The beach was everything it was supposed to be that morning. The sun came up, showing off a multitude of hues. A gentle breeze swirled without changing the air temperature. The sky was brilliant cerulean blue. Waves lapped gently onto shore.
If anything, all that should have served to warn her. But she was not paying attention. She walked along the water’s edge, her jeans awkwardly shoved up past her knees. This morning, in a rare, fey mood, she had rushed to get out, not stopping to dig in her bag for her navy blue bikini.
Toward lunchtime she heard the far off voices of her companions. Their shouts were quickly carried away by the wind and soon it was quiet again. She turned toward the house, only starting to walk back after careful contemplation of its façade. It was a ramshackle place, rented hastily by the students for a few days of beach pleasure. The wood on the front was a faded blue and a few slats were sagging slightly, leaving small air vents in the front rooms. The rooms were basic and the students didn’t mind that they could not get into some of the rooms. It had been reasonably priced. They had accommodated themselves.
She shuffled thorough the sand and up the stairs. The rest of them were sitting at a long table in the dining room. The usual mealtime sounds of eating and companionable laughter filled the air. The boy with the light brown buzz cut and broad, tanned shoulders caught sight of her and called out, “Zoya, where have you been? Come have lunch.”
Not answering, she turned and walked up the stairs. Most of the students had gone back to eating, not caring if she joined them or not. But Bokor, their hostess and chaperone, followed her with her eyes until she disappeared up the stairs.
Once in her room, she sat on the thin mattress and breathed in the salty air seeping through the badly-aligned window. A tarantula stumbled over her foot and ambled toward the corner of the room. Unperturbed, she reached over to her suitcase and brought out the tools of her studies. Soon the thin, frayed bedspread was covered with a small canvas, a palette, brushes, a palette knife and a box of colors. She used the palate knife to mix oils until she was satisfied. Using a small brush, she began painting the spider.
As she lifted her arm to stroke the last few lines on her canvas, her fingers went numb. The brush she was using clattered to the floor splattering ochre paint on the wood. She uttered one brief shriek and felt herself falling backwards. Someone caught her.
Bokor had the average coloring of the people of the island: dark brown eyes, course, wavy hair and olive skin. There was nothing unusual about her – except the habitual magnanimous gleam in her eyes. Her arms were muscular and she supported the afflicted girl comfortably.
Zoya felt numbness travel up her arm to the shoulder. It was not a gentle tingling like a limb going to sleep, but a sudden, insensate attack. She heard the reassuring voice of the woman holding her drone on and on but was unable to respond. The room became a dream. Nothing mattered. Her amygdala shut down. She was aware of her surroundings as if they were present without her. She didn’t care. She lost track of time. Everything drifted farther away and soon she ceased to exist.
And then she was back. It was as if nothing had happened. She sat up and looked at Bokor. The woman looked back at her – for once her eyes unreadable. Black anger boiled up in Zoya’s gut. She snarled, reached over and clawed at Bokor’s face. Four diagonal slashes appeared. They were not deep but they bled copiously.
The other students, who had crowded in the doorway uttering cries of fear during her seizure, backed away in horror, tripping over each other in their haste to get away. Zoya pulled her hand back from Bokor’s face. It was bloody with the other woman’s gore.
Bokor lifted a handkerchief to the wounds to stop the flow but she couldn’t control all of it. Red drops splattered artistically on the tarantula painting, creating tiny spider footprints on the canvas. Bokor looked at Zoya’s face, which was pale and emotionless, and smiled. She leaned in and whispered, “You’ll do.”
Second installment coming the week of February 4th.