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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Heat is all there is. Heat is all around me, in the trees, in the birds in the air, in the mud on my shoes, in Hinckley and Sour-Dick. These things exist only as heat for me. After running for this long in this heat, it’s like everything turns to just one color. Our destination is so far off that it barely occurs to us that we’re going in this direction for a reason. We just keep running. One foot keeps going and then the other keeps going. Sometimes I think about stopping, but my feet just keep going like that. I don’t even feel the impact in my steps anymore. They’re just things working underneath me while I see only heat and hear only my hard breath; it goes away in a wave and then crashes back to me.

Something changes and my vision is so fuzzy I can barely tell, but my feet slow to a stop and Hinckley is down, face-first in the mud. “That fucking leg,” Sour-Dick says. He grabs Hinckley’s arm and rolls him onto his back. Hinckley’s face is colorless. His eyes are open, but they look yellowed like an old photograph. I hear a stream near us, splashing down the hill. Sour-Dick is petting Hinckley’s muddy leg like a dog. He takes his hand off and rubs it in his gray hair. “I fucking new it,” he says. “The infection’s getting worse.” He looks in my eyes. “There’s no medicine in the boat.”

“We have antibiotics.” I shrug off my pack and open it. I squeeze my hand between a bag of crackers and one of chocolate. Beneath that, I just feel the box. I just barely skim its wooden surface with my fingertip. I can see it, black, behind my eyes. I can feel it in my teeth. I lift my finger off and push deeper down in the sack and grab the plastic bottle. I pull it out and start counting pills in the palm of my hand.

“Those won’t do him right.” Sour-Dick is kneeling beside Hinckley, staring down and trying not to cry. “He’s been taking them and he only gets worse.”

“Can he keep going?” I say.

“Not for much longer, not without medicine.”

I rub Hinckley’s cheek. When he doesn’t respond, I pat him on the cheek. “We need to move while we still can,” I tell Sour-Dick. His eyes flutter away from some thought up the hill. “Help me wake him up.” Sour-Dick touches Hinckley on the forehead and he wakes up.

“Hey, buddy,” Sour-Dick says to Hinckley, smiling. Hinckley looks up at me and I see that he understands that for God’s sake, we had to keep going. If we weren’t going to keep going, we might as well just pull the pins out of our grenades and eat them. Me and Sour-Dick both get under one arm and hoist Hinckley until he’s upright. Hinckley wipes some mud off the front of his shirt and starts running, but Sour-Dick grabs his arm. “Wait,” he says.

“Are you fucking nuts? We can’t wait.”

“No. We can’t keep going like this.”

“We have to or we die and there’s no point.”

Hinckley will die even if we keep going. We don’t have any medicine.”

I look at Hinckley, who is looking at the mud. “But there’s nothing else to do but keep going. There’s only one direction to go and that’s away from Duckwood.”

“But that’s the only place we can get Hinckley’s medicine.”

“Am I fucking dreaming this? We’re going to die if we stay here much longer and you’re thinking about going back?”

“We have to go back. I’m not leaving this island without the three of us. If you want to keep going to the shore, then you’ll do it alone.”

“I can’t do it. We’re so lucky that we made it out alive. I can’t go back. I can’t go back there.”

“But we have to. Don’t you see? It’s the only thing to do. We have to go back to Duckwood Castle.”

The hill above us is steep and I think that they’re already up there, in the trees, coming down on us and thinking of us as ghosts who haven’t realized they’re dead yet.

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