We are sitting on two iron chairs you pulled from the rubble, watching the dying, honey-coloured flames caress the remains of the smouldering café, the metal at our backs still warm. Dark smoke, filled with the sharp scent of burnt coffee, studded with ruby embers, rises from the mountain of scorched bricks and blackened timber before us. Somewhere there are sirens and screams, but they are muted. There is only peace in the firelight.
I take your hand, see my fingers covered in soot and blood and unusual grey boils; charred cysts of melted Styrofoam, once cups, now rendered into shapeless blobs by the explosion.
“Am I—” I stop.
You smile. It is beautifully sad.
The implant. I touch the thin scar behind my left ear, feel the chip beneath. Only critical trauma triggered the processor, immobilised the nervous system and activated Abstraction. A painless death lost in memories. We all have them now, even those of us who at first resisted. Foolish enough to still believe in peace, we became stupid enough to fight for it.
I am staring at the ruins, trying to work out where my dying body lies, when warm fingers gently turn my face to yours.
I conceive the delicate scratch I so often kissed on your lip. I flood your pupils with a universe of colour dredged from unfathomable recollections. You are as beautiful as I can remember and simply fiction.
There is a cold wind at my back and I ask you to hold me, your arm perfectly weighted by my subconscious.
“You are not real.” I say.
I sink into my ghost of you and feel your heart pulse in rhythm with mine. Too slow. Inside my skull a blue light is waning. My Abstraction dying with me.
“How long do we have?”
“Not long at all.”
I kiss the fingers you have wrapped around my shoulder and know every crease and furrow which line them. I begin to cry.
“This still hurts.”
“I know,” you kiss my tears, “God, I know.”
You whisper goodbye.
But I am...
Gone. I float up amongst the grey cinders and become a colourless dust against the black night of forever.
Grant Longstaff is from a small, suitably dismal town in the north east of England where nothing much happened. He had no choice but to write fiction. He now lives in Glasgow. You can find him on Twitter at @GrantLongstaff.