Flash Fiction: The Last Embrace

They made it home before the panic started. While Brick and his wife jumped out of the sedan and dashed into their apartment, people on the street were only just starting to point and wonder at the widening red-orange ring in the distance, and its vacuous black center.

Brick rushed up the stairs and shouldered open the door. When they were both inside, he slammed the door shut and slumped against it to catch his breath. He was never one for exercise.

Nichole leaned on the couch, fitter and trimmer than Brick, yet still heaving, her white lab coat drooped over her figure like a gloomy curtain.

“Okay.” Brick flexed and unflexed his hands, walking a circle in the room. “We…we have a little bit of time. I’d say…ten minutes before it hits us?” He slid off his lab coat, put it on the table, then threw it back on again. “Think, think, what do we need?”

“Brick?” Nichole stood up straight and slipped off her glasses. “Kiss me.” Her lips hung open, trembling, but Brick knew they’d be warm and wet when he reached them.

“Honey, I’ll kiss you a thousand times, I promise, but right now, we need to pack, and fast.”

“Pack? Brick, there’s nowhere to go. That hole is going to swallow everything.”

“I know. We’re going to run into it.”

Those soft lips formed a perfect O. “Into it? There’s nothing there! It’s just an empty void.”

“We don’t know that.” Brick rushed into the bedroom, his brain finally working. He grabbed a suitcase from the closet and stuffed it with whatever his hands could reach. Short sleeves, sweaters, jeans, boots, who knew what he would need? Better to take a little of everything.

Then, Brick snapped open the blinds to see—oh, crap. The black center of the void curved over the nearby apartments, like an empty sunrise. It even had the morning glow of a fire-colored ring sizzling around its edges, shredding a not-terribly-distant skyscraper into ashes of glass and metal, and swallowing them in its black maw.

Brick shut the blinds. It wasn’t going to be pretty, better to focus on the task. “Nichole, come on, pack up. Grab as much as you can. Two suitcases each—no a suitcase and a backpack. Airport rules, I guess. Fitting for inter-dimensional travel, eh? Come on.”

Nichole stood rooted just outside the bedroom door. “You’re still not listening.”

“Nichole, you’re the one who’s not listening. We have minutes.”

“Exactly. I want to spend those minutes with my husband.”

Brick took a long, calming breath, then set his suitcase on the bed. “We have the rest of our lives, darling, but we must be prepared.” He reached out to touch her face. “Come on, let’s just get packed and—”

She stepped backwards, out of his reach, her panicky face stiffening into flint. “You still can’t accept that there’s nothing out there.”

“Nicki—”

“All the reports said there was nothing, the tests said there was nothing, but you plunged ahead anyway and opened that hole.”

Brick’s outstretched hands bunched into claws. “It doesn’t make sense for ours to be the only dimension!”

“Then your senses are wrong! Open your eyes, Brick, there’s nothing beyond that hole, just blackness and death! But you didn’t believe me, didn’t believe anyone, and you know why? Because you’re scared, Brick! Scared of walls and ceilings and doors. So you broke through all of them, didn’t you? And now the house is coming down.

“Now I love you. I love you despite your mistakes. And I want to spend what’s left of our short existence together. I want you to be here, here, Brick. Please don’t run from this, from us.”

“I’m not running from us!” Brick snapped back. “I’m trying to carry us into something bigger and better.”

Nichole shook her head. “You have more need than facts. You always have. But I’ll forgive you again if you’ll just stay here in this place with me. It’s our last chance. I love you.”

And he loved her, too, loved her terribly enough to pause. He wanted to grab her, kiss her, make furious love to her, then hold her beneath the covers until the yawning black mouth swallowed them up.

But he just couldn’t accept that there was nothing out there. He needed to be prepared for that bigger brighter world, not clinging to this stuffy one! “Just pack your stuff, will you? We have all the time in the world to sort this out.”

Nichole’s brow dropped into a hard line. She yanked off her lab coat, threw it to the ground, and stomped away.

“Where are you going?!” Brick shouted.

“To see if any of your friends still want to sleep with me!” She slammed the door behind her.

Now the home was empty, quiet, cold. It frosted his veins and froze his muscles. But that was okay, right? He could just open the door and leave, right? There was life beyond these walls.

Brick tried the doorknob, and yes, it worked. Red light still shone through a hallway window, and there was a young man running up the stairs, shouting about the end of the world. Brick descended those same steps and walked outside his apartment.

Yes, see? A bright, gaping sky of infinite possibilities! And life! People running away from the spreading black bubble like the cowards they were. They just wanted to cling to the tiny worlds they controlled. He was the only one brave enough to break free. That was it.

Brick walked against the human traffic, laughing at them all. He’d forgotten his suitcase. He laughed at that, too. What good would it do? Everything was changing, not ending, changing. There was more in that gaping black mouth. There had to be. This couldn’t be it.

He ran towards the abyss, and it to him, arms stretched out to embrace one another.

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