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The horses were still steaming when the knock came on the door. No, a cough. A cough at the door. Could they stay the night? The snow was already piling, they couldn't make their destination.

We agreed. They rose late the next morning, coughing their way through the night. The warm sickness hung, frosting the inside of the windows. We plugged the holes with straw but the storm got in. We changed the sheets but the sickness was getting out — a darkness on the horizon that we couldn't yet see. A sprig of music we couldn't yet hear.

The night sweats came the following day. Necrotic tissue sloughing into pools. Black liquid. A constant cleaning. We dreamed of sleep and they ached, reaching out for the promise of touch. An elephant trunk in the darkness, an echoing bellow, the echoes that still come to us on cold nights.

We sent a rider, spending all of the money. They needed it before the end of the day. The horse gave out. The rider became a walker, lost from behind, but he reached the medicine shop. The dwelling with the rearranged photos. But only pictures of the cure, a let down in healing. We were the lowest priority, he said. We welcomed the sickness. Gave it snacks and cordiality, unable to send it on its way.

Soap and boxes returned, but the story was out of reach. We gave them drugs for focus, but the bones poked through the muscles, and skin was only a memory. It was a bad product and they were hitting their deadline, trapped by the consumption. They battled through the list, crossing off the treachery, but succumbed that final night. Pools of carnage that froze atop the drifts and then melted into the muck of the spring.

We had dumplings for supper that night, the first day of the new week.