The woman sat serenely, her back against the stone wall, staring out at nothing but the distance beyond her pallid gaze.
She’d lost most of her hair, and beneath her skull’s pale skin, traces of dim, mustard-colored veins were faintly visible. Her eyes had retreated into darkened sockets. Her collar bones jutted like a pair of fragile handlebars. When I’d carried her here and laid her gently onto the stone floor, she’d felt as light as a bundle of desiccated hay. Now, propped up against the wall, her chest rose and fell evenly and regularly, even peacefully.
I sat beside her. I wanted to see the view out the stone window from her perspective. We’d chosen this room, the highest up of all the dwellings’ habitations, because the view was especially beautiful. The ravine’s rolling sandstone, studded with patches of frosty juniper, fell away toward the plains beneath a pristine blue sky. It was beautiful.
With few options, this had seemed to be the most humane thing to do. After the stage-threes had stumbled into the dwellings, a few of us has managed to approach them and hold them down long enough to give each an injection of TGVx. In an hour, they’d collapsed into a stupor. The portions of their brains that controlled higher cognition, Chris had explained, had been entirely eaten away; now that the parasites in their systems were under attack by the TGVx strain, they’d fallen into a comatose state in which they were capable of nothing but dimly following what passed before their eyes. When we placed a spoonful of beef broth or porridge at their lips, they swallowed limply, but did nothing more. If they had any libido left at all, they appeared physically incapable of acting on sexual impulses. We expected them to expire soon. It seemed the only proper to bathe them, try to keep them as warm as possible, and let them live out their last days overlooking the tranquil ravine. After they’d spent weeks in coffins, it was the least we could do.
Just to be safe, I tethered the woman’s wrist to a bolt that Chris had hammered into the stone. I unfolded a blanket, one of the last few that we’d scrounged from the donation bins, and laid it over her shoulders.