This is one of my first short stories. It was published on the now-defunct MicroHorror site in 2014.
We stood beside the road as the last of the trucks for the north rolled out of town. We were alone, having volunteered to stay behind and warn anyone who came looking for refuge that Masonville was quarantined, the apparent source of the outbreak. You turned to me with tears in your eyes and I looked away, trying not to cry despite how scared I was.
At first it had seemed too good to be true. The old people in the retirement home beside the lake started moving, growing their hair back, getting agitated; they started to live again. Then the middle-aged adults began to notice their own lives improving, their wrinkles retreated, they began to dance like they did when they were still in college. The Fountain of Youth had been found but nobody knew who had discovered it or how it was that we all came to drink from it.
Younger people, the people in their twenties and teens, were hit next but it took them a long time to start showing any symptoms. By the time my sister caught it, Grandpa and Grandma were already dead and dad was a head shorter than I recall him. Mom had run off when they first discovered the horrible truth. I hated her for running off and leaving me to watch dad shrivel up and die.
Dr. Krishnaprasad had calculated the rate of physiological decline based on the first few deaths and determined what he called a “mortality curve.” He tried to explain the curve to me last month when everyone started to shrink except us kids, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I’m good at math and all, but I’m twelve and I always thought a logarithm was a wooden drum.
Henrietta had screamed when dad scrabbled out of his room, only four feet tall. He looked like me from two summers ago. His arms and legs didn’t want to work and he looked scared. I helped him get dressed but we all knew he wouldn’t live past evening. By noon he was a toddler, his ability to speak was gone. He sat at his desk, looking at the papers he was supposed to have graded a month ago, banging his ever-shrinking fist against the wood as if he would defeat the disease by beating it up.
I cleaned the goo out of dad’s chair the next morning and put it in a garbage bag. Henrietta was seventeen and would only live another month at most. I still didn’t understand why I wouldn’t die for another ten years. Dr. Krishnaprasad tried to explain it to me, his oversized head too large for his roughly three-year-old’s frame at the time. He said it had something to do with the way things grow. The faster something grows, the less the disease affects it. Once I turned sixteen, though, I’d stop aging for about five years and then I’d begin to get smaller until eventually I wasn’t able to live without a womb. Then I’d be goop just like the adults.
You were only ten and it was up to me to look after you. I took your hand and slung the rifle over my shoulder. “It’ll be ok. We can have ravioli and green beans and fruit cocktail for dinner tonight and I’ll tell you a story.”