The Lime Spreaders
The lime spreaders would congregate in the Walmart parking lot at sunrise, waiting for the trucks to come. Sometimes it would be a white 4x4, its open bed weighed down by fifty-pound bags of quicklime. The driver would pick two capable men and drive off. Other trucks would come, sometimes a van, each opening their doors and letting the lime spreaders in. No one knew where the trucks would go that day. There were farm fields to the west unplanted. There were construction sites to the north where machines sat idle, the ground a barren patch of dirt. The cemeteries all around had reached full capacity. By sundown the trucks would return to the Walmart parking lot. Men, white as ghosts, would crawl from the cabs and stagger away into the night. It was not known how many made it home.
During this time, drum circles began to appear in the suburbs like fairy rings in the forest. Expensive vehicles, some driven hundreds of miles, would fill driveways and collect on lawns—a sure sign of the night's activities. In preparation, outdoor LEDs were planted on the lawn at hourly intervals as if on the face of a giant clock, a firepit at its center. Once the sun set, a low-level percussion replaced the sound of crickets. The dark swallowed everything but the LEDs and a small nest of flames. While distancing was still mandated, neighbors seldom reported the gatherings, opting instead to turn off air conditioners and stand in their doorways. Sometimes the primal beat drew them out into the nightscape, where they wallowed in the fresh dirt of the garden, clothes shed like a second skin.
The Aging Center
Young men and women on ventilators were bustled like alien crash site survivors into the entrance of the Aging Center. There they were met by nurses in face shields and fresh gowns and were quickly swallowed up by the emergency bay doors. With bed space at a premium, some hard decisions needed to be made. Around back, near the dumpster, a freight container sat, its refrigeration unit humming like an ice machine at a cheap motel. The building's security light revealed a mountain of wheelchairs designated for recycling.
It wasn't the typical rehab center. There were armed security guards and key card entry. The patients would have been non-voluntary anyways, choosing death by needle or lethal cocktail, so what difference did it make. For some, it was their one chance to do something right, even if they didn't know what it was they were doing. Each trial group occupied a separate wing. Antivirals in place of opiates. Chemo-smoothies instead of alcohol. UV baths and bleach enemas. The black coffee and stale donuts in the cafeteria the only things FDA-approved.
It had been many years since the drive-in closed. The large white screen, the undulating landscape of gravel, grass and speaker posts were a relic of the past. But the past had revisited. A sickness not seen in a hundred years had canceled life as we knew it, placed the show on hiatus, told the actors to stay home. But there have been reports of cars flocking to the abandoned drive-in at night, pushing through the chain barrier and parking beneath the stars. The large white screen, now torn and stained with age, is said to be flickering to life, releasing memories the way a comet sheds dust and gas. With each static burst on the car radio, black and white images from old movie reels, cartoons and intermission count downs appear on the screen. Some nights the static comes from lack of movement, lack of drive, and the only show is the intermittent sparkle of fireflies. No one knows if this is a temporal displacement caused by the sickness's sudden collective ennui or something much more permanent.
Kurt Newton's short fiction has appeared in Flash Fiction Online, Syntax, and Salt and Weirdbook.