AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Three Word Wednesday and it contains no spoilers. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday for more fun.
They had to maintain order, and that was all there was to it. Julilla glanced at the slight figure in annoyance. Had these been ordinary times she would've been one of the first to say justice should go easy on him, but since the pandemic there was no such thing as ordinary. Disruptive behavior had to be punished.
"You're only making it harder on yourself."
The boy quit tugging at his bonds and looked up at her in desperation.
Julilla turned away. The last time she had removed his gag, thinking to offer him some water, he cursed and spat at her. "Fool me twice, shame on me," she muttered. She picked up a magazine, left behind by the previous guard, and tried to read, but the glossy photos left her uneasy. Singapore, Sydney, Cape Town...no place had been left unscathed. Some of the other survivors might be able to indulge in nostalgia, but that wasn't Julilla's way.
She tossed the magazine aside and was reaching for a book, when the boy made a sound and pulled again at his tethers. "What?" She frowned and stood up. "You want to look at this magazine?"
The boy nodded.
She took the travel magazine to him and opened it on a scene of Buenos Aires nightlife in better times. "It's all just wishful thinking, you know. These places aren't like this any more."
He gave a little shrug.
"We won't live long enough to recreate it." She turned the page on a view of a shopping district, lit up for Christmas. Not even the smallest detail had been omitted. "We're all infected. You know that, right? It's just a matter of time."
He nodded again and Julilla turned a few more pages and found the Orkney Islands, green and fog-drenched, surrounded by steel-gray oceans. "Looks cold," she said.
They spent the next half hour flipping through the magazine, admiring photos of places as diverse as Paris and Patagonia. When they reached the end, Julilla closed the magazine with a sigh. "That's as close to seeing the world as we'll ever get."
The boy looked at her, a question in his eyes.
"If I take it off, are you going to yell and cuss at me again?"
He shook his head.
"Life sucks enough without having to deal with other people's bullshit, you know." She fumbled with the knot on his gag. "You so much as stick your tongue out at me, and I'll recommend you stay locked up until you die."
The boy gasped as the bandana came off. He accepted a glass of water and drank it greedily. "I'm in the danger age. I'll die soon, anyway."
"So will all of us. Why make it more miserable than it has to be?"
He didn't have an answer. "Can I look at the magazine again?"
"For God's sake, why?" She shoved it toward him and picked up her book while he struggled to turn the pages with his bound hands. After several minutes she glanced his way, noting his expression of deep contentment as he gazed at a photo of a couple sharing a romantic embrace on the banks of the Seine.
Ridiculous. She sniffed and returned to her book, but found that the information about survival techniques didn't hold her attention. Instead she saw before her all the places that maybe, if she had played her cards right and the pandemic hadn't struck, she could've indulged her carefree fantasies.
"It was perfect, and we didn't even realize it," the boy said.
Julilla frowned over her book and shook her head.
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