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Before The Most Dangerous Game
I hear the gentle sound of the waves softly crashing into the rocks. The bright sun is beating on me, and I feel beads of sweat forming on my furrowed brow. My eyes open slowly, the world around me refusing to come into focus. With a huge effort, I force myself into a sitting position. To my left and my right, there is nothing but a sandy beach, littered with the occasional shell that glittered in the sunlight. In front of me is a dense forest, the tall trees towering over me, hiding the unknown. Confusion worms its way into my mind, and then curiosity. How in the world did I end up here, on this miserable little island? The last thing I remember was being on a cruise ship, preparing to propose to my lovely girlfriend, Monica. I feel a pang of worry, but it soon disappears, replaced by another feeling. Hope. Maybe Monica somehow washed up here with me. With newfound strength, I spring up onto my feet. I turn to the right, running as fast as my long, wispy legs can carry me.
Suddenly I feel a searing pain in my left foot. Carefully I sit down, and examine my foot. What I see almost makes me faint. Blood is gushing out of the middle of my small foot, and soon there is a small pool of it that my foot is swimming in. The sight of just a little blood always makes me squeamish, but this is too much. Quickly I avert my eyes, focusing instead on my torn clothing. On the ship, I had been wearing a white t-shirt and some jeans. Now I see my jeans are ripped and my shirt is almost completely destroyed, revealing more of my skinny figure then I normally like to have seen. Meanwhile the blood is still flowing out of my foot. I know if I don’t stop this soon I will pass out from blood loss. Frantically I look around for anything I can use to staunch the flow of blood.
Instead, I see the distant outline of what seems to be a man. I push my long black hair out of my eyes and get a better look. Yes, it’s definitely a man. As he gets closer, I see the fine clothes he wears, notice the rhythmic [ace of his quick jog. He waves at me, acknowledging my presence, and I wave back. I start getting light headed, and hope the man comes quickly. By the time he got to me I almost slipped away, but I do not worry. Why is there any reason to worry when this strong and handsome man has come to recue me?
As I slowly open my eyes, I try to get a grip on my surroundings. I’m in a small room with white marble walls that must have recently been polished, as they sparkled as if by magic. The ceiling is just the same as the walls, showing my reflection as clearly as if I was looking in a pool of water. It is clear that the owner of this house, or what I now believe to be a house, cares deeply about things looking their best. There is a small window to my left, but it’s closed, and I wouldn’t be able to get a good view from this angle anyways. Nothing else seems to be in the room, except for the super comfy bed I’m laying on and the soft fluffy pillow my head is resting on. On my right is a doorway that is the same white as the rest of the room, and I only noticed it as it was swinging open. Walking in is none other than the person who I vaguely remember as my savior.
This is the first time that I have gotten to take a good look at the handsome man who rescued me. He is wearing a fancy suit and pants, the pitch black standing out against the rooms blinding white. His eyes are a dazzling emerald green, his hair as jet black as his suit, and his skin a smooth tan, free of any blemishes or oddities, as far as I could tell. All in all, he is a seemingly perfect, civil looking gentleman. I only notice his one impurity when he opens his mouth to speak, and that is how disjointed his teeth are. They look like they came from a rabid dog, not a man like this. Well, I guess there’s something wrong with everybody, I think to myself as the man introduces himself.
“Glad to see your okay.” the man says. His voice is deep, rich, and powerful. “My name is General Zaroff, and I am the owner of this fine castle. I bandaged your foot for you, but I wouldn’t walk on it much. That was a nasty cut that you got.” I nodded, still a little tired. “Do you have a name, my good sir?”
“Oh, um, yes, my name is Paul Rodney.” I said slowly, stuttering slightly. My voice was very faint, having not been used in a while, and I wondered how long I had been here unconscious. I proceed to ask the General that question.
“You were out for quite a long time. Almost two days to be precise.” Two days? I should be wide awake after sleeping that long, but I feel like I haven’t gotten any sleep in days. Zaroff sees the confusion on my face and says “That cut made you lose a lot of blood. May I ask you what happened?”
I slowly explained to General Zaroff what happened, how I was on a deluxe cruise liner, sailing around the world with my girlfriend. How I was about to propose to her, when suddenly the captain screamed something, how the alarm went off, how my world blacked out. I told him how I woke up on this island, completely unaware of my surroundings, recalled the moment when I had grasped the shred of hope that Monica was on the island, and of how I started running, running to my lost love. I recounted tripping on a shell, cutting my foot, and seeing a glorious savior coming my way.
“You.” I said, the thankfulness clear in my voice. “Yes, me.” The General said. “I’m sorry to hear of your unfortunate predicament, but did you mention a Monica?” Nodding, I wondered why he would ask about that. Unless…, no, it couldn’t be possible. Or could it? I listened more intently now, my hopes rising. “I think I found a Monica washed up on this very island about four days ago.” My heart skipped a beat, all the weariness leaving my body, and I jumped up almost instantly, elated.
“Where is she?” I shouted so forcefully, I sounded insane.
“She is perfectly fine, sleeping peacefully. I will not allow you to see her at this time, however, as she has been feeling, how should I say this, disconnected as of late. Besides, you must rest your foot and gather your strength if you are ever to return home.” Zaroff’s voice was full of sympathy, but I could see an exited gleam in his eye. “I’m terribly sorry about your predicament, but there isn’t much you can do right now. It does you no good to worry about these things, especially on an empty stomach.” Now that he mentioned, I noticed that hunger was gnawing at my stomach, making it feel hollow. I realized I hadn’t eaten in at least two days, probably more.
“May I please have something to eat, I’m famished.” I said, my tone almost pleading.
“Why of course, my boy. I was just about to eat myself. Ivan, go fetch this young man some crutches.” There is a shuffling noise, and I realize someone must have been standing outside the door. A few moments later, a giant of a man, Ivan, comes in and silently hands me a pair of crutches, his face blank. I wonder if this man had some sort of problem, as he seems to be a little out there. My hunger soon smothers my curiosity, and I slowly get up out of bed.
Zaroff led me down a narrow hallway, the walls the same pristine white as my room. Soon, the hallway expanded into what appeared to be a gigantic dining room. My eyes are first drawn to the extremely long dining table. It looked like it could seat at least 30 people, maybe more. “For when I have multiple people wash up on the shore at once.” Zaroff explained. Then I notice something even stranger than the dining table. Almost every inch of the walls in this room are covered with pictures of different animals. From lions to alligators to giraffes to birds, there is nearly any type of wildlife you can imagine here. I even spot a lone picture of a human in a corner. Curiosity compels me to ask Zaroff about these pictures, but my stomach growls and I decide eating is the most important thing right now.
The General leads me to the table, and I carefully lower myself on an incredibly comfy leather chair that he tells me is reserved for his most important guests, but since no one else is here and I’m so achy, he says I can have it. As I sink into the comforting folds of the chair, I watch as Ivan comes out with a platter of steaming food. My mouth waters as I gaze at the tender steak, the creamy potatoes, and the golden corn. A moment later, Ivan comes out with a crystal goblet filled with what looks like wine and places it in front of me. I take a sip and my taste buds immediately feel pleasure, the moisture revitalizing me. I gulp down the rest and Zaroff makes Ivan refill the glass. This happened three times before I was satisfied. I then proceeded to fill my plate with the delicious food.
Zaroff watches me as I wolf down every last bit of food on the plate, making sure I am satisfied before taking any food for himself. There is barely any food left for him after all that I ate, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“When I get visitors, they don’t usually stay very long, so I try to let them enjoy the time that they do spend here. Feel free to have more if you so desire.” Zaroff said, gesturing toward the platter.
“Oh, no, that was enough.” I said. Not wanting to sound ungrateful I added “Thank you though, it was very good.”
As Zaroff started filling his plate, he said “I saw you looking at my pictures before. I bet you’re wondering why I have so many.”
“Yes, I am.” I said, my eyes once again glancing over the animals. All of them were completely different. Zaroff waited a moment for my focus to be on him.
“Well, let me start at the beginning then. Ever since I was a young boy, I have always had a passion for hunting. Other things interested me, but nothing quite as much as this. No other feeling could top the rush of the hunt, the constant danger, the sense of achievement after killing my quarry. At the age of ten I had already brought down my first jaguar. The picture of it is over there, in the left corner of the room, directly at the top.” He pointed. “I hunted any time I possibly could, day or night, rain or shine, stopping only to eat, drink, or sleep. I sought out challenges, researching the game that was hardest to kill. No matter what it was, I always managed to bring it down. Any time I successfully hunted a new species, I took a picture of it, the very same pictures you see here.”
So, this is a trophy collection of sorts, I thought. I looked at the pictures with newfound awe, not believing that one person could kill all of these creatures. Then my eyes pass over the lone picture of a human.
“Why is there a picture of a human among all of these animals?” I asked, very confused.
“If you will kindly allow me to finish my story, then I will tell you. After a time I got bored with hunting. There was no challenge in it, no chance of injury or death, always a 100% chance of success. I couldn’t just stop hunting though. It was more than just a hobby, it was something that I had devoted my entire life to doing, and there was no way I was going to throw that away. The problem was that all of the creatures, while fierce, relied solely on instinct and had no chance against a clever, free thinking being. Where in the world would I find a creature that had just as much intellect as me? Then the answer hit me.” Zaroff had an exited, almost mad look in his eye, and my heart sunk to my feet, knowing what he was going to say.
“The only beings on this Earth who could match me, a human, on an intellectual level would be other humans. I enlisted in the army and proceeded to rise in rank until I became a general. Eventually even that became boring. I left, faking my death, and fled to a place that was so far away from civilization that no one would ever find me. A small island in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast, that had once been inhabited my royalty. This castle that we are currently in is the only remnant of that royal lineage left here.”
“I proceeded to set up trap after trap that would lure passing ships in, and they worked remarkably. Most of the time only one or two people make it to the island alive, and usually they are in a poor condition, like yourself. It is most unfortunate for them, as they are at a disadvantage in the game.”
“What game?” I ask, horrified and, oddly enough, intrigued.
“It is the most dangerous game there is, my dear boy. The rules are simple. I send a person out into the woods with a knife and a water skin. Three hours later, I leave the house and hunt my prey. If they survive for three days of this, they win the game, and I personally take them to the shore with a belly full of food and enough water to last a couple weeks. They then have to find their own way back home.”
“You’re a madman, a sick sick madman.” I say, frantically trying to get up out of my seat.
“Calling me names isn’t going to do anything, boy.” He snapped at me. “I wouldn’t leave if I were you. There is no way to get off of this island without a boat, and there are many hidden dangers here. There is no way that you would survive.”
“So what? Why should any of that matter to me? Either way I’ll end up dead, but at least if I leave now I won’t be one of your trophies. I’d rather die a free man than die a hunted animal.” I shouted, grabbing my crutches and making my way out of the room.
“Is that your final choice?” Zaroff asked, his voice quiet.
I simply said “yes” as I walked up to giant double doors. I pushed them open, surprised that they were unlocked. As I was walking out, I vaguely heard Zaroff mutter something under his breath, but the words themselves were undistinguishable. Then I hear frantic footsteps behind me.
I turn around, getting ready to defend myself if need be. The chance never came. As the knife is plunged into my side I scream, but already I feel myself slipping away. The knife is yanked out, and I crumple to the ground. For a few seconds I writhe, the pain unbearable. Then, just as I feel the pain itself might overwhelm me, a familiar sensation washes over me. I’m back on the beach, my foot bleeding, about to lose consciousness. My worries disappear, replaced by a calm happiness. I’m going to see Monica again. Monica…
Zaroff threw open his bedroom window, reveling in the beauty of the sunrise. He scanned the island and saw Ivan, standing guard on the steps to the castle. Another silhouette was there, unrecognizable from this distance, but Zaroff didn’t need to know who it was. The General changed into his best suit as fast as he could and practically threw himself out of his room, down the many steps leading to the dining room, and out the double doors. When he was within a hundred yards of Ivan, Zaroff was surprised that he recognized the man. Dismissing Ivan, he turned to the other man.
“Why hello there, Mr. Rainsford. My name is General Zaroff, and it is my pleasure to meet you.”