Right In The Middle

Like other times in the past, they sat on the run-down-yet-maintained, weathered bench under a structure they weren’t sure wouldn’t fall down upon their heads from an assertive gust of wind. Like those times, too, they sat close, arms entwined, fingers locked together, invisible zippers running up their sides, keeping them proximate.

This was their place. Much had started here. It was a reminder of them, a refuge from the rest of the world. Remote, though it sat within the city still. Here the sounds of human life faded away, to be replaced by raw nature. Here one could witness the cycles of life and death, here one could face danger nose to nose. And if they decided to, walking down the path a ways made everything go utterly away. A short adventure and they could make themselves believe they were the only two hominids still alive.

So many nights had been spent exploring the desert improperly. No light, no supplies, just trust in their sense of direction and faith that they wouldn’t run into anything that might decide it wanted to eat them. They knew the paths now, the way they twisted and turned, the way they seemed to glow, illuminated even when there was no moon at all. They were always aware of surrounding noises, even if they had no idea what caused them. Heads turning in unison toward a rustle of leaves, or a skittering rock. The smell of the desert was theirs as well, that particular scent after a rain calling forth memories and promises of the future all at the same time.

She kept her eyes on the stars as she leaned over to place a gentle kiss along his throat. She could feel his eyes close in response, knew too that a small smile would appear on his lips. She wanted to see that smile, but the stars plummeting out of the sky kept her attention. Bright streaks of fire chased sudden flares, hunting one another to oblivion. It felt as if it might go on forever, there were so many of them, but she knew that the stars were finite, and wondered what would happen when they ran out. Would a void replace them, or was this an introduction, the warm-up act, to something new?

The sky blazed a hazy purple, ripping at the edges to reveal pure black. Beyond the ebony lay nothing at all, and it was seeping steadily into everything it touched. The tops of the mountains that had been there just moments prior were now simply gone. The solid shadow had cropped the tops of them, flattening peaks. It snaked down on some, cutting them in half. Almost a living entity, the inky onyx grew. Little by little, coating what could be seen and taking it away so simply.

Strange events rather than the usual need for escape and solitude had prompted their arrival in this place tonight. This odd sky not the least of them, also maybe not the most bizarre. On the other end of the city, a long dormant volcano vomited lava in a steady, unstoppable stream. To the north, on another range, the vast mountains had collapsed into themselves, revealing a noxious lake within. Its waters killing the surrounding life immediately, the steam rising from it driving those unlucky enough to come into contact with it to madness. And south, typically innocuous plants released sticky spores, then when the moon had risen big and bloody, it heralded grotesque transformations. People twisting into unspeakable creatures, hungry and seeking.

Televisions, radios, phones, computers, had all gone mute. Through the panic of others, he’d driven to her out of instinct, needing to be by her side, had found her standing in her front yard, watching the sky tear. Wordlessly, he’d driven them to this place. Their spot. Not a single thing had been said between them. She didn’t hesitate to get out of the car and sit on the bench, and he didn’t hesitate to follow suit.

A nip, teeth on flesh less than gently, another kiss. Even now she couldn’t keep to herself, despite the collapsing heavens. Her eyes tracked them as much as they could manage, dropping from above like marbles spilling from their bag. As if this were not reality but a badly constructed set, the glue on the architecture failing.

A low rumble came that sounded like it was everywhere at once. Felt like it was in everything, even them. The wind raged in looping chaos, slashing at them as they sat still within it. A surge of reptilian terror crawled up the spines of not only the pair on the bench, but every breathing thing around them. A cacophonous chorus erupted, coyotes lamenting in discordant response to unnatural events, crickets struggling to out-sing their terror, birds and bats swooping and chittering – chasing or fleeing from the disturbance.

Clasped hands squeezed together, but that was the only visible movement from either of them. Even her teasing kisses had stopped. It felt as if something were on the edge of arrival, and they waited for it. Anticipating. Wondering. Breath was held, as if just that might break whatever spell had been cast. Wordless, the dissonance around them saying everything.

The silence, when it came, crashed onto them wholly. Their breaths returned shallowly, not wanting to interrupt. Nothing was there. No wailing canines, no panicked avian kamikazes, the desert felt as if it had been wiped of sentient life almost entirely. As if the pair of humans on the bench were all that remained, here and elsewhere. They two were the last to witness these events. They both had the thought, and they both knew that it might be inaccurate, that there may be others – somewhere – thinking the same thoughts. Here, now, though, they could be sure they were alone in it.

She moved and pressed her ear to his chest, to hear the beating of his heart, to hear something, to assure herself she had not gone deaf. His hand touched her cheek gently, revealing a need of his own, her movements reassured him as much as her listening relieved her. They were still there. Still breathing. Still alive. Still living. For the moment.

A sick green glow wafted from unseen fissures behind them, squeezing through to the open air with stoic determination. The pair, oblivious, kept their attention on the sky’s absurdities and the well being of one another. Enchanted by the descending astronomical fixtures, they hadn’t even thought of glancing about during the ground events, and currently they were too focused on what might happen next to actually see that something was proceeding. Abandoned was all their typical awareness. Forgotten the vigilance they’d used to survive spontaneous jaunts through the dangerous underbrush.

It moved with deft silence despite its size. A tendril sliding from the illuminated crack with delicate precision. Its shadow cast upward, into the sky, where it got lost in everything else. Then two were there, stretching along the ground, seeking stability to brace against. Three. Then four. All of them moving independently, but working together, to forecast the abomination they were attached to. The tentacles spread for leverage, finally ready to invite the rest of the monstrosity.

It rose from the same crevice, distorting space and time to make its own impossible appearance viable. Not extending the damage already there, merely squeezing itself through silently, as easily as water from a wide-mouthed container. The nightmare grew with every passing second, pulling itself from a place outside, inviting itself into a world to which it didn’t belong.

He glanced back, finally surveying the area. Tapping her on the shoulder lightly, he moved to stand. When she saw the horror that moved behind them, she stood too, waiting and watching. They were beyond fear. Terror seemed an absurd notion after all they’d witnessed. Dread was silly when they knew their fates in the face of this. Acceptance was the only allowable step in the grief stages now. Their minds could not wrap around what it was they looked at, but their eyes would never forget, even if they somehow managed to live through. Hands would draw, paint, sculpt. Subconsciousness would rebel, refuse, turn away.

Silent still, they turned their attention back to the sky. He wrapped a caring arm around her, pulling her close. She returned the gesture, resting her head on his arm, looking out to the dying world. They knew it for a fact now, they could refute it no longer.

The world was dying.

They were dying with it.

Maybe some might have tried to run. Maybe some might have attempted escape, or thought that fleeing was the correct response. Others may have determined that self extermination was preferable. None of these occurred to the pair as they took in the cataclysm. This was their place. If all was ending, this is where they’d be ended.

Flash Fiction: Read Me

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