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Heather’s initial alarm gave way to recognition. (illustration by Sunshineandravioli)


Gildedchris

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A TDI "what if" story by Gideoncrawle


This is my first published fanfic. The idea for this story came to me whilst I was setting a verse for my 400+ page magnum opus, Total Drama Island, by Gilbert and Sullivan.

This is an alternate reality, or "what if" story, i.e. "what if something had happened differently than the way it was shown in the parent story?" It is also similar to the "plus one, minus one" genre, of which It's a Wonderful Life is perhaps the most famous example.

In action-oriented milieus, "what if" stories tend to be bloody because there are no continuity issues, and just because she's my favorite character doesn't mean I have to be nice to her. You have been warned.

Rated PG-13 for mature subject matter and a brief scene of graphic violence.

This story has a page on TVTropes.org

.

Introduction

A few seconds more or less can have profound and far-reaching effects.

In the “scary movie” scenario (episode #19, “Hook, Line and Screamer”) Chris, Chef Hatchet and the “slain” campers burst into the lodge and warned Gwen that the "Escaped Psycho Killer With a Chainsaw and a Hook" was truly what he appeared to be, and was not merely an actor. Thus alerted, Gwen successfully defended herself and escaped unharmed.

What if the cavalry had come over the hill a few seconds later?


Chapter 1: A Chance Encounter

It was late morning as the aging red Lexus tooled along an unremarkable semirural road in the Muskoka district. Heather was returning with a load of groceries to her summer cabin.

She had been much delayed, and a good deal aggravated, by road construction on the trip out. Unwilling to deal with that again, she was returning home by another route.

Ahead, another road branched off to the left, and a road sign announced a “Point of Interest” in the vicinity. There were similar “points of interest” all over Canada. They were typically unusual natural features, scenic overlooks, or places where somebody had done something that someone in authority considered noteworthy. In this case, though, the description caught Heather’s eye:

CAMP WAWANAKWA 10 km

Heather had gone years, at one point, without thinking about the camp or anything connected with it, although it had been on her mind in recent weeks. It so happened that none of her groceries needed refrigeration. The “point of interest” designation suggested that the camp was not currently operating, so nobody was likely to challenge unannounced visitors.

On a whim, Heather took the turnoff. She was not equipped for a substantial hike, but if the road went all the way to the camp, she would take a look around.


The road did indeed go all the way to the camp, terminating near the so-called “stadium” (seating all of 40 people) that had been the scene of what Heather still counted as the greatest moment of her life. It was here that, despite having 18 of the 19 spectators in the “Peanut Gallery of Failure” arrayed against her, she had upset the heavily favored Courtney to win the first Total Drama Island competition.

Take that, losers, she had thought at the time. She might even have said it aloud, not yet having had the maturity to win with grace. Looking back, her reaction that day wasn’t something she was now proud of, but she dismissed it as part of growing up. Kids will be kids, she told herself.

After a difficult moment wriggling out from behind the wheel—she was almost eight months pregnant—Heather hauled herself out of her car, on which she had blown the better part of her prize money. She stood, stretched, and took a few moments to contemplate the scenery.

She wore a loose-fitting flannel shirt of her husband’s, for she had discovered that wearing Jim’s shirts was the easiest way to accommodate her growing bulk. While still as fashion-conscious as ever, she had long since learned that fashion isn’t always functional, and functionality was what she wanted today. Her long pants combined fashion and function well enough, as did her trendy sunglasses.

Her short, raven-black hair was styled in a businesswoman’s cut. Her belly was distended to accommodate her daughter-to-be; her breasts were engorged in preparation for their purpose; and her skin, beneath a hint of sunburn and a generous dose of skillfully applied makeup, was suffused in the characteristic glow of advanced pregnancy. All in all, while still a beautiful woman, she bore little resemblance to the teenaged “dragon lady” she had once been.

Heather strolled sedately through the camp. The cabins remained much as they had been, but the bunk beds had been removed. She tried the light switches, and found that they were not working.

As Heather moved to the outhouse that had served as a confessional booth, she heard a car door close. Another visitor, she assumed, and gave it no further thought.

The “confession can” was stocked with toilet paper, as was the toilet stall in the communal washroom, and she found that the washroom sinks had running water. The soap dispensers were also partly filled. Apparently, the camp had enough “point of interest” traffic to justify maintaining these facilities. Heather experimentally tried the shower faucets, and found that they were not working.

The washroom’s light switch wasn’t working, either. The camp evidently didn’t have electricity anymore. This was no surprise, since portable generators had supplied the electric power during the competition.

The main lodge was still furnished with its long tables and benches, but the decorative trappings such as the moose head had been removed. One decoration, though, had been added. Someone had left a florist-issue vase, with a fresh bouquet of red roses, on one of the tables.

Heather had a fair idea why those flowers were there. As to who had placed them, she couldn’t say, although she had her suspicions.

Trying to remember whether today’s date might have more significance than she had realized, Heather strolled to the kitchen. The fixtures were still there; but, not surprisingly, everything that wasn’t nailed down had been removed, lawfully or otherwise. The walk-in refrigerator was sealed.

As Heather reemerged from the kitchen into the common area, she was taken aback at the sight of a rough-looking man standing in the doorway. He was backlit, so she couldn’t make out much detail at first; but when he entered the lodge, Heather’s initial alarm gave way to recognition.

“Duncan?”

Duncan, for indeed it was he, cocked his head quizzically. This woman seemed vaguely familiar, somehow, but he couldn’t place it. “Do I know you, ma’am?” he asked uncertainly.

“It’s me, Heather. From the show.”

Duncan brightened in belated recognition. “Heather? I would never have guessed,” he admitted.

Heather could believe that, given the changes in her appearance. Duncan’s choice of words could have been construed as something of an insult, but there was no sting in his tone.

As for Duncan, the years had been kind to him, despite what Heather assumed was a “live fast, die young” lifestyle. His body had filled out nicely in the transition from teenager to young adult. The fauxhawk was gone, replaced with a short crew cut, but otherwise he appeared little changed.

“What brings you here?” Duncan asked.

“My husband and I have a cabin not all that far from here. Muskoka is a major summer colony, you know.” That had been one of the “fun facts” they had learned during their orientation session at the beginning of the competition. “I happened to see a road sign, and I followed it. I never thought I’d miss anything about this place, but I guess I was feeling nostalgic. Maybe because my life is about to change so radically.”

Duncan did not inquire further on that point, as the size of Heather’s belly gave him a fair idea what she meant. Apparently, this would be her first child.

“And you?” Heather prompted.

“I have a niece who watches TDI. She knows I was in the first season, so she keeps me well informed about the show, whether I want to be or not. Giving credit where it’s due, though, she has a pretty good feel for what will interest me and what won’t. Anyway, they announced an upcoming anniversary special. She thought I might be interested, so she told me about it.”

“Anniversary special,” Heather repeated, doing a quick mental calculation. “How long has it been? Ten years?”

Duncan misinterpreted the question. “Ten years ago today, may she rest in peace,” he informed her.

Heather realized that Duncan had read more into the question than she intended. “That wasn’t really what I meant, but…” She shook her head sadly. “But, yeah. Poor Gwen.”

Neither spoke for long moments, each lost in memories of that terrible night.

.

Chapter 2: About That Night

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the deaths of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war...
– William Shakespeare, Richard II


As the “Escaped Psycho Killer With a Chainsaw and a Hook” fired up his chainsaw, brandishing it overhead and roaring inarticulately, Gwen remained convinced that her putative assailant was merely an actor. Even as he brought his blade down toward her, she made no move to evade or defend.

According to his subsequent confession statement, the killer had intended to pull his proverbial punch, and to inflict only a minor wound. He wanted terror as well as blood, and wasn’t ready to slay the seemingly apathetic Goth just yet. At the critical moment, however, the lodge door flew open; and Chris, Chef Hatchet and the “slain” campers burst in, desperately calling to Gwen. The killer instinctively began to turn round, distracted from checking his blow, and the now-unguided blade bit deeply into Gwen’s left clavicle.

Gwen, like the killer, had been distracted when Chris and his entourage entered. She gasped as the blade struck home and gnawed at her. Her eyes widened in shock.

The impact brought her assailant’s attention back to his purpose. With his bloodlust now aroused, and sensing that he had passed the point of no return in any case, he pressed his blade in as Gwen’s knees buckled and she collapsed without a cry.

Dissatisfied with his victim’s subdued reaction, the killer withdrew his blade and turned to face the others, but he had no stomach for a fight. Seeing that the only way out of the lodge was through the new arrivals, and seeing that Chef Hatchet was as big as he and had a chainsaw of his own, the killer threw down his weapon and surrendered.

Hatchet immediately moved to take him in charge. Chris was already on the radio to the producers, arranging an air ambulance for Gwen and a police pickup for her assailant. D.J. had fainted dead away, but the other teens simply stood where they were, dumbfounded at seeing their colleague struck down before their eyes.

Hatchet couldn’t do everything that needed doing by himself, so he began barking orders in the hope that an imperious voice would suffice to bring the stunned teens to their senses.

Not having time to properly bind the prisoner, Hatchet ordered him to lie on the floor, spread-eagled and on his belly, and with his head toward the back of the room so he could not see comings and goings. Hatchet then turned to the campers, who still seemed to have no idea what to do.

“Get this girl to the infirmary, now!” he thundered. “Seconds may count!” Seeing that Chris had finished his radio call, Hatchet added, “Give ‘em a hand, pretty boy! Duncan, LeShawna, you’re with me!”

Heather could remember the tableau as if she had seen it yesterday. She could fairly see Gwen’s ghostlike face, even paler than usual, her eyes rolled back into her head in shock—medical shock now, not emotional shock—and her eyelids fluttering. The dreadfully torn flesh; chainsaws were not known for cutting soft materials cleanly. The ghastly, protruding stump of hewn collarbone. And the blood—so terribly much blood—visibly pulsing an appallingly bright red from within Gwen’s mangled shoulder. That was a bad sign, Heather had known (although, to this day, her knowledge of such things was not vast), because it meant the Goth was bleeding from a major artery. The subclavian artery, Heather later learned. Ironically, Gwen’s deepening shock was something of a blessing under the circumstances, because it meant that she probably wasn’t in much pain. That was another medical tidbit that Heather would not learn until later.

As Chris and the other campers carried Gwen from the lodge in haste, Hatchet told Duncan and LeShawna to guard the prisoner. Giving the killer’s chainsaw to Duncan, and giving his own to LeShawna, he instructed them loudly enough for the prisoner to hear.

“If he moves,” Hatchet briefed his young deputies, “assume that he intends to attack, and do what you must to protect yourselves. But if he cooperates, don’t take the law into your own hands. And don’t taunt him,” he emphasized, fixing the teens with his gaze.

“Oh, and don’t worry about his hook,” Hatchet added as an afterthought. “It’s designed to be a hand, not a weapon.” This matter dealt with, Hatchet exited the lodge and sprinted to the infirmary, arriving even as the others were laying the semiconscious Gwen onto a cot.

Hatchet had reservations about leaving two traumatized teenagers to guard the prisoner, but he really had no better options. Chris was the only alternative, and he was needed elsewhere. Besides, Hatchet was by no means certain that Chris would have the iron to handle the prisoner if the latter made any aggressive moves. Both Duncan and LeShawna had stood up to Hatchet when he was posing as the killer, so they would have to do.

As Hatchet began treating his patient as best he could, Chris dismissed the campers. Some had a good deal of Gwen’s blood on them, so Chris gave them leave to clean up as needed, but he ordered them to stay together in case Duncan and LeShawna proved unable to keep the prisoner under control. Chris formally cancelled the scheduled elimination because, even if Gwen survived, she would obviously be in no condition to continue in the competition.

As the campers filed out, Heather heard Hatchet mutter something that might have been, “Where’s that ambulance?” It was a rhetorical question, for he knew that it was still at least 20 minutes away. The camp was not so isolated as the teens thought (the “island” was actually a peninsula, and there was a small town barely five kilometers away), but it was isolated enough. The local population was not large enough to support a full-fledged hospital, which was what Gwen needed.

In the washroom, Heather tried to say that Gwen was lucky they didn’t “pull the plug”, but the words caught in her throat. She despised Gwen, and there had been any number of times when Heather had wished various painful injuries upon the “weird Goth girl”, but not like this, not like this. Even having Gwen eaten by the ubiquitous sharks would have been relatively antiseptic to an observer who wasn’t too close, but there was a difference between an unthinking animal and an evil man. Heather asked herself whether she really wanted to see Gwen murdered, and was forced to admit that she did not. Not Gwen. Not even LeShawna. Not anyone.

In the infirmary, Gwen was slipping away. In what would become the defining moment of his television career, Hatchet battled heroically to save her, but he was fighting with the proverbial one hand tied behind his back. He had a good level of basic medical training, but he was no critical care paramedic, much less a surgeon; and while he was a resourceful man, the camp’s infirmary was simply not equipped to deal with this type of injury. Chris had no medical training, and could only assist at Hatchet’s direction.

Finally, with the ambulance still minutes away, Hatchet admitted defeat. He had done everything he could, and he knew that, barring a miracle, it wasn’t going to be enough. He quietly dismissed Chris from the infirmary, freeing the host to attend to other matters.

A proper paramedic, properly equipped, might have been able to save Gwen, even now. The girl was tough. Most people with such a wound and such inadequate treatment would have died minutes ago, but the Goth was still hanging on, if only by a thread. Gwen’s toughness wasn’t the swaggering bravado of a Duncan or an Eva, but rather a quiet perseverance. She didn’t flaunt it, but she had it. Hatchet liked that. Perhaps that was why he had such a soft spot for her, although she could be as disrespectful as anyone in camp.

Nothing else he could do? No, there was one more thing. He could see to it that she would not die alone. Granted, she would never know, but he thought it important, nonetheless.

In an incongruously tender gesture for such a gruff and hulking man, Hatchet lightly kissed Gwen on her brow, as a father might kiss a favorite daughter. Then, pulling up a stool, he sat down beside her to keep vigil, taking her hand gently in his. Not twenty seconds later, her indomitable spirit finally fled.

The air ambulance arrived three minutes after, but the paramedics could only give official confirmation to what Hatchet already knew. Gwen was pronounced dead at the scene.

After the ambulance departed, Hatchet went to the lodge to check on Duncan and LeShawna. Seeing Hatchet’s bleak expression, the teens immediately feared the worst, but he motioned them to silence before they could react. Understanding that he did not want the prisoner to know, neither Duncan nor LeShawna asked after Gwen. Instead, they simply reported, as they had reported to Chris a few minutes before, that the prisoner remained docile. Hatchet then relieved LeShawna, keeping Duncan with him so the prisoner would remain outnumbered as well as outgunned.

Roughly twenty minutes later, the police arrived to take the prisoner in tow, and Chris announced via loudspeaker that the campers were no longer required to stay together. When the killer was safely out of earshot from the camp, the loudspeaker squealed to life again and Chef Hatchet made the announcement that everyone had been dreading, yet expecting. It was Chris’ place to break the news, but in this instance he had deferred to his friend’s request. Hatchet, perhaps not entirely trusting his voice to remain steady, kept the bulletin short and to the point:

“Attention, all campers. At 22:38 this evening, Gwen passed away from blood loss. She never regained consciousness. It is not likely that she suffered significantly. That is all.”

.

Chapter 3: Aftermath

Their minds returning briefly to the present, Heather and Duncan began to speculate on how the competition might have played out had they arrived at the lodge a few seconds sooner on that fateful night. They seated themselves on a bench, because it now looked like they might be there awhile.

During the competition, Heather had held Gwen in complete contempt, refusing to acknowledge that the Goth had any redeeming qualities at all. Looking back across the years, however, Heather was ready to admit that Gwen had tremendous endurance and iron willpower, making her a formidable opponent (or valuable teammate, as the case may be) in challenges that happened to play to those strengths.


Three days had passed, and it was time for the “safari” challenge. The remaining campers were still badly shaken and most were plagued by nightmares, although some were adjusting better than others. D.J. had proved completely unable to cope, and had withdrawn from the competition. LeShawna and Owen (the former being Gwen’s friend, and the latter being a softie) were severely dispirited, but were carrying on as best they could.

In his audition tape, Geoff had warned, “Life is over like that.” Having received an object lesson on just how truly he had spoken, the party king was now more inclined than ever to live for the moment. He was spending much of his time trying to cheer up Owen and LeShawna, with what he thought was enough success to justify the effort. For some reason, Geoff had been spared the nightmares that were afflicting most of the other campers.

Duncan and Heather had, at that time, talked as though the incident was little more than a competition hazard, but the observant could see that they were putting on fronts to avoid appearing weak. Duncan had liked Gwen and, for all his “death is a reality of life” rhetoric, he had never seen violent death so close before. None of them had. Heather had not liked Gwen, but she vividly remembered Chef Hatchet, in the guise of the killer, surprising her in the shower. If he had been the real killer…. Duncan and Heather were also having nightmares, but were dealing with them better than Owen or LeShawna.

Only Izzy seemed normal, or what passed for normal in her case. She understood fear and loss, but the concepts of grief and sadness seemed to be utterly alien to her. If she was having nightmares, they weren’t bothering her.


As Chris had predicted, Gwen’s ill-fated encounter with the killer had been ratings manna. He and the producers now worried, however, that it might prove to be a case of “winning the battle but losing the war.” They shuddered at the prospect of how ratings might be affected if a bunch of preoccupied teens merely went through the motions.

But, as Chris had said, “The show must go on.” To give the campers more time to recover, the producers decided to move the “look in on the losers” episode up from #22 to #20, and to move back the safari challenge. Because D.J.’s withdrawal had put the eliminations ahead of schedule, the original plan to have the losers vote off one of the remaining campers was scrapped.

Among the losers, Gwen had been more respected than liked; and (except for D.J.) they had only seen her struck down on the video feed, not in person. Nevertheless, the incident was still very much on their minds, and most could talk about little else when they came before the camera. Making a virtue of necessity, Chris played up that angle, and the episode effectively became an impromptu memorial service, largely echoing the more formal service Chef Hatchet had conducted at the camp two days before. Trent was in deep mourning, and Cody wasn’t much better off. Clearly, their feelings for Gwen went far beyond the simple sexual attraction that most people had assumed.

The only real drama came when Courtney, casting diplomacy to the wind, complained about having been unfairly expelled, and stated that she was suing the producers as a result. When she thoughtlessly stated that she should have been kept on instead of Gwen, though, Noah called her on that point.

She would be here,” he sneered. “Alive. And you?”

Belatedly realizing the implications of what she had said, Courtney had no answer. In his snarky way, Noah had put his finger on the real reason why the losers were taking Gwen’s death so hard. On one level or another, they all understood that a change in events here or there could have put any of them in Gwen’s place that fateful night, and few had any illusions that they would have fared better than she. Teenagers did not like to contemplate their own mortality.


The show went on, as Chris had said it must. In the tri-armed triathlon challenge, Heather and Owen won two of the three rounds to gain invincibility. Geoff and Izzy failed to win any rounds because both were easily distracted and had spent most of the day chattering about trivialities. The campers subsequently voted Geoff off because no one thought they could beat him in the jury vote.

At the elimination ceremony, the bonfire site featured a new detail. Although no one commented on it, one of the seats was draped in something black (Gwen’s nightgown, perhaps) and would remain so adorned for the rest of the competition.

Next came the rescheduled safari challenge. Whilst the campers were rummaging through the boathouse for equipment to aid them, Duncan hefted a chainsaw he found, but then thought better of it. The memory was too fresh; not that a chainsaw was likely to be useful anyway, since the campers had been charged to bring back their animals unharmed. Duncan discarded the saw for some light netting, which was much more likely to be useful.

Duncan subsequently captured his animal first to claim the reward meal; and Heather, failing to capture her impossible prey (a bear), was assessed the loser’s penalty of cleaning the communal washroom. She was in no condition to do so, however, because she had been one of numerous beings to fall victim to Izzy’s indiscriminate use of a tranquilizer gun. Although the universally reviled Heather was without the protection of invincibility for the first time in seven episodes, she was spared because the others merely disliked her, whereas they were now afraid of Izzy.

In the castaway scenario, originally meant to be a reward challenge, Owen became separated from the others and reacted poorly to his isolation. His mind already distressed by recent events, he went off the deep end, reaching out to an imaginary friend he called “Mr. Coconut” and assuming an aboriginal persona. He later assaulted Heather (although whether he saw her as entrée, dessert, or merely rival was unclear) and only his poor stamina allowed her to escape unharmed. Heather still shuddered at that memory.

After the castaways were “rescued”, Chris discarded the planned reward in favor of a sham elimination ceremony. He eliminated “Mr. Coconut” in an attempt to bring Owen to his senses, but the ploy did not succeed. Owen continued to deteriorate over the next two days, and the producers grew increasingly concerned about what he might become capable of. After all, he had tried to ravish Heather, or worse, once already. Finally, Chris made a command decision, declaring Owen unfit to continue and eliminating the man-mountain without vote or ceremony. Because the next challenge required four contestants, Chris brought back Courtney, settling her lawsuit in the process.

On the heels of Courtney’s return came the orienteering challenge, which Chef Hatchet oversaw whilst Chris discharged an unrelated commitment. Hatchet paired Courtney with Heather on one team, in the hope that their dominant personalities would generate some videogenic conflict. The other team consisted of Duncan and LeShawna, who had proved suitably argumentative in the tri-armed triathlon three episodes before.

Heather and Courtney did indeed bicker for a time, but Heather soon realized that this was a challenge where Courtney’s vaunted CIT experience might actually be useful. Heather had no particular skill in woodcraft, so she largely deferred to her teammate’s judgments, much as it galled her to do so. The Alpha Females of Wawanakwa easily defeated Duncan and LeShawna, both of whom were creatures of the city and largely clueless in the woods.

The victors subsequently agreed to vote off Duncan, despite Courtney’s fondness for him and Heather’s animosity toward LeShawna. Heather had argued that Duncan was the greater threat, and Courtney could find no fault with her reasoning. LeShawna, now showing signs of clinical depression, was growing increasingly apathetic, and the alpha females believed she could be easily dismissed in the semifinals.

The semifinal round featured the dare challenge, with a sudden-death format: the first contestant to refuse a dare without the shield of an exemption would be summarily expelled, without the formality of an elimination ceremony. Chris and Chef Hatchet were looking forward to a savage three-way catfight, but they were largely disappointed: the apathetic LeShawna dropped out in only the third round.


Looking back on that day, Duncan confessed with a wolfish grin, “I would have loved to see you square off against Gwen in the dare challenge.”

Heather laughed, then, the heartiest laugh that Duncan had ever heard from her. She could picture his scenario all too clearly, but could laugh about it because she knew she would never have to endure it. “That would not have been pretty,” she declared. “We might still be at it.” Still chuckling, she added, “That’s the stuff legends are made of.”


On the final day of competition, the losers returned to the island. Their arrival included a silent tribute to The Missing Camper, as Gwen had come to be known. During the third round of the tri-armed triathlon, when the teams were charged to assemble a “totem pole of shame and humiliation” from the graven images of the ousted campers, the contestants had noticed that Gwen was not represented. Most gave the omission little thought, ascribing it to the extraordinary circumstances of her departure, but Heather suggested to Chris that there was “a camper missing”. Izzy rephrased that, rambling on about “the missing camper” at great length and breakneck speed, in her inimitable style, and the description stuck.

As the losers filed in to the “Peanut Gallery of Failure” as Chris had dubbed the seating area, Trent and Cody kept a space between them for The Missing Camper, and maintained that spacing when they took their seats. Most of the others knew of the plan, and so made no comment.

For the finals, the producers determined that the promised jury vote would be anticlimactic, because Heather appeared to have only token support, if that. In lieu of the vote, the finalists would face a winner-take-all final challenge, another triathlon variant. Chris had a reputation for changing rules on the fly, so the producers reasoned (correctly, as it turned out) that the finalists would accept cancellation of the jury vote as more of the same. Although Courtney figured to win the vote easily, she did not object. Her competitive fire was burning, and she relished the chance to take Heather down one-on-one.

Chris directed the losers to sit on the side of whichever finalist they favored, and the resulting distribution graphically showed just how one-sided the jury vote would have been. Courtney’s section was packed with 18 of the 19 losers, whereas only Harold sat on Heather’s side.

Both girls were reasonably athletic, Courtney from her active lifestyle and Heather from her ballet dancing. Heather was known to be a poor runner, though, so the consensus opinion was that Courtney should win easily. However, an old bugaboo of Courtney’s—an inability to face fear—resurfaced. This weakness had contributed to two Bass losses (the cliff dive and the phobia challenge) in the team phase of the competition. So it was in the finals: the gorge crossing stopped Courtney cold.

After Heather crossed, she couldn’t resist taunting her opponent. That almost induced Courtney to cross, in which case the outcome would likely have been different. At the last moment, though, Courtney’s fear reasserted itself.

Led by Duncan, Courtney’s supporters made increasingly insistent entreaties, but the former CIT still could not bring herself to cross. Finally, Eva took matters into her own hands, brusquely hoisting Courtney over her shoulder and making the crossing for her. The embarrassed Courtney quickly thanked her surly benefactress and resumed the race, but by then Heather’s lead was insurmountable. Courtney was able to make the final margin respectable, but never seriously threatened.

A double-length special episode followed. Chris announced a million-dollar treasure hunt, wherein the first to find a certain suitcase and bring it to the Dock of Shame would win.

The treasure hunt was a bust. Heather, who would have had to renounce her $100K prize to participate, elected to keep the bird in hand because she didn’t trust Chris. Most of the other teens didn’t trust Chris any more than Heather did, and so were not inclined to step into the proverbial breach. Only the naïve and gullible Owen, who had recovered from his derangement well enough to function more or less normally, took up the challenge; but his heart wasn’t really in it and he failed to find the suitcase.

So it was that the first season of Total Drama Island sputtered to a close amid a worrisome ratings drop.

Then came the legal repercussions. First came the expected wrongful death lawsuit from Gwen’s mother. The producers could have built a defense based on the waivers Gwen had to sign before appearing on the show; but in light of the extraordinary circumstances, the concern was that an unsympathetic judge might void the waivers as being contrary to public policy. Rather than risk such a damaging precedent, the producers did not contest their liability and quickly settled the suit for an amount that people familiar with the case described as “generous”.

More troubling for the producers was the government investigation into the show’s production practices. The general feeling was that the producers had cut too many corners to save money, with disastrous results. An especial point of criticism was the show’s perceived overreliance on remote cameras, as opposed to live camera crews. The remotes cost less to operate and encouraged greater spontaneity among the contestants, but it was widely felt that the presence of live crews would have deterred Gwen’s killer from approaching the camp.

The investigation led to enactment of a statute popularly known as “Gwen’s Law”. Among other effects, Gwen’s Law clarified that participants in contest-type reality shows would be considered employees for the purpose of applying workplace safety regulations.

Gwen’s killer did not stand trial for her murder. His confession statement suggested that her deathblow was not intended to kill and, while prosecutors recognized the possibility that his claim might be self-serving, it rang true enough to cause real concern that he might beat a murder charge. Prosecutors therefore offered him a deal, in which he would plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, in exchange for the dropping of various related charges. The killer received a prison term that most of the people who had known Gwen considered to be completely inadequate; but he was already serving what amounted to a life sentence for previous killings, so it didn’t really matter much.


The once-promising Total Drama Island was in trouble. The first season had closed with deteriorating ratings, and compliance with Gwen’s Law would mean a substantial increase in production costs, so the producers were not certain the show could remain profitable.

In an attempt to salvage the venture, the producers made wholesale changes. Season 2 opened with a new venue and an all-new slate of contestants, both of which had been planned from the beginning; but the producers also made so many structural and cosmetic changes that little remained of the show’s original look and feel. The show was even renamed.

Season 2 had a new host, as well. Chris had left the show because, with the new regulatory compliance costs, the producers could not or would not meet his salary requirements.

Only Chef Hatchet remained to provide any sense of continuity. He soldiered on under the new regime, becoming a popular TV personality in his own right, and was promoted to Host when the position became vacant again after the fifth season. Hatchet proved a capable host, if somewhat by-the-book. Ratings had recovered in the meantime, and the Total Drama Island name, along with most of the show’s original look and feel, had been restored by the time Hatchet became host; but while some of the show’s venues would be reused over the years, Total Drama Island never returned to Camp Wawanakwa.

.

Chapter 4: Back to the Present

Their “minus one, plus one” speculations having run their course, Heather and Duncan turned for a time to general reminiscences of their experience on the "island". Each discovered that the other still remembered pretty much all the major points of camp life, although neither could recall with any certainty which girl was Katie and which was Sadie.

Their conversation eventually turned to the question of what the other contestants had been up to since. Heather had little information on this topic, but Duncan had a great deal, mostly via Courtney.

No, Duncan told his old campmate, he and Courtney were no longer a couple. That had been merely a summer hookup, although they retained fond (if somewhat conflicted) feelings for each other and maintained more or less regular contact. Courtney kept in touch with several of the others, as well, and kept indirect tabs on most of the rest, either through her direct contacts or through periodic Internet searches.

“She’s very organized,” Duncan observed, adding, “If we ever have a reunion, I’d bet good money that she’ll be the driving force behind it.” Heather was inclined to agree.

Duncan himself had found a legitimate outlet for his thieving ways, and now repossessed cars for a living. Heather, for her part, had majored in Business Administration because she still felt that she was best suited to directing others. She had spent a few years in the workforce, but was not currently working outside the home.

Duncan suggested that her current job title was “trophy wife”. Heather allowed that Duncan’s assessment was not unreasonable, given that her husband was a successful businessman and almost ten years older than she.

Heather’s current plan was to begin online studies for an MBA when her child (or youngest child, since she and Jim wanted two) was out of infancy. By studying part time whilst she cared for her kids, she expected to have her degree at about the time her children entered school. Heather considered that convenient timing, for under this plan she would be reentering the workforce with fresh credentials.

Courtney was now a freshly minted lawyer, and had landed a job with a prestigious firm in Vancouver. She had begun to dabble in politics, mostly as a campaign worker for various candidates. She still planned to run for office herself someday, but was still too young for most people to take her seriously as a candidate for anything significant. In the meantime, her campaign work was a good way to learn the science of running a proper political campaign.

Like Courtney, most of the former “campers” were in the early stages of getting established in their careers. A few had either returned to school or were still in school, either because they were taking graduate degrees or because their studies had been delayed for some reason. Several were still active in the public sphere, in one way or another; but most, like Duncan and Heather themselves, had either tired of the public eye or grown indifferent to it, or had been forgotten after their summer in the sun.

Eva, of all people, was currently the most financially successful of the lot. She was also the highest-profile celebrity, albeit not in Canada. After returning with her parents to their native Germany, she had pursued a career in professional track and field, which was big business in Europe. Eva had become a star heptathlete and was now wealthy enough that, if she took decent care of her money, she would be set for life. Better yet, her temper was now under control. Her fits of rage had been found to have an organic cause, and she had responded well to medication. She would have to take that medication for the rest of her life, but it had turned her life around, so that was a small price to pay.

Eva had qualified for the German national team in 2016, but an untimely injury forced her to sit out the Olympics. Indeed, she had been plagued by injuries the last couple of years, and was reported to be contemplating retirement.

D.J. had gone to college on a football scholarship, and became good enough to be drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. After failing to make the team, he returned to school to complete his studies in veterinary medicine.

After the competition, Geoff, the other footballer in the troupe, had taken to partying even harder and oftener than before, if that was humanly possible. His grades had suffered to the point that he was in danger of losing the football scholarship that he was widely expected to get, and related problems had nearly cost him Bridgette’s love, as well. Fortunately, he had recovered his bearings, thanks in part to Bridgette’s insistence. Geoff hadn’t really understood Bridgette’s resistance to his “party till you drop” lifestyle, but had eventually decided that the fact that it did bother her was enough. He remained a party animal to this day, but he had learned moderation.

Geoff, like D.J., became a star in college and was drafted into the CFL, by the Montreal Alouettes in Geoff’s case. Unlike D.J., however, Geoff had found some success in the pros. Now in his fifth year in the league, he was currently a backup quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Heather made a mental note of that. Her husband was a football fan, following both the CFL and the NFL, so she would have to look for Geoff the next time Jim was watching a game that happened to involve the Tiger-Cats.

Of all the couples that had hooked up that summer at Camp Wawanakwa, only Geoff and Bridgette were still together. They were now living together, but had no plans for marriage or children, as far as anyone knew. Bridgette was earning her daily bread as a swimming instructor.

Justin had been a model, in one capacity or another, ever since the competition ended, and was gaining national prominence in that field. Heather had once seen him in a newspaper circular, modeling a line of men’s underwear. With the aid of several breathing exercises, Heather had succeeded in restoring her normal heart rate and body temperature.


Trent had never been quite the same. Oh, he behaved normally enough, and people who hadn’t known him before Gwen’s death wouldn’t be likely to notice anything amiss; but to those who had known him from earlier times, his music seemed somehow less hopeful and more melancholy than before.

Now a professional singer/songwriter, Trent was making a modest living on the nightclub circuit. He had signed on with an independent record label, and had released an album not too long ago. Sales were promising, although it wasn’t expected to go gold anytime soon. Duncan had seen one of Trent’s performances a few years ago, and had kept in touch since. Apart from Courtney, Trent was currently the only former campmate with whom Duncan had anything resembling regular contact.

Not surprisingly, Trent’s album included a song in memory of Gwen, although the song did not identify her by name. Trent had stumbled upon an obscure public domain song, and he had liked the lilting tune. (“From some old musical,” Trent had said, although he didn’t remember the name and apparently couldn’t be bothered to look it up.) Trent had tweaked the tune a bit and set his own lyrics to it, although he had mostly kept the original refrain, and the resulting tribute to “a pale and beautiful gothic girl” had become his first standard. Trent now sang it at most of his gigs, usually as the closing number.

A Wonderful Joy Our Eyes To Bless Oh Sweet Surprise - Utopia Limited(07:23)
Trent had stumbled upon an obscure public domain song (song begins at 2:45)
GideoncrawleAdded by Gideoncrawle

Heather now recalled having heard the song somewhere, but at the time she had not associated it with Trent.

Trent made other gestures of remembrance, as well. He lived within day trip range of the camp, Duncan told Heather, and once a year he came here to leave flowers in memory of his first love, either on the anniversary of her death or as close to it as he could manage.

“Looks like he’s already come and gone,” Heather noted, motioning to the bouquet on the lodge table.

“Too bad. I’m sure he’d have loved to be here today,” Duncan suggested enigmatically.

“Why today, especially?” Heather asked in puzzlement. True, ten years was a round number, but that didn’t really seem to explain Duncan’s remark. Trent surely had no particular desire to see Heather again, so her presence couldn’t have had anything to do with it.

“Hatchet is coming here today to shoot a scene for that anniversary special I mentioned,” Duncan elaborated. “There have been some serious injuries over the years, but Gwen is still the only contestant to actually die, so Hatchet is going to lay a wreath.”

With Duncan apparently at the campsite for that event, Heather was starting to wonder whether he had gone soft. “How did you find that out? You never seemed the type to keep track of things like that,” she observed.

“My niece told me,” Duncan explained. “She’s kind of a TDI junkie, and she spends a lot of time online sussing out tidbits like that. When she told me, I left a message for Trent, but it was such short notice that he probably wasn’t able to clear his schedule.”

Heather pressed the point. “So, you’re here for the wreath laying? I didn’t think you cared about ceremony.”

“I had nothing better to do,” Duncan replied dismissively.

“That sounds like the Duncan I know,” Heather declared in a satisfied tone, as if all was once more right with the world.

“So,” Heather continued, “does Hatchet have a sadistic sidekick to torture the contestants while he’s here showing off his softer side?”

“Tweedledum and Tweedledee are probably holding down the fort,” Duncan speculated.

In the context of Total Drama Island, that description could only refer to two people. “Katie and Sadie?” Heather asked dubiously, “What’s their connection?”

For all his by-the-book style, “Chef Hatchet” (as he was still popularly known, and probably would be until his dying day) had made one significant innovation. In Season 6, his first as host, he began bringing in contestants from prior seasons to be assistants or, less commonly, guest hosts. He did this three or four times per season, typically twice during the team phase and once or twice after the teams merged. He normally brought in TDI alumni in pairs during the team phase, or singly after a merger.

Tyler and Jerry, the Season 2 jock, had comprised the very first pair, serving as team coaches for an athletically oriented challenge. Her memory jogged, Heather now remembered that she had also been invited for a Season 6 appearance, but had declined. At that time, she was already growing disenchanted with low-grade celebrity (higher-profile fame having eluded her), and the pay was poor—little more than reimbursement of expenses.

Katie and Sadie had appeared together (naturally) as assistants in Season 8, and had been a sleeper hit. While maturity had tempered their bubbly personalities and their desire to be exactly like each other, and they no longer required constant proximity to each other, they remained children at heart. Their resulting tendency to treat the contestants as equals had endeared them to the teens, and the genuinely warm interactions that resulted had endeared them to the viewers. In Season 9, they became the first TDI alumni to make a second guest appearance. In Season 10, they appeared yet again, this time as guest hosts.

For Season 11, the season currently in production, the producers had hired Katie and Sadie as permanent additions to the show’s staff. Accordingly, when reports surfaced that Hatchet was considering leaving the show after the current season, the companion rumor inevitably arose that Katie and Sadie were being groomed to succeed him if he did, indeed, decide to move on. If there was any truth at all to those rumors, then having the “twins” run things whilst Hatchet attended to the ceremony at Wawanakwa would be a logical move.


In addition to Katie and Sadie, three other “campers” from that first TDI competition had made more than token appearances on the reality show circuit in recent years. Lindsay and Tyler had become, in effect, professional reality show participants. They had even appeared together on two shows, one while they were still dating and another after they divorced. Lindsay, as ditzy as ever, had also made a TDI alumni appearance, alongside Justin in Season 7.

Lindsay and Tyler had tentatively begun to discuss marriage when an unexpected pregnancy forced the issue. Their marriage collapsed, though, irretrievably stricken, after their 7-week-old son died from SIDS—a tragedy the celebrity gossip media covered relentlessly and with much embellishment, with at least one tabloid writer going so far as to hint at parental foul play.

Heather had reached out to Lindsay during that difficult time, sending a note of condolence; but Lindsay did not respond, so Heather could only assume that old resentments still lingered. Duncan now confirmed that Lindsay had responded to condolences from Courtney, among others, which seemed to confirm Heather’s supposition.

Lindsay’s rebuff had left Heather questioning, for the first time, the wisdom of her TDI strategy. Although the contestants weren’t on the show to make friends, as Heather had once infamously noted, the incident left Heather wondering whether it had really been necessary to make as many enemies as she did.

After the divorce, Lindsay had tried her hand at acting, and had lived in Los Angeles for a time whilst pursuing that dream. Her excessive difficulty in remembering lines limited her to bit or nonspeaking parts, though, so she eventually gave it up and returned to the reality show circuit, where remembering lines was not an issue.


Owen, the last former camper with a substantial reality show presence, had continued to pork his way through life until he was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 21. The diagnosis later turned out to be erroneous, but Owen had been “scared straight”. He returned to reality TV as a contestant on The Biggest Loser, placing third. There was no word on how successful he had been at keeping the weight off.

Izzy had dropped completely out of sight. She had reportedly been killed in the sinking of a ferryboat, but her body was never recovered. None of the survivors could remember anyone matching her description, and neither Courtney nor Duncan believed that she was really dead. “We’re not getting rid of her that easily,” Duncan had written at the time.

Apart from Eva, only Noah was known to be making his home outside of Canada. He was currently living in New York, working for a Wall Street investment house as an analyst. Although he was apparently in the States to stay, he reportedly had no plans to seek U.S. citizenship. Noah had made a TDI alumnus appearance in Season 6, filling the spot that the producers had originally offered to Heather. According to reports, he did not find the experience rewarding.

Initially united by their feelings for Gwen, Trent and Cody had become very close. Cody, now a hotshot software developer, was making marriage plans with his longtime girlfriend, and had asked Trent to be his best man. One of the best man’s traditional duties was to plan the bachelor party, and Trent was planning a soiree that would stand in his friend’s memory for a long time.

Heather had run into Harold during an interview trip to Calgary a few years before, and until today he had remained the only TDI contestant with whom she’d had any substantial contact since shortly after the competition ended.

During the competition, Heather had found Harold boring at best and annoying at worst, not to mention completely beneath her station, so she had generally avoided contact with him. In the finals, though, he had been her lone supporter, if only because he couldn’t bring himself to support Duncan’s girlfriend.

At the time, Heather had merely accepted Harold’s support as her due, and hadn’t even acknowledged him afterward. That day in Calgary, however, the more mature Heather decided that the time was right to make amends, so she and Harold had a long and mostly pleasant chat. (He was still inclined to ramble, but Heather had been able to steer him away from the more boring topics before her eyes glazed over.) Afterward, they had corresponded for a time, but their pen pal relationship died within a year—Harold and Heather were both lackadaisical correspondents by nature, and they had few common interests. Heather still had an e-mail address for Harold, but she had no idea whether it was current.

Harold had always been proud of his wide variety of “mad skills”, and had found a way to wear many hats at once: he had gone into business for himself, selling martial arts equipment and teaching novice-level classes in several martial arts disciplines.

Harold and LeShawna, at that time, were still keeping in touch. They regarded each other as good friends, but their brief romantic flare had never amounted to anything. LeShawna, employed by a Toronto nonprofit, was working with underprivileged children and was then expecting her first child. Duncan was able to add, by way of Courtney, that LeShawna’s marriage had not endured, so she was raising her 4-year-old son alone—a task much aided by supportive relatives, including those of her deadbeat ex-husband, who had abandoned her and their son without the formality of a legal separation. Duncan had no additional information on Harold.

Two years after the competition, Beth happened to run into Ezekiel as she was passing through to begin her college career. That chance meeting kindled something that hadn’t been present before, and they married two years later. They already had three children, including a set of twins, with a fourth on the way and plans for more. Ezekiel had become a mechanic, and was making an enviable living servicing farm equipment, so he was supporting his growing brood easily enough. They were not planning to home school their kids, mainly because Beth didn’t think she was suited to it.

Courtney had visited them a year ago, and had found them delightful company. “Zeke never was such a bad guy,” she had written to Duncan afterward, “just ignorant about some things. He always seemed to mean well.”


All this talk of marriages and families brought Duncan’s attention back to Heather’s family way. She appeared to be several months along, so he asked when she was due.

“In about five weeks,” she told him, adding that she would be having a girl.

“Have a name yet?” Duncan inquired, mainly because he thought the question was expected of him.

“Believe me, you wouldn’t believe me,” Heather demurred with a shake of her head.

Duncan couldn’t let an assumption like that slide, and his curiosity was now genuine. “Try me,” he challenged.

“Gwen,” Heather replied softly. Anticipating Duncan’s reaction, she looked him in the eye and repeated, “We’re going to call her ‘Gwen’.”

.

Chapter 5: Legacy

Heather was right. Duncan didn’t believe her. “Gwen” was common enough a name, but in the current context—especially in light of Heather’s disclaimer—the implication was unmistakable.

Duncan took a moment to digest this remarkable news. He still couldn’t wrap his head around it, nor could he see any sign that Heather was joking, so he took refuge in sarcasm.

“And I suppose ‘LeShawna’ will be her middle name?” he suggested, alluding to the only girl on the show whom Heather had sparred with more than with the late Goth.

Heather knew how she sounded, but for the sake of form she made a show of taking the bait. “Don’t make me come over there,” she warned, as if addressing a disobedient child. It was clearly a mock threat, given that Duncan was sitting right next to her.

“Seriously, though,” Duncan allowed, “you’re right. I do find it hard to believe. What’s the deal?”

“It started as a joke of my husband’s,” Heather began. “He knew that I had won a reality show competition when I was in high school, but I had never discussed it in much detail, and I’m sure I never mentioned any of the other contestants by name. Apparently, he decided to find out those details for himself.

“When we found out that I was carrying a girl, Jim and I drew up lists of names we liked. Then, we took turns reading names from our lists to get each other’s reactions.

“Every name on his list was the name of a girl I met on the show. They were mostly common names, and I hadn’t really thought about the show in years, so I didn’t suspect anything.

“He was saving ‘LeShawna’ for the last, counting on that to be punch line of his little joke if I didn’t catch on sooner, but he never got that far. When he came to ‘Gwen’, it felt right somehow, so I stopped him there.

“He told me what he had done, and admitted that he was surprised when I accepted ‘Gwen’ so quickly. Of course, that was nothing compared to my surprise, when I heard what I had done. But it still felt right, so we stuck with it.”

Heather snorted in amusement. This was not the first time she had contemplated the seeming absurdity of her choice.

“How’s that for irony?” she asked rhetorically. “When we were living here at the camp, I couldn’t stand Gwen. Now, here I am, planning to name my firstborn after her.”

“People change,” Duncan offered simply. “Kids grow up. Ten years is a long time.”

“A long time,” Heather repeated vacantly, as she fell to contemplating the flowers that Trent had presumably left. Duncan, guessing where Heather’s gaze was directed, kept his counsel until she was ready to resume their conversation.

After a few moments, Heather’s mind returned from wherever it had been, and Duncan made a proposal. “If you’re not busy,” he suggested, “why don’t you stay for the ceremony? You can tell ‘Gwen 2’ about it someday.”

“Yeah, that would make a good story,” Heather agreed after a moment of reflection. “When is it?” she asked with a calculating air.

“I’m not sure,” Duncan confessed. “The exact time wasn’t publicized. I don’t think it’s open to the public, but with our connection to the show, especially since we knew Gwen, they probably wouldn’t run us off. They might even work us in somehow,” Duncan theorized.

Heather gave the idea some serious thought. Jim was away on a business trip, so he would not worry if she returned home hours later than she had planned. (Heather had her cell phone with her, but coverage in this area was spotty.) The prospect of a fashion plate such as herself possibly appearing on camera in an oversized flannel shirt did give her pause, but she had no idea whether she would have time to go to her cabin and change into something more stylish. In the end, she decided not to chance the trip.

The sun was now well past its zenith, so conversation soon turned to the subject of lunch. Unlike Heather, Duncan was not at the campsite by accident, so he was amply provisioned. He didn’t really have enough for two, if their wait turned out to be a long one, but he chivalrously offered to share. In any case, there was a burger joint just a few clicks up the road, if they needed anything more than what they had on hand.

Heather accepted Duncan’s offer with thanks, but assured him that she could pull her own weight in the comestibles department. The groceries in her car offered several options for supplementing the contents of Duncan’s cooler, and after briefly discussing their inventories the old campmates reached an agreement.

Heather would be on her own for a beverage, because all Duncan had was beer; and for “Gwen’s” sake, Heather was unwilling to drink anything alcoholic. As Duncan went to retrieve his cooler, Heather went to her car, returning to the lodge with a bag of carrots and two cans of pineapple slices. The pineapple was packed in juice, which would serve for a beverage. The cans themselves, which required no tools to open, would be good makeshift water cups, if needed.

The afternoon was partly cloudy and pleasantly mild, so the former reality show stars decided to take their repast on the lodge’s porch. As they ate, they continued to converse on whatever topics struck their fancy.

At one point, Heather was momentarily distracted when “Gwen” kicked within her. Her daughter-to-be had seemed remarkably active of late.

“Something tells me she’s going to be an ornery one,” Heather speculated, reflectively placing a hand on her swollen belly.

“Just like her namesake,” Duncan suggested approvingly, adding, “It’s a nice legacy, from the one place Gwen would have least expected.”

“That makes two of us,” Heather seconded with feeling. “But, like you said, kids grow up. Most of them, anyway,” she added in a more wistful tone. Duncan had no response that seemed appropriate, so he merely grunted an acknowledgement and changed the subject.

So it was that the onetime rivals enjoyed their luncheon at leisure, chatting pleasantly the while, waiting for Hatchet to arrive.


FINIS
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