Jack’s determined face was unrecognizable under a thick layer of paint. His gait was measured as he peered into the dark crevices of the surrounding bushes. Ralph was here; he was sure of it. That senseless child. For days, Ralph had been a nuisance, petulantly whining to the tribe that they needed to keep a fire going if they ever wanted to get rescued. It was during one of Ralph's delusional soliloquies that Jack had left, impassioned with anger, to form his own tribe. "We are going to hunt and feast and have fun," he had said.
And the children had followed them, eventually. Ralph had been too set in his ways, and his hours were now numbered. Jack's tribe was out for blood.
Every so often, Jack would glance up, half-expecting to see the crouched form of his quarry camouflaged in the leaves, bare face betraying a flash of fear and then resignation to his brutal fate. In his mind's eye, he stared at Ralph with a palpable malignance before thrusting him backward and off balance into the flames with the butt of his spear. Ralph lay there, writhing in misery.
As he was raising his spear to deliver the death blow, Jack’s reverie was interrupted. The forest to his left began to crackle with an intensity that was alarming, and flames became visible through the trees. Jack skirted the fire and found himself at the long scar leading down to the water.
What was left of their camp was being engulfed in flames. A burning tree had fallen onto one of the crude shelters, which served as its perfect kindling, and sparks flew as the inadvertent bonfire climbed into the sky. Jack watched with grim satisfaction as the last of the shelters caved in, sending a mesmerizing volley of sparks towards the heavens.
An ululation from across the forest made him tear his eyes away from the spectacle. Striding back through the trees and away from the fire, Jack returned himself to the task at hand, resolute. But as he strode a few more paces in the direction of the ululation and saw the flames beginning to engulf a clump of fruit trees, something powerful came over him.
Jack forgot about Ralph; the responsibility of leading a new tribe of hunters that had fun was expelled from his mind. Even his thirst for the salty taste of blood became inconsequential, and it was replaced by one desire: the desire to survive.
He sprang towards the trees, took a few handfuls of fruit, and bent over, savagely tearing his teeth into one. He ignored the uncontrollable flames just feet away from him, ignored the cacophony of sparks around him, even ignored the slew of ululating sounds that pierced the mountainside above him. Jack was primal, instinct boiling up and overriding judgment like a forest fire in his chest. The fruit became his world, and he might have eaten himself to death if it weren’t for the Lord of the Flies.
He appeared behind Jack, suspended just above the treeline. He wore a wide grin, surveying the carnage that was sweeping the surrounding countryside with the triumph of a child who had just discovered how to rip apart a sibling’s toy. Only a few stocky bushes remained untouched by the flames.
“Jack,” whispered the Lord of the Flies, comforting in a menacing sort of way. “Jack, Jack, Jack.”
Jack’s eyes watered at the impossibility of it all, and yet the Lord of the Flies was so vividly there that it had to be real.
“You’ve done well. Turned the tribe into what they really are.”
“Ralph and Piggy wouldn’t listen.” Jack noticed a touch of remorse in his voice, contradicting his stone-faced countenance.
“Ralph is a pig. Your tribe is bringing me his head on a stick.”
Jack glanced around him, as if Ralph was lurking in the flames somewhere, and he was missing a perfectly good chance to strike out at him and end their struggle for dominance. He had created the tribe to give himself and its members more freedom, but being ruled by the Lord, insidious though he was, seemed tantalizing.
Suddenly, from behind the mountain, a naval cruiser came into view, swaying slightly as it eclipsed the setting sun. Jack's eyes swiveled. He blinked and looked back at where the Lord of the Flies was, but he was gone.
In that instant, his life came rushing back to him. The person he had been, the family he had fostered relationships with, the games he would play with his schoolmates. He stared at his spear with shock, remembering. The whole charade seemed alarming to him now. He scraped some of the paint off of his face with his finger and stared at it, trying to figure out how it got there. As if he had woken up from a dream that was once in focus but has been muddled by grogginess, Jack tried to remember what the Lord of the Flies had looked like, why he was so transfixed, and why he was hunting a fair-skinned boy.
The cruiser was in the distance now, climbing toward the horizon. Jack tried to lean on his spear to steady himself, but his arm gave way. Tears filled his eyes, tears of regret, and of a profound shame. He sank to the ground, completely alone. No more ululations came from the forest, and Jack’s cloudy mind came to the dim realization that his tribe was on the cruiser, thoughts of conquest and vengeance left behind.
Jack sat, sobbing, as the flames rose around him.