The worst had passed, out there. Still, she sat in the darkness and waited for him to return, not daring to drag herself to the blackened window; to peer out into the hopeless gloom.
An hour passed. She clicked the fingers of her right hand to pass the sluggish moments. The stump where her left arm used to be prevented her from clapping, patting her thighs; the damage the gas had caused stopped her from singing, whistling, humming any tune. And so she clicked out a lonesome rhythm, stopping only to lift one of the diminishing tins of acrid water he’d laid beside her to her blistered lips.
She could taste the colour of the liquid; rust-orange tingling on and stinging what was left of her tongue, shrieking down the roots where he teeth used to sit. And then she’d click again. No echo. Her only distraction.
Three hours passed. She’d seen him through the gloom, stumbling and struggling to his sore feet. Steadying himself on the wall. Only the two of them left, now. The rest had headed, one by one, in the stifling darkness, towards The Door. Opened it. Exited the room. She’d seen him staring into the greyness for her and then turn around, kneel and shuffled toward it. The smallest glimmer of light was coming from somewhere but somehow in a haze, not a beam; not enough to illuminate detail. She heard the scraping of his sack trousers on the wooden floor, catching on ancient splinters as he progressed. Through The Door.
A day passed.
Each poor soul was lost to it, eventually giving in to its call. Eventually ignoring its clear warning. Release. An end to it. There had been seventeen of them in total. Only three could speak without impediment. Only two with dreadful difficulty. She was the last of them, she knew. And though the worst had passed, out there, she dared not brave the air.
The water was running out and she knew she’d soon starve, anyway. Dry up and choke. But she knew this was a safe place. Secure in its terrible liminality. Quiet and hidden. She stared at The Door and, in that moment, knew that they were not coming back.
More days passed. The cans sat empty. Her lungs were wheezy and dry. She knew it was time. Something within her called out and something from behind the creaking wood replied. And she dragged herself toward it. Using her chin, her good arm and the remains of her legs. She reached The Door and dragged it open, levering it, snapping her fingernails on the frame.
She fell inside.