33. Restraint

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I spent the night in the recess outside the cave.

First, sleep wouldn't come as I ransacked my memory for the password. I stretched my brain until it threatened to tear apart. But that endless string of characters just wasn't there anymore. It was gone. It had fled the crumbling ruins of me.

Finally, I fell into a dreamless void of slumber that took me all through the second part of the night and into the next morning.

When I woke, I first sat against the rock of the recess, again hunting the crannies and folds of my mind for the password, but there was nothing of value there, only stale thoughts, lost hope, and failed ambitions.

The hard edges of the rock behind me brought my attention back to the here and now. To the mess I was in.

The sea was turquoise today. The valley's edge that framed it was all sickly greens and stained browns—the edge where I had seen him fall. Where he had died for me.

The site pulled at me. I stood and descended towards it. This was the path that Farid had taken as he had diverted the soldiers' attention, pulling them away from our cave and from me.

These were the shrubs that had hidden him.

This was where the first bullet had found him.

The cliff crowned a steep, cracked, and forbidding wall going all the way down to the shore, where the white waves battered the rocks.

The rocks that had stopped his fall.

I scanned the shoreline for his body, shot and shattered. But he wasn't there. They'd probably collected it—and burned him just like they had done it with Chris and Nita.

Orange flames and greasy, black smoke devouring fabric, flesh, bone, and being.

The shore called out to me, beckoned for me. The fall would easily kill, and it would end the pain.

It would end the guilt.

The solution was but a step away.

A movement caught my eyes. A lone, human figure wearing a white shirt walked along the shoreline. I narrowed my eyes at it, fighting my short-sighted vision.

Coppery, long hair gleamed in the sunlight.

Bruna.

Her steps were light, smooth, and nimble. She climbed a boulder and faced the coast of the island. Then she looked up in my direction and froze.

She must have seen me.

I was trapped—a hamster in a snake's stare.

She waved her arms, her mouth moving. I didn't hear her voice over the chant of the water. She gestured south and uphill. Then, in a smooth motion, she jumped from the boulder and jogged in the direction she had gestured at.

She probably had wanted to tell me that she'd run back to the campsite and take the trail up the next valley. 

Then she would scale the ridge and descend upon me.

She was a predator. A vampire. And she would be hungry. Starving like me—but her hunger would be different from mine.

It was adrenaline that made me move. I had to leave this valley before she got here.

I ran and clambered up the scree. My legs complained, and my breath rattled, but there was no time to waste.

Farid had said that Bruna was a hunter and a killer. And now, I was her prey.

As I reached the upper end of the valley, I turned right and north since she was bound to come in over the ridge to my left.

The running was easier now that the ground was solid basalt and I didn't have to climb anymore. I decided to run around the north peak and then head south to hide in the shrubs around the southern hill.

I looked back. She wasn't in sight. Relieved, I continued. Searching the valley of the cave would keep her busy, giving me time and a headstart.

"Megan, wait!"

The voice was faint, but it caught me like a snare. It came from above. I looked up, and there she stood, close to the top of the hill, hands resting against her hips, looking down at me. She was no more than a hundred yards or so away.

She strode down the slope towards me, sure-footed and quick.

My feet were glued to the ground as if they had driven roots into the rock.

"Why are you running?" she said. "Has everyone on this island lost their mind?" She stopped a few steps away, eying me, lips parted.

I was exhausted, and she looked as fresh as dew. Trying to outrun her made no sense.

I shrugged. "They've killed everybody," I said, my gaze darting between her and the ground. I needed a weapon.

"Yes, I've seen. That's why I ran. I hate the military. Where's Farid?"

"He's... dead."

She bit her lip. "What happened?"

"We hid in that valley up there." I waved a hand towards the hill. "They found us. When they saw him, they shot him."

She looked back uphill, winding a strand of her hair around her fingers and tugging at it.

She said something in Spanish, starting with 'me cago'. The rest was lost on me, but it was fraught with anger or hatred. When she looked back at me, her lips were pressed into a thin line. "And you?" She jutted her chin at me. "How did you survive if they got him? They had dogs, didn't they? I heard their bark."

"There's a little cave in that valley where we were hiding. When they arrived, he left me there and drew them away. They didn't find me."

She raised her eyebrows. "Oh, he sacrificed himself? He took the bullet... for you?"

I lacked the words for an answer and stared at her feet. The skin between her shoes and the sullied, torn cuffs of her pants was smooth and perfect. The same skin that had been badly burned only a couple of days ago.

"He is..." She hesitated. "He was always like that. Too good and too soft. He never acknowledged the man he was. He was worth so much more than most of those he cared for."

I nodded and looked up at her face, yet her gaze wasn't on me—it was directed at the sea.

"He wasted what God had given him," she said. "He could have achieved anything if he just had had the courage and strength to use it."

Her words were so dismissive, so condescending. He didn't deserve this.

"He had more courage and strength than most," I said, and my anger wove a quiver into my voice. "Restraint is so much harder than giving in to petty whims and sordid desires."

She turned her gaze on me, her eyes a blue hotter than the orange fire that had devoured our companions. For a moment, we just stared at each other, sharing the poisonous knowledge.

Sharing the knowledge that I knew what she was, and that she knew that I knew.



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