Happy Flash Friday!
Stories can come from obvious places, like people and events in our lives, but they can also come from mysterious places, deep in the strange,dark crevices and folds of an author's brain. Today's story did, indeed, come from a strange and mysterious place in my brain. It was inspired by the photo above, which was inspired by the lovely organic oranges that came in our housemate's produce box. Why did the oranges end up in the blender with the prescription bottles? I don't know, but it tickled my funny bone. At any rate, grab an orange to snack on and settle in for a strange little story that I hope tickles your funny bone.
Gerald opened his eyes and yawned. Mahina was still fast asleep, her lips parted as she breathed in long, low, whuffling lung-fulls of air. Gerald resisted the urge to wipe a smear of drying saliva from her cheek. She didn’t even smell like her old self, anymore. Where her perspiration and morning breath had once been a warm, almost musky scent, now it was as sweet and tangy as marmalade. Gerald swallowed back bile and glanced at the narrow gap where the drapes let in a sliver of morning light. It was still snowing outside.
Mahina had gotten sick a month ago when the first snow fell. It had started like an ordinary head cold, then progressed to nausea, chills, and a persistent, hacking cough. Day after day, Mahina’s breathing had grown more labored and her cough had deepened until it was a bone-rattling roar.
At first, the cravings seemed like a good sign. Oranges were supposed to be full of vitamin C, so Gerald figured eating a few a day would help boost his wife’s immune system. When Mahina devoured twenty oranges in three days, Gerald suggested she make an appointment with the family doctor. She didn’t, though, and when she stopped eating other food, he grew genuinely worried. When Mahina refused water, drinking only orange juice, Gerald took her to the emergency room.
It was a bad winter flu with a secondary lung infection, the E.R. doctor told them. Antibiotics and rest would have Mahina feeling better in no time. Gerald mentioned the oranges and the doctor shrugged.
“It’s the only thing she’ll eat or drink,” Gerald persisted, earning a sharp jab from Mahina’s elbow.
“I’m sure you’ll feel like resuming a normal diet in a couple of days,” the doctor said to Mahina, who shivered and zipped up her coat. “This antibiotic should do the trick, though you’ll want to eat some yogurt.”
“She’s never had any particular interest in oranges before. Do you think it’s a symptom of some kind of deficiency?”
“Hmm. Any chance you could be pregnant?” Mahina shook her head and shivered again. “Well, she certainly doesn’t have scurvy.” Gerald scowled at the doctor’s jocular tone.
A few days later, Mahina stopped coughing, though her voice remained low and raspy. She continued to eat oranges. Gerald was afraid to stop buying them. Afraid of what would happen if she didn’t eat at all.
The bedside clock read 6:04. Time to get ready for work. Gerald sighed and yawned again, then pushed a damp tendril of hair back from Mahina’s forehead. What was this? Alarmed, he peered more closely at her face, then her bare arms. Even in the dim light of the bedroom, he could see that her skin had grown rough and dimpled. Did she have some kind of rash? Hives?
Gerald drew a shaky breath. “Wake up, sweetie. I think we need to take you back to the doctor.”
Mahina smiled, then opened eyes that glowed like twin orange suns.
“We’re not going to the doctor, Gerald.”
“We’re not?” Gerald whispered.
“No. Not the doctor. We’re going to Florida.”
The old man rubbed an aching knee and nodded at the eldest of the children gathered around the fire with him. The youngster added another stick to the fire and sparks shot into the dusky sky.
“And that…that is how the orange zombie apocalypse began,” Gerald said, glad the darkness of the evening hid his tears.