TUNNEL VISION--Chapter 16

“Go on in, now!” The old man driving the truck said to Ama and gave her shoulder a shove. Ama nearly fell from the truck and landed on her knees in the snow. The tires behind her spun and the truck lurched backward, taking the light with it. Ama slowly got to her feet, careful not to slip on the ice. She felt a flutter in her stomach and wondered if she’d waken the creature now growing within her.

Lights were on in Building 50, and as the moth is pulled to a flame, Ama felt herself drawn forward. She walked up the steps. Before she even got to the door, she could hear the coughing. Ama could run if she wanted, she could turn around and crawl to the safety of her room and never emerge again. She could slip inside the shadows, become one if she wanted, but something within her had changed. She raised her slender hand and knocked.

The doors opened. Ama stared straight into the eyes of a nurse she’d seen a hundred times, but one who had never acknowledged her. She was a ghost to all of them. They’d seen her dancing in the halls and turned their backs. They’d heard her cries in the tunnels and kept on walking. They left bread for her and ribbons but they never called her by name. Now, she stood in front of one, determined to be seen.

The nurse looked like a giant potato. She was so thick she seemed to have lost the appearance of a neck. Ama shivered. The nurse looked her from head to foot and then said in a gruff voice “I know who you are.”

Ama nodded.

“Do you think if I put you in one of these dresses that you could give us a hand with the sick? And not say a word to anyone about it? Pretend you’re mute or something. But God help me, people are dying and I need the help. You and me can figure out what you want in return later. Could you do that for me?”

Ama nodded. She could do that. She would be happy to do that. She would be happy.

“Then come on inside. Get out of that cold,” The nurse said, and with that, she welcomed her in.

****

Nurse Kolenda led Ama in through the front door. Ama shivered in the warmth of the building. She was home and not home. She wondered if maybe having been gone for so long, she might never feel like the place was home again. “Can you start at once,” Nurse Kolenda said. Ama nodded. What else could she do? She was in a sort of shock, knowing that her papa and her husband were fighting in the snow and the cold, longing to return to the shadows of her former life, but also feeling somehow as if it were her duty to help the people who had for so many years protected her very existence. “This way,” the nurse said and walked briskly through the building. “We’ll take the tunnels to the women’s ward,” she said. “You’ll need a uniform and then you will help immediately with whatever needs doing.” The nurse paused and turned to face her. “It’s tuberculosis, dear. An epidemic. There is much death here I’m afraid.”

“It is okay,” Ama said softly. It wasn’t the dead that she was afraid of; it was the living. “Let me lead the way.” The nurse seemed to agree. Ama took her place in front of the nurse and walked to the tunnels, returning to the place of her own genesis.

****

Outside, the wind swirled. Kinney’s hands were of ice. He face, ice. And there was a deep almost growl-like sound resonating in his chest. He coughed and spit bright red into the snow. He looked at his hands: red also. His shirt was read, his shoes. When you took a life by force, the body seemed to protest with violence. He was covered in the violence of Kostic’s passing. He’d ripped the soul from Kostic’s body and it showed.

Kinney dipped his hands into the snow and began to scrub his hands. He could not seem to get the red out. At that moment the doors swung open to Building 50. He sniffed the air. He would have Rose soon, he knew. He could feel it.

“Doctor Kinney? Is that you?” He thought it was the behemoth Briggard calling his name but he couldn’t be sure. For some reason Kinney had sunk to his knees in the snow and that growling in his chest became a roar, as if a beast was about to leap free from him. He wanted to tell Briggard to bring him inside so that he could take Rose home with him. He’d pulled Rose from the dead, brought her back in Ama’s form, and he wanted her with him. He tried to explain but he could no longer contain the beast within him. “Oh, dear god,” Briggard said. “You’re sick, doctor.”

But Kinney didn’t hear him. He was coughing too hard. Great spasms of cough. Coughs so raw and deep that a red rose spewed from his mouth and decorated the snow and froze there almost in the amount of time it took for Kinney to pass out into the coldness of night.