Fade to Black
Flash Fiction by Carrie Martin
The dream is so vivid, so real, that I startle awake in the night to find my face wet with tears. And the cold that kept me in bed yesterday has gotten worse. I'm hot and sweating and aching all over—there goes another day's pay.
I should sleep this out, but my throat is grating dry and I need to erase the dream from my head.
I drag my blanket into the living room, gulp from a bottle of water sitting on the coffee table, and turn on the television. A public announcement has arrested the airwaves:
"I repeat: We have an emergency situation. Please stay in your homes and do not—"
The television cuts out in a glow of white light, fading to black. The living room light flickers for a moment, and a feeling of dread seeps through me.
Do not what? I have to know. I slide over to my desk to check the Internet for news. Seconds drag by, forehead burning, brain groggy, but I can't connect. I slide again, to the large window of my eighteenth-floor apartment.
The dark city below is unnaturally silent and still. I see nothing untoward, no signs of fighting or war. The city has never looked so peaceful.
My eyes begin to droop, an overwhelming exhaustion taking hold. There's nothing I can do about this now, anyway. I collapse on the couch with my blanket and return to sleep.
She is crouched in a ball, a crying blur of white... Her eyes shoot open and blood-red hollows stare back at me. Her crystal tears turn to red, blood seeping down her face, staining the whiteness of her clothes. She opens her mouth to scream, wider, wider, and reveals teeth like gnarled toothpicks. A hideous shriek erupts.
I jump up on the sofa, heart thumping against my breastbone. Daylight streams through the window. I wipe the dampness from my face, and when I pull my hands away, they are red with blood. I rise on shaky legs and force myself to the bathroom, study my face in the mirror above the sink. My eyes are completely bloodshot, a web of broken blood vessels, blood smeared across my cheeks.
What is happening to me? Is there some sort of flu epidemic? Is this what the television announcement was about?
A lump of fear and panic rises in my throat. I work my way to the main window. Nothing has changed in the scene below. The same cars remain in their spots; there's not a single person walking down the street. No traffic. Nothing.
I'm afraid to sleep, afraid to be alone, and afraid of the voice in my head that says I'm going to die. I don't know what to do. My body is heavy and weak with sickness, my brain slow, muddled. I couldn't leave here if I wanted to. And if I have contracted a deadly flu virus, who of my neighbours would even come near me?
I need to fight this thing. That's the only thing I can do.
I raid the hallway closet for any medications that won't make me drowsy—sleeping only seems to make me worse—but all I find are some cheap painkillers, bottles and packets dropping to the floor in my agitated search. I bring two pill-bottles to the living room sofa, shake out a handful of each, and swallow the mix with the rest of the bottled water.
I wait, sweating and hurting and desperate. But the pills do nothing to fight the sickness, and before long, I'm nodding off where I sit, too tired and sick to pull the blanket over myself.
Her blood-red eyes stare back at me... Her face and clothes are stained with hardened blood. Thin black lines radiate across the skin of her legs, arms, face, growing darker and thicker, until her skin is as black and slick as an eel. She flops onto her belly, arms held forward like she's about to dive, and slithers into the distance on a floor I can't see.
I bolt awake, inhaling a balloon of air. My face feels itchy and tight. Red gunk gathers under my nails as I scrape away dried blood—and see my hands, riddled with nasty black veins. My lips tremble as an uncontrollable whimper magnifies into an animalistic wail. But no one can hear me; no one can help me.
I can't let myself fall asleep.
I must never sleep again.
I stagger from the sofa into the kitchen—coffee. It's the only idea I've got. I hold myself up by the countertop, fill a mug with water and instant coffee, and plonk it in the microwave, murky water spilling. I close my eyes to avoid seeing the disease that has claimed my flesh.
The microwave beeps and I glug the foul-tasting coffee down in one shot. I shudder, and soon, wired energy is pumping through me. I pace the floor, aching and sweating and delirious. I know I should eat something but the thought makes me nauseous. I pop more painkillers, sit at the computer, and type a disjointed letter to my parents. I drink three more bitter coffees and manage to stay awake until dark.
And then I can't fight it any more. I lie in my bed, whisper goodbye, and cry myself to sleep.
Glistening black skin fills my vision... I can't breathe. I'm choking for air, smothered by an endless surge of black skin, sliming across my face. And then there is only black and calm.
I awake; peaceful, rested—cured. I pull back the bedding with arms that are thin and shiny and black, and slither out of bed to join the rest of my race on this new planet.
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