1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Contest Winner! Congratulations @davidm for "Wet Bulb 35"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Feb 24, 2014.

    Congratulations @davidm for your excellent story. The entries were all really good this time around but this one did stand out from the rest.

    Thanks again to the other authors that entered and all the forum members that voted.

    You can send me a PM for the next contest theme if you'd like. I'll be using your suggested theme for the next contest planned in March.


    Wet Bulb 35 [1,730 words]

    "It's hot in here."

    Father sat in his high-back chair. He had on a loose-fitting bathrobe and slippers. He mopped his face with a towel that he kept on a table next to him, along with his highball. He laid the towel back on the table. Immediately, the sweat began to leak down his face again.

    "Julie, turn on the television. I want to watch the news."

    "Father, the television is on the fritz. We told you that. It doesn't work anymore."

    "Turn on the television."

    Andrew pulled aside a curtain and glanced anxiously out the window.

    "What are you looking at?" Father snapped at his son-in-law.

    Andrew pulled back the curtain.

    "Nothing."

    "Turn on the television."

    Julie turned on the television. The screen was blank.

    "The news," Father said with satisfaction.

    Father watched the news on the blank screen.

    Andrew whispered something to Julie.

    Father's old head snapped alertly in their direction, eyes shining with unexpected youth mingled with the usual malice.

    "What are you two talking about? Behind my back."

    "Nothing, Father," Julie said. "It's nothing."

    Father seized his highball glass and took a drink. He set it down again with a bang on the table, next to the sweat-soaked towel. A drop of water rolled off the bulb of his nose and fell into his lap. He pulled at the collar of the bathrobe and watched the news.

    "It's not the heat," the old man remarked, mopping his brow again with the towel. "It's the humidity."

    "It's the heat and the humidity," Julie said, consulting a thermometer with a wet rag draped over the bulb. She set it down on a table, and looked at Andrew, who had his hands in his pockets and quickly dropped his eyes to avoid her gaze. He again pulled aside a curtain and looked out the window, at the terrible brightness out there.

    "Stop looking out the window," Father snapped. "Where's my dog? My faithful Leader? … Oh," he said after a pause, looking down at his slippers. "There you are." On the floor a dead beagle lay with all four legs shot out with rigor mortis. Its dry tongue hung out of its mouth and its eyes were glazed, fixed balls.

    The old man patted his lap. "Hop up, Leader." The beagle sprang up from the floor and enveloped the old man with moist, fervid licks.

    "Nice Leader," the old man said, offering a rictus of a grin as the dog lapped the side of his decomposing face. Julie and Andrew looked down at the dead dog on the floor and then up at the old man pantomiming petting the animal while pretending to receive licks.

    "Now shoo, Leader," he said, and the dog hopped down off his lap and resumed snoozing on the floor.

    "Unreal," Andrew muttered with incredulity.

    The sun brightened behind the curtains. Father's crooked shadow was cast on the far wall, the silhouette of a cadaver in training.

    "Father," Julie began cautiously.

    "What?" Father looked lingeringly at his son-in-law, who looked away.

    "It's time to go."

    "Go? Go where?"

    "North."

    "I don't want to go North."

    Julie leaned forward, placed a hand on Father's shoulder and said, "It's better up North. For your health."

    "There's nothing wrong with my health. This is my home. I'm not leaving my home."

    Julie looked at Andrew. Andrew began to speak but Father cut him off, saying, "You're a great disappointment to me. I wish Julie had let me pick her husband for her. Julie could never manage her own affairs, and you're proof of that. Frankly, you both make me sick."

    Andrew's features hardened, and his eyes became dots of rage. He moved toward the old man but Julie intercepted him and pushed him back. They exchanged urgent whispers. Above, the plaster of the ceiling cracked. The house gave off a strange groan, and the air conditioner died with a prolonged death rattle. Three faces were bathed in sweat.

    Andrew loosened his tie and consulted the cellphone that had been surgically implanted into his palm, but it was dead, too. The ceiling began to perspire, dots of water falling from the splintering plaster. A blade of sun lay on the hardwood floor.

    "Where are my grandchildren? They're my only hope for the future. I believe my genes leapfrogged you, Julie, and into my grandkids. Unfortunately they have half of Andrew's genome."

    "Shut up, you malignant old fool," Andrew said.

    Father grinned contemptuously at his son-in-law. "Failure," he sneered. "You're a failure."

    Julie physically propelled Andrew away from the old man. The old man grabbed his highball and finished it off. The ice had melted. With the air conditioner broken down, it was getting hotter. Julie again consulted the thermometer with the wet rag hanging from it. She said something to Andrew. Andrew began to reply but the old man loudly demanded to see his grandkids.

    "They're napping," Julie said in a hushed tone of voice. She fought to keep the tears out of her eyes.

    Father banged down his highball glass and demanded to see them. After a brief consultation with Andrew, Julie went into a bedroom and brought the little ones out. She set them in the old man's lap and he dandled grandson and granddaughter on his knee. He cackled with delight, and the little ones giggled and squealed. But then the old man broke down coughing. The sweat rolled off the sagging flesh of his face, which was lobster-red. Julie hurried over, removed the two stick-armed, swollen-bellied corpses from Father's lap, and then hurried them back into the fetid bedroom, darkened by thick shades.

    "I made a lot of money, in my life," Father said mistily, eyes squinting with hazy reminiscence. "It's like that old Sinatra song. I did it my way."

    His eyes suddenly grew alert and he peered hatefully at his daughter and son-in-law, jaw thrust out. He looked like a frog in a boiling pan of water. Andrew's eyes met his.

    Then Andrew grabbed his wife by the crook of the arm.

    "Let's go," he said brusquely. "North. Leave the old bastard here. He's set in his ways."

    She tore away from him, rifled a slap across his face and hissed at him: "I will not leave him! He's my father! He's all that I have left."

    "All that you have left?" Andrew roared at her. "What about me? I'm your husband, in case you forgot!"

    "Just stop," she said, running her hands through her long hair. "Please stop."

    "We have to go." He grabbed her and shook her.

    Rain fell from the ceiling. The plaster continued to crack up and now it was disintegrating. The dead dog, as hard and rigid as wood, lay on the floor. The corpses in the darkened bedroom gave off no sound. The room brightened.

    Father chortled in misty remembrance. He chuckled at some long-remembered deal, in which he had made a lot of money and really got one over on the competition.

    "Someone will come for him if he's lucky," Andrew said. Julie broke down in tears but her resistance suddenly evaporated. Andrew grabbed the thermometer and stared at in anguish.

    "Wet bulb 35," he announced. "We have to leave now or it will be too late. We have about six hours."

    Julie tore from his grasp and draped herself across Father. "North," she pleaded with him. "North, north, north!"

    He pushed her off of him and snapped, "Get away from me."

    Andrew seized her and hustled her out of the room over her shrieks of anguish and protest. The door banged shut behind them. Father was alone with the sun, his shadow on the far wall, the dead dog, the dead grandkids in the bedroom and his grandiose memories.

    His smiled. He had done it his way.

    "The world was my oyster," he said in a soft whisper in the dead room. "I did it my way. I conquered the world!"

    He moved in and out of dreams, his internal organs breaking down. Something like an ambulance came for him. They had to break down the door, the men in queer white uniforms like biohazard suits. He was strapped in the back of the vehicle, and a sudden driving rainstorm pocked a little window above. Then the rain quit. From a pocket he fished the scrap of a calendar that he kept. July, but he couldn't remember what day it was. The year was 2050. The top of the scrap was decorated by the illustration of a girl dancing and grinning, arms spread out in ecstasy. The paper seemed to brown at the edges and curl in his hand. He closed a fist around it and crumpled it into a ball.

    He thought that they were taking him North, but instead they veered off the road into a land vast, broad and yellow, and as bright as the sun. He lay on the ground, peering up ahead at a water mirage that vanished as he crawled toward it. "Water," he begged, crawling on his hands and knees. "Water." He stretched out a claw of a hand, and then he collapsed onto the desert pan, in sight of the ruins of New York City, where water lapped at the foundations of the evacuated buildings but then abruptly gave way to sand that sifted through the abandoned streets in the concrete canyons. The sun in the sky was molten glass.

    He lay perfectly still on the ground and dreamed, not of his triumphs and money and futurity, the legacy of his grandkids, but of water and wind. The wind blew over him, and the waters rose around him. Thousands of centuries later, when the six-legged explorers found his bleached bones, they could not explain what a member of this long-extinct species had been doing here, in this terrible place. At a temperature of 35 degrees centigrade as measured by a wet-bulb thermometer, a thermometer covered with a wet rag that measures both temperature and humidity, all humans and all other mammals on earth had died within six hours, except for those lucky few who had made it North. But a few years later they were gone, too, and then the microbes crawled out of the cracks in the earth and divided and multiplied and as the earth gradually cooled over the long centuries, Darwin's idiot game began again.

    THE END
     
  2. davidm
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    davidm Active Member

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    Thanks, Ginger, I'm very pleased to have won. :D Thanks for those who voted.

    How soon do you need me to PM a theme for the March contest?
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Three weeks, I'm altering the schedule a tad so as to not conflict with the sci-fi contest voting.
     
  4. davidm
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    davidm Active Member

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    OK, will do, thanks.
     
  5. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Congratularions, @davidm! You're story had such a weird feel... (good weird).
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  6. BeckyJean
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    BeckyJean Member

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    I loved this story; even voted for it versus my own. ;)
     

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