Friday, April 18, 2014

Pandora



For the A to Z Challenge I generated a list of random words, and I will be writing a short story incorporating those words. Each day a little more of the story will be unveiled. You can read the full story, to date, here. Here we go:
 
“He’s going to save the human race,” Mark repeated.

“Yes.”

“The whole human race.”

“A good chunk of it,” Mr. Cross said. He pulled a napkin from the dispenser and began to shred it. Mark caught himself tapping out a rhythm with his uninjured hand. Both of them were brimming with unspent energy. Anxiety did that to him.

“Please, just tell me what’s going on,” Mark implored.

“In about eighteen years, there will be a plague that makes the Black Death look like flu season. It first appears in rural China, but it quickly spreads across the country, hops borders, flies across the oceans in jet liners. They called it Pandora. Because once it was out, there was no putting it back into whatever box it came from.  It’s airborne, very virulent, about a 60 percent death rate, with a good 20 percent of survivors permanently disabled. Blindness. Brain damage. It kills people very quickly. Only a few days from the first symptoms until you’re dead.”

“But, doesn’t a fast killing virus usually die out?” Mark asked. “Like, I heard Ebola doesn’t spread very far because it kills so quickly.”

“Usually, that’s the case. Also, Ebola patients are obviously sick, and the virus isn’t airborne, so it’s easy to avoid exposure and minimize risk. No, this thing was something new. Pandora was so effective, there were suggestions – still never debunked by the way – that it was created by the Chinese as a weapon. The Chinese blamed Russia. Things aren’t so good between them.” Mr. Cross said it as if the two nations were in a marriage on the verge of divorce, a flippant way that contrasted sickly with the disease he was describing.

“So 80% of the population is…put out of commission,” Mark said, just as the waitress returned.

“What can I get y’all?” she asked in a Southern twang that was out of place in a Northern city.
 
“Yes,” Mr. Cross said completely dropping their conversation. “Can I get the Double Cheeseburger Platter with an extra side of chili fries?”

“So that’s in addition to the fries that comes with the Platter?” the waitress asked. Mark could see her measuring the old man, wondering where he was going to fit all that food.

“Yes. And my grandson will have…?”

Mark wanted to laugh at the ruse they had fallen into, one he had started. But he also remembered how Mr. Cross had stuck him with the check at Golden Dragon, and he only had $10 dollars in his pocket and a giant black hole on his debit card until the end of the week. “I’m good. Thanks.”

When the waitress left, Mr. Cross took a sip from his coffee before continuing, as if he had never been interrupted. “Not exactly that. Potentially 80% of the population. At its height, depending on the country, anywhere from ten to 30 percent of the population was infected. That’s about 3 billion people.”

Mark tried to process the number: 1 out of 3 people infected, dead, or disabled. That was a serious threat. But what did that have to do with Ashton Miller?

Mr. Cross answered the unasked question: “Ashton Miller had the cure.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ozone

For the A to Z Challenge I generated a list of random words, and I will be writing a short story incorporating those words. Each day a little more of the story will be unveiled. You can read the full story, to date, here. For those of you who have been following along, Old Mark is now Mr. Cross. Sorry for switching names in the middle of a story, but I'm making this up as I go along. Here we go:



They found themselves in a diner halfway between King Street and campus. The d├ęcor here was just as cheesy as Golden Dragon, but with a more fifties inspired flair. They sat at a booth far from the door, right across from the men’s bathroom. The air stank of grease, ketchup, and coffee, with a faint undertone of ozone that could never be explained. Mark slid his bandaged hand under the table when the waitress brought them coffee. The few patrons were muttering about the accident, and he didn’t want to attract questions.

Mr. Cross’ hands shook when he lifted his coffee cup, but he managed not to spill any as he sipped the hot liquid. In the bright lights of the diner he looked even worse. Mark wondered what he would look like in broad daylight. A walking corpse, no doubt.

“Are you all right?”

Mr. Cross carefully set his cup down. It made a soft clattering sound as the ceramic jittered on the Formica tabletop. “Yes. I’m fine. Just getting old is all.” He sounded tired and resigned. It reminded Mark of his Nana who responded to every inquiry of “How are you today?” with “Just sitting here, waiting to die.” The thought of Nana, brought unpleasant memories. Memories he shared with Mr. Cross. He wondered if the old man ever thought he was turning into their grandmother.

From his demeanor, and obvious ill health, Mark began to regret demanding answers. But he needed to know. He had thrown himself across the path of a speeding pickup truck to save a stranger. If he was going to continue influencing Ashton Miller’s life, he needed to know why.

“So,” he started slowly. “Ashton Miller. This guy. Is he going to be president some day?”

“No,” Mr. Cross said. “Someone more important. In about twenty-two years, he’s going to save the human race.” 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Novice

For the A to Z Challenge I generated a list of random words, and I will be writing a short story incorporating those words. Each day a little more of the story will be unveiled. You can read the full story, to date, here. For those of you who have been following along, Old Mark is now Mr. Cross. Sorry for switching names in the middle of a story, but I'm making this up as I go along. Here we go:


The police wouldn’t allow them to leave. Within minutes of the crash, several ambulances arrived, and Mark was hustled towards the EMTs. As a man the size of a grizzly bear fussed over his hand, Mark scanned the crowd. Ashton was behind a barrier speaking with a police officer. Mr. Cross was nowhere to be seen.

The burly EMT wrapped his hand in gauze with a speed that showed he was no novice, and asked when his last tetanus shot was. Mark shrugged. He couldn’t be bothered to remember at the moment. The cut was shallow; he could flex his fingers and make a fist. No real damage that he could see, and he refused to be transported to the hospital. The driver of the truck was loaded into the back of an ambulance along with a uniformed officer, but he appeared to be the only one seriously injured.
When his hand was bandaged, he was sent to the barriers to speak with the police officer.

“That’s the guy,” Ashton said, pointing to Mark.

“You saved this man’s life,” the police officer said. “Very lucky you were around.”

Saved his life, Mark thought. Why? Mr. Cross was still hadn’t appeared. The police officer began to ask him questions. Mark tried to answer as much as he could. Luckily, the officer didn’t bother asking why he was on King Street, or what made him rush across the street to tackle a stranger. As the officer was taking his contact information, Mr. Cross hustled into the crowd.

The old man was out of breath and in the strobing lights of the emergency vehicles, very sickly looking. He clutched at Mark’s arm and wheezed, as if he had run all the way from campus.

“Sir,” the officer said, “are you all right?”

Mr. Cross coughed and nodded.

“Do you know this man?”

Mark nodded. “He’s…my grandfather.”

“Maybe you should have him checked out.”

Mr. Cross shook his head and struggled to stifle another wheezing cough. “I’m fine. Tell him I’m fine.”

“He’s fine,” Mark parroted. “Can I go now?”

“I’ve got your info. If we need you, we’ll be in touch.”

Mark took the old man’s arm and led him away from the crowd. He made a cursory search of the area, looking for Ashton, but the other man was gone. He put it the back of his mind to focus on his older self. Mr. Cross leaned heavily against him as they moved away from the scene. Mark worried that he was on the verge of a heart attack. If Mr. Cross died, would he die? No, that didn’t make any sense. He was the younger version. He had years ahead of him. If saving Ashton Miller’s life didn’t shorten it.

“What happened to your hand?” Mr. Cross asked as the stumbled past the trendy clothing store.

“Cut it. Glass on the ground.”

Mr. Cross paused, forcing Mark to stop after taking two more steps. The old man held up his own hand, and gazed at the palm. “Huh.”

“What?”

He turned his palm towards Mark. “No scar.”

“It isn’t very deep. Maybe after sixty years it faded away. What are we talking about scars for anyway. You have some explaining to do.”

“Yes, yes,” Mr. Cross said, leaning against Mark again. “Let’s get some food and I’ll tell you a story.”