Nihility’s Gate, A Short Story

The Pacific Ocean roared its heave-ho beneath the boat which Lottie was a passenger. She sat at the bow and faced sternward to capture the faces of the passengers with her iPhone. The men and women, all pilgrims, were dressed in the same white New Balance tennis shoes, boot cut jeans, and plain grey t-shirt. Most men were bald, to include their eyebrows, and the women wore buns tightly wound towards the top of their head. Only one man ignored the strict regulations of the cult, he had shoulder-length hair pulled back into a ponytail, and his eyebrows were viciously full, as if the onset of lycanthropy. He called himself “The Last Prophet Marion.”

“So, Marion,” Lottie started.

“The Last Prophet Marion, you say the whole thing. Like the group ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ you people were always on about”

“So, The Last Prophet Marion, why are you and your followers heading to the Void?” Three identical boats with the same shiny heads and twisted top-knots trailed behind and to the left and right of the main boat. Behind Lottie, the direction the boats were travelling, was a black fog that stretched for miles. It was wide enough to invade the western horizon and it towered into Earth’s exosphere. The fog itself, other than being such a perfect black it really did seem like it was a void, also had a quality of mist. From this mist tendrils of shade inched forward to envelop more land. There wasn’t an answer from news sites or from scientists if its advancement would stop, and once the void enveloped an area, there was no way to communicate within or without. This was what happened with New Zealand and parts of Russia.

“The void,” Marion scoffed, “we hate that you call it that. We not going headlong into some great unknown. We about to re-enter the realm of God. This is the happiest and joyous thing that we could do.”

“Are you saying you’re killing yourselves?” She asked.

“Goodness, no! This isn’t a death it’s an ascension. We are going to meet firsthand the very face of God.” Lottie was streaming the interview live through various social networks. Hundreds of thousands of spectators watched live as Lottie and the cult of Marion voyaged toward void. News sites from across the globe picked up the stream and broadcasted it through their TV stations, and radio stations fed the audio straight to their vehicle-riding listeners. Anyone remotely affected by the void devoured the broadcast as if force fed, and even those who doubted the Void’s existence – those who rejected all claims of the void, those who decried the media for spinning webs of deceit, those who accepted crisis actors over human tragedy – kept their devices blaring the Lottie-delivered news.

Lottie, focused on her interview with Marion, didn’t notice the first splash from the stern. Marion on the other hand leapt with crunched-up brows and yelled at the bald man who dove off the boat and swam toward shore. Within a few seconds, another now-apostate from the northward boat followed. Marion shouted obscenities and threatened damnation to all who turned their back on him, on God. There were tears in his eyes as he yelled. The world caught a glimpse of what happens when a man, whom society and circumstance denied control, loses his dominion.

When they were within a few dozen feet from the void, only a quarter of the cult remained. Lottie looked at the rest of the group, equally split between men and women. Their eyes were steadfast. There was nothing but the rush of the ocean and the run of boat motors. Lottie realized the rest would see their task through.

“We’re getting pretty close now,” her voice quaked, “is there anything you’d like to say before you swim off, and, you know, leave me with the boat?”

“You’re coming with us, dear.” Marion said. “We’ve lost a substantial following, God will not be pleased if I show with so few.”

Lottie looked around at the others, but their eyes stayed fixed to the void. She looked to the water and her whole body shook, it wasn’t that she didn’t know how to swim; rather, it was the frigidity of the Pacific Ocean that threatened her. Since she was a girl, Lottie had feared cold water – this stemmed from Christmastime poolside incident in her childhood home. Then she noticed the was void no more than her body’s length away. She moved toward the water, but Marion grabbed her in a bear hug. The boat dipped, threatening to send all overboard. Then the first tendrils of void inched onto the boat, which caused Lottie to thrash violently about. In doing so, she capsized the vessel.

The tendrils of the Void crept toward the submerged victims. Lottie blindly fled from Marion, swimming further down and kicking as hard as she could. With the adrenaline pumping, she swore Marion was still behind him. Then at one point sensed that there was no one around her, no Marion, nobody. She opened her eyes despite the salt water and saw pure blackness from her front, but behind her was open sea, so she swam. Before her retreat from the Void began in earnest, she coughed up air, and in a desperate attempt to replenish it, she tried to resurface. Between the fall, the escape, and the awe of seeing the Void, she had sunk an incredible depth. At her feet was the void. It snaked along her leg and attached to her arm. She flailed for a moment but then her body went limp.

***

Lottie opened her eyes to the sun and a Void-clear sky. Seagulls flew overhead. The grainy beach sand irritated her skin, and a rock pressed its jagged apex into one of her lower vertebrae. She shot up and looked around, but she saw no one. To her front was a beach side development still under construction. Lottie, in fact, knew about this construction, because she covered a story on a group of environmentalists who attempted to stop the inevitable march of capitalism. This resistance was due to the owner, Russel Knoll, being staunchly and irrationally anti-environmentalist policy. Lottie looked to the sea. The vast cloud of blackness stood as an unmistakable sign of doom, and it had, since her meeting with Marion, moved slightly beachward. Lottie remembered upon seeing the void, how it devoured parts of her body, but after scanning her extremities, she laughed. It was a laugh in protest of the world that was seconds away from killing her. Somehow, she survived.

Her clothes were damp but there was nothing she could do to change that. Only the California sun could change the uncomfortable cloth-cling onto her skin, and even then, there were more important matters. Before walking any further from the beach, she checked the front pocket of her slacks for her small leather wallet. Normally, she wouldn’t leave her wallet there but there was no room for her purse on the boat. Inside she checked for a blue and purple card with a barcode, so worn the only words left were “transit” but the barcode was still readable. So, Lottie walked a few miles to the bus station.

While on the bus she noticed people were staring, they weren’t the kind of stares from men that she grown to both hate but ignore. It was a more far-reaching phenomenon. She could only discern that people were either looking at her as if they had recognized her or known her from some distant past as if in another life. Or else, they were looking at her as if she were a circus reject. A grown woman still in her work clothes who decided to go to the beach for a swim. Both varieties left her feeling vulnerable to the point where she wished to be off in another’s skin. The constant rubbing of beach sand on her arms, thighs, and feet only made the discomfort more intolerable. And the staring continued. When she arrived to her flat, she went to sleep.

The next day, after buying a new cellphone at the mall, Lottie spent an hour confirming with friends, family, and her employer that she was not, in fact, dead. Despite wild conjecture from first hand witnesses, including several members who ditched the boat last second, she had not died. This lead to a plethora of media requests for interview. Any magazine or website with even a little clout wanted to tell her story. Even Opera wanted in on it, to spin it as a story of empowerment. And it was an empowering story, Lottie thought, the first person to ever survive the Void was a woman, not only that but a woman of color. A phantom ache in her chest, as if it were the pangs of her soul, told her the tale hadn’t reached a happily ever after. She was, in fact, at the once upon a time, and unfortunately, Clive Barker wrote this tale.

Ignoring the social havoc, Lottie phoned a local scientist who she had sourced in several articles in the past. Darnel Barnes was a physicist but his research and findings often paralleled other fields of science, which eventually crafted him into him a multi-disciplined expert. “Hey Darnel, mind if I come meet you at your office?”

“I thought… I thought you were dead. The news really made it seemed like you died.”

“Nah, I made it out okay.” She said, acclimated to the surprise. “But now I’m worried about what could’ve happened. You know, it touched me. I thought I’d fallen completely into it. Would you mind if I came over to your office? I don’t really know who else I can go to for this sort of thing.”

“When’s good for you?”

“Now?”

“Easy. Let me just move my appointments.”

“See you in 15.”

Lottie wore a disguise consisting of large sunglasses and an anachronistically large sun hat. Apparently, that was enough. Not a single person from 5th floor apartment to her red sedan parked on a corner two blocks regarded her with quasi-kinship that people get when they see someone from TV. Her renown was growing, too. News headlines started touting her as “The Girl Who Lived,” which was a lazy and obvious rip off. J. K. Rowling loved it though, blasted it all over the Twitter-verse of her support of the name.

The university looked like a thousand brick and mortar shops fused together in a twisted transmorgific manner. It looked more like an old school psychiatric facility, the ones donated by long-deceased benefactors – though some would find playing spot-the-difference between places of higher education and the latter to be difficult. Darnel welcomed Lottie in his office. His desk was orderly. It was as if a very well programmed robot put each item in a predesignated place, or else it was as if Darnel had used a stencil and every day he would just spray on the neat illusion of things.

“I’m so happy to see you again.” He said

“Thanks. Listen, I’m just gonna cut to business. I have no idea how I survived the Void. And ever since I feel… I feel out of place. Like I don’t belong here or really anywhere any more. Isolated…”

Darnel nodded. “How about physical symptoms. I’m not trying to disregard your emotions, I just need a full sampling of what you’re experiencing.”

“Nothing concrete. I just have that same out-of-place feeling with my own body. Like it doesn’t belong to me anymore. Everything takes extra effort for no reason.” Darnell took notes on a pad.

After waiting for any additions from Lottie, Darnel asked about the incident in detail. Lottie explained the incident with a detached eye for detail that only a detective, reporter, or novelist could make. At the end of the back and forth, Darnel concluded, “I’m not really sure I can help you. Damn… I’m not really sure if anyone can help you.”

“Anything at all, Dee.”

“What we’re dealing with is something so unprecedented I wouldn’t even know where to start. And, I’m not a medical doctor, so the things I can do are limited to my areas of expertise. All I can do for you right now is monitor you overnight and over the next couple of days. I’ll help you address any physical symptoms you might come up with in that time. I might refer you to a medical doctor if things don’t get any better for you.”

“Thanks.”

“Yeah, just come back in a few hours. I’ll have something worked out by then.”

Earth’s lonely star fell over the horizon of the behemoth Void, and ominous clouds shrouded beams of moonlight which left the city in darkness. Lottie had spent her time around campus avoiding people who would recognize her and reading from an e-reader. When she saw the sun cast itself into the void, she was worried she would never see it again. This was silly, because for the week and a half since the Void emerged, the sun had rose and shone with the same regularity. It was unaffected by earthly proceedings. Lottie, however much she tried, could not convince herself otherwise. She found herself an isolated corner at the campus café and cried. When she finished an hour or so later, she headed back to Darnel’s office.

“Hey, what’d you do with your day?” Darnel asked. He knew it was better to not ask directly about her inflated sockets and rose-toned eyes. It was, in fact, already clear to him what she did with her day, but he thought to ask out of politeness.

“Just walked around campus and enjoyed the sites.”

Darnel nodded, then changed topic, “I’m going to take you to an observing room, some doctors use it to conduct sleep studies on people who have night terrors or sleep walk, that sort of thing. It will also give us an opportunity to record you sleeping if you’re okay with that. It will help in addressing any symptoms that you might not even know you’re having.”

“Like what?”

“Hell, if I know. Just trying my best to be thorough for you.”

“Alright so I’m gonna sleep in this room and you’ll record me?”

“Right. We’d normally have sensors attached but I don’t really think that’s necessary. We’ll have you attached to a heart rate monitor but that’s about it.”

“Will there be someone here? You know just in case anything happens?”

“I can’t be here myself, but one of my colleagues, Barbara Valente, promised she’d be here to observe.” Darnel said.

“How nice of her.” Lottie said. She took silent delight that it wouldn’t be a man watching her sleep, even if it was for her health’s sake. Darnel wanted to tell Lottie that Barbara was only interested because her case because she found it interesting. Though, a little kindness, no matter how falsely perceived could go a long way.

***

The strident ring of a cell phone woke Darnel while he slept in bed with his wife Marisol. Before he answered the call from Barbara, he looked at the clock; it was 3:30am.

“You’re gonna want to come in,” Barbara started, “Lottie is gone.”

Darnel apologized to Marisol and headed to the observation room. By the time he arrived at the observation room it was a bit after four o’clock, and by that time, Lottie had come back. Darnel fixated on Lottie as he spoke to Barbara, “I thought you said she was gone?”

“Just look at the damn tape,” Barbara said. She tapped her foot and wrung her hands. Lottie, on the other hand slept peacefully.

Darnel started the tape at 3:25 as Barbara instructed. Lottie was sleeping, albeit with a lion’s roar-like snore. He was growing impatient and moved to fast-forward the tape, but then she disappeared. He rewound the tape and played it again, then again, and then a third time. It was as if someone had spliced a tape of an identical empty room into the feed. Barbara then told him to fast-forward to 3:55. Lottie reappeared on the bed in the exact same position as she was at 3:25, with the heart rate monitor continuing as normal. Under a volition that was no longer his, Darnel put the disappearance on loop and Barbara and Darnel became transfixed to the sapphire shaded computer screen; their perceptions of time fell, forced to relive the unknown magician’s disappearing act. After feeling a part of his will return, he stopped the video.

“What does this mean?” He asked Barbara.

“We could probably pull someone off the street, and they’ll come up with a better answer than we could.”

“Yeah,” Darnel paused. “It’s probably going to happen again.”

“I’d bet on it, too.”

“We have to tell her then, don’t we? That she’s probably fading from reality.”

“Unfortunately, we do. She deserves to know no matter how harrowing it might be.”

Lottie stared at the ceiling when she awoke. She glanced at the at the furniture: a too-firm bed, a table beside it, a single wooden chair. None of it was familiar. She did this all without rising from her place of slumber. Only after a fit of blinking and nearly-imperceptible head shaking did she recall where she had slept. She got up and took the heart rate monitor off. She realized, as she stretched, that for the first time in months, she was well-rested. As if being observed in her sleep was all she needed to feel restored. Unfortunately, the sensations she explained to Darnel – and later that night to Barbara – had not waned.

Barbara opened the door and Darnel followed behind. “Have any problems sleeping?” Barbara asked.

“I feel pretty good, actually. I’ve still got that gnawing feeling but I feel like I’ve had the best sleep of my life.” Darnel took note of this on a notepad.

“Did you guys learn anything?”

“Well…” Barbara started.

“What?”

Barbara shook her head, her empathy invading her once firm curiosity in Lottie as strictly a subject. Darnel took a deep breath as if preparing to be submerged for the rest of his life. “Lottie, last night you disappeared.”

“Like sleepwalked away?”

“No. I’m talking vanished. Like you were never there in the room. You were gone for twenty minutes. When you came back, you looked exactly as you had before.”

“Shit…” Lottie couldn’t formulate anything to say. There was a desire rising from within her to both diffuse the shadow casted above all their heads, and to cry, to cry herself an ocean so deep that she wouldn’t be able to hear any sounds whatsoever from the surface. And even then, it wouldn’t be deep enough. She chose the former. “Look I forgot to tell you guys, I’ve been working on my magic act just in case this reporting thing falls through.” The joke fell on ears too empathetic to notice. She sighed. “Can I see it?”

The video casted its enchantment on Lottie, who watched the loop continuously for five minutes. Darnel wanted to stop her after the first couple of loops but realized that taking it away wouldn’t do a thing to help her. There was silence, however nuclearly unstable, as Lottie watched her vanishing act. Then at last, Lottie broke the chain reaction of silences. “So, what’s next for me? I mean, get there’s not a medicine to cure this. So, will I just keep disappearing in my sleep?”

“We have nothing to base this off, no data, no science of any sort, but we suspect that it’s going to continue to happen. It might not be just when you’re asleep, there’s no way to tell. We could watch you for the next couple of days, but we’d probably come to the same conclusion.”

“So, because the Void touched me, tried to eat me really, I’ll just randomly disappear for the rest of my life?”

Best case scenario, Darnel thought. There were plenty of worse options, like one day never reappearing, of waking up realizing half of your body had vanished and forced to live the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Whatever the rest of her life, or any life might be for that matter, meant, Darnel also thought. He knew the void was an unstoppable force that would continue its colonization of Earth until there was nothing left; unless it itself decides to stop. Lottie noted Darnel’s nervous silence with consternation. It was obvious there was something he wasn’t telling her, but rather than press the pensive man, she packed her things. “Thanks for the help, I appreciate it.” She left leaving both Barbara and Darnel with unanswered questions, important questions like, “What are you going to do?” or “Aren’t you scared?” or even better “What’s worse, fading away at any random point in your day and never coming back, or for the last pulse of your heart to be going headlong into the Void?”

She had only the answer to one of those questions. She was terrified, and nothing could soothe asynchronous train of thoughts that accelerated the fear ever-forward. Lottie took control of the only factor she could and headed back home, at least there she would vanish comfortably.

Someone less concerned with matters of mortality would have considered morning traffic before driving back into town, but Lottie had neither the luxury nor the lucidity to do so. This misstep caused her to fall into the epicenter of a traffic jam. Her car inched forward every twenty minutes or so and after about an hour and a half, Lottie saw the entrance of a tunnel. This tunnel, unlike the many others that she loathed simply because they were tunnels, indicated home was just off the exit on the other side. Within another thirty minutes and she arrived at the threshold of the tunnel. At the same time, Lottie felt the oncoming of vomit. She tried to brave the sensation, at least long enough to get the decency of vomiting alone in her home, but the chunks of last night’s meal couldn’t wait. It came first as if someone had left the faucet drip, which was when she pulled over onto the shoulder. The handle of the faucet turned all the way on and Lottie was vomiting on the asphalt of the shoulder. She retched and coughed, as her face contorted in self-disgust. The vomiting had turned violent when there was no longer anything in her stomach, and she started dry heaving. Then the retching subsided. Before she could recover her senses, Lottie disappeared again.

***

When she rematerialized, the putrid stench of her own regurgitated mess overwhelmed her. When the onslaught of fetor subsided, Lottie realized there were no cars around her. With her head constantly rotating, she searched for signs of life, but there were none. The highway was uncharacteristically quiet. As if the void had already sucked the life out of everyone while staying at bay. Her car door was still open, her phone was missing from the dashboard mount, and unknown delinquents lifted her license plates. She tried to start the car, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. Then she calculated how long she became nothing for. She looked up at the sun to check its position in the sky and determined that she was gone somewhere between a couple of hours to a few days. This was the best she could do, she never learned how to tell time by the sun’s position, or by vomit’s decomposition.

At any rate, she thought, home was only a thirty-minute walk or so away. She headed into the tunnel despite the surge of eeriness. The fluorescent lights on the ceiling of the tunnel were usually enough to illuminate its entirety, but an entity Lottie was still too dazed to recognize impeded light’s progress. Tendrils of the void crept up the ceiling, crawling, and grasping around like gigantic umbrous millipedes. Little by little, in her confusion of suddenly re-existing, Lottie wandered back into the bosom of the entity she wished to escape. The tentacles devoured another light, then another, dragging its way towards its newest victim, to reunite her with her home, and her family. Lottie didn’t so much as see the Void progressing as she felt within herself, her mind and her body, a sudden belongingness that the Void had robbed from her. She knew from that feeling alone to turn around and run, and with the Void to her shoulder blades she dared not look back. As with all things delightful or horrifying, the Void had no need to rush. It continued haphazardly devouring its surroundings, knowing, as well as being of pure nothingness could be cognizant, that it would soon be reconnected with its missing piece.

Lottie did not look to see her beloved car fade into nothing; the car that was a source of pride and a stake at independence from her parents and from the discomforts of public transit. It was gone now, along with anybody and anything that lived beyond that tunnel, and that was, Lottie roughly estimated as her run slowed to a jog and eventually into a walk, over 20,000 people. She roamed the highway, looking for signs of shelter or any information for her next move. With no cell phone should couldn’t simple call to see who was alive and who wasn’t. Chances are everyone I love is dead, Lottie thought. Affixed to the street sign that normally hailed car-goers to the stadium of the local football team, was an orange sign with bold black lettering indicating a place of shelter. In a smaller hand, I kind soul inscribed “5 miles” onto the sign. 5 miles might as well have been the span of galaxies. The sun glared on her back, her body cooperated more lazily with her whim. Those daunting 5 miles was her only shot.

Lottie’s trek ended after 3 hours, after navigating the detours and the seas of abandoned cars that littered downtown. At the entrance of the stadium a man in an orange vest stood watch. “Do you have room for one more?” She asked the flashlight wielding sentry.

The sentry nodded his head, though his eyes were wandering out into the still bright and still blue sky. Then, he turned to her, “Wait, don’t I know you?”

“I can’t say that I know you, but I’m terrible with faces, and names.”

“No, no.” He shook his head, in part he did this mechanically but also to revive his long-idle mind. “From the TV. I’ve seen you on TV. That’s it, aren’t you that woman who was interviewing that nutjob who went into the Void?”

“Oh, yeah… I guess that was me.”

“And then everybody thought you were dead until you got back in contact with the media and what not. You like, fought the void and lived or something.”

“Well that’s not what happened but yeah, that’s me.”

“Well then we’ve certainly got a place for you miss…”

“Lottie, you can just call me Lottie.”

“Alright, Miss Lottie, I’ll give you the tour.”

Taylor, as Lottie learned to call the man, walked her around the stadium still adorned in the banners, streamers, and other paraphernalia from the last game of football. There’s no need to clean up since the Void is going to swallow us all, Lottie thought, then shook her head to banish it. Thousands of people found their temporary home in a building meant for burly men to collide into one another risking CTE among other brain trauma for the sake of human entertainment. The eyes of the residents sheltering there still gleamed as if hope was a prospect, perhaps it was the air of triumph still fresh in the air. After the grand tour –as Taylor, with either a Panglossian sensibility or with tenacious ignorance to his own probable demise called it – he found Lottie a space in one of the rows of bleachers to settle into. He rummaged around the “lost-and-found”, the collected goods of people who had given up and either went into the Void or into the great elsewhere, and got her a clean blanket to sleep in. The sun was still out, but Lottie felt the urge from the sandman for her to rest.

When she woke it was morning. She looked to a nearby couple and asked how long she was asleep. Their aloof voices confirmed that for the first time she had not vanished, or at least not for any prolonged period.

Morning meal, Lottie refused to call it breakfast, consisted of a slice of bread. When Taylor and the crew of orange vests came around to hand out the porous lumps, she expected for there to be another course on the way. Then she saw the young couple two rows down from her trying their best to gorge themselves on their slices. Lottie did her best to finish hers. Until lunch, Lottie eavesdropped on other people’s conversations, but this proved to be difficult. Everyone spoke with hushed voices as if they didn’t want to risk the Void hearing them. What information she did piece together confirmed her suspicions; the Void took over half the globe. The more interesting bits of information had to do with the movement and speed of the Void. She got this from the orange vests.

One of the orange vests, who wasn’t Taylor, but looked like a shorter clone of him – the same blonde hair, blue eyes, and aloof gaze— said to another, “They’ve been saying it’s moving faster on the other side of the world.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, man. For some reason it’s plowing through South America.”

“And what about here? I mean are we safe here?”

“Some people went out to measure the speed the other day. Says it won’t get close to the stadium for another couple of days.”

“What does that mean for it going faster on the other side of the globe though?”

“Hell, if I know, but some eggheads have something figured out. I bet they know how to stop it, too.”

“I bet they do.”

Lottie thought about it for a moment. Knowing that the Void was moving at different speeds in various locations was enough for her to realize it was centering itself somewhere. If she could see satellite images she could figure out where, and fly or drive there, whatever it took to prolong her life. But what’s the point in prolonging my life if I’m just going to keep fading away, a divergent thought popped in. What’s the point in keeping up this charade of staying alive if I’m going to die anyway? She focused her efforts on eavesdropping instead. By evening meal, she gathered no more news, which comforted Lottie. She wanted to try her hand at ignorance just once and forget about this void, the concept of becoming nothing, and the like. After her bread ration she laid her head down on the blanket cushioned concrete and slept.

When she awoke darkness blotted out the sun. The Void had approached in her sleep and no one had woken her. She jolted and looked about the rest of the sky and in all directions was void. She ran onto the AstroTurf where she noticed a congregation forming of orange vests and plain clothes. While heading to the field she came to realize that the once thousand inhabitants had become a couple hundred. Taylor looked at Lottie confused as she walked onto the field, “I thought you had left already, when did you come back?”

“What do you mean?”

“You were gone for four days, what do you mean what do I mean? I thought you gave up like the others.”

“No, I just, I don’t know,” She stumbled to find a suitable lie. “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean what’s going on? You were out there, you’d know just as well as we do.”

“Let’s just treat me like I have no idea. I’ve been pretty out of it lately.”

“This is all that’s left of humanity Miss Lottie. Within a mile of this stadium, there is nothing but void.”

Lottie sat down on the plastic grass which rubbed and itched her thighs. She noticed the couple from, apparently four days ago, holding one another’s hands as if understanding through touch alone. Then they walked quietly out of the stadium and began their short trek into the Void. One after another, others surrendered their fates to the behemoth blight devouring their world. Mothers and fathers with children, young adults, orange vests, the whole gamut went before their destroyer to end life on their terms, no matter how abysmal the conditions were.

Lottie closed her eyes. She breathed the air that connected her to memories of family, friends, and plenty of good experiences. A slow exhale as she heard a young woman crying in synch with the infant she held in her arms. Suddenly, the crying stopped. Another inhale, she thought of her life up until that point and smiled. A slow exhale followed by another inhale, then she focused only on her breath. She noticed the sensation of her chest expanding and contracting as her lungs filtered oxygen for her blood. The world was quiet then. There was nothing else on that pale blue dot except her, and Lottie still focused on the breathing which had moved from her chest into her stomach. The tendrils of Void crept along Lottie’s body. First her left leg vanished, then her right arm. She focused on the rise and fall of her stomach. In a final gesture that would unite the void with the part Lottie had leached from it, the Void wrenched Lottie’s body into oblivion.

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