15. One Smile Begets More

656 73 336

Yes, Chris was a pain in the neck. But him not being there was worse than him being there.

The body disappearing, and Pamela vanishing—my mind could explain them away as unrelated coincidences. But Chris? That would be the third such coincidence in a row.

Fat chance.

I was torn between staging another search and waiting here. But the shock of yesterday's memories was still fresh, and when Yves suggested giving Chris a few hours to return, I agreed.

He hadn't been eager to look for Pamela yesterday—so why should we run all over the place if he went missing now? He was a man, and he probably needed some cave-time to be by himself. He'd come back.

Did I really believe that?

Yves suggested to light our usual fire on the beach, either to attract Chris' attention or to alert someone else of our presence.

This was the 21st century after all, and there was no such thing as a sizable island that was never visited, at least by scientists, fishers, or tourists.

And building and tending that fire would give us something to do.

So, we all went down to the beach, built a pyre, and lit it. The wind carried its smoke along a slanted path into a sky dotted with white, fast-moving clouds.

Afterward, we hung around the fire, in the shade of the bushes. Yves and Nita were whispering to each other while she kept on to his arm.

Like honeymooners—did they forget where we were and what had happened here?

Bruna and Farid said little, sitting side by side. He chewed on a piece of pandan. She had her eyes on the horizon, unmoving. Scabs on his forehead were the only traces of yesterday's adventure. The wound must have been smaller than I remembered.

I'd had some of the fruit for breakfast and water from puddles upriver that still looked reasonably clean. But my stomach asked for more. I wondered if there were fish in the sea—fish I could catch.

It was worth a try.

I got up and walked to the shore.

Where I stood, the sea's waves hit the rocks hard, breaking into a myriad of white droplets, and the ground fell away quickly. I wouldn't know a carp from a trout, but this didn't look like good fishing grounds, especially without a fishing rod. Yet towards the north, in the next bay, I had seen a small lagoon where the surf broke on rocks that were a stone's throw out. Between them and the land, the water formed an almost tranquil pool. I headed towards it.

Water, clear as crystal, displayed the stones at the bottom in colorful detail. The dark-green tendrils of underwater plants swayed gently in the current.

The fire and my people were hidden behind a rocky ridge now.

Was it wise to be here all by myself? Hadn't Farid advised me not to walk the place alone?

I looked back. I wasn't far from the others. If I'd scream, they'd hear me. And the coastline looked clear and harmless.

I took off my shoes and rolled up my trousers, and then I stepped in.

The water was warm and silky against my skin, but the rough, uneven ground hurt my feet. It wasn't the kind of sandy beachside I knew from holidays long past.

Spreading my arms to keep my balance, careful not to tread on something sharp, I continued.

There were fish. Tiny, brown creatures, the size of my pinky, flitting back and forth like gnats.

I walked in deeper until the water reached my knees and wetted the fabric of my jeans.

The fish were larger here—the length of my hand. They had slim, brown bodies with a faint bluish line along their backs. They didn't look like a feast but at least large enough to be catchworthy.

I stood still and watched, willing them to come nearer.

One of them did. It approached my calves, warily, curiously, as if contemplating a nibble but afraid that the strange fare might be dangerous.

Well, I was. I was contemplating a nibble, too.

Slowly, I bent forward and placed a hand above the fish, still outside the water. My fingers formed a claw ready to grasp.

I lowered it, touched the water, and let it sink in. The fish had its snout now close to my skin, its gills inflating and deflating quickly in anticipation of its first bite.

My fingers had reached the level of the animal, and I clamped them shut.

The fish flicked its tail, touching my thumb with a teasing caress, and shot away. I took a step in pursuit, and pain shot through my heel.

I lost my balance, fell, and crashed into the water. Using my hands, and scratching one of them on a rough stone, I pushed myself up again and coughed.

Someone gripped my shoulders. "You're okay?"

The unexpected voice nearly made me fall into the water again. I turned and looked into Farid's frowning face.

I nodded. He let go of me.

"You've been stalking me?" I was irritated, angered by my failure—and outraged by him watching me fail.

He raised his hands, palms towards me. "No... just passing by. Saw you falling in."

"I needed a bath."

"Sure." He didn't smile, but the wrinkles around his eyes seemed deeper.

"A bath would do you some good, too," I said. Bloody stains still marred his shirt.

He nodded. "True." With that he lunged himself into the water, cutting its surface in a smooth motion, and crawled away from me with slow, deliberate strokes. When he reached the deepest part of the lagoon, he stopped and turned to face me. "Now you."

He was too far away for myopic me to see if he his face finally carried a smile, and I wanted to know. So I jumped and frogged my way towards him. As I came closer, I scanned his stubbly, golden face for a smile, but there was none. His lips, however, were parted to reveal his white teeth.

The water caressed my skin, and I welcomed the thought of it cleansing the grime, sweat, and blood of the last days.

The droplets on his face glittered in the sun. His dark, warm eyes were studying me.

Still unsmiling.

"You don't like to smile, do you?" I said.

In response, he closed his eyes and lifted his arms, sending his head under. When he resurfaced, his mouth was pulled into a gentle smile. His eyes, though, didn't reflect it. Then the smile was gone again.

"Don't waste your smiles," he said, "lest you don't have one left on the day you die."

"Not sure if I agree with you," I said. "Smiles are one of the things you can't run out of. One smile begets more smiles. They spawn on each other. Whose words are these, anyway?" I suspected it was yet another famous quote he knew.

"Mine." With that, he dove again, and then he swam towards the land, crawling once more.

A strange guy. He carried his moroseness like a shield.

I followed, again in froggy style.

As I approached the shore, I saw him undressing. He started with his pants and hung them over a bush, then took off his shirt, and finally his shorts.

Then he sat on a rock.

Stark naked.

Slowing down, I considered veering off, landing elsewhere. I didn't think of myself as a prude person, but that guy wore literally nothing.

His gaze took in the horizon as if I wasn't there, as if I didn't matter.

His indifference riled me.

The Craving - MaroonedRead this story for FREE!