They announce it during an emergency broadcast – we can embrace once more.

I meet you outside the library where we first met. Your clothes are too big. You tell me a beard makes me look older. We do the pedestrian shuffle – step left then right, then left then right, then apologise awkwardly. Our arms waver, broken puppets, reaching and missing each other. The construct of a hug, so easily forgotten.

We hug. A boa constrictor hold. Arms so tight to bruise our backs. Tight and intertwined, an entanglement puzzle. Hours pass, unable to let go, unwilling to risk a future separation. Around us, the post-new world moves on. Birds make nests in our hair. People throw objects at us from passing cars. A billboard poster fading behind us. A performance art review in the local newspaper.

The first of many others join us. Seeking warmth after so long indoors – reaching arms around us, adding to our mass. Strangers stick to our bodies. New best friends. Hundreds of them, blocking the road, interlinking arms and bodies. Our structure becomes unstable, rocking as more people join us. Motion becomes momentum. We stumble down roads. Trample across rivers. People in our path absorbed. Traffic bouncing off our perimeter. Fields churned and pylons toppled. A new force of nature.

Over a thousand people, growing exponentially to a million. Our form eclipsing the low sun at dusk. People losing their grip, trampled underfoot. Missing persons leaflets pasted onto backs. People circulating food deliveries. Factions emerging. Social classes spreading from our centre. Rumours from the perimeter – we are now many millions, we have crossed the oceans, we are visible from space, we are impacting the rotation of the planet.

You pull me tighter into our nucleus. Our epicentre under the strain of the oceans. Bodies compressed in the squeeze – mixing atoms, skin eroding, bones interlocking. Our stampede a new species, an organism sharing limbs and memories. A new name in Latin. A future fossil perplexing experts, millions of years from now. We erode ourselves, lifting our feet, carried by the infinite embrace. Hovering across the surface of the earth, invisible and fading, like the ghosts we once were.

***

Paul is from Sheffield, UK. His stories have appeared in Okay Donkey, Spelk Fiction, and was recently on the Best British & Irish Flash Fiction list for 2019-2020.