We strolled the beach despite the gray gloom of the day. It had been raining since dawn. We were in a lull, but it would rain again later.
“Think we’ll find anyone?” Kev asked. He was the only one on my team who hadn’t yet succumbed to the virus.
“It’s why we’re looking, isn’t it?” Obsessively checking the fit of the mask over my nose and mouth, I cursed the fear that periodically swept through me.
I’d been in a state of acute anxiety for weeks, ever since the biological weapon had been released on the east coast. Millions dead within days. The panic had flowed like a wave across the country, taking the sickness with it. No one knew what was going on in Europe or Africa; all communication had been cut off shortly after the drop.
A few people were immune to the disease. It was our job to find them and bring them in. Not an easy thing to do; most of them had holed up with their cans of beans and Ramen noodles, and were resisting contact. I wasn’t looking too hard. I’d be doing the same thing if I didn’t work for what was left of the government.
We’d been on the beach an hour. I’d needed the break from pounding on doors and searching houses. The masks weren’t only to protect us from the virus; dead bodies were everywhere.
“Wait.” I stopped and faced the water. Far out, a couple of dolphins breached, trailing droplets that sparkled in the sun. The beauty of it–of life–made the breath catch in my throat and tears sting my eyes. “Goddammit,” I muttered. So much lost because of the endless fighting. “‘Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.'”
“Who said that?”
“John F. Kennedy.” What kind of world would we few survivors have now?
Kev pulled at me. “Time to get back to work.”
I rounded on him. “Why? What the fuck for? It’s over.” I pressed my lips together. “It’s over,” I said more quietly. He looked at me, shocked, and I remembered how young he was. “I’m sorry. I’m… angry.” I touched his arm. “You’re right. Let’s go.”
We moved toward a boardwalk that would take us back to the residential neighborhood we’d been searching. An open red umbrella rested on the worn, wet wood, rocking gently in the light breeze.
I wondered who’d left it there, and if that person was dead. Had they died alone? The tears that had threatened on the beach spilled over and ran down my cheeks as I stared at it.
“I can’t do this anymore.” I choked on my grief. “I can’t.”
Kev realized my intention too late to stop me.
I took off the mask and inhaled deeply.
Word count: 469
See more flash fics here.