Friday, 3 January 2014

#FridayFlash - Allergy

By Jan van Grevenbroeck (1731-1807)
The clock in the square struck one. Karea cursed under her breath; she hated being late. She stood on her toes to peer above the heads of the crowd. They jostled and shoved outside the cathedral. Some brandished placards, while others waved banners in a righteous frenzy. “The dead have rights too” and “We’re sick, not criminals” were two of the more popular slogans.

She edged along the edge of the crowd, caught between protestors and onlookers. Many of those watching the demonstration held handkerchiefs to their mouths, or buried their faces in nosegays. Karea wondered why they didn’t just stay away, if they were so scared of the Contagion.

The crowd petered out on the far side of the square, and Karea slipped into a narrow alley between a bakery and a milliner’s. Looking back, she could see mounted militia surrounding the protestors. They sat astride huge chestnut stallions, all wearing black government-issue masks. The long ibis-like nose would be filled with strongly scented flowers. Karea wondered how many people would succumb to hay fever before the Contagion itself.

Karea burst out of the alley as a tram pulled up to the stop across the street. She hurled herself across the cobbled stones, narrowly avoiding a pony and trap driven by a young boy. She climbed on board, and squeezed herself between two elderly women clad in black. She nodded at each in turn, acknowledging their loss. A purple hat band indicated that the woman on her right had lost someone a lot earlier than the woman on the left. Probably when the Contagion first started.

Two government officials flanked the trembling conductor. Blue eyes burned bright behind the ibis masks. Karea shuddered. She wondered if the masks were intended to protect the officials, or to intimidate the populace.

Several passengers alighted at the next stop. Karea dropped her gaze from the window; she didn’t need to see them file into the cemetery. She also didn’t need to see the gravediggers and their pits, shovelling quicklime onto anonymous corpses, dumped in ignoble piles.

A tickle in her nose made Karea look up. A woman settled into the seat opposite, heaving a wicker basket onto her knee. A cat the colour of marmalade sat in the basket. It looked at her with brazen interest. Karea felt her stomach drop as the first sneeze struggled to escape. She left off a volley of rapid sneezes, each more violent than the last. The passengers scattered, clawing at each other in their attempts to get away from her.

The government officials swooped. Each clamped a gloved hand on her arms, hauling her to her feet. The tram lurched to a halt, and they pulled her down the stairs into the street. Karea’s protests went unheard as a crowd gathered to investigate the commotion. A cart waited by the gutter; the livery was that of the House of the Stricken. One of the officials fought to tie a cloth mask over her lower face.

“I’m not sick!” shouted Karea, her words lost in the thick fabric. “I’m just allergic to cats!”

* * *

I first posted this way back in 2010 and am re-posting because the whirl of Christmas and New Year have gotten in the way of writing anything new...plus, I was always rather proud of this one.

13 comments:

barrulus said...

Hahaha I love your twist. I think you captured the loss of reason that always accompanies mass hysteria. Great piece!

Claudia H. Blanton said...

oh wow, not a good time to have allergies! Great story, love it - have a great day!

Janet Lingel Aldrich said...

Oh, no. Poor dear! What a time for a cat to pop up!

Paranoia trumps reason every time in these situations, doesn't it? Thanks for the story, really enjoyed it.

John Wiswell said...

Ditto! But no one honors my allergies in public. It's enough to turn one into a wicked witch.

ganymeder said...

Ha! There's a reason I'm a dog person! :D

storytreasury said...

Oh no. Poor thing! What a time for a cat to show up.

storytreasury said...

also, i am picturing her being paraded in front of cats to prove she is allergic.

Stephen said...

I agree with the paranoia comment. It can be truly tragic the way a mob-like mentality, fueled by disinformation or a lack of understanding, can create chaos out of a perfectly normal situation. A good story, Icy. Thank you for re-posting it. I did not see it the first time.

Steve Green said...

Whilst I can't help but feel sorry for poor Karea, it is certainly easy to understand the knee-jerk panic reaction of the people close by when she started sneezing.

Virginia Moffatt said...

This built up well, and I don't fancy Karea's chances with that crowd. What an unfortunate allergy to have...

deannaschrayer said...

Oh that poor girl! I hope she's agile and can slip away from those nasty officials.

jackkholt said...

I've always been more of a dog person!

I actually misread the title as 'Allegory' so was trying to think outside the box a little as I went along. Great stuff either way, Icy.

Katherine Hajer said...

Absolutely perfect. When SARS hit Toronto, it was also the middle of hay fever season, which led to not a few misunderstandings. It's interesting Karea starts sneezing after she spots the cat, though -- I've noticed a lot of people with animal allergies don't have major symptoms until they spot the cause.

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