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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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At least Josh wasn't calling Everett on the flatness of his words. They were going to keep on truckin', pretend things were fine. He could work that. Better than mind-wrenching terror. So up the mountain they went once again. It was sheer, undiluted hell. Everett had had more exercise in the past thirty minutes than in most entire days. That, plus the sudden emptiness of his stomach and his emotional fatigue, had him on edge. The only thing letting him keep a grip on himself was that Josh was being a sport and waiting up. The boy was being so kind and considerate. On the one hand, it made Everett happy to know that someone cared. On the other, it made him feel awful for being a burden. Without him, Josh would've had an easy time, gone racing ahead or something.

The boy quipped about the difficulty of the climb, and Everett managed a weak, wheezing chuckle. Yes. It certainly was harder going up than down. Especially going up a second time. Everett was pretty sure Josh was playing up his own exhaustion, trying to make him feel better. It was a nice gesture.

Moving steadily uphill, he forced himself to focus. One foot in front of the other.One step at a time. Exercise wasn't the worst thing in the world. After all, anyone could manage, if they just had the willpower. Memories came back to him, walking behind the Promenade, encountering Laverne Falciander. She was a girl who knew determination. He blinked. Was she here, too? He hoped not. He'd never managed to catch up with her after their brief encounter. Never managed a kind word or something to the large girl who was the butt of so many jokes. Then again, that was who Everett was. He wasn't special. Wasn't smart or skilled or charming. All he had was his own determination, and even that was not so much, in the grand scheme of things. He'd probably have been dead already if he hadn't met up with Josh. Probably have done something dumb like Remi.

Remi. He still could not believe the boy was gone. How had it happened? It seemed too sudden. Too shocking to possibly be true. The memory of all the blood made Everett woozy again. He had to distract himself. Had to focus on getting to the top. And then he realized that he was there. He'd managed to detach himself enough, send himself far enough into his own mind, to make the exertion tolerable. That was a useful skill. He wished he'd discovered it about a decade ago, back when he'd still had a chance to change his body shape, still had a chance to improve his path.

Had he kissed his mom goodbye? It was a strange thought, jarring. Coming out of nowhere. He cast about, trying to remember, finding himself unable, trying to puzzle out why he'd just now thought of it. Oh. Josh was kissing some metal stick. That was why. He glanced at Everett, and, apparently concerned about his thoughts, started justifying or explaining or something. A mad impulse hit Everett, the sort of thing he'd never done at home, and, without cracking a smile, he puffed out, "Nah, it's cool man. You don't have to apologize for your girlfriend. You're doing better than me. I've got no clue what she is. Maybe Chinese?" Well, it sounded dumb. He had no joking capability, but he'd tried. That was something. Hopefully not a sign of insanity.

Josh asked his opinion on where to go, and Everett considered. He looked around. It was nice here, on top of the mountain. Nice and cool. All too exposed, though. He dug through his bag and pulled out his map. Tried to sync it up to what he could see. No luck. He was hopeless with maps. Hopeless with compasses and wilderness survival. Just plain useless. At least he could see some buildings, off in the distance. Maybe that was the way to go. Maybe, if he had to die, he could at least do it on a comfortable bed or something. He gestured vaguely in their direction and said, "I don't know, maybe down there? We could find some people or something. Get some supplies, for when we find our crew."

He waited for a couple of seconds, but then realized that he'd be better off getting a head start. He started moving again. Always moving. At least with the exercise and starvation rations, he might actually lose some weight on this island. That was funny. SOTF combined with that reality show about getting skinny. Who'd have thought?

So, once again, down the mountain he went.

((Everett Taylor continued in Regrets))
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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Dude, how come I feel like i'm not in Kansas anymore? · The Mountain