Dark Ages

by James Robertson

Splotchy crimson bulb, throbbing next to my collarbone. In the mirror, it looked like a volcano from space. I drew a shaking finger to nudge it, but, in a moment of clarity, smacked the skin and it disappeared. 

Emmett, what are you thinking? This strain doesn’t work like that. Not at all. It’s just a type of flu, not the bubonic plague!

I smoothed over the area under my naked collarbone with my hand, taking a low breath. Standing up from the stool my genitals caught the eye of the mirror. I paused. Maybe all hysteria, but I couldn’t get dressed until I inspected my groin for any possible lesions. Nothing. I slipped into a tracksuit.

Wrenching my jumper over my head, I began remaking my bed. Force of habit. My iPhone laid quietly on the table next to the balcony window. Plugged in, charging. I checked the battery percentage. Couldn’t go any higher.

I poured myself a glass of water, sculled it, then poured another. Shifting footsteps by the door. A low grunt. I sipped from the glass of water. Slightly audible. One foot to the other. I opened the door to the balcony.

This is your view, Emmett. Stale tarmac, an ambulance racing by. Static powerlines, flowing branches. Trees haven’t been this lonely since the Dark Ages. 

Shimmering on the horizon, amidst that architectural din, the roof of the university protruded. Twenty-eight years passed in time. My grandpa took me to his lectures when I was six. Just rolled around with my toy Romans. We’ll see their homes, he said after applause. Their baths, their theatres, their streets! Me six could not believe it. Cuddled his left leg and squealed. Beams would split his face a part. Light poured out.

I could even feel it on my skin. Eyes closed, warmth rained on my forehead and cheeks, dousing me with my grandpa’s presence.

Ring, ring.

Leaving the glass, I answered the call. Increasing. Critical condition. Not long. Thank you.

The very components that make up this device could crumble in my hand. Skin rippled beyond my control. Armpits gushed. Air, air. I needed air.

Dashing out back onto the balcony, my lungs inhaled the stench of expired human beings, ferried away in ambulances wooden, drawn by mule. Through the barren branches a man in garbs dragged a pulsing red limb, howling agony incarnate. Words drowned by gallons of pestilence and time. Ding, ding. “Bring out your Dead! Bring out your Dead!” Sick all over the railings.

I bang on the door. Feet shuffle barely. Security can’t let me out, I know the rules. I implore them, I plead them. No more shuffle. Low voice. There is no way that I can see him.

My fault. My fault. Blood runs from my eyes. I wipe away the tears and lean against the door. 

Brand new handkerchief sat in my back pocket. I took it out, felt the smooth Italian craftsmanship, bought as a thank you gift for our trip. Never used a handkerchief before. It was his type of thing. 

I scrunched the fabric in my fist at the sudden ringing. The same shrill. 

My arms gave way to gravity. Thighs felt hot and bloated. 

I didn’t stand. I didn’t move. I waited until the ringing stopped. 

Foot dragged outside. Hoped. I wished for someone to knock at the door. My door. 

Get it wrong. Please. Don’t visit the bed of a lovely, fragile rosebush I have tainted.

Please. Knock on my door.

No knock. No ring. 

Two splotchy boils on my neck and chin. 

I blew my nose.

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