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John Frum, he muzz come, John Frum, he muzz come…’

Chief Tom sat on his log by the fire, a blanket round his shoulders. On one side Stinky howled to the moon, on the other Joshua sat restlessly watching the show. Bodies hurtled everywhere, shoulders swaying, bosoms bouncing, feet thudding to the beat, wild arms akimbo, stabbing in the air. Big breasted women sat heavily on grass mats strumming guitars, howling strange hymns, swaying to the simplicity, the pidgin homily, a mix of blind faith and madness. In their faces – nothing; a soul-less surrender to the rhythm, a resolute emptiness. In Sulphur Bay the party had begun.

‘John Frum, he muzz come, John Frum, he muzz come…’

Above them the cone of Yasur smoked constantly, distant rumbling merging into applause and village noises. More and more people crowded around the nakamwal, elders crouched over fires, the smoke endlessly drifting, mingling with dust, steam and the lunatic fringes of religion. Joshua leapt up and disappeared into the melee. One elderly lady with pendulous breasts wandered through the crowd in a trance. People pulled her close, pushed her hands onto their bodies, wailing their disease to whatever deity is most useful at the time. She is a healer, a sage, in touch with the spirits, in more ways than one.

Just what combination of kava and chemicals keeps them going is a secret. None of them knew anyway; just the bark of that secret tree, the sap from that special vine… it didn’t matter. It worked.

Joshua danced around the fringes like a demented pixie.

‘My name is Joshua! And I can fly!’


This God man, this big pela man come,’ Steven sniffed, ‘take my Daddy’s land…’

To Steven it was yesterday.

‘This man, this Fadda Lathaniel, same God man.’

Missionaries have been on the island since 1846.

‘Pwaaaah! Watch out Fadda! One day I come kill you!’


‘John Frum, John Frum…’

Clouds of steam, back-lit  by moonlight floated lazily up into the blackness, the smell of sulphur became more intense. Earthquake  electricity hissed in the air – crisp, sparkling, crackling clean. More people arrived,  baskets on heads bearing food, talking animatedly; everybody telling their guria story. A peal of excited laughter, the birds started again,  a baby crying somewhere close by. One elderly gent in a G.I. uniform made of sacks shuffled into view. He was wearing a row of medals made from Coca-Cola bottletops.

‘John Frum, he muzz come, John Frum, he muzz come…’

They used to eat the missionaries here. Now they worshipped a vague white military man who was going to bring them great wealth. Every year at this time there was a birthday, every year they waited, decked out in uniform and flag, always waiting, always waiting for the man.

Across the parade ground just one hut was quiet, guarded by two serious young men. They stood at attention either side of a padlocked door. Each held a bamboo rifle over his shoulder. They were guarding the crown jewels; army uniforms folded on a table, a roster for duties tacked on a leaf wall, an American flag draped from one of the uprights and a brown newspaper clipping in a protective plastic wrapper telling about their last chief, jailed in political riots ten years before.

Pride of place was taken by a red cross with a picture of those five crew cut American astronauts in the centre of it. The hut was swept clean, the objects displayed as religious relics, the guards unsmiling and intense. A post stuck out of the ground next to a red cross. John Frum was Sergeant Jesus.

They were waiting, too.

‘John Frum, he muzz come, John Frum, he muzz come…’

The old chief was a victim of too much waiting.


Daniel squatted on his haunches in the darkness. The resort was still. There, on the point, he saw sparks fly and the silhouette of the guria-man as he walked away from the others.

‘I come for you! Tomorrow!’ Steven shouted.

Dogster mumbled something stupid in reply. Daniel hissed and watched him stumble and crunch his way though the garden.

He saw the white man crash into the hammock down the slope, heard the faint echo of a Western curse as he blundered up the steep embankment and through his open door. It was only then, as it closed with a squeak that Daniel moved out of his hide-out and crept closer to the hut.

He watched as the white man undressed and collapsed by candlelight.

‘I see you,’ hissed Daniel, ‘and you don’t see me…’

Dazed, the Dogster lay there unaware, looking through broken bamboo at the crescent moon; already dreaming his kava dreams.

‘I see you…’

In the bay a mackerel leapt into the air, a silver slash across a placid black ocean.


Chief Tom waved his arms. The music came to a halt.

‘Joshua! Come here!’

His shout echoed through the crowd.


A head poked round the hem of a grubby skirt. Dancers parted and the special child walked silently towards his grandfather.

‘Joshua. You know what to do…’

And he held his arms out wide. The boy walked slowly forward until his eyes were inches away from his grandfather. He turned to face John Frum’s battered army as the old man closed his blanket around him.

‘Bring him back,’ the old man whispered.

Joshua bowed his head and slid out of view.

Chief Tom was still an old show-girl. He held that pause as the village looked on, waiting for the miracle – then, just at the crucial moment, leapt to his feet with a whoop, throwing his blanket to the ground.

The little boy was gone.


The music sprang to life.

‘John Frum! John Frum!

Wild magic.


Daniel crept back to his hut.

I’ll kill him now, thought Scorp. He waited till Daniel passed by, till those shorts hit the floor, till the creak of the bed told him that the coast was clear then scuttled over to the window. He stood there for a while watching his prey, then, when the man settled, slowly edged his way to the side of the bed. He was only a foot away from Daniel’s face.

El Scorp curled his tail and worked up a juicy dose of death in his sting. He crept closer.

One huge eye blinked open and stared Scorp straight in the face.

‘Don’t you even think of it, you little shit.’

As always, Scorp retreated to his hole and hated. As always, Daniel won their game.

They were very much alike, Daniel and the scorpion. Both ached to sting and sting and sting – sting for release, sting for protection, sting for the pure, sweet pleasure of stinging. They must get tired, carrying all that toxin in their tails.


Dogster’s dreams were mysterious tribal affairs that night, full of expectation and unease; he felt the bed move beneath him, heard that familiar rumbling in his sleep, confused the waves with the earthquake, felt dust from the thatched ceiling fall soft on his face. While he slept the island swayed and rumbled.

I heard loud snoring and my senses returned. Wha…?

There it was again; a deep, manly rumble of total relaxation from just outside. I allowed a moment for my thoughts to come back into focus then raised one weary leg and dropped it over the side of the bed. I stood looking out the window. There, sleeping soundly, was Steven.


Chief Tom cast his thoughts to the sky.


But the boy was far away.


He was in my dream.


We were back in the village of horrible children.

Joshua leapt out of the Jeep, ran inside a hut shouting something, then flew over to the fat man by the fire, surrounded by half a dozen other men. They ignored Daniel and his passenger until the little boy finished talking. The fat man gestured to the others to come closer. They wandered into a huddle by the fireside. I hung back, looking around furtively for the plague of little boys. Nowhere to be seen. Daniel walked closer to the fat man and slapped that vast palm. There was a conversation that I couldn’t understand then, in unison, all the men suddenly turned their heads and stared at me. I could see the flames from the fire reflected in their eyes. Daniel backed away and quietly motioned me to get into the car.

We were half-way home, just past the lookout when he spoke.

‘They were talking about you.’

‘I worked that out, Daniel. What were they saying?’

‘You and the earthquake; how the earthquake came and so did you. What that meant.’

‘And what did it mean, Daniel?’

‘It meant you were special.’

‘Special good? Special bad?’

‘That’s what they were talking about. They were deciding. They were deciding with secret words. I don’t like to speak about it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because it is not to be spoken about.’

Daniel was silent the rest of the way home.

My mind was blank as I stared through the window, watching out for that volcano.



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