Originally written in response to u/Sakmitshu’s writing prompt, Hope, on Reddit. Slightly edited to correct for late night writing.
We were returning back to Chicago from our Hawaiian vacation when they shut down the airport. A flight attendant lost all the fingers on her hand on the way to Los Angeles. The rumor was that the writhing from the pain was so extreme, she broke her leg as she tossed and turned in the aisle.
That was the rumor anyway. All I knew for sure was that our plane was pulled away from the gate just as we were about to board. Her plane had been turned around and to replace ours in its birth. They wheeled her out. My daughter and I watched from the boarding line as she was whisked by in a wheelchair, her face screwed up in agony.
They cancelled all flights within the hour and asked us to wait. My daughter and I decided to make the best of it and stay on the island a few extra days. When all of this blew over, we’d return home to her mother. When we tried to open the doors to get a taxi, they wouldn’t budge. Soldiers patrolled outside with guns, so we headed back to our gate. The gate attendant announced what we already knew, the airport was closed and there was no way in or out. We were all stuck.
On the fifth day, her toes started aching. On the seventh day, her foot fell off. I held her tight as it shook free and she cried. Her eyes, blood vessels broken from screaming, begged me to make it stop, but I didn’t know how. There were lulls between the loss of each part of her. During those, she had heightened awareness, heightened sensation. That’s why she touched the glass. She could feel the small gradients in temperature change, the coolness of the rain, the heat of the sun.
On the tenth day, a murmur percolated through the crowd at gate 12 that the flight attendant they wheeled past us had died. We asked for clarity. We asked for help. No one knew and no one was helping us. They kept announcing that a team from the CDC was working on it, but they couldn’t break the seal on the airport for fear that the whole island would become contaminated.
On the twelfth day, Grace lost her leg below her knee bloodlessly. People didn’t die from blood loss, they died because a core part of their body went necrotic and fell off. She had five whole days before the rest of her leg fell off. She was the bouncy twelve year old she had always been. When it fell off at her hip, we knew it was going to end soon.
We tried our hardest to focus on spending time with each other. We called her mother who pleaded with us to come home. We played cards. We watched the same three movies we had on the iPad until we could act out the parts. It was inevitable.
It happened in the middle of the night. We were sleeping inside the magazine shop, our heads on large stuffed monkeys, XXL t-shirts covering our bodies. She shrieked and reached out for me. “Daddy!” She laid on me as her breath shallowed and her teeth clenched. I pulled her close to me. She kissed me on the cheek one last time and we told each other “I love you.” Her hips pulled away from her body and her pain was over. I held her until the sun peeked through the large glass windows. I didn’t cry. I had cried for twenty days. I had nothing left.
On the twenty-fifth day, no one was alive. Except me. I had covered my daughter and left her snuggling with an enormous stuffed monkey. I took off my shoes and rolled up my pants so people could see I still had ten fingers and ten toes. I walked over to where we saw the soldiers nearly a month before and knocked on the glass.
“They’re all dead.” I said once a very cautious teenage soldier approached. “I’m the only one left.”
Temperature Gradient by Christopher Hazlett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://robotissmiling.com/?p=251.