BONEFEVER • by Katherine Hart

The bite didn’t look bad. Clarissa touched the skin around the wound — warm, swollen, coagulated blood gathering at the outer edges. She rubbed her fingers against her jeans, fresh blood atop older stains from spilled coffee and dirt from rolling under bushes.

Jed passed her a bottle of water. “Maybe you should wash it out.”

“Save it for yourself. I won’t need it. You’ve got bullets in the gun, right?” she asked.

He nodded and returned the water to his knapsack. They sat on the floor of an immobile train carriage, which was part of a museum display, a tribute to a long-dead railroad baron. Clarissa sat on the wooden floor and banged her head lightly against the wall behind her. The light tapping of her skull against wood was the only noise in the railcar.

“How do you feel?” Jed asked. He kept his hand on the knapsack and remained several feet away from her, propped up against a wooden booth.

“Hot. Tired.” Before she was bitten, they had run across the museum grounds, after rummaging through the neighboring Episcopalian church. They had found three cans of Spam in the pantry and a bag of dried beans. “No different than before.”

“Good,” he said. “Let me know.”

Sunlight shone into the railcar and warmed her skin. Or maybe the warmth was the start of the fever they said you got before changing. Bonefever. At first, they thought it was a regional outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue. Until, it wasn’t. Clarissa held up her arm to the light. It felt heavy. Before the attack, she had pushed her way through a barrier of tiles and bricks that blocked the pantry from the church sanctuary. Now, her arm trembled and weakened. The skin surrounding the teeth marks on her bicep had turned greenish. Her stomach heaved. No tears came to her scratchy, dry eyes (fever?), and she hugged her chest with her good arm to console herself. Jed wouldn’t give her a hug.

“It was my neighbor! My goddamn neighbor.”

Jed shifted and reached into his backpack. His eyes never left her face.

“Your neighbor?” he asked. “How can you tell one from the other?”

“I just can. It was Mr. Mulroney.”

“I never knew any of my neighbors. Before. I wouldn’t recognize them now,” he said.

“On the island, you knew everyone. Or at least their staff.” She stroked her throat, burning heat. (How much longer?)

“Guess it was different on the mainland,” he said.

She didn’t mean to sound like the spoiled rich girl she knew he thought she was. Not that class or race or dwelling place mattered much these days. She shook her head and continued her story. “Mulroney and my dad were on the Worth Avenue zoning committee. Or something. We went over to his place a lot. I don’t think there was a wife. Maybe a girlfriend.” There had always been girls her age hanging out at Mulroney’s pool. Clarissa never talked to them. “He loved to swim. He was always in the water every time we visited. He even played chess on the edge of the pool.”

“So this chess-playing, eccentric millionaire — ” Jed said.

“Billionaire. I think.”

“Christ. Whatever. This guy was the one who infected you?”

“I’m pretty sure,” she said.

Empowered by their success in the pantry, they hadn’t been cautious leaving the church property. There had been two of them on the other side of the wall. Jed had easily shot one between the eyes, but she had hesitated a moment, startled to see one of the creatures wearing a tattered pink Polo shirt. It — he? — had recognized her. She had seen a quick flash in its eyes, before it lunged forward and snapped at her arm. Jed had killed it, but not before she had been bitten.

Chatter over, they remained silent in the stuffy carriage. Jed’s snores lulled her into a hazy doze. When she opened her eyes, Jed had awoken and now leaned against the small bar by the exit. He removed the gun from the bag but did not point it at her. Yet.

“How are you feeling?”

She rubbed her eyes. A wave of hot. Another of cold. Her arm was numb now, and the right side of her torso was stiff and hot. “I’m okay.” She slurred her words, and wondered if he noticed.

“It usually takes hours. But I heard even up to a couple days.” He squatted so their eyes were level. “You let me know. I’ll wait as long as possible.”

She pressed her cheek against the cool wood paneling. Mulroney’s pool. Her father leaning on the edge, sipping bourbon while he pondered his knight’s position. She, lounging with the other young women. Wind rustling through the palms, and the soft clink of glass as the maid cleared the finished martinis. When she looked at Jed again, his face was like a Rubix Cube, fragments of primary colors that seemed to shift every time she blinked. She closed her eyes. It was hard to breathe.

“It won’t hurt, will it?” she whispered.

“No. It’s quick. I promise.”

The numbness wrapped around her entire body, and she slumped to the floor like a helpless infant. Girl into monster. Hot. Cold. Poolside peace fading to black. A surge of heat.

Cold between her eyes, and a vague click. Now.

Katherine Hart grew up in New England and currently lives in southern Florida with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. She’s finishing up a novel, and she blogs and writes short fiction.

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