Pat walked slowly through the darkened hallway, a bundle of blankets pulled flat inside of the gap between his outstretched arms and his chest, the flashlight in his hand absentmindedly shooting light at the intersection of the wall and ceiling as he walked. The last time he had walked as many miles was during their last supply run just a couple of months before, but today he had pushed himself, in both snow shoes and on foot, and he was starting to get tired.
Stacey walked carefully through the snow, winding through the narrow pathways they had cleared with shovels and stomped flat with their boots, each step a labor, an effort. She paused, then carefully stepped up onto the broken foundation that ran down the middle of camp. She walked over it slowly, remembering her tumble a few nights before, shuffling her feet in an attempt to find any hidden ice, feeling her sore shoulder pull and burn from the weight of the gallon jug she held in her left hand.
Sitting on the floor, Angela pushed her bony spine against the sofa in the condo’s living room, the sensation muted by the cushion of her thick coat. Her knees were lifted up toward her narrow chin, her arms stretched out to dangle over her folded legs. She looked bored, petulant, more of a teenager than a woman on the cusp of fifty.
Dave twisted his housekeeping key, feeling the lock in front of him give and turn, letting him push open the door into the condo unit. Instantly his eyes were assaulted by the golden sunlight coming in through the sliding doors on the opposite side of the unit, a temporary blindness he suffered whenever he opened a suite on the west side of the building, the sun swaying towards the horizon, nearly set.
“How is he?” Angela asked, the concern in her voice raising Owen’s eyebrow.
Angela’s face was bare, her mask soiled and discarded in the hall, but no one said anything about it. They just shot glances at her mouth like it was something brazen or indecent, a scandal they wouldn’t mention, but couldn’t keep their eyes from even if they knew they should.
“Chase, wait!” Angela shouted, the younger man pushing past her. The impact was sudden, unexpected, taking Angela by surprise and leaving her sprawled out between the entry way and the hallway. She fought to get up, twisting onto her belly and trying to get her feet under her, trying to get her legs to lift her from the musty carpet, but the elongated toes of her cross-country ski shoes put the ends of her feet inches from where she expected them to be, from where she needed them to be to climb up from her prone position. Her brain seemed to stick on the task, going over it again and again, her body not quite grasping its situation, its challenges, legs kicking ineffectually under her.
Owen reached down and twisted another brass-colored knob, its surfaced covered with a halo of light scratches; old and battered, neglected, but functional enough not to be replaced. Like the previous eight doors, the door that Owen tried was locked.
The entire facility was filled with doorknobs like this one, the wall-to-wall carpeting matching the doorknob’s same mix of lingering functionality and heavy wear. The building had probably been state of the art when it was built, the trendiest product of its time, but the building had lost its charm and modern edge as the years marched forward. The passage of time was unkind to everything, even architecture.
Pat Hermanson panted into the pressed cotton painter’s mask he wore over his nose and mouth, struggling to pull air into his lungs, feeling them clench and ache within him. He imagined his lungs as two tiny baby fists shaking inside of his chest, his face just as red, just as angry, his eyes squeezed closed from the pain and his own rage at experiencing it. He wanted to take his mask off, to lift it over his face and rest it on his forehead so he could gulp in air greedily through an open, unhindered mouth, but he knew better than to remove his mask. They all did.