He was watching Jennifer die in front of him, drawing gasping breath as the rush of adrenaline slowly drained away. A few minutes and the manic vigor he felt would be replaced with a lethargy even more powerful than before. He didn't know quite what to do, and suspected that he wouldn't until it all drained away. He was still in ebbing fight-or-flight mode, and he was done fighting, but now that there was no need for flight, his mental faculties were tangled in confusion. He considered at last giving Jennifer her final mercy, but she was already past that point. And, the thought arose, maybe she didn't deserve one in the first place. She regretted nothing. He didn't even know where to begin with that. It was exhausting even to contemplate. A feeling like a lead weight dropped into his stomach. At once he felt simply drained, mind, body, and soul. He sighed, rolled his head skyward, popped his jaw and tried to shake the ringing from his ears. He'd think on it later. For now, he just needed to tidy up and get lost.
He grasped the handle of the sword, giving it a mighty tug to wrench it free of Jennifer's still chest. Goosebumps sprung up along his arm as each sawtoothed notch caught some tendon or artery, some miscellaneous bit of viscera. It emerged with a sickening noise, the sound of shearing muscle with wet, sucking undertones. He felt his gorge rising but held onto his lunch without trouble; he was simply too tired to vomit now. Just didn't want to deal with it. And his body, in turn, wasn't going to spend a single bit more energy that what was required of it. With that issue squared away, he held the sword out in front of himself to survey the damage. Jennifer had really done a number on it. Not only were the last six or seven inches gone, but the smooth, graceful curve of the cutting edge was now a jagged mess. A collection of notches ran along the length of it, each in evidence of some wild swing he'd intercepted without time to turn his blade away. A thick smear of gore obscured the upper half, but doubtless each dripping node marked another hidden crack. All in all, it looked nearly as ragged as he felt.
He walked wearily along the poolside, skirting the still-growing puddle of blood around Jennifer's body though his shoes were already soaked in it. As grim as the situation was, as terrible the carnage, as unwilling as his legs were to take another single step, there was still practicality to consider. There were weapons strewn about, food and medicine lying unused, maybe even ammunition laying ownerless before him. Maybe a few days ago he'd have found the prospect distasteful, something akin to light grave robbery, but that was long past. It would take considerable depredation now to make him blink, and he was, after all, already carrying around Adam's gun and crackers. The fact of the matter was that he had looted supplies from the dead before and had no particular qualms about doing it again.
The first thing he picked up, bending down as his forehead flushed with embarrassment, was the revolver that had so helpfully allowed him to shoot the pavement. Less-than-stellar aim wasn't the prime source of embarrassment, though. He popped out the cylinder, almost hoping the unspent rounds had magically disappeared, but there they were: three dimpled cartridges, three fresh. The thing was, and this was very important, a crucial fact of gun ownership in fact, cocking back the hammer wasn't just something you did because it was cool or fun. Sometimes you had to cock it back for every shot, and the gun in his hand was a prime example of that fact. He sighed, figuring there was a silver lining to it all - at least he wouldn't forget in his panic next time - and tossed it at his pack, where judging by the noise it made, it either smashed a considerable few crackers or crushed his assigned box of condoms. Which, now that he was on the subject, he wasn't quite sure why he still carried. The only use he could come up with - well, the only likely use - was simply to cause no small amount of posthumous embarrassment if he was killed by some similarly practical looter. On the other hand, that was quite a potent motivator to stay alive. The condoms, he decided, could stay.
Moving on, he came next to a bowie knife that lay on the ground not far from where Jennifer had charged him from. It had a nice, friendly heft to it and an unsullied blade to boot, but he was already amply supplied in the melee weapon department. He decided to keep it anyways, mostly because why not. Not far away was Jennifer's pack, with accompanying gun and pool of blood. The gun was empty as he feared, but there was still food and a medkit in the bag. He dumped out everything including the medkit, which he didn't need three of, and tossed his new knife inside. As he stood up with the bag dangling from his arm like a basket, the thought struck him that the whole business felt unnervingly like some sort of perverse shopping trip. Bowie knives on aisle 3, next to the produce and all that jazz. Or, if he wanted to bury the needle on the absurdity meter, a nice, friendly Easter egg hunt. He chuckled because sometimes you had to laugh or else you'd cry, but the next thing he saw brought him soberingly back down to earth.
Charlie's body lay stretched out before him, darkening red blood trickling over the skimpy blue swimsuit she'd donned during some carefree moment in the past. Competing strains of she never deserved this
and one less to worry about
rose up in his head, and he was too weary to throw on the brakes to either train of thought. The incongruity on display in front of him was heart-wrenching, disturbing. Yet even as his eyes traced the rivulets of her life's blood flowing on the wrong side of her skin, a conflict of thought arose that was dangerous, terrifying, far more relevant to his goal.
To be completely honest with himself, he simply couldn't ignore a worming sense of satisfaction. The day had been a success by nearly any measure, after all. He'd decided to remove the most unsavory elements, made a list with four names and before the sun had set killed two of them. And not just any two: Adam, the most dangerous, the most brutal; and Jennifer, the most prolific. But more than that, more than the knowledge of a job well done was an undeniable sense of pride lurking amongst the shame, the guilt, the horror of the situation. It was a reaffirmation of his own brilliance and strength. He'd just succeeded where half a dozen or more of his classmates had failed, even when their very lives depended on it. Was that not something he could be proud of? After all, he wasn't doing it just for himself. He wouldn't be running so eagerly into danger if that were true. He was doing it for everyone who deserved life, those who weren't glorifying in the ending of it.
And there I was, thinking I was being honest with myself.
He continued his methodical sweep around the pool, trying to keep his mind away from what he knew lurked just around the corner. Charlie's gun was empty, but her bag wasn't. He scooped up her food and ammunition and moved on to Keira's rations. He had to have a backup plan, didn't he? Today he'd done his share of work, far more than just his share. Surely he'd earned some small recognition. He was certainly prepared for plan B. At that point, he reasoned, everything really was his to give away. And even if Megan saw the next sunrise, was she really ready to receive it? How much did she want to live? Did she want it so badly she'd kill for it? And would she be able to live with herself if she did? Nick was alive because he could handle it all. He had the means and the motive to end it all if he so chose, but he didn't. But Megan, well, she still had to prove herself. Nobody was getting off the island without killing someone else to do it, not according to a man whose bluff he was not about to call. So what happened when she balked, or if she went sailing unsullied towards a trial she likely wouldn't even survive?
He'd give his life all the same, he thought desperately, but there was no convincing himself. He'd known what lay at the end, had even fantasized about it, but now that the time for his ultimate decision was drawing so near... four people had died in front of him today. Four of fourteen. And the free space left on the island was getting smaller and smaller to keep up with the dwindling population. How many others had died elsewhere? There were still two people left with multiple kills on the island. Two people left, he corrected himself, who weren't him who had multiple kills on the island, people who were going around killing people who didn't deserve it. He looked up at Jennifer's body as he completed his circuit of the pool, gathering everything together, cleaning off the sword and the machete. Just a teenage girl lying dead and forsaken, a collection of bullet holes and a gash halfway through her chest. To say that anyone deserved to die so painfully, so lonely, so far away from home -
he forced himself to think loudly, clearly, unambiguously, for that was endgame for that quickly-derailing train of thought.
Tomorrow is the day that I die, or the day that I get to live.
The thought struck him to his core, a declaration so clear and powerful and heavy that it forced tears from his eyes for the second time that day. He felt the sky stretching over him, so big and vast, the same sky that blanketed his home, his school, every other point on the entire earth. People climbed Everest under that same sky, if a considerable amount less of it. The Olympics were coming up - the very best in the world were training under it, in the hopes that the same sun he saw now would glimmer off some medallion around their necks. The sky was something constantly swirling around him, but if he could climb to the top of it and look down, he'd see the whole world underneath it. From exotic, faroff countries, places no man had ever stepped, to the familiar buildings that housed his home, his school, his own warm bed. There was an entire world under that sky, and there was no part of it he couldn't see or touch, not if he really wanted to, because the future was boundless. He had decades stretching out ahead of him, an entire world to see. All he needed was to get off one little island. And to do that, he just had to live for one day. One more day. Just one single day and he was free to experience it all.
I want to live.
I want to live so bad.
((Nick Reid continued in The Eye of the Storm