Rhonda Waiting…360 Words

The hospital scared Rhonda. She hated it, though if you asked her why she wouldn’t be able to say.

She sat between Mary Wellington and Stella Rollins, her head tipped onto Mary’s shoulder. They huddled on the vinyl couch in the waiting area, three birds seeking comfort and warmth from each other. Rhonda thought the light seemed dimmer here than in the rest of the bright building. End table lamps cast amber light in the dingy nook that tried too hard to feel like a living room.

The tiny hospital wasn’t big enough to have actual hustle and bustle, but it buzzed with as much busyness as might be expected in a farming community. Nurses in sensible shoes squeaked past the three of them, nylon uniforms swishing down the halls in all directions. A loudspeaker echoed in the distance occasionally. Rhonda didn’t hear the words, only the sound. But it was the smell that got to her most. That antiseptic stink of chemicals not quite masking the scent of sickness and death.

Mary held Rhonda’s hand in one of hers, and patted it with the other. She gave a reassuring squeeze. Rhonda thought the lines beside her mouth looked deeper today. Mary flashed a brief, helpless smile when Rhonda’s bloodshot eyes turned to her.

A stray lock of Rhonda’s dark dyed hair tumbled in front of her face, and Mary slipped a finger under it and hooked it behind Rhonda’s ear. Rhonda tried to return Mary’s smile, but couldn’t manage to make her mouth work that way. It felt odd to try, under running eye makeup and facial powder streaked by tear tracks, her body trembling and stomach knotted.

Stella rubbed a gentle palm between Rhonda’s shoulder blades. Her hand felt warm and soothing through Rhonda’s blouse. They all watched the nurse’s station, and Rhonda couldn’t help tensing, ready to spring out of her seat, whenever a nurse squeak-swished past the waiting nook. None of them stopped, though. No news about George.

So they kept waiting in silence. None of them spoke. None of them could.

Setting

The dark hits me first. It’s so dark it’s almost palpable.

I blink a few times, right after I cross the threshold from the hall, and try to let my eyes adjust. Dusty shafts of pale white-blue light slash through the blackness from the filthy window panes, but they just pool on the crud-crusted floor without lighting anything else. The patterns made by the detritus on what might have been carpet once almost form a path, ground through the squalor.

Continue reading “Setting”

More Subtext

Okay, so…clearly I don’t get this subtext thing, because I blew it on the last exercise. Here’s another try.


She smoothed the apron around her waist and sat down, floating to the seat. The sound of his utensils on the dinnerware made her motion unheard, and he didn’t see her with his eyes riveted to the iPad on the table in front of him.

She looked down, laced trembling fingers through her hair, and exhaled through her nostrils, slow, deliberate.

“Everything all right?” he said, around a wad of food in his mouth.

“Mm,” she said, and the corner of her mouth pulled back slightly.

“It’s good,” he managed as he shoveled another forkful of food into his mouth. “Great.” He never set down his tablet, and his fingers danced over the screen, leaving smudges of residue behind. He scowled at it.

“Thanks,” she said, and the corners of her lips curled just a touch, then fell. Her eyes shined moist.

She listened to him, fingers drumming lightly on the plastic as he swiped and pecked.

“Do you still think I’m pretty?” she said., and tipped her chin his direction.

“‘Course,” he said. “You’re beautiful.” Drum-drum-drum, thump, tap-tap. Swipe.

She sighed and stood up, went behind him, and laced her arms around his neck, resting her cheek on top of his head. She let the smell of his shampoo and scalp drift into her nose, and felt the texture of his hair on her face.

“Do you still love me?” she said, voice barely a whisper.

“Yeah,” he said, and chewed. “‘Course. Sure you’re all right?”

She stood up, and slid the gleaming chef’s knife from the pocket of her apron.

“Yes,” she said, “I think so. I finally think so.”

#FridayFlash: The future’s not bright

The Future’s not Bright

Sometimes I wonder what it was like before.

I sit and stare, and my mind will drift. I can paint greenery over the skeletal trees, fill them in with leaves. My mind’s canvas plasters a rich jade color over the dry yellow straw in the fields. The sky’s the hardest. There are so many different pictures to choose from. Some are cerulean, others a more cadet blue. Wispy clouds drifting on gentle zephyrs cast shadows over children on their backs forming imaginary animals and shapes from their amorphous forms.

Sometimes I wonder.

For the most part though, I don’t participate in those flights of fancy. Instead I pace along the transparent wall, and watch them when they come. I know the pus-buckets can’t see through the mirrored surface outside — and I wonder how many lives it took to install — but it’s still unnerving when they put their faces so close.

Faces … ha! That’s a laugh. Those pus-riddled, worm-infested compost piles they stare out of make me sick. It’s even more disgusting when they open their mouths and show those white pustules oozing yellow slime and filled with rotted, broken brown teeth and black flesh when they bite at their reflections. Nauseating. I remember eating in here once, leaning on the glass, when one of them slammed into the window, saw its reflection, and tried to bite. I got a good look at the inside of the mouth and vomited, right on the rich, hunter green carpet.

It’s not bad here. Pretty nice, really. The building is a squat dome connected to identical domes by arched causeways. It’s concrete and steel, but spacious and airy inside. The sleeping quarters … well, they’re for sleeping. An eight by five cubby hole situated with lots of other cubicles at the western end of the hive. You have about four feet of head room. You don’t spend time there unless you’re lying down. It always surprises me when someone leaves the hatch open and reads in there, or has a bunch of pictures hung over the bunk with gum tack. The piss-poor lights buzz and flicker too much for anything but finding the bunk. If I want to read or write a letter or stare at pictures, I’ll find a sitting area or a privacy booth.

Communication with other hives is sporadic at best. Most broadcasts run on a closed loop and play the same things until the machinery transmitting it fails. As fewer and fewer people know how to take care of these things, as fewer and fewer people are educated, learn how things work … well, the future’s not a bright place.

The smoke-choked sky gets to people after a while. Fires smoldering everywhere make the sky black and orange at night, a shade of dingy gray in the day. We’re too close to the ruins of a city for clean air, so it’s either wear SCOBA or stay inside. The suits are good for about three hours of air. Nobody knows how long it keeps the rads off. But that’s long enough to clear the zone and breathe air if you want. Of course, it’s a one-way trip if you do that. Once you’re past the desolation zone, the DZ, vegetation and maybe even some wildlife begin to appear, but you’d have no air left to make it back to the compound.

And who knows how many pus-buckets have found their way beyond the DZ.

Pus-buckets aren’t fast enough to catch animals. They might get an occasional rat or something, but that’s not their primary food source. We think — and it’s only a theory — they stick close to compounds like ours or to urban areas, where survivors might hide. They don’t have enough brains left to make traps or plan ambushes. Still, sheer numbers play in their favor. And they eat frickin’ anything — garbage, mostly, but stragglers too.

Nobody knew when the satellites started firing lasers the consequences would be so catastrophic. Anyone near a target could kiss it goodbye. The radiation cooked surface brain parts and left anyone not disintegrated a twitching blob of flesh.

Until the biologicals launched.

Microbes from the biologicals mutated. Laser radiation did something. Before anyone knew it we had a mess. A walking mess, made of those blobs of flesh reanimated and infecting people as they attacked.

That’s what Stella says anyway. She says her mom was there. I think it was more like her grandmother, but what do I know?

Water’s precious, and not easy to come by. We have a pump system connected to a big reservoir not far from here. It’s covered and underground so there’s no danger of contaminants, but the supply has to last … well, forever, I guess. We could filter water from a lake or something but it’d have to be a damned big one. Oh, and people would have to know how to connect our pump system to that lake, and how to operate and maintain the system. Good luck with that.

Not to mention going outside, in the DZ, to do the work. Amid the hiding, starving pus-buckets.

But last I heard water’s low. Real low. That reservoir’s been our only supply for … well, ever. Since Stella’s mom and that original crew managed to finish construction and come inside, seal the pus-buckets out. I guess they started the compound when they saw it coming, before the lasers went off. They didn’t know the compound would be in a hot bed for pus-buckets later. I guess they thought they were far enough from the city. Damned lasers, stronger than anyone guessed. Even the guys who built them.

Anyway, someone has to figure out how to get more water soon. We figure we have a year — maybe less — left.

No, the future’s not a bright place. Not a bright place at all.

-end-

 

All original content copyright 2010 J. Dane Tyler
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Lost Bet

Lost Bet

I don’t remember what I said to get myself into this…

…But I must’ve been really drunk, because here I am.

She’s staring at me across the table. Her eyes are sort of pus-colored and oozy. Something’s collected in the corner of one, in a booger-knot. I want to tell her about it, but I’m glad it gives me something to look at on her face besides the festering wart on the end of her nose. That runny rot-hole of a wart.

Yeah, if I can focus on that eye booger, I won’t heave. And it makes me look like I’m paying attention.

First thing you notice about this dump is the smell. Damn, it’s like walking into a frickin’ outhouse. I mean, not that bad, but the piss and shit smell’s bad enough. Then you notice the dark. It’s really dark in here. But you’re okay with that because if the place was brighter you might see where that smell’s coming from.

Next you see the shelves and little tables all over. They’re covered by these jars. There’s something in each one. This one’s full of a sort of orangey liquid with some kind of bug floating in it. Not floating, exactly. Not on the bottom either though. Suspended, I guess. This other one’s got some pale blue goo in it. I see bubbles in it but they’re not rising or sinking. They’re suspended too. There’s a rat in there too.

I scan through some of the others. This one’s full of tiny eyeballs. That one’s got a snake thing with little legs on it. That one’s a hand. I don’t know if it’s a monkey hand or what, and I don’t want to know. These things are everywhere. Every surface is covered by them so you can’t see the tabletops anymore.

Then you finally see the old babe. She’s the last thing you notice. She’s sitting still as a frog in a swamp. There’s an oil lamp burning beside her on a little desk or something, and it hides her in flickering shadows. The wood furniture is uncomfortable as all hell. The table in front of her is covered by shiny cloth. Satin maybe? I don’t know. It’s layered one sheet over another, I see that, and there’s a doily thingy on top. There’s fringe dragging the floor, too.

Then you notice the little pot in front of her, and the crystal ball. Wow, really? A crystal ball?

My buddies are laughing it up outside right now. My head’s pounding, mouth’s dry. I sit down and try not to hurl. I look at her gray, dingy straw hair. I look at her bony-ass wrists, skeleton fingers, wrinkled face…anything but that wart on her nose. Anything but that.

“Why came ye here, boy?” she says, and her voice is creepy as hell. Gravelly, like she’s smoked a hundred years. “You don’t believe. Do ye?”

I shake my head, lick my lips, nervous.

“Oh, you will,” she says. “You will.”

 

All original content copyright 2010 J. Dane Tyler
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED