In the silence of the night, Jack-o heard a small rustling coming from behind him and had to control himself from springing to his feet. In most places, noises in the dark were typically no cause for alarm, but on this Earth everything was dead. There were no animals, no leaves or bugs, just silence. If Jack-o had learned one thing about this world, it was that when the silence broke, sound the alarms. As if reading his mind, the boy noticed a very subtle green glow creeping up his chest and over his collar.
Rolling onto his back, every inch of his skin screamed as if it were being re-burnt. Quietly he pulled himself up into a sitting position, wrapping his arm through the loop of his backpack as he did. Across from him, he saw Temron lying on the ground shaking violently. In a flash, Jack-o was at his side staring down into his tattooed face. The world had trained his eyes for darkness over the time he had spent with Temron and he had never been more thankful for that than he was now.
Under his sagging eyelids, the man’s eyes rolled back into his skull leaving only the whites exposed. Jack-o moved to the watering hole the two had dug earlier, he reached down only to find dry dirt. Grabbing the stick he had been using as a shovel, he stabbed the bottom of the hole. Again, again, and again. Behind him, he could hear Temron moving more rapidly as the seizure took a deeper hold. After stabbing the ground a few more times, Jack-o threw the stick in frustration. He knew it would take at least an hour to dig deep enough to gather even a handful of water. Sliding back over to Temron, he sat behind the man and pulled him upward from underneath his arms.
Trying to hold him steady Jack-o rocked lightly back and forth. His mind raced trying to think of anything he could do besides hold the man and hope.
“Ssshhh,” he hissed soothingly from between his chapped lips. Jack-o remembered his mother doing the same thing when he had been sick with fevers on more than one occasion. The heat that radiated from the man’s body was more intense than the boy even thought possible. Tears streamed down his cheek and he didn’t even mind the burn.
“Ssshhh,” he said again, rocking harder, the well inside him now overflowing with sorrow. Jack-o thought of all the time he had spent with Temron, all the worlds and people they had come into contact with, all the things the man had taught him even when he didn’t know he was doing it, and it seemed like a blur. In his arms, a man who Jack-o had read about and known about his entire life was coming to the end of his story. But it wasn’t the right ending.
Nothing about this world was right, and it was all due to Jack-o’s tampering. The boy wished he could switch places with Temron, he deserved to be the one dying on the hot desert floor.
“You should have just left me the first time,” his voice whispered in an incomprehensible rasp. Suddenly, the boy stopped rocking. He stared over at the small lump of darkness that was his bag and knew exactly what he had to do.
Temron’s shaking was slowing as was his breathing. Lightly, Jack-o laid him back on the ground and scooted over to where he had awoken. The green light under his shirt intensified its glow, solidifying Jack-o’s decision in his mind. Quickly he threw open the knapsack and pulled out his final remaining book. Deep red letters in an eerie font looked up at him, D.O.A. in the American Rome, and a chill ran through his body as he read them silently in his own mind. The man behind him made a gurgling, coughing noise as the boy zipped the bag and threw the straps over his arms and onto his shoulders.
Jack-o’s body ached and burnt, his head was light and inside of him his heart was breaking more with each harsh shake of Temron’s body. The boy knew this was all his fault, he knew that had he never entered the world of, Into Gold, how the story would have ended. After all, he had read the book at least five times himself. So maybe, if he got out of the book, took himself out of the story, everything would go back to the way it should have been.
The man’s body gave one more pain wrenched lurch and finally stopped shaking. Terrified, Jack-o threw the book open to the beginning. The green light was bright enough for the boy to easily make out the words on the page.
“I’m so sorry, for everything,” said Jack-o spitting tears and taking one last look at the still, slowly breathing body of his only friend.
“Sunrise was the most peaceful part of the day for Stone…” the boy’s words trailed off as the green light got brighter and brighter. Jack-o took one last look at Temron and hoped he was making the right decision, before his body was ripped away from, Into Gold, in a flash.