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Science Fiction Sad Suspense

I shouldn't have opened the window.

Yes, I've been told over and over; basic instructions like these are the hardest to get through my thick skull. After straining my ears for footsteps, I attempted to spit as quietly as I could. The sight was not good; grit and ash were easily distinguishable against the metal tub, and I could feel sand clinging to my gums. I took a quick swig from my bottle, making sure to not touch my lips to the rim as I took a mouthful and spat once more, as quietly as I could in such an echoic bathroom. As I opened my eyes, I saw my reflection in the slick puddle and felt the pit in my stomach harden.

"I'm so dead..."

"What?"

I whipped around, heart seizing at the sight of Ana standing there. Her hand fell from her afro, and I took one look at the lotion in her other grip to realize today was her hair routine day. Shit.

"Are you sick? Do I call-"

"How much do you know?" I couldn't hide my mistake any longer, if ten minutes was long anyway. Ana took a careful step back and I prepared to beg, only to sigh in relief when she slid the door shut and put her lotion in the sink.

"Nothing other than the fact you messed up; Peter you're pale, explanation please?"

I sat on the floor, running my tongue over my teeth and shuddering at the feeling of a foreign substance. "I opened a window."

Ana's eyes widened, quickly fixing her dress to scramble onto her knees, stutters falling from her lips as she attempted to find the words; after a few moments, she shut her eyes tight and took a deep breath, waving a hand. "Which one?"

"Corridor B4, near mechanics." I shuffled slightly to lean against the tub, attempting to relax my clenched knuckles. "I thought the latch was locked, and I was asked to double check the screws were shut tight enough... well, they weren't."

Ana shook her head, reaching a hand out to grab mine, catching herself. "How contaminated are you?"

"I got a blasted in the face, so that and my hair... pretty sure it's under my shirt, shit..." I began unbuttoning, and after a moment of hesitation Ana got up and checked the water schedule, confirming what I triple checked; another forty minutes.

"Look, you sit in the tub and keep rinsing your mouth, I will bring you my water supply." She held up a hand as I began to argue. "Take that shirt off and get in there, wash your clothes in there with you while you're at it too."

I couldn't help but crack a smile as Ana perked an eyebrow at me before smiling reassuringly back. As soon as she left the room I stripped, wincing at the sand sprinkling from under my uniform. After a bit of pondering, I ruffled my hair. Ash sprinkled against the metal once more. I crouched and clutched my head, wondering if idiots deserve to be bunkered after a nuclear war; seriously, repopulating humanity means having good genes...

My future kids are screwed.

Somehow, the rest of the afternoon passed in a blur; one moment I'm contemplating coming clean to save my roommates the panic, the next Ana gently runs her fingers through my hair, looking deep into my eyes as she murmurs about hard-to-reach spots, and now we were in bed, her snores whispering against my collarbones. I held her tight, checking my scalp for what felt like a hundredth time. No sand under my fingernails, and yet why did I feel itchy all over? Did Ana feel any skin irritation? What if our shower together contaminated her? I wordlessly glanced across our sleeping nook; hanging on our drying rack, my uniform hung alone. The sound of our cavern's hatch opening made Ana stir, and I cursed the rusty hinges the engineers constantly put off.

"Shoot, is that Holland?"

"Who else?" I murmured, kissing her forehead before standing, pushing the curtain to the side. There he was, covered in dirt and brown hair a mess as usual. He tiredly glanced up, allowing a snort as he poured himself water.

"Trying to seduce me with your lopsided six pack? Careful, Ana will come any minute now."

"Holland, how far are we into ash season?"

I glanced behind me as Ana swung a shirt over my shirt, casually walking over to our cupboard and looking for a snack. 'She's always hungry at night...'

"Pretty far, should be over in a few weeks. Thank goodness, I need to garden outside again... cleaning the greenhouse is such a pain, you two count your lucky stars..." Holland stretched and made his way to the bathroom, mumbling something about taking a hot shower for once. Ana walked past me and patted my cheek, smiling reassuringly.

"We can go to Senior Admiral Greg tomorrow, first thing in the morning. I'm sure you will just have to quarantine, that's all."

I nodded and passed her my shirt, muttering about getting a drink, watching Ana nod and scamper over to our bedroom. As soon as she turned behind our blue curtain, I jogged over to the bathroom and yanked the sliding door to the side, cutting off a half-naked Holland with a hand to his mouth.

"Be as quiet as you can, okay?" I hissed, closing the door with my foot as best as I could. Holland blinked, bringing a shaky hand to my wrist and prying my hand away.

"Look, you're hot and all but I don't think Ana will appreciate her boyfriend making out with her bestie."

"What?"

"What?"

"Just- How quick does ash affect the system if you swallow some?"

Holland's eyebrows went from touching his hairline to furrowed over his eyes, a hand awkwardly landing on my chest before stuttering and bringing it to his side. "Uh, pretty quick? A couple hours for external, internal is quicker... why, did a scavenger team come back?"

I hung my head, letting my forehead rest on his shoulder. No words were shared as Holland gasped, his hand reaching up, almost as if he were to push me away. I quickly took a step back, heart heaving in uncertainty. I was a goner. Staying in such a tight-knit community was only going to risk a spread- even if I was somehow okay, which was practically impossible, what if I kept on making mistakes? Messing up? What if they didn't let me out of quarantine, like every other contaminate in the history of our bunker?

"Come here," Holland suddenly sighed, holding his arms out with pursed lips. "You're such a dumbass, Peter, you know that right?"

I gratefully accepted the hug, allowing a pathetic sigh to escape. "Yeah, I know."

"Well, at least you're honest." Holland squeezed my waist tight before pulling away, running his fingers through my hair to check my scalp. "I assume you did a good scrubbing as soon as our pipes allowed it."

I nodded, allowing a petty smile. "Ana helped me."

Holland shared the smile, patting my cheek before sighing, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. "So... you turning yourself in?"

"Only a matter of time they figure out, so I guess... not like I know to do anything else."

"Well..."

A tone of uncertainty painted our surroundings, and Holland's voice pitch lowered. I looked back at him and frowned as Holland reached over, making sure the sliding door was closed properly before turning to me, a single finger held up for him to think. I watched his face intently, noticing how cloudy his eyes became; as if he was arguing with himself. Whatever he was to tell me, Holland was clearly spilling information that put us all in jeopardy. No one, ever, looked me this seriously in the eye, especially not a man like Holland.

"There's a village."

* * *

"Remember, you keep running until you see the outline of those cliffs," Holland talked in a hurry, fixing my mask for about the fiftieth time. "The car has no tracker, trust me."

"I trust you with my life, Holland." I grabbed his hand, squeezing hard. "Tell Ana this was for the best."

Holland's radio crackled. "Happy Virus, are you still at the tomatoes? I'm nearly done with the cucumbers."

Holland took a deep breath, forcing his grimace into a smile. "Took a quick breather, I'll be right down!"

"Copy that!"

I grabbed Holland's shoulder and pulled him into a hug, immediately feeling his heaving gasps of panic against mine. "Breath. I promise to come back for you."

"No, no..." Holland gently pushed me away, eyes brimming with tears as he attempted to pull himself together. "I'll bring Ana, and maybe Joey. They deserve freedom, no matter the circumstances."

My eyes widened, feeling my chest tighten. "You would do that?"

"What is this life? Under constant surveillance and military rule built on lies? Of course I would, I fight for our basic rights, and..." Holland swallowed hard, eyes hardening as his chest swelled. "Truth is one of the most important ones."

All I could do is take his hand, squeezing his palm before dropping my grip; I turned to the door and opened it, forcing myself to step into the chamber. As the doors closed behind me, I forced myself to glance behind me, just one more time. Holland's eyes held hope. All I could hope was Ana cherished that kiss last night, remember that caress on her cheek. As the gates opened and the alarm blared, I began my sprint North, forcing myself to take a deep breath of abandoned air. Ash flew from my feet, dirt amplifying my footsteps. I could breath. I turned my eyes to the sky, and instead of a ruined atmosphere choked with ash, a sun welcomed me into her domain.

Ash season retired early.

March 13, 2021 04:49

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