Ron and Kathy share a love that endures through enormous hardships.
Contest entry for: The Writer's Cramp
Prompt: Edible using pumpkin flesh
Word count: 909
Kathy jumped back as the pumpkin shifted slightly and the knife skittered off the smooth surface and onto her index finger. Ron heard her sharp intake of breath and leaped up from the kitchen table to help.
He reached for the knife,”Hon, let me get that,” neatly halving the pie pumpkin while Kathy examined the droplet of blood emerging on her finger.
When she looked up, her eyes were drawn to the dab of tissue stuck to Ron’s chin. “Just a nick. Don’t we make a fine pair? Thanks, dear.”
Kathy’s pumpkin pies were legendary and by the time dessert was finished their guests were raving that this was the best one yet. It was so remarkably rich with pumpkin flavor that Kathy actually fished the produce sticker out of the trash to see what the variety was named. The ink had smeared, though, and the letters could no longer be read. Everyone would just have to enjoy the memories of the perfect pumpkin pie.
Kathy was beat by the time the dishes were done and the guests had left. It could have just been that second glass of wine, but she felt like she might be coming down with something. Her head was pounding so hard it felt like her whole body was throbbing.
“Goodnight, Ron,” she said, presenting him with an air kiss in order to keep any virus germs to herself. Kathy didn’t even notice that she was rubbing her band-aid, the finger underneath pink and swollen. Neither did Ron, who was absorbed in his novel.
Ron’s thriller kept him up turning pages until just after midnight. He crept into bed quietly, careful not to disturb Kathy. By that time her fever had topped one hundred degrees and the red inflammation extended up past her elbow. Blistering had begun.
It might not have been too late for Kathy at that point if there had been a night-light or if the couple had snuggled. Instead, the darkness and Ron’s considerate distance conspired to conceal the damage that was being done to Kathy’s flesh. The exotic pumpkin flesh-eating bacteria grew and thrived, uninterrupted, for the next eight hours.
Dust motes danced in the early morning sunbeams streaming through the sheer bedroom curtains. Ron awoke with a yawn and a stretch, arching his back and pointing his toes. He had slept very well, perhaps slightly too warm and with strange dreams. Regardless, he felt well rested as his eyelids fluttered open and found Kathy still sleeping peacefully. The duvet pulled up around her neck concealed her rotting arm and the pink tendrils making their way up her neck.
He quietly prepared for his morning run and gave Kathy a whisper soft kiss goodbye. She seemed warm. Usually she was the cold one. She could use a shower, too, but Ron would never say that to her. She must have been exhausted from yesterday to still be sleeping. He let her rest.
Ron returned from his Sunday long run to find Kathy in exactly the same position. The bacteria had spread up her neck and over her chin. Something was obviously wrong.
“Kathy? Are you okay, hon?” He asked, peeling back the duvet cover.
Ron recoiled in horror, backing up until the wall stopped his retreat. “KATHY!”
“Oh my God!,” he chanted like a mantra as he wrapped her in a sheet and carried his unconscious wife to the car.
The hospital was close and minutes later Ron screeched to a stop in front of the emergency room entrance. Two nurses helped maneuver Kathy’s limp, feverish form onto a gurney and into the emergency room. Distraught Ron tried to follow, but was redirected by staff to a check-in desk. He would have to leave Kathy in order for them to care for her.
The lines on the big digital clock in the corner changed configurations, but none of it meant anything to Ron. Time no longer held value for him as he sat in the hard plastic chair among the suffering and stared at the pictures on the silent t.v. screen high on the beige wall. Kathy was everything to him.
The doctor had come out to explain her diagnosis, necrotizing fasciitis, but he still didn’t really comprehend how a bacteria could liquefy a human being. The doctor said there had been several cases in the last couple days that were an unusually virulent strain. This strain had some notable differences, but he didn’t expand on what those were.
The doctor was gone now. Everyone was gone, even Kathy. Still, Ron waited. After awhile, the letters on the t.v.’s closed captioning had begun to form words that made sense to him. The headline story, the only story they were covering, was about the bacteria. They had narrowed the source down to produce, perhaps pumpkins. That’s where the trail ended, though, since the pumpkins couldn’t be traced. Consumers were advised not to touch or use any pie pumpkins purchased recently. Ron wasn’t interested in doing any cooking.
The t.v. went on to explain how this outbreak was different. The words crawling in front of the increasingly terrified newscasters reported that those who succumb to this bacterial infection have been reanimating after a brief period of death. Reports from across the country told of the dead seeking out and infecting loved ones, often on the very same day they had died.
Ron sat, waiting for Kathy.