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“What an adventure,” Sarah said aloud, while gazing at the stars.
Having no idea what time it is or where on Earth she is exactly is liberating in some ways. A small fire crackles outside of the re-entry pod. The waves lap the shore, pushing on the rocks she had toiled to put into place a few days ago. The rocks spell out “HELP” on the beach.
“Even if I eventually starve on this beach, or die in some other unpleasant way. I’m glad I can die on Earth.”
She sips from her cup, it’s thick and salty.
She has no one to talk to but she has been alone for so long she is afraid if she doesn’t speak she may forget how. She thinks back to what has led her up to this point.
The mission was a failure from the beginning. They had only been in orbit for a few weeks studying the growth of plants in zero gravity when the asteroid struck their station. All of the crew except Sarah, along with most of the supplies were lost. She recovered what she could on a spacewalk. With the power out she was forced to leave or freeze as the station’s temperature dropped. So she loaded up the return pod and launched it back to Earth with no idea where she would land. The island didn’t seem bad at first, but while searching for civilization and supplies something unfortunate happened.
She rubs her swollen legs, they are twice their normal size now. The shock of walking under gravity again has caused major swelling in her lower extremities. Now she is forced to stay at the pod, keep the fire going with driftwood she can crawl to collect and slowly peck away at her food ration, which she keeps frozen with cans of CO2 she brought with her. Rations won’t last for long, they are beginning to stink already.
Still, it’s good to die on Earth. She misses her crew and is saddened to think about all the months of training they spent together. The wondrous joy of first being in space only to be taken away in the blink of an eye. They saved her life. She pokes at the small food ration she allows herself for dinner and breakfast every day. It seems thoroughly cooked.
“Thanks, Liz,” she says while holding the piece of meat skewered on a sharp stick.
Liz this week. Last week it was John. The week before it was Aaron. Next week Francis, if he keeps.
The next few days go by slowly. Crawling into the pod at night to sleep and then dragging herself out to keep the fire going. The warm sand feels good against her shivering body every morning as she collects sticks and dry sandy grasses for the fire. Sometimes she washes in the ocean. Every morning she takes new pieces from the food rations to cook up for her two meals a day. If there is one thing her training taught her about survival it’s how to get into a routine.
Her worst fear is realized one morning when she goes to collect her daily food rations from Francis and she sees maggots in his eyes. The meat she removes from his thigh is a sea blue-green coloring and smells like bowels. She has to figure out what to eat now.
“There have to be some critters I can catch on this beech.”
She drags herself down the beach, digging every so often to find crabs. She searches the waters trying to catch sea creatures but the effort is too much work. She is exhausting herself and without enough food to give her energy, she will starve that much quicker. When she drags herself back to the fire she notices a jellyfish on her ankle. She uses the stick to flick it off and can see dark purple marks where it had been stinging her.
“You little bastard. I didn’t feel a thing.”
An idea forms in her head that, despite her weeks spent alone doing the unthinkable, she doesn’t want to say out loud. She rummages in her bag for a knife to test her theory. She hovers the blade over her swollen ankle for a moment then clenches her teeth and stabs into her leg. It punctures skin without any feeling. She takes a breath and pushes harder it goes deeper and hits solid bone still without a feeling.
She needs to eat.
Her legs would undoubtedly have to be amputated anyways and clearly, they have already died. It is only a matter of time before they begin to rot on her body anyways and that would cause sepsis and death. Using a rag as a tourniquet on her leg she begins the grim process with her feeble knife. As she begins sawing through the skin red water comes pouring out soaking the sand. Her legs are so swollen that the blood flow had been mostly cut off. The knife keeps slipping in her hand as the handle get slippery from the fluids. Once the flesh is cut all the way around she cuts the Achilles tendon and anterior tibia but can’t reach her posterior tibia with her tiny knife and swollen thighs.Grabbing hold of her foot with both hands she twists it counterclockwise until it pops and then she turns it more until he foot is turned 180 degrees. After the posterior tibia is severed her foot comes off with one more yank.
She tightens the tourniquet and wraps her stub in a few clothes until the reddish water stops flowing. She washes the foot in the water and tosses it on her makeshift skillet to cook over the fire. The toenails fall off as it cooks. It’s a bit boney and doesn’t yield much meat but the calf will be better.
Right leg this week. Left leg next week. Survival is about getting into a routine.