Home > The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(8)

The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(8)
Author: Isaac Marion

“What do you mean?”

“It can revive necrotic cells and stitch together a huge disgusting hole …” She points at Mrs. A’s chest. “… but it skips the wounds.”

“Skips? Like … intentionally?”

Nora shrugs. “Sometimes it seems that way. Sometimes you’re looking at a slimy mess of rotten flesh and you don’t even know there’s a wound in there until the Gleam revives the area, and then suddenly there’s a bullet hole, all bloody and fresh, like the Gleam remembered it was there and left it for us to fix.”

Julie frowns at the hole, which seems to have shrunk a little further while we weren’t looking. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“Wounds aren’t the plague.” Both women jump a little, as if they’d forgotten I was here. “The damage we do to ourselves is our responsibility.”

Nora raises her eyebrows and juts her lower lip. “Wow, R. Your English has really improved.”

Mrs. A shudders on her table. I catch a flurry of golden flashes in the corners of my vision that are gone before I can focus on them. Her skin begins to firm. The wrinkles fade and the colour returns. Her real face is emerging from the rot, and it’s young. She’s in her mid-thirties. The liquid lead is draining from her eyes, leaving a deep blue.

“She’s coming back,” Julie whispers, leaning in close, and there’s a sudden tremor in her voice. “After all this time.”

Nora is stone-faced. She slips on her surgical mask and goggles, and when I follow her gaze I understand why. Red blood is pouring from gaping holes all over the woman’s body. Areas that were black and desiccated when we arrived have blushed into raw, red wounds, and her newly Living lifeblood is leaving.

“That leg’s gonna have to go,” Nora mutters, examining what’s left of her mauled thigh, which is now gushing semi-clotted blood. She reaches for the chainsaw.

“What do you—” Julie starts to ask but Nora cuts her off.

“You’ll want to stand back.”

She doesn’t wait for us to comply. She pulls the trigger on the saw and we duck for cover as a spray of blood draws a line on the wall.

By the time I straighten up, Nora is already stitching the stump. I see the flush of giddy hope draining from Julie’s face.

“So it’s a tease?” she says. “They come back to life just long enough to finish dying?”

Nora’s eyes are unreadable behind the mist of blood on her goggles. When she’s done with the leg she resumes patching the sieve that is Mrs. A’s body, but it’s quickly becoming apparent that the woman isn’t salvageable.

“What’s the point?” Julie’s voice is faint. “If we can’t save them, what’s the point?”

“We can save some.” Nora’s needle is a blur as she sutures a bite in the woman’s bicep. “You come back in the same state you died in, so if it was just a bite, you’re fine. If it was a fixable injury, we can fix it. But if you died of a bullet through the heart or, say, getting mostly eaten …” She pauses, running her eyes over the hopeless mess of Mrs. A’s body. “… then this is just an epilogue.” She resumes her stitching with a stubborn intensity. “If you can fight your way out of Purgatory like our friend here, wonderful. I’m sure you’ll get bonus points in Heaven. But you’re still dead.”

“The plague’s not immortality,” I murmur to no one. “Doesn’t sustain life. Just protracts death.”

“Fucking eloquent, R. Who knew you’d be our resident poet?” There’s an edge to this that tells me to stop. She finishes one wound and jumps to the next. “Going zombie isn’t a loophole in the rules.” Her voice is hard but the speed of her movements reveals her desire to be wrong. “The Gleam’s not some great resurrection.” She snips a thread and stands back to inspect her work. “Gone is gone.”

Mrs. A is an island in a red sea. Her breathing, which had for a moment quickened to sharp gasps, is slowing again. After just a few minutes of new life, earned through perhaps years of titanic efforts, she is going to die again.

“Welcome back, Mrs. A,” Nora says, doing her best to offer a comforting smile. “Sorry I couldn’t …” She can’t hold the smile; it quivers and falls. “Sorry I couldn’t save you.”

I catch Mrs. A’s eyes. There is no blame in them, no fear or even grief. Her body is a horrific crime scene, but her face is serene. She turns her head slightly and opens her mouth, as if about to say something to me, but nothing comes out. She lets it go. Her trembling lips form a smile, and she closes her eyes. Her wounds stop pulsing.

Julie and Nora are silent, standing over the dead body like mourners at a funeral. I’m surprised to see a glint of moisture in Julie’s eyes. It took her days to shed a tear for her father’s horrific death; why should a stranger’s bittersweet passing affect her like this?

“Julie?” I say softly. She doesn’t respond. “You okay?”

She pulls her eyes away from the corpse and furtively rubs them dry, but the redness remains. “I’m fine. It’s just sad.”

Nora pulls the mask and goggles off her face and drops them on the floor, and just before she turns away to wash her hands, I glimpse a similar redness in her eyes. Have I missed something? What I just saw was gruesome and tragic, yes, but also beautiful. I saw a woman pull herself out of her grave and climb up to whatever’s next. I saw a woman save her own soul. What did they see?

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