Sci Fi Flash Fiction
‘fat of the land’ by Mark huntley-James
I blame the tourists — that’s what they always say. Personally, I blame the postal service, but Mary Reynolds blames her cousin. Forget the damned tourists. They’re vaccinated for everything. The real killers now are industrial spills and incurable human stupidity — Mary’s cousin has that in full measure.
Are they going to be OK? Mary asks that a lot, and currently she is my only source of information. Her husband, his brother, and their son are all comatose — patients zero, one and two, victims of our nastiest outbreak of obesity-related lipofungus.
I know everyone gets a dose now and then, no worse than dandruff from hell, unless it get under your skin. At least their family doctor spotted it and got the whole family into isolation. Then I had my first conversation with Mary.
It starts like this: have you been abroad recently?
“No, no, we’re going to Corfu next month…” Thin as a rake, so not a candidate for the lipofungus, and knotting her fingers together as an alternative to crying. “Put the deposit down.”
I didn’t tell her that plan was changed, and the deposit probably forfeit. The important thing was that none of them had been abroad. Nor did any of them work in or around any business using industrial lipofungus. I worked through the questionnaire, expanded the cast of characters to include friends and more distant relatives…
“Well, there’s my cousin over in Florida. Moved last year, but she ain’t been back.”
I would have skipped to the next question, but Florida? Really? The biggest outbreak of lipofungus in the world, all over the news…
“Has your cousin sent you anything lately?”
“Oh, yeah. Really silly. Sent us a snow-globe from Florida. Daft, ain’t it. Silly card as well. Saw this and thought of you.”
What sort of idiot drives from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville to post a parcel overseas, just because the Governor suspended postal services out of the area due to their lipofungus outbreak?
Equally, why didn’t the US Postal Service ask a few more questions, like where did this come from? And why didn’t Royal Mail ask should we be worried about parcels from Florida?
“Show me this snow-globe.”
The Reynolds lived in an old, terraced house, part of a row faced with a patchwork of external insulation, and similarly padded within. That’s the worst possible combination — a shiny new exterior over a maze of older material where pathogens and their transport can hide. As soon as Mary opened the front door it hit me — the certainty that this would be a long day, and the over-powering scent of dog. A soppy border collie snuffled at me, clearly too old and tired to jump, bark and check the stranger for snacks.
“Don’t mind Doris…” Mary patted the dog. “She’s just a bit low like the rest of us.”
I examined the snow-globe by eye and dropped it in a bag for more detailed inspection later. Mary pulled the packaging out of the recycling bags — a cardboard box, bubble-wrap, an outer layer of brown paper with all the postal service stamps and franking. I bagged everything.
“So, you opened the parcel Tuesday…?” I waited for a nod — we’d been over this, but it’s important to keep asking the same annoying questions in the hope of a sudden… no, wait, I almost forgot… “All the family together? And your husband got sick first on Saturday…?” Another nod, but then this was the easy, well-established detail. “And you called the doctor straight away that evening…?”
“Oh, yes. Straight away. As soon as the match was done.”
The match. Of course. Who cares what the sport was?
“So, straight away, after the match… so when did your husband actually get sick?”
“About lunchtime, I suppose. Feeling a bit hot, he said, but the match was starting…” I could see it in her eyes, the moment it clicked… if only she’d called the doctor sooner. “And then he got bit.” She waved at Doris — great, brown, soulful eyes… is it walkies time? “She’s overdue for her flea treatment, y’see? And he was scratching at the bite, and it went all weird and weepy, so I called the doctor and said it was an emergency, y’see?”
All weird and weepy — just the sort of secondary effects you get when those damned industrial fat-digesters get a grip on a human body. Those extra hours meant nothing. The lipofungus usually takes ten days plus to show symptoms, even in obese patients with a totally shot immune system. This took four.
I gathered up the evidence bags, patted Doris, and yes, she does need her flea-treatment. I scratched at a bite on my ankle and then stared at it– perfectly normal for a flea bite, but…
I patted the dog again and looked into those warm, canine eyes. I had missed the scattering of petechiae the first time.
“How old is Doris?”
“Two. Nearly three. Had her since she were a pup…”
A young dog, who ought to be full of life. I scratched that flea bite on my ankle again. So… Mister Reynolds got sick, got bitten, the flea then bit Doris… Lipofungus does not propagate like that. Just like it doesn’t colonise dogs, or humans with a robust immune system.
“Mary…fetch her lead.” I was in a hurry to get back. Figuring out how the lipofungus got transmitted could wait until I was dosed to the eyeballs with every anti-fungal known to medicine. This damn fungus was breaking all the rules.
“Doris, Doris… good girl… just put this on… good girl… damn fleas…”
Mary scratched a new bite, and then an old one on her arm. All weird and weepy. I noticed, but then I’m trained for this.
“Uh… Mary?” I had to ask the question. “How long have you had that?” I didn’t really hear the answer and had to ask again. Flea-bites — who would have thought it? The smart money in the office sweepstake was on mosquitoes as the next big carrier.
Mary, as skinny as a rake, and so obviously in the early stages of obesity-related lipofungus. There was so much to do — quarantine the house, the whole Reynolds family, anyone who might have passed Doris in the park… and get myself treated, really, really fast. And time to rename this bug, because it clearly wasn’t obesity-related any more.
I’m too thin to die. I hope.
Writer Information – Before You Go!
This wonderful flash fiction Fat of the Land was written by Mark Huntley-James from England and was first experience at a live reading event organized by Virtual Futures before being published with Lore. Mark also has two books out on Amazon. If you loved his style, be sure to pop over and check out his novels; Hell of a Deal and Road To Hell to further support his writing. You can check out Mark’s Twitter page here for updates on his new releases!
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