Andrea had never had to wash blood off of her hands before. She dripped the clear dose of hydro-oxygen conservatively over her fingers to flush the crimson stain down the reprocessing disposal. Sweat dripped down her forehead and cheeks but never reached her mouth, which was still covered by the air-processor mask. The device flung the harsh echo of breathing around the blue-tiled room.
Andrea washed and washed and washed until all the blood was gone. She pulled open the plastic pack to remove the drying towel, which she placed between her hands to rub the moisture away.
Just then, the comm-screen in her bathroom came to life and through the initial static a disembodied head appeared on its surface. “Ms. Nickels, the Coalition of Health has confirmed your recent gift to its cause. Did you bring the trophy?”
Still panting, Andrea reached into the vac-sac and removed a bloody license from its confines. When she held it towards the screen, the head tilted and looked her over. “Please place the item in question in the decontamination compartment for scanning.”
Pulling open the little grey drawer at the bottom of the screen, Andrea slipped the license in and slammed the drawer shut. She watched the green light turn red and listened to the hissing sound resonating from the device. She glanced back up to the screen, her mask distorting her voice. “When do I get the clean air?”
“Once the scanning is complete we will enable the distribution of clean non-viral air into your paid quarters.”
As she waited, Andrea reminded herself to take the knife that she had used from the kitchen and dispose of it. Filthy blood and dust particles couldn’t be allowed to roam free in her new air. Not when it came at such a cost.
“Andâ€¦ will the police be after me?” She was getting nervous, and she knew the head could tell.
“Andrea, our services are one-hundred percent safe. We have arranged for a percentage of the funds to be transferred to the government. Your service has been made completely legal under the Self-Offense for Healthy Living Act.”
Just then the red light switched to green and a click could be heard behind the wall. Andrea felt the cool blast of fresh air pump into her apartment and she immediately tugged the mask down to rest at her collar. Breathing deeply, she laughed out loud and spun in a circle, as exuberant as a child in a summer rainshower.
“The Coalition of Health wishes to thank you for your service and hopes that you enjoy your three months of clean oxygen. You will also receive a free catalog of viruses in your area” By now the head had faded and the screen shut down, but Andrea was still reveling in the smell of absolutely nothing. Once the viewscreen’s static had subsided she walked over to wash her face once more. The water trickled over her hands and soaked into her washcloth. She smiled until it hit her face.
Then she started to worry about the water.
365tomorrows launched August 1st, 2005 with the lofty goal of providing a new story every day for a year. We’ve been on the wire ever since. Our stories are a mix of those lovingly hand crafted by a talented pool of staff writers, and select stories received by submission.
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"Flash fiction is fiction with its teeth bared and its claws extended, lithe and muscular with no extra fat. It pounces in the first paragraph, and if those claws aren’t embedded in the reader by the start of the second, the story began a paragraph too soon. There is no margin for error. Every word must be essential, and if it isn’t essential, it must be eliminated."
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