The Dark Silting the Veins
by Felix Hooke
They'd found her lying in the dirt, fifty feet off the road, cold and filthy, barely alive.
Now Matthew knelt in the back of the ambulance and checked the oxygen mask strapped to the old woman's face, pressed his stethoscope to her nightgown and heard a dry rattling, more like the snap of shuffled cards than a steady whooshing.
His surgical shears parted the rotten cloth of her right pajama leg. Her calf muscle was gone, torn away, ragged ends of veins and ligaments hanging from her thigh like wires from a half built electrical device.
Speechless, he touched her tibia, wondering if arthritis could have gnarled the bone, or turned it brown and ridged, so much like a knotted walking stick. He exhaled through his nose and turned away. "Harry?" he said, unsure what words would come next.
"I'm driving as fast as I can, ok? Any faster and the ambulance is going to turn over," Harry shouted over the diesel roar of the engine. "These windy back roads are a freaking nightmare. How's she doing?"
"Not so good, Harry." he whispered. He'd cut away the cloth on her other leg and found it fuzzed and green. Beyond rational thought, his training guided his shears up through the damp wool of her nightgown, crotch to throat in one easy slice.
Matthew dropped the shears and sat down hard on the corrugated steel floor. Her torso was fleshless, exposed. And infested. Something, some blind rodent squeezed through the flexing tunnel of her small intestine. Her lungs were twin blackbirds. One of them turned it's head and looked at him, with the bored, unimpressed manner of all birds, everywhere, peering through the wooden rails of her ribcage. He and his brother ruffled their wings, fluffing gently with each breath.
The corner of her mouth twitched. Between the black feathers of her lungs, where her heart should be, something raw shifted and turned away from the light.
Matthew leaned forward, peeled back one eyelid with his thumb, gripping a penlight in his fist like a stabbers knife, and shone the light into her eye. He'd expected a maggoty hole, or at best a milky cataract, but her pupils were clear, the sclera as clean and white as a healthy child's. The iris was rich amber, with emerald and sapphire chips. It glittered like some masterwork in a jewelers case.
The pupil contracted at the light's rude penetration, and her jaw fell open, and she screamed, a deafening howl like a tornado tearing through a thousand dead trees. He fell hard as the ambulance jerked to the right, and in a sickening instant he felt Harry's shock at the sudden noise, his panicked overcorrection, the skipping tires on patchy asphalt, his own body weightless as the truck began to tip, balancing for an instant on two tires, off the road into a gulley before an oak tree punched through the grille and he was dashed against a wall and knocked senseless.
Labels: Felix Hooke