21. Can't Sleep

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The ship had left without a trace. It and the hopes it carried on its decks were swallowed by the endless ocean and the onset of dusk.

The night had come with an emaciated, hungry sickle of a moon.

Once more, I sat at the edge of the plateau, hoping for the ship to return. It would be easier to see now—its lights would be a beacon on the nearly black waters.

After the ship had left, we had gathered some fruits, small and unripe ones, Nita, Chris, and I. Farid and Bruna had left us, arguing in that harsh tongue they used between them. When they had joined us later, they had shared in the broody silence that had blanketed the camp.

There had been no need to utter our thoughts—they were shared unspoken. The poor diet and the incidents had crushed our spirits, and the ship ignoring us had trampled their sad remains into the dust.

Now, the others were all asleep. Everyone but me, and I gazed out into the Pacific night, nursing the knot of poor fare and dark fears that formed my stomach.

The body had disappeared, and so had Pamela. Yves had disappeared, too, and later we found him, with bite wounds, in the sea. It seemed likely that the same thing had happened to the others.

I took a deep breath and gazed out at the sea. What lurked beneath its smooth surface?

A rustling noise behind me almost made me jump.

Hissing, I turned.

Farid had approached, in his silent way. "You can't sleep, either?" he asked as he settled down.

"Don't sneak on me like that." Adrenaline was still coursing my veins.

"Sorry, I didn't want to scare you."

After this statement, we sat in silence, joined in insomnia. An insect started a miniature chainsaw song somewhere behind us, filling the night with an irate buzz. A small cloud moved across the sickly moon, dimming the little light around us into a mere memory of luminescence.

The insect chainsaw stopped. Probably, something had eaten it.

The air suddenly felt colder.

"You're still planning to go and light that fire with Bruna, tomorrow?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, "now more than ever. There are ships out there, and we need to catch their attention."

"Don't. I mean..." He hesitated. "This place is dangerous. I'd rather not have you two women go alone. Let's stick together. We first can go hunting as a single group, and after that, we can light the fire without splitting up."

"You see," I began, "I don't think there's anything dangerous on the island. We pulled Yves from the water. Pamela has disappeared, and she must be somewhere in the water, too. And the same goes for that body. So, I think, there must be some predator in the sea. Seals, sea lions, sharks... I don't know. This is a barren island. There's nothing on it that could be dangerous for us as long as we stay away from the water. So, going to light the fire on that hill will be safe."

And the ship today had given me a new urge to do something. I wanted to build the mightiest fire this island had ever seen since its volcano had spit its last lava.

"And if we all go as a group," I added, "we couldn't take Nita along. And even if there's some menace here, Bruna and I would be together. If someone should be afraid, it's you going hunting with Chris the creep."

He gave a small burst of breath. I looked at him but couldn't see the details of his face, just a twinkle in his eyes.

"He's an arrogant prick, but I can handle him," he said. "It's Bruna you should be afraid of."

"Bruna? Why?"

"She's... not stable."

"Not stable? What do you mean by that?"

"She has... an illness. In the head." He tapped his temple. "She tends to freak out."

"Oh, I can handle her. I'm more than a head taller than she."

"No, you can't handle her."

"I'm a kickboxer." I didn't lie. I had taken kickboxing classes for five years, as a young adult.

"You still can't handle her."

His mysterious repetitions got on my nerves. "What makes you so sure I can't handle her?"

"She's by far the fastest and strongest woman this island has ever seen."

I snorted. "How do you know?"

"I just know." The words came out quickly, with a hiss of irritation. "Look, Megan, you're a smart and kind woman. And I think you know I don't say things lightly. Believe me, and don't ask questions I can't answer. Just don't go gathering firewood with her. Don't do anything with her when I'm not around."

His words rubbed me the wrong way. First, it had been Chris bossing us around, and now it was Farid. And Farid was worse, wielding his armor of hurt and mystery, using it to fend off all opposition.

Having his back scarred didn't put him beyond doubt.

I got up in a quick motion and took two steps away from him. He moved more slowly as he joined me.

"Look," I said. "If you want me to follow your orders, you have to convince me. You have to give me facts and arguments. You seem to believe that everyone should obey you just because you say so, Just like Chris." I pointed a thumb uphill towards our camp. "But you know what? I don't. So you either give me the full tale, or I'll go gathering firewood with that crazy supergirl Bruna as much as I want."

"Please, Megan..." he began and hesitated. "You remember way back in the plane when I read Titus Alone to you and you cited the end of the paragraph?"

I nodded, not knowing if he would see me. What was he going for?

"I feel that... you and I are, in some way, kindred spirits. We share a bond that others lack, a level of communion that forbids lies. So when I tell you to believe me... you should."

The cloud moved away from the moon, and the ground around us regained some of its topography and structure. A bushel of grass glowed faintly before me.

I kicked it.

"Don't wax poetic on me," I said. "And don't give me a quote, please. Spill the beans or shut up. If there's any bond between us, it should tell you that I need facts."

He didn't reply.

And there was hurt in his silence.

"And our bond should tell you that you can trust me," I added, more softly. "Whatever you have to say, I'll keep it close to my heart. I won't tell anyone."

The insect chainsaw resumed its whining—or maybe it came from another one this time.

"Megan," he said, "Bruna had a very rare viral disease, and she still has it. It's a disease that affects your whole metabolism. It changes you." He paused.

"Go on." I raised the pitch with the second word, trying to give it a sarcastic twitch, wondering if he would ever get to the core of the matter and if he was telling me a fairytale.

"The way the disease changes you is unique. If you survive its onset, it makes you stronger and faster than any normal human being. It makes you heal better, too. Do you remember how quickly Bruna recovered from her burns? But it also changes your brain. It gives you anger, a craving for violence, and... a lust for blood."

"Really?" I tried to come to terms with what I just had heard. Individually, his words all made sense, but together they formed something bizarre and preposterous. "This sounds as if she's something like a vampire." I snorted.

"She is."

"What?"

"Bruna is a vampire."

Damn. I was marooned here with a bunch of freaks and lunatics.


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