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Paradise; This one's for all the marbles.
Topic Started: Nov 4 2014, 12:14 AM (5,360 Views)
NotAFlyingToy
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Southern motherfuckin' democratic republicans.
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((Hansel Williams, Tears in the Rain))

Four corpses were in sight from his perch on the railing of the gazebo, in varying degrees of decay. The stench railed and wafted into his nostrils, causing his eyes to water as his legs swung free, hindered only by the gun on his lap. He couldn’t help but feel a kinship with the dead after eleven days of being surrounded by them, reminded of them, adding to them. Four didn’t seem that significant of a number given the dozens and dozens of students that had fallen here - on the island that had once existed, drawn life, created. Once, this island had inhabitants - men and women and children. It was a place with beautiful statues, well-stocked hospitals, a power plant that had seen workers clock in, clock out, produce, contribute. Earn.

This once-functioning, breathing, creating collection of plant and animal and structure, reduced to a mass grave of over a hundred kids.

Hansel sat, his hands folded over his FAMAS - one over the other, rough skin on rougher gauze - and stared at the macabre sight, wondering about the last thoughts that ran through someone’s head when they died. Was there contentedness, any sorrow? Did you get a few moments - a brief interlude - to review and collect yourself before facing what followed? Or was it just blackness - candles snuffed in the wind?

If they had died for something, if there had been method to the madness, it was lost to him amidst the running, the fighting, the destruction and chaos. The once-habitable island was scorched earth and shallow graves, dark memories and landmines. All that had mattered, all that he’d focused on, was standing on another’s shoulders until he could reach the top.

He turned the FAMAS over in his hands, feeling cold steel and polyester mingling together, running his calloused fingers over the sleek, streamlined design. He dipped into the trigger guard, circled the safety - now, forever, switched off - dragged nails down the stock until he circled the barrel. His touch was absent, scattered, his gaze on the body of Matt Masters as he felt the weight of the gun against his knees and the texture of it at his fingertips. With it, as he stroked and weighed, he felt six different gunshots - six moments suspended in time - that came with it.

He supposed that this gun, the gun they had given him, would be considered - what, his signature? Some sort of symbol, gained from his struggle against classmates for reasons that he didn’t understand - couldn’t comprehend?

He flipped the gun over. The other side was warm from his legs, sapped of body heat. He considered.

There was nobody else to blame for this - what he’d done, what they’d all done. Presented with the option between all dying or most, they’d chosen the more pragmatic answer: kill or be killed, destroy or be destroyed. On paper, in the broad spectrum, it was the better answer, the morally just one. Save as many as you could, one life secured better than none.

Hansel hopped off the gazebo ledge and landed in the grass unsteadily, knees bending with the soft thud of boots on damp earth. In the process, in the journey from nobody living to one surviving, things within them cracked and moulded, shifted and changed in brittle chrysalides that leaked their former glory. In the mad dash to be the one - the single, solitary living amongst a sea of dead - they’d lost everything.

Hansel laid the FAMAS against the gazebo, taking care to ensure it was at a forty-five degree angle. The least he could do, the absolute minimum he could accomplish, would be ensuring that they got nothing back. No returning tools, no iconic weaponry.

No legacy.

The first time boot met metal and polyester, it resulted in a clang and a scrape - noises that he felt resonate up his leg. The second time, the dirt gave way, sinking the stock of the gun into the soft ground. The third time, the barrel of the FAMAS bent at a right ankle, sliding the rifle that had served him well, that had helped him climb the ladder of fucking bottom feeders all scrabbling for purchase on a wall paved with the worst fucking intentions, further down. By the ninth slam of boot on gun, the FAMAS was unrecognizable, unusable - a twisty, scarred mess.

He stared at it. Reached behind him to pull the Winchester from battered pack to battered palms. Slammed the lever-action back, primed the gun to fire. He took a moment. Sighted the sky. Drank down the putrid air. Noted the cameras and their beady, glassy eyes.

He took a moment.

Then, he pressed the Winchester against the FAMAS’s trigger mechanism, metal on metal, and said goodbye to the six faces who’d fallen at the weapon’s maw.

He straightened, ejecting the casing with a click-clack of the lever, and looked around the park as the gunshot echoed, his location signaled to the others - Joey, Zubin, Mara - who were undoubtedly on their way. He shrank back against the gazebo, back to the wall, weapon at the ready.

Three more obstacles to overcome, he thought.

Then, for better or for worse, he’d have his life.
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NotAFlyingToy
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Through clenched teeth, Hansel watched Zubin arrive, a tiny person in the distance, stepping over a body, shit-eating grin attached to his face. He held his position in the shadow of the gazebo, gun pointed down, waiting. There wasn’t any sense in firing wildly, now, not when his gun took so long to cock and reload, not when so much was riding on every shot. He waited.

He recalled a story in history class, about the American revolution and the generals who’d order their men not to fire until they saw the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Zubin’s eyes were dark, framed by glasses, slightly shimmery. He couldn’t see the whites yet.

He waited. Waited, even though his heart started hammering away in his chest, even when Zubin’s steady approach made his fingers itch against the smooth steel and wood of his gun, even when the other boy brandished a more menacing one.

Waited.

And when flecks of white showed around Zubin’s irises, when he could make out the essence of his stare, Hansel lifted his own weapon and fired.
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NotAFlyingToy
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Even if Hansel could've responded, even if he'd not been shot in the face and had bandages wrapped around his head, their stench filling his nostrils and permeating his mouth, he wouldn't have. They were all way past words, now, far beyond guilt trips that added up to nothing more than hot air. Delusions of ever having had the opportunity, the means, the chance of escape did nothing for Hansel but make him feel a small pang of pity for this boy who had apparently believed, this child facing off against him who had at one point been naive enough or dim enough to feel like the power of friendship would see it through.

The rest of him felt anger - not at Zubin's words, but at the idea that he could've come this far, on the eve of the violence ending one way or another, unscathed in body and mind. He stood there unhurt and judgemental while Hansel had been stripped down of his health and beliefs and sense of security. Zubin stood there spewing idealistic bullshit while he was still on the cliff face, still stepping on his classmate's heads to try and reach the top.

So, he cocked back the lever on the Remington and fired repeatedly as he back-pedalled, keeping close to the gazebo, utilizing the limited cover.
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Smoke billowed around them, seeping through the park with creeping, deep-coloured tendrils that whipped into the air at an astonishing speed. The smell of sulfur and ash clogged in Hansel's throat as the spectacle caught his eye for a fleeting moment - there, in the distance - before he re-focused on the task at hand, crouched in the shadow of the gazebo. Listening, he felt his ears burn slightly as Zubin's taunt floated, seeming to dissipate on air.

He wasn't sure where the other boy was, and didn't have sight on him - the gazebo loomed over him from his crouched position, blocking the view - but he found the statement trite, hollow. To him, it sounded like a bad line from a production, something that was just unrealistic enough to take the audience out of the script and explosions and make them realize that they were sitting in a theatre, watching a screen or a stage.

Slowly, it dawned on him that Zubin was... his father would say 'touched'. Hansel didn't know if he was more dangerous or sad because of it.

He backed away, still in the crouch, keeping the gazebo between him and where he assumed Zubin was, the gun at the ready as he eased his way towards a picnic table. Under his hands, the trigger was slick with sweat, the bandages constricting his breathing slightly, absorbing the rancid odour of his breath.

Three more, Hansel. You'll be free after three more.
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NotAFlyingToy
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In a way, it felt more right to be waiting for Zubin to appear then to seek him out. He'd been the instigator so many times during his time on the island, been the pushing factor and the motivator for so many confrontations. In a way, it was settling to be able to drop to one knee next to a picnic table, shifting his weapon to either side of the gazebo in turn, waiting for Zubin to poke his head out.

And when Zubin did, Hansel was the first to fire, though he knew the second he pulled the trigger that the shot was wide, slamming into the gazebo wall. He fumbled with the gun, the pain in his chest suddenly blooming, KK's knife wound making itself known and fighting against him. It was almost as if she was suddenly there, throwing her weight against his arm, making the act of cocking the hammer again seem herculean.

All at once, he felt like the lives he'd taken, the people who'd fought and died by his hand were pressing in on his lungs, his chest, his shoulders - the burden overwhelming, exhausting. All at once, his left hand sang with pain, fire spreading up his throat, blooming at his face. The wounds - superficial and emotional - began bleeding again in a crimson harmony that made him sag against the picnic table, rifle uncocked, eyes drooping.

All the while the recognition of what was happening, the crisp, clear certainty of mind battling against failure of body, wracked through him.

I can't, I can't, I can't as he sagged against the picnic table, his eyes locked on Zubin's as he dropped the rifle, KK's chest wound forcing him to hunch over.

I can't.
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NotAFlyingToy
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An arm - a weighty arm - pressed against his chest as Zubin kicked him down, the phantom limb pressing tight against his ribcage and radiating white heat that made his skin crackle and burn. KK was here somewhere, a personal ghost that continued to haunt him, a consequence taking its pound of flesh from his hide.

The fall from Zubin's kick seemed to take forever, and on the way down he saw his bloody stump of a hand, a flash of gore on the grass, a wrench embedded in an enemy's skull. He felt the body shock of a person between him and a wall, the teeth-rattling impact of a knife re-directed.

It wasn't Zubin that he saw as he fell - not really. He saw legions of judgement, twisted and hating faces that all seemed to scream at him, abuse him verbally in the scant moments between getting hit and hitting the ground. Zubin's face melted and shifted into Joe's, Michael's, Marcus', Mallory's. It shifted to Andi's and Garrett's, twisted into Tyler's and Virgil's.

He saw the island in that moment.

The impact of the ground at his back jarred him back to the present as Zubin now held his rifle, and all he managed to do was jerk to the side - a futile gesture - in defense.
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There was suddenly a suction cup on his back, keeping his lower back pressed against the earth as Zubin stood over him, looking pale and slightly colourless as the SMG raised to point down at him. Hansel saw himself from above, staring down at the two of them as Zubin’s finger curled around the trigger, felt his throat go raw from screaming at his bloody, wounded counterpart, lying pathetically on the grass floor of the park. He saw barely a man curled there - bandaged face, missing fingers, seemingly more gauze and will than flesh and bone.

He saw wounds - starting with Theo’s, moving to Mallory’s bruise and Ray’s insults to Virgil’s amputation and KK’s stabbing. He felt as though he should be experiencing pride at how long he lasted, success in some measure for managing to drag his way this far, but all he felt was a bone dry weariness, an exhaustion that seeped into all elements of his being.

He felt as though he’d just ran a marathon through glass, having taken every shortcut, every obstacle, every single jarring step, only to realize at the very end that there was the option to walk along the path of pillows and they neglected to tell half of the contestants.

He saw himself raise an open hand, spreading his fingers wide as Zubin’s finger continued curling, his mouth opening in a croak as he said “Wait-”

A crack of thunder.

Flash he was yelling in a forest on his back as crimson stained leaves were around him and he was forcing out the word faggot as the little fucking coward starting sprinting away from him

Flash he was walking stone-faced towards the fresh corpse of a classmate under the angry stares and loud voices of the small crowd that had gathered around it

Flash he was opening fire on a duo from atop a hill

Flash he was lying on his back, bleeding from the stomach, bleeding from his chest, bleeding from his face his hands his shoulder and suddenly rage gripped him as he saw this man who thought he could waltz to the finish line, not having suffered, not having to do anything other than come in at the end and pull a fucking trigger-

His hand twitched as it shifted, dragged across the earth towards the back of his waistband. He shifted, trying to roll as his hand gripped at the hard object digging into his back, reaching for the SMG buried there. Hooking two fingers on it, he pulled, his arm screaming with pain as the gun was freed and he fell flat on his back again, the SMG resting beneath his hand.

He exhaled, breathing slowly, carefully.

Then, he rotated the SMG so that the barrel faced Zubin’s back, lifted it slightly, and pulled the trigger.
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It was difficult to keep his eyes open, harder still to keep himself upright. A clubbed, gauze-wrapped hand gripped tight to the picnic table, his arm shaking with effort as his torso lay draped against the wooden bench. He couldn't gain his feet, the distance between himself and Zubin's corpse seeming insurmountable, and so shifted, dragging his back across the wood until he was fully facing Mara.

Zubin's last gunshot had hit home, and a sudden and terrifying coldness was stealing over his ribcage, flooding the gauze already present with more scarlet. The thunder and lightning of the bullet joined the remainder of his wounds in an immaculate chorus that sang in tandem, vibrating across his body and making his eyes heavy, limbs weak.

It all seemed so inevitable, now. His ability to get up after a fight, soldier on, carry the weight and drag it with him had abandoned him, a tool that was overused and improperly maintained collapsing under itself. Hansel made peace with that fact, let it steel him for what was to come.

She - Mara - started towards him across a field awash with a sunset glossed in a purple haze, and he prepared to accept her.
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His head felt like a bowling ball as he nodded, a slow, steady up-down motion that - somehow - sent fire to his stomach, tendrils of pain reaching towards his hip. He eyed her, the putrid, coppery scent of blood and stench of moisture fermenting from his mouth and the gauze that wrapped him tight.

He wasn't sure if the SMG was still in his hand, had to glance towards it to double-check. The way he was stretched against the bench of the picnic table, he'd need to fall from his position in order to shoot up at her. The idea was familiar - compromising his dignity for a shot at survival - and one he'd chosen before, easily, with no hesitation.

He made the choice this time with careful thought and a cautious eye towards her, watching her bowed head, her grubby appearance, the purple smoke billowing and lingering around her, like she'd just walked out of a fire.

She had, he realized.

They both had.

He made the choice, tossed the SMG to the side, and leaned his head back against the wood, exhaling towards the setting sun.
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This was almost worse than the shouting, the fighting and the pain. This was almost more unbearable than fighting for your life or arguing to live or facing a loaded gun. In those situations, Hansel had always been able to react appropriately, act in time, push past the obstacle or defeat the opponent or do what was generally required in order to live.

But these? The quiet moments, the heartfelt moments, the moments where you have no choice but to talk to someone and face everything you've been through and try to quantify, qualify, analyze? The moments when you had to admit that there wasn't a clock, or a time limit, or where shooting and fighting weren't an answer? Hansel didn't know what to do with those.

There were no room for them on the island.

Now, there were two people, and only one could walk away. A simple manner of subtraction. She asked him what to do - she told him she thought he knew what to do to escape, get away, retreat.

The way out.

She thought he knew, and deep down, he did.

He kept his eyes closed and towards the sunset as he lifted shaking hands, peeling back the gauze around his mouth and jaw, freeing up aching lips and shredded skin. The smell was instant in the midst of the gunfire - brimstone and fire and putrid air that filled the space where his cheek should be. He was skeletal, skin, bones, blood and bandage, and he kept his gaze hidden, expression neutral as he swallowed to speak.

"Yuh," he started, then stopped. Took a breath.

Take your time with these, Hansel. They may be your last words. No stuttering, no dicking around.

You can't be wrong.

"What would you change," he croaked, "if you could do it all again?"
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Her response got a smile out of him, a genuine curve of the lip on the un-ruined side of his face. The touch, the non-violent skin-to-skin contact had him doubting his decision a little, hesitation making him pause, but she'd sat beside him, leaned against him, opened herself to him.

The SMG was a foot, maybe two away.

But he squeezed her hand, revelled in this moment for a second, treated himself to human emotion. He turned his head to face the top of hers, the tangled, matted hair that slithered and snaked around her skull in an unpredictable mess of tendrils, and pressed his mouth against it slightly, breathed deep. She smelled like sulphiric smoke and raw sweat, fire and blood.

He pursed ruined lips against scraggily scalp, leaned back, his free hand reaching slightly for the SMG, hesitating, hovering.

The way out, he decided. The only way out. She knew it as well as he did.

His free hand curled into a fist, the slight movement for the gun exhausting him, sapping his energy.

His eyes slid closed, the back of his head resting against the wood again as he gathered strength for that final, long stretch to freedom. Just a few moments more, and it would be over either way. But which way? Which one of them would be able to walk? Who would the barrel turn against in its final moments?

Either way, it was up to him.

It was all up to him.

"I wouldn't change anything," he said, his voice soft, contemplative as the sun slid behind the treeline, dusk becoming night, the world sliding into sleep in preparation for a new, irrevocably changed day.

"Not a goddamn thing."

Gather your strength, Hansel. Decide either way.

You can't be wrong.

Hansel died sixty seconds later, still deliberating.



This time, when the train car pulled up, he had made his choice. The bag sat soundly on the bench, splintering the concrete and digging a hole in the tile floor. He left his shirt, too, and his belt, neatly folded beside them, eagerly anticipating the arrival of his new life. His fingers shook with anticipation, the harsh light beaming onto his tanned skin, watching as he bounced lightly on the balls of his feet.

The train car made no noise as it slid smoothly into the station stop, and the boy in white stood at the train car doors, smiling at him as they slid open.

"Ready, I see."

He nodded, grinning, and took the boy in white's outstretched hand as the boy in white pulled him into the car. Suddenly, he was bathed in warmth - a soft, light glow that surrounded his body. On the car were dozens of people, smiling and waving at him, offering cheers and congratulations as he stepped into their circle, their hands caressing him, comforting him, consoling him.

He smiled into their grins, laughed into their mirth, as the train car doors slid closed. He closed his eyes, smiled at the ceiling as the train car started to move, their hands securing him among them, taking him amongst their number.

In the instant before the car slid on soundless wheels into the dark tunnel, in the moment before the world went black, his eyes opened.

Their smiles had turned sinister.

B067 - Hansel Williams: Deceased
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