All That’s Left BehindCategories Slipstream
I knew the black hole by the stream was you. So melodramatic and obvious! Plus, who else would have known to be there?
I found you exactly three weeks after you died. I’d had an argument with mom and ran out of the house in tears, trailing the sorts of words you’d always scolded me for. “Sara! language,” You would have said.
The winter wind tugged at my hair as I skirted around the edge of the football field, following the path that wound between the bare helicopter trees. I cursed as I slipped in the mud, coming to the arching hook of the stream where the water pooled with little fish and you had once showed me how to skim stones. I lit a cigarette and that’s when I saw you.
For sure, you’re the smallest black hole ever. Then again, I guess I’ve never seen another. Of course, I hadn’t because if I had I would have been sucked in and compacted and stretched out into nothing!
You weren’t big enough for that, although I did feel you pulling at me. I circled you slowly, looking in, kind of mesmerized. You weren’t pitch black, not really. Little lights seemed to twinkle within you even though they couldn’t have been stars. When I angled my head to take a better look they seemed to have moved to a different spot.
The cherry on my cigarette glowed when I held it close, red light trailing into you. I imagined you frowning across multiple universes, incredibly disappointed.
You didn’t say or do anything. You just floated there. I could see you half-reflected in the water, a shifting black mass split over and around the little fish, making my eyes go wonky.
I watched you till it got dark, thinking of all the things I wanted to say but didn’t. I just sat on a fallen-down tree, my butt slowly freezing as the sky clouded up. When it started to snow, I walked home without saying goodbye.
It wasn’t until a week later that I came to see you again. Something was nagging inside me. Were you still there? Hanging around above the stream, spinning all alone and sucking in whatever bits of light and snow and time you could clutch onto?
Were you waiting for me?
Can you believe how stupid it snowed last night? All the houses had tiny white mountains piled up around their driveways, like gates to some Narnia suburb. Of course, I didn’t put on my boots, and no, I didn’t wear snow pants so by the time I got to you I was wet and cold and pretty pissed off.
I was glad to see that you were still there, though. It had been another difficult week. We are not adjusting well at home and I think people are starting to get into the really freaking mad at you phase. I’m not sure you don’t deserve it.
I didn’t know if you were happy to see me or not, or if you could even feel anything at all. It looked like you might have faded a bit. I could see a little ways through you.
The fish were still in the stream, facing the current and wiggling their tails.
You had once told me that we should come back when the water was all frozen over. We’d break the ice to see what the fish were doing. I must have figured you’d been reading more good parenting things online again and although it was kind of dumb I played along. I had tried to convince you that they’d be frozen solid in the ice, their eyes wide open and their hearts almost still as they dreamed of spring.
We never did check.
There was no ice in the water today, but it was really cold. I flicked some droplets up to you. When they struck your swirling strands they sizzled and got sucked in.
I sat down to tell you all the stuff I’d been reading up about black holes. I’ve found a bunch of cool sites on the internet and as we all know, everything on the internet is true! Did you know that you’re not actually a hole at all? You’re more like a big chunk of matter, all packed in tight. You’re basically a huge pile of everything that happened before. Your black hole colleagues are likely super massive things floating squillions of miles away in the vast emptiness of space. I am ninety-eight-point-seven percent sure you’re the only black hole that hangs out in the woods.
Did you know that you can die? Black holes can go away, it’s true. I read about it but didn’t quite understand it. Even the videos online are complicated. Apparently in space, energy just pops in to being every now and then, and if it happens near a black hole then some of that energy gets sucked away but the other part sort of sticks around. Give it enough time and all that left behind energy builds up until it cancels out the black hole.
I thought about light and space and time till my head hurt. You swirled there silently, either already aware of, or unimpressed by my astronomy lesson.
When it started to get dark, I came right up to you. So close, I could hear you sparkling.
Why are you here?
Are you waiting on something before you can go? I’m sure there are better places for you to be. Some cool club in another dimension where black holes go to sip wine and laugh with friends and be healthy and happy.
You know, you’re pretty lucky you had someone like me to come trudging through the snow to explain things to you, even if I was telling you that you’re dying for a second time.
Sucks to be you.
I grabbed a stick, and scratched it around, digging into the hard earth. For a second I thought I’d try to find some stones, set them skimming so maybe you could see. But it was too cold, and I didn’t want to get my hands all dirty and frozen, and the conversation was kind of one-sided to be honest… Sorry.
I stood up and told you that I should get going and that it would be better if I didn’t come back, at least for a while. I didn’t really want to leave, and I was trying to act cool but was trying not totally lose it and burst into tears. I came up close to say goodbye.
I could see the little lights flashing inside you and I imagined the spaces in between them must be infinitely large and completely silent.
I reached up, the hairs on my skin rising and my ears popping. There wasn’t any sound but as I placed my hand within you there was a sensation that made me think of swimming.
No, not swimming. More like… holding my breath, laying at the bottom of the pool, looking through the water to the world above.
It made me imagine that on some molecular level something amazing was happening and I shut my eyes and I reached deeper within.
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing linear and interactive fiction starring sentient black holes, wayward sea monsters, curious AIs and more. His work has been published in Nature Futures, McSweeney’s, The Arcanist and others. Paul grew up by the beaches of Australia, then traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. Over the years, Paul has been a startup founder, game designer and mentor to technology entrepreneurs. Chat with him on Twitter @paulalexgray or visit www.paulalexgray.com