(Benjamin Lichter continues from Calvin and Hobbes)
It was strange, how sometimes you didn't know much you cared about someone, until they were gone. Then it hurt. When Ben had first heard that Irene was dead, well, he hadn't taken it well. Quite badly, in fact. Because Irene, she was more than just a face in the crowd, or the face of a corpse. She was, or had been, a friend.
And he hadn't known she'd been on the trip too.
He'd broken down when he heard her name. He'd already lost count of how many times he'd cried while on the island, but he hadn't cared. He had been outside the asylum, having a pee, when the announcment hit. He'd tensed up in worry, but part of him thought he didn't need to, that the last few announcements hadn't been an issue, and that this one would be the same. He had been wrong. He had barely managed to get back to where he had slept before the tears came.
Day four on the island had been uneventful. He'd seen people from afar, heard gunshots, avoided a corpse or two, etc., but nothing that he wasn't getting used to. At least, that was what he had hoped, following the third time in a row he'd been startled and had almost bolted. It was the "almost": He'd flinched like a startled cat, but he hadn't run. Any ragged laugh or sob that had escaped him didn't count, as long as he hadn't run. He hadn't run, no he hadn't. He had been in control. "I am in control!" he had told himself, and he had believed it. And since he had been in control, he had reasoned that he could go search for Maxim in places where he hadn't looked yet. Such as in the asylum! Which had been nearby, such luck!
It was telling that the first thing he had done was choose a room and bar the door the best he could. He had slept on the floor that night, for lack of a bed.
It had been uncomfortable, but the night hadn't lasted forever. When the need to pee arose he had waited until he couldn't ignore it any more, then slipped outside. There had been no such care coming back in, though it hadn't seemed to matter. No one had followed him.
After the crying came the silence. And after that, the rising awareness of just how uncomfortable the floor was. Then the restlessness, the unwillingness to sit still. The grief had still been raw, but there's only so long a person can face it head on. It lingered, and would return later, but there were other things to tend to: survival, hunger, fear.
Life went on, as bitter as it had become.
Ben walked up the first flight of stairs he found. He had a plan in mind: Work your way from the bottom to the top. Search every knook and cranny, but don't get spotted yourself. Remember to go slowly. Listen behind you and ahead. Find Maxim, and get the hell out of here.
Slowly, pressing himself against the wall, he ascended the staircase. One foot, then the next. "Easy does it
," he murmured softly. Then he heard a voice, coming from the corridor at the top of the stairs. He froze. It sounded like it was talking to someone. It sounded calm, friendly. He didn't recognise it, but it didn't sound like Maxim. His hands shook. Did he dare? No! It was too risky!
So, careful to not make a sound, he turned, and slowly started walking back down the stairs.