Josh looked up from his book as someone sat in the seat beside him. Big green eyes took in the appearance of the little blonde boy beside him and then landed on the red Gameboy that sat on his desk. A few moments later, a little folded up piece of paper landed on top of it. The boy in glasses too big for his face looked over at the boy beside him and then picked up the note, carefully unfolding the edges.
What game are you playing?
What is your name?
Xoxo Josh W."
Chris couldn't help the smile that slid across his face.
12 years later, the note is still in the top drawer of Chris' dresser, among his mismatched socks and boxer briefs. It has always been there, just like the "J + C was here" carved on his bedroom door. Chris didn't care that it was grammatically incorrect. It was Josh.
Chris' fingers traced over the J and he felt his heart make a painful leap in his chest, threatening to come out in screams and wails like it had the first few nights after the mountain. Traces of Josh still lingered all around his bedroom, 12 years of making it the boy's second home. It was unavoidable. Josh was still here. He'd always be here; in his closet, in his drawers, under his bed, on his shelves, in his DVD player, on the cork board hanging above his bed. His things took up as much space as Chris' did.
Chris didn't like coming in here anymore.
When he stayed in here, he could still hear it. Josh's screams as he was ripped in half. Chris had chosen to save him, he swears he did! It didn't matter that it wasn't real...the failure was real. Josh was still gone and it was still Chris' fault. He'd left him. He was so mad, so caught up in his own anger that he'd trusted a scared Mike Munroe with the life of the only boy he'd ever loved...he'd left him in the cold, terrified and betrayed and hearing the voices of his "dead" sisters. He only left him for 10 minutes but that was all it took. Josh was gone. His best friend was gone because of him.
When he'd gone back to get him, only to see the broken and bloody pole that had once held his best friend, he wanted to fall in the snow and cry and beg for whatever took him to bring him back. He wanted to search the entirety of Blackwoods Mountain. He wanted to go back to the lodge and punch Mike in his stupid face.
He wanted to take his place.
After they came home, Chris did snarl at Mike that it should've been him. That Josh was sick and didn't deserve to be left to die in those mines. It didn't matter that a wendigo had him. He should have helped. He should have saved him. He didn't mean it, but he said it.
After that breakdown, Sam drove him home. She gave him a big hug, a long hug, and they cried for hours. She missed him too, he knew. That was the thing about grief. It was all-consuming. It was selfish. It was paralyzing.
He couldn't stand the looks of pity his parents gave him so he stayed in the guest room day in and day out. About a month and a half behind in school, he couldn't even find the energy to shower, much less to study, so he just didn't bother.
The psychiatrist called it 'PTSD' but they didn't know...he'd lost the most important person in his life...this wasn't losing his mind, it was losing his will to go on.
It was cold. Freezing, actually. It was always well below zero here and the wind didn't just nip the skin, it clawed and tore at it. Much like the teeth that ripped at the flesh of a man that had once been living; a rescue officer that had gone down in the mines to search for the last remaining Washington sibling...or the remains thereof. That man didn't know his mission would be his last. Milky white eyes stared straightforward as his elongated teeth dripped with blood and gore. He was never full, always hungry. Hungry for flesh, hungry for violence; it didn't matter. From the depths of the mine a noise echoed across the walls. Josh's head lifted and he sniffed, waiting. There it was again. Long limbs helped him to scramble quickly down the path, silent on his feet and hands. He couldn't yet scale the walls. He'd have to get stronger for that.
In the little spot he'd been dropped down a month ago lay a rabbit; alive but injured. Josh could smell it. He could see it moving. He could hear the shuffling and the rapid beating of its tiny heart; the blood coursing hot through its veins...and he was so cold. So, so cold.
The Washington's held a small funeral for Josh just like they had for Hannah and Beth. Chris stared as they lowered the empty coffin into the ground, bundled up to the ninths. The wind smacked his exposed face. Over to his right, Jess sang beautifully Rascal Flatt's 'Why'. He hadn't seen the others in so long. After Jess' tribute, she walked back to Mike and buried her face in his shoulder. Sam stood strong, tears leaking down her cheeks as she held a sobbing Ashley. Matt and Emily stood apart. Em looked like she was in pain, trying to keep from showing any emotion whatsoever. Matt just stared at the tree, lost in his thoughts. And Chris stood beside the empty graves of Josh's baby sisters, wondering why. Why had Josh done this? Why had he gone up there with no intentions of coming home? Why hadn't Chris kept in contact after the night his sisters disappeared? Why were they giving up? The air felt tight. It threatened to suffocate him.
After the funeral, Josh's parents hugged Chris and thanked him for being there. Melinda looked exhausted. Within the last year and a half, she'd aged 15. She still cried though. In fact, she never stopped.
"He would've wanted it." They told him.
Chris couldn't help but imagine Josh scoffing at that and saying "Fuck this depressing shit. Where's my party?"
That would have made Chris smile if Josh were here.
But he was not.
Chris always found it sickening when people referred to Josh in the past tense...as if he were not a real person anymore...as if he still wasn't everywhere.
As if they'd completely given up on the possibility, low though it was, that Josh may still be alive. It was enough for Chris.
It would always be enough.
He was going to find him.