22. Bizzare Folly

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Farid's face formed little more than an outline under the inadequate touch of the moonlight. I searched for an unlikely smile—one that would show that he was joking. But the trace of his lips held no humor.

I saw, though, that his hands were clenched into fists.

This stopped me from laughing.

He looked serious. Yet his tale defied all reason.

Where to begin? Knowing more would help.

"How do you know about this?" I asked. "About her... virus."

He turned to face me. "I know this because I've known her for almost a hundred years. I have it, too, the disease."

"You don't look your age, then." The Joke felt flat to me.

He huffed. "It's the virus, it makes us stronger, and it also makes us live longer. You remember the scars on my back?"

I nodded, curious to learn what he would say about them.

"I was fighting in the Berber revolt, in Morocco, in 1910. I was a tailor, hardly twenty back then, and had joined the fighters. The French and Spanish had killed my father, and I hated them for that."

"1910?"

That was history, at best. It had nothing to do with the here and now. Hallucinations or lies, that's all he gave me.

"Yes, 1910. Please hear me out." He held up a hand as if to ward off my doubts. "As I said, I was fighting the invaders. But then they caught me and some others. And they decided to make an example of us... a public flogging. After that, they left me to die." He looked away from me, down at the ground. "I was lying in a ditch in the dark of the night, waiting for the pain to end. That was when he found me."

"He?"

"An old man. He had the disease—had had it for several centuries. We're not... immortal, you know, even though we live longer. He was weak and frail with age, and he was looking for easy prey to sate his hunger. So he fed on me. That's how the virus got into my system. And this virus... it kills most people in the first days after the infection. Quick and clean. Only a few survive, but those who do, they grow stronger, and they grow faster. They gain powers to heal themselves and to live for hundreds of years.

"And they're growing sharp, pointed teeth and suck blood?" My irritation reverberated in my voice. His bizarre tale earned nothing but my mocking. "And they shy away from light?"

"No pointed teeth, no photophobia. And no glittering skin, nor coercive powers." His words were calm, not responsive to the mocking in my question. "But the virus drives us to crave blood... human blood. We need that... or plasma... every few days, or once in a few months. It varies. And drinking makes us even stronger, but most of all it sates an insatiable, elemental lust we have. The disease spreads through saliva and blood, that's probably what makes us want blood. If we don't kill our victims with blood loss or violence, they're infected. If they survive the fever, which is rare, the virus has found a new host to spread through."

"Okay..."

"And sometimes it spreads through spittle alone."

What a bullshit. Still, I inched away from him. "So you and Bruna, you first sucked the body we found on the beach, then you killed Pamela for your next meal, and finally it was Yves' turn."

"I did feed on the body we found first. But Pamela and Yves... I wasn't involved in that."

"But..." I hesitated, trying to wrap my mind around what angered me. "But you knew how dangerous Bruna is, and you didn't warn us? You didn't try to save Pamela and Yves?"

"She said she had it under control. After we fed on that body and threw him into the sea, she said she'd be able to do with regular food for weeks."

"But two days later... she killed Pamela." This was preposterous.

"Right," he said. "And I didn't trust her after that. So I kept an eye on her. The night she killed Yves, I stayed awake, watching her until morning. The sun was already rising when she got up. I didn't realize that she was following Yves."

"So Yves was just unlucky." I shook my head. This would be ridiculous if it weren't so grim. But I didn't buy it. "If this disease has been around for centuries, wouldn't modern science know about it? When people are found dead, with strange wounds, they're usually investigated, no?"

"As I said, the virus is rare. It's unique and hard to detect. However, there are scientists who know about it. But there's an organization of—" He stopped mid-sentence.

There were footfalls behind us. I turned and saw an indistinct figure approaching from the camp.

I instinctively moved closer to Farid. But then, he was a madman, or a vampire, or something else. I took another step, this one away from him.

"Good evening." It was Chris. "Can't sleep either?" He stopped as he reached us. "I just woke up from a nightmare, and now I don't feel much like sleeping."

Chris, a man of reason—if Farid's tale were true, he'd be my only useful ally.

"A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow," Farid said.

A vamp quoting Charlotte Brontë? The odd thought made me giggle. This was crazy, or he was, or I.

"You're okay?" Chris asked.

Should I tell him we were marooned with two bloodthirsty creatures? Or with a delusional madman?

"Sure," I shrugged, deciding against dishing out the details. Even if I didn't believe Farid, I had given him my word not to talk about it. "I've just had the sort of day that would make St. Francis of Assisi kick babies." I wondered if Farid knew that one—if he had told the truth, it would be very modern for him. I scrutinized the shadow hiding his face. He was eying Chris.

"Douglas Adams," he said, without looking at me. "And I've had the kind of bad day no quote can fix." Then he smiled at me.

"You win," I said. "Who said that?"

Did I really have this conversation with him?

"Richelle Goodrich."

"Never heard of her."

"Er..." Chris said, "whatever you're doing here, you seem to be enjoying yourselves."

I shook my head. "Not really. But this..." I gestured at Farid and the island. "It's so bizarre. And since I can't run away, I can either cry or laugh."

"What are the others doing?" Farid asked. "Nita and Bruna?"

"I think they're asleep," Chris replied.

"We shouldn't leave them alone." Farid turned and headed towards the camp.


~~~


Later, with the hard ground underneath me and a noisy pillow of leaves cradling my head, my mind struggled with reality and fiction. First a plane crash, then people disappearing and dying, then vampires—or something like vampires. Ridiculous.

Nothing but a bad dream, a nightmare—substantial and tangible in the dark of the night. Yet the sun of the day would make it wither and put it into perspective, showing it as the bizarre folly it was.

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