. Half the canyon lies on the Mexican Sierra Ponce side and half on the U.S. Mesa de Anguila side. It means the river has two names: Rio Grande and Rio Bravo.

Does the canyon know it’s a dual citizen? Why would it care about such a fleeting temporal designation? It hardly stirs at her arrival, anyway. She isn’t the first one here. Long before, the Spanish and Comanches came, and before them were the Apaches, the Jumanos, the Chisos, and more before them. This place knows them all.

They had to call the doctor to try and wake her. It took him several hours to come. She was just sleeping, after all.

Above her the night sky is cloudless, hanging over her head now. Against the onyx violet expanse of space is the dazzling, tilted, silver and white banner of the Milky Way. Under it, nearer the horizon, Venus’s bright glimmer, always chasing the sun this time of year. Perhaps Steven went to Venus. Perhaps he’s waiting there now. And she wonders again…What would it take to go even farther? To be away longer? She’s not hungry or cold or tired. Maybe she never has to return, to go there…

Though she’s breathing and has a smile, the doctor cannot wake her either. So, she’ll sleep peacefully for several days and slip away a few later. That sounds just right.

And then, thinking it over one last time, Judith blinks and is gone.

Sarah Kontopoulos is an emerging Seattle writer and speech pathologist, born in Vancouver, Canada, to English and Greek parents. Her favorite genres are speculative fiction, magical realism and horror. Sarah’s husband and two daughters support and cheer her on in life and in writing. Her pet rabbits don't care and would like some apple now, please. Find her on IG at:

Susanna Herrmann is a designer and visual artist from Bloomington, Indiana. She studied philosophy at Georgetown University before working for a photographer in northern California and then pursuing an MFA in studio art at the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture, and Design at Indiana University. Susanna’s work is based in theories of visual perception and is influenced by space and landscape.