((Chase Rodriguez continued from: Hollow Stars))
He was rapidly nearing the point of exhaustion. Dirty and disheveled from his panicked dash through the woods, his only thought was to keep moving, to get as much distance as possible before he finally collapsed. Legs screamed, and each breath was an effort, but he didn't dare stop.
Thought had long since faded into instinct and vague impressions, fear nipping at his heels as he scrambled through the tall and twisted trees. Branches reached out, grabbing for him, snagging at his clothes and scratching, while twigs pulled at his hair and the overgrowth tugged at his legs, making him stumble and trip. Didn't let that stop him, because he had to keep moving. Had to.
But willpower could only carry his aching body so far. Finally, there came a point where he simply couldn't take that next step, when he had to sink to the ground, back against a tree, and just sit, gasping and shaking at the exertion. But his fears, his horrors weren't so easily outrun, and even as it seemed he'd never find enough air again, they caught up with him once more. Each of Lydia's screams, Max's bloody work, every moment of that horrible event seemed to echo in mind over and over and over. It couldn't have been more than a few minutes ago, and yet it might have been a lifetime, so overwhelming was it.
For a time, he wept, body shuddering, whether from exhaustion, grief, or horror, he couldn't tell anymore. Then he no longer had the energy even for that, starting silently, almost vacantly, as his brain tried futilely to comprehend what had happened. It might have gone on that way for hours.
He didn't mean to fall asleep, but his body made the choice for him. For a time, he was granted a dreamless reprieve from it all.
If sleep couldn't bring answers, couldn't erase wounds, it had at least brought some measure of healing.
Chase awoke with some degree of rationality restored, and if it couldn't bring comfort, at least it offered some degree of understanding. He listened vaguely to the announcements, as Max was confirmed to be the killer Chase already knew him to be, as more friends and classmates were declared to have died for the terrorists' sick amusement.
What hurt most was realizing how many of the killers over the last three days were people he'd trusted in some way. There was Max, of course. Then Summer, who'd seemed so nice and easy to trust back at the mall; it seemed almost ironic now that Brandon, who he'd been so worried about, had simply died in some kind of an accident. Meanwhile, others who'd seemed so quiet and barely noticeable back at home were some of the island's top killers now.
Then there was Yukiko, a close childhood friend and, as of yesterday, a killer, though whether by design or accident he didn't know. It seemed absurd to think of the quiet, meek girl as deliberately murdering someone, but...there was always that doubt, the possibility that he might be wrong. He wasn't sure if he was ready to face her, if he'd ever be ready to know whether she'd become like Max.
Really, what was he supposed to do? Right now, he wanted nothing more than to sit, to hide, to just stay here and never move again. He wanted desperately to disappear, from the world, and the cameras that were even now watching him, impassively filming his every move for an audience that must constantly be judging him. Friends, family, perhaps even Lydia's parents or siblings, wondering why he'd done nothing to save their daughter.
"I'm sorry." he said, voice breaking slightly, whether to himself or those who might be watching, he didn't know. Nobody answered.
But in some way, they'd helped him reach a decision anyway. It was altogether too tempting to just stay sitting here, really, but he knew he couldn't do that. No matter how often you failed, you needed to pick yourself up and keep going. It was just like art, in a way, in that he couldn't give up. He didn't know what came next, what he needed to do or how, just that he couldn't hide in the forest and wait for death. Perhaps it was just a wild goose chase, but he wasn't going to stop trying.
He stood up gingerly, his back aching fiercely from spending a night and large chunk of day against stiff, hard trees roots. He was all too glad to stay there, as the stiffness worked its course. Finally though, he couldn't excuse delaying any longer, had to go back into the nightmare he'd only truly begun to understand.
Taking that first step might have been the bravest thing he'd done since he'd first woken up on the island.
((Chase Rodrigeuz continued in: Do You Know Who I am?))