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art by Shot Hot Design

Passage

No, Lavie Tidhar didn't send a bio, so let's see what I can figure out. Lavie Tidhar's blog is: lavietidhar.wordpress.com. When he's not writing excellent stories which appear just about everywhere, or Novels, or Graphic Novels--what we oldsters used to call "comic books"--he edits the WorldSF website.
This is Lavie Tidhar's fifth story to appear in Daily Science Fiction (find the others at dailysciencefiction.com by typing "Tidhar" in the search box in the right sidebar), but the first which will include a bio.
"Ol Man Amerika oli gat sam problem naoia," Verity said.
Brett said, "What do you mean the Americans are having problems now?"
Brett was tall and lanky and white. He was a teacher. Verity said, "Oli gat wan samting olsem sik. Mi harem long radio."
After six months on the island Brett's Bislama still wasn't all that good, though he was trying. He said, "there's a sickness in America, and you heard it on the radio?"
"Si."
Yes.
Brett went in search of a radio.
"Awo," said Moses, the engineer. He had studied in New Zealand. "Hemi no gud tumas."
That is very bad.
They were sitting in the nakamal, discussing the news. It was very dark and everyone spoke in hushed voices. They were drinking kava. The bark had to be peeled off the root and the roots then had to be chopped and minced and mixed with water. The resultant drink was brown and made the mouth numb and made everyone sensitive to sound and light.
Hence the darkness and the hushed voices.
"I tried to phone home today," Brett said. He was smoking a cigarette to try and counter the taste of the kava. "But I couldn't get through."
"Hemi wan nogud nakaimas," Moses said.
"This is bad... this is bad magic?"
"Si."
He had listened to the news, but the only radio station they could get was from the Solomon Islands. They had said some sort of virus had spread across America, and it was turning people into--it wasn't clear what.
"Ol man I kakai man," the Solomon Radio announcer said. Which meant cannibal...
It was hard to believe people back home were actually eating each other. But the news spoke of chaos, of mindless drones shuffling down main roads, biting and tearing flesh, infecting others in their turn.
A plague.
Wan sik I nogud.
"Do you want another round?" Moses said.
"Mami blong yu I kakai ol man?"
The kids at school were obviously curious.
"My mother doesn't eat people," Brett said. Though privately, he had doubts. The plague had hit everywhere. He woke up in the night, sometimes, with nightmares where his parents crept into his room, and his mother opened her mouth and blood came gushing out and she grinned with teeth like knives.... He'd wake up shivering and roll a joint and it would take him hours to go back to sleep.
"Mother," said one of the kids, with concentration, "eats... babies!"
"Very good," Brett said. He was an English teacher. But suddenly it seemed English wasn't going to be all that popular, any more.
"Babies... nice," a small girl, Chastity, said, and giggled.
"No, no," the Planner's kid said. "Tasty."
"Baby... tasty!" the girl said. The whole class laughed. Brett smiled, but felt sick inside.
"We regret to inform you," Moses said, reading the letter out aloud, "That due to unforeseen circumstances you cannot currently return to your home country. As your visa is about to expire, you must come to our offices no later than in two weeks' time to discuss your situation with the head of the department."
It was signed by the deputy minister for ol visita. Since Brett was a visitor, he had a problem, now.
There had been almost no news from home. Media planes flew over the continent but there was a complete ban on traveling to and from the United States, or landing there. Gunships monitored the situation from a distance. There was a discussion in the UN about dropping a few nukes down there but so far they hadn't reached a decision.
"What are you going to do?" Moses said.
"They can't deport me, can they?" Brett said.
"They might try to send you to Ostrelia," Moses said. "To be with ol narafala waetman."
"I like it here," Brett said.
Moses' face brightened. "Maybe you can marry Felicity!" he said, hopefully. It would do no harm to have a teacher in the family, even a waetman.
"Can I think about it?" Brett said.
When he went to Port Vila he went into the Peace Corps office but it was deserted. He went to his post box and found his mail from three months before. It was a postcard from his mother. It showed Niagara Falls.
"We miss you," it said. "Dad just bought a new car. Your brother is getting ready to go to college. How are you enjoying Vanuatu?"
His mother wasn't a great postcard writer. Brett held the postcard in his hand for a long time, just staring at it. Then he went outside.
"I am afraid you would have to leave," the deputy minister said, apologetically. "They are putting you people in quarantine on an island off Australia."
Brett resented the you people. He said, "I've lived here for almost two years! I can't possibly be carrying the sickness."
The deputy minister tsked and nodded in understanding. "There is much fear, you see," he said, mournfully. "Much fear of your kind. Really, it is beyond my control."
"How long do I have?"
"You can go back to the island, of course," the deputy minister said. "To say goodbye. I am, really, very sorry. I had always liked Americans, personally."
"Isn't there anything I can do?"
"Not unless you were a citizen of Vanuatu," the deputy minister said.
The seremoni blong mared lasted three days. Brent had to pay three pigs, two kilos of corn, one of pineapples, five ancient woven mats from Ambai and a lot of shell money which had been very hard to get hold of. Shell money were strings of tiny discs made of cut shells. He had to make some of it himself, by hand.
"Hasban blong mi!" Felicity said. She was excited about the wedding. Moses, pleased with the new addition to the family, gave them a piece of land on the west coast of the island. Brett had already begun building them a house, with Felicity's brothers helping him cut wood in the bush and stripping bamboo to make walls.
"Bae yumi mekem plante plante pikinini!" Felicity said.
"Yes," Brett said. "We'll have plenty of children."
He wished his mum and dad were at the wedding. He still had nightmares, images of himself sitting on the beach, biting into a slice of watermelon, only for it to turn into blood and the flesh into spongy brain matter. He still woke up shivering, but now, at least, he had Felicity beside him, to calm him down again.
"Yu no save kakai bren?" Felicity asked him, once, just before the wedding.
"No," he told her. "I don't eat brains." And, seeing the dubious expression on her face, added, "Honest."
"But they do eat people in America," Felicity said.
"I guess," Brett said.
And they left it at that.
"You don't hear much about America any more on the news," Moses said, a few months later. They were sitting in the nakamal, drinking kava.
Brett lit a cigarette and looked up, at the stars. "What can you do," he said, philosophically.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

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