Stings

Another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig where three random words must be incorporated *

        E hovered over her mug of beer. It wasn’t cold, but it was better than nothing. She couldn’t remember the last time she had good beer. Ridiculous, she thought. Society goes to hell and you can’t even get a decent drink. Although, it made sense that everyone would go straight to the liquor store when it was clear staying indoors couldn’t keep you safe.
         “Anything new?” Thad asked, wiping halfheartedly at an ancient stain on the bar.
         “Nope. Put down a few on the way over, but they wasn’t long for living anyway. One of ’em had no arms and barely any face. Almost seems a mercy t’ do it,” E wiped her lips across the back of her hand.
         Thad’s bar was dirty, from the wooden counter-top to the empty bottles on the shelves. She hoped the glass was clean, but it didn’t really matter. She looked at the grit under her nails. Guess she didn’t have much reason to notice the dirt in Thad’s. There was blood on her boots, too, but it was mostly dry.
         “Bastards,” Thad said without sympathy. “If they hadn’t been so busy to snort that garbage up they noses, they might still have faces left.”
         “Couldn’t have known it’d be like this,” E said. “Guess the government scientists wasn’t as smart as they thought they was.”
         “Always knew the Man would be the one t’ bring us down,” Thad nodded sagely. “Given them meth heads and tweakers them lab-drugs, tellin’ ’em the high would be jus like flyin’.”
         “Guess they never thought they high-tech drugs would turn the tweakers into flesh-eaters. An ‘unforseeable epidemic,'” E mimicked the newscasters.
        She took another gulp of the lukewarm beer. It was almost flat, too. But Thad’s was the only safe place for miles, and he’d done her a favor or two in the past.
         “If that weren’t bad enough, they flesh-eaters made more. Now we’s got a country of flesh-eaters,” Thad shook his head.
         “Least you can tell the flesh-eaters from they looks these days, before, they was all dressed up in suits,” the deep voice made E choke on her beer.
        Coughing, she slid off the stool, hand going to the rifle slung over her shoulder.
         “Evie, love, thought that was you,” he scraped his dark hair back from his face. It was longer than she remembered and he’d finally turned to dreadlocks.
         “The hell you doing here, Owen?” E crossed her arms over her thin chest.
         “Heard you was down this way,” Owen laughed, smacking his hand down on the wooden counter. “Your finest lager, Thaddy old boy, and whatever the lady was drinkin.”
        Thad looked to E before reluctantly going to get the beer. She glared at Owen, wishing, not for the first time, that he was shorter. He wore two pistols in holsters under his arms and the machete she remembered, its blade chipped in several places. Owen slid onto the bar stool next to the one she had just vacated and grinned, draping his lean arms on the dirty bar. She could just see the tip of the scorpion tattoo that ran up his forearm under his ragged flannel shirt. He caught her looking and pushed his sleeve up.
         “Remember this?” he grinned, long fingers rubbing the inked insect. “Still got yours?”
         “I swear I’ll–” E broke off as Thad reappeared with the beers and slid them across the bar.
        Owen trapped E’s hand in his as she reached over to grab hers. His rough fingers covered her much smaller hand and restrained her as she tried to pull away.
         “Now, darlin’, is that any way to greet your husband?” He leaned towards her, gray eyes searching her face. They looked even lighter against his weather beaten, dust coated skin.
         “Wouldn’t be my husband anymore if I had my way. Ain’t no way to get a divorce when there’s no more government,” Evie said, finally freeing her fingers. “I would’ve been shot of you years ago.”
        Owen laughed again, taking a long drink. He grimaced and set the beer back down, staring at it with far too much interest. E eyed him nervously; Owen was never quiet. She looked away when he turned. He reached across the bar again but she pulled her arm out of his reach, leaning towards her own beer to hide the movement.
         “You wouldn’t up and divorce me just when the world’s goin’ to hell,” he said quietly, grey eyes glinting. “You wouldn’t do that, Evie Carpenter.”
         “Don’t…call me that. It’s E, and I don’t use your last name anymore. What are you doing here, Owen?” she looked him straight in the eye at last. “Don’t say you came all this way cause you heard from some friend of yours that I was back here.”
        Owen gave her a measured look and took another sip of the flat beer.
         “Well?” E asked, irritated by his silence. “You forget how to talk, chasin’ tweakers through the swamps with that damn machete?”
         “You told me not to say I came way back down here for you,” he said.
         “Of all the—” she broke off as there was a shout and one of the boys out front poked his head in the doorway.
         “Big pack of ’em. ‘Bout twenty or so,” he yelled.
        Thad pulled his shotgun out from under the bar, pockets already filled with ammunition. The three of them scrambled towards the door.
Owen swore loudly when he saw the mob, a pistol in each hand. They ducked behind the barrels and sandbags Thad put around the perimeter. They waited until they heard the moaning, smelled the rotting stench of the tweakers.
        Owen glanced at Evie, who leaned on the makeshift barricade with her blonde eyebrows furrowed. Her ragged shirt was untucked, and he could see, just above the top of her pants, the tip of a scorpion’s tail. He grinned and turned back to the flesh-eaters, ready to shoot the head off anything that came close.

* scorpion, divorce, and epidemic

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19 thoughts on “Stings

  1. Loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove it!!!!
    Especially the idea of meth/street drugs taken over by government labs causing a “zombie” epidemic. Fantastic! I recently finished “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins, so this was right in my current mindset.

    I can already tell that if this were longer, I would easily become smitten with Owen. Even your bare suggestion of characterization is enticing. This is a good baseline of a plot. It’d been a fun Round Robin thing too, I think 😉

    • Thank you! I just can’t hear “epidemic” these days without thinking of zombies but I wanted to change it up a little and I thought a government planned “purge” of the addicts gone awry might be cool. I haven’t read Crank, but I’m glad it worked for you.
      Owen is kind of great…I might have to resurrect him later, fitting “divorce” in there was the trickiest part!

      • Yeah. Epidemic implies that whole post-apocalyptic landscape; making divorce a bit tricky. As Owen said, no government, no divorce 😉

        I do recommend Crank. It’s a bitter read, but really well-done. I like the narrative poetry style Hopkins uses.

      • I knew I didn’t want real scorpions, so once I had a tattoo in mind, it somehow fell together. I’ll add Crank to my list, I don’t think I know anything about Hopkins!

      • It’s actually based on her daughter. Which makes it a bit more sad but also more fascinatingly shocking. Like a horrific car accident.

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I honestly am very slowly getting better at it. Thanks to Chuck’s challenges. It may be cheating, but it’s nice to have some pre-thought focal points. I almost always want to keep writing my flash fiction into longer stuff, though. Still learning!

    • Thank you—especially for the comment on the dialogue! This is a dialogue-heavy piece for me, not my strong point. Thanks for reading, glad you liked it!

  2. You really have the perfect mix of description and action. I find myself to lean one way or the other too often — balancing it really does show a real talent. Your characters continue to be real (even if they can be assholes sometimes) and your ability to create sympathy for them is always impressive.

    • Such high praise and from someone whose work I very much admire, thank you very much! I’m a sucker for description, it’s my crutch so I really appreciate that you think it’s balanced. I’m finally learning something! Thanks for reading, glad you liked it.

  3. I simply adore a zombie story with no zombies in it. Seriously, darling, you went the high route and avoided all the blood gore and guts and built the tension with an estranged couple in the midst of the apocalypse. Bravo! It reminded me of some of the best one room dramas — there’s something about locking a bunch of frightened people up in the same room together that causes enough terror without having to show what they’re actually afraid of. And I could almost smell the testosterone wafting off of Owen.

    • Well, in 1000 words it really would have been a chore to describe the rotting critters when I’m certain everyone can use their imagination. Plus “divorce” was the real difficulty for me…so of course it became central by accident. I’m glad Owen came off as delectable as I was picturing him and that you liked it! Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting, always appreciate your opinion!

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