“Incredible,” he breathed raggedly, wiping the blood flowing from the superficial cut over his right eye. Hiding in the dense cover of jungle brush, he rubbed the warm, tacky fluid between his thumb and fingers. A dark smile spread across his face as he stared at the blood, watching the way it glistened in the soft light of the half moon that spilled through the palm leaves overhead.
He kicked himself for not seeing it. How could he miss the killer that lurked behind her ever-vigilant eyes? He still marveled at the young woman’s speed and apparent ruthlessness–she nearly killed him in his sleep! If not for his chronic insomnia, she might very well be butchering him for dinner at this very moment. The idea that she could turn him into prey thrilled him in a way he had never known. It never occurred to him that anyone, let alone this girl, could possibly be any kind of match for him.
When the killing started, she was the one to draw first blood. To be fair, it was a mercy killing; the old man’s injuries were so grave that to not kill the old man would have been cruel. His suffering was so great that he begged the other survivors to end it, but she was the only one to step up while the others simply wrung their hands. There was a cold, yet somehow compassionate look in her eyes when she euthanized him.
Cannibalism did not come naturally to him, but he wanted to survive. She, on the other hand, needed to be talked into taking that first bite. Once the others convinced her of the dire necessity, however, she no longer seemed squeamish. That was not to say she turned bloodthirsty, rather she seemed to become thoughtful as she ate. It was almost a reverence, but he was at a loss to explain why. She always seemed to be thinking, always in silent contemplation. Her eyes were always watching, taking everything in, and analyzing her options. He could not help himself; he became completely captivated by her then and there.
She was not his usual prey. With mousy brown hair and milk chocolate eyes, she hardly stuck out despite her television career. Everything about her was so average that just as she slipped from sight, she could just as easily slip from memory. Even now, he could not describe her features any more exactly than to say she was plain. Not that she was unattractive; rather, she was not the obvious type that you would see on a soap opera. She reminded him of those teen angst movies, where the so-called ugly girl was merely a downplayed pretty girl. Her seeming incompatible division between meek facade and murderous intellect intrigued him. She was special; he knew he would savor this kill for a long time to come.
Her self-absorbed co-star, on the other hand, was right up his predatory alley. He could never resist the willfully stupid, especially those with a cruel streak. Physically, the Diva was flashy; while built the same as his current quarry, the Diva packaged it much differently. She was in fact a stereotypical Soap Diva: shallow, narcissistic, with a misplaced sense of entitlement that quickly alienated her from the other shipwreck survivors. When he and the others got around to killing and eating her, the irony was lost on no one. The cannibalism was the Diva’s idea.
A distant rustling tore his attention away from his moon and blood bathed fingertips. He scanned the darkness for the source of the sound, but saw nothing. A rolling mist invaded the island an hour ago, blunting his normally sharp vision. He knew she made the noise; she was coming for him.
“How very exciting.” He shivered in giddy anticipation as he hauled himself to his feet. He was supposed to be the pursuer, not her. He was supposed to kill her when she was at her most vulnerable, not the other way around. Yet, he found that he had no fear of being caught and killed by this seemingly mousy actress. It was exhilarating, this role reversal. Instead, he looked forward to continuing this lovely game that she started.
I just knew there was something different about him! Trying to catch her breath, she hid in the dense underbrush of the jungle, thankful for the thickening fog. It had never even occurred to her that he could have been a killer. He just did not seem the type. He seemed normal enough when they met aboard ship. But then, she had seen enough A&E shows to know she should have known better. Serial killers looked just like everyone else, after all.
He was the quiet sort, sure, but he had a cute smile that made his eyes crinkle in the corners. He let her go on and on about herself, her job, and how much she hated being just a second string soap actress. He was such a good listener; even when he did speak, there was nothing judgmental in his expression or his voice. It was really quite disarming. She even considered making a date with him, but the sudden lurching and subsequent sinking of the ship knocked that from her mind.
It was not until he killed one of the ship’s engineers, a big burly man who washed up with them, that she became alarmed. She was still shocked at how easily he had inflicted the fatal wound: a quick and precise stab inside the larger man’s thigh. To be fair, the engineer had tried to kill him first, and the smaller man had only struck back in self-defense, but there was a brutal efficiency to the strike that disturbed her. The look on his face–not cold, nor was it angry; there was no emotion, just an intellectual fascination–had sent a finger of ice up her spine. That was when she knew she would have to kill him to save her own life.
It should have been easy. He was sleeping for Christ’s sake.
In her mind’s eye she saw it happen over and over: standing over him with the rock, his eyes popping open like some crazy kewpie doll, releasing the rock as she jumped backward to avoid the slashing conch shell that he had earlier fashioned into a crude knife. At least she could take consolation that she managed to give him a good knock on the head when she dropped the rock. While it gave her time to escape into the dark safety of the island’s trees, her mind still taunted her failure and jeered at her carelessness.
She had come a long way from working in her mother’s restaurant as a child. Even then, she dreamed of the bright lights of New York, not knowing just how much she would have to overcome to get there. Marooned on a deserted island, however, was something she could not possibly have foreseen. And now, after all her hard work, all the compromises, all her sacrifices, she was going to die here on this glorified sandbar in the middle of nowhere. The sudden despair threatened to crush her soul as tears stung vengefully in her eyes.
Fuck that! her spirit roared back. If I can survive a New York casting couch, a soap opera coma, and nearly drowning in the ocean, I can survive this!
Galvanized by this thought, she set herself into motion. Unfortunately, a rock managed to achieve invisibility more fully than she did and nearly sent her sprawling. Catching herself on the thin trunk of a palm tree, she prevented immediate injury, but still made quite a racket as she did. Her heart rate soared as her eyes frantically scanned the mist shrouded darkness. She was positive he heard her. Fear flooded her eyes with tears, and her veins with ice. She did not want to die, but resolved that if she was to die on this island, he was coming with her.
In order to make good on the self-promise, however, she needed a weapon.
Her near fall forced the mist into roiling retreat, exposing a miracle: a club. It was only a fallen tree branch; one end thicker than the other, but its reach was longer than his improvised knife. A wicked smile took over her face, her eyes sparkling dangerously in the moonlight. She could already feel its weight in her hands; just staring at it made her heart race with sultry excitement. She had to have it. Heedless of noise, she quickly scrambled toward the beckoning weapon. Just as her fingers curled around the haft, he leapt from the fog, slamming into her.
Together they tumbled into a small glade, the tall grass cushioning their fall. She twisted away from him, driving a knee into his stomach. A grunt erupted from him as he released her and continued to roll. His momentum carried him into a staggering fighting stance just as she gained her feet, her makeshift bat in a death grip. Wasting no time, she charged him; a piercing, guttural cry preceded her assault as she swung with everything she possessed. He lurched forward into her attack, ruining her swing’s timing; he struck her in the chest with his shoulder, knocking her to the ground. Gasping, still breathless from her earlier knee to his gut, he backed away from her. She remained stunned on the ground, unable to react to anything, including his declining to attack her. Rubbing the tender spot where her knee struck, he allowed her time to recover while he searched for his knife. Taking advantage of the unexpected reprieve, she scrambled to her feet; his startling demonstration of mercy mystified her, muting the aggression she displayed only a moment ago.
“I don’t want to kill you.” His voice was breathy but calm.
The fog had not infiltrated the thick meadow, but the moon had no such trouble. In its light, the pair stared at each other: she saw his smile, and he saw her fear.
“I don’t believe you.” Though her voice shook, there was no mistaking the conviction in it. “I saw how easy you killed the engineer. I’m not stupid.”
He lowered his knife, relaxing his stance, but his eyes still held their dark humor. His voice became soft, conversational. “So, you figured it was only a matter of time for you.”
She nodded. She was listening; he saw her shoulders ease, but her club remained raised.
“I don’t want to kill you,” he stated again. “But I will if I have to, if you force me.”
“Really? You have another option?” Her eyebrow arched, and he could see the small quirk of her lips as she concealed a smile in sarcasm. “Last I checked we were the only food. So unless you found some hidden stash of canned peaches, then we’re screwed. ”
“I kill you, you kill me; makes no difference, you just want to go down swinging, right?”
“Don’t you?” The confusion in her eyes was very plain.
“We all die,” he said simply. “That’s why I value life.”
“You murder people.” Her face became dark, her grip tightening on her miracle.
He laughed; low, without menace, but sending a chill through her just the same. “No one’s hands are clean. We all kill: hamburgers, bacon, bug spray, canned peaches. It’s all murder.”
“You just play judge, jury, and executioner, is that it?” she countered. “Who do you think you are?”
“And you?” He was so maddeningly unruffled. “You passed judgment on me; assuming I would kill you, and so set about killing me.”
“Are you serious?” Her head tilted at him, again the quirked lip and arched brow. “Is this philosophical hand-job supposed to lull me into letting you kill me?”
Again he laughed, he was amused. “You really are quite remarkable.”
She opened her mouth to ask what he meant, but was immediately drown out by a roar coming from overhead. They both ducked down, shielding their ears; the noise was so suddenly close and bone rattling loud, they could only surrender to their instinct to brace for some kind of impact. An abrupt gust forced the adversaries to stagger off-balance, and they closed their eyes against swirling debris. A moment later, the ground trembled as a blast concussed the air, followed by a plume of scorched amber flames erupting over the trees.
They looked at each other, torn between intense curiosity and raging mistrust. He made his choice and ran off toward the disturbance. She followed; she was curious too, but she did not want to let him out of her sight either. Soon they emerged from the jungle to the beach where that night’s events began; he stopped inside the shadow of the jungle, she stopped next to him. Right in front of them, floating in the moonlit lagoon was the smoldering remains of a plane wreck. She looked for people, but saw only twisted metal and a few isolated flames. It was a small plane, so it did not surprise her to find no survivors. What surprised her was when he saw one. She searched where he was pointing, and saw the distant head bobbing in the waves.
They turned back to each other, their eyes wide and eager.
He smiled with that beautiful crinkle in his eyes. “We don’t have to be enemies.”
She returned his dark humor, “Race you to dinner.”
Copyright Cherri L. Borey 2010 All Rights Reserved