Chapter 24:

You don't have to be who you thought you would be

Castaway Isle

There was work to be done but then again there is always work to be done.

It will still be there tomorrow and thus Sophie doesn't make them do much to set up for the night. They sweep and inspect the grounds of the dome cave, checking for any pests or inconveniently growing plants. Thankfully this rock shelter of a cave was empty and had no signs of being anything's den. It was too suitable for one and they had to be careful.

The mouth of the cave was tall and wide, larger than a two-car garage door. From the wide open space of the entrance, it seemed to get narrower inside. Further in though there was indeed more room. In a way, it acted as a hallway into the deeper part of the cave.

From the ground to the rocky ceiling it was as high as a small barn, over two stories of irregular rock give or take. There was even a spot of natural skylight, coming from a hole angled from the upper side. They could cover that in palms and leaves easily once the rain comes.

The cave was concave into a gentle slope on a hill, one of many, with a small valley path below. The hard rock was cool to the touch despite the hot summer day. Sophie was no expert but she could tell it was a suitable insulator for both hot and cold weather to come. Along with the mostly flat ground inside, this was why Sophie selected this out of any other bases to make a shelter.

It was a prime cave, not as large some others but it was safe and would require not too much work.

While she could build a sturdy hut from the mud, clay, or even the mature bamboo it wasn't her first option this time around. She had the experience, both in success and failure. It would just take much more time and resources. Resources that they just didn't have the time to gather.

So what if it wasn't pretty?

A cave was already there, nothing to build unless you wanted to. Rock didn't need to be made and it couldn't burn down. Obviously it was the best way to go.

Sophie admits she was a little biased, there was a soft spot in her for her own cave on the top of that mountain. It was her sanctuary on this island, the sole place she found safety.

By then, however, she had lost everything she ever wanted to keep safe.

By then she had gone insane.

Was it really the far off cave that kept her safe or was it her known loss of humanity? One didn't approach the Queen of the mountain, not unless they had a death wish.

That's what they mockingly called her as she stalked them in the dark and afar. Queen of the mountain where she resided, like a reclusive witch, like an urban legend. Sophie, the girl who had gone mad in exchange for independence. The title was a joke.

Some even called her that to her face, begging for mercy in the mere moments before she finished them off.

"Please! Please, I'll tell you- I'll tell you everything about the others just please, don't -"

How annoying.

Sometimes the voices still playback in her mind. Not like a nightmare or a haunting, she didn't feel guilt the same way as others anymore. Rather it was like how one would recall an embarrassing memory from their school days or an old job. Such unpleasant noise, the begging and the screaming. Couldn't anyone just die gracefully?

She would have. She would have died gratefully, but she didn't. She didn't get to die so why were others screaming? They should be grateful! She was cutting their suffering short! It's nothing they didn't already deserve! She just needed more time, more time to get them all.

There was 21 people besides her who were rescued. She didn't need to kill them all, she just wanted 18 of them. 18 more to go, she was so close yet so far.

"Why not 21? Why not just rampage and kill them all? If that's what you so wanted." asked her therapist.

Sandeep's soothing voice asked her without judgment, husky in the way that attractive late-night radio hosts sound on long drives. Anything and everything Sophie said was confidential, a specialty program for extreme cases like hers. Besides, she was insane, there was no weight to her words or accounts.

"I don't want to kill to just kill- they just need to die. It's too late for us all. Maybe I'll be nice and kill poor Leigh too, she wouldn't make it out all on her own. The kid though, I'd actually bet money on that one!"

"But you can't, not anymore. You're off the island, you're safe now, you all are."

"Are we? Damn it, damn it damn it damn it we're all safe?! That's horrible! God damn awful! I don't want them to be safe- they don't get to be safe!"

Not when Mattie didn't. Not when June didn't. God damn it not when practically everyone else did not get that same privilege.

"What about you Sophie? Don't you deserve to be safe, to have another chance to live?"

"Haha don't make me laugh so much doc! I don't deserve it either! I was going to kill myself you know! Right after I caught them all! At first, I wanted to fling myself into the sea, get away from this place, but you don't know how horrible a waterlogged corpse looks like. It's even worse than my smile see! I figured, well let's pick how to die after I finish up the others. I'll burn that bridge when I get there, hell that was a thought- why don't I just burn myself? Like a salem witch! "

"Yes I know Sophie, that's why you're still on suicide watch. Fire is a powerful symbol, a baptism by fire. But an extremely painful way to go."

" Oh I still am I? Say doc when do I get to see them?"

"I'm sorry Sophie, you're still not well enough to get full access to media. It may be best not to see signs of the other...survivors."

"Oh no not them doc! Why would I want to see those nasty dicks nor their heads? They don't look very nice either way, I would know."

"Then you'll have to be clearer Sophie."

"When do I get to see them again doc?"

"Who Sophie?"

"When will I get to see them again?"

"Come in Sophie. Breathe for me and come in Sophie."

"When? When are they coming home? They've been out so late, it worries me. It's not safe out there, not in the dark. Not in the day. It's never safe."


"Oh hello! Who are you? It's been so long since we had guests. I should make some refreshments. June? Mattie? Where are you guys, it's rude to ignore our guest."


"Mattie? June? Where are you guys? It's very rude to ignore me too! Guys?!"


"Do you know when they'll be back?"

"Sophie, they're no longer with us now. We've been over this, they' a better place. They're safe where they are now. Nothing can hurt them again."

"Oh, they should have left a note. I wouldn't worry so much if they had left a note...Can you tell me where they went? Huh? Why is it so quiet? The baby, the goats, they're always so loud?"





"Sophie! What the fuck, snap out of it!"

She blinks and suddenly it's not the neverending empty void, nor is it her psychologist's pristine office.

The cave, yes that's right. She's been staring at the wall and shadows of the end of this little cave for an abnormal amount of time. June's shrieking voice and worried shaking snaps her out replaying the therapy session she's been having in her own head.

June....June is here. She can see June again. She's whole and alive, pretty brown eyes wide in something she can't understand but alive. This is a living person, a sweet-faced teenager and not a rotting corpse! In front of this Sophie doesn't concern herself with holding back and makes to pull the other girl into a hug.

"I was so worried" she manages to whisper, trying to remember how to breathe again.

Deep breathes, in and out in a pattern. Deep breathes focusing on the here and now, what she can feel and sense in front of her and not wherever it is she goes in her own mind.

"Uh I could say the same to you too, you alright there?"

June was so tall compared to her that Sophie could comfortably rest her head on her sister's shoulder. Could bury herself in that waterful of still brown hair and feel her delicate running pulse, just under a thin skin.

"No, no I'm not alright but we're just going to have to roll with it, won't we? "

"Um, like right because none of this is ok but oh my god you're sounding more and more like Mattie."

Said someone's shouting, from the outside, gets their attention.

"Ohhhhhhh my gawd, are you going to have a hug session in there or are we getting firewood?"

"Shut up! I do not sound like that!"

"Trust me I wish you didn't sound like that either!"

"Why you-"

This was usually the part Sophie broke them up and who was she to ruin the flow? As annoying as it sounded, she truely genuinely missed this.

"Alright, guys break it up. The answer Mattie, to your earlier question, is both."



After a brief pause, for dramatics, because if there's anything Sophie knows it's how to play the human game, she has their attention and continues.

"We are going to both hug it out and then get back to work. Now either you get over here or we come to you Mattie."

"I'm sorry, what?"


"No, just no Sophie what are you up to?"


"You can't be serious right now!"


"Oh shit shit shit, I don't trust either of you!"

"Get him"

June lets out an almost maniacal gleeful giggle at Sophie's command, and the two girls quickly sprinted after the fleeing middle child. They were all young, energetic and could run. Either Mattie tired out, gave up or he really wasn't trying when they finally caught up to him in the green woods.


"Just because, you don't mind right June?" shrugged Sophie.

Her short frame was like a koala against Mattie's side, hands still reaching out to touch June. Sophie didn't have any more time or patience for social rules or customs. If she wanted to hold her precious people, to feel them there and reassure herself that yes they were here, then she would. Nothing would stop her, not even their embarrassed whining.

"This is soooo awkward and I only have like one huggable arm but yeah I don't mind."

They only had each other and deep down they all knew it, not just Sophie. She gripped them as tightly as she could and they let her. She could feel as Mattie slumped and relax, quietly returning the gesture in his stiff awkward way.

Of course, he cared, he was just a teenaged boy a little too embarrassed by these moments. But in a desolate place like this, it seemed his sisters would need all the comfort they could get, and not that he would admit it easily but he did too.

Despite his complaints, he still does more than his fair share of work and they broke after a long while. Daylight was fading and there was much to be done.

Since they were already out, they picked up what broken branches and twigs they could find for firewood and gathered up a bundle of large palm fronds. They balanced the long leaves between them, carrying more firewood and seemingly random plants that way.

With Sophie's experienced eyes, she pulled up some herbs and tubers of various sizes. Of her finds, her siblings were most impressed with the taro plants she identified. Finally something delicious that they recognized!

"So that's what a taro plant looks like?" observed June.

"Yes, the small plants have good roots for eating. If they're too big it's too old and fibrous to be good but the leaves are edible and better that way."

With an arm-sized branch from their firewood haul, Sophie demonstrated how to effectively stab at the ground to dig up the tubers. First loosening the dirt around and then wiggling the root vegetables up and out.

"Think we can fry it up?"

"We don't have oil June." Sophie patiently explained.

One had to be creative and make do a lot out here in on the island, and she had 8 years of personal experience. She already had a senior edge and she needed to make use of it while she could. For now though, they just needed to focus on dinner.

"Not that you can see it from down there probably but aren't those wood ear mushrooms?" Mattie spoke up.

They didn't have Sophie's purchased tools but Mattie had his original swiss army knife. That along with a stick he managed safely gather enough to confirm that yes, these were the edible mushrooms their mother often used in cooking their home dishes.

"I mean I could probably see them too Mattie. It's just Sophie that's vertically challenged."

"It works out perfectly though, she's closer to the ground to pick taro. Don't worry Sophie we'll handle the tall stuff."

"Oh yeah, we'll reach all the stuff you can't, which is like anything above ground."

"Haha, keep moving or you're eating nothing but those mushrooms raw."

It seems that no matter what, as physically tired as they were, the siblings still had the energy to tease each other.

As they gathered, they came across a small running creek where Sophie had them clean their finds.

"It's freshwater right?"

Mattie inspected the water carefully, sniffing for anything odd. It looked blue and beautifully clear but he was cautious, which Sophie approved of.

"Yes, but we should still boil and sterilize it. There's another groundwater spring source around the valley too but this water should be fresh enough up this high."

Sophie had drunk the water here plain many times before. She had drunk out of muddy puddles and rushing rivers unknown with what could be inside them. She had lived but be wouldn't take that risk, not if they could afford to be safer. Besides as they are right now their stomachs were weak and unaccustomed to whatever bacteria it was around here.

After washing and gathering water in their canteens, they were too loaded up to do much more than head back. Next time they would bring some bags, something better to carry more.

Mattie was realistically the most tuckered out. He had pulled the most weight total today

It was good that he was being so proactive and responsible but it made Sophie uncomfortable. She didn't want her brother to stress so much and wear himself out. She already knew he was the reliable one despite his sass.

Understandably the more work they put out in early on the better but she didn't want to make this a habit when the boy was clearly not sleeping enough due to his own anxieties. He was only 18, a boy his age was still a teenager and required a lot of food and sleep.

In the last life there were times Mattie would come down with a fever and bouts of sickness. Sophie feared it came from the same source, overworking himself in these conditions. The whole purpose of her getting this sick joke of a do over was to save her siblings and change their fates. Mattie would not be put into a situation where he could so easily make himself sick again, not if she could help it.

"Take a break, June and I got it from here."

"June? Seriously?" he scoffed.

"Umm excuse you I am great."

"Uh huh suuuuuurrrrrre."


Sophie interrupted before they could lose any more daylight. Only with her siblings would she allow such easy going and frivolous behavior. If it was any of her teammates, back when she still worked together in teams, she would have chewed them out for wasting everyone's time.

But they didn't have to be so serious. A good atmosphere was more important to long term survival than one may think. Besides they were family, not strangers forced together to survive.

"And June will do a great job proving it right? So Mattie set ur butt down and June get your butt up. We got a bit more foraging to do."

"Right!" hopped up June.

A little rest and she was mostly back to normal besides her injury. Besides she was hungry, especially after her small rationed meals previously and the exercise they had done today.

"Take a nap or something Mattie, you look like you need it."

"But I'm filthy." Mattie groaned, the clean freak in him complaining. He didn't want to get his own hammock dirty and it's not like he washed up in the stream.

Sophie threw a pack of wet wipes in his face.

"Make do with that and change, we'll wake you up for dinner."

"Awww do we have to?"

June pouted playfully. Sure she wouldn't actually want to starve her brother but in their household food came first, when she wasn't on a diet that is. In this case no one was dieting, definitely not. As a kid she would even dare fight Sophie for food.

"Yes we have to feed Mattie, he carried your stuff. Actually maybe we should give him a bigger share for all the work he's doing?"

"What no I don't like this deal."

"Then work for it, come on, you still got one good arm and two good legs. Let's get moving."

The sun was starting to set by this time and they didn't have long.

Together they made off for that small running stream to fill more empty water containers and gather rocks sharp enough to be used in place of knives. Flint, definitely flint then, Sophie recognizes as she sharpened them further against a natural whetstone.

"It's honestly really cool but really freaky." commented June, squatting down watching how her sister turned an ordinary rock into something of a useable blade. Both a tool and a weapon.

"What? The rock? It's just the material it's made out of, naturally, it had an edge that just needs to be brought out. Just science kiddo."

"No jie, I meant're different, not altogether different but..... But yeah sure, the rock too."

June has her quiet moments too, in between all the cheer and innocent energy she had. They worried Sophie but this was good, she didn't mean to hide. Not from Mattie and neither would she hide from June. She can't tell them everything, she still has trouble admitting them to herself, or even remembering things correctly. But she wouldn't hide what matters, not on purpose.

"June, what I saw, what I told Mattie was a dream. It has made me different, I feel a lot older for one. A hell lot older. "

"Well you don't look it!"

June was just joking, lightening the atmosphere because she felt it too clearly in the air how everyone aged so much in the past couple of days.

The crash was a shock, followed by the shelter and messy attempts at staying organized and calm. All at once June felt the pressure pulling her from both sides, being a child and an adult. At her age it was normal to be confused, at her age she was awkwardly in between.

Both Mattie and Sophie were so much more put together than she was but they were also much more unsure in themselves. Both were trying to grow up so fast, especially after their parents passed. When their parents died it's like they took all their youth and childhood with them. And June couldn't bear to see her brother and sister lose themselves into what they 'should' be rather than who they are.

So she was childish and spoiled and maybe immature. But god someone had to remind her siblings how to just be.

This wasn't her Sophie though, not as she last remembered. Her hair was much shorter, and she didn't have her pretty eyeliner or any of her usual makeup on but more than that this Sophie was sure of herself. Actually confident and unrepentant in herself.

It showed in everything, from the way she spoke to the way she just moved. This wasn't the soft girl she knew her sister to be deep down putting on a brave face. This Sophie felt so much older, solid, and it all at once inspired and scared June.

Sophie was sharpening into something useful, deadly even and here she was, just a rock.

"I'm sorry June. I'm sorry but things will have to be different, and it's going to be shitty, really damn shitty out here. Things will get bad, and then worse and it will not be ok. But we're going to make it anyways. You hear me?"

"We're going to make it."

June repeated closely as if she could gain some of that sureness Sophie seems to radiate through her will power alone.

"Yeah, we're going to make it." Sophie was sure of it, she had to be.


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