Rather than using my standard writing prompt thingie at DIY MFA, this week's flash fiction piece comes courtesy of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge. I really dig Chuck's blog, as an author, as a mom, and as an occasional lover of creepy horror stuff. You should check it out. The man says he doesn't read romance, but we all have our forgivable flaws. Anyway, "we" were given 10 words and had to pick 3. Random.org was nice enough to pick THREE IN A ROW for me: epidemic, tongue, and mint. Umm... Thanks random.org. And there's a soupcon of romance, cuz sorry, Chuck, there had to be romance.
Happy reading, Love Ellis
Farzan cut down a narrow alley and ran, burning everywhere. Praying silently, he strained to hear over the sounds of his own footsteps. His own breathing.
They'd be coming for him.
He tripped over a discarded length of pipe and went down on one knee, breathing hard. He pulled deep, desperate gasps of what smelled and tasted like untainted air. No smoke, no disease.
Nothing met his ears but the sounds of chirping birds, who went about their day blissfully unaware of the human running from death on the streets below. Until a door slammed open in the stone wall beside him and pale hands covered his mouth and eyes.
Stupid. How did he not hear someone coming?
With a furious pulse Farzan fought and clawed, slamming his head back against the man's face. He kicked, bit at fingers, but the arms that held him were long. Muscular. The tall body against him, in fact, fit against his in a way that was strikingly familiar.
Lips against his ear, as the door closed behind them. "I'm going to let go. Quiet, okay?" Minty breath wafted past Farzan's cheek on a whisper.
Farzan knew that voice. Hands released and he spun to grab his old lover. "I thought you were dead." He let his head linger against Jamie's shoulder longer than he should have
J's hand came to the back of his neck. "It was better," he said. "When the epidemic spread across Southeast Asia, Professor Langstrom and I were automatically marked for removal since were on the original research team." Jamie huffed into Farzan's hair. "I didn't want you marked by association."
Farzan stepped back, squinting at Jamie in the dim light. The young geneticist's blond curls had gotten long and shaggy, his blue eyes dim from the raging war this plague had created. No less breathtaking, especially as his tongue slipped out to catch a drop of blood from his lower lip. "Well I'm marked now. I went up over Gunapana to try and find food. When I came home Ama and Yadamini were dead."
"You're sure of what killed them?"
Farzan nodded. "Mottled skin. Bugling tongues and eyes. Bleeding. It was painful to even look." The disease known as the New Asian Plague, killed swiftly. Even now Farzan wanted to vomit over the knowledge that he'd left them to die alone.
"Did you touch them?"
Farzan shook his head, queasy all over again.
Voices out in the alley. "Good," Jamie whispered. He grabbed Farzan's hand. "Come on."
They headed for the stairs in the empty house, heading up. At the bottom, Farzan hesitated. "What if I have the disease? I don't want to infect you. There's a reason they burn the entire household after one person dies."
Jamie pulled his arm. "Just come on. This isn't the time for talk."
A loud thump sounded on the door Jamie had pulled Farzan though. Farzan turned and followed Jamie up the stairs.
The upper level of the house was just as empty. A few abandoned items as if the house had been cleared out fast. When things had progressed so quickly, from illness to outbreak to epidemic, many fled. To country homes, to mountain retreats. Farzan wondered how many survived.
If any survived.
"In here," J said, pulling Farzan into the back of a dark closet. They'd reached the farthest bedroom on the upper level, behind a row of long-forgotten girl's dresses. "Okay." Jamie took a deep breath, pulling Farzan close and putting both arms around him. Tightly. Too tightly. "This is the part where you have to trust me."
The floor disappeared from beneath them. Farzan fought against a scream. Heights--falling, was one of his greatest fears. He gripped Jamie for all he was worth. No, burning alive would be worse.
They thumped down on a lumpy mattress only seconds later. Jamie was patting him all over. "You okay?"
"Sure." His pulse was making time like a hamster on meth and he was pretty sure he'd twisted his ankle, but he'd survive. "Where are we?"
"Buncha condemned houses behind that alley you were in. Marked to be torn down but never were. When we first got here the professor shored up a living area and built a passageway." Once again, Jamie reached for Farzan's hand. "This way."
Wait. Farzan looked around. His breath grew shallow as they stepped from the crumbling corridor into a sunny courtyard with growing green things. Coconut trees. Off to the side in a many large buckets, pots and pots of mint plants. "You said when you first got here?"
Jamie bit his lower lip. "Langstrom's a smart guy. He knew from the beginning this thing was gonna spread too fast to contain. Cause a panic. We planned."
In the heat of the midday sun, Farzan went cold. "Panic like burning houses."
Jamie nodded. "Takes contact during the symptomatic period. I'd bet thousands have died who were never ill." He stepped forward, pale hand against Farzan's dark cheek. He studied Farzan carefully, running his fingers over one arm and then the other. "Stick out your tongue."
Farzan complied, and Jamie smiled.
"No symptoms. Tongue looks great."
Farzan pulled it back in his mouth.
"That food run saved you." Jamie handed over a mint leaf from one of the plants. "Chew. It's strong, but the mint protects against the disease. Have it daily. Sometimes we brew it as a tea."
J pointed. "Langstrom's in the house over there. He likes to nap during the day." He pointed again, across the courtyard. "I'm in that one." We grow our own food. We have chickens. Enough to ride it out until the plague passes." He smiled then, at Farzan. "I would really like you to stay. With me."
Farzan breathed deeply, taking in Jamie's broad smile.
"Or." Jamie swallowed. "We could make you a place to sleep in one of the other--"
"Yes. I would really like to stay." Farzan slipped one arm around J, bumping their foreheads together. "With you."