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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
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A vague feeling of uneasiness drifted like a fog over Nick's mind. He had gone too far, he knew, had been pushing it since the moment he'd seen Andrea. The best, most rational thing to do would be to pack up and excuse himself.

But despite his claims to the contrary, Nick Reid did not always act rationally.

He looked out, leaning his chin on his hand, which still hung limply onto the orange plastic medicine bottle. It would be so much nicer, he mused, to just go to sleep. He was so tired, as anyone who looked at him could tell, with deep purple crescents underlining his sunken eyes. Besides, and this was the best part, it would mean he could ignore the trouble around him, ignore the sullenness of his mood and the atrocity of what reality had most recently thrown his way. Even if he could, though, he knew it wouldn't end well, and when he awoke hours later, if he awoke, massaging his head and wiping mingled sweat and drool out of his hair, off of his face, clenching his limbs and sponging dribbles of sweat issuing from his armpits and knees and wherever else he was folded in on himself, it would be from nightmare into nightmare. He stared impassively.

That is, his face betrayed no hint of what he thought, but he stared hard into space, as if to ignite some arbitrary point in midair with the intensity of his gaze. And he stared. He stared past the trees, wondering how far they stretched, what lay beyond them, who lay beyond them. He stared past the underbrush, wondering what sorts of creatures played out their own little game of Survival of the Fittest, albeit one that didn't mandate genocide or death within a week or two. He stared past Alex, stalking forward like a man possessed, and thought there might be a little connection in the way they felt. He stared past Andrea, who was rifling through her bag. But he didn't stare for long, because she was finishing her inspection.

She tossed a bottle at him. He snapped to, caught between twin reflexes to grab and to block, sending it spinning off the back of his hand. Now what was she playing at? He wasn't some druggie, living from high to high. He didn't bend to pick it up, and he wouldn't. In this state, every stimulus was just another source of sheer annoyance, and he felt himself bristling over it, but didn't say anything. He wasn't sure she had noticed.

"Know what?" he said, standing up and dilating his eyes momentarily against the brief curtain of darkness. "I think I've gone right off the bottle."

Almost carelessly, he flung it onto the stump. He didn't watch it tilt and spin and disgorge half its contents. Instead, he reached into his pack, finding by feel a flat blue plastic container and pulling it out. He drew out the silvery plastic studded with little orange pills, and chucked that too.

Nick was sure he didn't score any points with Andrea, but he was past caring, really, if she wasn't going to hurt him. The more important person was Alex, who seemed absorbed in his thoughts, betrayed by the glassy expression Nick himself had worn so many times. It was curious, he thought, how Andrea's flip-flop had been lying right in front of them, but Alex derailed that train of thought by escalating the situation.

"Better, eh? Not likely."
Don't take the bait. Oh, whoops, too late...
"My little friend's hard as steel, and's got a nice heft to boot. Heck of a weapon, if you're unfamiliar with bar fights and bushmen. Reach really isn't everything." And to drive the point home, or to hopefully drive the point home but look cool anyways even the point wasn't driven home, he flicked his wrist and produced a neat little twirling motion.

While Alex stepped slowly forward, Nick shouldered his pack, ostensibly to vacate the premises. But he took care to sling it lightly, and that the skinny neck of a second bottle was within his grasp. He kept his eyes locked on Alex's stick.



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Waking Up is Hard to do · The Woods: Inland