The Art of Losing Your Mind | TeenInk

The Art of Losing Your Mind

November 16, 2013
By wreckedRecords SILVER, Colorado Springs, Colorado
wreckedRecords SILVER, Colorado Springs, Colorado
8 articles 0 photos 2 comments

The sea crashing against the stony shore of the island kept the air alive with soft noise, accompanied by several rustling bushes and the scuffing feet of night creatures. A warm, humid breeze blew by the sailors as they sped toward the island that loomed before them. Large rocks were dark, jutting out of the sea like god forsaken fingers reaching for a heaven they'd never grasp. The sky was dark and slightly clouded, the stars resembling fireflies stuck in a sickeningly thick tar. A blond man stood at the hull of a large yacht, eyes trained on the shadowed shores with determination in his eyes.

The captain of the ship was scowling deeply. "Ya best appreciate this, Whitney. Your friend's as good as gone."

"You can shut your mouth. Rainsford has never been at risk before. He's too strong a man for that."

"Whatever you say. I will not force any of this crew to step a single foot on that island, though. Not one of 'em." Whitney nodded in understanding, sighing.

"Very well. I will go alone."

The sea churned bellow them, waves lapping at the sides of the yacht and splitting at the front. With a worried expression, the ship moved closer and closer to the horror-inducing island that had caused so much unease.

It had taken Whitney until morning to realize that Rainsford never went to bed. The blond man had taken it upon himself to look for his hunting companion, but to his dismay, didn't succeed in finding the famous hunter. He alerted the captain, but no one had seen him since the night before. Since they had passed that island. Maybe his curiosity had gotten the better of him, or maybe he just happened to fall overboard. Either way, Whitney had a sneaking suspicion that they would find their lost passenger here.

"We're nearing the island, cap'n." One of the sailors called, making Whitney tense. He clenched his fists and moved toward the ship's hold for his hunting rifle. Better safe than sorry. As he opened the cargo hold's door and reached for his weapon, there was a harsh jolt and a loud grating of metal. That was not good. At all.

Whitney ran up to the deck, rifle slung over his shoulder by the strap, and his blue eyes widened. They had rammed into a rock that was just bellow the surface of the water, and it was digging straight into the ship's core. The men were shouting and running back and forth, trying to get the situation under control but failing miserably. After the screaming metal ceased its noise, they found themselves sinking. "HEAD TOWARD THE ISLAND!" Demanded Captain Nielsen, manning the wheel. They headed straight toward the beach of the island, lucky enough to be near a sanded part instead of the bleak cliffs.

As Whitney watched, water began to rise onto the deck. They were sinking fast.

~~~

When Whitney opened his blue eyes, salt water instantly rose in his throat and he leaned over, turning his head to the side and vomiting. With the excess water out of his system, the man sat up. He was lying on the sandy shore of the island, and the sun was shining brightly above him. He looked around him with confusion, but after a moment, remembered. The ship had sunk. They were stuck here. Well, Whitney was, anyways.

With weary steps, he walked along the short beach, looking for any other crewmen. He dragged his feet through the grey-gold sand, leaving a trail in the form of indentions left behind. Whitney managed to find three others, and multiple bodies. When he had rounded up all the men he could find, the blond hunter made them drag every body to a pile and he threw some dead grass and broken branches over them before setting the mass aflame after several failed attempts. The three men with him watched their captain and fellow crew, along with several other passengers, slowly burn like the golden sun above and reduce themselves to mere ashes upon sparkling sand.

With the several hours it took to accomplish this, it was already late noon. All four marooned men agreed to head a little further into the island in hopes of finding fresh, running water.

They made their way up into the jungle-like forest of the island, eyes wary and wits about them. Twigs snapped and leaves rustled beneath their feet, but Whitney was silent. His movements were smooth and experienced from years spent hunting with Rainsford. Eyes scanned the surroundings with every step, from the tops of the trees to the soil at their feet, Whitney was studying it down to the smallest detail. If they ran into trouble, it would be best to know about their surroundings.

They walked for hours, making their way a good bit around the island. By the time night had fallen, they had reached the rocky side of the island, and they stood on top of a huge cliff. With tired limbs and worn-out shoes, the four men stopped and looked around them, one collapsing from exhaustion. Whitney looked around him, licking his chapped lips with a dry tongue. Discomfort made him shift and blink in the quickly dimming light, but then he spotted something: lights. They were the warm yellow of a kerosene lamp and firelight. Whitney sighed in relief. A residence. He motioned for the others to follow him and lifted the weak, fallen man on his shoulder before heading for the household.

The stars had just begun to brighten in the black-blue sky as all four stepped onto the porch. Their trek had taken just over an hour and a half, and all of them were gasping for breath and barely standing on their shaking knees. Whitney pushed a few strands of his blond hair out of his eyes and used the knocker three times. As the men waited, they could hear footsteps echo inside the home. Whitney frowned slightly, licking his lips again and then jumped slightly as the door opened with a smooth swish. In the doorway stood the last person they expected to see opening the door of a huge mansion.

Sanger Rainsford stood in the door with a surprised expression, eyes wide. "Whitney?" He asked, shocked. "Why, what are you doing here?" After a moment of silence, he seemed to realize that they were dying of dehydration and he stood aside. "Come in, come in. Please."

"The ship came back for you, but we hit a rock and it sank. We are all that is left..." Whitney murmured, words slurred from lack of moisture in his mouth. Nearby stood a tall, broad-shouldered man with bulging arms. He stared straight in front of his face, eyes focused on something only he could see. There were animals mounted upon the walls, heads and full bodies stuffed to perfection. They almost looked alive. Whitney looked around him, confused. How had Rainsford ended up in such a nice mansion? And better, what was a mansion doing on such a suspicious island like this one?

"That is awful." Rainsford frowned, but something was off about him. Whitney couldn't put his finger on it, but he had a bad feeling about being here. As Rainsford lead them inside, a tall man with greying hair approached.

"Rainsford, are these friends of yours?"

"Indeed. They are the crew from the ship that was carrying me, and this is a dear friend of mine. His name is Whitney. Whitney, this is General Zaroff. He is the owner of this magnificent home, as well as this island. He has been kind enough to let me stay, and I'm sure it is no trouble to have a few more visitors?" The statement was more of a question as Rainsford glanced at Zaroff for confirmation. He smiled kindly.

"Of course. You all are welcome to stay here until you are able to return to the mainland." The general nodded and motioned toward the staircase behind him. "Come, we will find a room to rest your friend in."

~~~

Whitney awoke the next morning feeling much, much better. He had been entertained with a large meal the night before and drank and laughed with Zaroff, the owner of the household. Rainsford had explained that Zaroff was a hunter who had bought this island so he could bring in game and release it on his own grounds to hunt however he wished. Whitney had questioned it, but had yet to receive a satisfying answer. Couldn't he hunt however he wished without having an island to himself?

When the blond hunter made his way down the huge staircase and into the dining room, almost everyone was already awake, and the two men that had accompanied him there looked as grave as a funeral. He frowned. "Is something wrong?"

"One of your companions last night passed away. He had a heart failure, I'm afraid." General Zaroff said calmly, his words holding disappointment rather than pity for an unknown reason. "The one that remain unconscious. He never awoke."

Rainsford was eating his breakfast calmly, and Whitney was shocked. "That's horrible..."

"Indeed. We must take extra caution in caring for you remaining three gentlemen." Zaroff smiled encouragingly and Whitney nodded, taking a seat across from his comrade. Oddly enough, Rainsford was avoiding his gaze...

~~~

Whitney was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of gunshots, eyes snapping open and body instantly alert. He waited in the dark of his room, listening, but for several minutes, nothing followed. Just as the man closed his eyes again, another shot was heard, followed by a horrific and animal-like screech. Whitney shot out of bed and his eyes widened. He reached beside the bed for where he always kept his rifle, but remembered that he had lost it while washed around in the shore.

He layed back down in his bed, frowning deeply. He had never heard an animal scream in such a manner, but he wasn't nearly as experienced as Rainsford, so what did he know? Not thirty minutes passed before he heard the door to the mansion open and close, followed by the hushed voices of two men. It was Zaroff and Rainsford, and they were speaking with amusement in their quiet tones.

Whitney sighed in relief. Ah, so they had just gone night hunting. He wondered what nocturnal animal they could have been after. He would have to ask them in the morning.

~~~

"So, Rainsford," Whitney began conversation the next morning at breakfast. "What were you and the general hunting last night? I was drawn from sleep by the firing of guns and then heard you return."

The general and Sanger looked at each other before Zaroff answered. "A mere wildcat from a northern part of the Americas."

"Really? I've never heard such a howl from a cat."

"Indeed." Then Whitney noticed something. There were only four people at the table.

"Where is Smith? The third man to our group?" He asked with curiosity.

Rainsford sighed. "He was not feeling well and is up resting in his bed. He asked me to tell you that he wishes not to be disturbed."

~~~

"Zaroff has his own way of thinking, Whitney." Rainsford paced in front of the large fireplace, eyes full of admiration. "He really changes your views, and the way he hunts..."

"What method is so special that it would get you this worked up, Rainsford?" Whitney laughed a little. General Zaroff had gone out to do something or another, and had taken his huge servant with him, leaving Rainsford and Whitney to speak by the fire and the two others to bed.

"Not his method, but his prey?"

"His prey?"

"Yes, the game!"

"And what has he been hunting?"

"An animal so extraordinary that it can reason. It provides the most difficult hunt I've ever attempted, but that's what makes it amazing." Rainsford explained. "He's opened my eyes, Whitney. You should join us in tonight's hunt."

"Okay, okay! But first, tell me what you're-" Suddenly, Whitney froze. Fear and horror crept up his spine as he realized one very important fact.

Only one animal on this entire planet could reason.

He looked up at his old companion, disbelief in his blue eyes and the disgust making his skin crawl. "Sanger, you couldn't possibly mean-"

"Indeed, I do, my friend."

"Have you gone mad?" Whitney exclaimed loudly, standing from his seat. Rainsford watched him with disappointment, and looked over at the door as Zaroff entered. "That's murder, Rainsford! Murder!"

"It is simply another hunt. Why can you not see that?"

"Oh God, Jones isn't sick, is he?"

"No."

"And Smith?"

"Stumbled upon the trophy room." Zaroff told him, entering the conversation calmly. "We had but no other choice, really."

"And tonight, you plan on hunting..."

"And we hoped you would join us, but I see we are not on the same terms, here." Rainsford sighed. "Why can't you see that this hunt is the best hunt?"

"Because I have no practice in the art of losing your mind." The blond replied bitterly. words like venom on his tongue and making him cringe with distaste. Zaroff frowned deeply.

"The choice is yours, Whitney. You may be the hunter, or the hunted."


The author's comments:
This is an alternate ending to the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell.

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