20. Sighting

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The morning after our grisly find, we huddled around our usual fire, which sent its trail of smoke into the heavens for everyone and the gods to see. But they all ignored us, like they always did.

Bruna and Farid had volunteered to move Yves' body inland and away from the campsite and to cover it with stones to prevent the birds from picking at his flesh.

Thinking of him buried sent a prickle of dread down my spine. The birds might not get him, but something else would. I had seen a few rats or large mice, and there would also be worms and maggots to stuff themselves with the human fare.

I had tried to comfort Nita, but my sentences had stumbled, and I had ended up sitting silently beside the unmoving woman. She hadn't uttered a single syllable since we had found him. Now she gazed towards the horizon, her hands clutching her opposite elbows.

My stomach rumbled. Some of the water I had drunk to alleviate the everlasting thirst must have been bad. The thought of food both mesmerized and revolted me. My intestines were a battleground of hunger and nausea.

We had eaten most of the ripe fruits in our ravine by now. We needed to go hunting or foraging elsewhere again, or we would starve.

Would we, at some point, eat all the birds and all the fruit of this place? And then, maybe, each other?

If we survived that long.

"We should try to light one on the other side," Bruna said into the brooding silence.

"What?" Chris' word carried a hint of irritation.

"We should light a fire on the west coast. Maybe someone will see us from that side."

"There's nothing that way either." Chris shrugged. "I'd rather spend my energy hunting."

She had a point, though. It would be better than sitting here, watching the sun as it plowed its slow path through the sky. And I'd rather leave the hunting to Chris.

"I agree," I said. "Let's try that." Then a thought came to me. "Or maybe we should carry the wood to the top of one of the hills and light the fire there. It'll be even easier to spot it then."

"Good idea," Bruna said. "Let's do it, the two of us, tomorrow." Then she gazed at Chris. "The men can go hunting while we're doing it."

"I'll come with you," Farid said. "You'll need a lot of wood, and I'll help you carry it to the top."

"Don't you think we can do it by ourselves?" Bruna tilted her head at him. "You think it needs a man to do it? Think again." She grinned at me then turned back to Farid. "And if we light the fire on the south hill, we won't have to carry much wood anyway. There are shrubs up there, so there will be something we can burn."

"She's right," Chris said. "And I can do with your help, Farid. It'll be easier to catch these birds if there's two of us. One of us can attract their attention while the other one sneaks up from behind and bashes their head." He swatted the fire with a stick, sending up a flurry of ashes. "So the girls light the fire while the guys do the hunting."

Bruna showed him her finger but said nothing.

Farid shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea." He lowered his voice and gestured at Nita. "We can't leave her alone."

"The south hill is not far from here," Chris said. "They can take her along, at least part of the way."

Nita was still barefoot. I had considered suggesting her to take Yves' shoes, but then I decided against it, afraid that it would make her freak out.

"Yes, we'll take Nita along," Bruna said, "at least until we're in shouting distance of the top. Megan and I will carry the wood all the way up, and then one of us stays there to light the fire and gather some more wood. The other one returns to Nita. If something comes up, we can shout."

Farid gazed at me, the muscle in his cheek twitching. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but Nita interrupted him.

"Hey," she said. She had got up and pointed towards the sea, her hand trembling.

I tried to focus on the water and to see what she was gesturing at. Out there, something glinted in the sun. The glint didn't resolve into a shape, though.

"What is it?" I asked and got up, like the rest of us.

"It looks like a ship," Farid said.

"Hey!" Nita waved her arms.

"They won't hear us," Chris said. "They're miles out. Let's stoke the fire. Add green stuff. We need smoke."

We all ran to collect twigs and leaves to feed to the flames.

Minutes later, we had the fire roaring, and green leaves hissed in the heat, sending up a billowing, gray cloud. The wind carried it inland, away from the water. The smoke grazed the bushes and ran up the ravine to disappear in the depression between the island's two hills.

My heart hammered in my chest as I watched the little spot in the sea. Its wake drew a glittering V pointing away from us.

"I don't think they see us," I said.

And if they saw us, they might think we were nothing but campers.

The spot in the waves had grown smaller.

"They're moving away from us," Chris said. "Quick, we need a bigger fire."

We collected more firewood and tossed it into the fire. The smoke grew stronger, but the ship didn't change course, still heading away from us.

Nita sat at the plateau's edge now, her back towards us. Her shoulders were shaking.

While the others were still working on the fire, I went to join her.

"Hey," I said as I sat down at her side. "That's a good sign, don't you think? It shows that there are boats passing through here. Sooner or later, one will see us. They'll find us."

Hope dies last, they say.

She shook her head. Her cheeks glistened in the sunlight.

"No," she said. "They won't. Not before this damn island kills us all. Like it killed Yves."

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