The Sickness, Halloween Contest Short Story by Melody Q., 608

    Cassandra’s eyes fluttered open to complete darkness. It was Halloween, and she’d sent her husband out with her four-year-old daughter to go trick-or-treating, because she had to get some sleep in before the next strenuous day of work tomorrow. She didn’t want to be moody while her Lucy was trying to have a good time.  Cassandra promised that she would go next year, and tomorrow they could go on a playdate with Lucy’s friends at a nearby McDonald’s.

  They were a relatively happy family. Except for the fact that her husband, John, had just been fired and now she had to work two jobs a day, she thought life was pretty good. They could survive poverty for a little bit, and John was trying his hardest to find a job that paid well before the year was out. She was certain that things would only get better from this point.

  Yawning, she threw her blanket off to the side and sat up in bed. She brushed her long, curly brown locks out of her eyes and glanced at the clock. 9:07 P.M, it read. That was funny. John and Lucy should have been back by now. Shrugging it off, she assumed they’d just stopped to have a bite at Lucy’s favorite ice cream parlor. Cassandra stretched and stumbled her way to the living room, flicking on the lights. She immediately winced at the sudden brightness, but managed to collapse on her couch and grab the TV remote.

  Turning on the news, she covered her mouth as another yawn escaped her. Was she really that sleep-deprived? The reporter appeared on the screen, looking rather worried about something. Wait, what had happened?

“-by air. Here’s a message from WHO. They advise you to stay in your homes and lock all the doors and windows, as the affected will become rabid very quickly. Look for excessive salivation and dark red circles under their eyes, as those are the symptoms as of now. Avoid contact with anybody who is infected. You may feel paranoid, aggressive, or-”  

Cassandra covered her mouth. The reporter was talking about some sort of deadly disease, and John and Lucy were still out there! She had to find them. They could be in danger! And with all the people going trick-or-treating, there was probably a horde of infected people chasing them down, and they could be-they-

She bit down on her lip so hard that she drew blood. She was overreacting. No. I can’t think like that. I have to find them. John is smart. He’ll have found a way to hide, and all I need to do is find him. Rushing to the bedroom again, she grabbed a coat and a scarf from her closet. She shoved her cellphone in her pocket and was about to leave when she remembered something.

“….the affected will become rabid very quickly.” That’s what the reporter had said. John kept a pistol in the safe they used to store their money in. She’d take it…just in case anything happened. Running over to the bathroom, she climbed onto the toilet and opened the secret trapdoor that was installed in the ceiling. She felt around inside until she grabbed onto something cold and made of metal. That had to be it. Grabbing it, she jumped off of the porcelain seat and checked the gun. It was fully loaded. Cocking it, Cassandra stuffed it into her pocket as well. She knew how to use it. It was only a matter of whether she would have to.

Feeling sufficiently prepared, Cassandra grabbed her keys and ran out the door, slamming it behind her. She’d just forgotten one thing. At the beginning of the news report, the reporter had said something about air. And that was the most important part.

A FEW MINUTES LATER

Cassandra ran down the street. There were parents and kids everywhere, talking and acting like nothing had happened. They obviously hadn’t seen the news, or there would be complete chaos. But it was good that everyone was calm, because it would make finding John and Lucy so much easier. Maybe they didn’t know either, and she could bring them home before it was too late.

She accidentally bumped into a little boy dressed as Superman, and the parents glared at her.

“Hey, what’s your problem?”

“Sorry,” she mumbled, before rushing off again. Could it really be so hard to find a little girl in a princess dress?

The streets got more crowded towards the end of town. That was close to where a laboratory was studying a dangerous strain of rabies. Maybe that’s where the sickness is coming from, Cassandra thought. The houses were getting bigger as she approached the richer part of town, and more and more children were gathering-because everyone knew that richer people gave better candy, right? It was probably where Lucy had gone.

However, she passed house after house, and still, there was no sign of the girl and her father. Could she be going the wrong way? It couldn’t be. John knew the other side of town was filled with criminals and drunkards. He wouldn’t take their Lucy there. Right?

Finally, Cassandra caught a glimpse of a girl in a sparkly pink dress.

“Lucy!” She called. “Lucy, honey! I’m over here!” She thought she saw the girl turn around, before a bloodcurdling scream erupted from far away. Immediately, everyone in the crowd started running in the opposite direction. Cassandra saw a man fall and get trampled by the crowd, his screams silenced by the chorus of cries coming from everyone else. Pushing through, Cassandra ran towards the source of the noise. It was probably a bad idea, but what if that was her daughter in trouble?

The rest of the street was completely deserted, and there were multiple candies strewn about the pavement. There was a small figure lying on the floor about 70 feet away, and another one standing over it. It looked like Lucy and John…except that Lucy was lying limp on the street, and John was standing over her, without attempting to help or do anything. What…had happened?

“J-John? Lucy?” The figure that was standing jerked its head up to look at her, and lo and behold-it was her husband. He gave her a sadistic smile, and tilted his head slightly. Lucy didn’t seem to be breathing.

“John…what happened? Why is Lucy on the floor?” He continued smiling at her in that horrifying way, not saying a word. “John, why won’t you talk to me?” Finally, he opened his mouth as if he was going to say something.

I…killed her. I killed her!” He rasped, and though he was far away, Cassandra could hear every single word as if he was whispering it into her ear. Hot tears burned behind her eyes. Was this really happening? It couldn’t be, it couldn’t be. This wasn’t happening.

Her husband started laughing, laughing like she had never heard before. It was harsh and grating, filled with vicious pleasure. Cassandra saw the blood on his hands and knew he wasn’t lying, that he really had killed their daughter. And soon, Cassandra’s grief turned to rage.

You! How could you, you murderer! She was our daughter! What have you done?!” And as she lost all self-control, Cassandra pulled out the pistol in her pocket and fired. She fired until John stopped moving and blood poured from his lifeless body, and she fired until there were no bullets left in the gun. But she could still hear him laughing. Laughing at her.

It was getting louder and louder. She shut her eyes and covered her ears, dropping the gun-but she could still hear it. She could still see Lucy’s lifeless body on the ground. See the sadistic smile on that monster’s face. That rasping voice, telling her that Lucy was dead and there was nothing she could do about it. Cassandra dropped to the floor and screamed in agony. She just wanted it to be over.

Suddenly, she was back in her bedroom. The light was on, and her husband was shaking her. But he was smiling. There was blood on his hands. I killed her. I killed her. She couldn’t stop hearing the voices. Her words were shrill and deafening.

Stop it! Get away from me, you monster!” She grabbed a lamp on the bedside table and slammed it into the side of his head. She kept swinging and swinging, hitting anything that moved, until eventually, there was only silence. Her breath was labored, tears streaming from her eyes. Standing there, with a bloody lamp in her hands and with two limp bodies on the floor-one small, one large-she realized he hadn’t been laughing at all. It had all been a bad dream. He had been trying to comfort her.

“Cassandra, what’s wrong? What happened? Why are you like this? Why are you crying?” He’d said.

And she’d hit him.

“Cassan-“

Again, and again, and again. And then she’d hit her daughter, convinced that they were both “infected.”

“Mommy? What’s wrong? Mo-“

She realized that the red circles she’d seen on her husband weren’t actually there. The only red on his face was the blood from the gigantic dent in his head she’d made with the lamp. A string of saliva fell from her mouth, and she remembered what the reporter had said.

“…Look for excessive salivation and dark red circles under their eyes….” Cassandra dropped the shattered remains of the lamp and rushed to the bathroom, looking in the mirror. There were dark red circles under her eyes, and she was drooling. The reporter had also said something about it spreading by air in the beginning, hadn’t he? She’d stopped by the laboratory on her way back from work to say hi to one of her friends.

“…You may feel paranoid, aggressive, or…” Paranoia. Aggression. All that blood on her hands had been her fault. Not John’s. Looking at her reflection, Cassandra cracked a wide smile and burst into hysterical laughter, collapsing into a heap on the floor. It was her. She was the sickness. It was just so ironic. She couldn’t stop the laughter coming from her mouth, just like she couldn’t stop the tears from cascading down her cheeks. It was just…so…funny.

“Happy Halloween, Lucy,” she whispered. “Happy Halloween…”

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