The Island of Incurables by Lauren Busser

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The Island of Incurables


The doctor came in, sat across from her, opened his mouth and said, “The tests are positive. You know the law. The ship leaves in two hours.”

Yes, she knows. She’s a nurse. She’s seen people react to this news plenty of times. The judgment is final.  That’s it, she’s as good as dead.

She knows how this will go. There are guards outside the door. They’re waiting for her to wail, cry, scream, beg for the results to be false, to go through the denial stage of grief as so many have right here in this room.  They’re waiting for her to say, “No, I’m not a drain on society. I can still live a productive and normal life. I just need some patience and time to figure it out.”

But there is no reasoning with them. As quickly as he’s come in the doctor stands up and leaves. “Whenever you’re ready,” he says briskly as he walks away, his footfalls echoing through the room. She lets herself release the breath she’s been holding, to feel the anger over her body betraying her and the anxiety of what comes next overtake her.

She sits there for ten seconds and counts to five. She briefly considers fighting, but she’s some of the guards employed to deal with those who are being sent to the island. They are twice her size and could snap her in two like she’d seen her best friend’s pitbull do to a fallen tree branch. She won’t win.

She leaves the doctor’s office and is led to a holding area in a corridor off the back room. People don’t like seeing the sick and dying. When she was on shift she’d go back to the holding area and talk to those in holding. She’d make up excuses that the doctor wanted them to stay hydrated. The guards there humored her.  She’d offered to get a message to their loved ones. To let them know where they’d gone. To pass on anything more than just a quick, “It’s bad news. I have to go, I love you.” She didn’t expect the same here.

They give her one phone call. She calls her sister to tell her what’s happened. What the doctor said. They won’t see each other again. They both know this, and her sister is sobbing with grief. She doesn’t cry but tears up a little as she says goodbye and hangs up.

They transport her in a van to the dock. The driver is wearing a hazmat suit. It’s unnecessary, most of the people, including herself, aren’t contagious.

The bus stops and they’re pulled off the bus by the men in hazmat suits who usher them onto a boat. She boards the ship along with all the others who had likewise had appointments that day, and likewise received bad news. She looks around and counts.

The counting soothes her. So she starts with the old man with the cough and moves around the room. There’s a woman with jaundice skin. A sniffling boy no more than twelve curled up in the lap of a young woman.  It’s unlikely she’s related to him. She’s whispering softly that it will all be okay.

The total is fifty. Fifty souls on this ship with her at this moment. Fifty people who were expendable now. Throwaways.

She watches from the deck as they cast off. Several of the passengers she counted look perfectly healthy, like they could be living normal lives. But somewhere in the medical bureaucracy, they were labeled undesirable. Their files would have a red stamp on them now, and be filed away with death records even though many of them would live their lives perfectly healthy.

They’d be out of sight, out of mind. They said they had a hospital there, medical supplies, plenty of food. She didn’t believe it. The health services wanted her to believe that, to sell the lie. To comfort the patients that she’d be sending off to this wretched place.

In the first hour on the ship she thinks about that morning. She’d been talking to a man online about going to get cheesecake. She told him they’d make plans tonight, and now he’d never hear from her again. She wouldn’t see her brother, her parents, or cousins. She’d be gone.

The law went into effect eight years go, shortly after she became a nurse. At first it was only the sickest of the bunch, sent away to live out their lives away from their loved ones. Hiding their death so they could die with dignity. At least, that’s how they sold it. She’d grown up a lot in eight years and saw it for what it was.

“We run from the dying,” she whispered one night to her empty apartment.

But soon it wasn’t just the terminal. It was anyone who presented with an illness where treatment was expensive and difficult; and then the bar got lower and lower. She’d gone to the doctor about a mole on her shoulder. It was misshapen, dark, and had grown from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter. The doctor had biopsied and the doctor told her it was cancerous.

Her small apartment, the acidic coffee she drank this morning, the aggravated driver on the road to the doctor’s office all seemed like a distant memory. The island awaited her now.

It was three hours before she ship docked, the door opened, and fifty people disembarked on to the island. Her feet touching the gravel that made up the ground, looked back in the direction of the shore, and then towards the bunkhouse that would be her home for who knows how long. The skyline of the city was in the distance, and she thought back to her family and friends, and that pitbull who chomped on tree branches, and wept for the first and last time.

About the Author

Lauren Busser is the Associate Editor at Tell-Tale TV. She can only ski backwards, knits at an astonishing speed, and has an inhuman ability to remember inane trivia. (Seriously ask her about the white bit when you crack an egg!) You can find her online at or on Twitter @LaurenBusser.