(Trigger warnings for gore, semi-graphic murder, and cannibalism. Unreliable narrators, out of order sequences, and possible time loops abound as well.)
Emma coughed, her eyes fever bright. When Matthew touched her forehead, she groaned at the touch and he nearly yanked his hand away. She was burning up.
"Come on." He carefully tipped water into her mouth. "Stay strong."
"Matthew." Klara was crouched in the tent door.
He followed her out and zipped up the tent behind him.
"Mattie." She looked at him with unflinching black eyes. "We're basically out of food."
It shouldn't smell good. He should have stopped her. He should be knocking her away and running. The trail couldn't be far. It was getting dark but wouldn't stumbling around in the dark be preferable to this? Preferable to her?
He tore his eyes from the ground and saw her. She was crouching next to him, something wet and red held in her hand.
"You need to eat," she said gently.
"No," he whispered.
"Matthew." Her voice was firmer.
"I'm - we're not monsters!"
"Desperate people do desperate things."
"I'm not that desperate, Klara."
Whatever she said, he ignored, tearing his eyes away from the wet thing she held in her hands. Instead, he focused on the flickering fire. He closed his eyes and let the shadows play behind his eyelids, forcing away the memories that threatened to overwhelm him.
Eventually, she moved away, and he was left alone. He heard her chewing and swallowing, and the scent of burning reached him.
At last, he managed to regain command of his frozen body and bolted into the woods. He heard her call out to him but he ignored her. He had to get away from her, from it. From himself.
Moss grows on the north side of trees. Matthew did his best to recall as many survival tips as he could, stumbling through the dark and the cold. His breath frosted in the air. All around him, as far as he could see, were dead trees and snow. His own footsteps trailed behind him, promising him that if he just turned and followed them back the way he came, there was a fire and a tent. They were flimsy protection from the elements but protection nonetheless.
He shook his head. He couldn't go back.
His stomach growled.
He swallowed hard and pressed forward.
If he could find the trail, not even the trail, if he could find the river, he could he follow either one and eventually find civilization. Maybe he could even send help for Klara, if she hadn't died of the cold or starvation.
Weren't there hunting cabins in this area? Matthew struggled to remember the map. Damn it. Maybe he shouldn't have left.
The darkness slowly began to brighten, the moon vanishing from overhead as the light began to turn gray, then white, then red.
Red skies at night, sailor's delight. Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning.
Matthew trembled at the ill omen. He wasn't a religious man, but anyone in his situation would begin to look for good signs. He turned to face where the sun was beginning to cast shadows from the trees and began to follow the moss. Moss liked shade, he recalled. As such, it grows on the northern facing part of a tree.
He was lost.
Matthew finally collapsed against a tree, feeling almost sick from hunger. Snow could only ease the ache in his belly for so long. He blinked and the shadows were longer. He could barely move his fingers.
"Matthew!" Klara's voice rang through the trees and the silence. No birds took flight, no deer ran away. They truly were alone.
"Matthew!" Emma? Matthew blinked. That couldn't be possible. Emma was dead. No. Emma couldn't be dead. She was running up to him, snow flying up as she kicked the powdery water particles out of her way. "Matthew! Thank god you're ok! Where's your balaclava?" She took hers off and yanked it over his face. Matthew's frozen ears began to tingle painfully. His face too. Sudden heat after being cold for hours wasn't good for the body, he distantly recalled.
"Emma?" Klara called.
"I found him!" No!
Matthew lunged up and clasped a hand over Emma's mouth. "Don't!" He hissed. "Don't tell her where we are!"
Emma looked at him like he was crazy. "Matthew, come on." She hauled him up, an arm around his waist, his arm around her shoulders as she held his wrist with her other hand.
"Klara!" She called again.
Matthew swayed and bile rose up his throat so fast he couldn't swallow it down. It sizzled against the snow, steam rising.
"Matthew!" Klara came up on his other side and supported him. He wanted to pull away. Everything was so fuzzy. What was happening? Why was Emma here too? Emma was dead.
A scream ripped through the night. The rock, shiny with blood, came down again, cutting the sound off into a gargled moan. Matthew stood, rooted to the spot as he watched Klara bring the rock down a third time, driving the point into Emma's skull. Emma's brown eyes glazed over, taking on an emptiness only death could bring.
He didn't move.
His empty stomach tried to rebel, but the little fluids of melted snow and acid couldn't respond.
"Matthew!" He jerked at the call.
"Matthew, hand me the multi-tool."
Numbly, he turned over the requested object, seeing and unseeing her bring out the sharp little knife and carefully removing Emma's clothes.
"God forgive me," Klara said before she began to cut.
"Matthew." He dragged his eyes open to see Klara hovering over him. Her blonde hair brushed his cheek. "Matthew, you need to eat."
He shook his head.
"Matthew." Something hot nudged his lips. The touch made him hiss, giving Klara the opening she needed to push it into his mouth. The taste of nickel and salt bloomed on his tongue and the world went still for a moment.
He locked eyes with Klara, her obsidian colored irises boring into his. He breathed heavily through his nose. Finally, he began to chew. He had every intent of spitting it out. He was going to.
Klara smiled and her fingers pressed against his lips again. He opened and allowed another piece to be slid into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed. The ache in his stomach seemed to grow as she fed him, until finally, it began to subside. He didn't know how long this went on. But finally, she smiled and said, "No more. We don't need you getting sick too." Her fingers left wet, tacky trails on his cheek.
"Klara," he said hoarsely. "What did you do?"
"What I needed to." She kissed his forehead and his eyes closed again.
"Mattie! Matt, come on!" Matthew dragged his eyes open to see Emma sitting next to him. "Come on! We gotta get going before the snow rolls in or we'll never find the trail."
"Guys!" Klara's voice came through the open tent door. "It's starting to snow. We better get moving!"
When Matthew swallowed, he tasted blood.
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This was a strange piece. Sorry about the delay, but I am just now catching up with emails. I like the last line! Sometimes I am confused as to what is happening.
Great story! You kept me hooked until the end :)