24. Civilization

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It took us only a couple of minutes to crest the south hill. I walked with Nita, matching my pace to hers.

A soft, refreshing breeze caressed the summit and brought some relief from the heat of the valley. My heart still thumped my chest from the climb, and I took a deep breath to calm it. The trail of a lonely airplane flying at high altitude grew across the immaculate expanse of the sky, slowly cutting it in two.

Bruna had already prepared a pyre from the twigs she had carried and gazed up at the sky, too.

"An airplane," she said. "Civilization. We see it. But we can't reach it. Down here, civilization is just some fucking idea... Irrelevant to us. Down here, it's a wilderness."

I placed my firewood beside hers.

Wilderness wasn't a topic that I wanted to discuss with that woman. I took a step back and looked at her.

Bloodsucking humans were a work of pulp fiction and teenage literature.

"Do you have the lighter?" I asked.

She reached into a pocket of her trousers and produced the lighter. Holding it before her face, she brought up a flame. "We should put this whole island to the torch." Her blue eyes were slightly crossed as she contemplated the flame struggling in the breeze.

"This might not be the wisest course of action," I replied.

"That's a pity. I like big fires." Her eyes uncrossed, and her gaze alighted on me. One corner of her mouth rose into the beginnings of a smile.

But then, that smile fled her face, and she focused on something to the left of my head. "Fuck."

The old trick: look at something behind your victim. Make it turn its head, then pounce it.

I kept my eyes on her. "What is it?"

"It's a fucking ship!" Extinguishing the lighter, she took some steps forward, passing me, ignoring me.

I finally followed her gaze, looking south and slitting my eyes for a better focus.

There, out in the blue of the Pacific, a ship headed towards the island. This time, the glittering V of its wake pointed straight towards us.

I rubbed my eyes, expecting the mirage to vanish and the sea to regain its unbroken, uncaring surface. But the image remained as unchanged, seemingly static, as if that ship belonged there.

"I'll light the fire," Bruna said. "You go get the others."

With an effort, I pulled my gaze from the sea. Bruna was bent over the wood while Nita moved her lips in silent discourse as she still stared at the ship.

Could I leave these two alone?

Even if Bruna were a vampire, she wouldn't hurt Nita now.

I ran.

Chris had said they'd go hunting at the west coast, and that's where I headed for.

A ship! And its prow pointed straight to our island.

Crossing a flat field of basaltic rock, I glanced back to the south hill and saw smoke rising. Bruna had lit the fire. I blessed her for it—vampire or not, it didn't matter now. She soon would be no problem of mine.

This nightmarish week was about to end.

I reached the end of the rock slab and stopped. The west coast lay before me, an almost straight line running north to south, clad in the island's usual hues of brown and green. Chris' white shirt and Farid's blue one should stand out like beacons.

But the men weren't in sight.

They probably would be hiding, stalking their prey.

I scanned the shrubs along the coast. There, to the north of me, in a small group of bushes, I saw something blue.

I ran towards it. When I got closer, I shouted. "Chris, Farid?"

In a flurry of wings and with an indignant squawk, a bird took flight from a tide pool.

Chris rose from the greenery and glared at me. "Dammit, woman. We're hunting here." He gestured at the animal making a beeline towards the north peak. Its squawks repeated with every beat of its wings, the noise fading as it gained distance from us.

Farid appeared from another stand of bushes.

"Forget your hunt, man," I said. "There's a ship coming in, from the south." I gestured at the hill where Bruna had lit a fire.

"Is Bruna up there?" Chris asked.

"Yes."

"Okay. Let's join her." He jogged off, uphill.

Farid gazed at me. "And where's Nita?"

"She's with Bruna."

He raised his eyebrows. "Let's go."

We followed Chris.

It took us mere minutes to join the others. Bruna, Nita, and Chris stood beside the fire.

The ship had come nearer. Its sheer bulk surprized me. A metal vessel, its deck crammed with towers, turrets, and other structures, everything painted in gray.

"It's military," said Chris. "Good. They'll be efficient and quick."

Yes, it had to be an military ship. Its cannons and the radar dishes spoke an unmistakable language.

As I watched it, the spray at its prow abated, and it came to a halt, maybe a few hundred yards from the south shore.

Finally. Civilization had found us. And even if it wore a face of steel and firearms, we were rescued. The nightmare would have an end.

Nita began to walk away from us, towards the ship, stumbling over roots and stones.

"Let's go," said Chris. He followed Nita and, in an unusual act of empathy, took hold of her arm as he passed her, helping her along. They descended the slope towards the beach.

I looked at Farid. He gazed at our rescuer, but his face didn't reflect the elation I felt.

"Come," I said, "let's go. We've been found. This nightmare is at its end. Let's forget about it and enjoy being rescued." I turned to follow Chris and Nita.

"Wait." Farid grabbed me and pulled me back behind a shrub.


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