Chapter Five: An Oasis or a Mirage?
Another night had passed him by without any food. Despite his best efforts his search for some had been fruitless and he wasn’t quite bad off enough to start digging for earthworms or snails. Then there was the water problem, he was nearly out and kept praying for the miracle rain that refused to come. In fact the clouds had broken apart that morning. To sum it up, Nick was simply exhausted. Last night he was unable to simply pass out like he had the first time. Instead the hours had been long and arduous as he tossed and turned on the hard and unforgiving ground. The cool temperatures had seeped through his clothing thanks to his inability to make fire despite the many seasons of Survivor he’d seen. The still unseen pack of wolves made themselves heard again and their howls had been enough to keep Nick sufficiently on edge. At best he got patches or sleep, catnaps, in the rare moments his body caved to his pleas for rest. His stomach ached in ways that day he’d forgotten about. Ways when years ago, it happened on occasion in his family’s lowest point of poverty, back when the Backstreet Boys weren’t even a twinkle in that fat bastard, Lou Pearlman’s eye.
As he forced his body to keep trudging through the woods, his mind thought back to the scattered interviews they’d done about their upcoming documentary. It was supposed to be released in select theaters throughout the world in the first two months of 2015. The subject of Lou was one they couldn’t avoid and it was the first question unoriginal reporters jumped to along with asking for advice they’d give to this generation’s boyband, One Direction. With Lou, they lied. They lied to the fans. They lied to the media. It wasn’t a conscious decision the first time it came up. However once it happened the group subconsciously agreed it was best to stick to it.
“We wanted to confront him.” They’d parrot in almost every interview. “But the warden refused to allow all five of us, so we didn’t go.” Yet, they had been allowed to see him.
The group had wanted to know why. To quote their most famous song, they wanted Lou to tell them why. Why did he use them? Why did he steal from them? They had been so loyal in the beginning. Why create NSYNC? Was anything he said real? Was anything he did real? Did he care? Was it all just a farce? Questions that they weren’t brave enough to ask back then. Questions they’ve always wondered. Their beginnings were forever tainted by this man. Their names were always going to be connected to him.
They had a right – no, they’d deserved to know.
So they tried to get the answers they so desperate sought. It didn’t go as planned.
“Fuck you!” Nick screamed at him. “It wasn’t fucking business! You made it personal Lou. You know you did. You fucked up our lives and…and…” he stopped himself. “Just own up to it you sick fuck!”
“Nick!” Kevin grabbed him by the arm so he couldn’t lunge.
“Nick the guards are gonna drag us out of here.” Howie motioned around to the small visiting room the five of them and their sole camera man had been allowed to enter so they could confront their former manager. “You need to calm down.”
“Nicky, there’s no need to get violent.” He was so damn smug. “I taught you better.” Lou had the nerve to say.
“You taught us how to screw over people.” Brian was leaning against a wall. He’d been the one against doing this at all but went with it for the good of the group.
AJ was shaking his head. “Just…shut up. We get it. None of it was real.”
“Sure it was.”
That was when Nick lost it again. “You fucking prick! You forget, I know what you did to Aaron! What you did when I wasn’t there to protect him! He called me while we were away on tour. You might’ve been too scared to try shit like that with us, your first experiment. But I know you started your shit with Aaron! I saw the way you used to look at me when I was a kid!”
He’d never told the others. It wouldn’t have been fair to Aaron. It’d explained so much in retrospect.
Nick always told the truth when asked about the sexual allegations against Lou when it came to him. Lou never touched Nick. But he had with Aaron. Four heads turned in his direction. Four sets of eyes were wide with shock. AJ was picking at his nails like crazy all of a sudden. Howie simply stared at them.
“Dear God.” Brian whispered.
Kevin on the other hand lit up with rage. “He did what to Aaron?”
Needless to say within five minutes they’d been escorted out and later the group demanded that footage be scrapped.
“I fucking hate being alone.” He said to no one. His steps were unsteady and everything was forced. Yet he knew he couldn’t stop. “Too much time to fucking think.”
Nick wasn’t a fan of quiet time. He liked to blame it on his turbulent life. When his mind got going it often liked to jump around. Sometimes it would be on painting and sketching ideas. Other times he’d get ideas for songs and melodies would simply pop up into his head. Once in awhile he’d even get story ideas for short films or movies that he’d one day love to film. He was artistic in every sense; he always had been since he was little. But with that came an imagination that wouldn’t quit. A mind that refused to ever shut down and grant him a break. So now that he was alone in an area with only the vaguest idea of where to go, his mind wouldn’t shut down. Part of him didn’t want it to. He was lonely and wanted nothing more than to have someone there with him. Perhaps then he wouldn’t be so scared he’d fail and let Jordan die as a result.
He kept his focus, touch and go as it might be on the ground. He’d compared the footprints to the size of his own feet yesterday. Paranoia had set in quickly after he’d gone off in the direction of the footprints. What if they were his and he was going in circles? What if he was getting his hopes up for nothing? Fortunately upon the comparison he learned that the owner of them had feet three sizes smaller than his. Nick had even been rewarded for finding another set two times more before he settled down beneath another large tree for the night. He hadn’t spotted any today but he refused to give up hope. Sighing he shook the sharpened stick in his hand. It wasn’t very much. But maybe he’d stab a rabbit or something.
As if summoned a small fluffy white bunny hopped into his path. It nibbled on the grass innocently and glanced over like Nick wasn’t even the slightest bit of a threat. His eyes narrowed at the rabbit’s brash behavior. Dammit you should be afraid of me!
He lunged with his pointy stick. “DIE RABBIT DIE! Fear the Nick Carter! Rawwwwwwwwrrrrrrr!”
The rabbit dodged him and leapt forward, glancing back at him before munching on more grass. Nick fell hard to the ground and pain radiated throughout his chest. “Fucking piece of shit bunny!” He forced himself up despite the fact he might’ve just made his injures worse. He stabbed at it again and the bunny darted around like it was a taunting game of nature tag. Nick was it. “You were supposed to be dinner!”
Getting up, Nick raced after the animal. It was the first he’d physically seen rather than heard that wasn’t some sort of bird. In the back of his mind a small voice kept yelling he could be getting lost again but he ignored it. The gnawing hunger was in control of his actions now. He could just make it out up ahead. Maybe the rabbit would tire out or something. Everything had to tire out sometime. Every breath was almost pure agony but he ran through it. It would all be worth it if he managed to get food. He’d figure out how exactly to cook it without knowing how to start a fire later. The priority now was catching the bunny from hell.
He frowned when suddenly the bunny vanished mid-hop into thin air. It hadn’t gotten away, he would’ve seen that. One minute the creature was there and in another it had faded away. Nick screamed in frustration. Was his mind starting to play tricks on him now? “Fuck! Fucky-fuck fuck! I’m gonna die out here!”
Turning around, his foot caught a rock. His arms flailed in the air as he tried to catch on something but to no avail. His body continued to fall through the air and roll down the ledge he hadn’t even realized he was at. His face soon scraped against the rocks and pebbles along the ground before he finally fell into a shallow stream.
“Ugh…fucking rabbit, vision bullshit.” He groaned as he slowly pushed himself upwards. It was in that instant where he was clicked in his head. If this was a cartoon Nick knew he would’ve seen a lit up light bulb hovering above him. “Water!” He dunked his face into the water and took big gulps. “Fuck, I should be boiling this.”
Without an answer Nick resigned himself to possibly getting sick later. Dehydration would still be worse. Pulling out his dented up bottle from his jacket pocket he filled it up. Once he did that he tucked it away again and simply enjoyed the feel of the cool water. It only took a minute before he started shivering. How could he forget it was November? He shook himself off as best as he could, like a dog. It didn’t do much but that couldn’t be helped. Still the water, despite the cold, seemed to rejuvenate him. His steps were more self-assured now. He didn’t feel like he was stumbling over his own two feet. He glanced back, considering trying to go back the way he came before he started chasing some weird bunny mirage, but he was afraid that would make him even more lost than he already was. Sighing softly he continued forward from where he fell into the stream. Now he had a water source to come back to.
“I wonder what the guys are doing.” He had an idea as to what though. They were worrying about him. In truth Nick was worried about himself. With each day that passed he became surer Jordan was already dead. With each day that passed he started thinking that he might’ve been better off dying in the crash than having it drag along like this. He didn’t like to think about death, what would happen. Without concrete beliefs like three out of four of the fellas, the unknown frightened him. Brian had even talked to him about it recently, only a few months before during the end of the second leg of the North American In A World Like This tour. A rare moment where they did feel like Frick and Frack again, though they never lasted long.
“Nick.” Brian looked up from his phone, Nick assumed he’d been tweeting.
“What Bri?” The two were sitting on the stage in the Planet Hollywood venue. They were about an hour away from the soundcheck party. The group had just finished their real soundcheck so Kevin, Howie, and AJ had gone off to do their own thing. Usually Nick did too but, something just sort of kept him there that day. He wasn’t sure what.
“Do you ever think about what happens when you die?”
He stared at him and set down the guitar he’d been strumming idly. “Dude, what the fuck kind of question is that?”
Brian shrugged before shoving his phone back in his jean pocket. “It’s just a question.”
“No, that shit’s depressing and I don’t want to focus on that sort of thing man.”
“You know,” Brian wet his lips. “When I first started having my breathing and vocal problems, I thought it was something with my heart. That that was why I was out of breath so much and had to choke things out.”
Nick frowned and walked over so that he was standing in front of his friend. “If you thought it was that serious why didn’t you come to us then?”
A brow rose. “You and I were barely talking. And…I wanted to be sure first.”
It was the truth but that didn’t mean it didn’t feel like a stab in the chest. “That don’t mean I don’t fucking care, Brian.”
“I know you care. I was scared and wasn’t thinking straight. It wasn’t just you. I didn’t tell anyone that I was thinking about my heart. Not even Leighanne.”
If it were possible Nick’s brows would’ve risen so high they would’ve landed halfway through his spiked up blonde hair. “Shit.”
“She still doesn’t know I thought that far. You’re the first.” Brian sighed. “Either way I’ve thought about it off and on ever since. What if it had been my heart? What is dying really like?”
“You’re the religious one.” Nick sat on the stool beside him. “You tell me.”
“I think we continue on. Maybe in heaven like the bible. I don’t want to think there’s nothing. But even I have questions. I have faith but it doesn’t mean you can stop questions like that.”
“Maybe we get reborn. I think its reincarnation.” It always made the most sense to Nick even though he never had it in him to fully believe in anything like that. He wished he did have that ability like Brian. “But I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I guess I only know how I don’t wanna die.”
Brian smiled at him. “Yeah, how? Not getting eaten by zombies, right?”
“Alone. I never want to die alone.”
It was the deepest conversation he’d had with his former best friend in years. Now he might be facing one of his greatest fears. After marrying Lauren Nick thought he’d never have to worry about that again. Even if he someday lost his Backstreet brothers, even if he lost the few close friends he had outside of the group, he’d always have her. He wouldn’t die alone. Except now he was lost and alone and starving. He found water so maybe he’d last a few more weeks. But if something didn’t change, the fact remained that he would die. And he would die alone.
Dejectedly he continued his walk. He thought of Lauren who was likely going insane by now. He thought of his family who he hoped worried rather than used this as another chance for attention. Nick knew Angel would worry at least, so there was that. He pushed past some trees and blinked at the sudden onslaught of sunlight shining directly at him. The woods had been so congested he’d gotten used to the pseudo-dusk that continued around him. Nick rubbed his eyes and stared at the sight before him. He walked slowly towards it.
Please God, let this be real!
There in a small clearing that looked man-made rather than natural stood a small log cabin. There was a tiny tool shed behind it and a motorbike leaning against the side of the house. Just beyond it Nick made out a dirt path that looked well ridden. His heart leapt up into his throat. Why was he feeling like this? He should be happy. This probably housed the owner of those footprints he’d seen earlier. He must’ve missed a path leading down here. Nick stepped up to the door and reached out. His hand hovered before the door, terrified this was another image from his hunger driven mind.
You’ll never know unless you make sure dumbass. Slowly, he gently knocked upon the front door.
When it opened, he couldn’t help but almost fall over with relief at the woman standing before him.