Yes, it’s Halloween, in case you hadn’t noticed. This week Chuck Wendig picked out the frenzy surrounding Ebola, and asked us to freak people out with disease.
“1000 words of flash fiction. It should be horror. It should feature disease as an axis of that horror.That’s it.”
This is more dystopian than horror, but I hope you like it… sort of!
The Revenge of the Greenfly
Mrs Satterthwaite put her husband’s tea on the table and sat opposite him, glaring.
“What’s wrong now, dear?”
“That spray you got me last week is a disaster. I’ve just checked the roses. The greenfly have grown enormous!”
It must be a disaster for you to have a grammar lapse, her husband thought. “It was the best they had left,” he replied, thinking back to the crush, almost melee, of people crowding round for insecticide spray the previous weekend. “Shall I turn on the local news, dear?”
They no longer watched the national news, it was too depressing, with wars and outbreaks and health cuts and arguments over immigration quotas. Even the local news continued the theme most evenings.
“… and we asked local expert Bob Flowerdew what we should do about it. Here’s Bob.”
“Ah, good, someone with sense,” Mr Satterthwaite said, sitting back and watching the expert explain the problem with chemical-resistant aphids.
“The real problem is that once they reach this size,” the tv expert said, bringing out a ruler, “about a quarter of an inch, or just over half a centimetre…”
“Thank God one of these young upstarts uses proper measurements!” grunted Mr Satterthwaite, who had never converted from imperial to decimal, except in money. His wife shushed him.
“… is that they explode on contact, and that can produce nasty lesions on the skin. I spoke to Rachel the other day and she kindly sent me some pictures of the damage she had suffered, as a warning to everyone. She’s not appearing on our gardening programme until she’s better, and I’m sure viewers will understand that.”
“Oh, how horrible!” exclaimed Mrs Satterthwaite on seeing the red-rimmed, blue-grey lesions pitting the otherwise lovely Rachel’s cheeks.
“You take care when you’re next looking at the roses.” A thought occurred to him. “How big did you say they were?”
“Huge. At least the size of those ones.”
On his way to the shed the next morning, Mr Satterthwaite paused to smell his roses, and witnessed an exploding greenfly at first hand. He dabbed the liquid with his handkerchief, and thought he’d better wash his face as well as his hands as soon as he got back to the house. He set about sowing some more seeds in pots in the shed, then took some seedlings from the cold frame to his vegetable plot, to start planting out.
Mrs Satterthwaite came out at eleven thirty to see why he was late for his elevenses.
Her next door neighbour responded to Mrs Satterthwaite’s screams. She called an ambulance, but it arrived too late for Mr Satterthwaite. The lesions had spread over his cheek, into his nose, and started rotting his brain. Mrs Satterthwaite was loaded into the ambulance by some white-suited paramedics wearing masks.
“Go and wash thoroughly, Mrs Evans, and stay indoors. Wash any lumps or spots that appear with ordinary soap and water, then call an ambulance,” they instructed the neighbour.
On that evening’s news, the G12 Summit at Holyrood, the latest ISIL fighting in Turkey, and the loss of form of Manchester United’s star £156 million signing, all took a back seat to the announcement that gardening gurus Rachel and Bob had died from the effects of the Aphid Explosion, as the event had been dubbed. The Prime Minister addressed the nation and appealed for people not to panic, to stay indoors, out of their gardens, and not to call an ambulance except for a non-gardening related emergency. He could not have said anything worse to a populace where the ‘nation of gardeners’ were his greatest supporters.
By eleven the next morning, London was gridlocked. Gardeners from all over Britain had descended on Downing Street to demand his resignation, proper health treatment for gardeners, and an immediate inquiry into the Aphid Explosion. Next day those people in London whose only access to flowers was from the parks or their neighbours’ window boxes started to show lesions on their bodies.
“What’ll we do, Alice?” said Andy to his wife, dandling eleven-month old Jake on his lap.
“There’s no poin’ in takin’ him to the ’ospital, or the doc. No one’ll see ’im. He mus’ve picked ‘em up at the nurs’ry yes’erday.”
“You got any?”
“Nah. Well,… I dunno.” Alice pulled up her tee shirt and showed Andy a rough red patch on her side. “Doesn’ look like them though, duzzit?”
“No,” said Andy, straightening up after peering at it. “Maybe you’ll be ok.”
“You got any?”
“No.” Andy thought of the girl at the flower stall outside the tube station, and the large patches of blue-gray weeping skin spreading from his groin area. “No, I’m okay.”
There was a different newsreader every day. Then Sky, BBC, ITV and Channel Four all agreed to do one 24 hour news broadcast, syndicated to the regions, sharing their people. As few people bothered to switch channels anyway, it took a while for anyone to notice. In fact, they only noticed when the lighting in the studio became so bizarre that you couldn’t see the newsreaders’ faces. By then, most people who were watching were survivors, if you could call them that.
The politicians fell one by one. All political interviews were held in silhouette so the viewer couldn’t tell who it was. The reasoning was to prevent the country from panicking.
The country wasn’t panicking. The country was getting used to a new order in things. Survivors with blue-grey skin, melting down their faces, leaving green slime behind them when they walked anywhere, which they did with a strange gait. In the gardens they’d left behind them, aphids a metre long enjoyed the fruits of their labour. Ants the size of small cars milked the aphids for their honeydew, just like they’d done since time immemorial.
And in their complex communication, the call went forward for ants everywhere to advance on Whitehall and enforce Formic law and order. Starting with a pogrom of pest control for the former humans.
(c) 2014 J M Pett
Greenfly image by treklens.com