I had a miserable weekend, writhing in the clutches of wretched illness.  It offered time to contemplate on my mortality and the simple fact that I'm not as resilient as I once was.

Use this week's prompt to explore mortality, loss, the beginning of the zombie apocalypse or whatever else your clever minds can interpret.

The Judge

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This week's judge is no stranger to the winner's circle.  David Ludwig has won Motivation Monday several times, along with nearly every other challenge on the Flash Fiction circuit.
Best of all, he is a tremendous supporter of other writers and always offers helpful critiques when he judges.

Visit his website to find out more about David.  You'll find fascinating posts about gaming, blog series like  Lost Girls' Society, artwork and information about the new Super Flash Fiction Magazine.


The Prompt

[I] thought it was just a cold.

*replace with any noun or pronoun to suit your plot.

The Rules

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  1. The story must start from the prompt.  This means the prompt must be the
    first words in the story.
  2. No more than 500 words (not including the
    prompt).  No less than 100 words.
  3. Any genre (in fact an
    unexpected genre will get you more points.)
  4. Entries must be submitted
    by Tuesday Noon EST
  5. The winner of each week's competition will be
    invited to judge the following week and post the winner's badge similar to the
    one shown here.
  6. If your story contains graphic language, please post a note to that effect at the beginning of your entry.
  7. Have fun!

10/1/2012 02:07:03 am

I thought it was just a cold. I couldn’t remember the last time Mom had been sick, but Dad seemed to catch every flu that went around. This one was definitely catching. Most of the block was experiencing a fever. They had better get better before tomorrow. I wasn’t postponing my birthday party, even if they were in bed upstairs. None of my friends were sick, after all.

“I’m off to work.” The replies are groans. As I pass through the living room, I see Dad looking disgusting on the couch. Taking pity, I stop. “Can I get you something?”

“Ugggh,” he answers but gestures to the empty glass on the end table. Filling it with water, I return it to its place within his reach. My hand brushes his forehead. “Damn, Dad, have you taken anymore Tylenol? I could cook an egg on your head.”

“Mmmrr, Max.” I have no idea what max is or what it has to do with anything, but risking being late, I run up and bring down the pill bottle, setting it beside the water.

“Get better,” I tell him. “I need you off the couch.”

He groans again and I skip out the door, taking the Caravan to the ice cream shop. Mr. Brown is there, but looks almost as bad as my dad.

“Go home,” I tell him. “You should have called. I could have come in early.” He doesn’t answer or acknowledge me, shuffling away in an unsteady gait. Over the evening the shop is busy, but as usual, it’s almost all kids. What surprises me is that there are no adults at all. Usually there are few bringing in really little kids, the kind that want bubblegum, but the pail is untouched. I eavesdrop while flipping through the latest US Weekly, getting my fill of Celeb Gossip. Everyone mentions a parent or two home sick. This is really starting to look like an epidemic, and sure enough, on the radio on the way home, the night guy is replaced by his weekend counterpart who reports that several cities have gone into states of emergency and that the center for disease control recommends everyone stay in their homes.

“Oh, no. I’m not cancelling my birthday.” I click the radio off in the middle of a story about a man attacking his family. “I don’t care if the apocalypse is coming. This is my day.”

Dad was still on the couch when I got home. “Hungry,” he complained. “Need meat.”

Meat? That was one weird cold. Ignoring him, I head to bed. Tomorrow is the big day.
435 words
@kimmydonn
Never Say Die

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10/1/2012 03:56:01 am

Random Fluke

“I thought it was just a cold,” he said, and folded his hands as he leaned forwards in the chair.

The blazing fire in the background kept the room in the basement warm. Her expression was sullen, his contrite; and scared.

“Surely you’d see the difference between the two,” she accused, and cleared her throat.
He shook his head. “That’s what’s bothering me. She sniffed for a week, feeling drowsy and out of sorts, but she still moved around. One day I went to check on her, and she just lay there and –“he looked away, and stopped himself.
“Whatever,” she huffed, and pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders. “The important thing is what we do now. You started this mess, so you could fix – “
“It’s not that easy!” he interrupted, throwing his hands into the air.

She shot him an icy glare and he immediately calmed down.

“Sorry,” he said, and ran a hand through his tangled hair. “It’s not that easy. The virus was a fluke, it should never have happened. I have no way of knowing how it works. The antidote will be even harder to create.”
“Then you should be working on it, rather than sitting here feeling sorry for yourself,” she quipped.
“I have been working on it," he argued. "I’ve been theorizing, trying to come up with a formula – but, every case we’ve seen has been different. The first one, Maude, acted like a cold. Now, it presents almost like rabies. I’ve never seen a virus change in this way,” he mused.

Except malaria – it was different for nearly every case. The only similarities were fever. That could be it, finding the common denominator. He shot out of his chair and ran to the bookcase at the other end of the cramped room.

“They all sniffed,” he murmured, frantically rushing through the pages of a book.
“What?” she asked, and then blew her nose.
“They all sni –“ his voice died, as he slowly turned around with the book still in his hands.

Her nose was red, eyes slightly bloodshot. “Oh no,” he whispered, and drew a quick breath. “Not you too.”

360 words
@ChessnySilth

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L.T. Dalin
10/1/2012 03:57:37 am

Feel better soon, Wake!

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10/3/2012 03:02:11 am

Ooooh! I liked this one! Great job! :)

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Robin Abess
10/1/2012 04:00:10 am

Regrets

I thought it was just a cold. Mary was pale and listless, sneezing and coughing a little bit, but no fever. She complained of chills, so I wrapped her in blankets and put a hot water bottle on her feet. She couldn’t get warm, and as time went on, she was getting worse. I took her to the doctor, but he wasn’t alarmed. Said he’d seen a few other cases in children her age, and just to keep her on bedrest and lots of fluids. She should be fine in a few days. I took her home, trying not to worry.

The weekend came, and I heard Mary crying, so I rushed into her room. She complained that the bright sunlight hurt her eyes and made her feel funny, so I closed the blinds. The next day, she said her teeth hurt, so I gave her pain reliever, but it didn’t help. Her back started itching along her shoulder blades, and she scratched at her skin until she bled. I called the doctor again, but he insisted that she’d be fine and that she was having an allergic reaction to something.

I gave her oatmeal baths and juice and read stories until my throat was sore. I kept her blinds closed tightly, and even put a thick blanket over the window, when she said the light was still too bright. I wanted to take her to the hospital, but she cried so hard, I relented. Finally, I did what I hadn’t wanted to do at all – I called her father.

He was angry that I hadn’t called him before, but over the staticky connection, I heard him say he’d be there soon. True to his word, Duvid showed up on our doorstep that night. He brushed past me without even a greeting and rushed upstairs to Mary’s room.

“Papa!” Her voice was weak and thin, but happy.

“Papa is here now, my darling. You’ll soon be fine.”

I’d followed him, and I watched as he stroked her dark hair, so like his own, with his long fingers. He looked her over thoroughly, nodding thoughtfully at the spots on her back. He nodded again when she opened her mouth for him to examine her teeth, turning to face me.

Those eyes. They were deep and glowing and I fell into them. He beckoned me to the bed and I went without hesitation.

“Well, Emma, it seems we know now who Mary will take after. She’s going through the transformation now. By tomorrow, she’ll be ready for her new life.” He paused, smiling slightly. “Before then, she must…feed.” His voice grew low and husky on the last word. “As will I. It was quite a long journey.”

He gestured to the bed and I lay down beside our daughter. I listened as he taught her how to release her fangs and felt two sets pierce my throat. As I lay there, I wondered again why in the world I’d married a vampire.

500 words
@Angelique_Rider

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Robin Abess
10/1/2012 04:07:33 am

Yes, do feel better as soon as possible!

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10/1/2012 08:45:37 am

I thought it was just a cold. At first, I just had a stuffy nose. Then a few sneezes. Then, my eyes started to itch. I began to think it was my allergies acting out. Except it was January. And there was snow on the ground. Lots of snow.

That night, when I went to sleep, I woke up coughing. Felt like I was drowning in the crap draining from my nose. And I was roasting. The sheet was stuck to me, and sweat was dripping from my hair. My pillow was damp too.

I took an allergy pill. It was all I had. And after about 20 minutes, I could kinda breathe. So, I tried bed again. And woke up coughing so hard my throat hurt. And I coughed up blood.

“That can’t be good.”

I got up, and went to the bathroom. Looked in the mirror. I looked like hell. It was time to call the doctor. I started to turn from the mirror, but I stopped. There was something in the mirror that caught my attention. I looked more closely. There was just a hint of silver in the whites of my eyes.

“That’s not normal.”

Another coughing fit started. And more blood came out. When it was over, I looked in the mirror again. My lips had a hint of silver in them. And the silver was spreading. And getting stronger. More visible.

I didn’t have any idea what to do. So, I headed toward my car, intending to go to the emergency room. I never got there. Never got out of the bathroom. It was like I’d lost all control of my body. I couldn’t move.

The coughing stopped. I couldn’t move. I swear I stopped breathing. And my heart stopped beating. And I stood there. Staring at myself in the mirror. Watching my skin turn silver. Wondering how that could happen. Wondering how I could still be alive. Thinking if I wasn’t breathing, I should be on the floor. Dead.

That’s when I started to feel better. The silver color started to fade. When it was gone, I could move. And I felt great. Better than I’d ever felt. Until I heard a voice. There was no one around. It was late at night. And I heard a voice.

And it was talking to me. “Anatomical repairs completed. Now supplementing immune system.”

“Who are you?” I asked. “Where are you?”

The voice went silent. After a minute, it started talking again. “Neural integration complete.” I had no idea what that meant. “Human unit 13527938 ready for use. At current rate of expansion, global takeover will be complete in 30 days, 12 hours, 14 minutes, 3.674 seconds. By your command.”

I couldn’t help but think, “Yep. It was definitely not a cold.” And I couldn’t help but wonder how I could be alive without breathing.

481 Words
@LurchMunster

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10/3/2012 03:05:24 am

Nice, Mark! I liked it! :) Still have some questions, but a fun concept!

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10/1/2012 10:12:09 am

Cold Terror

He thought it was just a cold. Deena ushered him off to bed and went to make him soup. Men could be such babies, but since she was working from home now, she supposed she could indulge him this time. He really had been putting in a lot of extra time at the office. She was only a few months along now, but he was obsessed with making sure the baby…their baby…would have the best of everything from day one.

She’d only taken minutes with the soup, but when she looked in, he was already asleep. He looked a bit pale and was sweating heavily. She considered putting in a call to their doctor but knew Stephen would have a cow over the cost of it and so she let it go. If he wasn’t better by morning, perhaps. He seemed awfully feverish for “just a cold”.

Unwilling to disturb his fitful rest, she was reclined on the lounger situated on the balcony of their high-rise apartment. Reading a book, near sleep herself, she didn’t look up when she first heard him in the living room. A loud crash as he knocked over a lamp had her on her feet and almost back into the apartment. She stopped, frozen by the sight of him.

His face was a red ruin of blood and fluids and, though he seemed trying to speak, only wet, gobbling sounds emanated from his crimson lips. He stumbled, blindly, toward her leaving a path of bodily fluids and gore in his wake. Deena backpedaled away from him, an involuntary response, and tried to avoid his questing arms. She stopped at the furthest corner of the balcony, cowering in fear of the sight of him and terrified beyond reason.

She watched, as if in slow motion, as he staggered out and cast his head about, blindly seeking her. He was, clearly, delirious and must be in a great deal of pain and yet Deena could not bring herself to go to him. She saw him butt up against the low railing and, at last, found the presence of mind to respond. Before she’d gone more than two steps, he surged forward against the hard barrier and plummeted over it seventeen stories to the unyielding streets below. She could only stare down in silence, not believing what had just happened.

Only then did she notice the streets were awash with strobing lights. It seemed hundreds of emergency vehicles were darting everywhere about for as far as she could see in any direction. What could possibly be going on? Slamming the glass doors, she activated both the security field and the environmental filters.

She flipped on the vidlink and located a news broadcast. Unable to focus her thoughts, she heard words such as “pandemic”, “virulence” and “mortality rate” before turning the volume off. She sat with one hand on her tummy, rubbing worriedly at the slight bulge there, while the other wiped absently at her runny nose.

500 words @klingorengi

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10/1/2012 10:42:46 pm


Soul Music

They thought it was just a cold at first.

They were wrong.

Eventually, secretly, ignoring their priests, they called for me.

I knew it for what it was.

I studied it through the bars.

Seeing me the child snarled and flew at the door. The weathered oak shook as if struck by a battering ram, giving final confirmation to my suspicion.

He fell to the floor, stunned and peaceful for a moment; then I saw the feral glint return to his eyes. Crawling away he began to croon under his breath; his body rocking from side to side. Fingernails ripped crimson channels in his forearms, drops staining the floor as sat, head on one side, regarding me with cold hatred.

Our eyes locked. He knew me.

I drew out my chosen weapon for this task and, taking a deep steadying breath, began to play.

At the sound of the first note, his rocking stopped abruptly. A laugh began inside him, forcing its way out through pale red lips in single sounds, like bubbles from hot mud.

I changed to a different melody. A slow, halting lament, mirroring the rhythm.

The laugh rose in pace and pitch, daring me to follow. I moved to a sailors’ jig, rising up the scale.

His mouth pursed then relaxed to emit a ragged giggle.

He stared, not blinking now, no movement in him, a wailing gargoyle. Faster he cackled; my jig became a frenzied tarantella; fingers flying across the stops.

He threw back his head and let out a throat scoring shriek. A single note, a demented torment to dogs and bats – and me.

With sweating hands I gripped the suddenly treacherous pipe, lest it squirm from my grasp and damn me. I gasped to wring the terminal note from its wooden guts and, a ringing noise rising in my ears and lights dancing before my eyes, found it.

It soared out from the pipe, thin as the last failing breath that propelled it, pure as a morning echo across a winter lake. It called with a magical summons not to be denied in this world or the next.

A hook and line cast into the netherworld.

The note shook, a ghostly vibrato; and returned to me, its ethereal catch snagged, wriggling but helpless. It was dragged deep into the now cracked wooden flute and lay silent.

The child lay still, life betrayed only by an almost imperceptible movement of the chest, features now smooth once more in innocent rest. I leaned against the door, pale and sweating, legs shaking and called to them for my payment.

As footsteps approached in the passage outside, I snapped the tainted instrument between my shaking hands and ground the splintered shards underfoot.

They came, but would not approach me or meet my eye. I thrust their grateful guilty gold deep into my pockets, brushed aside their nervous thanks and insincere offers of lodging and asked for directions to Hamlyn.

492 Words
@nickjohns999

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10/2/2012 12:12:44 am

I thought it was just a cold. I’d never had one before, but other people got them all the time, so I figured the severity of it was just the cold exacting revenge for my healthy immune system.

I looked around the quarantine room with trepidation. Would I die here? Had I infected everyone I’d come into contact with for two weeks? They wouldn’t even tell me what I had. Apparently it was classified, although how they could classify a sickness from the sick person was beyond me.

It was 2:58. My nurse would be in to take my vitals any time now. It was nice to have a face to look at, these bare walls and sterilized floors became tiresome after one minute – it had been 3,037. Knowing that probably made me a math geek, but I couldn’t help that. I had been counting the seconds, all 182,220 of them – well 182,284 of them until the moment the new nurse walked in.

I guess I forgot to keep counting the moment she opened the door. She was wearing what looked to be a space suit, which she wore every time, but she moved differently. By the time her faceplate swung in my direction, I already knew she was a different nurse. It was the hunched posture that gave it away. My old nurse stood tall and straight with confidence – she had been tight-lipped and no-nonsense and very professional. This nurse was terrified.

The hunched shoulders and timid movements said enough, but when she turned to me her eyes were round and dilated with fear and her hands shook. If I had any doubts before, they were gone.

“What happened to my other nurse?” I figured the direct approach was preferable.

She jumped at the sound of my voice and finally met my eyes. She stared for a long moment before saying, simply, “She’s gone.” She fiddled with the needles and vials and such, but her hands were shaking so hard she was having trouble.

I reached out and grabbed her hands. I didn’t think it would cause her to fling herself away from me and hit the wall! “What? What is it? I’m not attacking you! I just wanted to help you calm down.”

She tried to calm her breathing, but it wasn’t working. “She’s dead.” It took me longer than it should have to realize she meant my nurse. “48 hours. I don’t want to die.”

I tried to think of something comforting to say, but failed miserably. People weren’t my specialty. “I’m still alive. How? Why?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out. The entire city is under quarantine now. There’s no way we’ve contained it.” The ENTIRE city of Chicago? “You’re our last hope.”

“Then start taking some blood, woman!” I would like to believe I could bring life as well as death from this body.


@lissajean7
480 words

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Rebekah Postupak
10/2/2012 02:16:11 am

She thought it was just a cold, even though, she mused, it was like saying “just” a train wreck. “Just” a nuclear plant meltdown.

Bleary-eyed and head spinning, she wiped her very last tissue across the raw skin of her nose. Great day for a job interview, right? Thank God she’d laid out her outfit the night before, or who knows what she’d end up wearing. Not that it mattered; she wasn’t going to get this job, just like she’d not gotten the twenty-six jobs she’d interviewed for already the past two months.

Oh, sure, they’d all been very professional about it. Not a good fit. Position already filled. Over qualified. We’re probably not what you’re looking for. Denied twenty-six times with the same cool, negative tones and feigned sympathy. It was enough to make you vomit.

“I’m here for the assistant position,” she told the girl at the front desk forty minutes later. It came out, “Eye beer for dashisht poshin.” Nice. Unemployable with a severe speech impediment.

The girl eyed her back disapprovingly. “I don’t think so.”

“Eye hab ad aboindbed.” She spoke urgently.

“You *had* an appointment,” said the girl, unmoved. “They just hired somebody else this morning. I’m sorry you wasted your time.”

She imagined a little bell dinging the twenty-seventh rejection. Back home now, she supposed, to wallow in her sick misery and scan the want ads again. Maybe she’d stop to grab a bowl of Vietnamese soup on the way home; people said jalapenos worked wonders on colds. She hoped so.

It was just a cold and she’d get better eventually. But as the first ever green-skinned, long-tongued, eight-eyed, three-armed, ten foot tall exchange student from Venus, she was beginning to suspect she had bigger problems.

292 words
@postupak

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10/3/2012 03:14:15 am

Hahaha! Nice. I'm particularly impressed by the congestion speak. :)

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