Inside, Skye lay on the sofa, wan. I quickly pulled over the box of medical supplies we had pulled out of the ambulance. I set up an intravenous fluids line and put an oxygen mask over her face. An anxious time followed as I watched her closely for signs of response. To my relief, colour started to return to her cheeks and her eyes became alert once again. I was grateful as the next step was giving her a blood transfusion. And that would mean setting up an iv line between her and someone here with an O blood type. I knew in theory how to do a field blood transfusion but I wasn't keen on trying it if I could avoid it.
Once I was confident that Skye was out of immediate danger, I had her moved to the spare room. In truth, I wanted her to be comfortable but I also wanted to put some measures in place to protect my family in case she turned.
There was a knock on the door. Michele stood in the doorway, smiling shyly. "Can I come in?"
Skye turned her head and smiled back. "Sure." She looked so young at that moment, more child than woman.
Michele came and sat next to her. I decided to leave them to talk for a while; Skye didn't present an immediate danger.
In the living room, the adults were gathered around the CB again, trying to raise someone. On the dinner table, Kaye had provided the babies with playdough and utensils. Jessie was trying to show them how to make some animal figures but, frankly, they weren't remotely interested. Sarah was gamely trying to roll a piece of dough one-handed. I walked over and stroked her fair curls. "Let me do that for you." She smiled a toothy smile at me and handed over the dough. For the next half an hour, I played with the kids, rolling and flattening dough, shaping moustaches, hair and funny noses on request. For a moment, it felt like a normal day in the Nelson household.
Michele poked her head around the corner. "Um, Mum?" My spidey sense immediately flared up and I was off the chair and in the bedroom within a minute. Skye was flushed and sweating profusely. She looked up at me with scared eyes. "I don't feel good." Sitting down beside her, I took her hand and smiled reassuringly into her eyes. As I felt Michele coming up behind me, I firmly told her to leave. She didn't argue, for once.
Skye coughed. "My head hurts so bad." She whimpered. My stomach plummetted as I felt her feverish forehead. I had hoped so much that she would escape the virus. If life was remotely fair, she would have escaped it. At my age, I should have learned by now that, in real life, the good guys don't always win. Even so, my heart screamed over and over in anger and frustration, not fair, she's just a child!
I patted her hand calmly, trying to look confident and in control. "I'll get you some medication. You'll feel better in no time."
As I started to get up, she clutched my hand. "Please don't leave me!" Frightened and vulnerable, she clung to me like I was a lifeline.
"Okay, okay." I soothed, sitting back down. "I won't go anywhere unless you say so." I stroked her forehead. God, she was so hot. I reached across to the side table and picked up a glass of water. With my other arm propping her shoulders up, I urged Skye to drink. She obediently drank a few mouthfuls, her eyes on me all the time. As I lowered her head back down, she rolled over to lay her head in my lap instead, curling into a fetal position.
Hesitantly, I stroked her hair as she stared into space, her hands clutching my clothes. For long minutes, she said nothing as I ran my fingers through her long curls.
"I'm going to become one of them, aren't I?" She finally asked in a small voice.
I closed my eyes and, for a moment, wished with all my heart that I was anywhere but here. "It's hard to say, Skye. You might just have an infection."
"No." She said flatly. "Mummy was like this last night - and she became one of them." She rolled over to look up at me. I saw the fear on her young face, the memory of what her mother had become. "That's what's happening to me, isn't it, Lori? I can feel it."
I looked away, fighting the tears that sprang to my eyes. I could feel her desperate need for me to be honest with her. "Yes, I think so. I'm so sorry, Skye."
"It's okay." She whispered. "I'm don't want to be here without my family anyway." I didn't comment, not wanting to confirm what she seemed to suspect about her sister's fate. Instead, I resumed stroking her hair. I wished I knew how to make this easier for her. How do you help a fourteen year old face death without even her mother here to comfort her? All I could do was be here and hope that the presence of a mother, someone's loving mother, was enough. I tried to project my love to her, through the gentle touch of my hands, the warmth of my body, the soft sound of my voice as I hummed soothingly.
A few minutes later, she spoke again. Her voice seemed to be weakening. "I wonder what really happens when you die? Mum believed in heaven but I'm not sure what I believe. Do you think it's real?"
Wow. Good question, kid. How the hell does one answer that honestly in the face of death? "Maybe. There is so much about the universe we don't know. I like to think death is just a stage of life, like the chrysalis is for butterflies. And heaven is our name for the next stage of our existence." I took a deep breath as I saw the scepticism in her face and rushed on. "Or else death is the longest sleep we will ever take. Either way, there really isn't anything to be scared of, is there? I don't know about you, but I always enjoyed a good sleep!"
Skye smiled a little. "Yeah, me too. Mum always said I was sleeping my life away." Sadness fell across her face at the memory. "I hope heaven is real. Then I can see her again."
"I hope so too." I whispered. Impulsively, I leaned down and kissed her hot forehead. She closed her eyes at the touch.
"I don't think I can hold on much longer, Lori." Her childish voice cut through me like a knife. Her eyes opened suddenly. "You won't let me become one of them, will you, Lori?"
I shook my head, tears blinding my eyes. "No, Skye. I won't let that happen."
She closed her eyes again, so trusting. I don't know how long I sat there with her head in my lap, stroking her hair as her breathing gradually slowed, and, finally, stopped.
I kept my promise. She didn't become one of them.