Friday Flash: Love is Contagious

Alice Windsor noticed her hands shaking as she held them under the automatic sanitizer at the hostess station.

“Ready, Ma’am?”

“I suppose so.” She glanced around the candle lit dining room.

“You’ve arrived before your guest,” the hostess winked. “Follow me.”

Great, Alice thought. Even the hostess can tell I’m a nervous wreck. Get it together.

And then a thought struck her. What if he didn’t show up? She would kill Valerie. Setting her up with some dead beat.  She slid into the seat, eyeing the embedded menu. “Glass of Chablis, please.”

Order received. Estimated time of arrival: 4 minutes.

She used the time to situate her silk skirt, smoothing it out along the curve of a hip; breathing slowly as she watched the other couples from beneath dark lashes. They all seemed so at ease with each other; talking, smiling like no one else existed. She had that once. With Larson. A lifetime ago. Stop it. She shook her head, trying to clear it of his name, his memory. Every year Valentine’s Day was a day for her to dread, to wait for like a plague. Not this one. She stiffened her resolve as her glass of wine arrived. And right behind it…her blind date.

“Have you been waiting long?” He leaned over her and they air-kissed.

“No, no,” she whispered, stunned by his sincerity, his large brown eyes, the charm that oozed from him like a physical presence, his mild, oaky scent.  “Just about four minutes,” she said, absentmindedly sipping her wine.

He ordered a drink and then the warning chimes startled Alice. It had been awhile since she had spent time in public and she’d forgotten how loud those bells could be. They reached for the paper masks beside their silverware, placed them over their mouth and nose and held eye contact as the sanitizing ions sprayed from the ceiling to zap and collide with any viruses floating around. Alice found herself smiling beneath the mask. A new predicament for her. Could she actually be happy with a man again?

The secondary bells rang indicating they could remove their masks.

“So, Alice,” he pressed his fingers together in front of him and she had the sudden urge to slip her hand between them. She leaned back in her chair, grabbing her hands in her lap to keep them from acting without her consent. “Valerie tells me you’ve been by yourself for a while. Bad divorce was it?”

Alice pushed her hair off her neck. It stuck a bit, damp and clinging. Was it hot in there? “Yes,” she bit her lip. “Mostly though, I just don’t trust myself not to pick another crazy person.”

His laughter came easy and often through dinner. Alice bloomed beneath it, letting herself relax and open up, all the while fighting the urge to touch him. Which was insane. The violation would land her in Solitary Confinement for thirty days. By the time dessert arrived, she was feeling so out of control, she was beginning to think it would be worth it.

“Are you feeling all right? Your face is very flushed.” That sincerity again. It was killing Alice.

“I’m actually feeling…amazing.” She laughed, licking cream from between the fork tongs. Euphoric was the word she would have used, except she still had enough sense not to scare the object of her desire. That sense was quickly fading, though. She lifted the porcelain plate and ran her tongue over it, lapping up every crumb of lemon cake and cream.

“Alice? Maybe we should…” She suddenly lunged across the table and ran her tongue across his throat, tracing a line up his chin, over his lips, cheek and into his ear. People began to shout and two waiters raced over, grabbing her arms, trying to pry her off of the stunned man.

Pink foam began to ooze from her mouth and run down his neck, into his starched collar. Her tongue swelled into a fat strawberry; her eyes rolled back into her head.  A powerful seizure struck and she fell to the floor.

Alice awoke beneath a plastic tent, straps holding down her wrists, machines and white walls beyond the plastic.  Wincing, she tried to call out. Her mouth was swollen and on fire. A shadow emerged, stood in the doorway and then approached the plastic.

“Welcome back, Miss Windsor.”

A small croak was all she could manage.

“It’s okay. I know you can’t speak. I’m CDC Senior Investigator, Robert Glenn.  You have been in quarantine here at Valley Hospital for ten days, along with the man you…licked.” He paused and Alice wanted to crawl inside her skin and disappear as the memory of the Valentines dinner hit her full force. “It seems your ex husband, Dr. Larson Windsor, has created and infected you with a virus that was activated by a specific hormone cocktail…phenyl ethylamine, serotonin, dopamine, among others. In other words, it was meant to activate when you became attracted to someone as a potential mate. It apparently acts fast, spreads through saliva.  I’m afraid…”

Alice squeezed back the tears. No cure, of course. She was now a contagion. Quarantine would be her permanent home. And then her eyes slowly opened, warmth spreading up into her face as she recalled the large brown eyes of the man who was also quarantined indefinitely. He would forgive her eventually, wouldn’t he?

Her swollen tongue brightened from within a deformed smile.

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  1. #1 by David G Shrock on February 12, 2010 - 5:32 am

    Very cool. Never thought I’d be excited with a sudden licking. And the reaction fell in place. Different Valentine’s story, and I love different.

  2. #2 by Olivia Tejeda on February 12, 2010 - 6:25 am

    Oh that damn, Dr. Larson Windsor!! He’s holding her hostage forever!

    This was another wonderfully creative story and a little too timely. I was at a doc’s office yesterday and more than half the waiting room was wearing paper masks. It’s downright creepy! It’s not too difficult to imagine a world like this… bell rings, masks on.

  3. #3 by yearzerowriters on February 12, 2010 - 8:18 am

    A viral chastity belt – ingenious! Really like the dystopian society backdrop against which love tries vainly to bloom – the douching clean of the air etc.

    Great stuff.

    marc nash

  4. #4 by mazzz_in_Leeds on February 12, 2010 - 9:08 am

    Oh my word – viral chastity belt, what a great concept!
    What a way to get revenge on your ex, my inner bioscientist is loving this 🙂

    Now if the devious ex were a woman, and she was getting revenge on a man… I wonder what would be swelling up then… 😉

  5. #5 by Skycycler on February 12, 2010 - 3:12 pm

    Wow! What a fantastic Gattaca-esque story. Your imagination is sharp, Shannon. I cringed with her when the investigator spoke to her in quarantine!

    I have to say I loved the comments too – David’s had me spluttering, Mazzz had me choking. Must be some air borne viruses floating around…

  6. #6 by G.P. Ching on February 12, 2010 - 3:28 pm

    Your brain is amazing. This world you’ve created where people are controlled and control each other with…germs… it’s fascinating, somehow medieval. Entertaining piece.

  7. #7 by Laura Eno on February 12, 2010 - 3:43 pm

    I love the viral chastity belt phrase that was coined. This is so disturbingly prophetic with the bell chime and put your mask on while we spray. Another chilling, excellent story from you, Shannon!

  8. #8 by soesposito on February 12, 2010 - 6:35 pm

    Thanks, guys. This one was for fun 🙂

  9. #9 by Marisa Birns on February 12, 2010 - 6:44 pm

    Your imagination and your excellent writing skills are truly the best love match.

    I do hope the infected guy forgives her because, after all, they’re now like peas in a pod.

    Well done, Shannon!

  10. #10 by Deb on February 12, 2010 - 6:57 pm

    Oh — X-husband would be a dead man — I would find a way — even from quarantine.

  11. #11 by Deanna Schrayer on February 12, 2010 - 7:02 pm

    That dirty rotten scoundrel! With that last bit I was sure Alice was going to lick the doc. 🙂
    Great stuff, as always Shannon!

  12. #12 by Lou on February 12, 2010 - 9:23 pm

    The moment when she loses it and licks him is pure genius. Great imagery brought the whole thing to life in my imagination.

  13. #13 by John Wiswell on February 12, 2010 - 9:44 pm

    I’m not sure why, but this reads really quickly. Smooth writing is always good, but this goes by fast. Neat stuff!

    • #14 by soesposito on February 12, 2010 - 9:47 pm

      I’ll take that as a compliment, John, considering this is a bit over 1,000. lol

  14. #15 by karen from mentor on February 12, 2010 - 10:17 pm

    Shannon can you come over RIGHT NOW and sit in my living room so I can talk to you about this story?

    Oh my gosh….

    Edge of my seat, could feel everything she was feeling.

    I was just contemplating going out into the street wearing a “free hugs” sign myself…but…. . oh man after reading that …..I just hope I don’t lunge across a table and lick anybody now …… good thing is I’m not contagious … [but maybe I should quarantine myself just in case though, I’m feeling very full moonish]

    Loved the little hopeful line at the end. hee hee hee

    [all of the above was most probably for comedic effect and after the comment you left for me, I’m pretty sure will be enjoyed in the spirit intended, if not by you, then maybe by your dog when you read it aloud to him]

    Karen :0)

  15. #16 by Anne Tyler Lord on February 12, 2010 - 10:39 pm

    Shannon,

    That was genius – your imagination astounds me, again! I would love to know how you come up with your plot ideas and twists.

    That moment of licking was GREAT! It jumped out of the story just as she did.

  16. #17 by Maria Kelly on February 13, 2010 - 12:11 am

    Licking causes a viral infection? If that ever happens, we’re all in trouble. I loved this story. Great plot. Poor Alice and her poor date. And what an evil ex-husband. This story was…ahem…delicious. I’m afraid my tongue will start swelling the next time I see a nice-looking man!

  17. #18 by G. on February 13, 2010 - 1:31 am

    Your hubby is afraid, isn’t he? Very, very afraid. 😀

    Extremely clever… yet, again. As all of yours have been lately. I’m not sure what’s in the water you’re drinking, but I sure wish you’d send me a bottle, especially if it works with verse. Kudos.

  18. #19 by ~Tim on February 13, 2010 - 3:07 am

    Ah, if I had a nickel for every time a first date has lunged across the table to lick me… and a dime for every designer virus that — what? it could have happened to me.

  19. #20 by Jen B on February 13, 2010 - 12:23 pm

    Ohh, what a rotten ex! This is fabulous Valentine’s story, creative and clever.

  20. #21 by Linda on February 13, 2010 - 2:52 pm

    Wow, great story and tremendous suspense. Very very clever… (green with envy). Peace, Linda

  21. #22 by KjM on February 13, 2010 - 3:40 pm

    “Bad divorce” Ha! That doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    Interesting world you created – and then ramped up hugely. I loved being inside Alice’s head. I got a really good sense of her.

    Very well done.

  22. #23 by Eric J. Krause on February 13, 2010 - 5:36 pm

    Very interesting concept. That’s certainly a bad one for the ex to play. Good story!

  23. #24 by Cathy Olliffe on February 13, 2010 - 8:56 pm

    (oh man, I just wrote a novel length comment about your story and then hit a wrong button and it disappeared… heavy sigh)
    But I’ll try again!
    Shannon! I am new to ff and haven’t figured out all the characters yet (there are SO many great stories and writers that I am overwhelmed and humbled) but every time I come across one of yours I am just blow away and I’m like, “Oh YEAH, it’s HER” and I am impressed all over again with every story I’ve seen, from the rusting woman on down to this week.
    This one is so timely with H1N1 and everybody so paranoid about germs. So I love that about it. But I also love the story, it flows beautifully, it keeps you on the edge of your seat and it dazzles at the end. And the woman, stupid typical smitten woman, still hung up on a guy, still hopeful something will happen, even though she has destroyed his life and will likely never see him again!
    Also, did you do the accompanying illustration? If you did, congrats!
    Great story, site, I’m adding you to my reading list. Thanks!
    (Sorry this is so long… too much coffee)

  24. #25 by Deborah Bundy on February 13, 2010 - 10:09 pm

    Great story! I loved the ending.

  25. #26 by anticrombie on February 14, 2010 - 3:00 am

    So are they calling this virus ‘cupid’s arrow’?

    🙂

  26. #27 by David on February 14, 2010 - 9:29 am

    Poor Alice. Another ingenious idea, wonderfully plotted and very well told.

  27. #28 by Michelle on February 14, 2010 - 11:28 am

    Smooth writing, really tight – well done.

  28. #29 by CJ on February 15, 2010 - 4:32 pm

    I like her hot emotions played off such a clinical and sterile world. What a nightmare for a lonely person. This read so quick and smooth I felt like I was sucked in and spat out – I did’t want it to end. Excellent, excellent!

  29. #30 by Clive Martyn on February 16, 2010 - 1:12 pm

    I had forgotten how very good you are. Awesome story.

  30. #31 by Alan W. Davidson on February 16, 2010 - 2:00 pm

    What an excellent story! You caught me totally by surprise with the switch to the futuristic tone with the spray of sanitizing ions. Really well descibed.

  31. #32 by cascadelily on February 21, 2010 - 9:52 am

    Sorry it’s taken me over a week to work my way here, but I made it at last 🙂

    My personal favourite was not when she was licking the guy (which I loved) but the bit right before it, when she was licking her plate and scaring him! ROFL. Your imagination is awe-inspiring. I love your writing. ‘Tis fabulous 🙂

  32. #33 by Mark Kerstetter on February 21, 2010 - 8:54 pm

    Oh, the image of the pink foaming mouth oozing down that fine collar, which I imagine to be brilliant white, was stellar (sorry I’m late)!

  33. #34 by Iapetus999 on February 25, 2010 - 12:41 am

    So THAT’s the deal with that chick I went out with the other day. And here I thought it was me…

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