The flash fiction challenge this week from Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds.com was to write a horror story revolving around a disease. So in a thousand words or less, I give you:
Nikolai shoved the sandwiches and fruit into the two lunch bags. His lips stretched into an unwelcome yawn, which he bit down as he called, “Get down here! The bus will be here any—“
“I know, I know!”
Jasmine came running into the kitchen, her poorly done braid nearly smacking him in the face as she grabbed her bag and twirled out the door. She popped her head back with a sorry expression and baggy eyes. “Thanks Dad.”
Nikolai shooed her out the door. The news report playing from his iPad started beeping for an important news announcement. He turned down the volume and shouted again, “Mikael!”
Feet pounded upstairs followed by the slam of the bathroom door. Nikolai yawned again as he put all the food away. He gathered his own things only to realize he was missing his cell phone. He used the land line to call it, frustrated when he heard nothing. He turned off the news in case his phone was on vibrate, reading the red banner on the bottom of the screen that stated “Livestock Epidemic” before the iPad went black. When he dialed his cellphone again, he finally heard it ring—in the refrigerator, next to the string cheese. He resolved to go to bed earlier tonight.
Mikael’s feet came pounding down the steps the same time the air breaks from the bus hissed from the window. He handed the lunch bag off to Mikael. “Get going!”
Mikael yanked the brown sack out of Nikolai’s hands. “Someone had to braid Jazz’s hair.”
The door slam was deafening.
It was 4:13 AM. Nikolai had been watching late night comedy shows for three hours and infomercials for the last two. Copper Hands Compression Gloves was on. He had seen this thirty minute ad at least a dozen times over the past few weeks.
Nikolai scooted over on the couch as Jasmine sat down beside him. He lifted his arm and she curled into his side. Sighing, he leaned his cheek on the top of her head.
“The curtains didn’t work?”
She shook her head. “I don’t like it so dark.”
“What’s your brother doing?” He asked, his eyes fixed on the screen, watching the copper gloved lady plant flowers. His hand flexed subconsciously.
“Playing video games. He’s shouting again.”
“I’ll go tell him to keep it down,” he promised.
“When did your wife die Mr. Woods?”
Nikolai stared at the doctor. “Six months ago… But surely—“
“With as major of a life change your family recently experienced, it’s not outside consideration to think—“
“They are ten and fourteen. Clinical depression have affected younger. There are several things you can do around the home. I’ve got a pamphlet here somewhere…”
Nikolai balled his copper gloved hand into a fist, his heart hammering when his knuckles cracked. “Dr. Marks, I’ve applied all this home remedy crap for the last three months. It hasn’t work. I need a prescription.”
“Antihistamines have helped—“
“My kids can barely sleep a few hours each night. I need something better!”
Dr. Marks’ lips went thin as he tried to hide a yawn. “And I’m telling you, I can’t prescribe them sleeping pills.”
Nikolai’s boss had sent him home from work. Most days weren’t too bad, minus the joint pain. Unfortunately, his bone aches had spread to his chest, causing sharp pains around his rib cage. His coworkers had mistaken it for a panic attack. He had been humiliated.
He had just settled into the couch to watch a news report about the rise in insomnia when the phone rang. Certain he had misheard the principal’s assistant, he had to mute the television.
“What do you mean suspended?”
“I’m sorry Mr. Woods, but we’ll need you to pick up Mikael right away. He beat up a few students who—“
“A few?!” Nikolai stuttered, his breaths already becoming shallow. He had noticed Mikael becoming moodier, but he braided his sister’s hair. He didn’t beat up classmates, much less multiple classmates. “What happened?”
“I… I think you better just talk to the—“
Sounding exhausted, she finally said, “Mikael has been screaming for the last hour that the whole school is trying to kill him.”
Nikolai was holding Jasmine in the corner of the living room. With a power strip, five lamps, and her entire stuffed animal collection, the space had become the only area she would stay during the night. The darkness did to Jazz what people had done to Mikael. Nikolai had been able to at least keep her away from the institution, but he didn’t know how much longer he could handle her screams. Especially when she called for her mother.
When her fit finally ended, Nikolai forced his body to relax. He had added copper necklaces and brackets to his collection, but he still felt all 360 of his joints crack as he finally removed his arms from his daughter. Her eyelids were closed. He prayed she would get a few minutes of rest.
He turned the television on. Emergency reports with the headlines “Livestock Epidemic”, “Product Contamination”, and “Prion Outbreak” kept appearing along with the same advice. Avoid meat. Avoid cheese. Do not panic. Do not take sleeping pills. Call this number if you have not slept in seventy-two hours.
Nikolai wondered which hour he was at.
Jazz didn’t come home that day. When Nikolai called the school, they told him that she was in the hospital with Mikael.
That he had already called five times that day.
That the school had been shut down.
That his call had been redirected.
He tried to hang up. His fingers wouldn’t let him.
Men in hazmats broke down Nikolai’s door. They found him surrounded by stuffed animals, his eyes bloodshot red, his skin covered in cooper wiring. He kept asking to see his wife and children.
No one answered him. They packed him up. Carried him out the house.
The door slam was deafening.