There's a salamander scurrying across a branch to my right. He thinks I can't see him crawling, he thinks he's invisible and that I'm an idiot. I can just hear him in my head, laughing at the foolish human boy a mop of black hair, sunburned skin, and a weapon in his hand that he has absolutely no idea whatsoever how to handle.
Ha-ha, he cackles.
So in a perfect world where I'm everyone's boss and little salamanders can't tell me what to do, I send a bullet or two in his general direction, the overzealous salamander falls four feet and hits the forest floor with a muffled splat, and I lean back against this ridiculously rough tree; keeping an eye out for any of the Natives. Maybe a few minutes from now, one of them shows up, and I have the chance to send them to Heaven where a begrudged salamander will be waiting for them. Carlson will be proud of my sorry existence for once in his life. Everyone will live happily ever after, and I'll be a hero.
I look down at gun in my hand and realize a not-so-startling fact. There's no such thing as a perfect world. Because a fifteen year old kid wouldn't need to help keep a barrier between his people and the Native cannibals in an unknown part of the planet. He wouldn't need to be holding a gun with live bullets in it instead of a gaming controller. He wouldn't be here, doing this, living in a society going overboard and a world gone to Hell.
In a perfect world there's no such place as Neo.
The salamander stares at me with blank eyes, and I do exactly what I would've done in a perfect world; lean against this piercing tree bark. I hear a growl and quickly realize it's not some nightmarish monster ready to pounce out at me; it's only my empty stomach. In my pocket there are a few stolen crackers that fall apart in my hand as I grab them. I say a few choice words into the moist air and wipe the sweat that's dripping down my forehead and stinging my eyes.
There's movement to my left, and I thank the god's that the salamander decided to leave.
Then I realize that the (choice word) reptile is still sitting on a tree branch to the right of me.
And my heart starts racing a million beats per second as I grip the gun tighter.
It feels heavier; the gun. It has become the entire world's center of gravity, and now the entire weight of everything decides to slam down onto me. I don't want to lift my arm and point it out there. I don't want to pull the trigger and have to actually end someone's life. That's not me. That's not Isaac.
So then why am I holding a gun? What's the point in me even being here?
So I lift my arm and aim to the bushes where I saw the movement. Fifty yards away is Carmichael. If only I could get to him. He'd know exactly what to do with a Native, and he wouldn't hesitate. I can just see him right now…well, not literally. But in my mind Carmichael's aiming his rifle, and firing on that flesh eating monster hiding in the forest.
Though Carmichael's not here right now, he and Stinson another fifty yards to my left don't know that any of this is happening. So I could die, and no one would realize until an hour from now.
No one would even care.
"Come out," I say with too little courage. The wind stays still and the trees in front of me move again. I swear if this Native doesn't come out soon, my heart will burst right from my sweat slicked chest.
"Come on out!" I call out to them again.
The salamander moves and I glance at the empty branch he once sat on while scrutinizing my foolishness. Then I look back and there she is.
Our eyes meet across twenty feet of broken twigs, dead grass, and fallen tree trunks. Her tangled black hair falls down the side of her gleaming face, cascading half of the way down her bare arms. Even from this distance, I can see the bruises that mark her caramel colored skin, and a twinge of pity comes from nowhere.
I stare at the tattered remains of her clothing; the blood stain white blouse that hangs loosely around her thin frame, the blue jeans that I'm sure aren't ripped down the legs as a fashion statement. Natives are scary; they're monsters. But this girl's not a terrifying human-devouring beast; she looks just like a girl my age.
"Who are you?" I whisper more to myself than to her.
Her wide eyes wander from my own, and lock onto the gun that's aimed right at her chest.
"Wait…" I say as I watch her full lips form into a thin line and her brown eyes narrow. "Just wait."
Because I know what she's going to do.
And for some reason I don't want her to; even if she is a possible Native.
"Are you one of them?"
She backs away slowly.
"Stop!" I command. "Stop, or I swear to high heaven I'll pull the trigger."
But she's quite the observant one, because she sees my hands shaking like an earthquake is making its way through my muscles. She knows I won't pull the trigger.
One more time for good measure.
"Carmichael!" I find myself screaming as she turns and runs back into the woods.