Altitude- a Flash Fiction Tale

Quilene swirls the milky liquid in the test tube and frowns. Last night the liquid measured slightly less than one third-way up the tube. This morning, it’s past the half-way mark.


“Yes, Quilene.”

“Did you happen to add any serum to batch number 413?”

“No. I haven’t added anything to any test tubes since you started working with the viruses. You know I won’t touch those nasty things.”

Quilene holds the tube up to the light and sighs.

“You’re still spooked from the virus report from headquarters last year? You know that experiment hasn’t been successfully replicated, don’t you?”

“Yes. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be. Viruses are intelligent. You said so yourself. They’re nasty and they’re mean.”

“That may be true. But that doesn’t excuse you from your duties as my research assistant. Your job is to assist me without exception.”

“Research assistant? You advertised for a personal assistant, and that’s what I am. I do scheduling, calls, correspondence- I even cook and clean. But I don’t touch viruses!”

Quilene sighs again. “Very well. I’ll hire a research assistant then. Two assistants for one scientist. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, please make my nightcap. I’ve been running tests on batch 413 all day. I’m calling it quits.”

Jack opens his mouth in protest, but quickly turns and walks out of the lab and down the hall of the mountaintop mansion.


Quilene and Jack sip their nightcaps in the lounge.

“Sorry I’m so squeamish. It’s just that I have a germ phobia. That’s why I applied for this position. I figured being a personal assistant to a scientist would be pretty much germ-free. I guess I didn’t think it through. I apologize.” Jack says, hunched over his glass.

Quilene smiles and winks. “Not a problem. It’s not like this operation is strapped for cash. Like I said, it’s my experiment, and my rules. I’ll simply hire someone to help me with the germy stuff. You won’t mind working with another person up here, do you?”

“Uh . . no. Of course not.” Jack bites his lip.


Jack tip-toes out of the bedroom in slippered feet, still sweaty from the make-up sex. He peeks over his shoulder. Quilene is snoring. He walks down the hall, down the stairs, and to the lab. At the door, he hesitates. After a full minute, he takes a deep breath and turns the latch. The overhead lights automatically switch on.

He enters the lab. He lifts the card-key off the wall hook and codes open the refrigeration unit. Batch 413. “You don’t need another assistant,” Jack mutters. “I can do it. I can do it. I can do it,” he chants, trembling. Cold sweat trickles down his face, down his chest, and down his legs. He squeezes his eyes shut hard, opens them, and reaches for batch 413. Jack lifts the tube with his thumb and index finger, holding it at arm’s length. “I can-can d-do. I can. I can do it. I-I-”


Jack yelps and swings around, and batch 413 flies out of his fingers and shatters on the floor.

“Jack, what the hell are you doing? Please tell me that isn’t batch 413,” Quilene snaps.

He covers his face with his hands. “I-I . . wanted . . ” He pants as he runs for the mop bucket. “I wanted to prove I can do it. I’m sorry.” Jack swings the mop bucket around. His damp slippers kick off his feet and he slips, landing in the goo and glass shards.

Quilene screams. 


The cool mountain breeze caresses Jack’s red, swollen face. He opens his eyes. Quilene dabs more antiseptic onto his cuts, and he flinches. “What happened?”

“You had an accident. But you’re very lucky. I managed to decontaminate you, but my lab and my mansion are now biohazards. I had to move us outside into the courtyard.”

“The virus? You couldn’t clean up the virus?”

“No. I tried. But batch 413 is a mutation. I finally figured it out. It feeds off visible light- that’s its energy source. In the refrigeration unit, it was dormant. But every time it was exposed to light, it grew. You were right, Jack. Viruses are nasty things.”

Jack sits up. “Can’t you just spray it with something? Like bleach or alcohol?”

“No. You don’t understand. When I said it grew, I meant an individual virus grew. Not a colony, but a single individual. When I dragged you out of the lab, the virus was as big as a cat, and walking across the floor.”

“What? Are you kidding, Quilene? Please say you’re kidding.”

“No. I’m not. We’re in deep trouble. I called headquarters and they’ve contacted the government. They’re sending a hazmat unit. But I don’t think they can help us. That virus is growing too fast. And there’s something I didn’t tell you yet.” Quilene dabs at Jack face with a medi-cloth. “It wants you. It lapped up your blood through its feeding tubes. I had to pry it off your face with the mop handle. It didn’t go after me, though. It’s fixated on you.”


Quilene jumps and looks over her shoulder. “It’s breaking the window- look!” She stands and backs away from the mansion.

The virus shoots an appendage through the window, then another, and another, and steps out into the courtyard. It spins once, then focuses on Jack. It walks toward Jack, waving its feeding tubes.

“This way, Jack- you can escape in my plane!”

He springs to his feet and runs after Quilene. They sprint to the hangar and climb in the plane as the virus trots after them, growing with each step. Quilene and Jack lift off and ascend high into the mountain clouds. Tentacles dance and wave around the plane windows. Jack turns to Quilene. “I can do this.”

He opens the plane door, grabs the door frame, and swings his legs out. The feeding tubes graze his feet.

Quilene screams.



Thanks to Albert Berg for this flash fiction challenge!


Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Leave a comment


  1. Wow…I love it!

  2. Oooh. Nice work! I like that it’s made up of short scenes like that. Sort of small flashes of action that make up the whole story. 🙂

    • Thanks! 🙂 This one was especially fun to write, particularly the subtext. I also think the subtext develops between the scenes in the implied emotion and action.

  3. Good one!

  4. Ah, I like it! Flash fiction is something I’ve never done, but it looks like fun. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    • Thank you and you’re welcome! 🙂

      Flash fiction is fun because it’s so fast. It’s very liberating.


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