Short Story: Ghostie Ghost, Are You Out Tonight?

The moonlight hungrily devoured every inch of the tall grass and weeds behind the picket fences of near-identical suburban homes but failed to reach through the canopy of the clustered trees lining the unkempt field. 

The last standing wooded remains between civilization and farmland, the woods had long been the subject of whispers and warnings; but to the cluster of adolescents in the cusp of night, the danger was only an alluring story.

“Mom’s just being paranoid,” Alanna had said, and that had made sense to Mina and the others. Her mother was well known to be over-protective. “We won’t be long.”

Mina watched the treeline with trepidation, the crickets sounding near-deafening so close.  She warily checked her feet in fear of the small insects crawling along them. “Are you sure this is worth it? This game sounds dumb, and there are mosquitoes everywhere.

“All this grass is making me itchy,” Joseph chimed in, and scratched at his arms as if to prove his point. “I think I’m allergic to something.”

“Are we sure it’s okay we’re out here? It’s kind of scary. I don’t want to get caught by a serial killer or something. I saw something about it on Netflix. Or, my sister did, and she told me about it.” Nick pulled his little brother, Luke, closer to him, though Luke seemed more interested in staring up at the bright night sky that sprawled over them like a blanket of stars.

“Grandma said they played this game when they were kids, so why can’t we? Come on, let’s pick the ghost!”

After a round of ‘eeny meeny miny moe’, Alanna declared Joseph was the ghost, to his annoyance.

“Why do I have to be first?” he asked, but Alanna only shrugged. Mina crinkled her nose, not putting it past Alanna to have found a way to cheat somehow. She never did like Joseph.

“Alright!,” Alanna started, voice echoing in the empty field. She pointed to the ground at her feet. “This is home base. We all close our eyes, and Joseph hides. When we count to thirty, we all open our eyes and yell, ‘Ghostie, ghost, are you out tonight?’ Then we start looking for Joseph. He’s going to try to scare us and tag us. If he tags you, you’re the ghost next! If he comes out and no one gets tag, last one to home base is it. Got it?”

“Wait, where am I supposed to hide? It’s all just grass,” Joseph asked, biting his lip as if he already knew the answer.

Alanna pointed to the treeline, covered in a thick layer of darkness. “In the trees of course! Like you said, there’s nowhere to hide out here.”

“No way!” Joseph crossed his arms, jutting out his lip. “I am not going into those woods. Dad said not to go in there, no way no how. Not even during the day. Who knows what could be in there?”

Alanna’s face split into a challenging smile. “Are you afraid, you big baby?”

“I’m not afraid!” Joseph said, and stomped his foot. 

Mina rolled her eyes and moved between them; she sensed a fight brewing. “Will you two stop it? I’ll be the ghost. We’ll play one round, then we’ll go home. It’s getting late.”

That seemed to do it. Not wanting to be shown up, Joseph muttered under his breath, then said more loudly, “Fine, I’ll be the ghost. Just close your eyes, okay?

The group huddled together at home base, eyes closed and hands covering them, and they all began to count. Mina shut her eyes tight but internally wondered if this was such a good idea. She heard the swishing of grass being moved, then some crackling of wood and the distant moving of tree branches, the crunch of leaves. But there was no cry for help, which set her somewhat at ease.

“… twenty-nine, thirty! Ghostie ghost, are you out tonight?” They all opened their eyes to an empty field, no Joseph in sight. Mina’s heart stuttered in terror at first. She knew the point was for Joseph to hide, but she couldn’t help the fear that something had happened.

“Joseph?” Luke called out, but Alanna leaned down to shush him, finger on her lips.

“Don’t tip him off! We gotta go find him, remember? It’s part of the game.” The child seemed unsure, but he took his brother’s hand and the two walked towards the treeline.

As the others dispersed to start looking, Mina hung back, a prickling feeling on the back of her neck giving her pause. Something felt wrong, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She looked along the treeline. She hoped to see some sort of movement in the trees that would give Joseph away, but there was nothing.

For a moment she thought she saw a light in the trees, about ten feet from where Nick and Luke tentatively poked through some branches, but when she blinked the light was gone. She dismissed it as a trick of the night.

Mina decided to move to the opposite side of Alanna than Nick and Luke, figuring they’d cover more ground that way. She just reached the treeline when she covered a smile with her hand, not wanting to give herself away. Beneath some shrubbery she saw the telltale orange of Joseph’s sneakers that peeked out a few feet into the woods. Gotcha she thought, and consideredhow to warn the others without tipping Joseph off.

When she heard the sound of someone lightly sniffling, she thought of nothing of it. She assumed Luke had become frustrated with the game and the younger child wanted to leave. But when Alanna yelled “Gotcha, you big baby!” and ran away from where Joseph huddled, towards where Mina had seen that mysterious light, alarm bells rang in Mina’s head.

“Alanna, wait,” Mina cried out and ran towards her, but stopped short when Alanna screamed and fell backward onto her bottom.

When Mina reached Alanna, her eyes were wild and dilated, mouth open in a gasp of fear, and she crawled backward the best she could while still on the ground to get away from the treeline. Mina spotted Nick in the distance coming towards them, but she held up her hand in a ‘stop’ motion. Nick pushed Luke behind him and waited.

That left Mina to figure out what was going on. Be brave, she thought to herself. It’s probably nothing but a dead raccoon.

When Mina turned to the woods, she didn’t see anything at first. Alanna must have pulled the shrubbery back to catch who she thought was Joseph, which meant that Mina would have to do the same. Be brave, she repeated to herself.

When she peeled back the branches and leaves, she couldn’t stop the surprised gasp from leaving her lips.

Huddled in a ball, hand curled over his knees, was a little boy, completely transparent from head to toe, glowing with a light aura.

A ghost? Mina thought, though the idea was ridiculous. There’s not really such a thing as ghosts, is there?

She was about to close the branches on the sight again when the child looked up at her, eyes a pale brown, and Mina could see tears streaming down his cheeks. His face was scrunched in complete misery, and he wiped at the tears as he watched her without words.

She moved through the shrubbery before she’d even made the decision to help.

“Why are you crying?” Mina asked as she kneeled onto the ground in front of him. While the treeline hid it, they were in a small cleared area that must have at some point been someone’s hideout. There were rocks that could serve as seats, and a few planks of wood, all weathered and worn down now, but clearly left there on purpose.

The child seemed to wrestle with the answer. He opened his mouth to reply, but the movement behind Mina turned his gaze.

Looking up, Mina saw Joseph and Nick, mouths agape in horror as they took in the scene through the bushes. 

“Mina, get out of there, run!” Joseph grabbed for Mina’s arm, but she pulled it back. Joseph, not expecting the movement, let go and looked at her incredulously.

“He’s not going to hurt us,” she said, though she wasn’t really certain how she knew this. “He’s hurt. I want to help.” She inched forward on her knees, out of the range of Joseph and towards the boy, ignoring Joseph as he hissed out a breath in frustration.

Alanna peeked over Nicks’s shoulder, eyes still wide in terror, and stared straight at the boy, silent for once. Nick frowned at the stoic form of the child as if sizing him up. 

It was Luke that broke the ice, as he snuck into the natural alcove while Nick was distracted and plopped down right next to Mina. He sat cross-legged and leaned against her side, then stuck his thumb right into his mouth to chew on.

Nick sighed and followed suit, tousling Luke’s hair before he sat down next to him on his other side. Joseph hesitated a moment longer before he stood behind Mina. She smiled up at him gratefully, though his face was still pale, freckles stark against the ivory.

“I’m not coming in there,” Alanna said, and paced furiously along the treeline, “You all are crazy if you think I’m going to go in there so some demon can eat our souls or something.”

“Come on, Alanna, we need you,” Mina tried, not wanting her to alert the adults of their situation.

“Pft,” she replied unhelpfully, and Mina started to panic when she heard the receding sound of footsteps through the grass.”

“You called him here, Alanna,” Joseph shouted back. “Don’t you think you owe it to him to hear him out?”

There was a pause. The sound of footsteps. Closer, this time.

“You said I’m a baby. But you’re the one who won’t face what you called. Don’t you owe it to him, to us?”

Mina could just see her head as she paced along the treeline, then her face, then body as she slid through the trees into the clearing.

“Fine,” she said, “but if we get eaten, I’m blaming you, Joseph.”

For his part, the ghost had stopped sniffling and was looking at the group with curiosity. The silence lingered, and Mina wondered if he could talk at all. If he can’t, that’s going to make this difficult, she thought.

“What’s your name?” she asked, figured she’d start small.

The ghost looked down at his hands, clenched in his pant legs. “Victor,” he said near silently so Mina had to strain to hear.

“I’m Mina,” she started, then pointed to her friends each in turn. “This is Nick, Luke, Joseph, and Alanna. I think we called you somehow. Is that what happened?”

He didn’t move his gaze from his hands but shrugged his shoulders. Alanna snorted, and Joseph elbowed her in the ribs.

Let’s try something else then, Mina thought. “Why were you crying, Victor?”

Victor brought his knees closer to his chest, enveloped them in his arms, and rested his head on his knees. He mumbled into them something that Mina couldn’t hear. She leaned closer.

“I’m sorry, Victor, I didn’t hear that. What did you say?”

“I’m afraid,” he said more loudly. “To cross over.” The words had barely left Victor’s lips when he began to sob, shoulders shaking and breath gasped in broken hiccups.

A shiver went down the back of Mina’s neck at the words. The concept of crossing over was something she’d heard of before, and she couldn’t blame him. It sounded terrifying. No wonder he’s so scared.

The sobs were the only thing that broke the melody of crickets as Mina wracked her brain on what to say. An adult would probably know better than a bunch of kids, but then again, adults didn’t always see what was in front of them. They may not be able to see Victor at all.

She was saved from her thoughts when Luke let his thumb fall from his mouth with a pop and spoke. “When I’m scared, Nick holds my hand and I feel better. Maybe he can hold your hand when you cross over.”

Victor emerged from the cocoon of his arms just enough to peek his eyes over them, still sniffling but he locked eyes with Nick. “You would do that?”

Nick for his part seemed to turn green at the thought, but he put his arm around Luke’s shoulder in a sideways hug and nodded at Victor.

“I will too,” Mina chimed in. “You’re always braver when you have friends with you.”

Victor straightened a little at her proclamation and wiped his nose with his arm. “But then I’ll be alone.”

“You won’t be alone,” Joseph said suddenly. “My baby brother is there. You’ll watch over him, won’t you?”

Something in Mina’s heart ached. Joseph hadn’t talked about the loss and was surprised he’d be willing to do so here. But in his eyes, she saw a sort of determination and awe she’d never seen in the easily frightened boy.

“My grandmother too.” Mina was shocked to find it was Alanna who had spoken up, though her voice shook slightly and was hushed even in the quiet of the alcove. “She told me about the game, so you can tell her all about us. And she makes the best pancakes,” and then, with a sniffle, “I miss her. You better be nice to her.”

Victor crossed his legs and bit his lip. He looked at each one of the group in turn. “And I’ll see you all again someday, right?”

Mina’s breath caught, and she clenched her hand into her shorts in fear. Be brave.

“Someday,” she said finally. “Someday we will see you again, yes.”

Victor nodded, and Mina could feel a tension she hadn’t been aware of until that moment fall from her shoulders. Luke jumped up and grabbed Nick by the arm, pulling him to sit next to Victor. Mina followed suit on his other side, and when Nick tentatively held out his hand towards Victor, she did the same.

His hand was cold and seemed as much to glide through her skin as much as hold onto it. This close the aura of light surrounding Victor was blinding when she turned towards him. 

They locked eyes, his the brown of decaying leaves on the forest floor. If she stared into them long enough she thought she might get caught in them, so she looked down to his lips that mouthed words she hadn’t quite caught.

“What?” she asked him, and he replied with a soft smile.

“Thank you.”

She had expected a flash of light, sparks, something like the picture of the northern lights in Alaska her mother had shown her, but instead, Victor simply seemed to dull. As she watched the light surrounding him and his body seemed to fade like a light being dimmed, and then she and Nick we left holding out their hands towards nothing.

There was a sniffling, and at first, Mina thought it had to be Victor, but it was Luke, sniffling next to where he sat next to his brother. Nick let down his hand and hugged his brother tight, pulling Luke’s head to his chest.

Joseph sat down on the forest floor, then flopped back into the leaves, staring up at the canopy. “I can’t believe that just happened.” He shook his head and watched the sky without further comment.

Alanna was silent, digging her toes into the dead leaves and dirt. She seemed despondent.

“Is something wrong, Alanna?’ Mina asked, curious, and not wanting to dissect her own feelings just yet.

She stopped digging her toes in the ground and curled her arms around her waist. “Do you think he’s okay where he is?”

Mina considered her question. There was no way for her to know for sure, but in the end, Victor seemed at peace. But that hadn’t been the real question, had it?

“I think they all will be,” she said finally.

Alanna nodded, then left without a word.

Joseph let out an exaggerated sigh then pulled himself to his feet, dusting leaves off his clothes. “We better get home. Our parents are going to kill us, no matter what Alanna said.”

“Same,” Nick said and dragged Luke up into his arms. “And I’m going to have a hell of a time explaining what happened with Luke to mom. She’s not going to believe a word, but grown-ups never do.”

Mina stood and followed them towards the bushes where they pushed through to the clearing. Before she let the branches shut behind her, closing the alcove from view to the world outside, she took one last look back at what must have been Victor’s hideout when he was alive. Mina wondered if they came back tomorrow if the clearing would still be there at all.

“Be brave, Victor,” she whispered, and let the brush close.

<Back to Short Stories>

Stories

Here I have a variety of lengths and genres of stories that I’ve written and are available for free on this site, categorized by length.


Very Short Stories
These stories are about a paragraph long, and so are succinct and meant to grab you’re attention right off the bad.


Flash Fiction
Between 250 and 1,500 words, flash fiction is a step up from Very Short Stories, for breaks at work and when you’re waiting at the doctors office and need a quick fix.


Short Stories
Meant to be relished, short stories are longer and more involved, complete. In this section are also stories performed on podcasts.

Short Story: Reset

You can also listen to a podcast performance of Reset by Stories Fables and Ghostly Tales.

———–

There is nothing.

The nothing of being unseen in a crowded room.

Living in an endless daze of the trodden path.

The kind that asks no questions because what is there to ask of nothingness?

The bar is the worst I’d ever stepped foot in— all rotted beams, faded ads and cracked shot glasses. But the world is ending, and I need to drown my sorrows one more time.

I ask for three shots of whatever is cheapest, not batting an eye at the exorbitant amount. Instead, I throw each one back, each one like an inhale. I barely taste them, but I want to be drunk. Now.

The TV broadcast is only noise, the white text ‘Please Stand By’ stamped over a black bar; the last legacy of broadcast television in three little words. Soon enough that will be gone too.

I stare at it, hand still holding the chill glass from the last shot. It all seems a strange sort of unreal that feels like truth in my bones but my skin is still too warmed for it to have hit me. The end of the world. It felt like humanity had barely even started.

The bar has become rowdy by the time I’ve done staring a hole into the TV. Smoke from who knows what fills the air. My mind is foggy as I calculate how much cash I have left. Enough for another two shots, maybe? I debate if I’ll survive long enough to warrant saving the little cash I’d scavenged when things started going south. Maybe I should buy whatever supplies I can get my hands on? But that assumes cash even means anything come morning, so I let the thought go.

Someone bumps into me, hard. I stumble into the bar top. It knocks the breath out of me for a moment, bile rushing up my throat before I choke it down.

“The hell’d you do that for? You wanna start something?” The voice is close to my ear, it echoes in my ears, my jaw. I turn to yell back, but a strong hand pulls me through the crowd by my elbow. I try to pull back, but my limbs aren’t doing what I’m asking them to do, and for the first time I feel real, electric fear.

There are more bodies in the bar than I remember, it all blurs together until the cold air hits me. Everything is fuzzy, but a strong arm holds me up halfway against the building.

“You alright?” It’s the same voice from the bar. This time it’s gentle, soft.

I shake my head, then I’m falling before everything goes black.

It’s not black. Even blackness would be a wavelength the eye could perceive. It’s not like the spots that dance behind my eyes when they close after I’ve been lying in a dark room. I no longer have eyes to see them with.

I come to slowly, my mouth sticky like it’s been filled with paste. My lips cling together. My vision blurs for a few minutes before I’m able to focus on the foreign space around me.

I’m in a bedroom not my own. I’ve been changed into a faded tank top and flannel pants that aren’t mine. The windows are boarded up, slim strips of daylight shine onto the dust particles in the air. Every surface is packed with suppliescanned food, propane, water bottles.

I feel the panic catch in my throat. My eyes search for an exit. I spot a door, but footfalls are creeping towards it from what sounds like a creaky staircase. The doorknob turns before I even have a chance to move. A woman opens the door, holding a beige mug in either hand.

She sees I’m awake and smiles, all teeth. Some part of me recognizes it. “You’re awake,” she says in a soft murmur, slowly closing the door shut with barely a click. “I was getting worried.”

I ease up, careful not to force the change in position. “What happened?” it is the only thing I can think to say. I don’t believe the woman is here to hurt me, but I’m still cautious.

She sets down the mug of what turns out to be hot tea next to me. I reach for it immediately, thankful for the near-burning warmth on my hands. It shakes off the last bit of disorientation from me.

As I become more aware, I hear the hum of a generator, distant shouts outside, and intermittent bangs. I idly wonder if they’re gunshots but dismiss the thought. Surely it hasn’t gotten so bad so quickly?

She sits next to me on the bed, pats my leg under the blankets. “Drugged. Glad I caught you when I did, I recognized you from that fundraiser dinner a few months ago. I don’t want to push you, but as soon as you’re feeling okay we need to leave.”

I still feel light-headed. The words make no sense. Fear scratches like glass in my stomach. “Leave? What’s going on?”

She nods towards the boarded window. “Looting has started. Won’t be long before the violence gets worse. Better to not be in the city until it dies down.”

It hits me those were gunshots. But this woman is risking her life for me.

“Why are you doing this?” It comes out as a whisper. My throat still burns from the bile, the drug, who knows. “We don’t even really know each other.”

Her eyes study me, calculating. I take the moment to really look at her black close-cropped hair, dark brown skin, thin frown lines on her face.

“The only thing more terrifying than the end of the world is facing it alone.”

Her words —-

The nothingness sits between the end and a beginning. Limbo. Limitlessness and constriction all at once.

Long after the city becomes quietthe echoes of screams and engines fadedthe loneliness chokes us both. The bond between us is still fragile, and I tread on broken glass with my words. It leads us to search for anything to become a bumper between each others’ pain.

It takes us three months of chasing shadows to find the bunker and its small crew of survivors.

“Here’s a thermal blanket for each of you, and a bag of rations.” Aidan says. He was tasked with leading us both through the steel-enforced concrete hallway, yellow incandescent bulbs flickering above.

We’re shown to a ten-foot square space to call our own in a small room with five families if they could be called that. Most families now are a mixture of blood and necessity.

“Everyone does their part,” Aidan says. “Do either of you have any medical experience?”

When we’d agreed to come, we knew the risk. To be useless would mean death when things begin to go south.

She speaks for us both, the lie practiced but still sounding natural enough to the untrained ear. “I have some field knowledge. She knows her way around a wrench and a generator.”

Later that night, we hold each other close, foreheads touching, breath mixing. “Did we do the right thing?” she asks, and I don’t have an answer.

I spend my days fighting over-worked generators. When she loses her first patient I hold her tight and let her cry muffled into my shoulder.

But mostly, we wait.

I can feel a pressure where my heart once was.

I feel it without feeling. I’m caught in a strange sort of empathy where I care so much that I feel apathetic.

It threatens to choke me, but there is no oxygen to breathe. All at once I am both in a body filled with pain, and floating without any nerve endings to feel pain from.

“Would you do it?” Lying on the corrugated steel floor, my head is cushioned by my jacket. I almost don’t want to know her answer. I call myself selfish in my mind, I know it is. But there isn’t any part of her I’m willing to give up.

She blows smoke from her cigarette towards the ceiling. It moves towards the now deactivated fire alarm, then dissipates into the cold steel and concrete of the bunker. I want to tell her that the habit will kill her, but we both know we don’t have the time for it to make a difference.

She hasn’t answered my question. She leans to her other side, puts the cigarette out on the floor, then turns back towards me. We’re both huddled under whatever blankets we managed to scrounge from the near-bare supply closets. I let the need to conserve body warmth be the excuse for clasping my hands behind her back, our faces inches apart.

“Anyone who asked would be kidding themselves.” She tucks her head under my chin. “There’s not enough of us on the entire earth to even think about starting over. Better to live my life how I want to while I still can.”

I begin to lose what made me feel.

Was it oxygen, hydrogen, carbon? The words are a jumble. A puzzle.

I’m at the center now, and I feel the razor-thin wire that is the edge. Only it is vast and feels insurmountable when I’m actually able to touch it.

The bunker has become a prison. It’s not a hard decision to leave we can see the eyes of cornered men watching us both. The electricity failed weeks ago, water supply depleted, bodies gone missing. Everyone knows, but won’t say. They know why they’ve gone missing.

“How far you think this goes?” Jon asks.

We had agreed to manage the escape out of the bunker before Jon and his family approached us with the same idea. He and his wife were just past retirement age, caring for their seven-year-old grandson. We debated the intelligence of leaving with a larger group, but they had stored up supplies. When we meet their grandchild I realize he is delayed developmentally, and I know we’ve made the right choice. We’re their only chance of escaping and we all know it.

My girlfriend—can she be called that? Is that what we are to each other?—has walked ahead, picking through bits of flotsam and debris here and there, scavenging for anything useful. She’s out of ear range, nearly a dot in the distance.

I point further down the coastline in the direction she’s heading, where the shore ends in what looks like a black mass. “I think that’s debris from a city down that way. Once we get some cover we should be able to rest. Harder to be found, and we can possibly scavenge for more supplies.”

His lips thin, and I wonder what he’s thinking. I turn to where the grandmother holds her grandsons’ hand as they explore what had been the shore. It’s a mass of decaying seaweed covered in chalky salt crystals, mostly dry due to the receded tide. I smile as he stomps one foot into an area of soggy sludge, squealing in delight at the splash it makes.

Then there’s a gun at my back. I feel the hard metal grind into my spine. I’ve been on the losing end of enough betrayals for my mind to put the pieces together.

“Tell them you’ve decided we should split up, that it’s safer that way,” Jon whispers between clenched teeth. “Give me the matches, the lighter, the water you’ve both stored. Tell them you’d rather we have it.”

The betrayal stings, but I can’t find it in my heart to be angry.

I’d do the same to save her.

There is something I have to do.

It hovers out of my reach, I grab at it without hands, and again, there is the razor-thin wire.

I was someone. I am someone?

I was something to someone, but I can’t remember who.

We found the lab purely by accident, but between that and the supplies we’ve scavenged I no longer fear the pain of thirst.

Once our basic needs are met, we fall back into research knowledge that will never be passed on.

Our lives had touched, barely a sidelong brush, when we met at a fundraiser months years? ago. The pomp seems silly now, with the world collapsing soon after. But I remember now the conversation we shared about our experiments and theories; black hole containment, what would happen in a mass collision, what existed before the big bang, what it could mean if it could be controlled.

It was a mad notion, but she had become excited, joyful even. All her years of research, of what could be and what might have been culminating with the end of human civilization into maybe there is something we can do.

“Not for us,” she says. “We’re all damned to hell, but maybe life would begin again. Maybe humanity could have a second chance. Maybe even a third, fourth chance, who knows if this has happened before?”

I’m skeptical, but her eyes are less haunted, her face less gaunt, and that means something.

A reset.

I remember the mountains of salt, bitter oceans like swamps, decaying cities.

All we had left was a chance to reset.

“Do you miss them?” She says it so casually, I wonder if I’ve become too distracted and missed the context.

I set the torn, water-spotted photo back on the desk once I realize who she is talking about. “Yes, and no.” I say it with no inflection. There isn’t much emotion left in me these days.

She jumps onto my table, making it rock a few inches. I glare at her, but she sends me a toothy grin. “I’ll share mine if you share yours,” she says. “The answer is no, and no. Once they knew I was a dyke, I never saw them again.”

I try to get a hair out of my face with my forearm, not wanting to take off my gloves. She smiles, pulls the hair back behind my ears. “I bet your family misses you. I know I would.”

“Your family is missing out,” I say. There wasn’t much point in dreaming. They were all dead.

She smiles, sadly this time. She hops off the bench, her arm circles my waist. “Maybe in another life,” she whispers. “Maybe next time.”

Black holes appeared like growing pockmarks through the galaxy, then the universe, and at once a mass collision.

A reset of all that had evolved from that one momentous bang, all to begin anew.

One last act of selfishness for a species that only knew how to take.

Now there is only the nothingness.

There is something I have to do.

“This is impossible.” My voice is filled with awe, even when a part of me shivers with terror. “You actually did it.”

She’s watching the glass and metal cube, concentrating. She shakes her head, frowning. “No, I didn’t.”

She sets down her clipboard, leaning closer to the cube, changing angles. “It’s not quite right. I can contain it, but can I use it?” She sighs, runs her fingers through her hair, trying to comb out the mats.

I can’t understand her frustration behind the once-clear glass, there is … blackness. The cube vibrates with the strain. I thought I would be able to see the gravitational pull, waves of something if she was actually able to contain a black hole, even a small one. But it’s a dark, never-ending pit that doesn’t even reflect the light from the ceiling.

She slumps into the rickety metal chair beside the table, drops her head into her hands. I can see the tremors in her fingers, lingering undernourishment and insomnia taking its toll.

I move to the other side, stand next to her crumpled form. “Let’s get you to bed,” I say. “Resetting the universe can wait until morning.”

The black holes, they remind me of black coffee on a Tuesday morning, when the days were categorized and fit perfectly in little boxes.

My black cat with the tuxedo-white chest, the black spot on half of its nose.

They’re the swirling of the dish-water down the drain

there is something I have to do, but it all runs together in my head,

the words ’I can’t do this without you’ echo,

her touching my face, a soft kiss on my cheek before she too disappeared,

even though we’d promised each other forever.

Her

“I can’t promise that. What if it doesn’t work?” I say. Tears are running down my cheeks but I shake my head, because how can she ask me to do this?

She flings the papers down onto her desk— they scatter, some of them floating to the floor. “Then what was all this for, huh? Just playing around like this is a goddamn cosmic sandbox that means nothing?”

I just think we should be careful. This is more than you and me, we can’t just decide to destroy everything. What gives us the right?”

She throws up her hands, her anger setting off more tremors. I can see her shoulders quake with them. “What are you afraid of? Being the villain? I’m not asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I can set the switch, I can stop everything, but I need you to start it again.”

She leans against the table, rubs her eyes, continues. “Please. Please, I know this is scary, but what’s left here for us? For anyone? Humanity tried, we failed, we have a chance to start again!”

I shake my head, eyes catching the sheets of calculations and theories. I feel uncertainty like sand in my veins, burning.

She moves towards me, grabs my upper arms. She pushes her head against the side of my cheek until our tears and sweat mingle and I can feel her tremors have only gotten worse. What if she’s wrong?

“You listen to me,” I start to protest but she squeezes my arms tight and I start sobbing again, “There’s nothing left anymore. There’s you, and me, and nothing. Is that really enough for you? Is that enough for your parents, your brothers, my friends, everyone, is that enough for the whole goddamn human race to go gently into that good night?”

I choke on my tears, pull her face forward until our eyes are inches apart. “Why can’t that be enough? Why can’t just us be enough?”

She closes her eyes, and I know.

There is something I have to do for her, and even though I don’t remember her face I can feel her heart pounding in my rib cage along with my own, and everything comes back all at once.

There is something I have to do.

I push

with everything I have,

everything I’ve been given,

everything I could have been.

I can feel the stitches of what holds me together split, but I made her a promise.

In a moment everything contracts,

then expands,

and then

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