Today we’re happy to present a piece of flash fiction from Jennifer Bernardini. Jennifer answered our call out for submissions early this week. She noted that this story had been previously published online but was no longer available.
Content Warning: This contains talk of a virus, so if you are in a bad mental health state right now because of COVID-19, you may want to give this story a pass.
A Thousand Bloated Flies
They come in the night. Buzzing in the dark, like a thousand bloated flies. I lay awake, my eyes clenched shut. If I don’t see them, maybe they won’t see me. Maybe they won’t land in my eyes and drink them dry.
I’ve been here for thirteen days. There were four of us, four idiots who thought taking an old boat to this island was a good idea. We were trying to get away from the infection. Oh god, the fucking infection. Hg34, the CDC called it. I don’t know what the hell it means. Early symptoms are much the same as the flu or a severe cold: fever, body aches, vomiting, congestion. The second stage is skin lesions, painful rash, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and/or difficulty walking. The third stage of the Hg34 virus is bleeding from eyes, anus and mouth, teeth becoming loose, hair loss, rapid weakening of limbs and cognitive difficulty. People were dying in the streets, hospitals couldn’t handle the epidemic.
We thought we’d get on the boat, come out to this little island, and wait it out.
Now it’s just me. And the flies.
When the screaming begins, I know it’s just in my head. The shrieking comes to me like an ex-lover, familiar and horrible at the same time. I can hear them. The other three.
I don’t sleep, not really. I lay here, trying to shield my face from the flies. I know they want to crawl over my face, their little feelers rubbing together, tasting my sweat. They want to lay eggs in my ears, to use me to feed their maggots.
The little shack we found, really just a few boards nailed together, is my only shelter. The gaps are so large between the slats that the flies dance through, no problem. They’d find me even if it was airtight.
On the third day, our supplies ran out and so we started to forage. This island was a horrible choice. There’s nothing here but squirrels and bushes. We tried to catch the squirrels. Matthew caught a few.
The fifth day. We tried to leave, to get back on the boat and go back to the mainland. But it wasn’t there anymore. Only Judy, standing on the shore, waving as the boat drifted further and further away. She looked at me, said she knew we were going back to the sickness, said she couldn’t allow us that choice.
Judy was the first to die. We thought we were safe here. I don’t know why we thought that. When we landed, and the boat thumped against the shore, we should have known we would all die here. Poor Judy, with her nervous smile and her curly brown hair. She didn’t even see it coming.
On the seventh day Matthew fell and hit his head on a rock. Do you know how much head wounds bleed? A lot. They bleed a lot. He probably needed stitches but I’m not a doctor and neither was Freddie. Matthew walked around that entire day, acting weird, confused. He fell asleep and didn’t wake up.
Freddie. Poor Freddie. She was my girl. Eyes like caramel, skin the color of mahogany. It was just me and her. She told me she knew it would be just us, in the end. I smiled and nodded, put my arm around her.
Day twelve. The squirrels must be smarter than me because I couldn’t catch any of them in my traps. Not a single fucking one. Freddie sat on the beach, her toes in the water, looking out at the life we left behind.
I sat next to her, watching as the bloated moon floated on the waves. We did this to ourselves. She didn’t have to say it. I knew it. She wanted to go back. Hell, I wanted to go back.
There was no way back.
Freddie leaned her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. I caressed her cheek. I told her it would all be okay, that we’d make it out.
I raised the knife to her throat and dragged it across, parting flesh, as quickly as I could. I didn’t want her to suffer. I loved her. I watched for four whole minutes as she thrashed, her eyes large and watering. Blood seeped through her fingers as she tried to stop what I started.
At night I hear the screams. Judy. Matthew. Freddie. They visit me when I close my eyes, lurk in the shadows at the edge of my vision. I know they’ll always be there. I can’t say I blame them. They’re with me, each one of them.
I did what I had to do to survive.
I ate them.
Jen Bernardini is a substitute teacher and mother of two boys. She is a writer working on getting her first book published. This flash fiction piece ties in with the novel she’s written called We All Fall Down.
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
She is also a co-founder of Ladies of Horror Fiction, though she has stepped down to regular crew level.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.