Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Wither Part 4
The market was packed. Rumours about fresh meat and decent produce had circulated all week, driving people out despite the rain and unseasonably cold temperatures. Glen shoved his hands in his jacket pockets, flexing his fingers to try and warm them as he weaved through the crowd, his feet soaked from the inch deep puddles forming all over the cracked pavement.
Damn, he missed driving his car and readily available gasoline, even if it had been a kick in the teeth every time he’d hit the pumps and emptied his wallet for the privilege. There hadn’t been a delivery of fuel in town for over three months now, and he doubted there would be any soon, either. The only gas available went to supplying a minuscule fleet of military vehicles and government vans, and from what he’d heard that was running low, too.
Skirting a strobe-like flash of light from a flickering streetlamp, Glen kept his head down and avoided eye contact. Before the sudden outbreak of UV Intolerance, he’d been an avid outdoorsman, heavily invested in activities like hiking, running, mountain climbing and biking. As a result, he’d sported a ruddy complexion twelve months out of the year. Being relegated to slinking around the unmonitored parts of town for a few hours a week meant he was hell of a lot paler these days. Unfortunately, in comparison to most, his colouring wasn’t corpse-white enough to fool anyone for long.
A battered jeep, its camouflage paint job weathered and pitted through with rust, trailed a stream of exhaust as it passed by. Glen turned away and pretended interest in a makeshift stand offering pickled peppers and a mishmash of old magazines sporting glossy vacation hotspot photographs. He heard the jeep slow and grabbed one off the top of the stack, pretending interest in a two year old article on luxury resorts with fantastic pools. The sun-soaked pictures made him almost nauseous, the disconnect from the current world a stark reminder of everything humanity was losing.
Glen waited until the jeep finally passed before heaving out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, his nerves frayed. The military presence in town wasn’t exactly the friendly type, and by the looks of the rag-tag, heavily armed group in that jeep, they were getting less friendly by the minute. The last remnants of a much larger unit, the word on the street was they were out of touch with their superiors and lacking direction and orders. The largest part of their battalion had been rerouted to the bigger cities where huge numbers of people had flocked after health care bigwigs promised imminent cures.
What a farce.
The sporadic news that trickled in during the last year showed those promises were complete lies. Within days the cities had been overrun with sick, desperate people. In weeks, the dead were stacked up outside the hospitals in the parking lots and the fields, one on top of another, wrapped in soiled sheets, eventually wrapped in nothing at all…
Glen’s throat locked down, tight and hot. At least Jen and Owen died at home, as comfortable as he could make them, warm, clean and dry, a familiar roof over their heads—pumped full of the pain relieving narcotics and antibiotics he’d stockpiled.
Breaking into the University pharmacy hadn’t been the proudest moment of his short lived career as a history professor, and the antibiotics proved useless. The morphine, however, eased both his wife and his son out of this world in a humane way, so he didn’t regret the larceny one bit.
He pushed his thoughts away from the morbid memories. He didn’t want to think of his family that way. He wanted to remember them alive, beautiful and vibrant.
It was damn hard to do.
Tugging the satchel he carried closer to this body, Glen straightened his shoulders, striving to pay attention to his surroundings. His size and height would deter most from trying to steal from him, but it paid to be aware and present in the moment these days.
Even knowing this, his thoughts easily gave way to Mara as he replaced the magazine, and he nearly sighed in defeat. He’d tried to erase her from his mind the last couple of days, to not focus on the little sun nymph who enchanted him from the second he’d seen her in that park.
He’d taken a huge risk approaching her, not to mention giving her the vitamin D tablets. As the remaining government men grew bolder in their attempts to find UV Tolerant individuals, no one in his position could afford to be careless about showing their immunity to the sunlight. She’d caught him off guard though, and he was lured by her beauty and fragility. There was no denying his loneliness and craving for normalcy, something she represented, laying there so lovely as she’d basked in the light that poisoned and stole away all semblance of the life he used to know. The life he mourned.
From the moment she spoke, he’d sensed a kindred spirit. The sadness in her demeanour couldn’t be ignored. She carried the weight of the world on her delicate shoulders, her sense of being abandoned a colourless shroud around her. He ached to see someone that lovely and precious alone in the world, left to fend for herself and two small boys. No wonder it had been difficult to coax a smile.
Grimacing as icy trickles of rain found their way under his collar and down the back of his neck, Glen grew alert as a large crowd ahead of him became unruly. He cursed under his breath, narrowly missing colliding with a large woman. She had her sweater pulled up, giving him a view of ghost-white belly rolls jiggling as she tried to run with whatever she’d bundled in the material. A few apples spilled out, and Glen nearly tripped on them as she shot by.
Weighing his options, he headed left where the crowd was the thinnest, hoping to bypass the worst of the riot, which he quickly discerned was taking place based on the fruit he’d almost fallen over.
He saw some brutalities, people fighting like animals, but forced himself to keep moving. He needed to get to the end of the street. His goal was only minutes away; he couldn’t afford distraction. He embraced the images of Mara he’d previously attempted to block, concentrating on her smile in order to harden his heart against the suffering around him. If the rumours were true and fresh meat was available, it would help her and her brothers immensely. The supplements and antibiotics he carried were currently more valuable than any other form of currency or trade. He expected he could buy enough to supply her for a month or more, provided the electricity stayed on.
Glen frowned as he heard a sharp female cry of distress rise out of the thickest part of the throng of wrestling bodies. He gritted his teeth against the sick, helpless feeling the sound engendered. He told himself to keep moving, but his feet faltered. With a curse, he searched for the source. There was likely nothing he could do, yet his conscience wouldn’t allow him to ignore a blatant cry for help. A second later, he was inordinately grateful he hadn’t walked away.
She stood only feet away, fighting with a huge man who towered over her. Despite the panic Glen had heard in her cry, Mara wore a determined, albeit frightened, expression. He watched as she launched a full out assault on the guy who clearly outweighed her by a hundred or more pounds. The blisters and unhealthy aura he wore like a second skin seemed to slow him down, marking him as one of the many who found himself a victim of UV Intolerance.
Mara got in several good hits with her bag, both impressing and terrifying Glen. Why the hell wasn’t she running away?
Cursing, he shoved his way to her just as the man got the upper hand again. As the bastard uttered a foul threat, Glen cocked a fist and hammered the side of the man’s face. Blisters broke and oozed a foul substance as flesh gave and the crunch of bone cracking carried through the air. Glen’s aim was perfect, his knuckles connecting with the upper cheekbone, eye bone, and temple. The man fell like a brick house. He hit the pavement with a dull, meaty thud and didn’t move.
Mara stared down at him, a dazed expression on her pretty face, and Glen cursed again. Reaching out, he caught her arm and gave her a gentle shake, trying to get her attention. When she looked up, he pulled her forward.
“We have to move,” he told her. In illustration of his point, fire broke out with a roar directly behind them. A few people screamed, and Glen had to yank Mara harder to get her out of the way of flailing limbs from those who suddenly lost interest in the apples still rolling around the ground.
Glen gave Mara another shake as she dug the soles of her shoes into the wet asphalt road like she wanted to resist. Her eyes were wide.
“Mara, now, we have to move!”
Her expression cleared and finally she came to him. He slipped his arm around her waist and started to fight his way out of the chaos, doing his level best to shield her, his heart in his throat the entire time.
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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)