Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
Several weeks ago, I wrote an essay in which I suggested my muse might have fallen to the covid 19 virus since I had not heard from her in so long. I asked my readers to step up with some prompts for me so I could get back to writing. This story is a result of input given by Shauna Bowling. Here is her challenge to me in her own words.
So, here's my challenge to you (this was actually an assignment when I was in sixth grade and was loads of fun): Take three unrelated inanimate objects, such as a baseball bat, dollar bill, garbage can, and weave them into a story. I'll leave the genre up to you.
I have responded to Shauna's challenge by using the three "unrelated inanimate objects" she suggested, i.e. a garbage can, a baseball bat, and a dollar bill. Here is the story that rose out of that challenge.
Clive shuffled down the alley inspecting garbage cans that hadn't seen a new piece of refuse in months. He staggered and almost fell. Malnutrition and early stages of starvation were taking their toll. Since these cans were unused, he guessed the houses were as well.
Clive opened the gate of a random house and entered the back yard. If there were bodies inside, he'd get the hell away as fast as his weary body could carry him. The back door was locked. A few feet away, a baseball bat leaned against a tree as if taking a brief break from whatever it is bats do, other than hit balls, that is.
He gripped the bat's handle and examined it. Someone had burned an inscription into the barrel that read, "My First Baseball Bat." Below that was the name, Jason Beadle. What might have been a smear of blood partially covered the name. Clive carried the bat back to the rear door of the house. He knocked twice. The third time he smashed the windowpane with the end of the bat. Glass exploded inward, leaving jagged edges that looked like shark's teeth around the perimeter of the frame.
After waiting for about a minute, Clive reached through the space and unlocked the door. He pulled out his facemask and looped the elastic strings around his ears. The precaution likely wouldn't stop the virus if it were present, but Clive felt safer this way. After a thorough search, he decided there were no bodies in the house, living or dead.
He couldn't know for sure that the house was safe. Under the kitchen sink, he found a bottle of bleach and a small bucket. Two hours later, he felt much better about staying. There were canned goods in the pantry. Not much in the fridge was salvageable. He was very interested in the ten-pound bag of rice. This part of the city still had electrical service, which meant the water faucets and stove worked. He'd check the houses nearby for more food. He needed to stockpile as much as he could for the long haul. Winter was coming.
Clive looked out the bay window, across the driveway and the neighbor's lawn. He could see to the end of the street and a little beyond. Squirrels ran here and there while birds landed on power lines and in trees. The wind blew the autumn leaves into mini-tornadoes. But he didn't see one person. Most had died in their homes, which contained the stench of death. He was lucky to have found this place unmolested by the virus.
Clive sighed. He was tired of thinking about it, but if he didn't, it would kill him too. Scientists had pumped out vaccines in record time, but the virus had mutated in response. The same happened with the second generation of vaccines. This virus had gone from being "like a flu" to killing three-fourths of the world's population. Governments had failed. Chaos ruled in the streets.
On one of the end tables beside the couch, Clive noticed a one-dollar bill. Was it even any good right now? He dared not touch it.
The upstairs floor squeaked. Clive had been up there once to wipe everything down with the bleach and hadn't noticed anything to make him think someone was in the house. Another squeak, this time on the stairs.
He moved across the room and took a position to be behind the door if it opened, which it did, slowly. Clive peeked through the space between the door and the door jamb. He had to look down to see the top of the person's head. Clive stepped back and then into view of the boy who was about eight years old. For a moment, they just stared at each other.
"You ok?" said Clive
"You're in our house," said the boy.
"I'm sorry if I've scared you. I didn't know anyone was here. I just needed food and a place to sleep."
"Don't hurt me. The other man tried to hurt me, but he was sick. I hit him with my baseball bat."
"I won't hurt you, Jason."
The boy jerked his head up and looked Clive eye to eye.
"I found your bat. You did what you had to do."
The two quickly bonded. Jason was traumatized by the death of his mother, father, and little sister. He had taken the bodies out to the curb for the city to pick up. That's how this city did things now. Clive had lost his family as well. His son, Victor, Vic for short, had been about the same age as Jason.
"You must have natural immunity." Clive opened a can of pork and beans.
"Yeah, that's what I figured." Jason put two bowls on the table with spoons.
"I'm beginning to think I have immunity as well."
"But the virus keeps changing."
"That's true, so we can't afford to become complacent."
"Even if we are immune, we have to be careful. Like you said, the virus changes."
"Sometimes, I wish I had died with them."
"But you didn't."
"No, I didn't."
"So, now what?" Clive sat down and spooned beans into the two bowls.
"I think I'll hang on to my baseball bat."
"That's probably not a bad idea. Just don't swing it my way unless you're sure, ok?"
Clive and Jason lived in the house through the winter. The fireplace and the stash of firewood outside were a godsend because the city utilities had shut down in December. Christmas had been awkward. Clive gave Jason a Snickers candy bar he found on one of his excursions. Jason gave Clive a jar of garlic stuffed olives.
When spring came, and leaves began to bud on trees, they stood on the side of the street and contemplated all they had done to survive. Who would have thought that just eighteen months before, they had been living happy lives with their families? Since then, they had disposed of the bodies of loved ones and struggled to stay alive themselves. How many others were out there?
The next thing to ponder was, why? For what were they fighting? The answer to that question would determine the future of the world.
Clive and Jason ventured into the downtown. They needed food and other supplies. The Walgreens store had been left unlocked, so they stepped inside. Jason went looking for any canned foods he could find. Clive wanted to search through the pharmacy for antibiotics, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.
Clive was out the pharmacy door in a flash, but he stopped short. People were moving up and down the aisles. He could hear their raspy breath and coughs. He came face to face with a man who carried a revolver.
"This is our turf. Take the boy and get lost." The man, who must have been in his mid-sixties, waved the gun in Clive's face. He stepped very close to Clive. "I said, get out." Then the man sneezed in Clive's face.
Jason stood nearby, his mouth agape.
Two days later, the two were splitting wood in the back yard.
"I think I'll go inside and take a nap." Clive coughed several times. "I think I'm coming down with a cold.
Jason sat on the steps at the back of the house. He waited for ten minutes. During that time, Jason remembered how the other man had tried to grab him. He had been mad with the virus, but he was also weak. Jason considered how he would fare fighting with Clive.
Jason picked up the baseball bat, ran his fingers across his engraved and blood stained name, stood resolutely to his feet, walked through the house, and into Clive's bedroom.
© 2020 Chris Mills