STOP. Do not read, do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200 until you catch up with Evie and Owen here. There is also a trigger warning for this post for some sensitive subject matter.
The rushing in Evie’s ears as the wind buffeted the helicopter seemed to abate only when they finally touched down in the compound outside Reno. She was aware of people running towards the ‘copter, of Gregg shouting and of a flurry of activity but it was all on the periphery. She could feel Owen’s thready pulse unevenly through the fingers that clamped viselike onto hers. She could hear the ragged sound of his breathing even over the blood that pounded in her ears. And she thought she could hear her own frantic plea through her numbed lips please, don’t die. please, don’t die. please, don’t die. It was a worthless thought, or prayer—whatever it was. Because death wasn’t the thing to worry about.
Owen’s eyes were closed and his face was ashen, but he stayed still. He hadn’t started spasming yet—what some referred to as the “tweaker twitch.” Once the seizing started, it was all over. Every time a wave of pain made him jerk, her free hand tightened on her knife. The blade was narrow and double edged. It would go cleanly through his eye socket and into his brain. He wouldn’t be able to feel pain at that point, anyway. She knew better than to hope that the moonshine could have killed the bacteria. Minutes passed before she got to the wound, and minutes were plenty of time to send infected blood cells streaming into his veins, multiplying as they went. Someone rolled a makeshift gurney up to the helicopter. Jessamy grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her away as Gregg and other men hoisted Owen’s limp body onto it. She saw them tighten a thick strap across his chest and legs. No need to take chances. Jessamy helped her down and kept his arm around her back as they staggered after the men.
The building looked like an old warehouse—corrugated tin walls and huge fluorescent lights bathed the scene. But, strangely enough, there were hospital beds and even some equipment; Evie noticed these as she stumbled along, slowly becoming aware that her teeth were chattering against each other. She bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted coppery blood and the chattering stopped. The last time she and Owen were in a hospital was the last time she saw him before he showed up at Thad’s. She never thought she’d see him again.
Unbidden, her mind went back to the pristine white walls and the doctor who patted her hand and told her that she would be fine, but unfortunately the trauma was too much for the baby. She shied away from the memory; there was no reason to go back there. They wheeled Owen to a corner where the ground was covered in thick plastic. Evie felt the bile rise in her throat. She shoved her way through the group and grabbed Owen’s foot—the closest part of him she could reach.
“I poured pure moonshine on the hand—right after it happened. I heard tell of a man who did that to a bite and came out fine,” she stared down at her fingers, wrapped around Owen’s boot. They were covered in blood.
“Miss, it’s not just that—the bite’s real ragged,” an older man said. “We’d need to cut the hand off anyway to prevent a regular infection. As it is, we may be too late. On both counts.”
“Can you…can you give him anything?” her fingers tightened on his shoe.
He nodded jerkily, “You can stay, too, if you want.” He looked at her doubtfully. “Everyone has to wash up, though. We can only get things so sterile, but every little bit helps.”
Evie released Owen long enough to wash up and to hurriedly pull on the scrubs they offered her. She didn’t care about modesty at this point and rolled the pant legs up until she could see her shoes again. They were several sizes too big. Once everyone was clean to the older man’s satisfaction—Evie guessed he had some medical training—and Owen had a steady drip running from an I.V. he told Evie to stand at Owen’s head and to keep him still. He gave her a piece of rubber to stick between Owen’s teeth once they started cutting. Jessamy had disappeared behind a curtain with an apologetic look at Evie. Evie put her hands on Owen’s shoulders and was surprised when his eyes fluttered open. He blinked in the fluorescent lighting as they began to prepare.
“Evie,” his voice was hoarse and she had to lean close to hear him.
“It’ll be okay,” she said. “You shouldn’t feel a thing.” She looked guiltily at the little bag dripping liquid and hoped she was right.
“I shouldn’t have let you go back there…shouldn’t have let you go see him. Who cares if the son’vabitch was dying?” his eyes were flickering back and forth and she wasn’t sure if he could really see her. “I should have known he’d knock you down—when did he do anything else? You weren’t his anymore, we had something, a life…and the baby…and I let him take that from us,” Owen shifted in the restraints, his eyes latching on hers, wild with pain.
“Shh,” she frantically tried to keep him still, finally putting her hands on his cheeks, feeling the prickle of his beard and the unnatural heat of his skin.
She knew it was the medicine and pain talking. She knew he could be dying—that the disease could already be in his brain. She never thought it would come to this—not even when she ran out.
“My fault…’s all my fault…” he murmured before his eyes slid shut.
“We’re ready,” the older man said.
Evie stuck the rubber strip between Owen’s teeth so he wouldn’t bite off his own tongue. It took her several tries because her hands were shaking so badly.
Evie stared down at his pale face and tried not to listen to the sawing.