AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Three Word Wednesday and will be cross-posted later this week at Weekend Writer's Retreat. It is not part of the novel and it contains no spoilers. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday or Weekend Writer's Retreat for more fun!
Jay pushed his way through the crowded corridor, so blind with rage he didn't care who he shoved or stepped on. If he didn't get out of here fast, he was going to do something both he and the hospital staff would regret.
He picked his way over the bodies of the ill and dying, and dodged the hands plucking at his clothes, as if he, a mere teenager, could do anything. It was a pandemic. No, it was the end of the world, or at least the end of the world he knew.
An orderly cut in front of him, pushing a dying man on a gurney. The orderly looked none too healthy himself, but Jay was tempted to punch him, anyway. The man might not be personally responsible for the laws that prevented him from retrieving his parents' bodies from the hospital morgue, but every one of these people knew it was hopeless. They would all die, so why not let a guy bury his loved ones as he wished?
He went outside into the chaos of the emergency drop-off area. Here, the healthy argued with security guards over the ill and dying, who slumped over wheelchairs or lay limp and gasping on improvised stretchers.
"They're not taking anyone else," a guard insisted. "There's nothing they can do, anyway."
Jay stepped around two small children, abandoned in the crowd and crying. He was about to go into the street, not because he had a destination but because he had no place else to go, when a particularly fierce argument at the end of the driveway caught his attention.
The boy was about his own age, wiry and agile, with long dark hair and a savage look in his eyes. He brandished a blade at a security guard, screaming epithets, while the harried guard kept his hand on his gun, glancing around for backup.
"Put that away, son. It won't do you any good."
"I'm not your son, you goddamn pig. You're going to die like the other ones, and when you do, I hope you get thrown in the pits to rot."
"Well, at least your parents will have some company, won't they?"
The boy sprang, howling with hatred.
Jay ran forward and pulled him away. "Stop that." He held the struggling boy, his muscles nearly cramping with the effort. "If they put you in jail, you'll be trapped there when the cops die."
The boy squirmed in Jay's grip. "What do I care?"
The security guard looked at them with sad eyes that bore the deep shadows of one who hadn't rested in days and who was already symptomatic with the disease that would kill him. "I'm sorry, young man," he said, addressing the boy who had abused him. "The only thing you can do for your parents is try to live in a way that honors their memory."
Jay didn't release the boy until the security guard was lost in the crowd. He was ready when he turned on him with a flash of his switchblade, but he hadn't expected to recognize him. Frantically, he searched his mind for a name. This boy wasn't one he had been friends with or even spoken to, but he had seen him in the halls at school and had a vague memory of him sitting in the back row of biology class one semester, slumped across his desk, sleeping. "David Collier?"
The boy paused. "I remember you. Jay Gallard, popular guy." He took a step closer and shoved the blade of his knife against Jay's throat. "Charm and good looks won't do you any good around here."
Jay fought to stay calm. Guys like David were all bluff...usually. "Look, man, we're in the same boat. My parents died in there, too, and they won't let me have them back."
"Sucks, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, but maybe together," he darted a glance toward the hospital doors where the crowds were still begging to be let in. "We can do something. If they're still in the morgue, all we need is a plan."
David drew the knife away, but his eyes remained wary. "What kind of plan?"
"Hell if I know." He resisted the temptation to rub the spot where the knife had been. "But we've got a better chance if we work together than if we work separately. What do you say?"
After a long moment's hesitation, David closed the knife and slipped it back in his pocket. "It's worth a try."
Jay relaxed slightly, feeling a bit of hope for the first time all day. "Let's get away from here so they won't see us talking." He gestured toward the street. "We'll think of something. There's got to be a way."
If you enjoyed this story, check the sidebar, where you'll find the serialized novel, more flash fiction (including prequels), and other fun Steal Tomorrow stuff.
Steal Tomorrow Extra: Ira Quod Ruina
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heartbreaking insight into the beginning of hell for them. Great job!
Oh, wow. I'm sitting here with a lump in my throat. Amazing job with this glimpse of Jay and David during the pandemic.
You always do a great job with your tales; I cannot wait to see what I have missed in the last four months of Maelstrom, and the other work that I just got into before I was forced to take a multi-month breather.
No other compliment should be necessary, no?
oh yes, a fantastic tale, well narrated :) thanks for sharing.. i'll read the series soon too..!
Just as I'd pictured it from what you said in the book.
Galahad and David are as ever, true to character. I like the pre-ST story. David? Wow, he was always troubled and torublesome. I almost feel badly for him. If I didn't already know him bette, I might really sympathize. Galahad...I love him, as always for being the good guy in a bad time.
Great writing as always Ann.
This one looks like things are looking up for Jay and David, despite the hard times ahead. I don't know how you frequently manage to conclude on a hopeful, positive note despite the dismal lifestyle at hand. Another great excerpt of Steal Tomorrow!
Well done. These two characters mesh pretty well together. I like their spirit.
it is like a novella maybe...most enjoyable read...
All of your backstory snippets have such energy and deep character roots - they always feel like film clips, a peek at something bigger. Loved this week's.
Riveting, Ann - the crazed behavior of those at the hospital doors, the anguish of boys suddenly finding themselves alone, parentless, the sympathy of the guard even though he knows his end is in sight. All that in such a short instalment - fabulous!
My word verification is 'readr' - that's me: enthusiastic 'readr' :)
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