Chapter 18:

The best medicines are bitter. So drink up

Castaway Isle


There is a cave surrounded in green.

The air is cool and crisp in the early morning, fog rolls through the mountain hills. From the mouth of the cave, one cannot see the sea, and thus protected by the harsh ocean wind despite being so high up.

Nearby a small mountain goat and her two kids are grazing peacefully.

Sophie does not know how she is back here, it must be a dream. For this is the mouth of the cave she lived in for the last two years she was trapped on the island.

For a moment she feared that the last 5 years were a dream. That she never left and returning, once to the mainland and once in time, was all but a too beautiful dream. But she looks down to see her hands are young and her new boots are bloody. That part then, is at least not a dream.

A human voice, a song, stood out against the backdrop of the undisturbed scene of nature. But if one looks closer they would see sighs of human life such as pottery and hand made pieces of furniture. A wooden and stone rack is stacked with drying fish. Herbs and palms fronts hang by the mouth of the cave.

The morning birds chirp and in between the rustling wind, Sophie hears a trembling voice sweetly sing the words to a popular Spanish lullaby, Arrorro mi niño. It trembles and flows so beautifully but somehow the sweet voice sounds like it comes from a horror movie, a ghost.

That is not the worst part, that is not the part that sends shivers and chills up her spine.

A old woman with long white hair, a ghost in a flowing blue dress steps out from the bamboo thicket. She holds a full basket and sings into the wind as she walks. Though her Spanish is rusty the words are so simple her brain easily translated and understood them.

'This pretty child

Wants to sleep already

Make him a cradle

of rose and jasmine~'

The ghost walks seemingly without a care in the world, followed by another baby goat toddling a long. She walks barefoot and though scarred they are not the legs of an old woman. Rather the flash of flesh should belong to a young woman, with dainty feet and delicate pale ankles.

"Make him a bed

On the lemon balm~"

It is a dream, all a bad dream. Spphie knows where this will go. She has not had a nightmare since she came back in time but she knows she does not like this, she knows something terrible is coming. It always does.

"And at the head

Put jasmine~"

The white haired ghost turns and slowly, as if she was simply admiring the scenery, looks straight at Sophie.

"With its fragrance

To put him to sleep for me~"

It's her.

The voice is hers, the ghost is her! The flowing figure made for a delicate picture but her face, oh god her face. Her scars were still there, not yet fully healed and some even fresh. One particularly red line stretch from her mouth to her mid cheek, giving her the appearance of a widely smirking clown. Her slim neck was covered in scratch marks, small and bloody.

They were self-inflicted.

Her eyes were distant as if she wasn't altogether there. She looked straight through Sophie as if she couldn't see the other her standing there at all. She smiled as she sang, looking almost peaceful.

'Hush-a-bye my baby

Hush-a-bye my sun

Hush-a-bye oh piece

of my heart.'

She tips her basket, bitten nails red with bloodstains, and Sophie screams.

A human head rolls and it is her own, long white hair and all. It still sings with that awful voice, a parroting of her own on playback.

Where her ghost's head should have been there is now a snake's head.

Its scales are black and gray and its eyes are but white slits, perhap pupilless. When the bloody head on the ground finally, oh god fucking finally stop singing, the body waves a bandaged hand at her The snake girl peeks its fangs in what Sophie feels is supposed to be a smile.

A dream, it's all just a dream. She breathes like she's practiced in all her therapy session, it's not real.

"But you're real.... that isss enough."

The snake girl picks up the head, smoothly placing it back into the basket. Without a human mouth, it still speaks, though slowly, brokenly. Because that's what dreams do. They do things that make no sense and dangles your subconscious right above you.

"You're real and you're back." it hisses, tongue flicking out gently.

The fog rolls and turns dark, clouds appearing as if it were another freak storm. Suddenly the sky is covered as if it were always dark and Sophie had just now noticed.

"You've gone back .... and now here you are."

The snake girl holding the other Sophie's decapitated head makes a waving motion to follow her as she skips away, flowing dress and all, back into the cave. Her cave.

It is just a dream, Sophie tells herself. She does not know why she follows but she does. Maybe she just doesn't want to get rained on, even in a dream. Maybe something unnaturally pulls her to follow.

The rain falls as just as she enters past the leafy curtain.

The cave is as she remembers it, lined with rock flattened bamboo flooring that she pounded herself. It is lit with candles made from boar fat and rolled with herbs, illuminating the rock and bamboo table and chipped pieces of stone everywhere. Most are incomprehensible shapes but some form bowls, pots and the like. A small charcoal fire burns from the pit. The walls are chipped flat, like something or someone took a rock and banged at them till they formed the little criss-cross patterns all over.

It's like a playhouse in here made of rock, sticks, and leaves.

"You're the only one.... you know?" says the snake girl.

It sets the basket down and rummages around in what Sophie recognized at the 'kitchen' play area of her cave. A stone pot boiling with water and herbs hangs over the charcoal fire by a suspension wire. Earthen jars and wooden baskets line the wall, like a witch's stores.

"The only one what?" asks Sophie, taking a seat at the table on a rough bamboo chair.

She feels the cuts and rough patches where rock could not cut nor break evenly on the wood. She built them after all, as half-mad as she was. She built a lot of things up here by herself. They made her feel better, gave her something to do instead of just foraging and killing.

"But you liked the killing. ...You liked killing people, ....sssometimes you'd play pretend.... the boarsss and birdsss were people as you cut their ...blood linessss... and bleed them out. Not the goatssss , .....thossse you ate normally.... How funny. "

"What the fuck?"

The snake girl shrugged, throwing whatever she seemed to be looking for into the bubbling pot and stirred the sizzling thing in.

"You.... weren't the only one .... that liked the killing. A lot of your people did. "

"Yeah, I could tell that much. It's not that I liked killing. I liked ending them, killing certain people."

Sophie grinned a little at the memory because revenge tastes just a little sweet. Morality lessons be damned.

The only problem was that it was never enough. No amount of slaughter, traps, torture or revenge would be enough to bring her family back to life. There were no trades, no take backs.

No one had gone to jail for their crimes, she included with her verified insanity plea. They could never prove she did anything anyways, she always took care of the evidence. Their remains don't deserve to be found or put to rest.

"You weren't....the only one ....to fall in the pit. But you were.... the only one who ssssstayed."

"This is a very strange nightmare."

"Issss it?"

The snake girl pours the brew with a bamboo ladle into a lumpy looking glazed teacup. The permanent dent pressed into the cup, before it was fired and baked, was the exact size and shape of her thumb.

"And yet you sssstayed."

"Did I?"

Sophie didn't see the point in arguing with the snake, in a way she may even be beginning to understand its riddles. She didn't know what to make of that.

"You did, the only one... It wasssss very interesssssting."

"Why me?"

"You are the one .... that ssssstayed. ....You would know the anssssswer."

Sophie looked into the cup, the brew smelling both strange and familiar all at once. It smelled of jasmine and lemon balm and was tinged red with a hint of acidic rose. The face in her reflection was that of her 21-year-old self, young and whole. And yet she wasn't, not really.

"It's because I'm the only one who couldn't let go right? I'm the only one who stayed in the past while every single one of them moved on. Pretending like they were good people like they were god damn heros! Hahaha heros! Survivors! God damn celebrities! Someone even got a movie deal! Isn't that great?! My family fucking died and they get paid for it!"

"Your world is a sssstrange one yesss but filled with interesting thingssss." the snake girl's tongue flickered licking at its own teacup before deciding it was too hot yet to enjoy.

"Is it really only me?"

"Only you."

"Is it why I came back? This dream is weird but nothing beats going back, how does a person time travel?! They can't."

"Yessss, they can't. Only you."

"...Only me."

Sophie leaned back with that thought. She didn't think about it but a part of her did fear she wasn't the only one with her memories. If she could time travel what would stop anyone else from having their own messed up powers to mess up their fates?

But it is only a dream, fueled by fever and unknown venom.

"It is only you who sssstayed in the past....that does not mean a future. But you want a future yesssssss.... for you took the first bite willingly."

"The snake? Sorry were those your friends? Had to be done. If not me it would have been someone else."

"It doesssss not matter."

The snake girl shook her head and waved her hand in a carefree manner, indicating no harm no foul. With the hand missing a pinky she gestures to the tea Sophie left untouched. She lost that pinky in the sharp jaws of a type of sea creature.

"If not you then who? Please have sssome tea, it'sss good for your future."

"Tea? Is that all this is, an invitation to damn tea?"

"Yesssss, we liked your tea. We've kept it along with you. It tasssstessss of the passssst."

"Am I making a deal with the devil" Sophie smirked a little manically.

There's a part of her that understands perfectly and she still doesn't know what to make of it. She neither likes or dislikes it. She feels nothing, just like she once did, before the medication before the therapy and healing could get to to feel again. Stone cold nothing.

"No" answers the snake girl as she smooths down her skirt with small damaged human hands. Sophie's hands.

The snake girl pours another steaming cup and sets it to the side where the decapitated head now sits. Its lips smile, the unhealed wound was still raw and red, dripping blood where it split. Steam rolls and coils in front of the head, it looks like a veil, like whispy snakes. It looks like the head of a legendary monster, of a gorgon, or maybe just broken woman better off dead.

Sophie would get a skin graft on that bloody scar later, she got a lot of skin graphs on a lot of places actually. While some would never fully heal she couldn't rejoin society looking like this...thing.

"No" said the snake girl again.

She finally takes a flickering sip of her cooled tea and fondly strokes the long white hair, a doll's hair, of the decapitated head.

"You have already paid."

Sophie looks back and forth between the snake girl and the head with her face. The rush of rain still going strong outside. She shakes her head and takes the still steaming tea.

"Well, if I've already paid for it."

She downs the contents.

------

Sophie wakes with the coppery taste of blood in her mouth.

It is her own, her lips dry and bitten ragged. Her entire throat is dry, parched but otherwise, she feels....fine. A little cotton-headed and dizzy but just fine. None of the pain or typical side effects of the venom assaults her.

"Oh thank the fuck."

Mattie drops his phone and turns all his attention on her as she makes her bearings. They're on the plane, that much is obvious. Her bedding tucked in between the seats and a flimsy shower curtain shields them from the rest of the cabin.

From the orange light filtering through the open window, she can see that it's sunset. There are no other passengers, only a few airline attendants discussing something in the distance.

"Sunset? Have we moved yet? Why is there no one here, they should have let the children and elderly on."

"That's because it's already the fucking next day!"

The next day? That would mean she slept over 24 hours. She was supposed to be going in and out of a fever for a couple of days but she felt like she had sincerely slept well, absurd dream and all. As soon as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and get herself something for her throat, she was good to go.

"It's been a whole day?"

"Yes, you were in a venom-induced come for over a day! Fucking shit Sophie, can we stop giving me heart attacks over you? In fact, how are you feeling? Do you need me to wave down someone?"

"I'm...fine. Water be nice but no really I feel just fine."

"Thank god for that then, the doctors did their fucking jobs without getting paid. By the way, did you know one of them is super hot? Like just your type, the kind of hot you put on your bedroom poster hot? Wait of course you don't, because you went into a snake venom coma!"

She drinks the entire bottle of water Mattie hands her in the time that he rants.

"Sorry Mattie. It's a big bad world out there. "

"How about we hold off on listening to your crazy dreams from now on okay?"

Sophie can't control the sudden laugh that escapes her, crazy dreams indeed.

"No can do Mattie, the crazy dreams are going to save our asses."

"Sophie I hate you, like I love you and all but I so so very much hate you."

"Same here."

She pats his cheek comfortingly and gets out of bed, or well whatever they used as her bed. Stretching out her limbs she tests for any weakness, muscle damage or fatigue and was pleasantly surprised to find none of that. The only sign of her injury where the white bandages wrapped around her left arm, a little loose from swelling gone down.

Receiving some modern medical attention made such a difference, she was bedridden for a week the first time around. She made the right choice in getting bitten when she did.

Looking around the space to make sure no one was watching, she laid back down and whispered.

"Tell me everything that happened while I was out Mattie."

"Well for one, you're something of an urban legend. Wilson went around telling some anime action version of what happened that night and we somehow now have kung fu and snake whispering powers. "

"Like anyone would believe that."

"Yeah but it's a fun story to tell. Foster keeps shut unless the staff asks for an official version from his eyes. Guy's not happy but he fessed up that we were the ones to save their asses, you first and then me. Too dark for them to really see but there were a ton of snakes and he can see how your tiny ass got bitten by one."

"Great, my alibi checks out."

"Yeah, somehow your 5ft tall snake slaying alibi checks out. I lied out of my ass and told them our parents trained us in the backwaters of Vietnam or something, I don't even know what I said anymore. The scene of the crime looked even worse during the day, trust me. Like thrown up spaghetti with giant squashed noodles, one guy vomited in like 2 seconds. Another guy vomited after. "

"Technically not a lie. I'm guessing it would be too weird to just hop out of here like nothing ever happened."

"No duh, we're lucky no one bothered counting the heads. Everything looks gross enough. You sure you feeling alright?"

"Honestly I have no idea how I'm feeling so ok. I thought I would be a lot sicker for longer, are you sure only a day has passed?"

"A day, a night and basically a whole another day. Over 36 hours of snake coma, you happy?"

"And you were here the whole time right?"

"Well yeah I wasn't going to leave you in your coma, I also didn't want you to wake up alone. The cabin crew has been really nice and all but they have their work cut out for them trying to organize the passengers, contact for help and now cross communicating with the other plane. But hey the movie system still works. "

Sophie leaned back and digested the information. They had saved time and energy by hitching a ride on the plane.

In the previous timeline, it had taken them over two days and two nights by following the shoreline to walk. Then it would take another whole day before they would find their sister June in the crowded mess that was the survivors.

It was a day earlier compared to the original time timeline. If possible they would reunite sooner rather than later.

"We need to find June."

Sophie leaned back, assessing the situation and sounding it back out to her brother.

"By tomorrow she'll be hiding with a group of other women, mostly injured or eldery. "

"Great, any chance your dream can show us where that is?"

"Of course Mattie but first, we gotta play up my sick and injured status. "

"You are sick and injured, you slept for over 36 hours! "

Details, not exactly minor ones but Sophie will work with what she has.

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