Image Credit: Ava Kelly
When it approached, it was slow. Passive enough to get close, unencumbered by human worry, graceful enough that its scarlet brilliance had exalted awe instead of fear.
I remember Pops, sitting on the back porch in that old squeaky chair, scratching his forehead, saying, “It’s gotta be something else. Aurora my ass, look at it.”
I remember Kiddo blinking at me, a couple of decades later, asking, “Why’s it so pretty, Daddy?” and, “Do you think we can touch it someday?”
I’d answer the same—nothing at all—because any words tasted like ash on my tongue. There had been one action to take, and one action only; even my twelve-year-old self knew. Study the earthbound nebula, comprehend it at all costs.
When it hugged the Earth, we didn’t notice, too preoccupied with measurements and suppositions and models. Too close to see. Kiddo used to tell me, when he got tall and broad-shouldered and voice-thick, that it governed my life. It had dragged me through school, through the long hours in the lab, through loss and pain, through stolen tenderness. I sigh, even now, at the memory of his angry frustration.
“We must understand,” I used to say. “Maybe it’s sentient. Maybe it also wants to understand.”
“I’m having a child,” Kiddo said, fingers pressing onto his middle.
Not unfamiliar, that gesture. My own hand used to take the same shape around him when he was just a small bundle of cells. Pops did it, too, in those old photographs of his, before he set himself down the path of hormone treatments. That was the only difference between the three of us: the moment in which we had rebelled against default gender assignations. The rest was the same. Each with new life spawning where it shouldn’t have. And yet, neither Pops nor I had regretted our choices, despite being unskilled at parenting. Perhaps the third time around—
Kid’s eyes were wet that day, red-rimmed. He’d stopped by the house, that empty husk of a thing, to give me the news. It caused an echo of sorts, the way he stood there with shoes dusted red by the earth of Pop’s grave, half his gaze on me. The other half he kept on the particles pushing through the atmosphere in slow-piercing effluvia.
“You still can’t see it, can you?”
He sounded bitter, and something in me flipped with apprehension. Anxious, I ignored it, kept watch over the tangible horizon.
“Open your damn eyes,” he shouted. A whisper, really. “It’s in the atmosphere, Dad. It’s dangerous.”
When it reached over, it snatched him first.
We started off with simple, ordinary lives, after that. Sometimes we fought, other times we spent the days together, me and Kiddo and Pops, like some sort of self-sufficient simulacrum of a family. In some respects, it was. Once that idea hooked itself in our minds, we were more inclined to iron out old grudges and put them to rest in the grave that doesn’t need us. Not anymore.
Pops, me, the kid, we’re still the same, our T-doses lined up on the bookcase. With our genes, the grandkid probably would’ve—or whatever.
It doesn’t matter anymore. Whichever way we look at it, the contents of the crib are always a squirming gaseous mass, crimson tendrils clutching at the rails. Never something else.
I remember figuring it out soon enough.
It did want to understand. Like simulations, we were twisted and bent and broken.
When it swallowed us, it was swift. Unrelenting and painfully soft.
That was then.
Now, we burn, consumed by rebirth, resets of resets of re—
Ava Kelly (they/them) is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories into the world, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own. Long ago, Ava began the trek through the artworld with photography, the cello, and poetry. In another artlife—because what is engineering if not creation—Ava is tinkering with artificial intelligence, robots, and all sorts of systems, but that is nothing compared to the challenge of foodmaking. Currently, Ava enjoys experimenting with recipes, with about half successes and half works in progress—insert wise wink here. As in, we are all journeys, not destinations. Among their latest works are the award-winning novel Havesskadi, the short story A Sudden Displacement of Matter part of the Lambda-nominated anthology Trans-Galactic Bike Ride: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories of Transgender and Nonbinary Adventurers), and the illustrated dual language book of nonbinary fairy tales Alia Terra – Stories from the Dragon Realm.
For details on how to submit your own flash piece to our showcase, visit our Submissions page.