Kevin M. Flanagan

Expiration

It didn’t matter to Tyke or Scab that the cure for the disease that decimated humankind was unaffordable to average Americans at the time of the outbreak. They also didn’t care that the building they were both standing in was once Phoenix City Hall. What did matter to both of them, standing in the dusty ruins, was the single bottle of the aforementioned medicine found in a rotting desk drawer. Scab pondered the filthy bottle of neutral-colored fluid’s label, which read “Chimerizine” in perfect sans serif Arial letters.

She was called Scab not because her entire body was covered in scab-like growths or because the elders were particularly clever. She was called Scab because she was covered in scab-like growths and also regularly oozed. Tilting her head to get a better look at the bottle’s label caused her wispy blonde wig to shift clumsily.

Reclined in a high back chair that once held the posterior of the Mayor of the City of Phoenix was Tyke, who didn’t know what a Mayor or a City of Phoenix was. He kicked his crusty boots up on the decayed desktop, then reached up to scratch the left foot of his parasitic twin.

Tyke Junior, as Tyke called it, dangled mostly-formed from the side of Tyke’s face in a meditative pose.

He was called Tyke not because the elders were particularly clever, but because they were not and he was very large. He called his parasitic twin Tyke Junior because it was small and attached to him.

Tyke was also not very clever. He flicked a bit of bloody devilpede chitin off his rotund belly then immediately regretted not eating it instead.

If Tyke Junior had eyes, a mouth, or a fully-developed brain, it might have been clever. It had none of those things. It did occasionally have small psychic premonitions, but Tyke rarely noticed them.

“So, explain it to me again,” the more clever and larger of the two Tykes said.

Scab looked up from the bottle and smiled, her amber teeth like semi-transparent kernels of corn. She set the bottle on the desk and tucked her thumbs into her gun belt.

“It’s simple, Tyke. This stuff makes the change stop. At least, that’s what the elders say.” Scab strutted around the former office of the former mayor of Phoenix, taking in the ruins. A pair of flags hung, moth-eaten and unremarkable, on two stanchions across from the desk. Scab stood between them, turning to Tyke. She wasn’t sure why, but standing equidistant between two flags felt strangely powerful.

“What good is that? It’s only one bottle.” Tyke folded his fat hands over his belly. He was trying to focus, but every now and then he thought he heard the screaming of a devilpede in the distance. He didn’t. It was a psychic echo of the devilpede Scab had shot to death outside before she and Tyke began looting the ruins of Phoenix City Hall. Tyke Junior was picking up the echo like a radio antennae, but Tyke rarely noticed such things and certainly didn’t know what to attribute them to.

Scab laughed, which was unpleasant for everyone. She supplied the brains of the operation, whereas Tyke supplied muscle and comparatively good looks. Entrepreneurial thinking was beyond him, she mused. She’d have to lay it on thick.

“We aren’t going to use it on ourselves, Tyke. We’re going to barter it.”

As Tyke shifted, the force of his bulk caused a small magnetic executive toy on the desk to swing over a field of faded possibilities. It snapped to “Reorganize” and lingered there.

Tyke’s attention was divided. Scab continued, walking from between the two flag stanchions and over to a small podium nearby. She didn’t know what a podium was, but the rotten hollow pillar of wood felt nice to stand behind.

“I’m certainly not going to benefit it, so it’s only worth what we can trade for it. Imagine how many dog pelts we could get for this.”

Tyke lacked imagination, but he did have a thought.

“I noticed some new teeth forming on my shoulder. Would this stuff stop that?” Tyke started to reach over his shoulder to scratch under his greasy denim vest, but accidentally bumped Tyke Junior in the motion. Tyke Junior bobbed rubberily about for a moment until Tyke stabilized him with one hand.

Scab slapped her forehead in frustration. It oozed. She reached out and wiped her hand on a colorful rag she knew was a flag of some kind but had no meaning to her.

“I’m sure it would stop you from growing pearly new shoulderteeth, but you’re thinking too small. We could get food, water, or more bullets. More bullets mean more safety, Tyke. Who cares if you have some extra teeth? We should all be so lucky.”

Scab thumped one hand on the podium for emphasis. It creaked and a cloud of dust puffed off it in a manner not unlike the dust from a devilpede’s gossamer wings.

Tyke strained to think, which caused Tyke Junior to kick one foot gently. The gesture used to make Scab uncomfortable, but she’d decided it was a good way to know if Tyke was straining his mental faculties to their fullest. She didn’t much care for it when Tyke thought, but it was rare enough it rarely came up.

“I just feel like I shouldn’t be burdened with a Tyke III just so you can have more stuff.”

Scab had to admit, that was perhaps the deepest thought Tyke had ever shared with her.

“We could both have more stuff, Tyke. More stuff for everyone. More stuff for little Tyke Junior.” Scab considered pounding her fist on the podium, but decided instead to step out from behind it.

“Well, if it’s worth a lot, we should try to make more. Could the elders figure out how to make more, if we brought them this?” Tyke pointed at the tiny bottle with one massive finger, which made the bottle look all the more tiny.

Scab laughed again and something dislodged in her throat. The disease had long spread to her insides, too, but at least she couldn’t be any worse. She spit then sat on the desk in her most coquettish pose, which resembled a seductive pile of wilted grapes covered in third-degree burns. She did have pleasantly shaped legs, though beauty standards had changed dramatically over the last ten decades. Tyke was also asexual, not that anyone ever asked.

“Why would we do that? If there’s too much supply, it won’t be worth as much. I’m only interested in us, Tyke.” Scab made a face that Tyke was not smart enough to recognize was meant to be sultry.

Tyke shrugged, and the magnetic toy on the desk swung aimlessly from his leviathanic shifting. It settled on “Sit on It” briefly before resetting.

“We could make enough for everyone though. Then little babies won’t grow up to have little babies growing out of them. I’d like that. Everyone would.”

“Frak ‘everyone,’ Tyke. Who cares about a bunch of stupid dogfarmers? We crawled through this ruin, we killed that mutant devilpede outside. If ‘everyone’ wants to find treasure like this, then ‘everyone’ should risk death like us. We got the juice, so we’re the ones in charge. You might be okay with freeloaders,” Scab motioned at Tyke Junior, “but some of us work for what we earn.”

Tyke contemplated the toy on the desk. He rested the palm of his hand on the handle of the machete hanging from his belt. Tyke Junior had no opinion, nor mouth by which to vocalize one. Scab sensed the tension growing.

“Tyke, I’m sorry I brought Tyke Junior into this. I have an idea. A great idea.” Scab smiled her signature smile and reached out for the executive toy that captured Tyke’s attention, pulling it between them.

“Let’s let fate decide, okay? Whatever happens, we’ll go by this thing’s decision.” Scab had absolutely no intention of following what the toy said unless it agreed with her, but she was sure that Tyke would believe anything.

Tyke believed her. He was always the superstitious sort. He nodded in agreement, causing Tyke Junior to jig awkwardly. Scab clapped her hands.

“It’s settled then. We’ll respect the process.” Scab hopped up from the desk as Tyke stood slowly. Scab made mystic hand gestures over the metallic toy.

“Oh mighty tool of the venerable ancients, those that came before us and we must still follow regardless of context!” Scab spoke the words as an incantation, paraphrasing the elders’ opening prayer to all such prognostications. “Should we live like fat rich kings from this find or save the stupid and lazy generations of tomorrow?”

“Please,” Tyke interjected. “Say please, they like that.”

“Please,” Scab added, though her tone suggested it was directed more at Tyke and not the spirits of the venerable ancients. Tyke nodded solemnly. Tyke Junior twitched with extrasensory dread and a spasm of muscle tension rippled through Tyke, though he remained unaware of its source.

With a flick of her finger, Scab set the toy in motion. As the pendulum magnet swung, Tyke didn’t see Scab placing one hand on her revolver. The magnet danced briefly and came to rest over the word “Tomorrow.”

Scab heaved a sigh and slowly drew her weapon. Tyke didn’t see this, but Tyke Junior sensed it, and this time Tyke must have been listening.

Without thinking, he hurled his machete in a sideways arc, cleaving Scab’s neck with the force of a guillotine. For an instant Tyke became aware of his symbiote’s will piloting his actions, the two of them linked together as one. He saw a glittering river of cosmic understanding as wide as the Milky Way and heard the song of the devilpedes far beneath the earth. The lotus of enlightenment bloomed in his third eye.

He didn’t even feel the bullet as it passed through his brain.

As Scab’s headless body toppled forward, both Tyke and Tyke Junior tumbled through the shattered window behind them, leaving the bottle of Chimerizine on the desk right where they’d found it.

In the long silence that followed, neither Tyke nor Scab particularly cared what would happen to the medicine anymore. Moments later, Tyke Junior would join in this oblivion.

They, much like the Chimerizine, had expired.

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