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The Hours #9

Mark made two trips, dropping off arm loads of wood and switching to a fresh torch, before Samantha returned.  I was watching the sky as a wall of clouds worked their way towards us when she walked up and sat down beside of me. “Are you alright?”

She shook her head and sniffled. “I wondered about the time that Carl spent with Mark.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I have trouble believing it.”

“It doesn’t matter now. Carl is gone and neither of us can have him.”

I was at a loss for words. How on earth was I supposed to console this woman. Her fiance had been ripped out of our boat and she had just been told that he was cheating on her with one of the two people she was traveling with. Further, her best friend, my own fiance, had just been eaten by spiders. We were lost in an  alien landscape and at this rate, all of us were going to die. I was numb to it all. I felt cold and lost and I knew she felt the same, but I could no more offer her support than I could guarantee her safety.

“I have a question for you.”

I added one of the sticks that Mark had brought to the fire and stirred it up before turning to face her squarely and nodding my ascent.

“Why didn’t you try to save Carl?”

“Because I was afraid.” It was the simplest version of the truth.

“Can’t you swim?”

I nodded.

“Then what were you afraid of?”

I swallowed, and in the quiet of the night, it was an audible sound. “He,” I began, and I had to begin the sentence many times before I managed to say the words. “He didn’t fall into the water.”

She looked at me with what I thought was confusion.

“I saw something that looked like the yellow ribbons on a young girls twirling baton wrap around his throat and drag him backward into the water. I didn’t know what it was, and I froze.” Samantha stared and after a moment, I realized that tears were making their way down my cheeks. “I was a coward.”

Samantha did something that was, in my opinion, one of the most courageous things that she could have. Instead of breaking down, as I was, or crying and denying my claim, she moved closer and wrapped her arms around me in a fierce hug. I returned the gesture, and we sat there, holding each other for some unknown time, before she sat back, moving her hands to sit on top of my knee.

I looked away, ashamed of my tears, my cowardice, and my general lack of manliness in such dire times. I attempted to take a steadying breath and noticed the light moving towards us. “It appears the Mark is returning.”

I regretted pointing it out. Samantha scooted away and I missed the comfort of her touch immediately. She lowered her eyes to the fire while I watched the torch as Mark made his way down the hill towards us.

The light came closer, then seemed to dance back and forth. “What is he doing?” I asked as the little glowing spot moved back and forth so quickly that it seemed a glowing line in the night.

Samantha looked up while I rose and moved to the other side of the fire. The spot seemed to jump forward and then it flared. When it moved again, there were two spots and I realized that the torch had hit the ground, lighting some of the dry grass when it did.

“He’s in trouble,” Samantha said. She rose and stepped up beside me. “He must be.”

It happened again, and a third fire sprang to life along with a high pitched scream. I turned and grabbed two more burning brands from our fire and handed one to Samantha. “Quickly,” I said, took hold of her hand and pulled her behind me.

The fire jumped again but this time, it left a streak of light as it moved away from our camp. It was moving much faster than what Samantha and I could. I stopped after a few steps, listening as the scream died away. The trail of fire disappeared when I assume Mark was dragged over the ridge of the hill.

Samantha’s hand trembled in mine and her voice broke as she asked, “He’s gone?”

My squeezing her hand was the only response I could muster. We stood for a moment, watching the little fires as the flared and grew, but then it began to rain. The first cold drops of water smacked my skin before Samantha pulled me back toward our little camp.

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