Well deal with it, people because it's happening.
Really, I just felt bad that the last post was so preachy and whiny, and I wanted to share something fun that I wrote recently. Honestly, this is probably horrible to admit, but I haven't written anything of consequence in months. Many months. And I'm just now starting to get out of my slump. So what I'm saying is I'm rusty. And the writing isn't coming as easily as it used to.
Good news: It's getting easier all the time. And I actually wrote some Flash Fiction that I don't hate.
Now, in case you're new and don't know the FF rules, they go something like this: I find a quote, image, song, etc. that inspires me and I write a short story about it. Sometimes it's 100 words sometimes it's 3,000. This time it's somewhere in the middle.
And also I cheated a little bit. Usually, I find the inspirational image/song/whatever first and develop a story around it. This time, I already had an image in my mind. And it was so, so clear that I didn't need any aids. In my mind it was night, and I saw a girl staring out her bedroom window across a wide desert, and on the horizon is a huge building all lit up from the inside. All I knew about the image was that there was something wrong with whoever or whatever was housed in the building. I've had this strange image in my head for a long, long time and so I finally decided to give her a story.
I call it Reap 7 and you'll read why in a moment.
Also, I couldn't find an image to match the one in my head, so I found one of what I imagine Gene, the main character, looks like as she stares out the window. Kind of grungy and haunted, with something somber, yet curious in her gaze. I love the grainy quality of the image, and her
outfit. I thought the image fits the story pretty well.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy!
It almost looks like a birthday cake sitting on a table in the dark. I wait for someone to blow out the candles and disappear it, but those light never extinguish. Never, not once in ten years have those lights turned off. And, I suppose, they never will.
From my window, as I look out upon the cold expanse of desert, I can almost count the lights on the massive building. Each one is a window. And behind each window is a room. Within those rooms, live people. People just like me, only they’re sick.
The Haven is where you go if you contract the deadly virus known as R-7, or as some like to call it, Reap 7. See, when the virus first attacked, many thought it was some kind of biblical plague, a reaping of sorts to rid the world of evil. The media distorted the deaths of millions, claiming those people were sinners and that was why they’d died.
That went on for a while, until some truly good people started dying. The pope, for one, was enough to rock the world and shut the religious folks up for good. This was no reaping. This was cold, indiscriminate death. And we were all vulnerable.
I was young when R-7 killed off about five percent of the population within a year. I was six, actually, so I don’t remember the panic or the fear that infected the earth, just as surely as Reap 7 did. In fact, my only true memory of that time is Alex. He was my best friend. And he was taken away on a Tuesday, ripped straight from my side by men in white suits and face masks.
Alex and my parents had both died within weeks of each other, leaving him alone, and me in the charge of my brother, who was just thirteen at the time. When Alex’s parents went, days after ours, he stayed with us. I remember us curled around each other in my bed like kittens, our shoulders trembling with silent, choking tears.
In those days, nobody left their homes; nobody talked to each other or touched. If you had to be around others, you wore a mask and you averted your eyes, like just looking at someone infected was all it took to contract it, too. We hoarded food and supplies, and camped out in our basements, hiding like rats. We rationed stale crackers and cold cans of soup like they were precious white truffles, and went out at night to raid the already picked-over supermarkets.
We were lucky to have Jon, my brother. Some kids were worse off. Some from our neighborhood, even younger than me, were on their own – left to fend for themselves. In the beginning, they would come by our home and knock on the door, shivering and crying, begging to be let inside. But in those days, you couldn’t chance it. There was no way to discern who had Reap 7 and who didn’t just by looking at them. And once you breathed the air of someone infected, you were done for.
We turned them away.
Night after night, they came, crying for food, until one day they stopped coming. When I was little, I wondered where they’d gone, though I was secretly glad not to hear their wails every night, singing me to sleep like some macabre lullaby. Now I realize they likely starved to death.
One time I put food out for them. I left a bowl of Campbell’s chunky beef stew outside on the porch like you would for a stray cat. That night there were no keening howls, no raps on the door. I was happy. Alex had told me I was kind, but Jon wouldn’t like it.
He was right.
It was the one and only time Jon had ever laid a hand on me in anger. A whole fucking can, Gene are you crazy? Jesus, you think I want to let them starve? They’re babies, I hate this! But I have to make us the priority, you get it? Mom and dad wouldn’t forgive me if I let you starve. Maybe it was just my baby brain distorting the memories, but I always saw his face cast in red when I think of him back then, red and lined like an old man. He always seemed so old back then, but he was younger than I am now.
And he kept us alive.
Well, he kept the two of us alive. I had no idea what had happened to Alex. When the men in white suits took him, it was because he tested positive for Reap 7. After a few years, the government – what was left of it anyway – figured out how to test you with a simple blood sample and determine whether you were infected. So the men in white stormed each house, each basement and hovel, yanking arms from under ragged blankets and stabbing needles into them. There was no refusing the test, of course. We had no choice. Freedom had long since abandoned America. You let the men in white put their silver needle in your arm or you were taken away.
Sometimes you were taken away, anyway.
But they never killed you; that would be going too far. They simply tossed you, screaming with tears and snot running down your face, into the back of a black van and you never came back.
Jon told me after Alex was taken that he was going to a camp. It’s like a hospital, he said, his warm hands kneading my back as it twitched, one day they’ll find a cure and they’ll make him better. You’ll see him again.
We both knew it was lies.
I would never see Alex again.
But as I look out over the desert at The Haven, where the infected live, apart from us, I can’t squash that last stubborn shred of hope that he somehow lived this long. And that they will find a cure. And they’ll empty The Haven of all its suffering souls. I imagine the gates whipping open wide and the tenants scrambling out of the double doors, escaping like ants from a trampled ant hill. He would find me and I would scream at the shock of seeing him again.
I wonder, not for the first time, if I would even recognize him. I have no pictures of him to aid my tattered memory. When I think back hard enough, I have a vague impression of a sharp nose and angled eyes, black hair and bony arms. And a navy blue shirt with the word RIOT splashed across it in faded white letters. He could walk past me in the street tomorrow and I might not know him.
Warm desert wind creeps across my face, tugging hair from behind my ears and pulling it out the window. I let it fly and count the windows of The Haven again, imagining that the one in the dead center is Alex’s room. I pretend that he’s sitting at his window too, maybe reading quietly, or staring out across the sea of sand too, thinking of me.
Does he even remember me?
Without warning one of the lights blinks at me.
I sit up straight, blood rushing in my ears, unable to believe what I think I’ve just seen. I flip a look at the clock. It’s nearly midnight, much past my usual bedtime. I must be seeing things. My imagination running away with me again, as Jon always scoffs whenever I get too excited.
Those lights never flicker, never extinguish.
I can’t stop my legs from pitching me across the room to the light switch. With my gaze transfixed on The Haven and that tiny window straight in the center that blinked at me, I flip my light off. I count to five slowly. He has to see it. And then I flip it back on.
I wait, frozen with my fingers on the light switch, my breath clogged up in my throat.
Minutes go by. Hope fades and my arm drops, a balloon losing helium. I am a crazy, stupid girl.
My feet shuffle back to the window, dragging the rest of me along with them like a ball and chain. Numb arms push my window closed and turn the lock. I cast one more look at The Haven and send a silent prayer that even though I hadn’t seen it blink again, that the light in that room so far away had gone off. That it meant something – anything. That maybe, against all odds, it was Alex over there in that center window, sending me a silent hello. A hopeless promise that we would see each other once again.
Hopeless promise, I remind myself. Hopeless.
Then I flop into my bed and cover myself with the ratty blanket my mother crocheted, the one that doesn’t keep my body warm, but heats my soul to the core. It is a hideous shade of rotten oranges and I’ve picked too many holes in it from nerves and nightmares over the years. But she once touched it. And I’m under it now. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to my mother again.
From my bed, I can still see The Haven, the right half of it anyway, and it seems to glare at me now, almost smugly. Probably, that’s just my imagination again. But I can’t shake the ominous feeling I get whenever I look over there, especially now. Usually I sleep facing the other direction.
I start to turn around to escape the multitude of ceaselessly staring eyes, when—
The center window.
I sit up in bed and one word alone passes my lips, unbidden: “Alex.”