Matt Porter's 'Friend of Foe' was the third place winner in August 2014's Short Fiction Contest.
Friend of Foe by Matt Porter
Children are born without prejudices. They won’t make assumptions based on skin colour, or gender. They’re pure, a piece of clay to be moulded. Of course, some things have to be taught. Don’t touch the flame, it’s hot. Don’t touch the knife, it’s sharp. Other things we take for granted though. Little Tori’s parents didn’t think to tell her to stay away from the infected. Because why would they? It was obvious.
So the first time Tori encountered one, she didn’t know what to do. To her, it was scary looking, sure. Its face was barely human anymore. Colourless, unblinking eyes constantly surveyed its surroundings. Faint, wiry strands of hair were all that remained on top of its head. Its mouth was the most terrifying of all, sharp fangs interlocked each other across the front of its face. She wasn’t actually afraid though.
In fact, she thought this man looked quite sad, but she didn’t know why. She had stumbled into this room accidentally, and found him huddled in the corner, shying away from the light. His breathing was heavy, perhaps he was sick? His beady eyes watched her as she skipped towards him. With the man bent over, she was just about as tall as him.
“Hello, I’m Tori. Are you okay?”
The man in front of her didn’t reply, he averted his gaze, scanning the rest of the room. Tori frowned.
“We have some medicine if you want it, my daddy keeps it in a box.”
Still no reply. The man was panting harder and harder, almost trembling. She put her tiny hand against his forehead.
“You feel warm.”
The man suddenly stopped heaving and simply looked into Tori’s eyes.
“Do you need a friend?” She asked.
A commotion erupted outside.
“Victoria?! Where are you?”
Suddenly, Tori’s parents burst in through the door.
“Oh my God, Tori, get away from it!”
Her mother rushed towards her, grabbed her up into her arms and dived onto the floor. The creature huddled in the corner quickly straightened out, and seemed to seethe with rage at the incursion. It snarled, but before it could act, Tori’s father aimed his shotgun and fired. The headless creature twitched once, and crumpled to the floor. As the noise from the shot died down, Tori’s screams still echoed around the room. Her father moved over to where her mother was cradling her child on the floor.
“What were you doing? Those things kill people!”
“I thought he was lonely, I was going to be his friend.”
Tears were pouring from her eyes. Her parents explained to her what the infected were, and how dangerous they could be. Despite that, for the rest of her life, Tori never forgot her friend in that small room, and the frightened look he gave her just moments before he died.