He doesn’t remember when they started. He barely remembers anything anymore. It’s like his brain can’t move past that night. It can’t stop reminding him of their mistakes. His mistakes. If it hadn’t been for his stupid mistakes, Jess and Matt would’ve made it. Josh would’ve made it.
He would’ve been able to sit in his living room, playing video games with Josh. The two of them could’ve been able to pretend it never happened. They would go to therapy and mourn Hannah and Beth. They could have been able to continue on with their lives. If Josh were here, he would’ve stayed on his meds, not because he needs them but to help keep Josh on track. He would’ve saw a psychologist and cried his feelings away. His psychotic break never would’ve occurred because of all the things Josh could have swept him up in. He can still remember some of the crazy shit they got themselves into.
We have it all! They would scream from the Josh’s balcony after having too many drinks that night. Josh would take a giant swig of some $100 wine and put an arm around Chris. It’s me and you until the end, cochise!
Now all of that is gone. Josh is gone.
It’s about 5 p.m. when Chris wakes up. He can’t remember when he fell asleep, but in all honesty he’s glad he got to sleep at all. For a while, he just lies there, staring at the small rays of light filtering through his curtains. His days are spent in his darkened apartment, with unscented candles burning in every room he’s in. If there’s not fire or light in a room, Chris can’t be in it. He just can’t. For the most part, though, he sits in the dark, with his candles, and allows the world to think he’s dead.
Sometimes he wishes he really was dead.
He sighs and sits on the edge of the bed, running his fingers through his hair. His head feels like someone took a jackhammer and started pounding the inside of his skull, right behind his eyes. He looks at his phone. Mike texted him the day they’ve decided to hold the memorial service for their friends.
Their dead friends.
Sam called and left a voicemail. He decides to listen to it. Hey Chris...we’re all kind of worried about you. Ashley said you started getting angry at her last time you two were on the phone. Mike said that you aren’t answering most of his texts. You haven’t returned most of my calls. We need to know you’re ok. We’re all here for you Chris. Please talk to us. We know losing everyone was hard, especially losing Josh and-
He deletes the message. He doesn’t need that speech. He doesn’t need that pity. He closes his eyes, putting his head in his hands. He just needs peace. He needs quiet. He needs his friends. He needs-
The floor creaks behind him.
His eyes open but he tenses. The second he’s able to process the event he forces himself to hold his breathe. He can hear low growls just inches behind him, and heavy breathing. He swallows hard as the weight shifts on his bed. It feels like hours pass, and all of a sudden the breathing is close to his ear and he feels movement near the side of his face. He’s so still that he wonders if his blood is still pumping.
The movement stills, and the weight shifts off his bed. He slowly looks up at his wall, and glances at the mirror there.
He breathes out shakily when he sees her tattoo. She isn’t facing him, she’s facing the closed door across from his bed. Whatever she’s looking at isn’t reflected in the mirror, so he cranes his neck just an inch to see.
Josh’s hand is on the door. Tears are running down his face and he can’t stop shaking. He can’t stop moving. Josh. Stop moving. Hannah reaches out to grip Josh’s face, and Josh lets out a cry of pain. His heart is stuck in his throat and his blood is pumping so fast he wonders if he should’ve fainted from all the adrenaline already.
“Josh..” He manages to strangle out Josh’s name. Hannah’s head whips toward him. Instinctively he lurches to the right, towards his bedside table for his lighter and a can of deodorant.
When he turns back, however, she’s gone. Hannah is gone, and for a split second, relief washes over him. He feels like he’s just taken a blessed shower in the holy catacombs of the Vatican. She’s gone. The threat is gone.
Then he realizes.
Josh is gone too. Hannah took him. Hannah took him to the mines. She’s going to eat him alive. His heart is in his throat again. He wants to scream. He can remember Josh’s scream when he was cut in ‘half.’ The noise of wet organs hitting the floor. He can remember Josh’s insulting screams when he was tied up. The noise of Mike hitting him, the small drip, drip of the sweat and blood falling off his face and onto the pant leg of his overalls. He runs to the door, pulling it open so fast the knob connects with the wall behind it and puts a hole in it.
The mine walls and floor are covered in blood. The wood beams have scratches in them. He inches forward, lighter and deodorant in hand. The earth beneath his bare feet feels like sludge. He feels like if he steps too far it will suck his body into the floor like sticky, hot tar.
Come on Cochise
He can practically hear Josh laughing in his ear. His voice does nothing but taunt Chris now. It isn’t the same voice that he knows. He knows the faux bitterness of Josh’s voice when he ‘lost’ at Mario Kart that lets Chris figure out that he probably let him win. He knows the snickers that slowly become tears falling from laughter after Josh pranks him for the third time that week. He knows the soft happiness in his voice as they laugh and try to shush each other because Dude your sisters are in the other rooms, we can’t let them know we drank a whole bottle of Jack. No, this voice is tainted. This voice isn’t the Josh he knew.
Chris wants to puke. There’s a feeling deep in his gut that tells him not to follow the tainted voice. A feeling that begs him not to move forward. He wants to just close the door to his room and pretend he’s dead. He doesn’t want to face all the things he was to afraid to face that night. He steps back slightly.
He doesn’t want to go into the mines.
He didn’t go into the mines last time. Fear kept him from going past the doorframe. He thought Mike and Sam would bring Josh back. Convinced himself that they would do a better job at bringing back Josh than he did. But they didn’t. It was his worst mistake. It was all his fault. He can’t do that again. He has to save Josh.
He forces himself forward.
“Josh.” He cries out. No answer.
He goes around a corner. He steps on something soft, and looks to see what it was. Matt’s letterman is sunk into the dirt. Some buttons are missing, blood covers the neck, and his name is burned off it’s right breast. Pieces of bone seem to be stuck in the soil next to it. He considers grabbing it when a song—fuck that’s Jess’ favorite song—starts playing to the right of him. Her phone illuminates the wall, the album cover coloring it with soft pinks and blues. He forces himself to move past them. He doesn’t dare touch them. He can’t bring himself to. They're filthy. They're bloody. They're filled with regret and pain.
“Josh” Again. No answer.
He turns a corner, and looks to see a giant pool of water. Just like Sam described. The water is black like sludge. It sparkles from the moonlight coming out of the cave’s opening at the top. The water is so still and shiny that it reminds him of glass. He gets on his knees and looks over the edge. Is he ready to do this? Can he?
That’s when the water breaks, and Josh emerges.
Chris yells. The sight of Josh makes him dry heave. His face is so pale. It reminds him of when they were twelve and Josh dressed up as Dracula. His lips and fingernails are blue. The bruises on his face are so purple they make his own face sting. As if he’d been the one hit. The stab wound from Ashley looks festered, and kind of like someone else jammed their fingers inside it and tried to tear it open. He doesn’t look at Chris. His gaze is upwards, beyond Chris. Beyond everything. Chris claws at the soil to try and ground himself.
“Josh.” Chris is barely audible.
“Why Cochise? Why did you let this happen man? Now I’m sleeping with the fishes.” His voice sounds raspy. Scratchy, kind of. He can’t help but feel dread over the fact that Josh is so broken. Usually, Josh would smile when he made jokes. A big, goofy smile that made everybody else happy. He would probably use an italian accent to make his mobster reference funny. It doesn’t feel like his best friend.
“I didn’t...I didn’t mean for any of this to happen bro. I didn’t want any of this. I’m so sorry. Josh. I am so fucking sorry man. If I knew this would happen to you if I didn’t go with them..” He reaches out to touch Josh. To bring him close. He wants to feel the warmth on his skin to know he’s alive.
Before he can get close, Josh is pulled under water.
Chris’ hand drops. He scrambles backward, kicking the lighter and deodorant into the water. He rushes backward until his back hits the mine wall, stopping him from going any further. He doesn’t know how to deal with this. This feeling of gross, gut-wrenching dread. He curls up, closes his eyes, and begins to sob. Heavy, gut-wrenching sobs. He failed. He failed Josh. It should’ve been him.
The water laps against the walls of the pond. Then there is a splash and wet slaps against rock. Slick steps come towards him. He hears heavy, quickened breath. He tries to stop the movement of his body but he can’t. His body shakes and he can’t keep himself from sobbing any longer. His heart pounds in his ears and he lets out unwilling, strangled noises of distress over the fact he can’t control his body anymore. There’s a snarl, and Hannah’s gut-wrenching scream. Terror courses through his body but wouldn’t move even if he could.
He's ready to face what he's done.
The next day, Sam lets herself into his house and finds him lying in the fetal position on his kitchen floor. He’s passed out but when she touches him he wakes up kicking and screaming. She manages to gets him into bed after calming him down and calls the others. They all come over within the hour.
When they aren’t checking in on Chris in shifts, they’re cleaning. They open the windows to let in all the light that he couldn’t let in himself. Sam and Ashley are in charge of dusting and straightening things out around the house. Emily is cleaning the kitchen, throwing away rotten food and cleaning dishes. Mike patches up holes from some of Chris’ breakdowns and fixes things that have been broken over the past few months. They take a break halfway through the day to snack.
"This reminds me of when..you know. With Josh." Mike mumbles.He has a Monster in a vice grip, glaring at the glass of Chris’ coffee table. Everybody tenses when he says it, even though they were all thinking the same thing. The idea that Chris having a mental breakdown making him delusional was enough to worry them. Adding the idea that he’s similar to Josh makes them even more worried.
Because look what good friends they were to Josh.
Ashley makes a choking noise and hugs one of the couch pillows to keep herself from crying. Even then it doesn’t stop tears from rolling down her cheeks and onto the rough fabric of the pillow. Emily leans into her chair a little more and aggressively peels her nail polish off. Small pink flakes fall onto her jeans. Sam grips the rag in her hand a little bit tighter, and stops cleaning the TV.
“None of us want to remember all the bad shit. None of us wanna face it. Not until it starts eating one of us alive.” She bitterly comments.
She blamed them for what happened to Hannah and Beth, and to the rest of their dead friends as a result. Not nearly as much as she blamed herself, but she did blame them. She didn’t blame Chris though. Chris was the last person she blamed. There was nothing to blame him for. He was passed out when Hannah and Beth ran out of the lodge. He tried to get Josh to open up after it all. Even when Josh betrayed them on the mountain, he wanted to help him. Chris was there for all of them. No matter what.
He didn’t deserve this.
Loud wailing comes from Chris’ room and they all look at each other. Sam puts her cleaning supplies down, nominating herself to go check on him. Ashley curls up in the couch more. Emily huffs and grabs the cleaning supplies, rushing back into the kitchen. Mike drinks his Monster silently and continues to glare at his own reflection. Sam walks down the hall and opens the door to Chris’ room silently. He’s writhing around in bed, sobbing loudly.
“It’s okay Chris… It’s okay. We’re here for you.” She whispers.
He sobs louder, and her brows furrow. He didn’t trust her. He didn’t trust any of them. How could he? They failed Jess. They failed Matt. They failed Josh.
Could they stop failing him?