Clean Living

The note taped to the mirror read

you are not sick. live clean, live long

He was examining himself, studying eyes threaded with seven weeks of solitude, poor sleep and stale air.

He had stocked up on antibacterial soap. The papers had warned against using it, saying improper use would just lead to stronger bacteria without affecting the real cause of the infection, which was a virus. He used it anyway. They hadn’t been able to do shit about containing the infection, what did they really know? The virus could probably hitch a ride on bacteria, they were related or something. Anyway, how the hell could you use soap improperly? It was soap.

His face was free from spots. Free from infection. He was like a fish in a tank while the sea washed at the doorstep. Safe. Safe. A sealed membrane. He could stay this was for weeks, months at a time.

Breakfast was spam and powdered eggs. The external door was in the kitchen. Bits of Harry’s scalp and a trace of his blond hairs still clung to the latch because he didn’t want to bother cleaning it. Stupid bastard. Harry had been too slow, always one more thing to go back for.

The den had been a compromise between the two of them. Harry’s exercise bike was pushed up against the wall, already half-cannibalized for parts.

There were movies, movies and tv shows. He had already watched them in English, French and Spanish, with director’s commentaries and every ‘making of’ documentary.’ He popped in an 80’s comedy and cracked a mineral water. That had been one of Harry’s complaints: no booze. Booze was too much of a risk.

After scrubbing his dishes, he stuck his mouth beneath the stream. Clear and cold, it came from a cistern deep in the ground. No pollution.


He put up another note. It said

smile. you’re alive.

He had to check his teeth in the mirror. He had heard that a bad tooth could get into your bloodstream, so he flossed a lot. His gums bled. He washed the lacerated flesh with listerine.

There were two entrances. He had wanted one, but bargained it down from three. The door in the kitchen which he would never, ever open again and the hatch in the ceiling he had sealed  before moving in.

The shelter was a deluxe model. It had a game room where he played the wall at ping-pong and a kitchen and a shower that used the runoff for the septic system. The air system was ionically filtered, no changing screens. Quick. Efficient. It could have supported a family of five. Hell, it could’ve supported him and Harry, but one was enough. One could live well, provided one took care.

He took care of himself and ate right. Some canned food, mostly dry. Dry didn’t go bad. Jars could get air in and go bad. He’d had enough bad air.

Sometimes he wished he could get the news in here. Just to see how much better he had it. No matter how bored he was, at least he didn’t have to step over bodies every day.

He made a pyramid of food cans and rolled Harry’s houseplants down the side until the pots broke. The ferns and orchids were long since crispy. He didn’t waste water on them.

In the game room he made another go at the rubix cube before he threw it at the wall. The puzzles were mostly Harry’s idea. Most of the games were two-person affairs. He unpacked the chess set and made it act out Reservoir Dogs.

Dinner was protein powder mixed in with peanut flour. He longed for a steak.


The next note said

wash hands

in big block caps. And he did, every time he saw it. Had to. Sores had opened up on the backs of his hands. It hurt, but he had to keep the infection out.

He bandaged his hands with rolls of gauze smeared liberally with antibiotic ointment. It must have been the cheap stuff, because he didn’t heal any faster.

There was a spot on his back. It was probably a zit, but it itched. Did that mean it was infected? He washed it with antibacterial soap every hour, but it just got bigger and redder. His hands were too bandaged to properly examine it, so he got a kitchen knife. Just a little nick, shorter than a dime, but it gushed like a geyser. He swore and scrambled to blot it with toilet paper.

It had probably been fine and now he’d let the germs in.

He hopped in the shower and washed until the water at his feet turned pink.

He got dizzy. Shit. Was that a symptom?

He got out of the shower and took a mega-dose of vitamins and antibiotics. He must have passed out at some point because he woke up with the towel sticking to his back. He itched.

The new bandage sat on the dried blood because he didn’t want to risk opening it up again. His stomach screamed with emptiness.

The dehydrated tofu wouldn’t absorb water, so he ate the cubes out of the box and drank Hi-C. His stomach swelled and ached, so he brought the cubes up in the toilet. Could tofu go bad? He dumped it just to be safe.


The mirror said

don’t scratch

because he’d been unable to manage the tape and paper with his hands. They looked like white boxing gloves.

Since the gauze was flammable, he ate right out of cans. Cold spam. Cold beets. He dumped the egg and milk powders right in his mouth. It started a coughing fit that made him puke.

Food was no good. He ate granola off the counter because he couldn’t use his hands. Itchy.

The water tasted stale. It was tainted. The air was bad. So itchy.

He could taste blood on his gums. Harry sabotaged the food. Had to. Probably coughed on everything. Bastard.

The granola went down the drain. The spam went down the drain. The milk powder went down the drain. The water chuckled as it ran down. The veggies went down the drain. The protein powder went down the drain. The drain clogged, bad water backed up into the stall. He fell trying to get away. Back made contact with the dirty floor. Go to the sink and scrub, scrub, scrub.

Back itched. Probably sick. He taped his hands together to keep from picking at it. Behind, so it’d be harder to undo. Live clean, live long. He slept and woke in shifts. No night or morning. No windows. Itchy. He stuck to the couch. Hunger shred his stomach, but the food was bad. No steak. No meat. He slept. Still hungry. Itchy.


The mirror said something. Couldn’t read. Too stale. Air bad. Had to grab the door, but hands behind back. Keep trying.


“Anything to report, private?”

The young man came back at a slow jog. “We cracked the hood, sir. It’s a shelter. Mostly empty.”


“Well, there’s a shambler in there, but he’s pretty well harmless. I think the guy saw it coming, tried to save other people.”

“By locking himself in?”

“And his hands are taped together. Should we fry it, sir?”

He peered past the younger man down at the hole. “Nah. Let’s not waste the ordinance. Pull out, let’s keep moving.”


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