An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.
I watched the others pack their things from my place against a tree. Once in a while, one of them would watch me back. I would have helped, if it weren’t for the ropes tying me against the tree. I shifted, but the ropes wouldn’t allow for much movement. My arms were starting to go numb, but I didn’t think that was because of the ropes.
“I wonder if there is a way to keep your mind when you’re infected.”
“Don’t be stupid,”
I idly swung my feet from left to right. I was bored. The others were busy packing, and I was done watching them. It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen them do it countless times before. My gaze drifted to Delilah, who was bent over, pulling tent pegs out of the ground. It had gotten windy lately, and we really couldn’t go without them if we didn’t want the tents to blow away, even though it would have been more efficient to leave them be.
“if that were the case we would have found some people who managed it.”
“Maybe they never considered it.”
They really couldn’t afford to waste any time. The hoard Gerald and I had seen was huge and it was coming in this direction. Delilah struggled to put her hastily folded tent in her bag. I wished I could help. But maybe she didn’t know how to do it on her own now because I always helped.
“What if you really tried to stay awake?”
“You think no one has tried that yet? Come on, Rose.”
Delilah threw her bag on the ground with a frustrated huff. Her tent was still half sticking out. She turned to me, our eyes locked. I didn’t look away, there was no reason to be embarrassed at being caught watching. It might be the last time I would be able to.
“Well, most people who were infected just concentrated on being shot in the head before they turned instead of-”
Delilah still looked furious and her ire only seemed to increase the longer I kept watching her. We hadn’t had a civil conversation in months, and I wished I could make it up to her somehow. I wished I could just apologise and have her forgive me and have everything be alright again, but it was too late for that now.
“No you’re not.”
The cold wind seemed to bite into the wound on my arm. While my arm felt completely numb, the wound never stopped burning, biting, throbbing. I could feel the poison flowing through my veins, numbing everything it touched. Gerald helped Delilah fold her tent properly. I silently thanked him. He’d done so much for me already, I couldn’t ask him to take care of Delilah for me as well, but it seemed he had decided to do so all on his own.
“I am sorry, I didn’t mean-”
“Have you given up on your ridiculous theory?”
“Then I can’t forgive you.”
No one liked my theory. They said it was disrespectful. I disagreed, even though I could see where they were coming from. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to the memory of the dead. It wasn’t like I hadn’t lost my own family to the plague as well. But that didn’t change the fact that I fully believed, with all my heart, that with the right mindset, it was possible to not lose your mind.
Nearing footsteps brought me out of my thoughts. Everyone was packed up and ready. All the people I once called friends stood before me, towering over me from how I was sitting on the ground. The ground had stopped feeling cold a while ago.
Even though everyone was here, I only had eyes for Delilah and Gerald. Gerald, the one person who hadn’t stopped being my friend even once I voiced my theory. Delilah, the person I missed the most when she stopped talking to me.
I would miss them, all of them, but mostly Delilah. Even when she was angry at me, at least she was always nearby for me to hear and see. Now she would leave me all alone.
I wonder if she would miss me as well.
“Rose…” she said, trailing off as if she wasn’t sure what to say. Mixed emotions played on her face. There was the anger that was always there whenever she looked at or thought about me, but when she said my name… I was sure I heard some sadness there. I didn’t want Delilah to be sad, but it made me feel a little better to know that she wasn’t happy about me dying.
She shook her head, clearing her expression of all emotion. “Good luck,” she said, voice as cold as the wind still biting at my wound. She turned around, but I stopped her before she could take a step away from me.
“What about the ropes?” My voice was small, weak. The poison was so fast-acting. I could hardly feel anything anymore except for the pounding of my heart, the throbbing of my wounded arm.
Delilah froze in her tracks, then slowly turned to me. Her face was twisted in disdain. “We’re already taking a risk by not shooting you in the head!” I flinched at the reminder. Delilah hadn’t hesitated to make known what she wanted to do with me the moment she saw the deep scratches on my arm. “Be glad Gerald insisted on honouring your wishes.” I glanced at Gerald for a moment, giving him a weak smile. He wiped at his eyes, before giving me a smile in return. I wished I could cheer him up somehow.
I shifted in my ropes, but none of the uncomfortable numbness went away. They were old ropes. They wouldn’t use the best ones just to tie me up. I might be able to break out if I tried hard enough. Maybe I could bite through them?
Delilah was still glaring at me, but she didn’t look angry anymore. She looked scared. “You’re right, Delilah,” I said. If I did turn and lose my mind, I wouldn’t want to roam the woods and potentially kill and infect others. “I’m sorry.”
Delilah nodded, her expression blank again. She turned her back to me, but she didn’t walk. “Good luck,” she said. This time the words came out unsteadily, chocked up. My breath hitched. I suddenly had the desperate urge to say something, anything, to make her stay, but no words would come out past the lump in my throat. Delilah moved, and the others followed. Their footsteps slowly faded into the distance, until only silence remained.
I was alone.
Posted elsewhere: r/nosleep