BOOK 2: Commencement of the Journey

Posted: August 26, 2011 in SciFi

 “Crueller tale have I to tell,

Of my seven sons

Down in the Southlands,

And the eighth man, my mate,

Felled in the death-mead.

Father and mother,

And four brothers,

On the wide sea

The winds and death played with; the billows beat

On the bulwark boards

Alone I must sing o’er them,

Alone must I array them,

Alone must my hands deal with

Their departing;

And all this was

In one season’s wearing

( From “The Lamentation of Gudrun over Sigurd dead, as it is told in the Ancient Songs” from “The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs” translated by Eiríkr  Magnússen and William Morris)

  2 GENESIS 1

 The new day brought with it a new sensation to the survivors on King ‘Rat.

It was deadly silent.

The waves had stopped pounding the mountain side! The wind had died down!

Gary jumped up first and ran to the side of the mountain.

The water lay still and seemed to stretch forever to the horizon and beyond. It was a muddy colour and the rising sun hidden by the clouds of red dust, created a dull reflection from the surface. In the distance, Gary was able to see a few mountain tops sticking out of the water. The great expanse of water was however empty of any signs of human endeavour or activity.

The silence was like an omen; few missed it.

Everybody gathered alongside Gary and looked out at the waters in wonder. They felt they had indeed become the only survivors in this strange new world. Their silence belied their emotions as this realisation dawned gradually on some while others still failed to understand or were prepared to accept their fate.

Stepping away from the side of the mountain, Oscar called everybody together.

“Well, what we can see is that we will be on this mountain for some time unless we are rescued which I very much doubt. I suggest that we try to establish a more permanent camp probably closer to the spring Gary’s group discovered and build a small village. It will take a lot of work and we’re not really equipped but we’ll have to make the best of a terrible situation. Can I have some comment from you guys?”

“I agree with you Oscar,” said John Duguid. “The quicker we get ourselves sorted out the better for all. We have several traumatised and injured passengers and we’ll have to start thinking about food as our supplies are bound to run out in about two days time, I reckon.”

“Yes, except for medical supplies which should be OK for a week or so,” said Esme.

“Are you saying that we’re expected to trek all the way to the spring with materials ’n tools as well as all our supplies?” asked Bennie, as he looked around him for support.

“Yes that is what I’m suggesting, Bennie,” responded Oscar. “We’ll have to make several trips so it will take a couple of days.”

“Well then I disagree. We ’ave all our stuff right ‘ere and it’s only the water we need t’ fetch when we need it. We c’n deputise water patrols to do that instead of traipsing around the country side with everybody. Some people can’t be moved easily in any case.”

A number of heads nodded in agreement with Bennie.

“Bennie your argument is short-sighted. Water will be a permanent issue to us and we will need substantial amounts of it to set up our little village, while supplies here will be history in a couple of days,” Gary said to back up Oscar’s proposal.

Bennie had noticed that he had substantial support in the group and thus encouraged, leapt forward, saying: “Let everybody decide for themselves. You’re not our bosses and I say we stay right ’ere!”

He turned defiantly to face Oscar, arms akimbo.

Oscar looked at Bennie with some irritation and replied that the breaking up of the group would further endanger their chances of survival. They must stay together. Bennie remained resolute however and looked at the group and asked loudly: “Who’s in favour of staying right ’ere and setting up our shelters to wait for some rescue operation?” At least forty-five hands went up.

“Who agrees with Oscar to go to the spring and set up camp there?”

More than half the survivors’ hands were raised, leaving about 25 undecided or unable to vote. The Lockhats belonged to the latter group as did some of the injured.

“OK so that’s almost an even split, I reck’n,” said Bennie. “We c’n split the remaining food and stuff. When do you want to leave?”

“Hey, what about democracy?” Christine interjected, “When I counted, the majority agreed with Oscar’s proposal, not with yours.”

“There’s no democracy here lady,” Graham snarled. “Here it’s the law of the jungle that applies.”

“That doesn’t make you king of the jungle, pal,” she hit back as vehemently.

“Wait ’n see, lady, wait ’n see,” he responded with a look loaded with menace.

“Whoa!” Gary said stepping between the two. “The lady is right you fool. You just try anything and you will have me to reckon with. What’s up with you guys anyway? If you want to stay here that’s fine by me.”

Oscar looked at the group and tried once more to convince them that they were making a mistake. It was to no avail. They seemed to have no option but to split up and make the preparations to move their camps to their respective sites.

“So how are we going to divide the food and supplies?” Gary asked. “I suggest that we divide everything up in similar heaps, for instance all the tinned food together, all the bottled water together etc. then we count it and divide up according to the number of persons in each group. In that way we’ll have a fair distribution for each group.”

“As I see it, my group ’as more adults than your group. In my reck’ning, we should get a bigger share,” said Bennie. The males in his group started taking up a defensive stand around him and it was clear that they had planned this moment as a show of force when the occasion called for it.

“C’mon Bennie, are you really serious?” responded Gary. He was not going to be intimidated by anybody. He had seen this type of power play before. It was the hallmark of cowards who thought they could get away with force and belligerence. The only answer was to fight fire with fire.

“As I see the situation, we’re more than you and I think you’re just chancing your arm. In any case, the younger people justify more water and food. Adults are able to look out for themselves and can make do with less. Let’s start to sort the stuff in piles as I suggested,” he said dismissively turning his back on Bennie in disgust.

Bennie was about to protest when the man with hairy arms stepped forward pushing Bennie aside and said: “I’ve been quiet all along. My name is James Armstrong. I don’t buy all this shit concerning the earth’s crust shifting or the fact that we’ll not be rescued. I think we’re here for the short term of say at the outside, two weeks. Rescue teams will find us. In the interim we need to make sure we’re found and that we survive whatever the odds. One of the key survival tips you always hear about is that survivors should remain with the aircraft.  I support Bennie’s view. If any of you have other views you are welcome to them. If you wish to leave this site, do so at your own risk. As far as I am concerned you can go without any supplies!”

Virtually the whole group, including some of Bennie’s supporters, exclaimed in surprise. Gary immediately jumped forward and shoved Armstrong in the chest sending him staggering backward, tripping and falling down to hit his head with some force on a rock. He lay still where he fell.

Bennie’s group rushed forward to attack Gary but Oscar’s supporters quickly closed ranks, effectively shielding him from the others. Esme stepped toward the fallen man and ever the hostess, tended to Armstrong’s head. Within a couple of minutes he came to and shoving away Esme’s helping hands, got up and stalked away without looking at Gary or his group. Bennie’s followers accompanied him. They gathered about a hundred metres away, animatedly discussing the situation.

The only one who had not joined them and was standing some distance away from either of the two groups was Zyndile. She looked at these white people, perplexed. Couldn’t they even co-operate under these difficult circumstances? It was totally beyond her belief that power play had come to the fore so quickly. Clearly a leadership vacuum had been created by the disaster and what she was seeing now was a struggle for supremacy.

The atmosphere was tense and everybody waited for someone to make the next move.

The next move was however not theirs to make.

Another earthquake hit the mountain top and this time it was a violent one. The mountain top felt as if the world was shaking itself free of all its baggage. Birds immediately took to the air screaming their objections to the rude awakening. A portion of the distant hillside and large chunks of the side of the mountain just peeled away into the sea.

The air crash survivors screamed and some ran for cover to their puny little bivouacs, while others fell with their faces to the ground. As wave after wave of horrendous crashes took place, the sea below, which had been quiet since that morning, was stirred up in renewed and doubled fury.

Massive tidal waves were again created and to the small groups’ horror, from the middle of the seas about ten kilometres away from their mountain top, they witnessed the birth of their new world.

As they watched, a mountain rose slowly from the seas, spilling millions of tons of water coloured red by the infernal dust as well as rocks and mud. The sight of the huge rock emerging from the seas was one none of them would ever forget. The cliffs were perpendicular and clean as the living rock was torn from the bleeding womb of Mother Earth. It continued to rise above the seas until it was higher than the mountain top the Airbus had crash-landed on.  The new born mountain was shaped like the teeth of a White Shark with serrated edges along steep cliffs.

As they watched, transfixed by the sheer horror of it, a sudden eruption of flame and gas spewed forth from the side of the jagged cliffs, instantly killing thousands of birds which had taken to the air. Steam belched from the fledgling but massive volcano and with a sudden and deafening roar, the mountain top exploded, cleanly cutting virtually half of its jagged peaks off as if they had never existed.

The air was sucked from the survivors’ lungs by the shock-wave of the blast and as they gasped for breath, sulphuric fumes, smoke and ash had the whole group retching and coughing. Fortunately for them the strong winds which had sprung up earlier that morning blew away from the plateau toward the volcano while the distance from the explosion and their altitude seemed to work to their advantage, minimising the impact the blast and fumes had on them. They nonetheless had nowhere to hide; there was no shelter from the new horror and within seconds, massive rocks and chunks of red hot magma as well as ash coloured a dirty red, rained down on their heads. The sea boiled as the rocks tumbled from the skies, while ash and pumice started covering everything.

Mrs Lockhat was herding her children out in front of her and as they scampered for cover, a rock the size of a small motor car, whistled down to crush her where she was running for shelter about ten metres behind her children.

Gary felt a massive blast of hot air strike him in the small of his back much like he had been hit by a great rugby tackle. It saved his life as the wind from the blast roared over his head. He crashed into the ground face down, winded by the blow. Around him the flimsy bivouacs were torn and blown to shreds while much of the cargo they had so painfully collected was blasted off the plateau like chaff before Satan’s winds.

In the distance the volcano continued to belch forth its poisonous fumes and above it rose a mushroom shaped cloud which stretched through the covering clouds of red dust and for a few minutes the survivors on the plateau were able to see the blue skies and sunlight pouring through the gap rent in the clouds by the blast of the volcano. It would be the last time in their lives that most of them would see the blue sky or the rays of the sun.

The women and children were whimpering in abject terror as the volcano continued its symphony of death and destruction. It was as if the very earth rejoiced in the wanton destruction around it. Crawling to the spot where the rock had obliterated his wife, Ahmedi scrabbled in the hard ground under the still fiery hot rock but the ground was solidly compacted and too hot to touch. Mrs. Lockhat had been wiped of the face of the plateau as if she had never set foot upon it. Her children, crying in terror and shock crept up to their father. They never saw what had happened to their mother, one second she was shouting at them to run and the next moment, nothing.

Ahmedi stood up slowly, turned to face the volcano and with fists raised to the turbulent skies, screamed: “You brute, you have devoured my wife and the mother of my children. What evil have we done unto you? What more do you seek of us?” He sank to his knees sobbing, tears flowing to the red ground beneath him.

It was not clear whether he was addressing the volcano or Al-Llah. His curse would have a long-lasting effect. The new-born volcano had unknowingly been christened; Mt Brutus.

The volcanic eruption had removed any further doubts they had had concerning their position and at last everybody realised that the world had changed in a catastrophic manner.  They also started to realise that the future would be determined by the oldest of all survival laws; survival of the fittest! Graham Grant was right, the law of the jungle now applied.

Father Ridgeway walked to the Lockhats and sat down beside them. He put his arms around Ahmedi’s shoulders and they both wept. Shenaaz lay crying as close to the rock as its heat would allow, while her brother seemed to have gone catatonic. He was motionless; emotionless. He stared at the rock as if to will his mother to emerge from the solid earth; to appear from behind the rock, just to be there with him, them.

Bennie’s group scattered when the earthquake had hit them. The fallout from the volcano had burnt some of the survivors and they were trying to find bandages and dressings for their injuries which were fortunately not too serious. Jim Armstrong looked dazed; the volcano had in dramatic fashion illustrated to him that his earlier argument regarding rescue was wishful thinking. Miraculously the only fatal casualty was Mrs. Lockhat.

Zyndile, as shocked as the rest of the survivors, got up from where she had fallen to the ground and walked to Shenaaz. She crouched next to her and taking her hand gently, got her to stand up and walk away from the cursed rock. She sat her down at the medical supplies and with Esme and Christine’s help, administered some sugar water mixed with brandy, something devout Muslims such as the Lockhats would never have allowed across their lips; the young girl didn’t even realise this. Shock had set in and after leading Hassan over as well, Zyndile covered them both as best she could. Many of the other survivors were again sobbing in total desperation.

In the distance the volcano continued to emit smoke and magma albeit at an abated level. The enormous pressure that had caused it to explode had been relieved like some gargantuan fart.

Father Ridgeway called all the survivors who had gathered near the place where the Mrs. Lockhat had been killed.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord, that we have survived from His wrath yet once again.”

“Jesus Christ, can’t you guys leave us alone!” Christine screamed at the priest, red in her face. “As soon as you have an opportunity, you come up with this God’s wrath bullshit! Can’t you bloody-well see we are all struggling to survive what is obviously a pretty serious situation? God or Al-Llah or whoever, is bloody powerless to help us. If there is a God, he caused all this shit as well as the death of a woman and mother who had nothing whatsoever to do with being struck down by his so-called wrath. It is time we all got to grips with the fact that we are responsible for our own lives and that no outside, mystical power controls our lives. You religious parasites thrive on the suffering of others!” Flinging down the first aid kit, she turned around and walked off in the direction of the distant ridge.

The rest of the group, punch drunk from the day’s shocks, looked at Father Ridgeway with vacant stares trying to comprehend what was going on.

“Brothers and sisters, we have all been traumatised by the events of the past days and the toll is mounting,” he continued, “yet we must not despair. We must gird ourselves against what is awaiting us. We must find our resolve in the words of the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

He opened his Bible once again. As he read from it, at least 20 persons left the group and walked in their own directions to find a semblance of peace, logic or just plain solitude in the desolate and burning scenery around them. The Bible did not offer this to them.

The pathetic remainder of the Lockhat family sat on the ground where Zyndile was caring for the children, a hundred metres away from the rest of the survivors. Ahmedi was lying on the ground with his arms around each of the children. Shenaaz lay with her head disconsolately on a stone. She was just staring out in front of her, dazed by the happenings of the day. Hassan still had said nothing. He was just staring at his father.

No-one had even attempted to start with the day’s chores or to prepare food from their fast dwindling supplies. Neither had anyone noticed that the rear section of the Airbus’s fuselage had split away from the forward section and slid down the slopes into the boiling waters below.

The pale and muted light of the day slowly disappeared into the dark of yet another night, over a quiet and subdued group of survivors. Even Bennie and his friends were quiet now. In little groups the survivors made their beds as best they could and the camp went quiet as they struggled with their own demons.

When the new day dawned on King ’Rat, the survivors looked about them half expecting further disasters. June Hailey couldn’t believe that it had only been 3 days since they had taken off from Heathrow Airport. Three incredible days, during which their lives had been changed forever; three days during which humanity and many other species had been virtually exterminated; three days since Mike had been wiped off the face of the earth; three days so far removed from the normal lives they had all been accustomed to; friends, shopping centres, fast food, quiet evenings in front of the TV; going to the shows in London; commuting on the Tube; red London buses; all gone forever.

She quietly stood up from where she and her two daughters had created their own little shelter and walked toward the area which served as their ablution facility. Shallow holes were dug in a soil patch by Gary and some other men with crude pieces of metal shaped as scrapers. Rudimentary screens were erected for the sake of privacy. The men mostly walked into the scrubland to drop their pants. Already the area smelled of human excrement and flies were buzzing everywhere.

No bathing facilities were possible due to the water scarcity. The best June could manage was to brush her teeth with some water from the Airbus’ dwindling supplies in a plastic cup and to mop her face with her kerchief.

After completing her ablutions, June left the camp and walked toward where Gary and the scouts had found the spring. According to them it was almost an hour’s walk from the camp, but June welcomed the chance to get away from everything to gather her thoughts. The exercise was also a welcome change from sitting around the camp.

As she walked through the scrub, she noticed that someone else had had the same idea. She quickened her pace to catch up and saw that it was that black woman. As she walked up behind her, Zyndile spun around in surprise but quickly relaxed when she saw who it was.

“Hello,” June said. “I thought I would take a walk to see if I could find the spring. I would love to wash my face and hair in some fresh water.”

Zyndile laughed shyly. “Yes I had the same idea and needed to get away from the others. Shame, I feel so sorry for the Lockhats.”

June was quite surprised at her well modulated and groomed voice. She had obviously been to a good school.

“Yes me too, are you from London?” she asked.

“No, I am from South Africa, although I had been in London studying for the last twelve months. I was on my way back to visit my parents in Northern Zululand. The worst thing is that a person doesn’t know what has become of your friends or family.”

“Well, I know that my husband is dead. For me the worst thing is that he knew what lay ahead for all of us but no-one was prepared to listen to him. He sacrificed himself to save us and stayed to warn others, not that it would have helped, in any event.”

“Sorry, I actually don’t know your name. I am Zyndile Zulu.”

“Yes, isn’t it weird? Here we are, marooned on a mountain top, possibly forever, and we don’t even know each other. I am June Hailey.” June held out her hand in a formal greeting to which Zyndile reciprocated but in Zulu style.

The two women walked on in silence.

“You know, we must sit down and plan what we’re going to do. The men are constantly bickering and even fighting,” Zyndile eventually commented. “In our Zulu tradition, the women tend not to be involved in these things but we play a big role behind the scenes. It is the women who create the leaders and build up a person’s reputation…and destroy it, I may add,” she laughed wryly.

June noticed that Zyndile was beautiful. She was tall and wore her hair in the traditional plaited style decorated with beads. Her dress now soiled and crumpled from sleeping in it, was however modern and of a good cut. Clearly she had had a good upbringing and exhibited taste. She walked with poise and confidence as they wound their way through the rocks and scrub.

As they approached the area Gary had described to them, they could see that someone else was there as well. It was Gary. He had jogged here to get some exercise and to explore the area for purposes of their building a small village. He was not a late sleeper.

As the women approached, Gary walked toward them in some surprise. He was glad that they had come. It showed that they were interested to get out and do things.

“Hi ladies!” he greeted them.

“Hello Gary.” Everybody knew his name.

“We just realised that nobody actually knows each other except for a couple of people like you, Esme and Oscar. I am June and this is Zyndile. She’s from northern Zululand in South Africa.”

Haibo, ninjani?” Gary asked switching to the isiZulu language of South Africa.

Lungile, Gary. Saphila.” She laughed at his poor pronunciation.

“Pleased to meet you both,” Gary responded warmly. “Pity, it’s in these circumstances though,” he added.

“Yes, we were just saying that something must be done. Things cannot continue as they have been since we crashed.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Some people seem to have their own agendas and we’ll have to deal with that. But that is not going to be our biggest challenge. From what I can see here, there will not be sufficient water for everybody. We have a major problem. The last earthquake has caused the spring to collapse and very little water is coming out now.”

“Oh no!” gasped June. She understood the implications only too well.

Zyndile walked to where the spring was and could see that it was virtually dry.

“Is this the only spring?” she asked with her bottom lip trembling at the thought that their chances of surviving had just disappeared.

“Well, it’s the only one we found thus far. We haven’t really scouted the area properly yet. Maybe that’s what we will have to do before any decisions can be made as to where we build our shelters. In the meantime we could try to restore this spring. I think that if we dig and remove the rocks it may start flowing again.”

“Yes, in Zululand we’re quite used to this happening, especially in times of drought. Then we’re often forced to dig wells in dry river beds. Maybe we should get some men to come here and start to open up the spring?” she enquired.

“I think so too, Zyndile. I’ll jog back to camp and get some help. We’ll need this water today. I suspect that the water from the ‘plane is just about finished. See you guys later,” Gary said as he turned and jogged off to the camp.

Zyndile started walking away from the spring toward the small hill top.

“Where are you going, Zyndile?” June called.

“I’m going to see what’s on top of the hill. Coming?”

June jumped up as she was not going sit there alone.

Breathing easily with the familiar feeling of some exercise, she caught up with Zyndile as she started to clamber up the hillock. They reached the summit quite quickly and stopped to look out around them on their future home; an island of total isolation and despair.

The hillock was situated quite close to the north-eastern edge of the plateau and its side sloped down to the actual side of the plateau. Toward the south they could see the wrecked fuselage of the Airbus and nearby, the camp of the survivors. To their north-west, the volcano, still smouldering from the eruption the previous day, lay some distance away in the middle of the seas, while in the hazy smoke-filled distance, due west of them, they could make out a range of mountains which stretched along the horizon from north to south.

The plateau itself was quite large, stretching about five kilometres long by roughly three wide. It was shaped somewhat like a kidney with the inner bent canyon facing towards the mountain range. Along the north-western slopes of the hillock they could see a small forest and even some wild animals grazing nearby. This caused Zyndile to call out in amazement almost like she had seen a familiar face. They walked toward the forest. Upon approaching it they saw a sight which made them run forward in delight.

From the top of the hillock on its north-western side, a strong stream of water poured forth from the living rock. It wound its way down to the forest to disappear into the trees and beyond.

Zyndile and June lay down flat on the ground and submerged their faces in the clear pool of water. The cool liquid splashed down their faces and hair as they looked and grinned at each other like two children who had a shared secret.

After quenching their thirst they lay on their backs and looked at the angry red skies above them. For the first time, they felt some hope.

“This is a great find. It’s the first good thing to happen to us since the crash. I think Gary will be well pleased that it’s us who found it and not that Bennie guy. Can you imagine his face when we tell him about it?” Zyndile said.

“Yes, well maybe we must be careful about whom we tell. This site is perfect for us as we’ll have water aplenty as well as some protection from the wind which seems to be worst from the other side of the hill. And the forest will give us wood for fires, as well as space to plant stuff, although I don’t know where we will get seeds from. The group who wants to stay near the Airbus will quickly realise the mistake they are making.”

“You’re right. Maybe we should get back to Gary and tell him.”

The two women walked back the way they had come. Zyndile felt an odd creepy sensation down her spine; something or someone was watching her and as she turned round, she could make out two hyenas watching her from behind a clump of rocks. She shuddered and picking up a rock hurled it at them.

“Go away you dirty creatures!” she yelled. June jumped in fright as she was totally unaware of the animals or that Zyndile had seen them.

“Good God, Zyndile! You gave me a fright. Those animals are scary but I hear that they are cowards and won’t attack us.”

“In our culture the hyena is believed to have magical powers and is often thought to be a witch or Inyanga taking on the shape of a hyena. Anything that prowls around at night is frowned upon by my people. I’m a modern woman but these cultural taboos still have a big effect on me.”

“You speak as if you are from a traditional family and know about these things. What’s a knee-anga?”

Zyndile laughed at the English woman’s pronunciation: “An Inyanga is a type of soothsayer or witch-doctor if you prefer. Our history is full of them and they play an important part of our culture. I’m from the Royal Zulu family and am directly descended from King Shaka, founder of the Zulu nation.” June could see that Zyndile was proud of her heritage. She immediately warmed to the black woman.

“Wow, royalty in our midst. The others will be surprised to hear that.”

“Please don’t tell them. It just complicates things for me. Here I am just Zyndile, one of the survivors.”

“Look there’s Gary with some of the others,” June pointed to the old spring where Gary and some other men were scratching in the hard soil around the spring.

From the hill-top, June waved at the group below and shouted: “Gary, Karl, you guys come up here! You must see what we’ve found.”

Startled, they looked up at the two women on the hill and following Gary’s lead started clambering up the hill. Gary had brought along John Duguid, Karl Hofmeyer, Donald James and Esme. Oscar had remained behind to help Christine tend to some of the injured people as well as the children. Bennie and his group had walked off earlier in the opposite direction and were scratching among the ruins of the Airbus for further stuff that they could use.

As the slightly winded group reached the two women, June said: “We have brilliant news for you guys.”

“What’s up?” Donald asked.

“Well we decided to explore our mountain top and guess what we discovered?” asked June.

“A helicopter waiting to pick us up?” came the somewhat sarcastic remark from Karl.

“No better than that! Look!” She turned and pointed at the location of the spring. “We found a strong source of water which seems as if it could be the source of a river. It goes down toward that lovely little forest on the far side of the hillock.”

“Wow! That’s good news indeed. Let’s go and have a look,” Gary exclaimed.

“OK, but my legs are killing me,” said Donald James, wincing as he followed them.

The group buoyed by the news, set off for the hill and reached the source of water within 25 minutes. As they approached the small river, their pace quickened ending in a race like children, whooping at their good fortune.

Splashing about in the shallow waters and plonking themselves down to savour the feel of clean fresh water and the sheer abundance of it, they played and splashed each other in abandon.

After slaking their thirst at the source, they all sat down to contemplate their options. It was clear to all present that the find changed the complexion of their situation to a substantial degree. It also made the find more precious as it was clear that access to the water as well as the forest would increase their chances of survival dramatically.

“This may change Bennie’s group’s minds if we tell them,” Gary said.

“Yes it may, but the way I read them they want to be in charge and control everything,” said John. “They’re not the sharing type and may cause more problems than we realise.”

“Well we cannot really keep the news away from them. It’s not fair to anybody and we’re all in the same boat,” Donald replied. “In any case, they will find out sooner or later and then there will be trouble. I think we should re-open the discussion we had yesterday. If they still feel strongly about staying at the ’plane so be it. It may influence some of their group members to join us though.”

“Ja, I think you’re right,” said Gary. “But we need to protect our interests here. Those guys are not very happy with me. I think you guys should get back to the plane and discuss this again in my absence. I will stay here and scout around in the forest and see where a good spot would be for us to build our camp. Then I think we should start to move our stuff here as soon as possible and get those who are unable to walk like that woman with the broken leg, onto some type of a stretcher and carry them here as well. It is going to be quite a schlep.”

After further discussion, the group left, leaving Zyndile and Gary behind to explore the area further.

“Let’s walk down to the forest, Zyndile,” Gary suggested as the rest of the group disappeared on their way back to the Airbus. “I would like to feel some cool shade on my face for a change.”

She looked around her but could see no sign of the hyenas; encouraged, she followed Gary down the gentle slope towards the forest. They walked along the side of the stream of water and realised that a large part of the hillside was a wetland which filtered additional water down to the stream. It clearly formed the catchment area of the mountain, hence the fountain and stream.

Reaching the forest, they sat down in the shade of a beautiful flat-top tree, which Gary recognised as a Buffalo Thorn tree. It’s one hooked- and one straight thorn was a dead give-away. He reckoned it to be at least six hundred years old given the girth of its massive trunk and the fact that these trees are notoriously slow growers.

“Let’s have a look further in,” he suggested.

They entered the forest which had substantial grass on the surface. Every now and then they sighted the odd little buck darting away into the bush. As they went in further, the trees grew taller and Gary, who had spent some time in the game parks of South Africa, could recognise the Mopani tree with its distinctive butterfly shaped leaves as well as some Tamboti trees, renowned for its tough and poisonous wood which is impervious to attack from the pandemic white ants of Africa. Zyndile also noticed a Candelabra tree, which had a latex-like and very astringent sap. The Zulu people traditionally used the sap to glue together their assegai heads to wooden shafts. The sap was also used to kill fish in still waters.

“Well at least we can be certain we are in Africa and quite close to savannah type and even sub-tropical, land,” Gary said. Zyndile nodded.

“Yes, it looks a lot like the country-side where I come from in Northern KwaZulu,” Zyndile said. She was still nervous about the hyenas and dark forests intimidated her a bit.

Suddenly they were comrades and a more relaxed camaraderie seemed to develop between them. They emerged on the opposite side of the forest which ended virtually at the edge of the sheer cliffs of the plateau. The stream, by this time quite substantial, tumbled over the edge of the cliffs and in a thin spray, wafted down to the red seas below. In normal times it would have been a beautiful sight to behold. Today the scene below them was too abnormal to render the view beautiful.

 

Meanwhile at the camp, Karl, Donald and John had called everybody together again. Oscar had already been informed of the discovery of the spring and he had agreed that they all meet. Bennie and his followers approached somewhat suspiciously. They were not going to be bulldozed into anything.

“OK everybody. Listen up,” John Duguid called out. “This morning Gary and June as well as Zyndile and for those who don’t know who Zyndile is, she is the black girl, went for a walk to the spring we had discovered a couple of days ago. This is the place where some of us agreed yesterday to set up a more permanent camp. Well, they were shocked to discover that the spring had been destroyed by the earthquake and that there was no water.”

A groan went up from the group, and Bennie jumped up saying, “You see, we’re not as stupid as you ’ad thought…”

“Hang on Bennie, I’m not done. There’s more. June and Zyndile clambered up the hill while Gary, as you know, came to fetch some of us to try to restore the spring. What they discovered was that on the northern side of the hill there’s a forest and not too far away, a substantial fountain which seems to be the source of a small river which flows into the forest. This fountain will certainly have enough water to sustain all of us for as long as it flows. We are not sure what the forest has to offer, but it must have some potential for gardening and firewood, if nothing else.”

“How far is this place from us, John?” Oscar asked.

“It’s about an hour to two hour’s walk but we may be able to find a shorter way around the hill from this side. We can send out some chaps to do this. I would like to suggest that we get the injured and young people up there before nightfall and as much provisions and materials as we can.”

” ’ang on! Just a bloody minute!” Bennie objected. He wasn’t going to be railroaded by the promise of fresh water. “Yesterday we ’ad a vote and many of you decided to stay ’ere. I don’t think this find of the water, as good as it may sound, changes anything. I believe we should stay right where we are and wait for ’elp.”

“Bennie, it’s your choice and nobody is forcing you to go anywhere,” John responded calmly. “Those who want to relocate can do so and those who don’t, can stay. As it is, it’s a case of walking there for yourself. Those who need assistance will be helped. Also remember that a small forest such as we saw will make life a lot easier for all of us.”

“What about the sharing out of the stuff lying around here?” somebody shouted from within Bennie’s group. John could not discern who it was, most likely Graham Grant again. What an irritating man!

“Well this is what I propose as a suggestion. Let’s debate it but for God’s sake let’s all be reasonable about this,” John pleaded. “I suggest that Esme, Christine and two persons from your group Bennie, divide the stuff up according to the number of people who are going and those who are staying. Those who haven’t made up their minds yet, will have to decide and in any case anybody and everybody are welcome to come to the fountain whenever they wish as long as they can bring along their own stuff that has been allocated to them. What do you say? Shall we try it that way?”

Bennie’s group looked at each other and as they had no alternative, it was agreed.

The survivors who indicated an interest in going along to the new source of water, now far outnumbered Bennie’s group which seemed to have dwindled quite substantially. The promise of a wash, better ablutions and clean clothes started making a lot of sense to the women especially. Bennie’s group now seemed to consist only of men.

Essential foods and bottled water were divided up equally per person while every person was allowed as much personal goods as he or she could carry, pull or drag on whatever they could fashion out of the aircraft’s wreckage.

A small group of women quickly managed to pile toiletries onto a piece of metal scrounged from one of the wings. With some cables they managed to make a harness of sorts. Four of the women decided to take turns to pull this crude sled to the fountain. Meanwhile some of the men used spars to make small stretchers for Amanda and Alistair and a larger one for Suzette van der Merwe who had quietened down substantially by this time. Young Alistair was not looking good at all and from the sickly sweet smell emanating from his wounds it was evident that his wounds had gone septic. Christine confided to Oscar that she did not think that he would make the arduous journey but they could obviously not leave him behind.

Additional carrying stretchers were made for cargo which would be carried by some of the men. Each man was also allocated two bottles of whisky which created some light-hearted banter among the survivors. Further cargo would be carted the following day by a volunteer group of men.

Bennie’s group sat around watching the proceedings. Their representatives, who had assisted in the division of supplies, were talking quietly to Bennie and Jim Armstrong. They all seemed strangely relaxed. Oscar was worried. It was not like them to acquiesce so easily. Something was in the wind, something rotten.

Shortly after they had eaten the last of the aircraft’s supply of food, the group, now consisting of all but 15 of the survivors who were remaining behind, departed for the Source as some had started calling the fountain. Within ten minutes, Bennie’s group was alone.

Jim Armstrong leapt up and with a flourish opened a bottle of whisky.

“Let’s give thanks to the Lord’s bounty and toast our independence from the arseholes,” he said somewhat wryly.

As each survivor had been given two bottles of the Scots national tipple, the whisky started flowing quite freely. Soon they were laughing and talking among themselves. Graham Grant started to sing some raunchy songs and a few of his henchmen joined in.

“Shit guys, I would like to get into that Esme’s pants,” Graham shouted. “May the law of the jungle rule! Yahoo!”

“Aw shut up Graham,” one of the other men shouted, “that’s the rugby jock’s piece of tail.”

“No, I think it’s the navigator’s girl. The crew of these planes are always fucking each other,” said Graham. “But so what? The law of the jungle means that the fittest shall survive.”

“Well you don’t look ’alf fit to me, pal,” said Bennie.

“Ha, the fittest are not always the strongest. It is those that’re able to use their flippin’ heads and can screw the others with some creativity,” came Graham’s response amid jeering and laughter.

“Let’s also remember that we’ve stashed extra water and supplies which they ’ave no idea of, but keep it quiet we don’t want them to get to ’ear of it,” Bennie said as he further toasted their good fortune at having hidden a case of whiskey as well as a substantial number of cases of salmon and oysters.

The group of trekking survivors could hear the shouting and laughter in the distance and although they couldn’t make out what they were saying or laughing about, they looked at each other with some alarm.

“Glad we’re rid of them,” Esme said to Christine who was pulling one of the women’s sleds together with a couple of other women.

“Maybe they’re celebrating being rid of us, Esme,” Oscar said, overhearing her comment.

“Don’t be bluffed, Esme,” Christine also responded. “We haven’t heard the last of them. In two day’s time, their water supply will be done. We can expect trouble from them. They were busy in the wreck and I think they were looking for stuff to arm themselves with.”

“Oh shit! There were quite a few axes on board. We should have remembered to bring them along.”

“I did,” said John, behind her with a smile. “Saw three axes yesterday and hid them away. Got them with me.”

“Wow, I am impressed,” Esme replied. “The axes are going to be very useful as tools.”

“I know, I am not an engineer for nothing,” John replied.

“Great stuff. Now we know who’s going to do all the building,” Christine said jokingly. She looked at John askance, sizing him up.

Behind them they heard a groan and Christine, putting down the sled, ran to the litter that was carrying Alistair. He was suffering and was as white as a sheet. He was barely conscious and the sweat of a fever was coursing down his young face.

“Fever,” she whispered to Esme beside her. “I’m afraid he’s slipping away.”

With a moist piece of her dress she wiped his body and peering under his dressings, got a whiff of the stench of rotting meat.

“Gangrene,” was all she said. It was enough — it was a death sentence.

“What can we do?” asked John.

“Not much I’m afraid, unless we get some pretty potent medicines such as massive doses of penicillin. I think his intestines have started rotting as well. Then it’s just a matter of time and not too much of that either.”

“I think we have some penicillin in the medical supplies,” Esme replied. “Let’s have a look when we get to the base camp.”

“OK,” Christine said listlessly. She did not sound too optimistic about the young boy’s chances.

At that point Father Ridgeway reached them and having heard the last part of what Christine had said, said: “We must pray for him. His life is in the hands of our Father, not ours.”

Christine looked at him with contempt but she had enough sense to allow the priest to pray over the boy’s litter.

After the short prayer, they picked up the litter and continued towards their destination. It was still at least another hour’s trudge with their heavy loads slowing them down.

Every so often a piece of luggage would be left lying along the way, the owner either too tired to carry it further or just discarded in the pilgrimage to their new abode. The trail of junk grew as the group progressed through the low brush and rock-strewn way to the hill. Some survivors thought they would come and fetch the discarded stuff later.

As they approached the hill, two figures jogged toward them. The sky was darkening now and Gary and Zyndile started helping them to speed up their progress. The young and injured were quickly taken across the low hillock and made as comfortable as possible on the rough grass near the river.

Many of the survivors rushed to the river and with cries of relief and delight, doused themselves and in sheer exuberance, each other. Some carried water back in whatever receptacle they could muster, to aid the poorly.

The Lockhats squatted next to the river some way upstream and as a family gave praise to Al-Llah. They had left their wife and mother behind and grieved silently with each other; together, alone.

“Inshal-Llah,” said Ahmedi to his son. “We have a purpose here. Our mother’s death is a message to us to find strength as the Great Prophet Muhammad did when he was forced to flee 250 miles from Mecca to Medina when the rich pagan families in Mecca at that time wished to kill him and his followers. The Qu’ran will be our path and we will overcome. It is our ‘jihad’, our struggle and it is what Al-Llah, Blessed is He, expects of us. Let us cleanse ourselves. We must practice ‘salāt’, and keep to our purification of the body, of our spirits and souls and observe the ‘ayat’ or signs of nature in Al-Lah, Great is He. These signs will guide us just as the Holy Qu’ran will guide us. This will be our strength in this time of sorrow and bereavement. It will also be our strength to live as the Qu’ran requires of us. Let us pray for your mother. She is sitting at Al-Llah’s feet right now. She is the blessed one. She will be remembered in this accursed place.”

Ahmedi and Shenaaz walked fully clothed into the clean and cold water of the small stream and washed themselves from head to toe. Hassan refused to move. He sat on the banks of the stream without any expression on his face and stared after them.

Walking back to the gathering group, Gary told everybody what he and Zyndile had seen in the forest and on the other side. They decided that they would all explore the forest the following day and then meet to discuss the way forward.

It would be the first time the group would actively focus on the future – a future without modern amenities, or even basic survival necessities.

Young Alistair lay where they had gently put him down and made him as comfortable as was possible in the circumstances. He lay quietly, breathing very shallowly. The colour of his skin was that of death approaching; his eyes were sunken into dark recesses in his skull with parched lips drawn back over his teeth. Christine and Esme had rummaged through the medical supplies and found a small supply of penicillin ampoules and syringes and administered a massive dose as shock treatment. There was only enough left for two more similar injections. Christine continued to give him water in small doses and she continuously bathed his fevered body to try to break down or least abate the fever somewhat. His dressings were replaced and she retched at the sickly sweet smell of approaching death.

The women-folk started preparing some food while Gary and the men fetched firewood. They built a large fire alongside a small overhang of rocks which gave them some shelter from the wind.

Esme, Zyndile and Christine also went to the stream to bathe their tired bodies. It was dark now and Zyndile seemed quite nervous as she washed her legs.

From the top of the hill six sets of hyena eyes were watching them. The hyena family with its four young that had followed the parents from their lair was getting hungry.

With the fire casting its warmth and light under the overhang, the group clustered around. Some women had set up a couple of containers to boil water and soon some aromas wafted through the small camp. Esme had found a few boxes of soup in the wreckage; their night’s dinner. A dinner a far cry from the fare served on the aircraft during their last night in the air only four days earlier.

Zyndile could hear the cackling whoops and snuffling of the hyenas in the distance. She crept closer to the fire. They had already moved Alistair close to the fire as the fever raged in his body. His face was shining with the sheen of his battle with the demons of death. Christine continuously sponged his whole body with a damp cloth to combat the fever raging in him.

Gary and Esme sat a small distance from the group, enjoying the soup and relative calm. They were feeling a lot more comfortable now that they had moved everybody and that water was freely available.

“Tomorrow we will have to start doing some serious planning. Besides shelter we will need to build proper soak pit toilets and a washing area,” Gary said.

“As long as we don’t pollute our water or its source in the wetlands,” Esme responded. “Do you feel we should live in the actual forest or out on the plains, Gary?” she asked.

“I don’t have a preference yet but we’ll have to do some homework first and then take a collective decision. There are pros and cons either way. It will be important that we don’t further weaken our group with dissent and argument.”

“Shit you know, I cannot believe what has happened to us all. Who would have thought this was in store for us when we took off from Heathrow. It’s a bloody nightmare,” Esme said, and then as an afterthought added, “I have an additional worry.”

“What’s that?”

“Well just before we left London I was informed that I’m pregnant.”

“Oh hell! Jeez! What are you going to do?” Gary asked in some shock.

“I dunno. I’ll have to play it by ear. I have no option. No abortion clinics around here,” Esme said with a cynical shrug.

“Does Christine know?”

“Yes, I told her.”

“What’d she say?”

“She said that if there are no complications I should be OK. She has done midwifery and knows the drill but we obviously have very little in the way of facilities.”

“When’s the baby due?” Gary asked.

“I’m two months gone. That makes it seven months from now.”

The mere thought that they could be on the mountain long enough to await the birth of a child suddenly dawned on them.

They sat quietly, each with their own thoughts.

 

In Bennie’s camp all was quiet. The whisky had taken its toll and snoring could be heard from a distance away. Nobody had prepared any food or even a fire. Tomorrow was another day which would take care of itself.

Quietly two large bodies stalked the sleepers and without a sound except a surprised but muffled exclamation, the androgynous male hyenas’ massive jaws clamped onto the face of its victim; a limp body was dragged into the night towards a waiting family of hungry hyenas. Bennie’s group had grown smaller by one.

The law of the jungle in the harsh new world of the survivors had claimed its first weakling.

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