FlashFic: Breathless

She frowned at the pack of jackals with cameras at the cemetery gate. Marie leaned against her, a tissue pressed to her nose as she shook. Emily stroked her back and murmured the standard soothing words.

Nothing was standard or soothing these days, though. Young women, all strong and healthy, were suddenly dying of what seemed to be asthma attacks. None had asthma. When the fifth girl was found, the mayor called in the CDC. So far, the CDC only had the standard, soothing words for reporters. Emily shook her head. There was your standard and soothing after all.

Beth was Victim Six. She, Marie and Emily had been friends since Penn State. Blinking and swallowing tears, Emily fought to keep her composure. Marie was the dramatic one, bless her. Emily refused to show up on the news sobbing her guts out at graveside. It was bad enough running the gamut of reporters every time she tried to go somewhere. Her boss was so frustrated, he gave Emily ten paid days off just to get the media away from the company headquarters.

Women all over town were banding together. Marie stayed with her. Not lucky enough to be spared work, Marie had coworkers who helped her into her office. Emily didn’t wish this sort of death on anyone, but knew the media attention would move on when there was another victim.

Victims Seven and Eight soon followed Beth. Predictably, the creeps with cameras hounded their friends and families. The mayor held press conferences urging calm and caution. By that time, people were calling the illness the Breathless Death. Still unable to identify the cause, the CDC set up distribution centers of asthma inhalers. Not taking chances, Emily got two for Marie and for herself. One stayed in her jeans pocket at all times.

On an obscenely beautiful summer day, Emily forced herself to act like everything was normal. No one knew how the Breathless spread, so avoiding the world just made life scarier. She went to a bistro she liked and took a table outside. Sipping ice tea, she watched the world. People were jumpy. She refused to be, at least for the moment. An oasis of calm amid the uncertainty.

Her waitress appeared with her salad and another ice tea. Emily only noticed her latex gloves because they were blue, an unusual color. Her own were the basic ivory. As she picked at the avocado slices on the salad, a shadow blotted out the sun. A voice came with it. She looked up to see the man who went with the warm, friendly tone.

“I hope you won’t take this as unwelcome. I will go away if you like. It’s so nice to see someone enjoying the pretty day at my favorite café, though. Perhaps you would allow me to join you, please?”

He was nondescript, really. Off the rack suit, average everything. Still, being hit on was refreshingly normal. She smiled and gestured to a chair. “Please do. My name is Emily.”

“A pleasure, Emily. I’m Jordan,” he told her as he sat. Their conversation continued over his burger and her salad. No special laughs or memorable moments. It would have been boring at any other time. Right now, when no one else joined them on the patio, when precious few women were visible on the street, it was so normal she felt her eyes get shiny.

“I enjoyed this, Emily.” Jordan smiled as they finished their lunch. “Maybe you have time for a short walk in the park?” She glanced across the street. How better to celebrate a normal, summery day amid chaos? Her spirit revived, she slid her hand through his offered arm and laughed lightly in reply.

Funny, she didn’t notice he wasn’t wearing gloves during lunch. “I can’t see the point,” he replied when asked. “They don’t know how it’s passed and it’s only killed women.” She could hardly fault his logic.

They came to an arched bridge over a small, rocky stream. Emily breathed in the park scents, rich soil and a fragrance she could only identify as “green.” Life was here, peaceful and patient. They were quiet, each with private thoughts, as they leaned on the bridge’s wall and stared into the depths of the park.

“It’s lovely here,” she said quietly.

He nodded. “You’re lovely as well.” She turned slightly to him and smiled.

“Thank you for your company today,” she told him. “It reminded me to grab hold of each day and shake joy from it.”

Jordan reached out, smoothing hair back from her face. “I’m glad you grabbed hold and shook joy out, Emily.” His hand was warm against her cheek. His fingers trailed along her jaw line. “It is a happy ending.” He leaned in and softly brushed his lips over hers.

Emily’s chest tightened. She tried to gasp for air, but none came. He caressed her throat and smiled into her glazing eyes. His footsteps echoed in the darkness of her final moments.

© 2010 Jessica Rosen

I wrote the #storystarters which inspired this story a little while back. It was the end of the story rather than the first lines. My flash muse just loves the rich resource of #storystarters on Twitter.

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32 thoughts on “FlashFic: Breathless

  1. Kate Frost October 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm Reply

    Great story! I was mentally yelling at Emily not to take a walk with him!

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    • Jessica Rosen October 22, 2010 at 11:57 pm Reply

      Poor dear was swayed by the simple pleasure of a normal day. Thanks, Kate.

      Take care,
      Jess

      Like this

  2. Deanna Schrayer October 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm Reply

    Jess, this is refreshingly original. And I didn’t have a clue until the very end. Fantastic reveal!

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    • Jessica Rosen October 22, 2010 at 11:59 pm Reply

      What a wonderful thing to say, Deanna, thank you. Glad it “gotcha.”

      Take care,
      Jess

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  3. marc nash October 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm Reply

    you could see this coming once she & Jordan got talking, but death was still delivered with utmost tenderness.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 12:01 am Reply

      Different pacing and foreshadowing for me in this one. I’m so glad the ending worked, even if it was broadcast to the reader. Thanks for your review, Marc.

      Take care,
      Jess

      Like this

  4. judy b. October 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm Reply

    Well done. The spare matter-of-fact tone is perfect for the impending doom, which you pace out just right.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 12:02 am Reply

      I appreciate your encouragement, judy. To be honest, I had my fingers crossed about the pacing. Your comments here and elsewhere were welcome and helpful. Thanks.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  5. Johanna Harness October 22, 2010 at 5:07 pm Reply

    I love this personification of death. Even though I knew she shouldn’t go with him, it felt right that she did. Great story.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 12:05 am Reply

      So cool that you read Jordan as a “personification of death.” I didn’t want to yell it from the treetops, but thought it was too subtle in the final draft. Thanks, Johanna. You always know how to make me grin.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  6. Eric J. Krause October 22, 2010 at 6:55 pm Reply

    At least he killed her kindly. This was an excellent, intriguing story. Well written.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 12:07 am Reply

      Thanks very much, Eric. I had the ending – the gentle kiss of death – in mind as I began the story. Navigating my way to it was a challenge. I’m thankful to know I met the challenge and the story works.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  7. Tony Noland October 23, 2010 at 7:00 am Reply

    It’s really a pity they don’t live long enough to pass the word around about the dangers of kissing strange men.

    Nice one.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm Reply

      Stranger Danger, right? Thanks, Tony.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  8. Jason October 23, 2010 at 10:11 am Reply

    Sometimes it is better to eat alone. I especially liked the imagery of the latex gloves, a nice detail shockingly discordant with a pleasant bistro patio.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 10:56 pm Reply

      Thanks for the mention of the gloves. It’s strange how little things become habit during difficult times. They’re more surprising in their absence after a while than in their presence.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  9. Sam October 23, 2010 at 11:37 am Reply

    I knew it! I just knew it! As soon as I saw him I knew it was him. A great story that had me yelling at Emily through my computer screen.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm Reply

      There you were, all, “I’m going to save you, Emily! Don’t go with him! Come back, Emily, come back!” Did she listen? No, she did not. Bad Emily. No Emily biscuit.

      Thanks, Sam. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  10. Kari Fay October 23, 2010 at 11:42 am Reply

    Yeah I figured it was him… but the end of the story doesn’t have to be a complete surprise to be great! Very well written, excellent concept.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 10:58 pm Reply

      Thanks, Kari. I was going for a different sort of reveal and pacing this time. So glad to get your feedback.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  11. Gracie October 23, 2010 at 12:08 pm Reply

    Ah, delicious and chilling. I wonder if he’s visible only to his victims– it felt that way.

    Wonderful creepy flash!

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm Reply

      Oh, that’s a nifty idea, Gracie. Visible only to the victims. Now you’ve got me revising it in my head. Thanks so much!

      Take care,
      Jess

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  12. Pamila Payne October 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm Reply

    Wonderful story and premise. I love that the practical girl walks herself right into danger.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 11:01 pm Reply

      You made me smile. “The practical girl” – exactly. One would think Marie would be the next one, but no. Thanks, Pamila.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  13. Cecilia Dominic October 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm Reply

    I was thinking there was something off about that guy… Nicely done, though! Yeah, standard and soothing are anything but. :)

    CD

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 11:04 pm Reply

      Yes, Jordan had something up his sleeve. It wasn’t latex gloves, though. I’ve had enough “standard and soothing” that it immediately puts my back up. Thanks, Cecilia, appreciate it.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  14. Steve Green October 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm Reply

    At the beginning you nailed the panic caused by such a few deaths, the banding together, the media frenzy,
    I come from Bradford where the Yorkshire ripper lived and so saw first hand the effects of this kind of thing.

    Very well put together.

    Like this

    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 11:07 pm Reply

      While I’m happy to hear I got the right energy for the event, I’m sorry you had to be so close to a terrible time. Thanks for letting me know, Steve. It means a lot to me to get feedback.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  15. Icy Sedgwick October 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm Reply

    Oh I had a feeling he might be more than he seemed but at least he gave her a nice day out first. Is that a weird way to look at it?

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    • Jessica Rosen October 23, 2010 at 11:09 pm Reply

      If it’s a weird way to look at it, we’re both sunk. I saw him as a romantic, sensual rather than sexual, gently seducing the women. In Emily’s case, that meant giving her what seemed a normal, pleasant day. Thanks, Icy.

      Take care,
      Jess

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  16. alisonwells October 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm Reply

    I love the beguiling way this is done. It’s a pleasant experience as Emily’s was at the end of a sinister theme. This story really hooked me. Well done.

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    • Jessica Rosen October 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm Reply

      Thanks a bunch, Alison. Decided to go with something a little different this time and felt a bit out on a limb. Your encouragement means a lot.

      Take care,
      Jess

      Like this

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