|The Eyes of the Parrot
High in the jungle canopy, a brightly-coloured parrot watched a woman far below.
The woman lay on the jungle floor, sweating, convulsing, her eyes rolled back in her head.
“She’s been like this all day,” a gruff male voice stated.
“What do you think is wrong with her, Angus?” a female voice inquired.
“No idea, Ruth, no idea,” Angus replied.
The air in the jungle was hot and sticky, and Angus lifted a large hand to wipe the sweat from his brow as he gazed at the seriously ill woman on the ground. “Damn it all,” he swore, spitting into the bushes. “As if this whole stranded on a deserted island thing wasn’t bad enough, now Nadia has to come down with some disease none of us know anything about.”
Someone else cleared his throat.
“…Except maybe for you, Jason,” Angus admitted, standing aside to allow the slim man through.
By amazing and somewhat suspicious good fortune, the three other castaways had happened to become stranded on a deserted island with an attending physician in internal medicine from a large inner-city hospital, who kneeled over Nadia for a closer look. “Looks like malaria,” Jason said, standing up.
“Is it contagious?” asked Ruth worriedly. Ruth was a fair-haired, attractive woman who worked as a legal secretary.
“Not particularly; it’s only spread via the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. Funny thing, though…The Anopheles mosquito isn’t native to this area…”
“So, if there’s no vector, the disease can’t spread, Angus.”
“Can’t other mosquitos spread it?”
“Conceivably, Angus, if malaria was endemic to this region. This is, however, not an area where malaria is found.”
“Still. It is possible she had it at an earlier stage, and the organisms were lying dormant in her liver.”
“Ew,” Ruth shuddered.
“Do any of you know Nadia?”
“She’s my workmate,” Ruth replied. “We’ve worked together for five years.”
“Has she ever mentioned going to Central America, Africa, maybe Southeast Asia…?”
Ruth shook her head. “No.”
Jason scratched his chin. “Puzzling.”
“Perhaps she just never mentioned it?” Angus suggested.
Ruth shook her head. “She would have said something.”
“For Chrissake,” Angus growled. “Nobody catches malaria from thin air.”
Ruth rested her head on Angus’s burly shoulder as he ran a hand through his beard in agitation. “I’ve got nothing,” she admitted.
“The best we can do now is continue to monitor her symptoms,” Jason sighed. “If we had some medication, or even a bottle of tonic water, we’d be able to fix her right up, but seeing as we don’t…”
“…there’s not much we can do,” Ruth finished.
Jason sighed again. “Right.” He shook his head. “I just wish I knew where the hell she got it…”
Unseen by all, a tiny mosquito landed on Nadia’s arm and sampled some of her blood, then whirred off…
The fire crackled, sending sparks up through the rainforest canopy towards the distant stars which glittered coldly in the roof of the night. Angus prodded it with a stick, causing a swirl of embers to fly like glowing insects up into the sky. He glanced over at Jason, who was tending to Nadia. “Any change?”
“The fever’s subsided,” Jason replied, “but she’s got chills. Classic symptom of malaria. It’s cyclical, I’m afraid; in a couple of the days the fever will return, unless…”
“Unless?” Ruth prompted.
“Unless we get out of here and get her to a hospital,” Jason finished grimly as he returned to the fireside and cast his downcast gaze into the flames, mirroring those of Angus and Ruth.
Nadia moaned in agony.
“Joint pain,” Jason explained without looking up. “Yet another symptom. Nadia’s having a pretty tough time of it.”
“Don’t need to tell me,” Angus muttered.
“So, Angus,” Ruth said brightly, to divert the conversation away from Nadia’s plight. “What did you do before all this?”
“Bricklayer,” Angus replied. “Not the most glamorous job, I know, but it’s a living. Was a living,” he corrected himself.
“It suits you,” Ruth commented.
“Suits me how?” Angus asked.
“You know…you’re strong, sturdy…”
“Don’t mention it,” Ruth replied, resting her head on his shoulder again.
“Ruth…” Angus asked after a while.
“Do you think we’ll ever get off this island?”
“Of course we will, Angus.”
“But it’s been two weeks…”
“Never give up hope, Angus.”
Both Angus and Ruth turned to look at Jason, who was bending over Nadia. He looked up at them. “There’s no pulse, dammit. She’s dead.”
“No!” cried Ruth, leaping to her feet and sprinting over to Nadia’s still form. She frantically began administering CPR.
“Won’t work,” Jason said dully. “There was nothing we could do.” Ruth burst into tears.
High above them, in the branches, the parrot watched intently through its shining, glassy eyes.
Greg grimaced as he sipped his disgusting coffee and peered at his monitor. The image on the screen was the one seen by the bird perched on the branch above Angus, Ruth, Jason and Nadia. It was not a pretty one.
“Lamont!” Greg called.
A sandy-haired man with intense blue eyes behind thick glasses walked over. “What is it, Greg?”
“I think we should abort the GX-N71 test,” the short, dark man replied. “One of the females has died.”
Lamont peered at Greg’s monitor. “Nadia Rogers?”
“That’s her. I believe she had an adverse reaction to the GX-N71.”
Lamont consulted his clipboard. “What was it for again?”
“I’m not entirely sure. I think we should just cut our losses, inform the supervisors of what happened and pull the GX-N71 from the water supply before there are any more bad reactions.”
Lamont drummed his fingers on the countertop. “Could it have been malaria?”
“No. Admittedly, she was displaying the symptoms, but one of our mosquito drones took a blood sample earlier, and her blood was free of any species of plasmodium. I very strongly believe we should abort the test immediately.”
“Absolutely not, Greg,” Lamont stated firmly.
“What the hell do you mean absolutely not? One of the test subjects died!”
“The test subjects, Greg, are EXPENDABLE. So we lose one of the females. Big deal! The test keeps going until the supervisors tell us to pull the GX-N71 and introduce a new drug. If worst comes to worst, we crash another plane. That’s our job, Greg. Not to make suggestions, not to offer opinions, just to pump the drugs, observe the test subjects, make notes, follow regulations and do as we are told. Do you understand me, Greg?”
Greg sighed. “Yes, Lamont. But I’m making a note of this under possible side effects.”
Lamont sighed angrily. “If you have to, Greg, if you have to.” He took a sip from the coffee mug in his hand, making a face as he did so. “God dammit! What the hell are they putting in this coffee? Tastes like shit!” He walked over to the sink and tipped it out in disgust.
“You’re not supposed to do that, Lamont, remember? Regulations state that we’re not allowed to tip out our coffee. Wastes it, or pollutes the local environment, or something.”
“Shut up, Greg,” Lamont scowled. Greg scribbled a note under “Possible Side Effects” on his clipboard.
May cause malaria-like symptoms and death. Further observation required.
Greg glanced at his monitor again. The males were leading the remaining female away. It was clear she was distraught.
“They have no idea why they’re really there…” Greg murmured, thinking aloud.
“And we intend to keep it that way, Greg, remember that.”
“Of course, Lamont,” Greg sighed. “Of course.” He flipped a switch and the screen went blank.
In the tree above the campfire, over Nadia’s body, the lights in the parrot’s eyes winked out.