Jalisse grabbed the cold metal of the chain link fence, flakes of rust crumbling away under her touch, rough like sandpaper. A bead of sweat tickled its way down her back. She pulled her hooded woolen coat closer, her breath coming in short ragged gasps, and tried to adjust the sneaker she’d ruined while running from a group of the gooier ones. Above, the sky looked like lead from a spent bullet.
Pihn’s Market was the only place she could hope to find light bulbs. She used them so quickly now, since the honey got to her grandma. The light helped slow the spread of the disease, not much, but some.
She stepped around a stalagmite of crusty yellow stone, a blob that had once been two people. It adhered to the building like a cocoon. She hadn’t known them. She was new to the town, but at least the honey hadn’t taken them alone.
The plague had started sometime during the summer, people appearing on the streets with streaks of buttery-colored moisture growing on arms, legs — anywhere it could be spread by human contact. The city had fallen into a hush. Human statues congealed in sludgy yellow heaps, like frozen bird droppings, growing thicker with momentum. That’s when the school had sent Jalisse upstate to the small town to live with her grandma. She’d cried at first, but grandma only smiled and said, “Hush, honey. Things will be just fine.”
Grandma said the plague they called honey was God’s way of slowing people down, checking the headlong rush as folks raced through their lives. Nobody really took time to live anymore. The honey fixed that, hushed the yelling and the noise.
“Hello?” Jalisse’s hesitant voice echoed through the murky display racks.
She crept into the darkened store. Mister Pihn, the shriveled Cambodian man who’d smelled of lemongrass and always had time to talk, didn’t answer. “It’s me, Jalisse. Please tell me you’re still here.”
No answer. Jalisse’s lips trembled. She thought the worst.
Mister Pihn had been her only friend as the honey emptied the town. He’d told her about the light, and had helped her when grandma had taken ill. He was a good man.
She found the light bulbs up front, three blue boxes that reminded her of egg cartons. Twelve bulbs in all, they should last a while.
A metallic clatter twanged from two isles over, near the back of the store. She tensed, clutching her prize closer, and stepped back towards the open door.
“Is anyone there?” With a sick feeling, Jalisse already knew the answer. The honey must have taken the old man.
Something rough scraped across the wooden floor. Her breath caught as a glint of amber appeared through a gap in the household items isle, moving with sluggish purpose. It slunk from the shadows in slow motion, like some kind of deep sea creature. “Oh, Mister Pihn…”
Jalisse spun. Her worn sneaker snagged on a wedge of broken tile in the threshold. She careened into the wall, floundering. The boxes scattered. Crushed glass flew everywhere.
She fell to her knees, quickly sorting through crumpled cardboard. Behind her, the squelching shuffle came closer. Her fingers flew through the debris, sharp glass stinging. Her heart pounded. She didn’t want to turn. She knew what must be behind her, and she didn’t want to think about it. She’d miss the talks, and the little man’s smiling face. Maybe, when he’d thickened up some, she’d return.
Jalisse found an unbroken bulb. She snatched it from the floor, twisting as she rolled away. Glass crunched behind her, but she didn’t look back.
This time she took the long way around, avoiding the basketball court and the group of tawny wraiths loitering there.
Ochre statues littered grandma’s house, clogging the front stairway, and making a maze out of the hall. Jalisse stepped gingerly around them, unafraid, as she climbed the back emergency stairs. The honey had grown too thick. These people wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Deep shadows cut the small room into neat slices, bars of darkness that narrowed the closer they got to the flickering light. She was just in time.
Her grandma sat in her rocker where Jalisse had left her, her face a jaundiced mask beneath the thin coating of honey. The lamp beside her sputtered, and it looked as if grandma was winking at her.
“I could only get one, but I can go out for more soon.” Jalisse hurried over and quickly changed the faulty bulb.
Her grandma’s head tilted sluggishly, as if she had trouble hearing. The slack expression on her dark face made it hard to believe she understood any of what Jalisse tried to do for her, and it made Jalisse feel even lonelier. Being close to grandma made it the hardest to be alive.
The old woman moved, flowing like a glacier as she tried to leave her chair. The honey hadn’t grown too thick to nail her down yet. Jalisse took a step back. The lamp tottered. It tipped backward, grazing grandma’s arm. The honey sizzled.
The old woman jerked. Her fingers flew up, brushing Jalisse just above her collarbone.
An ice-cold spasm shot through Jalisse’s neck, spreading along her right arm. She slumped to the floor, tears already thickening. She’d tried so hard, struggled to keep living when there just wasn’t anything left worth living for.
“I’m sorry.” Her knees felt weak. All she wanted to do was curl up and cry. She wished she could hear her grandma’s voice just once more, saying, “Hush, honey. Everything will be just fine.” That wouldn’t happen, not now.
Grandma’s arms moved. They didn’t seem as slow now. Jalisse pulled herself forward, falling into the old woman’s embrace. If the honey was going to take her, there could be worse places to spend forever.
As with many aspects of the author’s life, D. A. D’Amico‘s writing skills are almost entirely self-taught. He has been writing speculative fiction as a hobby for many years, but has only recently begun to submit. His favorite genre is whatever flavor of speculative fiction happens to burn through his brain at any given moment, ranging from clock punk, high fantasy, space opera, horror, and even children’s stories. He’s a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future award, and has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, and Eschatology Magazine.