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So finally she was in Shanty South, her face wrapped with dirty linen just like the rest of them, living in a home of rotted wood and scavenged metal sheets. Stephanie knew it was a matter of time, but that time came too soon. Only her left eye was naked, the rest of her head was wrapped like a mummy’s. She tried to pluck the linen away to let in air but her blood crusted boils had fused to the linen.

Stephanie pulled the sheets up and wrapped them around her body to complete the mummification process. The rough wool scraped the sores on her arm and she could feel them oozing, but had no desire to do anything about them. It was comforting to be wrapped up, sectioned off from this world and left to her thoughts. She wondered if she would die and see her parents again. Stephanie wanted to. To smile, to hug them, to even just see them would remind her of what happiness was. But during all her fevers she fought against her reunion with happiness. She did it for Johnny.

She couldn’t help but think if she had made the right choice to move here and live with the half-living. That’s what people called the inhabitants of Shanty South; disease struck this place harder than any other part of the city. She thought of the offer she had been given a year ago to work in The Stop. Stephanie turned it down because she didn’t want her little brother to think of her as a whore. That’s how they ended up in Shanty South. Her scavenging only maintained them on a week by week basis. The shivers had put her in bed for a month and they had to sell everything they could. All they had now was this place. She lazily gazed around the room: a bed for Johnny in the far corner, a garbage can turned upside down for a table, and a pair of stilts made out of the legs of a chair and duct tape. She planned to put the stilts to use soon by scavenging the shallow waters for scrap.
Johnny should be back any minute with water she thought. Her throat was dry except for the mucus that puddled in the back of her throat. She hoped he would be alright. Johnny was 15 years old now and should be able to fetch water, but in an area like this you could never be certain what would happen. She had been in and out of consciousness when he left and couldn’t exactly remember how long he had been gone. Light still gleamed through the cracks in the ceiling so it couldn’t have been too long.

She thought about putting Johnny to work, he had never had to and maybe it was time. Scavenging wasn’t difficult. It was just about keeping an eye out for anything metal or nice looking. She sucked at it, maybe he would be better. She toyed with the idea for a bit imagining Johnny sifting through rubble. The problem was that she was scared he would get the plague. People said that it seeps in through cuts, and cuts were unavoidable as a scavenger. Somehow Johnny stayed safe from the plague while she was racked with it. Her body was covered in scars where boils were cut out as evidence. Eventually they start to itch so bad that it’s the only option.

A shiver ran from her toes, through her heart, and into her head. The hairs on her arm perked up and she could feel the blanket brush them as she inhaled deeply. She blinked her eyes but her vision was still blurry. Stephanie knew this phase all too well. Hallucinations were coming. They say that the shivers start in the body and work their way into your soul. It’s a foul and unholy disease. Water would help but medicine is what she really needed, and they couldn’t afford medicine. They couldn’t even afford clean water.

Her thoughts were interrupted as the rusty iron sheet walls screeched as someone banged into them. A cloud of orange rust vaulted off and glittered in the light before it fell at the foot of the bed. Then the metal sheet walls heaved again towards her like the world was angry she had been away from it so long. She couldn’t help but pull the musty blanket up under her chin the way her mom did when she would tuck her into bed.

Her body was shaking as shrill vibrations echoed in her nerves. She could hear them up until they multiplied into a menacing bombardment of sound moving so fast her mind couldn’t keep up. She tried not to stay as still as stone in the hopes that it would stop. “It’s just Johnny” she told herself, “the hallucinations are kicking in.” There’s no reason to panic. She tried to inhale deeply but found herself panting restlessly.

“The door’s--.” She choked out then tried to wet her lips. They tasted of dust and her mouth was stale. “On the other side” she managed. She saw a thin metal pick slide through the crack in the door and unhinge the chain lock. It slid down and scratched against the wooden door swaying for a second before the door slowly opened.

A pale man with the only color being lacerations and bruises was standing at the doorway. His ribs stretched his skin taught. He was holding the lock pick in his fist and he was trembling just as much as she was. He walked into the room slowly with his gaze focused on Stephanie. He mumbled something that Stephanie couldn’t understand and when she didn’t respond he started screaming it. He whipped the trash can against the wall with one swoop of his bony hand denting it in. Blood poured from where he had made contact. He walked forward screaming gibberish and flailing his arms as Stephanie watched paralyzed. He began gesturing towards the door.

“What do you want?” Stephanie asked quietly.