Chapter 29:

You'll die and it won't be in the way you were looking for

Castaway Isle

"By the way, we're being followed."

"...wait what?!"

Sophie said it so casually it was if she was merely pointing out the hot weather. Mattie wasn't having it, not at all.

He doesn't mind sounding like a nag, in fact, he rather has to with Sophie. Getting further information from her was akin to pulling out teeth. Sure she didn't necessarily hide things from them but she just would not tell them things. If she didn't find the information necessary she would omit the truth.

She held everything in and if he let her be she would die like that. This habit was especially prevalent when their parents died.

"Don't worry about it, Mattie. Focus on school, it's an important year for you." she would recite to him, eyes dark from sleepless nights.

That was another thing, she didn't sleep. She would overwork herself in the day, then work through the night. There was their parents' funeral to arrange, matters to tie up with the family business, transferring of this or that and piles of paperwork that would make an auditor dizzy. But as the only legal adult in their household, Sophie took on that responsibility.

Then there was her schoolwork to be transferred from the university, her leave of absence, quitting her college job to move back home.

No matter what Sophie said, Mattie could just leave it all up to her.

While it scared June, it absolutely terrified Mattie. Sophie was it, she was their last line of defense from the real world of adults.

It really was an important year for him in school, his senior year was approaching and he was in the middle of exams. His college applications were mostly sent out and he could only wait out for the most stressful decision of his academic career. But how the hell was he supposed to just sit back and focus his all on being a good student, having his high school life when his world was literally crashing all around him. Crashed like the car that wrecked and ended their parents' lives.

Sophie wanted to protect them but he wonders if she forgot who was the first one on the scene while she was in university. Who was the first one who had to identify what remained of their parents at the morgue? He didn't allow June to come with him, she didn't need to see this, didn't need to remember them like this at her young age. In a way, he could understand Sophie's protectiveness and motivations.

But he was 17, not yet an adult but no longer a child.

He couldn't just leave school, it would do them no good anyways. But got a leave of absence from his sports and club activities besides big games. His teammates were like brothers to him and supported him through these times. For all the times he would be a steady shoulder to lean on or listened in to their family troubles, they were there for him. He wasn't as talkative as June but shutting himself up, shutting people out like Sophie did was no good either.

So he stepped up, he nagged and asked questions. Just like all of his own rowdy friends did with him, annoying but loveable in their own ways.

Whatever Sophie couldn't do, shouldn't have to do, he was there to pick up the pace. Holding off noisy neighbors wanting gossip, unscrupulous relations popping out trying to gain something, that and so many more were handled by him. Those sort of people would bother him, an intimidating teen boy, as much as they would sink their teeth into his sisters.

Sure he wasn't winning the nicest brother award anytime soon. He was too harsh, too crass and sassy, and just so tired. But his remaining family didn't need nice, they needed someone to keep them in line.

On one side June was young and going through her rebellious phase while dealing with the loss of their parents, their biggest support system. On the other was Sophie, who just didn't sleep or eat or even allow herself to properly grieve. She just put on a polite proper appearance and dealt with everything that came their way. So he took care of their youngest, took over forced socializing and on too many occasions had to force her to bed or remind her to eat by cooking a meal and placing it right in front of her.

Admittedly things got better as time went on, after the funeral and selling the family business there was less stress and reminders of their loss.

But since the day before their flight, it got complicated. Sophie was both at once open but far more closed off than she was at her worst. Mattie couldn't get a read on her, something he thought he was fluent in.

Whatever vision she saw, whatever life she lead in those dreams, it had changed her deeply. But Sophie has always been good at playing 'ok', always good with her sweet poker face and giving nothing away when she didn't allow it. That much about her has not changed.

There were times to play along and there were times to nag and draw her out.

The nagging time it was then.

"Who is it? How many? Where? How long have you known damn it? Shit do we need to get ready for some shit?" Mattie seethed.

His first instinct was to tense and be ready, then hone in on the locations of each of his sisters, especially June. Sophie obviously could take care of herself when she wasn't running headfirst into the danger.

"Stand down Mattie, relax. There no danger to us." Sophie brushed him off but answered each of his questions calmly. That was the complicated part, both freely given information but closed off in so many parts. It was confusing.

"There's only 1, in the trees. We're good, no need to be on guard. Of course, he's been following us since the beginning."

"In the trees?!" June raised an eyebrow at that. She didn't notice a thing, wouldn't that have made some noise. What about the areas by the beach when there were no trees to hide in?

"When you say 'since the beginning' do you mean-" started Mattie, knowing Sophie already knew his line of thought.

"Not too sure about the specifics but at least since we left the shelter. No worries, really. They won't come out if they don't want to. Let's just focus on getting these bananas down without bruising, they're actually ripe." she was just making herself clear.

"Seriously what?! You can't just tell us these things without us worrying." fumed Mattie, but it was all hot air in the face of Sophie's calm indifference.

"It's fine, I told you guys because there's nothing to worry about. Otherwise, I wouldn't have said anything, just thought you would have liked to know. Now back to the bananas, there's a lot you can do these you know. I know we eat the flower bud in salad but even the peels can be cooked and eaten."

"....that's great Sophie." sighed Mattie.

"Are we seriously just going to ignore someone following us?" whispered June.

Wasn't this supposed to be concerning?! Of course, she trusted Sophie but how could Mattie just roll over like that?! Usually, he was the voice of reason.

And he was, he just knew when to better pick his battles at this point.

"It's no secret, we knew he's there and now he knows we know. You're welcome to come out you know. It's not like we have much to steal from. Come on Mattie, get up there and cut this down, June and I will support the catch." she brushed off.

If Sophie was this calm, then perhaps things really were not to be worried about. Just maybe, Mattie and June were still wary.

The fruiting banana tree wasn't very tall. There was actually no need to do any climbing if they wanted to pluck a few of the fruit off. However, they could get the whole bundle that way.

The fruit wasn't yellow but it was ripe to the point one or two of them burst the peel. They were stacked up green and fat, stouter than the typical yellow Cavendish bananas most commonly seen at supermarkets. It would be starchier than the common banana but depending on the ripeness it could also be sweeter.

"Chop some leaves while you're up there too Mattie."

After some maneuvering, they got the whole bundle and some suitable leaves down safely. It took less than 10 minutes. The whole thing was taller than half of Sophie's total height, so they cut the bundle into parts to fit into their mostly empty backpacks.

Sophie purposefully left a few of the topmost bananas out and told the others to go ahead to their rocky beach. They were used to the path by now and if they ever did get lost, they had multiple gps among them.

Though worried, Mattie dragged a protesting June along. He figured Sophie need alone time to draw out their stalker. He could only hope it was someone she knew, someone she could handle.

"It's just us now. You can come out if you want. I won't attack if you don't make me but it's one on one if anything. "

She was met with only silence. Except for the typical sounds of nature, it was a typical still jungle.

"Well that's fair I guess. I wouldn't want to come out either if I were you, would keep hiding and running. Nothing wrong with that, it keeps you safe, while you can still hide that is. Not threatening you, just saying. It's hard to hide forever."

While she talked to the air she stuck her spear like walking stick into the ground and went around gathering dry broken stalks, suitable for firewood, and throwing them into a pile.

"I'd hide too if I didn't have them. I can't hide them, I have to make a life for us. As awful as it is out there, or here, I want to live for them. Mattie is abrasive and always in my business about something, sarcastic mouth too, but he cares more than anyone else. June seems childish but she's smarter than she lets on and has good instincts. They're my family through and through, and given the choice, I'd still choose them. They're all I have left."

She wandered around the area, but always circled back to the banana tree where the pile was growing. Leaves, vines, stray coconuts, and firewood were piling up. Using the vines, the surrounding trees and some strategic stakes she tied a small circle, a perimeter of safety. It wouldn't do much to keep out anything on the ground, cleared out or not, but human minds were strange in what made them feel safe.

"If anything, the vine fence could be used to frame and tie leaves and fronds on them to make a shelter. Palm leaves work pretty well when layered, but you probably already knew that, hiding out in the jungle by yourself."

No one responded, but she spoke to fill the silence.

"Anyways I would prefer if you didn't mess with my siblings too much, they're easy to spook, especially Mattie despite how big he looks. Don't let anyone catch or mess with you either of course."

After clearing the perimeter and kicking away any debris, Sophie set the bananas aside on a clean leaf and started making a fire. It didn't take long when she had an electric lighter. Far faster than anyone could do by hand.

"Do no harm, take no shit, an old woman at the shelter told me that once...I liked it. Don't know much about the do no harm part, but I still liked it. "

She placed the sweet bananas, peels and all, to roast over the fire. Made them taste sweeter, even with all the starch. Occasionally she threw the coconut fuzz in as tinder and insect repellent.

"If banana peels aren't for you, you can still use them to cook meat if you catch anything. Watch over the fire would you, it will go out if you don't. I'll be back in say, under an hour? The bananas will be good to go by then. You're good with chocolate right? I feel like you can't go wrong with chocolate."

From her pack, she pulled out a little bit of candy and the airplane's saltine crackers, placing them on the banana leaf like an offering.

"Boring I know, but eat the crackers first. It's better on an empty stomach. See ya in a'll hear me coming if you want to hide again. Just don't think I'm doing this because I pity you or some shit, I'm not that easy to swindle.....and don't worry, you're plenty good at hiding. I'm just better at finding. I kind of have to be. "

What would her siblings think if she let them hang around? Let them see her set up a camp for their hidden stalker and ramble out so easily like this? Of course, letting them stay wasn't even an option. The one in the trees wouldn't even be tempted to nudge while it was the three of them. But by herself, Sophie was just as vulnerable as he was.

When she arrived at their private rocky beach, it was to a fish roast. Looked like June and Mattie didn't waste time and started eating their morning catch. Even without seasoning, the fish meat were juicy and delicious.

"Finished your business with the stalker?" asked Mattie, not at all surprised at her arrival.

Sophie had regularly texted him in the time they separated, assuring him of her safety the entire time. Amazing what a good communication system could do to keep the stress on the down-low.

"Not exactly, but we're getting there. He's a tough nut to crack, I'm going to feed him." Sophie shrugged with her update. Charring the skin of some of their collected fish on a piece of wood.

"You're going to what now?" raised Mattie, June choked on a fish tail listening in.

"I'm going to lure him out with food. Might not work tonight but hey, whatever," explained Sophie as she tried to get June to drink down some water.

"What! This is some ninja stalking us through trees! Not a kitty cat! Are you sure you want to be luring him out?" gasped June after swallowing down what she could.

It was odd being the voice of reason June found. Normally she left that job to Mattie. But it seemed that Mattie was getting better at reading this current Sophie, he always had been. Sometimes it seemed as if those two had a silent secret language that June couldn't speak.

"I'm sure, though I admit it really is a lot like luring a stray cat out. "

"Is he here now?" asked Mattie quietly, just in case.

"No, no he didn't follow me this time. But I'm going back now, he'll be in a better mood after he's eaten something. Take a good break guys, we're going straight to work after we get back to the cave since you're already eating. I'll text you."

She got up and tied the string of half-cooked fish together, wrapping it up in a large banana leaf.

" it safe? Do you know him from your dreams?"

That was the rule with Sophie, Mattie figured. If he wanted to know something he had to ask, and ask the right questions. She didn't lie to them, just omitted things.

"Hmm how to answer's not exactly safe but it's not an issue for me. For our stalker, yeah I know him."

Sometimes though, she would throw them a bone, a story.

"In my dream, only 22 people including me made it off the island alive. He was one of them."

"Fucking shit Sophie that can't be safe! Was he one of the one who-"

She never said what exactly the other survivors did, but he could guess. He could very damn well guess.

But she shook her head solemnly.

"No...he wasn't. He actually overdosed and killed himself a couple of years after we were rescued. Couldn't handle the pressure of life again, of everything. Not that I blame him. He was about 22 or something when he died."

"22?" questioned Mattie, doing the math in his head.

"But you said you spent years on this island. If he was barely in his 20s then that would make him...."

"Right now? Maybe 12 I'm guessing. Our stalker is a brat, but he's a survivor." confirmed Sophie.


"Holy shit." breathed June, in the absence of any other response.

They were panicking over a kid, an actual kid, this entire time? But how did he keep himself so quiet and hidden this whole time?

"Well if that's enough questions, for now, I'm going to go try to lure out the stray cat." said Sophie, regathering up all her gear and the wrapped up fish.

There was still plenty of daylight out. The time on their phones not yet even 4pm.

When Sophie arrived back at the little camp by the banana tree, there wasn't anyone in sight.

But the fire was still going and the candy was gone. At least he took the crackers too. That was a sign of something, that kid really was a hard one to gain the trust of. But he had survived all those years, just as she had, and all by himself too.

But he couldn't hide forever, he would get caught.

Sure he would get away eventually, but in the time till then, Sophie almost violently shuddered in disgust at the memory. She would prefer it if he didn't get caught, if none of them fell into that fate again.

Sophie understood perfectly what would lead someone who survived this hell to kill themselves after. To drown in drugs and all the vices life on the mainland had to offer. IT was far more blissful to not feel, to no longer feel anything at all.

Once couldn't hide forever. You'd starve, you'de get smoked out and chased down till they finally get you. Then they'll eat you alive, again and again. Time and time again.

Sophie wasn't hiding anymore, and if she played her cards right, neither would Leon.

She greeted the too still silence in the above trees.

"I'm back."

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