James stares at him, trying to make his brain understand what he has said.
“Leaking bone marrow?”
“What does that even mean?”
Michael doesn’t answer.
“Michael. Michael! What does that mean?!”
Michael looks like he is going to be sick. “I can’t remember all the details, but I…” His voice trails off. He looks over at Alexander. “Come outside,” he says to James, cocking his head towards the door. “We shouldn’t talk about this in front of him.”
James’ heart feels like it is beating hard enough to crack his ribs. He turns to Alexander. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he says, covering him with the blankets. “We’ll be right outside.”
Alexander wriggles further down under the blankets. “Okay,” he says, closing his eyes. James forces himself to walk over to the door. Once they are outside, he rounds on Michael.
“What is it??” he pleads. “What does it mean? Is he going to be okay?? What happened to your cellmate? Are you sure it’s the same thing??”
Michael closes the door. He still looks like he’s going to be sick.
“My cellmate, he…” He looks out into the distance as though it will help him see his memories. “He was on probation for fighting already. The fight would have sent him back to solitary. He thought he could just ride it out until it healed on its own.
“The coughing started two days later. The difficulty breathing. The fever. The seizures. Then the rash. By the third or fourth day he was rushed to the emergency department in the middle of the night. I heard the guards talking the next day. They said his bone marrow had been leaking into his bloodstream. Some of it had gotten into his lungs, and…” He turns back to James. He is as white as the snow surrounding them. “His symptoms were almost identical to Alexander’s, James. It fits. All of it. I think this is what we’re dealing with.”
“So what do we do?” James' voice shakes. “Michael, what do we do? How do we help??”
Michael’s eyes are full of fear. “We get out of here. He needs a doctor. He needs to go to hospital.”
“We’ve been trying that,” James whispers. “We’ve been trying to find a way out.”
“I know, brother. I know.”
“Surely there must be something we can do, something that can help him while we figure a way out…”
Michael doesn’t say anything, but his face says everything James needs to know.
“Michael,” he mumbles. His tongue feels like it has swollen to three times its normal size. His entire body is numb. Tears cloud his vision. “Michael…What…What happened to your cellmate?”
Michael looks down at the ground. His hands tremble. He stuffs them into his pockets.
“Michael,” James pleads. “Please. Just tell me. Just…” A tremor runs through him. He feels weak.
Michael doesn’t look up. His voice is barely audible. “He died.”
The world shifts on its axis. James grips the side of the cabin, struggling to remain upright. Michael looks up. There’s tears in his eyes.
“He died, James,” he whispers again. “He didn’t even make it to the hospital. They tried to bring him back, but…”
James doesn’t hear anything else Michael says. He sees Michael’s lips moving, but the sound is muffled. Faint.
He can’t hear anything above the sound of his heart pounding in his chest.