Dave leaned over the bandaged boy, using his free hand to steady himself, while grabbing some of his thicker clothes from a pile on the other side of the tent. He lifted them over Chase and stuffed the handful of sweaters and flannel into the bottom of the cavernous backpack he had positioned between him and the door, trying not to disturb his guest.
The younger DeWitt brother looked shaken. His eyes moved in fast jumps from face to face, like a rabbit darting from hiding spot to hiding spot, predators everywhere, but the boy was surrounded only by his fellow survivors at Camp Corona.
It was mid-day, the sun high above them, the group collected in their cooking area. They stood in a circle, the fire pit they used for cooking in the middle of them, a few pieces of charcoal still glowing in some places, still warm, but dying out under the steady assault of the cold. A wisp of smoke spun up from the burnt out hole, getting lost in the blue sky above them.
Stacey rolled the tiny vial of morphine in her hands, trying to drink up the last remaining drops of medicine with the tip of her needle, the bottom of the glass jar dry except for just one, stubborn drop that evaded her. Again and again it dodged the hungry end of her syringe, her eyes filling with frustrated tears as she struggled.
“Dave?” Stacey asked, cautiously. Her voice sounded far away, like something that could be heard only when the wind was right, but she was crouched next to him in the snow, close enough that even a whisper should have been easy to hear. “Dave, can you hear me?”
Dave bolted upright, going from a shallow, uneasy sleep to full wakefulness like a shot of adrenaline had been plunged directly into his heart. He sat up, letting out a startled “What?” as he felt the right side of his face bumping into the stretched nylon wall of the tent where he had been sleeping, as his mind frantically worked to find its bearings is a space that felt unfamiliar and strange.
The first cry was a small one, feeble and slight, hardly more than a grunt pushed out through tightly clenched teeth. Each pain-fueled shout that came after that first one was louder, the jaw letting go of its tension in pursuit of something less restrained, less focused. Over still more time the screams turned from something recognizable, turned away from something human, and slowly began to stretch and twist into something that no longer had a name. It started as just the sound of rage, the grunts and breathing of a mind fighting back at the growing pain, and as the cries continued they became something that collapsed under the weight of his torment. It took almost no time at all before the grunts and cries became the sounds of madness, the sounds of a mind that had been freed from the walls erected around consciousness and existed only to feel. That was when the cries became the sounds of unrelenting experience, just pain, distilled and pure, unending and unsympathetic.
Pat closed his eyes, just for a moment, and when he opened them again it was morning, as if the world itself operated on a light switch, in one instant going from the deep, inky, cold darkness of night to the brightness of the early morning. The young man laying before him was sleeping now, wrapped like a mummy in bandages around his face, his hands, and although they were hidden from sight by blankets, Pat knew his feet were also covered in layer upon layer of rust-stained gauze.
Stacey woke with a start, her second day of snapping into an abrupt consciousness that was as disorientating as it was sudden. Like the previous day, she realized that she wasn’t alone, light breathing coming from the other side of her tent, a shallow, steady rhythm of breaths that greeted her ears at the same time her eyes were greeted by the dim illumination of sunlight filtering down through the thin, colored nylon walls of her tent.