by Samuel Irvine
The heavens continue their onslaught. Frozen rain beats down on the rusted exterior of the aircraft, already lost in the storm. Inside, I stare at the small mound of poorly cured furs and scraps of cloth serving as blankets, resting across a row of worn seats that lie on the far side of the fire, obscuring the childlike form within.
“Iri is nearly gone.”
“Then, for what reason are we still here?”
I take my time responding. As I watch, a delicate hand falls from the confines of the covers, catches on a jagged metal edge and stains the floor crimson. Forcing myself up, I stretch. I feel blood starting to circulate through unfeeling limbs as I disturb muscles locked by the cold, bringing with it a sharp, burning pain as sensation returns to my cracked, frostbitten flesh.
I stagger over to Iri and slump at her side, picking up her exposed hand to bind the cut. Her condition is getting worse. It is clear how quickly she is deteriorating. Muscle is now sharply defined under the stretched layer of skin remaining to her and her veins protrude like small cables along the back of her forearm, splitting into thinner wires along the back of her atrophying hand. This already grim sight is made worse by the scars running down her arm, an irregular pattern of raw, bloody channels carved into her emaciated flesh.
There is more screeching from outside as the storm launches another attack against our corroded metal. I enfold the trembling limb back into the warmth of her cocoon and pause to check if I had woken her. Thankfully not, though her sleep still does not seem settled. Beneath the markings of her disease, the restless movement of her eyes continues. Yet again, she is dreaming.
I, ever so slowly, move my hands underneath her so I can lift her without disturbing her rest. But still when I raise her off the ground she starts thrashing and struggling against my grip. Her eyes open, then spread wide with wild, feral fear. She is still within the realm of her dreams.
“Hey, It’s me. It’s alright. Everything’s alright.”
I am met with a blank, fixed look. Then a spark of recognition ignites her eyes and her flailing lessens. I continue the calming phrases, until she finally settles down. The terror is gone from her eyes, but anxiety and embarrassment remains, mirrored by the tension in her limbs.
I smile slightly down at her and say, “Bad dream. Go back to sleep, Iri.”
She watches me for a couple of minutes, then relaxes and returns my smile with a small, timid one of her own. She leans into the crook of my shoulder and, within seconds, gives way to peaceful oblivion.
I carry her closer to the fire, and, with infinite care, lower myself to the ground, leaning back against the curving metal wall. The irregularly raised sections of metal make it difficult to settle. Cradling Iri, I look up to find my companion standing before me, examining Iri intently. He looks at me with concern written across his thin, lean face. I nod wearily. He has also seen the decline in her condition. His lips purse as he turns from me and stumbles back to a half-collapsed seat on the other side of our makeshift shelter.
With a voice made rough by the chill, I finally reply, “You know exactly why we’re here.”
I glance up to find him ripping one of the armrests off his seat, trying to get comfortable. After a second, he turns to me and indicates with a wave of his hand that I should continue.
“You’re right. We’re dying out here, and Iri’s close to passing to the other side. So, you tell me why I’m forcing us through this wasteland.”
He assumes that faraway look in his gaze, like he is trying to solve a particularly complex puzzle. Finally, he mutters, “I don’t know. That’s why I asked. We could head to an inhabited area nearby.”
He never was a particularly good liar: I can see it straight from the awkward expression on his face. “Don’t give me that. You know they can’t treat her. No one in this area can.”
“Yet, you think someone at the Gates may be capable of tending to her?”
“I’ve heard rumours that a medical professional settled there, they may know something of what afflicts Iri.”
He pauses in his struggle with the seat and turns to me. It seems for a second that he is about to say something, but instead he diverts his gaze to the floor and remains silent. He then raises his eyes until they rest on the girl leaning against me.
I look away from his forlorn expression. I know exactly what he does not want to say. After all, they are my own fears, and the imminent reality.
Even if there are medical professionals, Iri does not have much time left to her. The chance of her surviving until we reach the Gates is slim. The chance that they can save her is smaller yet. The simple fact: it is too late.
This icy wasteland will most likely be Iri’s final resting place.