The hard, cloying smell of the dead and dying reach up through my hands. My stomach twists, even as I weep.
Beep. Beep. Bloodred LED lines arcing up and down everywhere, carrying your breath with them. I rub the stubble on my chin and look up at the pockmarked ceiling tiles. Beep. Beep. Beep.
I should have driven slower. I should have turned my high beams on. I should have seen him coming. I should have been able to stop.
Should have, should have, should have.
Across from me is a limp-spined, dark-eyed woman with lank, unkempt hair and a sweatshirt with the words 'OCRACOKE ISLAND" on it in washed-out teal. Her eyes meet mine for a second and I catch my reflection in them. Our faces match, which makes me want to laugh and cry---two white masks, highlighted with grey and harsh, unfair red, betraying blood that pumps vibrantly through our bodies. So unlike the ones we wait for. Her eyes drop and I exhale painfully.
There is a stutter in the newscaster's voice on the TV tonight. Perhaps it's a substitute. I don't care to look.
Please, I pray. Come out safe for me, Christine. Come out alright.
I've never prayed in my life. Right now, it doesn't seem like enough.
The door clicks open and my insides leap nauseatingly. I sit up straight and look at her. She glances down, checks her clipboard. "Mr. Bloomfeld?" Her voice is hoarse and cracked, as if she's been working too long, but I can't see her as human right now.
She is the bearer of news; holy and cruel and hopeful.
I stand up. Cough. My head hurts. "That's me." I falter and stare at her, pleading. I am a child. Tell me that it will be alright. Tell me that she will be alright.
But she stares back for a second too long, and I know.
"Oh, god." My heart lurchs and dips dizzily, like an old man at the top of a flight of stairs. "No." I drop to my knees.
The old man falls.
She stands over me, the bearer, blue-smocked and ponytailed and haggard. "Sir?" she calls. My eyesight is narrowing. It feels like she's calling down from the top of a long, cold well. "Sir!" I pretend that I'm drowning, and smile, spiralling down, waiting for the water....
I'll meet you at the bottom, Christine.