This is a FridayFlashFic for Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds.com. The challenge; to write a story about a New Monster in 1000 words or less.
The Monster Cells Louise Sorensen October 9, 2011
“This litter’s the same. All dead except for one,” Lacey said, pointing to a small white mouse caged in the bottom row.
Her research partner, Chris, leaned down to see it.
“Shit. Take more blood. Maybe we can figure out why he’s alive.”
“Did you see the News last night?” Lacey said, collecting blood.
“I don’t watch the news. It’s depressing,” Chris said, treating the samples. He slid them under the microscope. “It’s the same as all the others. The dead mice are full of bloated red blood cells. The live pup is normal. I don’t know what the hell is going on.”
He ripped his latex gloves off, threw them in the trash and sat down at his desk, frowning in concentration.
“They said it was world wide.” Lacey paced the room. “More people and animals dying every day.”
“Sit down. Relax,” Chris said. “The News’ll make you crazy. Let‘s try to figure this out.”
They searched the internet for researchers’ reports, and subjected the blood samples to multiple tests.
“No warning signs,” Lacey said, stretching. “Man or beast alive today and dead in bed tomorrow.”
“Maybe the solution is to not sleep,” Chris said.
“I think we’d need more coffee.”
The next morning the phone in Lacey‘s apartment rang. Her cat, Esmeralda, nudged her awake.
“Yeah. Meet me in the Towers parking lot in half an hour.”
“Sure… why?” Lacey said, and yawned.
“I think we should stay at the lab until we figure this thing out.”
“Yeah. So bring an over night bag and a shopping list.”
Lacey sighed and threw off the blankets. She got ready quickly and packed Esmeralda into her carrier. Traffic was sparse; as she drove by, her favourite coffee shop was dark.
The grocery store was deserted but the automatic door still worked. They grabbed a fistful of plastic bags at a cash and roamed the aisles. The shelves were almost bare.
“Oh my god.” Lacey said, her face pale. Blood glistened on the tiled floor. Scarlet footprints and smears painted the trail where a body had been dragged off.
“Shhh. Let’s get our stuff and get out of here,” Chris whispered.
They crammed cans and boxes into the cart as fast as they could and left. Loading her car, Lacey froze and glanced around.
“Did you hear something?” Chris eyed the parking lot anxiously.
“No. But I get the feeling there’s a pack of zombies just around the corner, waiting for a chance to rip our hearts out.” She shivered and threw the bags in.
“You’ve been watching too much TV.”
They lugged the groceries into the lab. Lacey released Esmeralda; she padded over to the cages and sniffed at the mice. Half were dead. The other half, ignorant of cats, sniffed back.
“The monster cells don’t seem to spread by air,” Lacey said. “I think she’ll be okay.”
“You’re betting her life on that,” Chris said. ‘I thought you loved that cat.”
“Shut up. I’m a little creeped out. At least she won‘t starve to death.” She chewed her nail.
“We‘re not dead yet. Let’s get rid of these suckers before they start to stink.”
They loaded the cages of dead mice onto a dolly and threw them out a window on the other side of the building.
“That’s not very hygienic if they’re contagious,” Chris said, looking down at the mess on the grass. Lacey shrugged. “I think we need to look further. Maybe environmental.”
They checked out the building and heard sounds in the large animal section. Through the glass door they saw Dr. Ernie bustling around his spacious lab, talking to his dogs and monkeys. They knocked. Dr. Ernie opened the door a crack.
“Hi Lacey… Chris. Sorry… you can‘t come in. There’s something going around and I don’t want my guys catching it.”
“Have any of your animals died, Ernie?” Lacey asked.
. “No. And it‘s not going to happen, either. Now go away.” He tried to shut the door but Chris stuck his foot in.
“Wait. Do you know what’s causing the deaths?”
“Sure. It’s that blasted monster cell.”
Chris clenched his jaw. “Yes, but do you know what’s causing it?”
“Not a clue… funny thing is, none of my friends have died. But we mostly all live alone. So I suspect it has to do with population density. Now move your foot. If you want to talk to me, phone.” He kicked Chris’s foot out of the doorway, and made shooing motions.
Chris and Lacey returned to their lab.
“Mice with three or more pups in their cages are asleep, Chris. Lone mice, or mothers with two pups are awake.”
“Hmm. Do you think old Ernie could possibly be right?”
“That overcrowding triggers monster cells? Why now?” Lacey said. “We’ve been overcrowded for years.”
“I don’t know. Maybe some kind of genetic population check. Let’s put a little distance between these guys… see what happens.”
They reduced the number of mice to three per cage.
The next morning, all the mice were alive.
“Unbelievable,” Lacey said. “Overcrowding is triggering the monster cells.”
“So? What do we do? Do we tell people to live farther apart?” Chris said, throwing up his hands.
“We don’t have to do anything. The deaths started a week ago. When populations reach a low enough density, the monster cells will deactivate,” Lacey said.
“Are you sure of that, or are you just blowing smoke out your ass?”
“Maybe it‘s a Gaia thing,“ she yelled. “Mother Earth fed up with the teeming masses. How the hell should I know? Anyway, it‘s the best I got.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t be upset. I just always thought the end of the world would be more exciting,” Chris said.
“Yeah. I know what you mean. I think I’ll take up smoking.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They pulled their chairs over to the window and watched the sun set.