Authors: Amy Cross
"It's not too bad," Toad says as he examines the stitches. "You shouldn't have pulled the bandages off like that, but at least you didn't damage the stitches."
All I can do is stare at the bloody stump just below my right knee. I'm trying not to let Toad see that I'm panicking, but the truth is I'm still not sure I can believe what happened yesterday. The worst part is, I can still feel my right leg, all the way down to the foot. It's like there's a ghost attached to me, and I have to keep staring at the stump in order to make myself realize that the lower half of my leg is really gone. To test myself, I try moving the toes of my right foot, and I swear I can feel them wriggling, but they're not there. It's like I've got a phantom foot.
"How's the pain?" he asks.
"Bearable," I reply, which isn't quite true. The pain is intense, although it's more like several different pains: there's the torn flesh, and then there's the meat, and then there's the bone, and each of them is hurting in its own way. Although Toad has given me some basic over-the-counter tablets to take the edge off, I'm not sure I can handle this for much longer. Still, I almost feel as if I'm too dazed to really process the pain signals that are being sent to my brain. It's as if I'm observing myself and noticing the pain without really letting it get through to me. My biggest worry is that suddenly everything will change and the agony will take over.
Also, I keep reliving the moment when he started sawing through my bone. I can hear the sound of the saw cutting through me, and even though I know it's not helping, I keep thinking back to it. It's like I'm in shock.
"There's still a long way to go," he says after a moment, as he starts to wrap a fresh bandage around the stump, "but you're already doing a lot better than I expected. At this rate, the worst thing you're gonna have to deal with is a butt-ugly scar in a few months' time." He smiles, but I don't smile back at him. "You know I had to do it, right?" he continues as his smile fades. "You'd be dead by now, Elizabeth. I didn't want to hurt you, but I had no choice."
Instead of replying, I continue to just stare at the stump as he finishes wrapping the bandage around it. Already, a small amount of blood is starting to soak through the fabric. This whole situation feels hopeless.
"I'll change it again in a few hours," he explains. "I don't have too much spare material left, though, so we're gonna have to be careful."
"Can I see it?" I ask suddenly, surprising myself. My voice sounds harsh and damaged, and I had no idea I was going to say anything until the words left my mouth.
"I don't have a mirror," he replies.
"Not that." I pause for a moment, trying to work out if this is really what I want. "My leg. I want to see it. What did you do with it?"
He stares at me, and it's clear that he never expected me to make this request.
"I want to see it," I say again, despite the fact that I know I'm being totally macabre. "It's still mine, even if you took it away from me. What did you do with it?"
"I buried it," he replies.
"I was worried about it attracting animals. While you were resting, I buried it nearby. It was the best -"
"Then dig it up," I say firmly, trying not to cry.
leg," I continue, interrupting him. "I'm not saying I want to carry it around with me or wear it as a goddamn necklace, but I want to see it one more time. I have that right."
"I don't think it would help -"
"Screw you. Get it."
He pauses, and I can see that he's reluctant.
"You cut my leg off," I continue, "and you did it while I was screaming for you to stop. It's not like I can make you put it back on, but it's my leg, my flesh and bone, and I want to see it one more time." I wince as I feel an itch on my right foot. Reaching down to scratch it, I watch as my hand passes through the air where the foot should be. I can still feel the itch, but there's nothing to scratch. "I need to see it," I continue. "I can still feel it, so I know it's gone."
After a moment, he gets to his feet and wanders across the clearing. As I watch him go, I hear Rachel wriggling in her blanket nearby. Glancing over at her, I realize that she's behaving a little more like a normal baby. I guess I should be happy, but right now I can't really think about her properly. She heard my screams last night, and I can only begin to imagine how that must have affected her. She's only a month old, but already she must have been traumatized by everything that has happened to her.
Even if she makes it to adulthood, she's probably damaged already.
It takes several minutes for Toad to return. I sit patiently, trying to hold back the tears that I know are coming. The truth is, part of me is horrified by the idea of seeing my severed leg, but another part of me feels there's no other choice. Every few minutes, I find myself reaching down to scratch my non-existent right foot, and I can feel the sense of its presence getting stronger and stronger. I've heard of phantom limbs before, and I'm worried I might end up going completely crazy if I don't see the leg for myself. I need to shock myself into understanding that it's gone.
"I still don't know if this is a good idea," Toad says as he comes back, carrying my leg in his hands. "There's no -"
"Give it to me," I say, reaching out to take it.
Reluctantly, he passes the leg to me. The first thing I notice is that it's still covered in soil, so I wipe it clean until, finally, I spot the small butterfly tattoo on my right heel. I still remember the day, about six months ago, when Sammy and I went and got our tattoos done. We were both sneaking out without telling our parents where we were going, and of course we both ended up in trouble when they found out, but it was totally worth it at the time. Now, staring at the tattoo on my amputated leg, I feel a shiver pass through my body. Sammy's almost certainly dead, and my tattoo is no longer a part of me, so it's as if that day has been completely removed from my life.
"Elizabeth -" Toad starts to say.
"Be quiet," I hiss, as I turn the leg over in my hands. It's not very heavy, and it feels strange to be holding something that's simultaneously mine but not mine. I remember painting these toenails in the old days, and picking them clean, and stubbing them and biting them, and I remember the feel of my bare feet on the carpet in our Manhattan apartment. As I run a finger against the sole of the foot, I swear I can feel my phantom leg being tickled, and I instinctively reach down to give it a scratch before I realize that there's no point. Finally, I turn the leg around and examine the edge where it was amputated: the skin is torn and I can see dark red meat glistening, with a sawn-off section of bone just about visible. I guess the worst part is the dark marrow I can see running through the bone. This time yesterday, all of this was still a part of me.
"Okay," I say after a moment, passing it back to Toad. "You can bury it again now."
"If you -"
"You can bury it," I say firmly. "There's no need for a big discussion about the damn thing. Just go stick it in the ground. Or if you prefer, leave it out for the wolves. It doesn't matter anymore."
Instead of arguing with me, he turns and heads back across the clearing. I want to punch him right now, to make him suffer. I know he thinks he was doing what's best for me, but I can't get over the fact that he took a goddamn saw and cut off a part of my body. Feeling another itch in my right foot, I reach down and once again find that my hand has nothing to touch. Letting out a gasp of frustration, I look up at the dull gray sky overhead, and finally I allow the tears to start rolling down my cheeks. It feels as if a huge part of my soul has been taken away, as if I'll never be complete again.
I hate Toad. I hate him for what he's done to me. As soon as we get to somewhere with other people, I never want to see him again. Feeling another itch on my right foot, I reach down to scratch it before letting out a cry of frustration.
"Thomas!" a familiar voice shouts. "Thomas! Wait! Thomas! It's me!"
Sighing, I realize that Quinn has finally caught up to me. I don't stop or look back; instead, I continue to make my way along the shore, carrying the two large, heavy salmon to the spot where two women have already got a fire burning. I can hear someone running toward me from behind, though, which I guess means I'm going to have to deal with more of Quinn's drama. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I kind of just want her to disappear. I put up with enough of her crap over the past few days, but things have changed now. I've got better options.
"Wow!" she says as she reaches me. "Those are two huge fish! Where did you get them from?"
"Where do you think?"
Have you noticed the large body of water nearby?”
"Really? Did you catch them?"
"It was either that or go to the local store," I reply. "I kinda figured they'd probably be all out."
"That's very impressive," she continues, keeping pace with me. "I thought I saw you going out on a boat, but I wasn't sure. To be honest, I never had you down as much of a fisherman, but good for you if you've decided to take up a new hobby. It's absolutely amazing to think you were able to just go out there and catch these two huge things. It's so lucky that you were able to -"
"It's not luck," I say, stopping and turning to her. "Mark knows what he's doing. He taught me, too, so I can do it by myself tomorrow and contribute to this place. People around here actually work to keep the community running, unlike..." I pause as I try to work out if I'm being too harsh.
"Unlike what?" she asks a little reticently.
"I just think this is better than what you had going in Chicago," I continue. "People are actually working together here, instead of dancing around on a platform while a bunch of dazed zombies mill around and wait to die. I mean, do you really think that set-up was going anywhere? The whole thing was completely pathetic."
"It's very different here," she replies defensively. "They have resources, and a lake -"
"I'm busy," I tell her, turning and heading toward the part of the shoreline that has been marked out as a cooking area for our particular group. I'm already starting to get a good idea of the layout here, and although no-one has said anything about it yet, I'm pretty sure that I must be exceeding expectations. The only thing holding me back is Quinn, and if I can just get her to quit pestering me, I'll be just fine.
"I need to talk to you about the signal," she says, hurrying to keep up with me. "I've spent all morning working on the laptop. The spare battery I brought is almost out of power, so we don't have any time to lose. If we're going to locate the source of the signal with any accuracy, we need to work faster to triangulate the exact site. We also need to find some shovels, because I'm worried that maybe whatever we're looking for has been buried. Do you think the people here might be able to lend us some digging equipment? You seem to get on with them quite well, can you -"
"I'm busy," I say again, this time more forcefully.
"I know," she continues, "but I'm sure there are other people who can take care of the fish. Just find someone who likes cooking."
"I have to go and help chop wood later," I tell her. "I'm going to be doing it all afternoon, so that there's enough to keep people warm tonight. A group of us need to head further along the shore and find a good spot, and then once we've got the trees down we'll have to divide them into smaller pieces and bring them back. So if you think about it, I really don't have time to help you with your dumb quest."
"Wood?" she replies, stepping past me and trying to get in my way. "This is more important than wood, Thomas! This is the future of mankind!"
"Take Kaylee," I say as I side-step my way around her. "I don't know if they've put her to work yet, but maybe you can persuade her to drop her responsibilities and run off with you."
"Responsibilities to who?" she asks, trying yet again to block my way. "To these people, Or to our mission? You saw the drawing of my dream, Thomas. We're supposed to go and find the source of this signal, and we can't allow temporary concerns to get in the way. I know it's important to have food and heat here, and I'm sure that there are plenty of people who can get all of that done, but we have a different task. In fact, what we're doing is
important, because we're trying to find a future for the entire human race!"
"I'm busy!" I tell her yet again.
"So am I!" she hisses. "And what I'm doing is more useful than any of the bullshit they're dealing with around here! Can't you see that? This is about finding a new path for humanity. These people are trying to recreate the old ways, and I understand why they might want to do that, but it's not a long-term option. We need to embrace change rather than reverting to the way things used to be."
"Can you just -"
"Are you even listening to me?"
This time, when she tries to get in my way, she manages to get her foot caught up with one of mine, and although I try to keep my balance I end up falling forward and landing on top of the fish. I scramble to get back up, but the sides of the salmon are already caked in dirt. I swear to God, right now I just want to tell Quinn to get away from me and never come back.
"Are you okay?" she asks.
Gathering the fish up, I try to brush away as much soil as possible. I figure they can be cleaned, and that they should still be edible, but I'm starting to feel as if Quinn is pushing me way too far.
"Thomas," she continues. "I'm sorry I knocked you over, but you have to see sense. Our mission -"
"Go to hell," I say, turning to her.
She stares back at me, clearly shocked.
"I've told you over and over," I continue, "that I'm busy. I've got things to do, and people here are relying on me. I don't have time to go running around while you wave your laptop in the air, okay? You don't need me, anyway. You don't even need Kaylee. You can go off by yourself and spend all the time you want just searching for the source of that goddamn signal. It's probably just some old automated thing anyway, but if it's not, you can come back and prove us all wrong, okay?"
"You can't give up," she replies, sounding a little dejected. "Thomas -"
"Leave me alone," I say firmly. "I don't want anything to do with your stupid quest, okay? I hope you find something, and I hope it makes you happy, but there are more important things to worry about, like finding food and keeping this community alive. If that doesn't interest you, you're just going to have to go off and do your own thing. No-one's forcing you to stick around."
She stares at me, and it's clear from the look in her eyes that she's shocked by my response.
"Can I..." She pauses. "Can I at least borrow your truck?"
I shake my head.
"I'll bring it back."
"I might need it," I reply, "and anyway, you said we were already close to the source of the signal, so you can do the rest by foot. Just try not to cause any problems, okay?"
"But we're friends -"
"No, we're not. We're just people who ended up traveling together for a while because it was convenient, but that's all over now. I don't know what Kaylee wants to do, but I'm sticking it out here. This place is the closest thing to a real life that I can imagine right now, and I want to help Mark and the others keep it going."
"You've really been brainwashed, haven't you?" she replies.
"I'm sorry, I'm busy. This conversation is over. Permanently."
With that, I turn and head to the cooking area, where I set the fish down and explain that they might need a little extra cleaning. Once I'm done, I accept a plate of food and eagerly wolf it down. When I glance over my shoulder, I realize that Quinn is nowhere to be seen. I guess she's headed off to resume her search, which is fine by me. In fact, I really wouldn't mind if I never see her again.