Flash fiction: Splenda in Cuba

It was one of those imperfectly perfect evenings on the boulevard that separated crumbling Havana from the wild sea beyond. The sun was reluctantly shedding its heat, tempting locals to stroll outdoors. Boys in colourful Chevys called out to divas in stilettos. Smartly dressed families kept children moving with bribes of churros. Spicy aromas wafted up from cheerful tapas bars with peeling wallpaper.

From his second-floor balcony, Karlos held onto the balustrade, closed his eyes and leaned forward. He assumed his best American-expat-in-midlife-crisis pose; looking like he was enjoying the evening whilst actually searching for the new traces of sulphur in the air.

Lost in his act, he breathed too deeply. The oxygen bit into his three lungs and triggered a hacking cough. He pulled his faux asthma inhaler out of his pocket and took a puff of sulphurous air from home. Better.

Voices from below disturbed his thoughts. People were looking up and pointing. The wave of lung disease sweeping the city had sparked concern that the unusually hot and humid air was spreading airborne viruses. Karlos signalled he was okay, then withdrew to his room.

Inside, an expresso and a sachet of Splenda sat by the door. For ten years his overly-friendly neighbour Rosetta had ignored his protests of diabetes and continually tried to tempt him with sweet beverages, unaware they were deadly to his kind.

Karlos checked his watch. Soon the armada would be in communications range. They would be waiting just beyond the moon for his signal that final preparations were complete; the invasion could begin.

Three hours to kill. He wondered if it was time to relax his cover story and try the human drink. After all, Splenda was sugar-free.

One hour later Rosetta stepped over Karlos’ fast dissolving dead body and picked up the crumpled sachet she had laced with real sugar. Her superiors at the agency had argued she was overreacting; that the use of sugar was unwarranted. The comms device, she had retrieved from what had once been his wrist, said otherwise.

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