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Spotter

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You turn to your strange passenger, Jonas, as your car passes the outer limits of the city of Chernogorsk. He pinches the bridge of his nose and rests his face in his palm. His other hand rests limp off of his lap as he reclines into the seat. You ask him “What’s eating you?”

Jones raises his head, looking out the window to glance at the shells of Chernarussians stagger through the empty fields, and then he looks to you, disappointed.

“Sorry - besides the obvious... Most folks that have made it this long look tired and… “numb.” You, on the other hand, look pretty freshly beaten.”

Jonas supports his head against the passenger door, his fingers resting beneath the warmth of the cap on his head. “We’re leaving my best friends body back there.” You feel your stomach flip. It must be years since this shit started but you’re still not used to it. Loss is still loss. The inflation of death has hardly desensitized you to the grief that comes with it.

You shake your head, “These fuckers. I doubt they even know what they’re doing, but I still hate them for what they do to us.” Your passenger clenches his eyes shut and tries to hold himself together. Without looking up from his lap and with shaky, unsteady breath, he tells you:

“She shot herself.”

Your stomach had flipped but now your heart sinks past it. You almost chuckle in disbelief at the tension of the moment. It must have been his girlfriend, or something. It’s amazing that she’d made it this far, without being taken away by some other group of survivors. You struggle to think of ways to console this stranger… offering your condolences is difficult enough, but what can you say to a complete stranger about a woman you never met?

“Look, I’m sorry man. I know it’s hard to think about, but at least she doesn’t have to deal with this anymore. No more hunger, no more fear, no more-”

“No, FUCK her!” he shouts as he punches the passenger door, snapping the plastic of the cheap sedan. His chin quivers under his clenched, furious teeth, and his eyes well with tears. You're too uncomfortable to look, but you can almost feel them in his voice. “She was always one for the easy way out. FUCK her! She broke up with me after all of this so that she wouldn’t have to watch her boyfriend die,” he continues with a sarcastic disbelief, “clearly it’s better if I die as just her friend!”

You nervously chip at the leather of the steering wheel with your nail as you drive down the Chernarussian coast. You don’t interrupt these moments… It’s not your place.

“Then she gives up and takes the easy way out, leaving me to outlive her, just like I’ve watched every other fucking friend of mine die! She didn’t even give me the courtesy of dying accidentally. It was a choice, and it could have been avoided completely! … She chose the dark over me.

That selfish bitch left me with no reason to keep going.” His voice breaks as a tear drips off his cheek to his lap. “She left me here alone, without a single reason for me to keep surviving this.” You’re all too familiar with this thought… You’ve heard it countless times before, sometimes in your own head.

“She’s cursed me with the responsibility of living. Because if I die, there won’t be a soul on this planet left who knows about her, or my friends. I’m the last man on this Earth with memories of these people… I'm all that proves that they were ever real. I don’t want to be here another minute, and she just raped me of the option of leaving… Fuck her.” Jonas clenches the cap, and pulls it from his head. He rests his head back on the seat and brings his other hand up to massage his temples, breathing shakily, heavily.

A few mile markers pass before the silence breaks again. Jonas sniffs and lifts his head up. “I’m sorry. It’s not fair for me to put all this shit on you… Just drop me off on the edge of this next town.” You see the coastal town of Kamyshovo growing in your windshield.

“Are you sure?” You ask him.

“Yeah. Just stop here.” You pull to the shoulder of the highway. Jonas puts his cap firmly back onto his head. He sniffs, exhales sharply as he regains composure, and opens the passenger door, the light in the car illuminating the car interior. “Thanks for the ride, man. I owe you for the gas... and the therapy! so uhhh…” He reaches back to his bag, pulling out a bottle of cheap vodka, dusty with some sort of gore dried and stuck to the side. “It’s not a lot left but uh.. yeah if I keep it I’ll probably shoot myself in during a drunken stupor. So I guess you’re doing me one last favor.” He tosses it onto the passenger seat.

You smile, finding some humor in the image of cab drivers being paid with alcohol. “Stay safe, man,” you say as your passenger shuts the door, replying with “Yeah, you too.”

Jonas walks forward in your headlights to Kamyshovo along the shoulder of the highway. He slings his heavy backpack onto his shoulder, tightening the straps on his shoulders. You hesitate to turn the car back on…

You push open the driver-side door and stand behind it, the warning light clicking from inside. You yell out, “Jonas!” He turns around, walking backwards at a slowed pace. “What was her name?”

You think you see a smirk creep onto his face. He yells back, his voice steady and relieved, “Angie!... She really liked waffles.”

You nod to him. “I won’t forget.”

Jonas throws you a casual salute before turning back around, starting a brisk jog to the center of town, fading slowly out of your headlights.

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