Short Fiction ~ Oscar Windsor-Smith
Third Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 12
These lucid dreams come to Max Lowman in the chill stillness of never-ending dusk. Around him muffled whispers merge with the chirrup of birdsong and the slow rhythmic sigh of some sleeping beast. Something shimmers in the margins of his unfocussed sight, invading his mind and what now passes for his life.
The spectral being inclines what might be its head as if considering Max’s unvoiced question. It nods; a leisurely movement, it has all the time in the universe. ‘Think of me as agent,’ it purrs, ‘I serve clients with interest in the health of humankind. Please note I did not say the good health.’
It must be reading his mind.
‘How unfair. Now you imagine me as monster when I am only an honest broker engaging whatever resources come to hand. Your personal contributions are appreciated by the way.’
Max is sure he has made no such contribution. No. No, he had no part in this.
‘Ah, yes. Outraged denial is a common reaction. Come, let us visit some of your inputs to our cause.’
In a sparsely occupied up-town office, Max reclines in his upholstered executive chair. A microphone headset sits askew on his close-cropped hair; his fingers dance over a game console. His dilated pupils flick restless between three monitors on his desk and through a clear safety screen at the thighs of a shapely colleague.
Blushing, she wriggles, tugging-down the hem of her skirt.
Max chuckles. ‘Dream on, Lexi.’
Glaring over her mask, Lexi O’Connor flicks Max the finger. ‘When you’ve lived in a golden age of health, wealth and instant gratification, it must be hard to accept your world is ending.’
Max snatches off the headset. He slings it down and leaps to his feet. Now he’s right beside her, pushing his face into hers. Spittle flecks his lips. ‘That’s bullshit.’
Lexi starts, rolls back her chair, putting distance between them. ‘Get away from me!’ she hollers pulling a Kleenex from her sleeve and wiping her face; eyes alight with loathing. ‘And wear a mask you disgusting bastard.’
‘Wear a mask,’ Max parrots, ‘Like you and all the other mugs?’
Sidling back to his desk, Max glowers. ‘You believe in this hoax?’ Flopping back in his chair he rams the headset back on, glancing at the red columns and downslope graphs on his financial monitors. ‘It’s just a blip in the markets. I’ll better my sales quotas once the panic’s over.’
Max snatches up his game console and turns to another monitor. ‘Anyways, if so many people are dying, where are all the bodies?’ He’s shouting now, ‘Show me the bodies.’
Lexi is heading for the female rest room. She whips around. ‘You stupid juvenile prick, Max. Do you honestly think this pandemic is like Assassin’s Creed? People aren’t dying in explosions or hails of bullets. They’re expiring alone in ITUs, drowning in their own fluids, choking for breath.’
Max isn’t listening. He’s on a ZOOM call with a bunch of buddies. ‘Okay, guys, party’s at my place tonight. Last one in pays for the entertainment.’
Max Lowman’s mortal form lies amid dozens of other wrecked lives. Most, like him, are moribund and bed-bound whilst others toil, selfless and exhausted, in scrubs and PPE, vainly trying to save them.
The agent drifts above the inert body, into whose glassy lungs a ventilator strives to pump oxygen.
‘You were correct, my friend,’ the words echo in Lowman’s fading dreams, ‘there are monsters at large in your world; their names are Greed, Ignorance and Narcissism.’
Gliding over row upon row of beds the agent surveys each sad intubated body. It reads the name above each and stops briefly at one recording Lexi O’Connor before returning to its protégé. ‘Just think, Max,’ it sighs, ‘you achieved all this single-handed. Can you imagine what thousands like you will accomplish?’
A final shudder of denial heaves through Lowman’s corpse.
The agent gazes down. ‘You gave exceptional service, Max Lowman,’ it whispers. ‘Sleep well.’
Oscar Windsor-Smith is an English writer from Merseyside, now resident in south Hertfordshire, UK, with fiction and non-fiction prose and a smattering of poetry published in diverse places, in print and online. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies, most recently in the Departures anthology from Arachne Press. He graduated from the 4-year BA creative writing course at Birkbeck, University of London, in 2018, having specialised in screenwriting, but is returning to his first love, short and flash fiction.