Also for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, Dec. 2013. I should warn you- you should only read this if you’re not eating and you like things that are creepy and gross.
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My breath came short and fast. My heart pounded in my throat so hard I could feel my teeth shaking. My face hurt. I brought my hand up to my cheek and felt blinding, stinging pain. My hand came away with blood and pus on it, a foul smell clinging to my finger. I needed to find Rich and the kids. Rich could help me.
The floor is cold. I can’t feel my feet or hands. I sit up and everything goes black. There’s so much pain I don’t know where it’s coming from. My hair is stuck to the floor. I crawl to the door of the apartment and open it. I try to call for Rich, but I can’t. I pass out.
There was nowhere to hide in what must have been the living room. The couch had been burned, soiled blankets bunched up on the floor and hypodermic needles glinted in the weak sunlight. Beneath the smell of rotten food was the unmistakable odor of death. My nostrils flared and I followed the undercurrent of familiar smell.
The bathroom. Curled up in the bathtub, two small bodies clutched each other, a black sludge gluing them together and staining their clothes. A stuffed red dog looked up from the disgusting mess. My eyes stung, maybe from the awful stench. I caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of my eye and whipped my head around…
Rich looks me straight in the eye. He’s crying. I am sobbing, begging for him to not do this. Let me come with him. The barrel of the handgun quavers and he says, “I’m taking the kids. I can keep them alive. I’m trying to help you.” The gun flashes and…
I stared into the one eye that was visible under the swollen, angry, red scars. The monster that stared back at me was barely human, barely anything. Half the face was jagged and ripped, black and red and twisted. The mouth opened and a horrible sound filled the small bathroom. The bodies in the bathtub cried in terror and fright and I brought my hand up to smash the monster, to break it.
My hand was slashed and bleeding. Cut by the monster’s face, shards of glass stuck out of it. I absentmindedly brushed the glass off with the barrel of the gun in my other hand.
I turned and crept out of the apartment. The noise the monster made would bring them. The apartment across the hall was a mirror of the one with the two little bodies in the bathtub, but cleaner. There was no festering refrigerator or burned couch. Someone had come after and cleaned up, brought furniture from other apartments. A squatter. Other apartments in the building had squatters in them, who shot or screamed when I walked in their door. Their screams stuck in my ears. I sniffed. There was no smell of human life. I wanted to rest.
There’s no one around. I stagger to my feet. The doors of all of the apartments are open, bags and clothes and trash scatter the hall. Everyone is gone. I am alone.
The bedroom was down the hall past the kitchen. I crept down the hall and pushed the door open with my toe. The smell of soap wafted towards me. Someone lived here. I crouched down and crawled to the bed, letting my gun fall to the floor. A whimpering sound. I almost didn’t hear it. I lifted the bed skirt and a loud hiss and splutter and terrible stinging pain. Pepper burned my eyes. Screams and thumps startled me. I reached under the bed and felt hair. The hair belonged to a woman, older, thin from starvation like most of them. She screamed again, hitting me and beating me. It was loud. She scared me. She wanted to hurt me. I pulled her up with me, struggling in a close embrace so she couldn’t hit my face anymore. It hurt when they hit my face.  Her screaming was so loud, they would hear her. We stood there, her screaming and hitting, me holding her close, my arms around her…
My tears soak his shoulder. We stand in the middle of the kitchen as the news comes through. The virus is spreading and our region is next. We have to get the kids and go. Rich brushes my hair behind my ear, I reach up and rub his neck…
I heard a cracking sound and her screams stopped. I looked down at the thin woman slumped in my arms, my hands holding the side of her head. “You need to get out of here,” I whispered and let go. She collapsed, her head thumped against the floor. It twisted over her shoulder, her eyes wide and glassy. Bending over, I brushed the hair back behind her ear. The pepper smell burned my eyes and my face and my throat. I stumbled out of the room, coughing. I needed to keep moving. They would hear the screaming.
Stumbling and hacking, I tried to find the bathroom. A bucket of water stood in the sink and I plunged my head in. The water calmed the throbbing pain in my face and hands. The mirror over the sink had been smashed. Someone had cleaned the glass up. Someone cared about this apartment.
On the floor outside of the bathroom was small canister with a pink velcro strap. I picked it up and read the label. “Defender V Pepper Spray” it said. I didn’t need it. I defended myself. I could take care of myself. A foot was sticking out from the doorway down the hall. I carefully opened the door and saw a woman laying there, her head twisted back around over her shoulder, her thin frame crumpled on the floor. Dead. She was dead. She looked familiar. Someone had killed her. I needed to find a place to hide. They will find me…

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