Posted for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/10/24/flash-fiction-challenge-diseased-horror/
The bent yellow card in my hand was laughed at by my friends last year. I remember Tony Tomms slapping his knee, his derisive laughter echoed by my friends at the barbecue last summer.
“Under York?” he scoffed, tears wiped from his cheeks. “Those jokers stole your money, Jim!”
I flipped his burger, and I spit on it when he wasn’t looking.
“Daddy?” my little daughter Gwen looked up at me with her big doe eyes, one chubby hand wrapped around my fingers, the other securely clutching her teddy bear as the subway car jerked from side to side. “Is mommy coming?”
I pressed a cheek to the top of her head. I hated lying to her.
“Yes, honey. Mommy has her own ticket to Under York.”
Hand in hand we followed the crowd through the tunnels deep into the bowels of New York City. The increase in rapidly spreading epidemics fostered the need for underground shelters. Most major cities across the United States had erected these shelters, but in reality there wasn’t enough room for everybody.
“Honey, don’t drag teddy,” I urged Gwen to lift her doll off the ground. I hurriedly brushed the black soot off of its legs. “They won’t let us in if they think we’re tracking in dirt.”
“Ticket?” the stern soldier shined his flashlight in my eyes. He snatched the yellow ticket out of my hand and asked, “Where is your wife?”
I glanced down at Gwen, who was distracted by another child. I whispered to the soldier so she wouldn’t hear. “My wife was infected.”
He nodded sympathetically, directing us through the doors. Under York was going to be our home until the surface was hospitable again. I sold my home, cars, and cashed in our life savings for that little yellow ticket. They thought me a fool. Gwen and I are are two of twenty thousand who are now safe.
Who’s laughing now Tony?
“Stick to your routine!” Mayor Armstrong announced over the loudspeaker. Everyday the same speech. For seven months we have lived in these dingy halls. For seven months I have labored as a scrubber, rubbing the floors and walls with disinfectant. The only odor pungent enough to break the nostril piercing smell of antibacterial chemicals is the slimy smell of twenty thousand people sweating in a closed environment.
“A clean room is a happy room!” our supervisors preached as our fingers wore to the bone keeping Under York free from infection. There was little time to make friends and even less with my daughter. Gwen was on litter patrol with the other children. Their job was to find litter, incinerate it, and let the adults punish the culprits.
The supervisor jabbed me in the shoulder with his baton.
“Scrub harder, citizen. Do you want to die?”
I couldn’t tell if he meant by disease or firing squad. Some days I loathed that yellow ticket, but at least we were alive. I dipped my sponge in the orange bucket, squeezed it out, and scrubbed the molding until I couldn’t feel my fingers. Some days I wished I were on the expansion crew. Digging new tunnels, expanding living space, would be more enjoyable than this.
“Breach!” a dozen panicked voices screamed as they ran toward us. The wall behind them cracked and exploded. A wave of water rushed at us. They must have hit the Hudson, and with the Hudson came death. Behind the Hudson came air, and with air came death.
I was on my feet running. I slammed the corridor door shut, sealing it air tight as the wave swallowed everyone. Men and women were drowning on the other side, beyond the window, their silent screams replaced by the static of the intercom crackling red alert.
“Daddy?” Gwen was crying in her plastic suit. She looked like a little spaceman. With my thumb I rubbed the clear plastic visor fogging up with her tears. “Daddy I want to hold teddy!”
The dirty little bear was clutched in her plastic gloves. I couldn’t remember the last time I got to hold my daughter without the crinkle of plastic.
“Gwen, teddy is dirty. You can’t sleep with him tonight,” I told her as I guided her into her sterile room. I sealed the door, looking through the portal. I wished that two people could be in a sterile bedroom at a time but the risk of mutual infection was too great after the breach last month. Only a third of the population had survived the accident caused by the expansion crew.
I wanted to hold Gwen so badly. My finger hovered over the button to unlock the door so I could hug my daughter skin to skin, that pleasant feeling of love and affection I hadn’t felt since the subway car. I watched through the window as she removed her suit.
“Remember citizens,” Mayor Armstrong chastised us over the intercom, “One man or woman per room. No exceptions. Separation is survival.”
My own tears fogged up my visor.
A hiss. I turned, pressing my back against the wall at the sight before me. Thick lipped, with sores swollen to burst was another citizen. Puss leaked from his blistering skin as he shambled toward me, clawing at his own throat.
“Help me,” he croaked, reaching at me with malformed fingers.
I scuttled toward my bed chamber. He thrust his face against the window into Gwen’s bedroom.
“Get away from her!” I searched for the nearest weapon as the monster mouthed for help from my daughter. She screamed. Nothing found, I punched the monster in its twisted face.
“Get off of me!”
A Bellevue Hospital orderly wrestled a distraught father to the ground. A doctor stopped before wheeling through the curtain protecting the staff from a sick little girl. Blood ran from his nose.
As he sedated the father the orderly asked what happened. The attending staff turned sorrowfully toward the girl. The beeping heart monitor grew fainter and fainter.