It was dark by the time we got our act together. We had to jump into pitch blackness, unable to see the edges of the pool or even the white foam where the waterfall landed. Then we had to find our way through the forest, something I'd have found difficult without Jed to guide me.
My plan was to eat some food quickly and spend the rest of the evening swimming in the phosphorescence. I also wanted to tell my friends about the sleeping dope guard, which had slipped my mind in the excitement of the previous night. But when I got to the kitchen hut, I discovered that our banana-leaf food parcels were missing. All I found was a cold pile of boiled rice. Next, I hunted for the big cooking pot, assuming Unhygienix had just forgotten to lay the fish and veg out, but the pot was empty too. That was strange because usually the cooks kept some dregs for the next morning's breakfast. Pensively, I patted my empty stomach and looked around me. Then I noticed something else, even more strange. Apart from Jed, who was sitting a few metres away, the clearing seemed to be completely empty. I couldn't see any joint-butts glowing in the darkness, or torches inside tents.
I walked over to Jed. 'You notice anything weird?' I said.
He shrugged. 'Only that I can't see my food.'
'Well... exactly. There isn't any food. And there aren't any people either.'
'People?' Jed shone his Maglite around him.
'See what I mean?'
'...Yeah.' He stood up. 'That is weird...'
We gazed about us for a few seconds, following the yellow beam.
Then, from somewhere close by there was a loud moan, clearly the sound of someone in pain.
'Jesus!' Jed whispered, and switched off the light. 'Did you hear that?'
'Of course I did!'
'Who was it?'
'How should I know?'
We paused, listening carefully. Then we heard the moan again and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
'Christ, Jed! Put the torch back on! This is making me nervous!'
'...If you're nervous, why are you smiling?'
'...How did you know I was smiling?'
'I could hear it in your voice.'
'Just put the bloody light back on!'
'No,' he hissed. 'We don't know what's going on yet.'
We listened some more. I remembered my first morning on the beach, waking up after my fever to an empty clearing. I'd found it pretty freaky in broad daylight. There was something unsettling about an empty place that you knew should be full of people. In the blackness with the eerie moans it was ten times as bad.
'This is like a zombie film,' I muttered darkly, and giggled. 'Zombie Flesh-Eaters.' Jed didn't reply.
The next time we heard the moan we were able to place it. It was coming from our left, around where most of the tents were pitched.
'OK,' said Jed. 'We'll investigate. You take point.'
'Me? You've got the torch!'
'I need to hold it so you've got both your hands free.'
'Free for what?'
'Fighting off the zombies.'
Jed flicked the beam on and illuminated Unhygienix's tent, so I mumbled a swear-word and began slowly walking towards it.
I'd only gone a few feet when the flap opened and Ella's head poked out. 'Jed?' she said, squinting against the glare.
'And Jed. What's going on, Ella?'
She shook her head. 'Come inside. It's a disaster.'
'It was Keaty,' Ella explained, mopping at Unhygienix's forehead. It had been Unhygienix who was moaning, and he continued to do so while we were talking. His eyes were closed and he was clutching his great brown belly in both hands. I don't think he was even aware we were in the tent. 'That idiot.'
I raised my eyebrows. 'Why? What did he do?'
'He put a squid in one of the fishing buckets, and we chopped it up and chucked it in with everything else.'
'The squid was already dead when he speared it.'
Jed sucked in his breath sharply.
'Most of the camp are sick. The bathroom hut is clogged with vomit, and you don't want to go near the Khyber Pass.'
'What about you?' I asked. 'You seem OK.'
'Five or six of us are all right. I've got a few pains, but it looks like I've been lucky.'
'And why did Keaty spear a dead squid?'
Ella narrowed her eyes. 'I'd like to ask him that myself. We'd all like to ask him that.'
'Yeah... Where is he? In his tent?'
'OK. Well, I'll go and see him...'
I chose the right moment to leave because as I was backing out, Unhygienix sat bolt upright and vomited everywhere. I vanished quickly into the darkness with Ella's furious screams ringing in my ears.
It took me ages to find Keaty. He wasn't in his tent and there was no response in the clearing when I called his name. Eventually I decided to check the beach, where I spotted him, sitting in a patch of moonlight a little way down the shore.
When he saw me coming towards him he made a movement, as if he were half considering running away. Then he relaxed and his shoulders slumped. 'Hi,' he said in a low voice.
I nodded and sat beside him.
'I'm not flavour of the month, Rich.'
'...Neither is squid.'
He didn't laugh.
'So what happened?'
'Don't you know? I poisoned the camp.'
'I was using Greg's mask, I saw this squid, we've eaten squid a hundred times before, so I speared it and chucked it in the bucket. How was I supposed to know it was already dead?'
'...Because it wasn't moving.'
He glared at me. 'Well I know that now! But I thought... I thought squid were like jellyfish. They just floated around and... and its arms looked like they were moving...'
'So it was a mistake. It wasn't your fault.'
'Yes, Rich. That's right. It was Jean's fault.' He paused to punch the sand between his legs. 'Of course it was my fucking fault! Jesus!
'OK... it was your fault, but you shouldn't...'
'Rich,' he interrupted. 'Please.'
I shrugged and looked away. Across the lagoon, the moonlight was catching the jagged fissure that ran down the cliffs to the coral garden. 'Kapow,' I said quietly.
Keaty leant forward. 'What?'
'Just because that's the sound lightning makes.' I pointed at the fissure. 'See?'
I only stayed with Keaty a short while because I wanted to check on Étienne and Françoise. He wouldn't come with me because he said he wasn't ready to face people yet, the poor guy. It was rough to have fought for so long to get on to the fishing detail and then to have been responsible for such a fuck-up. He felt especially guilty that he'd been one of the few unaffected by the squid. I tried to tell him not to be so daft because he could hardly blame himself for having a good immune system, but it didn't do any good.
When I saw what was happening inside the longhouse, I was glad Keaty had decided to stay behind. The scene inside would only have made him feel worse. I'd had no idea that the effects of the food poisoning had been so severe, and actually I doubted Keaty had realized either, or he'd have been back at the camp helping.
Running all the way down the centre of the room were candles, placed there, I guessed, to keep them from being kicked over by the writhing figures on the beds. Through the burning-wax fumes there was the sour smell of vomit. Everybody was moaning — probably not constantly, but there were enough of them to overlap and keep the noise at a steady level — and everybody seemed to have reverted to their own language. Picking out recognizable words in the meaningless babble made everything all the more surreal. People wanted water or the sick to be wiped off their chests. When I passed Jesse he lunged for my foot and asked me to carry him to the bathroom hut. 'I've got shit all over my fucking legs!' he gasped incredulously. 'All over! Look!'
I spotted Cassie and Moshe darting between the beds, hopelessly trying to attend to all the different requests. When Cassie saw me she made a despairing motion with her arms and said, 'Are they dying?'
I shook my head.
'How do you know, Richard?'
'They're not dying.'
'How do you know?'
'I don't.' I shook my head again. 'Jesse's calling for you.'
Cassie ran to check on her boyfriend and I continued down the longhouse towards Françoise and Étienne.
Françoise was the worst off — I think. Étienne was asleep, so I suppose he might have been unconscious, but he was breathing steadily and his forehead didn't feel too hot. Françoise, however, was awake and in a great deal of pain. The cramps seemed to come in regular waves about sixty seconds apart. She didn't cry out like everybody else but she bit her bottom lip, and all over her stomach were marks from where she'd been digging her fingernails.
'Stop doing that,' I said firmly, after she'd nearly drawn blood from biting so hard.
She looked at me through dull eyes.' ...Richard?'
'Yes. You're chewing your mouth to pieces... You shouldn't.'
'I can see, but... Here.' I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cigarettes. Then I ripped off the top of the box and pressed it flat. 'You can bite on that instead.'
'It still hurts.'
I smoothed her damp hair away from her face. 'I know it does, but this way you get to keep your lips.'
'Oh.' She managed to look faintly amused. She might even have managed a smile if another pain-wave hadn't come.
'What is happening, Richard?' she asked, when her muscles had relaxed.
'You've got food poisoning.'
'I mean, what is happening now?'
'Well...' I looked down the longhouse. I wasn't sure how to answer in case I frightened her. 'People are chucking up, and... Moshe and Cassie are here...'
'Do you think this is serious for us?'
'No, no,' I replied, laughing encouragingly. 'You'll all be much better tomorrow. You'll all be fine.'
'When Étienne and I were in Sumatra, someone died from eating bad shellfish.'
I nodded slowly. 'Yes, but they probably ate the whole thing. You would have only had a tiny little bit, so you'll be OK.'
She sighed. 'Good... Richard, I need some water... Please will you bring me some?'
'Of course. I'll be back in two minutes.'
As I stood up, the cramps came back again. I watched her for a moment, uncertain whether I should go or wait with her until the pain had passed, then I jogged down the longhouse, ignoring the pleas I passed on the way.