Always old fashioned

They sat in Terry’s office on stiff-backed chairs. Two untouched mugs of tea and a plate of soggy Bourbons perched on reams of paperwork on his desk. Terry didn’t like tea, but he always made himself one when visitors came because it seemed to make people less self-conscious than when they drank alone. Now things such as tea and biscuits seemed old-fashioned in this newly made world. But Terry didn’t mind that. He’d felt old-fashioned since he was a small boy.

The surface of the tea had formed a skin,  wrinkling under the air conditioning like geriatric flesh. He thought of mentioning his observation to the man from the Government – Donald was it? Or Dennis? – but his thoughts often made other people feel uncomfortable. Though Janey had never minded.

The Government man’s suit was as creased as his face, as if he’d used the jacket as a pillow. His skin was greasy, grey as the ring of dirt around his shirt collar. Yes, standards had dropped since the beginning of the outbreak.

Donald / Dennis scratched his forehead with bitten down nails. ‘Doctor Goddard, if you can tell me anything about Doctor Faber’s movements over the last few days. Anything at all.’

The man looked exhausted, but then they all were. He and Janey had taken to napping on the chaise longue in the corner of the office rather than bothering to drive home. They were both single. No one missed them. He gazed at the sofa now, at the threads of gold that could only be strands of her hair.

‘Doctor Goddard. Please. This is a matter of national security.’

‘We were trying to find a cure -‘

Donald / Dennis leaned forward, his tie shifting the papers on the desk. ‘A cure funded by the government, with key research and statistics supplied by our departments.’

All Terry knew was that she had been there one evening, peering over her notes, twisting her hair on top of her head with a biro, and gone the next morning. He hadn’t noticed the slides were missing until the phone rang.

The Government man’s jaw clenched. ‘I cannot stress how important it is we regain those samples.’

He didn’t mention Janey’s safety, that she was out there alone, the world dying around her.

When Terry had picked up the phone, her voice had been faint and breathy through the receiver. He thought she might have been running. Or crying. ‘I’m sorry, Terry,’ was all she’d said. ‘I’m so very sorry.’

Donald would take the words as an admission of her guilt, but Terry knew them for what they were. A goodbye.

 


I fancied revisiting Terry and Janey, two scientists caught in the jaws of a catastrophic disease outbreak. To read their first outing, When the time comes, see here.

#tuesdayuseitinasentence : When the time comes

Petri dishes, mould cultures

Image : Pixabay

‘You get your jabs yet?’ Terry Goddard looked at Janey over his half moon glasses, a sad, questioning smile on his lips.

His hair was uncombed, his shirt creased. He owned one tie and in the ten years they’d worked together he’d never had that washed. Until two weeks ago she hadn’t known he lived alone with a largely absent cat and a hyacinth macaw named Fleming. Then the news had somehow leaked through of how awful it was out there – the looting, the violence, the relentless spread of the disease – and they had spent an evening under the flourescent glare of laboratory lights, drinking a ten-year-old Glenfiddich and actually talking.

Now she wished they hadn’t, that they’d remained polite strangers. Imagining his childhood hop picking in Kent, how he nursed his mother through cancer after cancer until it finally stole her away … It would make it all so much harder when the time came.

‘No,’ she said, rubbing tired eyes. ‘I didn’t see the point.’

He lowered his voice. ‘You’ve got to make a show. For the sake of the others.’ He took her hand, gave it the briefest squeeze and was gone, bustling over petri dishes and samples.

She hoped she died first.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Use the word – today it’s JAB – in a post. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

 

#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Break open the earth

Firework, explosion

Image : Pixabay

Someone gripped Ben’s shoulder, shaking him awake.

‘Fetch your kit,’ said the someone, just a shadow in black.

The shadow was breathing hard, a wheeze on the exhale he recognised in his own lungs. Shanty Chest, Dom had called it with a wink. But there was no more Dom. Ben kept forgetting.

He pulled his bag open, grabbing for his jacket, stuffing his bedroll inside, though it slipped and fought him as if it was alive.

‘Move,’ said the someone. ‘Five minutes and we’re out.’

Then there was no someone, no tent, only a whistling, gaping hole and the sky and stars and the stars were exploding over his head, big and white enough to blind, filling the night with cracks loud enough to break open the earth.

‘There coming!’ screamed another someone.

But he was staring up at the stars, watching them break and flash and fade and listening to the crackling hush to silence.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Use the word – today it’s KIT – in a post. See here to read the other tales and to join in.

Friday Fictioneers : For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson


 

Pristine white arches stretched over the dark corridor. The starship’s floor was warm beneath her feet, the restless air scented with plastic and engine oil. Machinery hummed – a dull, comforting throb.

She tried to control her breathing, tried not to glance into the alcoves as she followed the trail of winking lights. She knew what lay inside – egg-shaped pods, their glass lids sealed, the placid oval of a sleeping human face visible in each.

She was the last awake, the only one who’d heard the distress call from home – to know the heartbreaking truth.

‘Sleep well,’ she whispered.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the prompt photo and write a 100 word tale. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

The title comes from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, from the speech beginning,

To be or not to be?

#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Death : The Ultimate Prize

Spotlight

Image : Pixabay

‘It’s the … Ultimate Prize.

Sound exploded – clapping, feet stamping, cheers so loud the noise weaved and warped in Stevie’s ears, turning to yelps, howls, animal voices from human throats.

The studio lights were too bright for him to see the audience, but he’d felt them througout the competition, heat pouring from them, an energy verging on hysteria.

‘We welcome back Stevie, our winner from the last round.’ The host, Louis, placed a manicured hand on Stevie’s shoulder.

Louis smelt of old sweat, of grease overlaid with aftershave so strong it hooked in the back of Stevie’s throat. Louis’ shiny suit was darker under the arms, the shirt damp beneath the flapping jacket. When he released Stevie’s shoulder there was a patch of cold left behind as the sweat evaporated.

‘Now, Stevie.’ Louis’s face was in his, false sympathy oozing from under the melting pan stick. ‘You’ve been a marvellous contestant all the way. Hasn’t he, folks?’ A turn to the crowd, absorbing the whoops and cries. ‘You’ve won some money too. But this is the Ultimate Prize. We don’t want you to win some money. We want you to win all the money.’ He winked at a camera, its red light flashing back. ‘And the freedom of your wife and son of course.’

The monitors showed the footage he had seen everyday for the past week – Sarah and Danny, dirty faces streaked with tears, huddled together, bare feet tucked to their bodies. Danny’s tiny body shivering on a dozen screens. Stevie flicked over the picture, searching for wounds, for signs of weight loss, but the monitors snapped to black, leaving an after image on his retinas, his family in negative.

Again, Louis’ hand on his shoulder. ‘But to win all of this, you know there is one more round to complete. Just one more.’

The control was in Stevie’s hand, trigger greasy under his forefinger.

Louis’ voice seemed to come from a distance as the monitor flickered into life again. ‘Your last target, Stevie. And here she is.’

The image resolved. CCTV footage. A young woman – younger than Sarah – sitting on a bench, tying her shoe laces. So young. Blond hair bouncing in a ponytail. Had she been one of the mug shots at the end of the news? An eco-terrorist? A trade-hater? He tried to think, but the memory wouldn’t come – there were so many Accused these days.

The red dot of the laser sight blipped on her chest, bobbing up and down with Stevie’s unsteady breath. She tied one lace, moved on to the other.

The Ultimate Prize, Stevie. Come one, folks, let’s give our champion some encouragement. The Ultimate Prize, The Ultimate Prize …’

The words turned to howls, screams, there was the girl, but she had Sarah’s face, then she had Danny’s, streaming with tears. Stevie’s finger slipped on the trigger.

He wiped his hand on his jeans then gripped the control again.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventures’ #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Use the word – today it’s ULTIMATE – in a sentence or post. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Never tamed

Fiery tiger

Image : Pixabay

 

‘They’re never really tame, of course,’ said Brace, fixing me with an intense stare. ‘Always remember that.’

I glanced down at the construction of brass riveted to the end of his wrist. The rods and wheels made oiled clicking sounds each time he extended his arm, each time the shining claws – in place of fingers – gripped his cane.

He caught my eye and smiled. ‘Yes,’ he waved the metal arm before my face. ‘See this as a cautionary tale.’

A growl came from inside the cage. The creature was tucked in the shadows at the back, though I could smell it. There’s no mistaking their smell – it’s warm and rich, fusty unwashed fur and meat. Always meat.

Brace tapped his cane on the iron bars. ‘Come, show your colours,’ he whispered. ‘The gentleman wants to see you.’

I heard the edge in his voice when he said gentleman but ignored it. The creature slunk forward, paws spreading over filthy straw, dim lamplight glowing on stripes of gold and bronze, on copper talons that etched lines into the stone floor. I stepped forward, drawn by the shimmer of every hair, by intelligent amber eyes that fixed on mine.

Being so close to one for the first time, I couldn’t help but gasp. ‘She’s more beautiful than I ever dreamed.’

Behind me, I heard Brace chuckle. ‘Don’t fall for her charms, Doc. She’s a killer.’

I turned to face him, thrust the wedge of notes into his outstretched claw. ‘I’m sure she is,’ I smiled.

He could be her first meal in liberty.

 


 

Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. See the word – this week it’s TAME – and write a suitable post. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

Friday Fictioneers: They’re here

PHOTO PROMPT -© Vijayay Sundaram

PHOTO PROMPT -© Vijaya Sundaram


 

The door bursts open, shuddering dust and flakes of paint from the shack walls. It’s Pops, face grey as his grubby shirt, mouth open, hand trembling at his side.

‘They’re here,’ he says.

Momma pushes past him, me and Jimmy scrabbling in her wake. Outside, the other displaced families are all there, some gawping dumbly at the night sky, some already throwing what little stuff they had left in bags. An old lady sits in the dirt rocking, crying like a baby.

Above our heads, the night fizzes, glitters, alight – the most beautiful thing.

Momma grabs my hand.

‘Run.’


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers. See the photo and write a story of 100 words to accompany it. See here to join in and to read the other, super stories.