Exiled, in many ways, it was crueller than death.
Lara sat at the fire pit, the wood crackling merrily, despite the heat that was coming from it, she still felt cold. She wouldn’t last long out here, she knew that, everyone knew it. She looked at the small pile of camping gear they had given her, a tent, some clothes, matches, filtration system for fresh water, a small amount of food until she started hunting, some fishing line and hooks, and finally, some books on how to hunt and survive in the wild. Did they even know what was out here? Lara had heard rumours and whispers all her life about this place, but no one who came out here ever returned.
Lara had been brought to the island on a boat, dumped off at the beach and wished luck. The soldiers didn’t look at her by that point. They helped her shoulder her backpack, heavy though it was, and she stepped onto the beach and made her way towards the dunes. She hadn’t walked very far when she came across what appeared to be some kind of road and, with nothing better to do, she followed it. Perhaps some of the others out here managed to survive. That wasn’t very reassuring. She walked that road for almost two hours when she finally found what would be her first campsite. She had sat for almost an hour, hidden by trees, watching for movement, but there was none. Finally, she crept from her hiding spot and looked through the windows of the buildings, searching for signs of habitation, but again, there were none. So she returned to her hiding spot, took her things, and set up camp on what seemed to be a village green. There were trees growing on it, twisting up from the ground, they provided shelter from the wind, the houses were close, but far away enough to provide a good area of sight. Lara had explored only one of the houses, it was small and in surprisingly good condition. The walls were solid and sturdy still, the roof, made of some kind of metal or plastic, had no holes in it. There was a small fireplace in the main room, and a small kitchen. The kitchen was basically useless, the taps didn’t work, which didn’t surprise her, when she turned it the first time, out of curiosity, a thick, black rancid sludge drooled from the opening. She had left it, hoping that water would run through, but after a few minutes she turned it off again. The most surprising thing about the building, at least to Lara, was that the windows were still intact, she would have expected them to have broken long ago, due to neglect or decay.
The house was unfurnished, no beds, no chairs, not even a hint that anything like that had been there. She theorised that someone before her might have scavenged them, or perhaps used them for a fire, if they were stupid enough.
Lara was tempted to stay in one of the houses, after all it would be easily heated and she would be protected from the elements, but it seemed like a bad idea, as though it was unsafe. She didn’t want to be trapped inside the house if something happened, after all there was only one exit.
She had set up her camp, with much cursing, in a few hours and after that, she started the fire. She didn’t want to be alone out here, not in the dark. No stars could be seen from the island, that much they knew, Lara didn’t know why, she suspected some kind of layer that prevented the weaker light of the stars from penetrating it. The moon was still visible, though hazy, as was the sun. In the darkness around her, above the crack and snapping of the fire, she could hear animals moving about, though she had yet to see one.
She was surprised at how pleasant the whole thing was so far, having expected to be chased by mutated monsters and ripped apart in the first few hours. The landscape wasn’t as bizarre as she was expecting either, it was almost unnervingly banal.
The breeze carried with it a faint scent of the ocean, it was peaceful in this place. When she became tired, Lara went to her tent and crawled in. She woke the next morning, feeling refreshed. She climbed out of her tent and stretched, surprised that she had slept the entire night through. She looked around her campsite, but nothing had been disturbed. Yesterday, she had heard a running river, but at the time she had been too worried about getting herself set up and so she ignored it. The water she had been given would run out soon and she’d need to start using the filter system.
It didn’t take Lara long to find the river, there she splashed some water in her face and filled up the small bucket. The water in the river was completely clear, she could see right to the riverbed, silver fish darted about in the waters. It would be a good source of food if she didn’t get the hang of trapping animals. She had been given a field guide for eating plants, but she was afraid of using that. One wrong identification and she could be horribly sick or worse. As she walked back to her camp, she wondered about those who were here before her, maybe they too set up camp here, then they moved further inland. It wasn’t like any boat was going to pick her up from here, so there was no real need to stay by the sea. The island was large and there would be plenty of places for people to set up a place. Though why they wouldn’t have used the houses in the village she didn’t know. Perhaps there were other villages, better ones that people have found and decided to live in. Perhaps there was an entire town or city, full of people and thriving. As she poured the water into the system, she smiled to herself, it was a nice thought, but she knew there was no way it was true. No one ever returned from the island, whether they were exiled like her, or an exploratory expedition. Nothing ever returned of them. Radios wouldn’t work on the island, something was causing extreme interference, electronics were off too, or at least that was the theory.
On the nights before her exile, she had lay awake in bed, imagining the horrors of the island, that it was full of monsters or cannibals, with twisted rituals and sacrifices, with burning effigies and giant statues to base gods. But there had been none of that. Nothing that would indicate the island was a dangerous place, that something lurked on it. It had been separate for at least fifty years, perhaps more. No one was really sure when it happened, there was the Great Desolation and that had set everybody into a tailspin, so no one noticed the people going to the island and not returning, or that communications had stopped, communications everywhere had stopped. Lara knew a bit about the island before, it had been a throwback, all retro. People living without technology, a kind of wildlife sanctuary for humans. They lived here for a time, to get away from it all, vacation, some returned, others didn’t.
Lara stayed in the village for three days before she decided it was time to move onwards. She had decided to follow the river, after all, towns and villages were usually on them or nearby. She gathered her items and, after a small breakfast, she began to walk. As she walked from the village, she felt uneasy, as though the village itself was what protected her. She would have had a place to fall back to if she was attacked, the stone walls would have helped keep her safe. She had examined them before, on her second day, looking to see if there were any marks that would suggest wild animals, or something worse. She had found the village easily, surely someone else must have found it too. As she walked further away, she regretted not leaving some kind of message, saying where she was going, but perhaps that was best after all. She didn’t want someone to sneak up on her, if there was someone else here, perhaps they weren’t safe people to be around. Most people weren’t like her, most people were exiled for good reasons, murder, rape. She was exiled because her ex-fiancé was a jealous prick. Lara had expected someone to step in, to stop it before it went too far, but no one had. No one had turned up on the day of her exile, no one to watch her go. She had been abandoned by everyone she thought she knew and cared about.
If there was anyone left on the island, they would be dangerous, they would be wild, savage. She needed to be wary, to stay safe. She gripped the small hunting knife tightly as she walked, she didn’t want to be caught unawares when the island revealed its true nature.
She could do this, she would survive and someday, she’d return to the mainland and take revenge on Patrick and the others.