There are only four of them left, all nearly unrecognizable with their jutting bones and wild hair. George Chambers doesn’t know how many have been left behind anymore. Doesn’t let himself think about what happens to the bodies, even when he boils bones and boots to make a thin meal.
Someone’s knobby spine is pressing into his back, too sharp against his bruised ribcage even though their clothing. The other man is breathing jerky and uneven. Pained. Mr. Bridgens had neatly organized the last of their medicine before disappearing, but that small hoard is long gone. There’s nothing left to do but ignore the pain as best they can.
He wants to move, to try to find a way to spare his aching bones without losing that small point of warmth, but he can’t quite convince his numb limbs to cooperate. Instead he worries a loose tooth and waits for dawn, half-dozing and restless. Le Vesconte had stopped earlier than usual the day before, listing dangerously with his feet dragging strangely, but George doesn’t feel any more rested.
He knows they’re finally off that damn island, but he doesn’t know how long it’s been or how far they’ve walked. He doesn’t feel like he knows much of anything anymore. He just follows where Little – no, no. Not Little. Little’s gone. Left behind with the tents and bodies and most of their remaining supplies, too heavy now to carry. Le Vesconte, then, silent and hollow-eyed and always looking south, never at the other survivors.
(Little had been kind to him, quietly worrying over them all like a guilty shadow of Captain Crozier.
He hadn’t felt much of anything when Little and the dying were left behind at that last longer camp. Hasn’t felt much of anything in a long time, really.)
At least he never feels hungry anymore. Best had spotted a bird the other day and George had felt a strangling kind of hope that had made him realize, in a detached sort of way, how little he’d eaten these last days – weeks? But Le Vesconte’s shot had gone wide and the noise had left them all cringing. His mind is so slowed by constant foggy pain these days that it had taken him a few long moments to realize what had happened, and by then the bird was nowhere in sight. He’d barely had to energy to feel disappointed.
He could probably just give up here. Stay curled on his bed of lichen and threadbare blankets when the sun rises and the remaining men start walking again, with or without him. But that feels – unacceptable.
George Chambers is only twenty (twenty-one?). His closest friends are all long dead; who will bring their families the news if he gives up now? He’ll make it even if he has to crawl, if he has to complete the journey alone or as some form of spirit. Because he knows there are ghosts here; he can hear them in his dreams and sometimes when he’s awake, scratching across the rocks to whisper in his ear. He thinks he can see them too, standing like statues against the horizon or watching cold and distant from the creeping night sky. Weekes can see them too. Or he could, anyways. Before.
The man at his back isn’t moving much anymore, his breath too shallow to feel. He might be dead or dying, or maybe just sleeping.
Another ghost to add to the choir. George wonders vaguely if his boots have less holes than his own.
Dawn breaks thin and pale across the endless rocks. The sun blinds George even through his heavy eyelids, throbbing pain already settling behind his eyes and spreading to his temples. When he forces his eyes open again, the sun is fully above the horizon.
George is afraid he won’t wake up if he lets his eyes drift closed again. By the time he pushes himself to his elbows he’s breathing heavily, coughing hard enough he half expects to feel something break. Someone a few feet away – Best? – flinches a little at the sound. It takes him a few long minutes to focus his dull, fevered eyes on George.
Nobody else is moving.