Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 43

Photo by Dilyara Garifullina on Unsplash

It was the utter lack of heat that had been the worst bit, Abigail thinks as she leans against her wall with the glass tumbler pressed against her ear. It had been an awful year, she thinks. Talk about an understatement. Half the world’s population was wiped out almost overnight by Covid-25.

Everything was infectious.

Previously we sought each other out. In the time of yearly pandemics, most of our energy went towards avoiding others. Sad. We once sought buddies, friends, lovers. Now we only looked at each other with suspicion and fear. The world’s population had hovered around seven billion at the beginning of 2024, but by March 2025, it had dwindled to 3.5 billion, half the world’s population dead to coronavirus.

Energy was one of the broader problems facing those left in this world. So many families chose cohabitation. It was like the time of the Russian revolution, where separate families found themselves knitted together by necessity in uncomfortably close quarters. What once would’ve been deemed unacceptable was now merely a problem to be solved. People got together and made things work out.

Trust. The problem second only to energy and force cohabitation.

No one trusted each other anymore.

‘Where have you been?’

‘Did you wear a mask?’

‘Have you been vaccinated this year?’

It was exhausting. Keeping tabs on our intimate ones. An endless investigation and verification of what we had held to be obvious truths.

By December 2025, they estimated that forty percent of all households housed at least two separate families. Each a survivor of all the hell from the previous 18 months. Each with their own unique and shared scars from watching every other person on earth wither and die from the virus.

Sadly, we all became spies overnight. So caustic was this new world. Anything that might set the other off was suddenly elevated in importance. No longer was ‘but I’m your brother’ an adequate excuse or rationalization for irresponsible behaviors.

But we had, by that time, become an incredibly polarized species. Ironic – in the age of information, the biggest threat had become misinformation. Repeated cries of ‘fake news’ had finally come home to roost with a vengeance. Families divided along non-existent political lines. Science had long since declared the vaccinations worked, yet almost half still refused to get the damn shots. Citizens ignored mandates; countries divided; people fought against people over beliefs.

Only fools trusted blindly.

The time for trust had passed. In its wake came a more Reaganesque time of trust; a ‘trust but verify’ mentality had taken its place. Everyone spied on their neighbor and housemates. We all eavesdropped that winter. It’s what you did in a hope that you’d still be alive in the spring.

“We will meet again. Tomorrow night. The infidels’ lack of faith must finally be punished.”

Was that Henry? Abigail’s estranged brother-in-law who lived in the room on the other side of her was saying to Abigail’s sister, Patrice.

Abigail and Patrice had long since reached an uneasy and unspoken agreement to no longer discuss religion. Patrice was a fundamentalist. Abigail had finally given up her soft-pedaling approach of labeling herself an agnostic. Finally, she was an atheist. God had died. It was time that humans accept we were alone. There was no creator.

Abigail clenches her eyes tight, straining to hear what her sister might say in response to this craziness. She hears some words pass from her sister, but the plaster, wood, and insulation between the two rooms prevent her from understanding what those words were.

“And that means Abbie!” Henry says.

This was bad. There were conspiring against her.

“The pie is ready then?” Henry asks.

“Yes,” Patrice says.

This, somehow, Abigail can hear.

That one damnable affirmation. That one ‘yes’ forever separated the girl she used to care for in their mother’s absence from her. In that instant, all their shared history died. No longer were they sisters. They were now enemies.

The pie in question? An apple pie that Patrice had made every Thanksgiving since the two of them were teenagers in Kentucky.

And now?

Poisoned.; this is what the two disembodied voices from the other side of the wall were alluding to?

But she couldn’t act yet. There still lingered some fragile thread of relatedness between her and her sister. It had weathered many storms, but she was still her little sister.

She needed proof.

Long after Henry and Patrice had stopped talking for the day, after Henry’s wall-rattling snores had begun, Abigail snuck down to the darkened communal kitchen in the middle of the night.

She looked as quietly as she could manage for some evidence of Patrice’s ultimate betrayal. Some proof that the pie had been poisoned. With her tiny little flashlight, she had gone through every cabinet and every drawer.

Abigail found nothing.

Her soul had started to rise from the depths of despair.

What she had heard must have been taken out of context! Patrice still was family! While they might forever disagree on religion and politics, they were still sisters.

She turns to return to her room, where she sleeps alone since her husband lost his life to complications from his extended bout with covid.

Her eyes slide past the trash can.

She stops herself. She’d taken two steps toward the exit, eager to be away from the kitchen.

The trash can stands defiantly.

Before she can think about it, Abigail takes the five steps toward the trash can, drops to her knees, and slowly, quietly spills the contents of the trash onto the floor.

She begins slowly studying each bit of trash on the floor before returning it to the bin.

She’s halfway through the contents when her flashlight beam illuminates the label of a tiny, dark brown bottle: ARSENIC.

Abigail cries a bit. She pulls the cleaver from the knife block and quietly makes her way back to the second story of the house where she lives in one room, and the woman she would’ve at one point died for lives in the next room. She prays she has the strength to do what she must do.

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