Chapter 27:

Rip or Rot- whatever way is fine. Just end them.

Castaway Isle

"God, how did you kids even gather all this? Where did all these fish come from? Even if you covered it up it's still really suspicious looking! Did you weave these baskets yourself? They're rather good I admit, but that's also suspicious. I get you three are more used to this jungle life but be more conspicuous! And the masks? That's just-" the bespeckled attendant scolded them far more than questioning anything.

It was the high school teacher who has seemed to have ditched his sweater vest in this tropical heat.

Mr. Allen, Sophie overheard the others call him. He was, in fact, an English and music teacher like she so humorously previously guessed. Right now he certainly looked the part, a tired older man reprimanding at three young people, all who could pass as his high school students.

"And the squashes! Good job on finding those, it is the right season...But instead of loading yourself up like that it would have been far smarter and safer to only bring a few back and lead others to where you found them! Are you trying to weigh yourselves down?! What if you had-"

Despite his harsh mouth and scoldings that had June and Mattie cringing like the young students they were, Sophie didn't mind so much. It came from a good place and it's not like anything he was saying was wrong. If Sophie hadn't already planned to plant these seeds, if she were simply like June or Mattie, it would be wiser to follow this Mr. Allen's words.

But she wasn't.

You couldn't defend yourself forever, couldn't keep hiding and doing nothing.

That's how the majority died off so easily right? Passiveness. Everyone hiding away until they were hunted and picked off, one by one.

Sophie was good at hiding if it was by herself. But that was back then.

Now not only was she starting over but she had those she needed to protect back. They couldn't just run to the mountains, they wouldn't make it through the jungles, hell they wouldn't even be able to cross that river. They weren't strong enough yet, they weren't anywhere ready.

But maybe they didn't have to be, at least not just yet.

Sophie wasn't idealistic. As much as she swears it, swears to make damn sure they'll all survive to the end, she knows she can't do it all on her own.

At least not without losing her sanity again.

While she can still lean on the support of others she will. Where she can actually raise a mutual cooperation she will.

And if she has to step over the corpses of others, without hesitation, she will.

"Ah sorry, we were just so excited about finding these things that we wanted to bring them back to help. Especially at the shelter where June was staying at, with the thievery incident and all."

In front of someone else, the other airline attendants, especially sympathetic women, Sophie would have used a more pitiful voice and expression. However, she could tell it would not work with this sharp eyed elder.

She was right of course.

Mr. Allen had already mentally recognized Sophie as the ringleader of this little band of well-intentioned future troublemakers. He could feel it in his bones.

"....What's done is done I suppose. Just be more careful from now own, I don't know, go make a larger gathering group or something. Safety in numbers." sighed the older man.

There was only so much he as an outsider could say. He doesn't even know why he bothers. He saw kids basically, mere teenagers and his body acted almost instinctually.

"It's alright, we look out for each other." assured Sophie before changing the topic. Something light and distracting, wild squash and yam apparently are a good enough topic.

After some light back and forth on summer gardening and the possible plant life here, promises of leading a group to forage, and some more worried warnings disguised as scoldings, the airline attendants mostly let them go. Really it was only Mr. Allen but Sophie didn't mind, it saved them time from talking with everyone else.

She did leave a warning though.

"There's definitely more food inland but really you should move. Scout ahead and plan to move. It's going to be August soon if we're where we think we are...the rainy season is going to start. We can't stay on the beach when it comes. "

"...We know."

"It's coming...we have maybe 3 weeks before the rain starts. Maybe a month for the monsoons. It's going to bad for us out in the open, our first priority needs to be getting to high ground before it too late. You may make fun of us for being 'jungle' but people drown in these things, easy. They wash away, I've seen in it."

Anyone with access to world news could easily search and see the devastation that monsoons could do to modern cities let alone rural villages. They were worse than any of these groups, they were castaways, nothing but sitting ducks vulnerable to nature and all the elements.

Sophie's words were met with a solemn silence but she did not let up. It's not like she could force them but she could warn them.

They needed time to prepare and move.

In the last time around it was a planned move but only after a too-long argument.

There was the time needed to scout ahead and find an appropriate path to drive through the jungle. The planes had large wingspans and small limited wheels. There weren't any runways here. It wasn't an easy path they chose but none were through this terrain.

They had to select and clear a path, at least enough for aircrafts to drive over. Then they could only go so quickly, as large as the planes were.

Then there was the explosion.

They shouldn't have turned the other engine on. It was near blowing itself up when they crash-landed into the water. It was only the rain and the sea that saved the damaged plane from catching on fire that first initial day.

If only they didn't start up that engine again. It was possible for the other plane to pull both their weights. It would take longer but it was possible. Even then they didn't have to turn on both engines.

But they did, and the damaged side blew, taking a key handful of lives with them.

A hysterical woman wouldn't convince then. Nor can she hijack the other aircraft and drive it into the ocean.

If it was truely up to Sophie she would have them salvage the damaged plane immediately. Empty it out and use it for parts. That or throw the entire engine away in the ocean, it's too dangerous for anyone to tinker with.

But it isn't up to her.

She may have gone back in time but she's no miracle worker. There are things out of her hands, especially in regards of human life.

All she can do is prepare ahead, plant the seeds for their future, and brace for impact.

"I would suggest you all move along the side of the cliff walls. Less trees grow around there and you could use it for shelter against the wind. It doesn't cost you anything to start heading to higher and safer ground."

And that was that. That was all she could do for now. Whether her words had any impact was anyone's guess.

Taking her siblings with her. they bid their farewells for now and headed towards the shelter.

There they were met with even more excitement despite carrying less food. Things must not have been looking too good at the shelter. The rations were only getting smaller and smaller. The only good point to the deteriorating condition was that many people who thought they could hide at the shelter left. They were healthy enough and would rather try their luck elsewhere to find food and shelter. Surely anywhere was better than here.

The ones who recognized June welcomed her immediately, dragging her into chitter-chatter about what her situation was like and if they had found fresh water and food camping further inland.

June was not a bad liar, she was actually very naturally charming when she wanted to be. Only she was a bit spoiled being the youngest in her family, she liked the attention and was used to being fawned over.

Sophie had warned her beforehand, of things to keep secret lest they endanger their own family. She did not forbid June from socializing, it was actually good to maintain friendly relations, but boundaries had to be established and discretion practiced.

That's why Sophie, when she did speak to others, usually only did so in half-truths.

As much as June liked to talk and maybe show off, one of her biggest fears was anything threatening her family. Since their parents died, Mattie and Sophie were all she had left.

Since the thievery incident that happened in front of her own eyes, she knew she could not truly be as open and friendly to others as before. Her siblings had done their best in this limited time to warn her but the real-life experience was more an eye-opener than anything. You never knew who could be listening in, lying in wait to harm or steal from them again.

"Mmmm, it's summer right now so we were lucky to find these things growing around. Like it's not just there, we had to go right up into some bushes and stuff. And my nails are totally messed up, look there's a lot of dirt and clay I can't get out from them. Mattie hates dirt the most so I had to help dig, isn't that messed up?" rambled on June to the light laughter of her audience.

"Hey! I do other things miss one-armed."

"It's a shoulder!"

Half-truths, Sophie had told them. distract people with half-truths. They're easier to keep track of rather than just lies.

Today however was a particularly lively day at the shelter. Not only did the siblings come to gift them with provisions of wild pumpkin and root vegetables, but there was also something taking up all the children's attention.

A dog.

It was a large thing, about 80lb and if not for the goofy playfulness would have been a very cool and diligent looking dog. It resembled a German Shepard to a certain point but the coloring and demeanor were wrong. It was almost completely black with an off-white face and belly. Its eyes were especially striking, it had heterochromia. One eye was a sweet soulful brown while the other was a shocking icy blue.

However, the most adorable part of the dog in Sophie's eyes was the two little dots on its face that resembled funny eyebrows. The same sort of sotted eyebrows on their family pooch Peanut.

"Don't mind Ping-pong, he's a mess but harmless around people. He doesn't bite, service dog training and all. Thanks for bringing in the veggies. Do you like dogs?"

Sophie turned to the voice and owner of the visiting dog. A relatively tall and fit man with damaged bottle-blond hair stood watching the children and women crowed around his 'Ping-pong'. He looked like a surfer dude with his natural tan and easy-going air. While his energy was youthful he was most certainly a full-grown adult. Peeking through his tank top and shirt, were the edges of a tribal tattoo.

In a way, the dog suited the owner and vice versa.

"Yeah...yeah I like them. His eyebrows- they look like my Peanuts." Sophie responded airly. She's had this conversation before.

"Oh cool, what kind?! Ping pong there is a true mutt- not sure what he's all made off but I'm pretty sure it's a big part husky if his fur and personality is anything to go by."

"Chihuahua mutt, got no idea what else he's mixed with either. He just showed up one day and never left."

"Ahhhh rescue doggo, Ping-pong kinda the same, saved him and then he was kinda just stuck with me. Even though he acts like that I think he does like me. How cute though, a chihuahua suits you! Wait- no offense, I just mean ya know how tiny you are. Sorry, I'm Isko by the way."

"Sophie, none taken. If we're on the topic of dogs resembling their owners then I'd say your Ping-Pong is pretty spot on."

The pooch was currently thumping its leg in the air at a belly rub, its tongue rolling out at so much attention. It could have been a ferocious-looking guard dog if it weren't so silly.

Isko himself didn't look the part of a well respected vet or animal specialist behind his overgrown surfer boy vibe either. But Sophie had long learned not to judge by something as basic as mere impressions.

Besides, she already knew this person and his hound.

"Yeeeeeah can't deny that- I'm also a pretty big mutt. Like the name is Fillipino but my ma was from Louisiana and my grampa be Argentinian and all that jazz. We just don't look very much alike but Ping-pong and I a pretty solid pair. Girls usually tell me Ping-Pong the better looker though, like ouch but they're not wrong. Damn, when I first found him as a puppy he was in bad shape. Scared one of his eyes was going to go blind but we managed to save it. "

Isko Mendoza was 29 years old this year. When no other doctors were around he would take over, even then he was more competent with working with little than many others. Being a veterinarian required the study and understanding of anatomy and biology of many species, not just one. He was insanely creative in improvising a variety of things and his favorite phrase was "if it works it's not stupid."

He died in a violent fight in unfair numbers. Over two dozen against one, some of them women and youths. They had trapped and were going to kill his beloved dog Ping-Pong for the creature's meat. Why hunt or scavenge when a big dog was just there.

Both pet and owner died the same day, too overwhelmed and too tired to fend off the mob.

They overwhelmed him. Even as a strong and fit man, he couldn't take them all on. Sophie doesn't know if he died due to blood loss or traumatic head injuries.

At the price of its owners' gruesome death, Ping-Pong lashed out and managed to escape but not for long. The wolfish mutt really was loyal to his human in the end, desperate to save him. Ping pong ultimately killed 5 people, from lethal bites to the neck, bleeding out or wounds that would get infected causing the person to sickly waste away.

He injured many more on his way out.

It was the shittiest kind of hunt Sophie has ever heard about.

She wasn't there on the scene at the beginning but they had come running at the commotion. She and June helped burn their bodies, both of them together. If she had buried them those scavengers would only come back to unearth and eat their remains.

It wasn't only out of respect to the man and his dog, she wanted those fuckers to starve. But none the less she respected Isko, he was too nice of a guy for this place. Too friendly and genuinely good, even Ryo with his lack of social sense wasn't so dense.

Ryo was practical, there were those that could be saved and those that couldn't. A clear line and distinction on those to abandon.

Isko wanted to keep them all safe and alive, he would do the operations no one else would. The ones everyone else had given up any hope on. Bloody surgeries without anesthesia, gruesome amputations on infected limbs, even application and research on the snake venom vaccines to be applied for children.

After Sophie was rescued and in a certain part of rehab, a kind woman would occasionally visit her to talk about the veterinarian. Sometimes she even brought her son, their son.

Isko never got to meet him.

As his assistant, his girlfriend Jenny had often accompanied him, on work trips, even before they had confessed their feelings and gotten together. At the time of the flight, the accident, she was 4 months pregnant and didn't come. No, right now she is currently 4 months pregnant.

That rowdy mixed boy with Isko's almond eyes didn't exist yet. Nor did that kind single mother who kept inviting the scarred woman over for dinners and birthdays. It was only 2017, and they were right at the beginning of this mess.

"Oh now you pay attention to me Ping-Pong, what are you hungry or something?"

The dark dog woofed and came up snuggling to his owner, then curiously sniffed at the Sophie who sat next to him.

"Damn it's already a pain feeding you- what are we going to do when the food I packed you runs out huh? Maybe we should talk to the airline about getting into the luggage compartments, we gotta kept you fed somehow."

The dog will hunt, it will chase and catch things like its instincts know to do. It will sniff and dig for things below the dirt. It will eat rodents and crabs when there is nothing to hunt, nothing to dig for. On good days it will bring back its kills for its dumb human. The dog kept Isko fed more than the other way around.

For now though...

"Dogs can eat pumpkins and yams too you know, and we can bring more fish." Sophie offered, opening her arms and leaving her lap open for any sniffing balls of fur.

Ping-pong happily took the new human's offer and melted on top as she scratched his pointed ears.

"Eh, well I mean, yeah they could. But is that really ok? You guys took how much time to find and gather and I know it's hard enough to feed people around here. Then there's this big boy." exclaimed Isko.

He wasn't a very effective hunter being too loud and much of an animal lover. That didn't mean he was a vegetarian though, he loved eating meat as many other men did. It was actually his and many of his colleagues' hobby to find and eat strange things from out in the field.

Rather he was a very good butcher, knowing exactly where to cut drain and slice the game people had managed to bring back thus far. In return for his expert service, he would get a small portion of meat or anything people didn't want, namely bones or offals. It wasn't much but it was enough for him and to stretch out Ping-pongs meals. They only had so much dog food packed away even in their special check-ins, which were still on the plane.

"Yeah it's fine right now, we gotta look out after each other where we can." stated Sophie, not exactly friendly nor unfriendly.

There was an ominous edge to her tone, a warning she couldn't yet speak. An offer she couldn't yet really make.

"Besides, Ping-pong is a good boy I'm sure. Aren't you? Who's a good boy, who's a good doggy?"

Sophie had always liked dogs more easily than people. Especially in a place like this, a strong canine of muscle and teeth was indispensable to have on their side. It may be silly and goofy now but she had seen this fluffy dog crush living bone and even rip the throats out of fleeing people.

What a good boy indeed.

Ping-pong barked happily, it likes this new human and how she scratches! Neither the pet nor owner knew the true depths of Sophie's thoughts. This sweet looking little woman who brought baskets of vegetables and pockets full of treats.

They just thought they had made a new friend.

That was fine too.


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