Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …
‘Aidan?’ Louise glances up from her microscope. ‘Could you come and look at this please?’
‘In a minute.’ Aidan has his back to her and is sorting through the tray of instruments he’s just removed from the autoclave.
‘I’m sorry, honey,’ she says. ‘I really need you to look at this now.’
Turning around, Aidan peels off his gloves. ‘Okay.’ He bends over the microscope. ‘What am I looking at?’
‘Blood.’ Louise rubs her eyes.
‘I can see that, but whose blood?’
Aidan stands up straight and shakes his head. ‘You really shouldn’t be doing this, love.’
Louise pinches the bridge of her nose. ‘He was a friend.’
‘That’s my point.’
‘I owe it to him to find out what killed him.’ She lays her hand on Aidan’s forearm. ‘Please, just tell me what you see.’
Huffing, Aidan bends down again. ‘Hmm … Looks like hemolysis to me. The contents of the blood cells have leaked into the plasma. Are you growing cultures?’
‘I don’t think bacteria are the cause. Look again. Look at what’s left of the erythrocytes.’
‘Uh huh. They look … um …’
‘A little. Maybe.’
‘A lot. The surfaces are covered in cavities and that only happens when …’
‘Blood is frozen.’ Aidan straightens up again. ‘So he froze to death.’
‘No. Oh, I don’t know.’ Louise snatches the tablet from the bench and flicks through the images on the screen. After a moment, she shows one to Aidan. ‘There’s what might be a cold burn on his wrist, but other than that, it’s only the blood in his veins and arteries that show signs of having been frozen. All his other tissues and organs are fine. Apart from his heart.’
After flicking through the images again, Louise shows Aidan another picture. ‘It’s as if his blood froze and its expansion caused his heart to burst but left the rest of his body intact. How is that possible?’
‘It’s not.’ Aidan takes the tablet from Louise and returns it to the bench. ‘Come on. You need a break. Let’s grab a coffee.’ He reaches for her hand.
Louise jerks away. ‘I can’t! I need to figure this out. For Ian.’
Aidan’s eyes narrow. ‘Ian wouldn’t want you burning yourself out over this.’
‘How would you know?’ she snaps. ‘You barely knew him.’
‘I knew him well enough.’ Aidan’s lips form a hard line.
‘You didn’t know him like I knew him.’
‘I wouldn’t have wanted to.’
Tossing up her hands, Louise sighs. ‘Not this again. I told you. Nothing happened between us.’
‘That’s not what Ian told me.’
Lunging forward, Aidan grabs Louise’s wrist.
He yanks her against him and presses his mouth to her ear. ‘He told me, Lou.’
Louise tries to wrench herself free, but his grip is too strong. ‘Aidan, stop! That hurts.’
‘He told me, Lou,’ he says again as blisters begin to form on Louise’s wrist. ‘Right before he died.’
(The original version of this story was published on the Ether Books app under the title of Outliers and Misfits: Best Served Cold.)
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