By Robert Lackey
Henrietta and Mark darted along in the shadow. The light bounced along the walls of the corridors, illuminating the few remaining trails where it was still safe. The light outside got brighter with each cycle, and the cycles were getting shorter. Even a well-planned dash for food left the scouts nearly blind for long periods, some permanently.
Hunger distracted them. Families in the colony were starving. The air outside had become painfully dry, and even the contaminated air in the safe zones held barely enough moisture for survival. Too many ways to die. Too many bodies of old friends littered abandoned corridors.
“Should never have resettled up here,” she thought.
“Hen! I’ve got to rest a moment.”
She turned back to him. “I’m not sure we’re safe here, Mark. Hell, I’m not even sure we’re following the right trail. I’m no damned scout!”
“We both are — now. We’re in better shape than most. That’s why General Wilson selected us, depends on us.”
“Then get up off your ass and let’s go.”
They rounded another corner, following the path marked by the previous scout.
Henrietta froze. “Shit! There’s vapor up ahead.”
Mark eased next to her and peered down the corridor. “Gas! I can hear the enemy device. We gotta go around.”
“To where? How far back?”
“There was a trail intersection back the way we came, Hen. Maybe half way, back at Thirty Seven.”
“Are you kidding me? That trail goes through a dead zone. We already lost family down there. Are you crazy?”
“It’s been a while, Hen. We all know the gas dissipates. The kill ratio falls with time. What’s coming in front of us will kill us for sure. Back there might make us sick, but that’s all.”
“Then you take the lead.”
Mark took in a deep breath and tried to blow away the weariness and the depression seeping into his mind. Moments later they reached the intersection and made the cautious move down Corridor Thirty Seven, toward the bodies. It had been an ambush. No one heard anything until the gas came. Bodies on their backs lay everywhere. Arms were pulled up to their chests with their mouths open as if they still gasped for breath. The scout that found them had died moments after reporting the massacre. Henrietta did not look at the faces. She did not want to recognize loved ones still frozen in their last moment of agonizing death.
Blinding light exploded into the corridor and the gas rolled in. They clawed away from the light and the burning vapors. Henrietta shoved Mark back down the corridor, away from the gas.
“Get to General Wilson!”
Mark stroked her antennae as she died, then fled.
The old woman set the spray can on the floor and swept Henrietta from under the refrigerator.
Mark escaped to General Wilson’s headquarters. The army swarmed up from the basement in the millions, screaming Henrietta’s name, and the lights went out in the kitchen.
Robert Lackey has had three previous pieces published by FT500 and two others by Flash Fiction Magazine. He has also written a collection of short stories, and four novels. He splits his efforts between Historical Fiction under Robert F. Lackey (‘Pulaski’s Canal’ and ‘Blood on the Chesapeake’) and southern humor under Pug Greenwood (‘Tooey’s Crossroads – Outrageous Tales and Bold Face Lies’). He is currently working on the next collection of humorous short stories (‘Tooey’s Crossroads – More Lies’). Between full length manuscripts, writing Flash Fiction is like that exhilarating fifty-meter dash at the end of a five-mile jog.