As soon as Max crossed the event horizon, time began to slow.
From the outside there didn’t appear to be anything particularly interesting about the place. No signage to identify it. Just a blank storefront with blacked-out windows, and, if you got close enough, Abandon hope, all ye that enter here carved into the door.
The establishment didn’t need to advertise to survive. It catered to a specific clientele who were inexplicably drawn in by its gravitational pull. Max was one of them. He fit the image of the romanticized barfly, only ten years past his prime, face sunken and sallow. He had his father’s disease in him, and had grown tired of fighting it.
On the other side of that door, blood would thin and light would bend as the present stretched beyond the infinite. The Doppler effect rendered patrons forever young, until they entered the singularity and blinked out of existence. Until then, they drank.
Max sat with his back to the door, as if to ignore it, as if he could leave if he wanted. He raised his glass to eye-level and studied the meniscus of the clear liquid. As time slowed inside the bar, it moved faster on the outside world. Molly would be turning six soon. He’d miss her birthday, but she’d get over it. Until the following year when it happened again, that is. He tried not to picture her big brown eyes brimming with tears, that adorable little pout. Anne would be there for her and would make him the bad guy—which he was—and that would help them through the hurt.
“How’s the little one?” the bartender asked, as if on cue. He looked like a regular who had wandered onto the wrong side of the bar and put on an apron.
“Not so little anymore. She’s in junior high now.”
“You don’t say? Seems like just yesterday she turned six years old. “
“She’s co-captain of the pep squad, whatever that is.”
“Isn’t that something? They sure grow up fast, don’t they?”
“Faster every day. In fact, she’s about to graduate high school. Top of her class. She’s going to the prom with what’s-his-name? The Baker kid.”
“No, the younger one. Brett. Good kid. Knows how to keep his hands to himself.”
Nods and sighs segued into lapsed conversation. All their exchanges went like this. Recycled pleasantries to pass the time.
“Molly’s leaving for Amherst next week.”
“You don’t say? Gosh, they grow up fast.”
“Faster every day. You should see her. Looks just like her mother.”
The first few years had been hard, but Molly moved on with her life. The mental image she had of her father remained unchanged from the time she turned six, because she hadn’t seen him since. He had exited her life and become unstuck in time.
“How are things with the ex?” the bartender asked Max.
“She’s doing well. Had a cancer scare, but everything’s okay now.”
“That’s good to hear. Get you another?”
“Wife? No thanks. One was enough.”
The bartender smiled and wagged his finger, as if to say why yooooou… Max downed the last of his drink and slid the glass forward a couple inches.
“She’s getting married again. Can you believe it?”
“Jeez. Time sure does move fast, doesn’t it?”
“Not in here it doesn’t.” More nods and sighs.
Molly graduated Amherst cum laude with an interdisciplinary degree in religion, astronomy and women’s studies, but declined to accept her diploma during the commencement ceremony. Instead, she stood at the back of the auditorium in silent protest over not being conferred the distinction of summa cum laude. This occurred shortly after her mother’s illness, and even though she managed to keep her grades up, she missed a lot of days and they penalized her for not filing an official leave of absence.
“Tyrannical bureaucratic bullshit. Said it right to the Dean’s face,” Max told the bartender.
“Ha! That kid’s a firecracker.”
“She sure is. Did I tell you she’s getting married?”
“Nice guy. I think he’s a veterinary assistant or something. Works with animals.”
“Girls love a guy who loves animals. Another drink?”
Molly and Eric married in a small civil ceremony presided over by a Justice of the Peace. Eric’s brother filled the role of best man. Molly’s mom stood in as Maid of Honor. Immediately afterwards, the newlyweds drove up to the Poconos for their honeymoon.
Molly had been obsessed with Mount Airy Lodge since childhood. To her, the word honeymoon was synonymous with champagne glass jacuzzi. Developers tore the original resort down in the aughts, but a casino had been built in its place. A few of the boarded up old buildings still existed out in the woods—mostly employee housing—and the happy couple went exploring, Ouija board in tow. They attempted to contact the spirit of original owner Emil Wagner, who had committed suicide after the resort shut down.
“I blame those damn commercials,” Max told the bartender. “She always sang that stupid theme song. All you have to bring, is your love of everything…”
“Beautiful Mount Airy Loooooooodge!” They sang the last part together.
“She used to think ‘Beautiful’ was part of the resort’s name,” Max said.
Nods and sighs. The spaces between these conversations grew. The bar had no clock, so Max couldn’t gauge the time.
Molly and Eric waited until Eric opened his own veterinary practice to have their first child. They named the little girl Button, as in cute as a… Molly’s mom railed against it at first. “Other kids will make fun of her!” she said. But as soon as she held her granddaughter that first time, no other name would do.
“Can you believe I’m a grandfather?” Max said.
The bartender poured them both a shot. “I’ll drink to that. This one’s on me.”
Two years later Anne’s cancer returned. She held on for a good six years before she passed. But those years took a toll on Molly and Eric. Toward the end Anne moved in with them, and Molly took care of her full time. After the funeral Molly withdrew, and she and Eric drifted apart. They stayed together for their daughter, but divorced after she graduated high school.
“I remember when Molly graduated high school,” Max said to the bartender. “Seems like only yesterday. Now I’ve got a granddaughter going to college.”
“Time sure does move fast on the outside, don’t it?”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, you don’t look old enough to be a grandfather. You haven’t aged a day since you walked through that door.”
Max looked over his shoulder and squinted at the entrance. The sliver of light slipping underneath flared due to increased blueshift. He turned back to the bartender, spots dotting his vision. “Give me another,” he said to the biggest one.
It took a while, but Molly and Eric became friends after the divorce. She even took a job as a receptionist at the clinic. When Button came home from school for the holidays they would all get together for dinner.
“I go by ‘Bee’ now,” she told her parents on one such occasion. “Also, I think I’m in love with a girl.” Eric choked on his food. Molly kicked him under the table.
“That’s wonderful, dear,” Molly said.
Bee brought Amanda home to meet her parents that Christmas. The two behaved like long lost sisters. After they graduated they moved to a coffee farm in Hawaii. They adopted two girls of their own. Hannah and Lily.
They didn’t get to visit often, so Molly spent a lot of time at home by herself. Despite a genetic predisposition to addiction, she had never had a problem with drinking. Only now did she start to feel the pull. She pulled back by going to Al-Anon meetings.
“Good people,” Max told the bartender. “Their hearts’re in the right place.”
“Bad for business,” the bartender said.
At Al-Anon they encouraged Molly to confront the place where she lost her father. That’s how she found herself standing in front of the boarded-up facade of what used to be The Black Hole. She traced the Dante quote with her fingertips. The elements had smoothed the splintered edges of the words. She reached for the doorknob.
On the inside, Max approached the edge of the singularity. He turned to look toward the entrance again. The light on the outside shined through the door, rendering it transparent. He could see his daughter, now an old woman, standing on the other side.
She could see him as well. The man who left her when she was six, just as she remembered him. Although his image stood frozen in time, Molly swore he looked at her. Sadness welled in his eyes.
Max’s image began to flicker. Molly watched as it became more erratic. She watched until it winked out of existence, as Max crossed the threshold of the singularity. After he disappeared, the light faded and the door became solid once again.
An infinite speed up occurred, and Max saw the history of the universe unfold in an instant. Not just the death of his adult daughter, who walked back home and cried herself to sleep that night. Not just the death of his granddaughter and her grandchildren—the death of humanity. He witnessed generations, eons, apocalypse. The rebirth of life as evolution started from scratch, as it had done so many times before, and the death of that life as well. Innumerable cycles. He witnessed the beginning and end of life on other planets, the birth and death of stars, the death of entire galaxies. Radiation bombarded Max as the universe ended and the light blueshifted into infinity. Infinity then nothing, as he fell into the wormhole.
Then from within the nothing, there appeared a million tiny dots, like pinpricks in black paper. Atoms, maybe. Or stars. Growing larger. He focused on one. It was a door. The door of The Black Hole, transparent and glowing. On the other side he could see the silhouette of six-year-old Molly, reaching for the handle. That never happened, did it? There were a million other Mollys at a million other doors, reaching for a million handles. Some of them opened the door and went in. Some of them didn’t. They lived a million other lives, each of them unique. Max longed to know each and every one of them, escape the gravity of the bar and be part of their lives. But it was too late. Once you crossed the event horizon, you could never escape. You could only watch.
He chose to watch the six-year-old girl he left behind, her hand hovering above the handle. If he had any breath left in his lungs, Max would have held it. Or better yet, if sound waves traveled fast enough to escape the singularity, he would have used that breath to yell. But they didn’t, and he couldn’t. Molly was an object set in motion, and unless an outside force prevented her, she would turn the handle and walk through that door. Max prepared to have his heart broken for the very first time.
But something held her back. Molly returned her hand to her side without having touched the door. She walked home and cried herself to sleep, just as adult Molly had. Max watched it all. He existed at the center of both their universes and a million others. The singularity of infinite density that birthed their lives even as it destroyed them. A destruction that spanned all time, in the blink of an eye.
He smiled, and millions of doors coalesced into a giant ball of light.
Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of the literary website LitReactor.com. He also writes for the popular film site TwitchFilm and has written for ChuckPalahniuk.net, the official website of Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. His short fiction has/will also appear in Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, Motherboard, L’allure des Mots, Pantheon Magazine, and Crack the Spine.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “The Black Hole”
By mixing imagery and metaphor with a strong dose of reality, author Joshua Chaplinsky creates a powerful piece of writing with strong resonance. It is not a piece easily forgotten, and it begs to be read a second time for one to experience the richness of a narrative captured in a mere 2000 words.
[…] a new story up over at Fabula Argentea. It’s called “The Black Hole,” and is about alcoholism and […]
I didn’t intend to finish reading the piece when I started, but I did. I like what you did with time, very much.