I love creative writing, so I felt it to be only natural to try my hand at it again with The Long Dark, which is one of my personal favorites. It has held a special place in my heart since I first came across it as a Game Preview on Xbox One, later purchasing it on the PC, and inevitably on the Switch if it ever gets ported.
Writing survival stories has always been fun for me, if only as an exercise in tracking my playthroughs. Still, using my playthroughs as a catalyst is fine I suppose, but they can be pretty limiting since they consist primarily of diaries of each survivor. I’ll probably still write those, but I have a new idea I want to chase after for now.
So please take a moment to read something a little new from me.
He shut the door behind him and tested the deadbolt, pulling on the knob.
“Seriously, you’re gonna break it if you keep yanking on it like that. Leave it alone and help me get the fire going.” Rebecca frowned at Hale as she began piling tinder beneath the pieces of furniture she spent the last hour and a half breaking apart. “What’d you find?”
Hale dropped his bounty down near the hearth. “Well, I ran across a couple rabbits…”
“That’s weird, because that doesn’t look like rabbit. It looks like you brought back…” Rebecca squinted while examining his catch “Alfred’s Special dog food.” A wave of disgust washed over her face.
“Hey, Becca” he said as he reached for the can she held, “the good news is it’s chicken and rice flavored!”
She wasn’t amused. Hale knew that Rebecca had been slowly losing patience with him over the last week or so, though he couldn’t remember what a week meant anymore. He stabbed his pocket knife’s can opener into a can he snagged back from Rebecca. She still hadn’t shaken her fixation of the paw on the can on the one she still held.
They didn’t speak the rest of the evening. Rebecca and Hale huddled closely by the rapidly dimming fire, but not due to desire or interest. At least not anymore. The cold took its toll on them. Rebecca’s demeanor revolved around doing whatever it took to survive the world around them, she had grown suitably cold to match the temperature outside, both due to the harsh nature of their environment, and what she perceived as constant disappointment. She used to admire Hale’s ability to find humor in any situation, being able to deflect his own despair with wry comments and sarcasm. It’s what drew her to him in the first place. Nothing ever got him down.
Hale wasn’t doing too hot either though. Behind every stupid joke poking fun at their situation lay the truth; he knew how dire things were for them. Every step outside could bring certain death. Every moment he spent hunting, foraging, or scavenging could put him on the wrong side of the wilderness. He found himself recalling the scores of close calls he had over the last few days while he’d been gone, but he didn’t want to tell Rebecca. He knew he was skating on thin ice with her, but he didn’t know what to do anymore. The only thing he knew to do was to try to smile and crack dumb jokes.
Despite the dozens of cabins, homes, and workplaces that littered the island, it was abundantly clear that they weren’t welcome here. The inhabitants didn’t want them there before they all left at the height of the economic downturn and environmental terrorist acts. Maybe it’s because they thought outsiders were somehow responsible? Who knows.
Hale had almost drifted off to sleep when Rebecca finally spoke. The last light had faded and the fire didn’t look like it was far behind.
“I don’t want to do this anymore.” Becca sighed, her exasperation obvious.
Hale winced as if he were in pain. He knew the conversation was a long time coming, but this was definitely the worst time to bring it up. Still, instinct already kicked in.
“I don’t know. I’m kinda getting used to life in the north. It’s really starting to grow on me.” Hale chuckled.
“Stop. Just… stop. I’m over the dad jokes. They stopped being funny ages ago. Why can’t you take anything seriously? We’re out here, starving and freezing to death every day, and you’re trying to crack jokes. Let me clue you in… You aren’t funny. I’m tired of it. Stop.” Rebecca didn’t look angry, just tired.
“I’m sorry.” Hale’s fake smile wiped clean. He paused for a long while. “I had two rabbits for us yesterday. I found them in a field near the town down the road. I was on my way back to you when I ran into a wolf on the highway. I thought it didn’t see me, but I could tell it knew exactly where I was. The rabbits were just what it was looking for. So I had a choice: I could run, and try to get back to you with the rabbits, risking having it come after the both of us, or I could leave the rabbits as bait and hoped it was happy with that.”
He exhaled deeply.
“I dropped it and ran as fast as I could towards the nearest car. I only looked back when I got in the driver’s seat,” he paused again “but for a little while, I decided that was the last straw. I’m tired of hiking for miles only to come back with barely enough food to keep us going for another day. I just sat in the front seat, staring at the radio, thinking about us driving up here in the first place. Taking the boat to the island for a rustic getaway. I thought about how nice it was that we sang almost all the way up here, and all those stops for terrible gas station snacks and energy drinks. I realized that we’d never be there again, and even though we promised we would stay together forever. I didn’t want to face you again without what I told you I’d bring back.”
He turned at looked at Rebecca. “You know, the only thing that got me out of that car was thinking of you. Knowing that you were counting on me to get back here with something… anything to eat. I wasn’t about to let you starve, or leave you wondering what happened to me. I’m always counting on you. You do so much for us here, keeping everything together, all our tools and clothes repaired, stockpiling wood and keeping our water stores up. The least I could do would be to come back alive with something to get us by.”
She didn’t say anything, but he understood. Things hadn’t been easy on either of them. He knew there was something else digging at her, but he didn’t want to pry. They just sat there; the fire burned to embers now, barely lighting the tears on his face. She grabbed their sleeping bag and pulled it up over the both of them without a word, only breaking the silence momentarily.
“We need to get some rest. We’ll have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
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