He thought… knew; shit let’s face it…he was sick. Not something you could run from. You can’t run from something that’s inside you, dirt beneath the skin, sinking deeper; the knowing like a tickle at the back of your head, a rat squatting, biting and scrabbling. It made his shoulders hunch in a shudder, made him itch.
But he’d run. Because that’s what you did. You ran and hid, and you hoped.
He remade the fire where one had been laid before and watched the flames. Tiny, weak flickers of light that only barely warmed his hands. Wind sucked at the plastic tacked over the glassless holes of the windows, fanned the flickers so they rose in hungry spikes.
He felt sick. Hot and cold, aching in his knees, his throat sore, his thoughts muddled, muffled like his head was wrapped in layers of stuff. Wind pulled again at the plastic, making it crackle. He stared and was afraid, scared to the bone, thinking how easy it would be to jump out of it. Push the plastic to one side and drop however many floors he’d climbed…ten, twelve?...to find this one room. He could feel it, feel the wind rushing, moaning, feel its coldness clutching and dragging at his clothes and through his hair, see the ground below.
His knife. It would only take a second. He might do it without thinking even. He imagined his hand taking it up, cutting deep in one smooth slice. He could do it without wanting it. It’s easy to die.
It stood straight up, bloodied handle pointing at the ceiling, the rest of it sunk. The woman had clutched at it when it first went in, and the knife itself had moved with her ribs as she breathed. Both her hands lay limp now against the boards and the blood around was cool, drying.
She was in her forties, he guessed. Older than he’d ever be. Fuck you for living. Fuck you for dying. You didn’t have to fight. You could have run. She’d walloped him with a broken bit of floorboard but he couldn’t hardly feel it, his head throbbed so much anyway.
There came another sound, above the moaning of the wind and the creak and groan of the building. He saw what he should have seen before, would have seen if his head hadn’t hurt so goddamned much. How there was an awful lot of food for just one skin-and-bone woman. How there was space for two on the stained old mattress. How the mattress was so old it showed plain as anything in the way it sagged, that two people slept there most times.
He reached for the knife, his other hand pushing down at her chest, felt, heard it scrape against bone. Stuck.