The following story is by Jacqueline Bridges. Jacqueline works as a guidance counselor to junior high students, where she puts her Masters degree to work, and then some. She is new to flash fiction and reads it daily (even in the counseling office). Her students join her weekly for a writing club, and many of them have an affinity for science fiction as well. She has one publication with Touch Poetry to-date.
It’s been seven days since I’ve killed anyone. I don’t know if I can manage an eighth. Dry days run together, until they pile up and get lost, and I don’t know if it’s been days or months since someone tried to scale the wall. If this goes on too long I’ll lose my mind and my post. An old hoorah stirs in my belly, from the days before, when I was barely allowed to carry a sidearm.
I settle into position, rustling the blanket beneath my hips so they barely bruise on the rooftop’s surface, and sink into my weapon. My right hand finds the groove on the grip, where I’ve nearly worn the wood raw. My other hand rests against my chest to keep me steady, and the bipod grounds me. I’m not ready to reach for the trigger. Beyond the wall is bare. Nothing but dusty NO TRESPASSING signs and abandoned buildings. Anyone trying to cross into Basilica’s sanctuary at this wall will meet my trusty hand-loads. Absently, I tap my finger against my favored weapon. Last month I affixed a rail to it. No one cares that I drilled into my stock. No one cares that it barely resembles a sniper rifle. It’s about function now, and my kills precede my weapon, so the rail modification is for my amusement alone. I suppose none of it should be amusing.
Before I catch myself, I’m humming a hymn, one about redemption and victory, from before, when the world wasn’t killing one another, not really, not like this. I keep humming, imagining the streets of gold, pretending I’m there, definitely not here. But I’m not. I’m here.
I scan the area through my scope; abandoned building, rusty truck, and a pussy cat. It’s been my life for the last seven days.
I watch as the cat rummages through the trash—there’s enough of it to make a home, if it had the means of gathering it. They’d need more than paws for that. Some people say I only need a trigger finger. Once again, I’m back to humming, or maybe the song is playing in my head, something about His redeeming blood. I continue humming, passing the time, watching that stupid cat. Over and over the scrawny, black, feline finds its way into my crosshairs. Two more minutes pass, or maybe it’s three, I’ve circled back to the victory chorus before the cat emerges again.
I take a single, controlled breath, sinking into my weapon until it’s an extension of me, my arm, my body, even my heart. It’s quiet. The air is dry, but more importantly, it’s stale. There is no stench of filth or decay, a clean slate, making it easy to pick up their sickly scent. Nothing moves, aside from the cat, taking a moment to lick the remains from its paw. I follow the length of the street with my barrel, from left to right and back again. I keep returning to the cat. It’s craning its neck, sniffing the air. I follow suit, seeking the sweet stink of their infection. We both smell it, the perfume of a dozen magnolias. The cat twists its head east, catching what I can’t. I place my trust in my scope and follow suit. An old door creaks in the distance. Then I see them. Two targets.
The humming returns. It’s a different hymn this time, one I’ve just remembered, but I try to push it down, bury it someplace else, where it once belonged. I make one tiny adjustment, inhale briefly, and slowly exhale until a good portion has cleared my lungs. My hands cradle the weapon, my eyes focus, and then I press the trigger like it’s a simple button. The bullet does its job, through and through. One of the two figures stumbles while I absorb the rifle’s recoil. My aim was low, likely tearing through the lungs, cracking a rib along the way. I adjust. I press one more time, conserving my ammunition. The figure crumples over. A ring of blood quickly pools up, until the entire body is surrounded. If it wasn’t red, I would guess the person drowned there. That’s the infection, making the blood so thin it rushes like a river.
The other figure screams. It’s racing toward me, running through the alley, beyond the buildings, past the warning signs. It could still turn back, beg for forgiveness, try its hand at the Basilica’s main gate, but they never do. So I do what I always do, what I was trained to do. Aiming for the chest, I press the trigger. The recoil is barely felt this time. I fire just one round, center mass, and then let up. I watch the figure stumble. I register one thing as it drops to the ground. It’s a girl, like me. There’s a red spot on her shirt where the bullet entered. Nothing gushes, nothing pools.
I scan the alley again, and I find I’m searching for the cat. I think it’s true, that they can’t get sick, or maybe they have more lives than we do. After a while, the air clears. It’s stale again. I know the fence has charged by now, but I keep to my lookout for another hour. In my head, I start the clock again. It’s been zero days since my last kill. Before long, I’m back to humming. The black cat steps back in the alley, between the no trespassing signs and fallen bodies. It sniffs around, licks at the fresh blood, and takes up its post once more. It’s looking at me, so I nod. This is our wall.