Chapter 32:

The morning air is biting cold, but we get up anyways.

Castaway Isle

A boy screams and screams.

That's what he is, a mere boy, not even yet 18. He doesn't know anyone could be willing to take this pain, can't imagine it. But here he is. It burns far worse than any broken bone or nasty injury from a collision of rough boys over a ball. It burns with acid and hot sparks of metal against metal and he is the collateral damage.

He feels as if his arm will rot right off, right there in a burning instant. He feels it happening all at once yet dragged out for far too long. He can't think, can't breathe.

"Open your mouth, keep it open."

How did Sophie do this so calmly? How did she bear through this kind of pain? How was she even able to keep a steady conversation those times she was lucid, or for the first hour. Mattie feels the pain ramming him like a truck, like the crash that took their parents out of this world.

He registers to taste something oily and pungent as his sisters hold him down, one trembling, the other sure and heavy. He chokes to breathe as they pry his mouth, pouring water down for him to swallow and wash out whatever that thing just was.

Through the pain burning him alive, he feels stabs from the outside. Jabs and rubs from his elder sister's hands. They might as well be knife wounds with how his muscles contract and shake him. The venom making its way through his system.

Acupuncture points, Mattie can blearily make out what his sister is trying to do for him. Trying to take away the pain and relax him as much as possible. But he can't he can't oh god he can't take it.

"It's okay, sleep. It will be okay. Sleep it away." comes her voice, shushing comforts like when they were all children.

Sleep does not come easy but he does, he falls unconscious through it all. He hopes this will not be the last time he opens his eyes, no matter what it feels like.

The silence is deafening, but it is welcome.

A least for one.

"...Mattie...oh my god Sophie what...what is going on?"

The younger teen doesn't exactly dry heave but she shakes, in both fear and confusion. Her mind reeling to catch up to and process all the things hitting her at once.

There is a part of Sophie that wants to take her into her arms. To hush and soothe all her fears and worries with a lullaby, to protect June from the world. But she holds herself back from doing just that. It isn't what June needs.

Isn't what anyone needs, especially not Mattie.

She needs to make sure all of them get out of this alive.

"The poison will make him stronger- it will help him survive." She repeats Mattie's words from earlier. He always had a way of simply getting words out, straight to the point.

As it did me, goes physically unspoken as Sophie looks down to her own still bandaged arm. It no longer hurt, not for while but she didn't want to look at the scar, or perhaps the lack of one, not just yet.

June caught the message nonetheless.

"" she shakingly points to herself in uncertainty, as if she's next. Because she is. Sophie nods in confirmation.

"In due time, when it's convenient enough. Think of it as a vaccine in this place."

June bites her lip but tries to give something of a warm smile back at her sister, accepting but understandably still shaken in something conflicting.

"I get it....but how so? What does it do?"

"You heard about the anti-venom effects. After your body processes the venom, it will give you some resistance to the local venoms and poisons on this island. For all creatures, as far as we know."

"From your visions...ok I get that. But what else?"

June doesn't doubt Sophie, never had. If Sophie has psychic dreams, powers, or whatever she's all on board. That part isn't the issue.

"What can it do for us? For Mattie?"

"Will it give you my visions, that's what you're trying to ask, no?"

"...Not exactly."

"Will you get abilities, powers, something beyond human? I know."

June can't help but avert her eyes downwards at being seen through. Sophie doesn't need to play it cool, it's too easy to do. She easily predicts and points June through her question and doubts, just as patiently as she wipes down Mattie's still wet forehead with a warm rag.

"Yes and no. Effects vary per person but for the most part, a person who receives the venom has an increase in their physical abilities. Nothing superman like, sometimes you got faster or stronger or can see better in the dark. Sometimes only one or two traits, sometimes more. But they're subtle, just boosters, not really powers."

"Still better than nothing at all...and it varies right?!"

"It's something if that's what you mean, yes it's better than nothing at all. It can be a lifesaver if you use what you got, but it's not something to fall back on completely."

It wasn't a superpower. There were those who got drunk off the delusion though. Out of seemingly nowhere, they could now break through wood and stone with their bare hands, could climb up mountains in a fraction of the time without exhausting themselves like they normally would. Some of those physical boosters borderlines on the realm of superpowers, but it wasn't. Not really. Not when everyone else with a bite got something.

There were those who took advantage of their newfound strength, lording it over others like it was some kind of chicken fight hierarchy. There were those who got cocky and dies too easily, usually out of carelessness.

Just because you got a little tougher doesn't mean you could singlehandedly hunt down a wild beast, it doesn't make you immune to the elements.

There were truly some stupid ways people died, but funny. Funny now that Sophie looked back on it. A few wastes, especially with some hot-blooded youths, but they made funny campfire stories nonetheless. They usually got a chuckle, if not a full howling laugh, out of Leon. One's sense of humor, amusement, got a little messed up out here.

Leon was always a messed up sort of kid though, and gods he was so damn small right now. So young. But so were all of them.

A 16 year old June, all baby soft cheeks and awkwardness, looks up at her with a storm of different emotions in her face. But one of them was determination, a certain stubborn streak that June had when she couldn't win but wanted to, badly. That was good enough for Sophie, a good enough start.

"So for"

"Took the bite the first chance I got. I wanted the advantage, I didn't want someone else to get it. It would have mean bad news."

Sophie smirks and tells the story Junes missed out on. The intro of a thug named Foster and an even sleazier slimeball named Wilson. Of the first time once upon a dream, that Sophie let herself be bitten by a snake. Of the seconds, in front of a horrified shocked Mattie. Not everything of course, just enough to keep the story flowing, to warn but not to frighten. Not too much- June was tougher than Sophie originally ever gave her credit for.

It would be good if in this life they didn't have to worry so much after her. If they could let her protect herself, and them back.

"I'm still figuring out the effects that the bite has on me, the fact that I'm not bedridden is damn good in my book."

"....What about Mattie then?"

Sophie wipes the collar of his neck, her brother's breathing has evened out considerably well. But his earlier reaction, the pain, had certainly spooked June and caused a well of unease in Sophie. Of course, it hurt, and they knew it would hurt but that still didn't make watching him writhing in pain any easier.

"Mattie will make it through this better than I did, he'll be fine in the end. He doesn't have the first aid I received but...but we're ready. The venom had time to weaken and he has some counter brews in him, some relaxants. "

"Sophie just what exactly did we give him?"

"Some cooked up herbs, might not be as effective seeing how fresh they were but still better than nothing."

"Okay so like dad's nasty Chinese medicine basically...and?"

"An oil tincture, something to relax him and promote blood flow."

" I'm not saying it's bad bc, yo I'm a teenager but Sophie I know the smell of weed. How did you get- well you know!?!"

Ah that, Sophie shrugged at the small matter.

"Oil, but it's legal for those above 21 nowadays."

"You went out and bought-"

"This won't make him high, I just bought the medicinal grade CBD kind and swapped out the bottles. Looks no different than beauty oil or plain olive oil. Still not federally legal so best to safe when getting it through TSA."

Another passenger without a medical pass used the same method to get cannabis products through security and into their luggage. While they may have different intentions, it was useful stuff really, especially in sedation without much any negative side effects.

Sophie used it herself, after the island. Use a lot of stronger shit too, with and without the permissions of her doctors. They had to sedate her, a lot, in the initial time period after her rescue. For everyone's safety, not just her own.

"You brought drugs?!?"

"Look at Mattie right now, look at him and remember how he was half an hour ago. Tell me he couldn't use it."

And whatever fears June has dropped. She looks, she really does and she sees her older brother no longer screaming no longer in agony. He was just sleeping, like the horror of this morning was just a bad prank, a false scare. When she holds his hands, feels for his pulse it is steady and calm. A far cry from how it was earlier.

"Medicine is a drug, a lot of things are. But we have a limited amount, limited everything really. But I tried, god damn I tried to prepare us to last the next 8 years. "

They eye the luggage, the carry-ons. There was a huge difference in the size and amount that June brought and the full capacity that Sophie and Mattie lugged along with them. Sure she had clothes and personal items, but what real use could June's luggage provide?

Without the actual supplies Sophie and Mattie brought along, they'd be far worse of. Everything from cooking supplies, lighting, bedding and even electrical generators- each of these things made a huge difference in their living standards out here. But it was all limited and underwhelming in the face of the uncertain future in the wilderness.

"There's more in the plane but we have to be careful. Careful in how we use things, careful in who knows- right now we can trust no one. Not a soul outside our family. Do you get that June?"

"Yes...yes of course."

"No matter how bad you feel for someone, no matter how much you want to help someone, you shouldn't. You have to think first or run it by Mattie and I. Please, I'm begging you June- no secrets, no keeping things from us. I swear I'll tell you ahead what you need to know I just have too many things in my head but please, don't hold anything from us."

Not again, don't keep it all in and let yourself fall victim again. That's how they got you in the first place, that's how you ultimately died the last time around.

But Sophie wouldn't couldn't say that. Couldn't shock scare her sister with the full truth just yet.

This much was already a lot- already leaving June trembling and reeling no matter how much the younger girl nodded or promised she could handle it. She really wanted to, Sophie could tell. But in too many ways June was like a child, lying about how they weren't scared in the face of a scary story. A front wasn't bravery, no matter how sincere she was.

Time- it would take time to catch June up. They had to be patient but they had to wake her up. Sophie wouldn't lose any of them this time. They needed every card, every advantage they could scrounge up together.

Even the unexplainable ones.

The coffee mug sat stain and cold but empty by the floor.

She doesn't tell June the story of this morning, not when she couldn't even wrap her head around it. Not with Mattie out of commission the seasonal monsoons approaching in a month's time. It's too much to juggle, too much to understand.

So she doesn't- understanding can be for a later time. Right now they just need to act and prepare.

"Mattie's been stabilized for now. I'm not seeing any adverse reactions but he needs time to sleep and run the venom through him. I'll go out today to gather- so watch over him. "

That was already a surprise, the venom should be affecting him painfully still, from what Sophie remembered of those affected by the crude vaccine. But she herself was already defying expectations in her own results. There were things she wouldn't question, blessings she wouldn't take for granted. It was good if he wasn't in more pain than needed.

"Wait wait wait you're going out?!" exclaimed the younger girl.

Why was Sophie leaving her alone? Leaving Mattie when he was like this?

"....Someone has to stay with him. I...I'd like to stay with him all day if I could...but we can't afford to stay idle. We need to eat today. Keep him hydrated where you can and text me throughout the day. Walkie talkie me if anything comes up."

"Alone? But Sophie we have rations and it's-"

"Didn't you hear me when I say everything we have is limited? Food won't be ripe for the picking for long and we're already short on time.....when Mattie is ok again, we head down to the planes. There's more to do there than here. "

As difficult as nature was, humans were always the more complicated ones. Other people were where the headaches lay.

"But- shouldn't someone go with you. As back up and-"

"You're no backup to me right now."


Blunt, Sophie took a page out of Mattie's book but the words cut much harsher than he could ever make it. It hurt worse because they both knew it was true.

"June, I know this area. I'm prepared and know what I'm looking for, what I'm doing, as crazy as it sounds. If something comes at me I know how to counter or defend myself, am ready for that. I can't say I'm ready to protect you too, not all the time."

It wasn't fair, it was scary, confusing and it wasn't fair in June's mind. But it was all true. Her elder sister may be a head shorter than her, may be seemingly smaller and frailer- but she was right. Neither of them had any doubt about Sophie's abilities now. Without Sophie's specific instruction, June would only hold her back in this situation.

Sophie takes a stiff June into her arms, warms her up with bated breathe and comforting caresses.

"You'll get stronger, better for this...we all will. But right now, Mattie needs you more. Please stay with him, please be there for him, please don't leave him alone. Be there if he wakes up when he wakes up."

"It's not fair."

"Stay with him, like he would stay for you. I'll be back soon, I'll be okay. I won't take risks I can't handle."

"I don't know if we have the same definition of what those risks are anymore."

"You'll have my location on the trackers, text me and I'll respond. Think of it like running to store."

"This is a whole lot farther than the supermarket Sophie.."

"Yeah....yeah, it is."

But it's familiar, to Sophie as familiar as their local Target. The mountains were her safe place on the island and right now, these ones are their best bet.

They bring in the rainwater catchers from last night together. Set up the laptop with more instructional videos than June could possibly watch in a week let alone a few hours. And then Sophie was off, the rain now but the barest of sprinkles.

Gone with nothing but her makeshift spear and a nearly empty backpack. Gone to do god knows what, June wouldn't know. Sophie only sent simple comforting texts and pictures of the peaceful scenery. A shallow cave, the river, the bamboo grove.

Even if June worried, it would do them no good. She could only do her part in caring for their brother, though that was as fun as caring for any sleeping sick patient. The videos helped, so did her headphones. They helped a lot.

Though they didn't do anything in ease her shock when Sophie returned that late afternoon, unharmed but carrying a razor sharp-toothed fish longer than any husky dog over her small shoulder. The massive thing was speared through its mouth but didn't look quite dead with how it twitched and gaped.

"Uh....whatcha got there sis?"

"Hmm, some bamboo shoots. Sorry, I took so long, did a bit of farming work in the caves, we can get growing some mushrooms and bean sprouts. Oh and nurture the aloe plants I brought."

"Uh....uh huh....and ...that?" June pointed

"Oh, this? Rainy days are a great day to catch fish."

"And...why does it have so many....teeth?"

"Ah, this is a channa, or a mudfish or a snakehead fish, name differs by country. We had it before, though not back home- kinda illegal to raise these things in the states. It's a predatory type of local freshwater fish, this one's a youngish female and not too hard to catch by myself. They can get a whole lot bigger. I tried descaling it the best I could at the river but these things can breathe air to some extent."

"Uh huh." nods June blankly, out of shock, to Sophie's lack of any reasonable reaction.

"Soup sounds good to you tonight? Be easier to reheat for Mattie too."

"Uh huh- sure....snakehead soup."

Oh, Mattie was going to love this, and the irony of the name, when he woke up.

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