Morgan’s Road a short story by Torn MacAlester

Mor­gan’s Road, a short sto­ry by Torn MacAlester

Graph­ic by Shan­nan Albright

Mak­ing a liv­ing on the Moon is not for every­one, but Nel­son Carmike actu­al­ly pre­ferred the air­less basalt plains over Earth’s windy prairies.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, three years of Moon prospect­ing left him pen­ni­less, and with­out funds for sup­plies he was doomed to face a forced flight home. Out of options, Nel­son had all but giv­en up until a prospec­tor, pre­sumed dead for twen­ty years, arrives on his doorstep with a secret.

Can Nel­son fig­ure out how the man sur­vived on his own, and learn to do the same before his sup­plies out? 


Morgan’s Road By Torn MacAlester



Nel­son awoke with a start. Blink­ing, he looked around the inte­ri­or of his lunar home­stead. In the dim­ness, he saw a call-light at the entrance to the air­lock. He leaped from his bed all the way to the air­lock and pressed the answer key. “Yes?”

“It’s about time,” said a gar­bled male voice. “Can I come in?”

Nel­son looked at the exte­ri­or feed and saw a space­suit-clad fig­ure at the airlock’s out­er door. The man held a patch-cord that hooked into the homestead’s inter­com. The space­suit itself showed signs of typ­i­cal prospec­tor use—dirty up to the knees and elbows.

Behind the fig­ure, he saw an old-style crawler that had seen bet­ter days. He rec­og­nized it as sim­i­lar to a bro­ken-down crawler aban­doned near Con­rad Sta­tion. As he fought off the fog of sleep, Nel­son real­ized he did not rec­og­nize the indi­vid­ual. He asked, “Who are you?”

“The name is Mor­gan,” answered the man’s voice. “Can I come in?”

Nel­son hes­i­tat­ed, not remem­ber­ing a prospec­tor named Mor­gan. Over the past three years, he met many prospec­tors, but Nel­son also could remem­ber no one men­tion­ing Mor­gan. Most of the prospec­tors knew each oth­er, at least by rep­u­ta­tion, even though they kept to them­selves. It both­ered Nel­son to not know of Morgan.

The unwrit­ten rules of the prospec­tors insist­ed upon not going to someone’s home­stead unin­vit­ed. Mor­gan was Nelson’s fourth guest—the first unin­vit­ed. Curi­ous, he want­ed to know why this strange prospec­tor felt will­ing to break the rule. “Sure.” Nel­son cycled the air­lock, open­ing the out­er door.

The mys­tery unrav­eled as the inner door of the air­lock opened, reveal­ing a space-suit­ed fig­ure. Nel­son rec­og­nized the suit as an old­er type. He did not rec­og­nize the unknown emblem on the right sleeve above the heavy dust. Mor­gan car­ried a dust-cov­ered can­vas box, sim­i­lar to a lunch pail. The gold­en sun visor cov­ered the face­plate of the helmet.

Nel­son saw Mor­gan putting down the lunch­box and remov­ing his gloves. Morgan’s hands were pale and uncal­lused. His fin­gers end­ed in neat­ly trimmed but regolith-dis­col­ored nails. The lunar dirt had dis­col­ored Nelson’s own nails with­in days of arriv­ing on the moon, but Morgan’s hands did not show signs of heavy work. Nel­son watched as the vis­i­tor unlocked the hel­met from the suit and lift­ed it from his head.

Nel­son first noticed the inner comm hel­met sur­round­ing Morgan’s face—not the com­mon head­set of prospec­tors, but the old mouse ears with a head cov­er. Mor­gan him­self had gray­ing eye­brows. The orig­i­nal col­or might have been brown, but Nel­son could not tell.

Deep wrin­kles sat at the cor­ners of Morgan’s blue eyes. His face was a stub­ble of gray and brown beard, per­haps a day’s worth of growth. Morgan’s thin lips had no hint of a smile, nor did they hint a frown. Pulling off the com­mu­ni­ca­tions hel­met, he revealed a long mane of gray­ing hair. Nel­son saw a hint of a sparkle in the man’s eyes as he spoke.

“Thanks,” stat­ed Mor­gan in a grav­el­ly voice, trail­ing into a question.

“Nel­son.” He extend­ed his hand in friend­ship to Morgan.

“Nel­son,” Mor­gan smiled, return­ing the hand­shake. “Can we strike a bar­gain for a meal and two tanks of oxygen?”

“Sure,” answered Nel­son. “What did you have in mind?” Mak­ing a deal did not sur­prise Nel­son. Prospec­tors usu­al­ly made deals, though they fierce­ly fol­lowed through with them.

“A rous­ing con­ver­sa­tion and a secret is all I can offer.”

“That seems a lit­tle thin,” said Nel­son, feel­ing that the stranger was look­ing for a hand­out instead of a deal.

“Son,” smiled Mor­gan, “once you know the secret, you won’t think so.”

Unsure, he pon­dered Morgan’s offer. What secret could this old prospec­tor pos­sess? Per­haps he is mad, hav­ing some rare form of space demen­tia. In an instant, Nel­son con­clud­ed he would agree to the strange offer for no oth­er rea­son than curios­i­ty. “All right. You have emp­ty tanks to fill?”

“Yes,” Mor­gan stated.

“Take what you need. There is a spare tank behind the oxy­gen crack­er. Take it, too.”

“Thanks, friend.”

… down­load for more Mor­gans Road, short sto­ry by Torn MacAlester

or con­tin­ue read­ing below…


While Nel­son pre­pared a meal, Mor­gan went out­side. After a while, Nel­son heard the out­er air­lock door cycle.

“Been out prospect­ing?” Mor­gan asked after sit­ting down.

Nel­son did not both­er lying, since his home­stead was full of prospector’s equip­ment. “Yes, I just got back a while before you arrived.”

“Any luck?” The man’s eyes scanned the equipment.


“Didn’t think so.” Mor­gan took a few more bites of the meal. “What’s the problem?”

“Too lit­tle of val­ue.” Nel­son shrugged.

“Obvi­ous­ly,” Mor­gan chuck­led. “What have you been look­ing for?”

“KREEP, main­ly,” Nel­son explained.

“Good stuff, if you can find it—thorium, rare earths,” Mor­gan replied, obvi­ous­ly aware of the def­i­n­i­tion of KREEP.

“Yeah, I know it will fetch top dol­lar,” Nel­son grum­bled then added, “If I could ever find an out­crop with enough con­cen­tra­tion…” Nel­son trailed off, think­ing about the El Dora­do that seemed so far away.

“What’s going on?”

“Noth­in’,” Nel­son sighed. “I’ve got my prob­lems, just like any­one else.”

“Son,” Mor­gan smiled, reach­ing for a bag he brought in the habi­tat. “A lit­tle vod­ka and some discussion?”

“Sure,” Nel­son answered, then added, “On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Stop call­ing me ‘son,’” Nel­son answered. “I’m no rook­ie, and I’m near­ly fifty. Plus, it sounds weird.”

“Fine.” Mor­gan paused a moment, then added, “Nel­son.”

“Let me get some cups.” Nel­son went to the pantry and retrieved two plas­tic tumblers.

“Those should work,” Mor­gan stat­ed as Nel­son sat back down at the small table. Mor­gan poured a lit­tle vod­ka into each cup. “Best stuff on the moon.”

Nel­son took too strong a sip and nod­ded with approval.       “Yes,” he croaked.

“So, my friend,” Mor­gan said, pick­ing up his fork. “What’s going on?”

“I’ve near­ly reached the end of my sav­ings. I must exer­cise my back-pas­sage option once it’s out.”

“–back pas­sage option?” Mor­gan asked.

“It’s the guar­an­teed mon­ey that I had to put down to ensure a trip back to Earth.”

“Oh.” Mor­gan nodded.

“So, I’m at near­ly the end.”

“Sell it out,” Mor­gan said.


“Sell the damn thing out.” Mor­gan seemed adamant about it.

“You’re crazy.” Nel­son could not believe sell­ing out his passage.

“No.” Mor­gan returned his atten­tion to his dinner.

“Mor­gan, I–”

“Sounds to me like you planned to fail.”

“No.” Nel­son felt annoyed. Mor­gan seemed to know noth­ing about being on the moon.

“I bet you even have a house over there…” Mor­gan waved his hand toward the airlock.

Nel­son real­ized Mor­gan meant his house on Earth. “How–”

“–you’re pre­dictable.”

“Now, the—” Nel­son stam­mered, unable to fin­ish the point about hav­ing the means to han­dle the unforeseen.

“So, what are you going to do?” Mor­gan asked, study­ing the cup he swirled in his left hand.

“I’ve got enough saved to get anoth­er month of supplies—probably.” Nel­son took a sip of the vod­ka. “Maybe I can stretch that to two months.”

“Then what?”

“I’ll keep mov­ing,” Nel­son answered. “I think the more ground I cov­er, the better.”

“That seems sound.” Mor­gan nod­ded, rais­ing his cup. “Do you think it will go any better?”

“No.” Nel­son believed his answer. The chances of strik­ing it rich were nev­er good. “The best I can hope for is to keep going for anoth­er month. I might sell a few sam­ples, but I have noth­ing that pays enough to build a bud­get on.”

“So, you’ll be rely­ing on luck?” asked Morgan.


Mor­gan fin­ished the last of his meal and smiled. “That was a good meal. You should be proud of yourself.”

“Damn,” Nel­son said. “You make it seem like I’m raw. I’ve been here for near­ly three years.”

“Son,” laughed Mor­gan, “every­one is a raw com­pared to me. No one has been out here as-long-as I have. I’m work­ing on my fif­teenth year at wan­der­ing these hills.”

“How come I haven’t heard of you before?”

“I keep to myself.”

“Nobody has even talked about you at Con­rad Sta­tion,” Nel­son stat­ed, know­ing he had nev­er heard of Mor­gan. In fact, Nel­son heard of no one like him.

“I don’t go to Con­rad Station.”

“That’s impos­si­ble,” Nel­son gasped in disbelief.

“Is it?” asked Morgan.

Nel­son looked deeply into Morgan’s eyes. He had always fan­cied him­self as a decent judge of char­ac­ter. Nel­son sus­pect­ed Mor­gan could be lying. He knew no one had men­tioned a Mor­gan, which sug­gest­ed the truth.

Mor­gan defied expla­na­tion. Nel­son won­dered why Mor­gan spoke so clear­ly, but remained so eva­sive. And the ques­tion that Mor­gan had asked seemed strange. Was it pos­si­ble for him to nev­er go to Con­rad Station?

“You are strug­gling with the notion of me nev­er going to Con­rad Sta­tion,” said Morgan.

“How is that pos­si­ble?” Nel­son asked.

“The answer to the ques­tion will give you the secret that I promised.”

“I don’t under­stand.” Nel­son watched, feel­ing dumb­found­ed, as Mor­gan began dress­ing into his space suit.

“You will fig­ure it out,” said Mor­gan, “once you have answered the ques­tion.” In silence, Mor­gan fin­ished don­ning his space suit. With a wave, he closed the airlock’s inner door.

Nel­son sat won­der­ing about the strange man, the strange ques­tion, and his own san­i­ty. He sat for some time con­tem­plat­ing the situation.

With a start, he noticed Morgan’s lunch pail still sit­ting on the floor near the air­lock. Nel­son ran to the video feed, hop­ing that Mor­gan hadn’t depart­ed. He could see a small crawler dri­ving away toward the north­east, leav­ing a track in the regolith as it reced­ed. Frus­trat­ed, Nel­son picked up the lunch pail and tossed it into a cor­ner. He heard the thud of its con­tents shift­ing as it came to a rest.

Damn him, he thought. All he did was to cre­ate a distraction.

… down­load for more Mor­gans Road, short sto­ry by Torn MacAlester

or con­tin­ue read­ing below…


Cov­er Graph­ic by Shan­nan Albright



After some sleep, Nel­son took the long trip to Con­rad Sta­tion for sup­plies. He glanced at the tracks head­ing away from his habi­tat to the north­east, won­der­ing about Mor­gan and the rid­dle. An answer came to him. Mor­gan was the part­ner of some­one else—likely some­one who would ben­e­fit from Nelson’s fail­ing ven­ture. I’m an idiot, he thought as he turned down the rut­ted tracks lead­ing toward Con­rad Sta­tion. I will not make it easy on Mor­gan and his part­ner, he vowed. I’m not leav­ing the moon.

Nel­son pledged to try every­thing to extend his stay beyond a month. His first task was sup­plies, includ­ing fill­ing the fifty-gal­lon col­lapsi­ble water tank stored in the crawler. That, plus the water in the habi­tat, rep­re­sent­ed about 40 days. After that, he need­ed to focus on the cash to get anoth­er twen­ty days.

He set­tled into the rou­tine of dri­ving toward Con­rad Sta­tion. He knew dri­ving the nine­ty kilo­me­ters took three hours. Set­ting the auto dri­ve, Nel­son relaxed.






Once inside the air­lock of Con­rad Sta­tion, he removed his hel­met to hear a friend­ly woman’s voice.

“Bless my stars, if it isn’t Nel­son,” said Max­ine, the sta­tion sup­ply coor­di­na­tor. She stood about five four and was about fifty, as best Nel­son could guess. She had an infec­tious smile that bright­ened his mood. Her eyes were green and sparkled all the time.

“Hi there, Max.” Nel­son waved. She always went by Max, say­ing that it was a more fit­ting name for her since she was the only girl in a house full of broth­ers. Her phys­i­cal and men­tal tough­ness had led her to the moon in one of the ear­ly mis­sions. Since then, she found a niche as the sup­ply coor­di­na­tor at Con­rad Station.

“You’re cut­ting it a lit­tle close this time, don’t you think?” she said, com­ing over to hug him despite his dirty spacesuit.

It had been rumored that some­one replaced her, and that they had ordered her to go back to Earth about five years back. The rumor was that she spaced the replace­ment and told the com­pa­ny to go to hell if they want­ed to fire her.

Nel­son believed the rumor, all except the part about spac­ing the replace­ment. She was tough enough to do so, but Nel­son felt she would not have been so mean.

“It’s no big deal,” Nel­son answered. “I’ll dri­ve back in the dark. I won’t be able to do any­thing until sun­rise, anyway.”

“Okay. We’ll just get you ready quick­ly so you can go back imme­di­ate­ly. Every­one else has already been in, so you are first and last in line.” Max was a delight to every­one. She could tell you to go to hell, and you would feel oblig­at­ed to go because she would say so in such a nice way and with an infec­tious smile.


“What do you have for me?”

“Just some rocks for tourists, and some crates that might be worth recycling.”

“I’ll give you three hun­dred bucks for the lot.”

“That much? I would have thought it would be worth one-fifty at most—you haven’t both­ered to look at them.”

“Who’s set­ting the prices here?”

“All right.” Nel­son held his hands up defen­sive­ly. “What­ev­er you say.”

She punched him in the shoulder.

“Ow!” he replied, even though he did not feel it through his thick space suit.

“Besides,” she said, look­ing some­what pained. “I bet you need a refill on your water. That will sting.”

“How much?” Nel­son already knew the bad news since he read the sign in the air­lock, but let her say it, anyway.

“Two hun­dred bucks a gal­lon,” Max stat­ed, a slight frown on her face.

“Ouch.” Mor­gan rubbed his shoul­der, real­iz­ing the price had hurt more than her ear­li­er punch. He knew Max­ine had noth­ing to do with it. She passed on the prices.

“Told you.” She said, “Did you hook up your blad­der for refill­ing yet?”


“You can go out and hook it up, but first let me know how many days’ worth of food you want. I’ll get it togeth­er while you’re fill­ing up.”


“Good. I’ll start get­ting it together.”

Once out­side, Nel­son hooked up the col­lapsi­ble tank to the water spig­ot. He began fill­ing it, know­ing that the last of his sav­ings went into the water tank. Being from Wyoming, he had learned that water and water rights were pre­cious in an arid cli­mate. The moon was dry­er than any Earth desert.

As he watched the water fill in the tank, Nelson’s thoughts drift­ed to Morgan’s ques­tion. Was it pos­si­ble for Mor­gan to nev­er go to Con­rad Sta­tion? Nelson’s own sup­plies were clear­ly answer­ing that ques­tion. Mor­gan would not have need­ed any more sup­plies for prospect­ing. Nel­son had plen­ty him­self, and he wasn’t buy­ing today.

How about space suit parts? Prop­er­ly main­tained a suit would last. The only dif­fi­cul­ty would be the visors and the face plates get­ting scratched by the con­stant abra­sion from the regolith. Nel­son had bought a pol­ish­ing kit when he first arrived two years ago. The coat­ings from that kit had worked well, and he sel­dom need­ed to replace them. Mor­gan could have lived with­out them.

Oxy­gen was also unneed­ed from the sta­tion. The oxy­gen crack­ers at his home­stead had kept him sup­plied with the pre­cious gas with­out a break­down. Prop­er­ly main­tained, Nel­son could not think of a rea­son for them to fail. A good solar array pro­vid­ing pow­er and plen­ty of lunar soil kept an oxy­gen crack­er run­ning indefinitely.

The solar arrays for the home­stead had few mov­ing parts, so they would not like­ly to break down, either. The air­lock for the home­stead was also fair­ly sim­ple. There were few ways it could break down. Care­ful main­te­nance would also keep them work­ing for many years. Food would be a prob­lem, but Mor­gan could eas­i­ly grow his own. Nel­son couldn’t imag­ine him­self eat­ing a veg­an diet, but Mor­gan could have eas­i­ly exist­ed on one.

Nel­son real­ized there was one rea­son that would force Mor­gan to come to Con­rad Sta­tion. He would need water. The home­stead recy­cled some water that he used, but it could not recy­cle all of it. Every time the air­lock cycled, water vapor escaped to space. A human being needs at least a gal­lon of water per day, and all of it came from Earth. Unless…




After fill­ing the tank, Nel­son hur­ried inside. After remov­ing his hel­met, he saw Max look at him strangely.

“What’s wrong, Nel­son?” she asked.

“Noth­ing,” he said, feel­ing his face tug­ging with a grin. “Tell me, has there ever been an old prospec­tor called Mor­gan around the station?”

“Mor­gan,” her hand caressed her chin as she thought, “No. I can’t think of a Morgan.”

“Think, Max. It could have been years ago. Back when the sta­tion was new.”

“What are you talk­ing about, Nelson?”

“Is there an old prospec­tor called Mor­gan?” he pressed. “He may not have been here in years.”

“I can’t think of one.” Her expres­sion changed, and her eyes opened wide. “You can’t mean Mor­gan Johnson.”

“What about him?”

“He land­ed about twen­ty years back, up north. Every­one got con­cerned after no one heard from him after a while. We sent out search par­ties, but no one ever found any sign of him. His lan­der wasn’t even found. We assumed he crashed or couldn’t make the jour­ney to the sta­tion because of a bro­ken-down crawler. We gave up after about a month.”

Nel­son grinned and grabbed Max, giv­ing her a big kiss on the lips.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Nel­son?” she shout­ed after the kiss.

“Not a thing!” Nel­son grinned.

“Pay up and get out of here, then. You have gone space sil­ly or something.”

Nel­son hand­ed Max his deb­it card. He knew that he just dropped ten grand on a bar­rel of water, but he did not feel the despair that had been both­er­ing him ear­li­er. When she hand­ed him back the debt card, she grabbed him and kissed him.

Stunned, he paused a moment then spoke, “Thanks, Max.”

“Good luck to ya,” she answered.




Nel­son imme­di­ate­ly drove back to his home­stead. The dri­ve seemed to take for­ev­er, even though Nel­son pushed it all the way home. It was a stu­pid thing to do. His bat­ter­ies would be too low for any­thing until sunup in four­teen days.

Impa­tient­ly, he wait­ed as he tra­versed the dis­tance to his home­stead. He had nev­er want­ed to com­plete the jour­ney so quick­ly before. He arrived with the sun bare­ly above the hori­zon. It would be dark soon.

Nel­son did not unload his car­go upon arrival. Once the air­lock cycled, he removed the gloves and hel­met from his suit.

He ran to the cor­ner where he had thrown Morgan’s lunch­box. It was one of the ther­mos-type box­es with a seal, allow­ing it to be tak­en out into the vac­u­um. Nel­son opened the seal and tilt­ed open the lid. He grabbed the regolith-cov­ered rock that he saw with­in the box. He could feel the cool­ness and the mois­ture in his hands. Slow­ly, he brushed the wet soil from the rock, uncov­er­ing the icy surface.

Nel­son called his accoun­tant, telling him to sell out every­thing. The ensu­ing argu­ment end­ed when Nel­son flat­ly stat­ed that he would nev­er come home. He need­ed to sell the house, the return pas­sage, and the remain­ing investments.

Mor­gan had deliv­ered a secret. A secret that would make Nel­son inde­pen­dent and maybe rich. Mor­gan lived on the moon, self-suf­fi­cient­ly. He could do it because he had found the biggest trea­sure of all: ice. Replac­ing the ice in the lunch­box, Nel­son closed it and looked to the exter­nal view­er. He saw the tracks that Morgan’s crawler had left in the regolith. Those tracks were the road to every­where Mor­gan had been. It was Morgan’s road. Nel­son vowed to fol­low it until he found the ice.


… down­load for more  Mor­gans Road, short sto­ry by Torn MacAlester

or con­tin­ue read­ing below…



            The old man fin­ished his sto­ry and said thanks for the drink. He bound­ed out of the Con­rad Sta­tion bar, leav­ing behind a baf­fled tourist.

            The tourist com­ment­ed to the bartender,

            “That was a load of crap.”

            “What?” asked the barkeep.

            “That sto­ry,” said the tourist.

            “What about it?” The bar­keep col­lect­ed anoth­er glass from the rack and dried it.

            “At least it only cost a drink.” The man shrugged.

            “Do you know who that was?”

            “No. Who was it?” asked the man.

            “That was Nils Carmike. Back in forty-one, he and Mil­ton John­son dis­cov­ered a huge ice deposit up north of here,” answered the barkeep.

            “You mean that story–”

            “–a roman­tic tale.” The bar­keep set down the clean glass in front of the cus­tomer. “What will it be?”


For more about Nils Carmike and Mil­ton John­son, check out Thun­der Moon Tus­sle by Torn MacAlester

Read for Free on Kin­dle Unlimited.

Avail­able on Kindle.

Paper­back avail­able at Ama­zon Books.

Read about the sci­ence that inspired Mor­gan’s Road.