The challenge came out on the Friday before karate camp. My first thought was “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but that’s kind of been done. I was in the dojo, marching in line, and I started catching sight of my toenail polish, and the floor was terrible. And this year we didn’t have to cook for ourselves, but in previous years we did, and often people would discuss what food item it might have been that made them sick.
The first thing you do when karate camp starts is to deal with the floor. Savannah set pairs of junior belts to running back and forth across the room with whippy straw brooms.
"There's a better broom in our cabin," said Tonio. "You could come with me and get it." This to Savannah, of course. When they did pairworks this weekend, she wouldn't be partnering him.
There's a real broom in the dining hall," said Susan. "Wide, with felt."
"It's probably sticky with fallen foodstuffs?" asked Tonio.
They swept the leavings out the door, lined up and bowed in.
The floor was gritty and the air was damp. The teenaged girls had already started taping their feet against blisters. At least, as they marched in rows up and down the room, they were travelling with the grain of the wood.
Savannah's eye kept catching the glinting of her toenail polish, a metallic midnight blue. The fine grit on the floor felt like sliding, ayumiyashi, over the little arms and legs of beetles. The hunger was getting to her.
It was maybe 10pm when all 30 of them headed to the dining hall. The white belts had left training early to put out muffins and tea, apples and water.
Then they headed to bed in the rain.
Back at the women's cabin, there must have been a screen loose or a door open; at least fifty bugs flew around the light. Perhaps the 20-minute bug-killing frenzy got them all wound up. Savannah didn't feel like she lay awake for five-and-a-half hours, but it didn't feel like she'd slept.
"Leave me alone, I'm not coming," said one of the other women when they tried to peer pressure her into getting up for the 6am run. She never showed up for early morning training.
They swept the floor again, but to no avail.
"Maybe we should sweep with the grain, rather than across," Savannah said, but there wasn't time. Sensei had clapped for them to line up again.
The third senior-most black belt had been running with them, but never made it into the dojo.
"What kind of muffin did he have last night?" Tonio asked. There had been five kinds. Maybe one was bad. He stood too close. Savannah fantasized about giving him an elbow to the ribs, or maybe the nose.
They trudged through ninety minutes of training, mostly basics and self-defense, and headed to a breakfast cooked by the green belts.
"What's up with this floor, eh?" Chuck said. "It's like they applied sealant to it without cleaning first. What's with all the grit?"
"And it won't come up," said Savannah. "We've swept it twice."
"Maybe they didn't sand it," said Tonio.
"Maybe they sanded it, and didn't clean it after," said Chuck.
He went to his cabin after breakfast, and they never saw him again.
"Do you think he's been drinking the water?" Susan asked, back in the dojo for the midmorning session. "I wonder if it's potable. I always drink bottled water here, myself."
"It's town water," said Bob. "They cook with it."
After a light warmup and some kata, Sensei set them to pairworks. He threw Susan, who got up looking rather green.
"Grab a partner," Sensei said.
Savannah turned and bowed to Tonio, who was the only one left at her level. He took the attack position.
"Watch out for my junk," he said, but his heart wasn't in it. He kicked her in the head, as the black belt had done to Sensei. She blocked, grabbed his kicking leg and stepped in behind his supporting leg. From there, it was nothing but a hip flick to make him fall on his back. You wouldn't think that was enough to make anyone feel ill.
Still, before even lining up and switching positions, her stomach was rolling. She landed on her back, made a quick roll onto one knee and the other toe, then up into fighting stance, where she swayed. It was the spins.
She was breathing through her mouth. It wouldn't close. A bead of sweat rolled from her upper lip to her chin. Somehow her elbows rested on her knees. She listed sideways until her back touched the wall.
"I don't think I can do that again right now," Savannah said.
Tonio was beside her, also against the wall. "Me either."
"It was a good throw, though," said Savannah.
"It's a good technique," Tonio said. "I could use it in a fight."
"If someone actually kicked you in the head," said Savannah.
Water might help. Her bottle was in her gym bag by the door. She trailed her hand along the wall for support, only vaguely aware of the other karateka still tossing each other around. She got to the door without having tripped over her bag. Fresh air might be good too.
But she'd forgotten the five steps down to the path to the dining hall. She missed the step down. Then she was on the ground, on her hip, hard on the paved walkway. She didn't think she'd hit her head, and blinked a couple of times to focus. The building was up on blocks to level it out on the uneven ground.
The ground underneath glistened with jewel tones. She rolled onto all fours to crawl closer.
Bug carapaces, great mounds of them, lay where they had swept the dust from the floor. Heads, thoraxes, and abdomens, pincers and antennae, segmented legs in metallic forest green, turquoise, rich ruby red.
It must have led to some kind of parasite, maybe merged with a strain of foot fungus run rampant. During warmup their hands had been on the floor. No one would have washed them before last night's snack. Their gis had been on the floor, rolling around. They had pulled on belts, tugged down jackets.
Savannah wondered if puking would help. Well, it didn't much matter, because she would be doing it anyway.