FOREVER FLASH FICTION MONTH PRESENTS
One Last Goodbye
By Tony Thornley
Most often the Enigma Force chose someone to become Captain Universe based on where they were and when they were needed. Most who bore the Uni-Power had a very specific purpose, and became Captain Universe to fulfill that purpose. Sometimes they would bear the power for days or even weeks. Other times they would only need the power for a matter of minutes.
But in a few occasions, the Enigma Force bestowed the Uni Power on one that needed it, rather than the reverse.
Ryan McKay had been in his first year of college at DePaul University in Chicago when his younger sister had been in the car accident at home in Texas. They said the driver of the other car was underage and three times over the legal limit. The head on collision had claimed his life, but Claire hadn’t been so lucky.
The cost of her care had already surpassed what the insurance would pay, and was climbing daily. Ryan’s father was only a warehouse driver for a small baking supply company, and his mother had gone back to work as a filing clerk in a medical office. They barely had enough to take care of the family, much less ICU care.
Ryan wanted to be there for Claire. They had always been close. He had called her his Bucky, his sidekick growing up. Now he was stuck thousands of miles away, unable to be with her.
Until he had the dream.
Which wasn’t a dream.
The moment he felt the incredible Uni Power flowing through him, he knew what he needed to do.
Claire barely looked like herself. She had lost her left eye, and a small chunk of skull. The doctors had needed to shave her curled ginger hair to reduce the swelling in her brain. She was still his beautiful little sister though.
“Hey Buck,” Ryan whispered as he held her hand. It was cold, even to his now-powerful hands. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here hon. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop him. That…” Emotion welled up in his chest. “That… I couldn’t save you. But I’m here now. And everything will be okay.”
He closed his eyes, and the Uni Power wrapped around him, covering his body in a white and blue starscape. He reached into the power reserve he felt and let the power flow into Claire.
“W-what?” he gasped, his resolve faltering. He fell to his knees and looked down at his hands. The stars faded.
“Because that is not what you were needed to do.”
He turned to see a woman standing in the doorway of the ICU. She didn’t wear scrubs or a lab coat. She didn’t even have a name tag or security badge. She wasn’t a hospital employee.
She was a slight, almost frail black woman. Her skin was like ebony, and her curly hair formed an almost-halo around her head. She was young, barely in her twenties if he had to guess, and beautiful. Her eyes struck Ryan the most. Despite being the most beautiful brown he’d seen, they bore deep, deep sadness, as if she were in mourning for something. Or someone.
“The Uni-Power is given to those who need it most,” she said. She crossed the room to sit on Claire’s right. She took the girl’s hand and smiled.
“Sometimes, it’s given to bring hope to a civilization. Sometimes, it’s given to help a young child stop a bully from picking on those younger than them. Sometimes, it’s given to help a hero have strength in battle. And sometimes, it’s given so a brother can say goodbye to his sister.” Ryan’s shoulders sank. He had to fight the overwhelming urge to weep.
She sighed. “I don’t know. But I am here for you Ryan. The Enigma Force gave to the Uni Power for a reason. It will need you. It needs you to be strong. It needs your love.”
She took a deep breath and smiled. “Do you smell that?” she said. “Pie. I love pie. Ryan, you need to be strong. When you return home the Uni Power will leave you for a time. But remember what you feel here now. The love, the fear, the determination. It will get you through greater challenges.”
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and composed himself. He stood and joined the woman at his sister’s side.
“I love you Buck,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” He gripped her hand, then turned his back, ready to walk away.
“Ry?” a weak voice said. He spun, and found himself alone with Claire. Who was awake.
“Buck?” he asked. “Buck, you’re alive!”
She smiled. “Of course I am,” she said. “How else would I be?”
He smiled, walked around to her right side, and pulled a chair up to her bed and sat down.
“So tell me how it feels to still be alive?”
Ryan woke up in his own bed, back in Chicago. He sat up, wondering if it was a dream. It had been so real. He still felt Claire’s hand in his own.
He glanced at his phone. He missed a call from his mother, but she had left a voice mail.
“Ryan!” she said. “Claire’s awake! The doctor says she still has a battle, but the fact that she’s out of the coma is optimistic. She said the strangest thing though… She said last night, when she first woke up… you were there. You were there to hold her hand and you were covered in stars…”
Ryan sat up fully and dropped his phone to his lap. He smiled and wept.