Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2022.
I. carbonado, n.
Um, hello? I hope this gets to you at all. I know I haven’t sent anything in a while. I want to explain. And yes, I’ll get to the mark on my face.
II. finger trap, n.
I need to start at the beginning. You must have known I needed to leave. Whenever I had tried running, something tethered me — feet in quicksand. I didn’t know I’d actually break away. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to get back. I’m sorry.
III. amor, n.
I guess it was just that— Dad always loved you more. You had basketball trophies, positive comments on your report cards. He always said he never had to worry about you. I had shit; I had to earn his love. Sometimes, I thought I had it, but it would fade away like the doppler effect of a siren. That’s why I did all this: I had to aim so high, he’d be forced to see me.
IV. dunning-kruger, n.
I thought I had it— I thought I had it— I thought I had it under control. I swear.
V. eustress, n.
I knew what I signed up for— I was going to be in the first group of people to terraform Mars. I had the degrees, the years of research. My name was announced on cable news. I was a leader in our shuttle. People listened to me, asked me for guidance. I couldn’t get enough.
VI. palustrine, adj.
It was like when we were kids, back at the lake, catching newts in a plastic bucket. I always needed to catch more than you, staying out after the fireflies showed up.
VII. perfectibilist, n.
It was arrogant to think we could do better than this. It was arrogant to think we could start over. It was arrogant to think there was nothing here before us.
VIII. soz, adj.
I’m sorry all this is coming to you in pieces. I had to reconfigure our transmitter with spare parts of our landing rig.
IX. carnyx, n.
I took the controls in our final descent, convinced I should do it, only I could do it. I missed a switch, a small mistake, enough to damage the hull. An alarm echoed through the ship until someone else repaired the necessary parts.
X. bambi, int. and adv.
The repairs set us back several hours. When it was safe and I was finally allowed out of the ship, I stood on red earth, saw maroon mountains meet black sky, an overwhelming array of stars around a blue dot where I knew you all were.
XI. rantipole, n.
They stopped talking to me, stopped asking me questions. I could see hastily-constructed walls flash across their faces when they saw me in the hall. I offered to help; they said they had it under control.
XII. boykie, n.
This keeps happening. I always get in my own way. I go too far into the water, lose my balance in the silt. Why were my successes never enough? I couldn't just pass my tests, I had to be better than all my classmates. I couldn't just go to Mars, I had to lead the people who went to Mars.
XIII. yampy, adj.
Dad was right. You are the better son. You wouldn't have put the lives of your crewmates in jeopardy to serve your ego. He never made you attend your parent-teacher conferences. I had to sit there while he voiced every disappoint, while each teacher reached for any solution.
XIV. bretheling, n.
I joined the survey team to earn the crew's respect back. It involved walking alone, away from their bitter eyes. In addition to creating a map of the surrounding area, we were looking for somewhere to build our base. That's when I found the cave.
XV. ballyhoo, n.
I updated the map, sent an alert to the leadership team. They called me to the conference room, where they sat around a long table, cluttered with annotated reports and blueprints. I stood before them, detailed the cave's location; its approximate volume; how much time, effort, material it would take to build a sustainable base. I- I emphasized its safety.
XVI. devil’s coach-horse, n.
There were so many things we- I didn't know: the actual depth of the cave, the small holes within its walls, the boring insects who created them.
XVII. sambaza, v.
Our ship was modular, created to be dismantled, room by room, once a long-term location was found. I assisted groups of people pack, travel, and reconfigure their rooms in the cave. They thanked me for my help, my discovery, made eye contact with me again.
XVIII. dreidel, n.
We had a feast once everyone was housed in the cave, most of the landing rig left as a monument in the red desert for where our settlement began. People laughed, ate, played games. They were so happy. It would be the last time that feeling was shared.
XIX. carboy, n.
The next morning, Hisashi, our agriculturist, lead his team to establish micro- and macrocrops within and outside the cave. He asked for my help surveying the land, showed me all the tubes and bottles for his complex compost system and his set up for brewing beer.
XX. hagwon, n.
Many people invited me to help them, learn their roles. I was accepted again, fully. I was seen as a leader again. I was learning so much. Things were going so well.
XXI. rinky-dink, n.
So, you should be able to see the wall behind me. If it's not in focus, just know that the shelves have fallen over, the posters and pictures ripped. You can actually see on this shelf panel, the holes from the insects that live here. It fell apart slowly. An air leak in one of the rooms deepest in. Patch work covered it, we moved on. Then more leaks, more patchwork, until Gloriana died in her sleep.
XXII. mondialization, n.
Gloriana was the lead of the communication team. They were constructing the transmitter to report our progress back to Earth. Our first report, as you well know, was her death, no explanation or cause.
XXIII. lip-sync, v.
There was debate about whether to share that information right away. There was debate about whether to carry on like nothing happened. For days, we cosplayed professionalism: did the tasks on the docket, said words with no real meaning.
XXIV. zilch, v.
They left no one. There's no one left. I examined Gloriana's body, her room, to look for clues. Day by day, there was less of her, not natural decay, chunks bitten off her limbs.
XXV. christmas, v.
On Earth, I think it was Christmas when I made that realization. I wrote a report, took some pictures, presented my findings to the leadership team. Two of them were absent. We assumed they were on an assignment or were recording messages to send to their families for the holidays. We were wrong.
XXVI. hanukkiah, n.
The next day, the lights went out. Emergency flashlights under our cots lead us through the hallways. As we approached the power sector, there was a whirring sound, like an engine low on oil. When the door opened, our flashlights were whipped out of our hands by a gust of wind escaping through a large hole in the wall. Shards of Tenzin's sweater caught on its rim, their severed hand on the emergency shut-off lever.
XXVII. chindogu, n.
It all went fast then; panic has a way of exacerbating things. We huddled together, surrounded by machines that were utterly useless then. Gathered in one of the central modules, we concentrated our food, water, spacesuits, smuggled weapons and ad hoc ones.
XXVIII. bak kut teh, n.
Hisashi set out on his own, knife in hand, to find a specimen to examine, develop a strategy for attack. He returned dangling a beetle the size of a football by its antennae. It oozed a viscous blood, shade of mulberry. After some poking, prodding, he suggested someone should take a bite to see if its edible in case our food supply runs low. I volunteered. It all felt like my fault. It was the least I could do. As my teeth sank into its flesh, the floor rumbled, erupted.
XXIX. mugwamp, n. and adj.
A swarm of them fell like hailstones, bounced like rubber bullets, sank teeth and pincers into whatever they found. We scattered, ran for the exit, but there stood the largest of them, the size of a loveseat, shrapnel lodged in its exoskeleton, human blood in its teeth. Hisashi and I charged with sharpened table legs, hoping to distract it away from the doorway while others fled to safety. They all fell to the swarm, Hisashi fell when a pincer stabbed his stomach. Sharp pincers, legs scraped my face as I escaped alone, the captain of a solo-mission. I ran to the communications room, this room right here, through a drafty hallway, this room, the last lung to hold air.
XXX. dear john, n.
You’re going to learn about this through an official communication someday soon. I typed it up and sent it to NASA soon as I caught my breath. But, I needed you to hear it from me. I needed you to know I tried. I needed you to see my face one last time, know we fought back. I needed you to know no one else should come here.
XXXI. mukbang, n.
I can hear them now in the walls. They’re going to get in any minute now. I’m not going to make it back home. So, I just want you to know I lo-