26. Dinghy

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They had shot Nita and Chris.

I stared at the two bodies floating in the lagoon, expecting them to move—willing them to move. Willing the world to undo the wrong it had made me witness. Willing this absurd farce to stop.

Two of the guys in overalls got out of the dinghy and waded through the water. They prodded the bodies with gloved, uncaring hands, then they pulled them to the shore and placed them there, side by side.

"Let's get away from here." Farid's words hardly registered with me.

One of the overall-guys stooped down and pulled something from a pouch at his belt, applying it to Nita.

First aid? Not likely.

He, or she, put the thing back into the pouch. Then he repeated the same steps with Chris.

"They're taking blood samples," Farid replied to my unspoken question.

Two other guys in yellow overalls had left the boat and waded through the water towards the shore. One of them carried a large, red canister, the other one had an oversized gun in his hand and a pack on his back. When they reached their companions, the first one poured a clear liquid over the bodies.


Three soldiers also left the dinghy, their guns at the ready. They stationed themselves on the shore, some ten yards away from Chris and Nita's fallen figures, facing away from the yellow suits and studying the island. One of them stared right at the ridge we hid behind. 

I held my breath, knowing I should duck and get away. But the proceedings around Chris and Nita kept me locked in place.

When the canister was empty, the people in the suits took a couple of steps back. The one with the backpack aimed his fat gun at our comrades.

A flame spurted from its end, bright, yellow, and fierce. It engulfed Chris and Nita.

"Come." Farid tugged at my arm, pulling me back.

My mind was numb—wrapped in and enmeshed with cotton wool.

A blackish, oily smoke rose from the bodies.

The overall-guys stood there and watched their victims burning as more and more fire poured over them. It was only Farid's grasp that kept me from lunging myself at them and their guardian soldiers, tearing them all apart for their atrocity.

The wind carried the smell of burning fuel and the stench of charred meat.

Farid's tugging grew stronger. My anger ebbed into desolation, and I moved back from the ridge. Once we were away from it, hidden from view, we ran. Or rather, he did most of the running, dragging me along.

Nita and Chris were dead. Killed while I watched.

Killed while I didn't do anything for them.

Killed for having been with vampires—the wrong vampires.

This was a nightmare. And just like any nightmare, it didn't make sense. Something didn't add up. The plot didn't feel real. I probed the cotton in my brain for a clear thought, frantically trying to find reason in cobwebs.

If I only could find the flaw in the logic of his tale, I could prove it was nothing but a dream. Then I could escape from it, wake up, and return to my mundane life of precious regularity and boredom.

Farid said something, but I didn't listen.

We had reached the foot of the valley running up to our campsite.

My heart drummed my ribs in protest against the running.

"Hey, are you listening?" Farid seized both my arms and shook me.

I nodded because that was what you did when asked that question.

"We have to hide somewhere," he said. "They'll be swarming this place soon."

Swarming. Yes, that's what soldiers did. Yet why should they be swarming our island? Why should they be here at all?

Killing and burning Chris and Nita.

I'd have expected some fishermen, scientists, or tourists to find us. Why did the frigging U.N. Peacemakers and WHO turn up here?

It was all so improbable.

"Why?" I asked.

"Why?" He shook his head. "Because they want to kill us. We need to hide."

"Why are they here? Of all places." I gestured south towards their ship. "It doesn't make sense." I had it. Here was the crack, the flaw in this plot of madness. A sequence of improbable events had brought us from that plane to this point, and the soldiers were the last one of them. This could not be real.

"You're right. You're right to ask. I'll explain. But first, we must find a place where they don't find us."

I needed time to think this through, and hiding sounded like a good idea. The oily smoke still rose from orange flames, from flames consuming our companions—not only on the beach but in my mind, too. The image and the memory of its stench made me gag, and I couldn't think while it was haunting me.

We needed a place out of sight—a place where I could forget and think.

Much of the island was barren. Most plants didn't provide enough shelter. In a few places, the shrubs were high enough to hide under. But would they protect us from high-tech snooping, from infrared cameras, and from whatever else they had?

We needed something more solid to hide under.

"The cave!" I said. "The one below the north peak, where we found shelter during the storm." In the cinema of my mind, the smelly, dark hole with its promise of claustrophobia competed for screen time with the oily flames.

He nodded. "Good idea. Let's go."

With that, he pushed me up into the valley of our campsite.

We both ran uphill, dodging branches and rocks. I kept turning my head, expecting to see a figure in a yellow overall behind us, studying us from a black faceplate in an oversized head.

When we reached the pass between the hills, I was panting. We'd have to head north from here, up an incline towards the summit and then down into the next valley, the one with the cave.

The view towards the ship was blocked by the south hill. To the east and west, the sea lay quiet and peaceful. The birds were clamoring again as if Chris and Nita were still alive.

"Let's go," I said, moving towards the northern slope.

"Wait." He laid a hand on my arm. "If we go up there, we'll be exposed. They'll see us from their ship."

"So what now?"

"Let's stay lower. Let's go around the other side of the hill. Then we can enter the valley from the north. That might keep us out of their sight."

That was a long way. It would take us at least half an hour—we should hide now.

A buzzing noise seeped into the birds' chant. It came from the direction we had come from.

There, in the blue sea beyond our campsite, something moved in the water. It was a dinghy heading north. I didn't know if it was the same one we had seen or another one. Its prow hit the waves again and again while the engine at its stern churned up the water.

"Let's move," Farid said.

We ducked and headed west, away from the pass. A few steps down, the bulk of the island was between them and us. The sound of the engine abated.

Our path took us along the hill's barren western flank. It was all just rocks and stones there, facing the ocean. We were in the open. Anything out there would be able to see us.

The going was easy, though, and we proceeded quickly. Again and again, I looked outwards, scanning the water for the ship or the dinghy to appear. But the only thing moving were waves, nothing watching us but fish.

The sun was hot on my sunburnt head, and fatigue was claiming my legs. But Farid pushed on, and I forced myself to follow him.

He suddenly stopped. "Dinghy," he hissed.

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