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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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April 17, 2012

It was amazing, how much had changed.

Over the three days the crew spent taking pictures and documenting the island, Kimberly found herself continually marvelling at details small and large, things that, inexplicably, nobody else seemed to ascribe much significance to.

A third of the residential district had burned to the ground. The buildings had collapsed, fallen in on themselves. Pools of melted glass were embedded in the ground. Blackened beams and sections of walls stood at odd angles. There was very little soot; years of wind and rain had eaten it all away. Still, the destruction was impressive and immediate.

I did that. I caused that. I burned it all down. There was nobody to put it out.

As they walked, Kimberly found other things grabbing her attention as well. The most notable was not a thing; it was, in fact, the absence of something. There were no cars. She realized, with a sudden feeling of unease, that in all her time in the game she had never seen a car on the island. Trucks, sure. There were trucks near the sawmill. Never any cars, though. She tried not to wonder what had happened to them all. The roads looked large enough for them.

As it happened, she had a chance to examine the now-terribly-rusted vehicles which were around, because the logging road was the next stop. The wound their way along it, and Kimberly kept her eyes open, looking off to the north, searching for a specific log she had rested against until Rhory had forced her to stand. It was completely hopeless. The sea of dead trees, many now rotten or crumbled, stretched as far as she could see. There was no telling where she had rested. It was disappointing. Only a little, but disappointing.

Kimberly refused to enter the sawmill. Even after someone told her there were no bodies, no bloodstains, she chose to wait outside, leaning against the building, remembering that this was the last place on the island that she had slept in. She looked up, above her, at the mountain. It was so immediate, so powerful. She could clearly recall twisting down it, Erik at her side. He'd been trying to be strong, trying to ignore or downplay the fact that he'd been shot.

Kimberly went back to the boat for the day after that, while the crew photographed parts of the swamp, the mountain, and the key. She didn't have any real need to visit those places. They meant nothing to her, and she didn't feel quite ready to confront new parts of the island.

She joined the team again the next day, walking through the woods. Kimberly's memories of them were twisted, lost in large part to imaginings and emotional impressions, to memories of running, of searching, of hating. At about midday, they came upon a clearing that had clearly sustained serious fire damage in the past. Between the burned trees and splintered stumps, however, countless wildflowers grew, bathing the area in color and beauty. It was a good place to take a lunch break. Kimberly had a feeling she'd been here before, but didn't say anything. The crew took a lot of pictures, so she figured they knew their location too.

Kimberly had little interest in the fun fair. The house of mirrors had collapsed entirely. She told the others that she was heading back to the boat, but she made a little detour along the way.

The groundskeeper's hut had not changed much. The damage was about the same. A few animals seemed to have made nests inside, and the mattress was torn to shreds, though Kimberly saw no sign of life as she stepped through the door. She looked around, glancing up into the corner, searching for the little black box. For a moment, she thought it was still right there, waiting for her to give another speech, but a blink dispelled the illusion. She raised her hand to her throat, brushed her fingers along it, and shivered. Outside, a bird called out, and another responded some distance away. Kimberly tipped her hat at the empty corner and went back to the boat.

The last day was the toughest. They spent a large part of the time searching through the tunnels. Kimberly fell twice, scraping her palm the second time. She wondered how she had ever navigated the corridors before. Even with large, powerful flashlights, the tunnels felt claustrophobic and confining. She could smell plant growth and earth, and sometimes she thought she could detect a faint hint of blood and decay, but whenever she tried to concentrate, it disappeared.

In the late afternoon, the crew informed Kimberly that they would be finishing up underground, then taking night shots, and that they planned to leave in the morning. She said that was fine.

As they continued their investigation of the tunnels, Kimberly excused herself. Rather than returning to the boat, however, she set about climbing the mountain.

The walk was longer than she had remembered, though it was also easier. She wondered if, perhaps, she was taking a different path now, if she had gotten lost before. It didn't really matter. She observed the trees, the vegetation, the dusty trail. At one point, she came across a cairn. She frowned at it, wondered who had taken the time to pile stones during the game and what had happened to them. She knew that she could find the answers when she got home, just like she knew that she would choose not to. She had not reviewed the tapes since she had completed her writing, and had no intent to ever delve into them again.

When she reached the summit, the afternoon was fading into early evening. The sun was still entirely above the horizon, but that seemed likely to change in the next twenty minutes or so. Kimberly took a step forwards, towards the bench that still stood unchanged, when she felt something give a little under her foot. She stepped back, then knelt.

There on the ground, half buried in the dirt, was a pair of square-rimmed glasses. They were twisted horribly, the left lens missing, the right scratched to near-opacity. Kimberly picked them up, stared at them. She carried them with her over to the bench, where she sat.

It took only a few minutes to twist them back into a roughly proper shape. She popped out the remaining lens, then removed her new pair of glasses from her face, tucking them into the pocket of her jacket. She slid the old, bent pair on, adjusting them a bit more. They sat awkwardly on her nose, pinched behind her ears a little, but they still fit.

The world was a blur. Her prescription had worsened since high school. It was hard to make out anything but colors and rough shapes. The sky was orange and purple and red, the colors of the coming sunset.

For a moment, she could pretend that she was still seventeen. She could put herself back in the moment and feel something of what she had felt then, not the pain and horror and fear, but the hope and the love and the friendship she had known, the kindness and the caring of others that had seen her through it all in the end. She could close her eyes and imagine a boy sitting next to her on the bench, joking about how being sane at this point would be a clear mark of insanity. She could imagine the crunch of gravel as a blond girl with a large gun limped up the path behind her, and she could see herself turning, and she knew that this time it would not end in blood, because this time she wasn't carrying a knife and she wasn't carrying any hate.

When she opened her eyes, the sun was starting to go down. Kimberly took the old glasses off her face, folded the arms neatly, and laid them down next to her on the bench, knowing that she would not be bringing them back with her.

She put her new glasses back on, and she watched as the sun set, and she watched as the stars came out, and she sat a long time after all other light had gone.

Survival of the Fittest Version Four:
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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