35. Headaches

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The aching in my head was a vise crushing my skull. The light of the morning was a dagger piercing my brain, and the fever in my body a furnace scorching me.

I tried to stand, but I ended up on my knees.

My hands hurt as if aflame, as if bathed in the fire of the soldiers' flamethrower. I raised them to my eyes and blinked away the tears.

The cuts I had suffered yesterday were surrounded by fat, reddish welts, the flesh swollen, turning my hands into the grotesque paws of a disfigured demon.

My stomach contracted, and I heaved. But I was all empty inside.

Coughing and whimpering, I fell to my side.

I was sick. And I knew what it was.

My hands had been soaked with Bruna's blood. The virus she carried within her had had ample opportunity to enter my system through my wounds or when I wiped my face and to spread its disease within me, seeking a new host as the old one was dying.

It was a virus that killed most people.

Almost everyone but an unlucky few.


~~~


And I was one of the unlucky few.

It took me days to recover, endless hours of cramps and pain, spent shivering, vomiting, and coughing. The nights dragged on endlessly, and the hot days made me boil in my fever.

A storm came, pelted hail at me, and left—leaving me shivering in my misery, curled up on the ground. Yearning for death.

Yet death didn't come. Heat came with the returning sun. The world steamed, dried, and became a kiln.

I was parched and dragged myself to the muddy water of the sad puddle we had called Chris Pond. Drinking from it made me even sicker.

The retching tore my bowels. I spit bile and blood. But the pain in my guts was nothing like my headaches. They made me shun the daylight and painted false-color images on my retina at night. They brought mirages of soldiers and men in yellow overalls, row upon row of them, trampling the island in perfect formation.

Then, one morning, the shivers abated, and I could think again.

I was starved but light-headed.

Walking was difficult, but I could move again. I ate all the fruits around the campsite. Then I prowled the island for more. I found some near the south coast and stuffed myself with their bittersweet fiber.

And still, I was hungry.

Remembering Chris' hunting skills, I tried to catch birds.

My famished body was slow to cooperate, unwilling to run and pounce. And the birds were too fast.

The idea to bait them came to me as I saw two of the gray ones bickering over the tough rinds of a fruit I had discarded. When I approached them, they fled.

I armed myself with a stick, sat down beside the remnants of pandan, and waited for hours.

Finally, one of the animals returned. It alighted on the rock I sat on, a couple of yards away from me, and studied me through beady, alien eyes.

It had the size of a raven.

I sat unmoving, forcing myself to breathe slowly.

It hopped closer, tilted its head, and stared at the pieces of fruit between my stretched out legs.

I clamped my fingers around the stick in my hand, readying myself for the strike.

It turned its feathered tail on me and hopped away, stopped, and squawked.

Slowly, it turned back, tilting its head once more. In three quick hops, it covered the ground to the fruit and pecked at it.

I wielded the stick and struck the animal. When it fluttered, I hit once more. Then it lay still.

I prodded the body. It didn't move.

Holding my breath, I touched it. It was warm, but when I took it up, its limp body didn't resist. Its life had fled it.

Last time, Bruna had used a sharp-edged stone to cut it apart.

The animal's body felt soft in my hands, tender. I took hold of both its legs and pulled them apart, tugged, grunted, and one of them came off.

Sitting on a rock, I dropped the body and eyed the leg. The torn ligaments and skin that had connected it to its body were slick with blood.

The idea of eating the raw flesh made me gag. But I didn't have a lighter to light a fire for preparing the meat.

I brought the leg to my mouth and licked the bloody bone protruding from its end.

The taste was rich with metals and sweet at the same time. The glands under my skin contracted in almost painful, eager welcome of sustenance, gushing saliva into my mouth.

I couldn't stop myself. My hands shook as I pulled the skin back and bit into muscles and ligaments. The texture was tough, yet it yielded under my bite, and the taste made me take a sudden breath.

A breath of rapture.

I sat and tore into the leg and then into the rest of the body.

I didn't stop until there was nothing but feathers and bones lying on the ground before me, and some of the bitter parts I had found inside.

As I stared at the sad remains of my victim and at my bloodied hands, I realized that my breathing was like a steam train's—quick, urgent, and potent.

My legs bounced with energy. I got up and eyed the slope towards the south hill. There were other birds here, some of them circling under a blue sky. Others perched in the shrubs. They beckoned.

I would taste their fresh, sweet flesh.


She all but lost herself for the moment in a deadly orgy of anticipation.

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