2 GENESIS 3: THE BIRDS ARRIVE: MANNA FROM HEAVEN?

Posted: September 23, 2011 in SciFi

Bennie’s camp near the wreck had been hive of activity over the last week or so. Although only left with fourteen members in total, they were hard at work to create fortifications using rocks that they were able to carry and stack in long walls which separated them from the rest of the plateau and the cliffs behind them.

Pieces of wreckage from the fuselage as well as the plastic recovered from the cargo was used to create small lean-tos. These were constructed in a semicircle facing inward towards a small clearing where they cooked and congregated for meetings or just to socialise. Inside these small structures they had made beds from the cushions salvaged from the seats in the wreck while hundreds of metres of stainless steel cables and electric wiring had also been stacked in heaps to be put to some undetermined use in the future.

Their water supply was stored in an aluminium trough which was fashioned from a relatively undamaged section of one of the Airbus’ massive engine cowlings. It held sufficient water for three days although they had yet to fill it to full capacity. Ablutions were constructed some distance away near the cliffs’ edge in order to facilitate sluicing waste water and sewage down the mountain side.

After the incident with the hyena, they decided to post a guard during the night whose task it was to ensure that the fire was sufficient to scare off the scavengers and in addition to keep a look-out for any untoward danger.

As the evening shadows, diffuse as they were in the dim light, lengthened, Bennie’s Crew congregated around a fire fuelled with brushwood two of their members had collected earlier in the day in the centre of their small camp. There was sufficient for the night.

“Shit! I’m stuffed,” Graham said. “How much whisky is left guys? I believe we’ve earned it.”

“Are you joking? We polished that off a couple of days ago. I’ve the oddest suspicion we won’t be seeing much whisky for a long time to come,” replied Danny, one of the other members of Bennie’s Crew.He was a small nondescript individual who slouched around trying to avoid work as much as he could. Not very popular, he’d nonetheless ingratiated himself with Bennie by fetching and carrying stuff Bennie needed and by passing messages on to the rest of the crew. He considered himself Bennie’s self appointed spokesman.

“Bennie, when do you think rescue will reach us?” asked Graham, ignoring Danny’s comment. He knew there was no whisky but his question was more to stimulate discussion than anything else.

Suffering from dyslexia, Graham did not have a great education. The Juvenile Court in Johannesburg had referred him to Boy’s Town, a correctional institution for youths, at the age of thirteen after being caught for petty theft in Hillbrow where he had been a drug runner for Nigerian drug lords. In Boy’s Town he had linked up with the Tuff Ones, a Boy’s Town gang who taught him all the tricks of the trade in the drug business.

After leaving the institution at the age of eighteen with only a small suitcase and a couple of rand in his pockets, he quickly linked up with the drug cartels in the city. He had impeccable references and quickly gained the confidence of the Greek Mafia; he had had enough of the Nigerians. Within ten years, Graham was in charge of a lucrative area in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg which made him a wealthy man very quickly. He was known to both his friends and his enemies as Graham the Geek. He was loathed but that was the way he wanted it.

“It’s anybody’s guess,” Bennie replied. “When I look around us at this god-awful mountain top, I ’ope somebody out there even knows that we’re ’ere.”

“Jeez, Bennie but you said…”

“I know what I said dammit! Who knew what the fuck was potting anyhow after the wreck and why the world was fucking upside down. Now we’re in a pickle ’ere and as you yourself said Graham, it’s a case of survival of the fittest. As I see our position right now, we ’ave food for about another week and then it’ll be finished. We will ’ave to think ’ow we’re going to survive. This mountain top doesn’t offer us much. When we think about the other camp, we’re going to ’ave to fight for every inch of our territory and every morsel of food we c’n find.”

“What type of food are we after, Bennie?” Graham asked.

“I’ve no idea what’s available at the local take-out, Graham,” he replied sarcastically. “For fuck’s sake, guys we’re going to ’ave to think for ourselves and not wait for something to fall in our laps.”

Bennie was irritated by the questions on the one hand but more so by the fact that he now doubted the wisdom of his own decision to remain here. It was clear that they were in a weakened position compared to Oscar’s group. It was too late to back off now. It would threaten his position as leader of the group if he did that.

“Christ, what do you think the other group is going to do?” asked Tom. He was also starting to have his doubts as to the wisdom of their decision to remain behind. Maybe Oscar and Gary were right after all, he thought.

“I’m not psychic for fuck’s sake! They’re in the same shit as we are. No doubt they’ll be figuring out something. I don’t trust that asshole, Gary.”

“Me neither,” said Armstrong. He was still nursing a damaged ego after his run-in with Gary a few days before. “I think we should try to find out what they’re up to when we go to fetch the water tomorrow. Let’s see what they’re eating. I suspect the forest will have some buck and there may even be fish in the stream.”

“You’re making it sound as if we were fools to stay here, Jim,” said Graham.

“Stupid is as stupid does, I believe is what Forest Gump would’ve said,” Jim responded sarcastically.

“Are you suggesting we join ’em, Jim?” Peter asked. He was a quiet one but had an affable way about him. Everybody liked him, but it was clear he wasn’t a leader and neither did he want to be.

“No, I think they have the better of us. We maybe made a mistake to stay here. I still don’t like them, though. Maybe we need to even the odds a bit.”

“How?” asked Graham.

“Well, one way is to negotiate some type of deal with them.”

“To do that we need leverage,” Bennie said.

“What’s leverage?” someone asked.

“We may ’ave something they want and they may ’ave something we want. If we’ve something they really needed, we would ’ave leverage,” Bennie replied somewhat superciliously.

“I know what Esme needs and I have just the right sort of leverage,” Graham commented with a knowing smirk, rubbing his crotch in mock anticipation.

“What ’ave we got, guys? Let’s be serious,” Bennie said, irritated.

“We’ve got the stuff left over in the ’plane and they said that they would be coming back for it, remember?” commented Danny.

“That’s right, but they also said they ’ave as much right to it as we do. Maybe that’s what we need to change. If we refuse them access to the wreckage what can they do?”

“Well, in the first place they outnumber us. Secondly, they have access to the water and can use that to force us to allow them to scrounge around the wreck. Thirdly, what’s so important about the fucking wreck? Most of the stuff’s been removed already,” Jim argued.

This left them silent as they faced the small fire and chewed disconsolately on the rationed meal for the night which consisted of stale bread from the wreck mixed with some tinned smoked oysters and salmon from the cans they’d secretly stashed.

After their meagre meal, they settled one by one into their small bivouacs, as night stole over them. Some of them had made small screens over the entrance with pieces of plastic from the wreck to keep out the hyenas. It was a lonely place to be.

Danny was on watch for the first shift which would end at twelve o’ clock. He glanced at the luminous numerals on his watch. It was the last vestige of civilisation and would only work until its tiny battery runs out. As the silence around them deepened, he shifted closer to the fire and added a couple of sticks to the flames.

Away to the east of Bennie’s camp, the camp next to the source was also coming to rest. It had also been a busy day for them. They set up camp close to the low cliff overhang where their fires were burning. Due to the larger number of people than in Bennie’s camp, they were spread out farther away towards the forest. A rule was agreed to that no-one would pollute the wetlands or the spring which was located close to the top of the hillock. As a result, all ablutions were established in the forest where Gary together with John Duguid and a few helpers cleared some bushes and dug pits with screens between the male and female toilets. The pits were dug in a sandy soil to facilitate drainage of urine while solid waste would be covered by soil on a daily basis to eliminate the stench and flies. The pits were dug quite deep and were a safe distance away from the stream.

Bathing would only be allowed near the edge of the mountain’s side where a handy pool in the rocks would make this a favourite pastime for the survivors when the weather allowed. They also agreed that men would bathe in the evenings while women and children would use the pool in the mornings. Washing of clothes was also allowed at this spot but normally took place during the day when the pool was unoccupied. The water flow was sufficient to cleanse the pool between uses.

Most of their lean-tos were fashioned with branches chopped from the forest and shaped with their axes. These small shelters were covered with the thick reed-like thatch that the women cut from the wetlands. The shelters were located in small groups according to the groupings which had started developing among the survivors.

Esme, Christine, Gary, Oscar, John Duguid, Zyndile and the Hailey’s had built their huts in a small square facing inward. They located this closer to the forest than the other huts. In between the huts they dragged thorn-tree branches to create a laager-type of enclosure to protect them from predators and give them some privacy. The Lockhats constructed their own hut separate from the rest also with a circle of thorn branches around the single hut while Karl Hofmeyer and Donald James together with a number of the other survivors set up camp in an informal fashion. Father Ridgeway joined this group as he did not feel comfortable near Christine or Gary.

The group also set up a small infirmary in an enclosure built like a stockade from sturdy tree branches beneath the rock overhang. This would protect them from rain and the red ash fallout as well as from predators. This was where Alistair, Suzette and Amanda were made comfortable. They stacked most of their supplies including their fast dwindling food supplies here as well.

It was agreed among them that no-one would source water at any spot except at the fountainhead where a team had packed a stone waterway to facilitate water sluicing cleanly into any receptacle they could fashion to carry water in or to drink from.

The variety of water utensils depended upon the stuff they had transported from the original camp. They had some plastic sheeting as well as metal pieces while banana-like leaves found in the forest served as temporary cups. Some of the survivors located stones which had been hollowed out and which after cleaning, also served as utensils.

After a foraging expedition in the forest and along its verges, Zyndile found a type of wild fruit which looked like the gourds of ancient times. She picked all she could carry and after removing the meaty fruit inside, proceeded to dry these out on the rocks. With Gary helping her, they then fashioned water containers which, after making a hole in the gourd’s narrow neck, allowed them to carry this around their waists tied together with strands of a hemp-like material also found on the outskirts of the forests from clumps of cacti. Gary said was sisal.

A more exciting find, and one that a nondescript survivor named Mike discovered, was the prolific presence of cannabis. Well known for its psychoactive uses as marijuana, its use for medicinal purposes and non-drug applications is lesser known. Mike seemed to be quite informed concerning the production of the hemp fibre which would over time have a major significance for the survivors on the plateau. This fibre could be used to manufacture materials for clothing and bedding while the inner more woody fibre could be used to make mattresses.  In addition hemp seeds are highly nutritious and can be eaten raw or be ground into meal and even be used for the production of a ‘milk’ to be used for cooking and baking purposes.

Mike was allocated the responsibility to cultivate the cannabis amidst much joking as well as quite a few stolen moments by Gary and some of the other younger survivors to ‘test’ the psychoactive properties of the versatile plant when no-one was watching. It took them some time to realise that no police would ever apprehend them. After that the production as well as use of cannabis was openly supported.

Every two days Bennie’s crew arrived to pick up water and get some washing done. They had agreed somewhat grudgingly to the rules of Base Camp as it was know being called. They knew that if they didn’t, they would stir up a hornets’ nest. The only exception was that they were not allowed to bathe as they arrived too early during the day to take advantage of the timeframe for male bathing. This rankled with especially Graham and Jim Armstrong. Gary advised them that they were welcome to join them in the evenings but it would have meant that they would get back to their camp after dark and no-one was prepared to risk that.

Two weeks after the air disaster Bennie approached Oscar about the food situation. Things had become critical in both camps although the Base Camp survivors could dig for sweet roots and prepare them in ways Zyndile had taught them. She also discovered cassava growing along the verges of the forest where the conditions were suitable. The roots she would peel and then soak in water for 3 to 5 days to remove antinutrients in the manner taught her by her matrilineal grandmother. However, the basic foods were depleted and sufficient stock had yet to be accumulated for the survivors. The survivors were starting to show the effects of hunger and general deprivation. The children were the first to complain while their parents started becoming quite desperate.

“Oscar, our food is gone,” Bennie said in matter of fact kind of way. “And I assume so is yours.”

“Yes, but we are busy with some plans to find food.”

“What plans?”

“I don’t see that it is any of your business, Bennie. You took your chances when you broke away from our group. You’ll have to do your own thing,” Oscar replied. He did not have any sympathy for Bennie’s Crew.

Both camps had settled into an uneasy kind of rhythm; a tension as if waiting for something to happen. Bennie knew that they were at a disadvantage but hell would freeze over before he’d come crawling back to them. Something had to be done to even the odds.

Upon returning to their camp, Bennie called a meeting immediately.

“Are we all ’ere?” he asked unnecessarily. He could see everybody was there, but he was thinking how he was going to handle this meeting. Jim Armstrong especially would be quite a handful because he was aggressive and intelligent while Graham was stupid and could be handled quite easily. Tom and Peter were OK and would follow the lead of the majority.

“I ’ad a talk with Oscar today before we left, about the food situation. They’re also running short. ’is words were that they’d developed some plans…”

“What plans?” Jim immediately asked.

” ’e wouldn’t say. Said it’s their business and that we’re on our own because we split from them.”

“There you have it,” shouted Graham, “now we can tell them to stuff off from this site. This is our territory. Fuck ‘em.”

“What’ll that do for our food situation, Graham?” Jim asked turning to face Graham. Graham irritated him but he knew they could not afford to lose more members. As a group he realised that they were not sustainable in the long term.

“We have to hunt guys,” Tom said, interrupting what could have become a confrontation between Jim and Graham.

“Hunt!” Graham exclaimed. “Who the fuck knows how to hunt among us? And what’ll we hunt with? Shit I can see Danny here running after a rabbit with a rock.”

Some nervous laughter.

“Listen Graham,” Jim commented with obvious irritation. “I’m getting the shits with your constant harping. It’s time you started accepting where we are and what we must do. Jeez, we’re only fourteen people and we’ll have to find something to hunt with. We could make a sling shot with some cable.”

“Yes!” Danny said, “what about setting traps, you know like with wire cable that will catch birds and the like?”

“Good idea Danny. Do you know how to do that?”

“I do,” Jim said. “At least I have some skills. I was a farmer in South Africa and had to survive in a country where we white farmers got fuck-all assistance and were hunted like royal game by the terrorists who now rule the country.”

“You mean who ruled the country. They’re all fucking dead now,” Graham retorted.

“Whatever! What I’m saying is that we’ll have to hunt for our food and I aim to start right now but I don’t know who will be eating and who will be watching.”

“’ang on, Jim,” Bennie said. “There’s more to my reason for calling this meeting. We’ve a more serious problem.”

“More serious than food!” Graham exclaimed.

“Yes. Listen do you really think that the guys at Base Camp are going to be ’appy if we start setting traps all over the mountain? What about their traps? Who’s going to win a confrontation if it comes to that? I don’t like our odds and the fact that we’ve no water weakens us totally. We’ll ’ave to do something to give us the edge.”

“Like what, Bennie?” Jim asked. He knew that they had little chance to overpower Oscar’s group or to take over the water supply. In any event once they had overpowered them, then what?

“That’s why I called the meeting, guys. We need to find a way. The alternative is we die of ’unger or thirst.”

“Bennie, the weak can only be strong when they can use the strength of the strong against them.” The surprising response came from Dannie who had been listening to the argument quietly. He knew that he did not have a strong support base but had enough savvy to play his cards cleverly.

“Shit, look who’s the flipping philosopher now,” Graham sneered. Bennie looked at Danny with some surprise as well but there was something in what he was saying. What was it?

“What d’you mean Danny?” he asked.

“Oscar’s group has always told us to join them. If we do, we can check out what they’re up to and at the same time get water. We can even help them with the hunting. This will also give us chance to get some support from some of their members to join us. Divide and rule, I say! Then when the moment is ripe, we can play our cards.”

“Which will be?” queried Jim. He liked what Danny was saying.

“I dunno, Jim. That’s something we’ll have to figure out as things develop. If we try to confront them now we will get a hiding in more ways than one, I promise you,” Danny replied.

“Jeez guys! I’d ’ate to see the look on Oscar, or that fuckhead Gary’s faces when we ask ’em to come back,” Bennie commented. He was thinking that Danny had a point but it grated him to admit that his original stance leading to the split from the main group was at the root of this crisis.

“Hey, cheer up! Just think how close we’ll be to the women. We can’t live by bread alone guys!” Graham exclaimed facetiously.

“What bread?” somebody asked.

“Oh shaddup,” came the dismissive response from someone.

“OK. If we follow Danny’s line of thinking, ’ow will we set it up and ’ow can we make sure we stick together?” Bennie asked.

“Well, I would suggest you speak to Oscar first, Bennie,” Jim proposed. “You must ask him what the conditions will be, because I’m sure that they will set conditions. I would, if I were them. Remember that they’ve already built their huts and camps. With us coming in we can upset the apple-cart somewhat. Once we know what their conditions are, we have another meeting like this here to consider the conditions and our response to them before taking any further decisions. It’s not a certainty that they are going to be happy to see us amongst them again, that much is clear. They like us as much as we like them.”

“Do we ’ave time for all this too-ing and froing, Jim?” Bennie asked.

“Do we have an alternative?” Jim countered. He looked around him. The majority of the group seemed to be in agreement with him. It would solve the immediate issue of food- and water supply and help to build solidarity between them.

Jim was in control now. “Bennie, it seems like we have agreement among us. I believe that it’s critical that we keep our group united, otherwise Gary and his pals are going to tell us what to do. I won’t stand for that and neither will you or anyone here for that matter. I think that Danny’s proposal is basically sound but I must warn against any dissension among us. They’ll exploit that, you can be sure.”

“Right, it seems as if we ’ave reached some sort of agreement. Right?” Bennie tried to re-establish his leadership. “I’ll go with Danny tomorrow and take the matter up with Oscar and his group. If they agree, when’ll we move?”

“Immediately, I think. The sooner we can sort out our situation with them the better. In any case we’ll need to start looking for our food with them as soon as possible.”

As if to stress their parlous position, they dispersed to a supper which consisted of a couple of hard stale biscuits each, the last of their food stock.

Jim ignored the ‘meal’ and kept himself occupied with pieces of stainless steel wire-cabling from the Airbus. By fashioning the lengths, he was able to tie loops in them which would serve to strangle small rodents and if they were very lucky, a small buck such as the dijker, one of Africa’s smaller antelope which they had noticed bouncing over the veldt some days ago.

Bennie was not happy with the way the meeting had gone. Jim came on too strong and the group seemed to lean toward him as the leader now. Good grief! Danny came out of the woodwork, didn’t he? His thoughts turned to his meeting with Base Camp. He would have to make it clear to Oscar that he was the leader and that discussions had to be routed through him. Can’t allow Oscar and his guys to take over now could he? That would be the end of his crew.

Graham was lying in his lean-to thinking about Esme. His loins ached for release.

The next morning dawned in Base Camp to find Karl and John Duguid crawling though the reeds in the wetland. Ahead of them they had targeted some wild Egyptian Geese which had settled in the reeds. Following their raucous calls, the two hunters edged forward slowly through the muddy water on their stomachs. With his head barely sticking out of the water, Karl who was in the lead dashed his arm out and managed to grab one of the geese by the neck as the other five screeched and with a violent flapping of their large wings ran across the surface of the water to take off. The goose was flapping wildly but with a deft twist Karl broke its neck and after some spasmodic tremors, it hung limply in his hands. Meanwhile John who stood up from the water and was snuffling around in the long reeds, called Karl over to where he was peering into the reeds. There in front of them were five nests, each with two eggs. Their haul for the day was good indeed!

As they walked back to the camp carrying their catch, the children and women ran out to meet them excited by the bird they saw Karl was carrying. The women had already started the fires and water was being prepared to clean the goose.

With wild onions and herbs and Zyndile’s cassava, they could prepare a stew which would go a long way to feeding especially the children, injured and some of the weaker members of their group. The eggs were beaten to make a large omelet mixed with cooked cassava and madumbis and used to feed the weakest of the group. Alistair was one of these but he had improved to the extent that he could now sit up and even walk a few metres. His recovery had everyone talking about miracles, the hand of God and being blessed. The ministrations of Christine and Zyndile had been conveniently forgotten by the religious.

Esme and Christine emerged from the forest carrying some branches and leaves to refresh their beds and huts. Approaching the successful hunters, Esme exclaimed: “Well, well. Never thought I’d see the day that I would be delighted with a dead goose!”

“We were lucky I guess, but if we’re clever I think we can capture enough birds and rabbits, especially the rock rabbits to feed us on a sustainable basis,” Karl said, holding up his catch with undisguised pleasure.

He handed the large bird to Christine who proceeded to gut it. It would be put into a tub of hot water and de-feathered after which they would slow cook the bird over a low temperature adding some herbs and cassava with the wild onions.

After a couple of hours the smells that started emanating from the pot attracted the attention of Bennie and Danny who were approaching the camp.

Danny sniffing the air, said: “Shit smell that! What are they cooking?”

“I dunno Danny but I’m ‘ungry enough to eat any rubbish right now. ‘ope we get invited.”

As they trudged along the pathway which was now becoming quite bald in patches from the traffic between the two camps, a family of hyenas could be seen furtively shadowing them. They could also smell the cooking and they were getting quite hungry as well. Their last catch had been Charlie about ten days ago.

 

As the survivors carried on with their daily yet still unfamiliar routines, a strange humming cum whirring noise started to make itself heard; almost felt, around them. Startled, the survivors dropped what they were doing and looked around to see where the noise was coming from. The sound rose and rose around them to a crescendo, sounding like a combination of an approaching subway train and the screeching of brakes of a thousand cars. Suddenly the red clouds above the plateau darkened as a teeming mass of living matter dropped from the skies.

The survivors watched in amazement as thousands upon thousands of birds arrived in one wave upon another. The birds appeared almost magically from nowhere through the red clouds, which had blanketed the plateau since the disaster. Vultures, together with eagles, crows, seagulls, sparrows, swallows, storks, finches and countless other birds crowded onto the outcrops of rock, screeching, hopping and flapping about to establish their new roosts and pecking order. There was no order and the normal age-old boundaries and battles between different species seemed to have been obliterated as the birds continued to settle onto precarious rock perches or hopped around each other trying to make sense of what was happening. They were tired, very tired and many merely sat as if to say “Here we are and here we stay.”

It was an incredible scene; the birds seemed to be totally unaware and unconcerned by the presence of the humans. They were also survivors and considered themselves equally entitled to a piece of the remaining geography of the planet.

The birds would continue coming for the next two weeks until the island was crowded and stank to high heaven. The noise and fighting among the birds was frightening; the humans could only watch their antics in amazement.

For the moment the hyenas were distracted and knew instinctively that food had been provided by the Great Hyena in the sky.

Father Ridgeway, accompanied by a group of survivors left the camp and a hundred metres further on gave thanks to the Lord for the manna from heaven.

As the migration of birds continued, Bennie and Danny walked into Base Camp. The survivors were sitting down and eating the goose together with cooked cassava.

They had been watching the birds arrive and also realised that food had suddenly become more readily available. Karl and Gary saw the two visitors simultaneously and stood up immediately sending a strong signal that would tolerate no threat from anybody, least of all the visitors.

Oscar stood up more slowly, thinking what he should say.

“Welcome to Base Camp, Bennie.”

Bennie had walked up close to the eating area and looked pointedly at the food. It was clear that both of them were starving. Oscar had no choice.

“Sit and partake of the very meagre food we have,” Oscar invited rather grandly but with some reluctance.

Danny and Bennie did not wait for a second invitation and after Esme had passed some wooden boards that served as plates to them, she scooped from the pot on the fire and piled some meat and cassava on their plates.

Gulping down cassava with a weak but flavoursome gravy running down his cheeks, Danny asked: “What the hell is this? It is surely not from the Airbus? What is this white stuff? Jees, it tastes fucking good.”

“Whoa guys. Let’s keep the language civilised,” Father Ridgeway arriving from his small prayer group, piped up from the rear.

“Guess, Danny,” Karl laughed at the sight of these famished survivors. “If you guess right you can have another piece, if not we are all coming to your camp tonight for supper.” He laughed uproariously at their obvious discomfort.

Danny was too busy stuffing his mouth to answer Karl, but Christine saved him by saying:

“We’ve cooked a goose that Karl caught this morning. The white stuff as you call it Danny is cassava. Zyndile told us about it and we found ample supply on the verges of the forest. It tastes like potatoes. The rest is herbs and some salt we found on the banks of the river. We think it may be from hyena urine.” Danny almost vomited but quickly recovered his composure to swallow the last morsel and continued to lick his wooden plate.

“What d’ya think of this?” Bennie asked pointing with a bone in his hand at the birds arriving and settling on the cliffs, trees and rocks around them. Thousands had immediately congregated around the water and were thirstily drinking while some were not losing any time to wash themselves.

“Seems that the birds are survivors like us and settling where they can. Wonder how they knew where this mountain top was though? They could not have seen it through the red clouds,” Karl replied.

“It’s manna from heaven,” the priest said behind them where he was sitting to enjoy his own portion of the meal. “God is looking after us. He sent the birds to this lonely outcrop, knowing full well that we need food. I have been praying for a miracle like this for some time now. My prayers have been answered.”

“Aw common, Father, you can see the birds are bloody survivors just like us,” Gary shot back. “This rock is probably the only safe place for them for miles around.”

“God works in wonderful ways, Gary. Can’t you see His hand in this?”

“And pray father, what is God’s wonderful purpose with us here? Or is it to show us his munificence with the arrival of the birds?” Gary said sarcastically.

Christine who had said nothing was listening and watching the discussion with interest.

“I don’t profess to know God’s purpose with us,” the priest responded to Gary. “Time will tell. All I’m saying is that He has reached out and touched us here today.”

“Father, can you tell us why God saw fit to destroy the world, if we’re to believe June here, but has decided to place us on the mountain and in the process, killed hundreds of passengers; then sent us birds so that we may partake of his bounty, as you put it? Is your god playing games with us like he did with Job?” It was Christine who had decided to join the fray.

“If we have faith in God’s design for us, you’ll witness many miracles, such as He created when He destroyed the world and bade Noah and his family to repopulate and seed the world with animals and birds.”

“The metaphor is apt, John,” Oscar said, “but I think you’re pushing it a bit.”

Christine looked at the priest and with a smile said: “So, what you’re proposing father is that we must have faith, believe then we will become the Noahs or seeds of the New World. Is that right?”

“Yes,” the priest replied.

“OK guys, there we have it,” she said waving her arms at the small group. “God’s grand design for us has been in the pipeline since the beginning of time. He tired of the world as we knew it; decided to destroy everyone who is dear to us, or those who did not suit his grand design; placed us, mind you us and nobody else, on this mountain to be the so-called seeds of the future; then to be sure that we don’t perish, sent us birds to eat. To top it all and to make sure we tread the narrow path, he ensured that Father Ridgeway is here to look after our souls. Now we know exactly who to hold accountable for our misery.”

“I don’t like your flippancy or your blasphemy, Christine,” the priest replied angrily.

“I don’t care what you or your god like, father. I tell it like I see it and I see the beginning of another bullshit myth like the fables around Noah and the many other like him in other religions. That’s all.” She stood up and walked off towards the forest for some cool air.

The priest looked at Oscar who just shrugged his shoulders.

The rest of the group looked at Bennie who had been listening to the debate with some interest.

“One thing’s certain; if they are going to ’ang around, there should be a lot of bird meat to go around, manna or no manna,” Bennie said, causing the others to giggle at his naïve but accurate response.

“Yes. What was it you guys wanted anyhow besides the food?” Gary asked flippantly. He was watching Christine disappear into the forest.

“Well when we left we’d been given a mandate to ask to rejoin you guys. But I’m not sure that this is necessary now what with all these birds arriving ’n’ all,” Bennie replied.

Calabashes of water from the river followed the meal and everyone sat or lay back on the rocks and grass where they had been sitting.

“Thanks,” Bennie said with Danny nodding in agreement beside him. “That’s what we’ve come to talk about Oscar,” Bennie continued.

“We ’ad a meeting yesterday and it was agreed that me and Danny ’ere approach you guys.”

“What about, Bennie?” Gary asked, knowing what to expect. His dislike of Bennie and his crew was palpable.

“Well, we made a mistake. We should’ve joined you from the start. Our camp is nice and good enough for us types but we don’t want to fight with you guys about food and water. Oscar, you did say we’re welcome to join you, didn’t you?” he said, somewhat plaintively.

“Yes I did, but you turned that down flat. You thought you knew better and quite frankly I don’t see why we should now allow you guys to return. We’ve built this camp to suit us and your coming here is bound to cause trouble. In any case it sounds to me that now you’re desperate you want to ride on our backs. There are some of your crew who will not fit in here at all.”

“Like who?” somewhat more belligerently from Bennie. He had expected them to make the process almost impossible for them.

“I’m not going to mention names, Bennie but you know who they are.”

Father Ridgeway walked in to the small circle and facing Oscar said: “What options are there for Bennie’s Crew, Oscar? As I see it, it was clear from their hunger a couple of minutes ago, that they’re starving.”

“They should’ve seen it coming, father,” Gary said with some irritation. “We left the door open and at one stage they didn’t even want us to take any rations with us. Now they’re the ones crawling to us.”

“I agree with Gary, Father. In this world and especially in our critical situation, every person must face the consequences of his own actions,” Esme said from the side where she was cleaning some utensils.

“My child…”

“Father, I’m not your child so don’t come here with your altruism and whining for the disadvantaged and so-called down-trodden. I don’t trust these guys, Are you prepared to take responsibility for any trouble they may cause?” Esme responded bluntly.

“Hey! Shut up all of you!” Oscar intervened. “These guys have been here half an hour and already we’re shouting at each other. The priest has a point but so has Gary. I don’t think this is my decision alone, so what I propose is that we first ask Bennie and Danny here what exactly it is they want and then we can excuse them to deliberate and come to a decision collectively. We can give them our response in two days time when they fetch water again. Is that agreed?”

Everyone agreed except Bennie and Danny. They knew things were getting critical and the twelve guys left behind expected them to arrive at something definitive. Above all they were very hungry. Two days was a long time to wait when you are desperate, but maybe the coming of the birds had changed all that.

“Can’t you give us some answer to take back now, Oscar?” he asked.

“No, we will need to consider a number of things and set up some conditions before we can allow you guys back here.”

“What type of conditions?” Danny piped up. Jim had warned them to expect ‘conditions’.

Ignoring him, Oscar continued: “As I said, you tell us what it is you want and how and when you want to come in, and we will give it some thought. Then and only then can we respond. Some of our camp members are in the forest working right now because we have drawn up a roster with duties for all; how prepared are you for example going to be to muck in with us?”

“We’ll ’ave to, won’t we? We know what the odds are and we don’t want to be parasites.”

Gary and Karl looked at them mockingly. Bennie did not notice the irony of his statement.

“When do you want to come over?” Esme asked.

“Immediately you give us the OK.”

“How many are you?”

“Fourteen, all males.”

“What can you bring into this camp?” asked Christine who had returned from the forest.

“What d’ya mean?”

“Well what value can you add and why should we be happy to welcome you into our midst?”

“We’ll bring as much materials as we can carry, like steel wire and panels and we’ve quite a lot of skills let alone strength to build and make things. We’ll ’ave to learn to ’unt but we’re prepared to do our full bit,” Bennie replied.

“How do you see yourselves merging into our camp?” a pointed question from Gary again. He had not forgotten the snide remarks from Graham concerning Esme.

“Well, we’re not sure about that. In our camp we’ve built lean-tos and it’s been everyone for ’imself. ’ere’re children, women and injured and I see you’ve set up separate camps. I guess that we’ll ’ave to set ourselves up as best we can and not interfere with the present camp structure.”

“But you will, by your mere presence,” Gary replied. “Both Graham Grant and Armstrong have it in for me and there may be ructions when our paths cross.”

“I cannot speak for Jim and them, but things ’ave not been normal since the crash. We’ll need to come to terms with what’s going on ’ere.” This sounded like a different Bennie. Gary did not trust him at all.

“Is there anything you would like to add, Bennie?” Oscar asked.

“No, I think we’ve covered it,” Bennie replied.

“Any more questions?” Oscar asked of his camp.

A shake of heads.

Bennie and Danny filled their water containers and returned to their camp.

 

Bennie was not happy with the outcome of their meeting. Oscar’s group held all the cards and they could do nothing about it. He’d have to tread carefully with Armstrong, Tom and Graham. It may be difficult for them to understand their position. But what choice do they actually have?

Approaching their camp, they could make out Jim, Graham and Tom scratching around the fuselage of the Airbus. This had become a favourite pastime for them. There was not much else to do. The rest of the crew was sitting in front of their bivouacs fiddling with things or watching the birds scrabbling around and squawking as they settled over the whole island.

“OK guys, listen up,” Danny called out. They all gathered around him.

“So what’s up, Bennie?” Graham rattling off questions as was his irritating style. “What’s up with these birds anyhow? What did those fuckers say?”

“Well as we approached base camp, the birds started to arrive and it seems they ’ave decided to settle here for a-whiles anyhow. First of all we had a pukka meal with them. Goose and cassava stew.”

“Shit! What’s cassava?”

“Something they dig from the ground,” Danny replied dismissively. “Listen we discussed the issue with these guys and they were not overjoyed.”

“Of course they won’t be. We’re extra hassles for them,” Jim said. “So what was the outcome?”

Bennie responded: “They asked us some questions relating to when we want to come over etc. Oscar said he would ’ave to discuss it with all the guys in their group and when we go back for water in two days time, they’ll give us an answer. As Danny says, they’ve problems with us not fitting in.”

“So now we’re at their mercy, aren’t we?” Graham stated unnecessarily.

“What’d you expect? We ’ave fuckall to offer them. The priest batted for us though. Said we had no option as we’d starve; Gary and his pals couldn’t care less.”

“Well fuck them then!” Graham exclaimed.

“Then what Graham?” Jim asked.

“We carry on as is and compete with them for food…”

“and water?” Jim continued.

“They can’t deny us water.”

“With your attitude you are making it easy for them to grip us by our knackers, Graham.”

“Can’t we renew the first spring we found and peg our claim around that?” Tom asked. He could see that the discussion was going nowhere.

“I’ve no idea Tom, but it’s a possibility I guess. I’ve done it before on my farms,” Jim replied thoughtfully.

“Why don’t we go and ’ave a look? Maybe we can surprise Base Camp when we tell them we don’t want to join them any longer, now that the birds ’ave arrived. They’ll be major source of food if we can trap them,” Bennie said. He still preferred being independent and sensed that if they joined Base Camp, the leadership issue will eventually split them in any event.

“What do we do for food in the meantime? I’m flipping hungry,” Graham replied.

“We’ll have to fend for ourselves so maybe this is as good a time to start as any. Let’s all trek to the old spring right now and see if it can be renewed and at the same time try to catch something we can cook,” Jim suggested. He knew that the odds of them killing anything were very small but at least it would take their minds off their situation and give them something to do.

After scrounging around for some makeshift tools to dig and some stainless steel wire to set snares, they set off for the old spring.

 

At Base camp Oscar called everybody together to discuss Bennie’s proposal.

“You all heard about Bennie’s request that they be allowed to rejoin our group here. They obviously have a problem and would probably not survive if they remain where they are at the moment. At the same time, some of us may have a problem with them joining us here. I don’t trust them for one. But do we have an option?” he asked.

“Don’t you think that the birds have evened out things a bit?” Gary asked.

“Well, water is the big issue,” Karl responded.

Father Ridgeway commented quietly from the side of the group: “What’s the Christian thing to do; my apologies Ahmedi, and Muslim thing?” he added.

Christine was about to respond when June piped up with her arm gently holding Christine back: “Before we get into a religious argument, let’s consider whether we actually want these guys among us. I for one would be considerably more at ease with them as far away as possible. That Graham creep worries me. The water issue is a side issue as far as I am concerned; solutions for that could be negotiated.”

“I agree with June, Oscar,” Esme added. “The split between the groups had nothing to do with water or food if you recall. They had their own agenda. It had to do with doing their own thing, if you ask me. I don’t think that’s changed at all. I have no doubts that when they settle here with us they will comply at the outset and then start stirring up things to suit themselves. They’re still smarting at the fact that the majority followed us here.”

“Yes that’s all good and well,” Oscar argued to create some balance. “If we refuse them what will the outcome be?”

“They’ll have the shits with us,” Gary responded, shrugging his shoulders in dismissal. “So what’s new?”

It took some discussion as there were quite disparate views among the group. Ultimately the large majority, with the exception of Father Ridgeway, Ahmedi and some of the more religious in the group, concurred that Bennie’s Crew not be allowed back.

 

Meanwhile Bennie’s crew arrived at the spring. A number of birds had congregated here and took no notice of the approaching humans. Jim casually walked up to a Cory Bustard which is a large and very tasty bird if prepared properly, grabbed it by one of its legs and swinging it up and around his head, dashed it to the ground, killing it instantly. Hundreds of startled birds squawked and flew up in the air just to settle down again a bit further away. They had had their first encounter with natures’ most successful predator, man.

“Wow, Jim. That was quite a trick, man! What type of bird is that?” asked Tom.

“It’s a ‘pou’ in Afrikaans, or a Corey Bustard if you like. They’re game birds and very tasty. Better than turkey I can tell you,” Jim replied. “There’s enough meat on that bird to feed all of us tonight.”

It was getting towards late afternoon, but the small crew started digging around the spring to remove as many rocks as they could. Jim dug till he had a hole of about half a meter deep. Standing up to survey his handy work, Jim and the group noticed a rapid darkening of the soil around the edges. Soon some frothy water had accumulated and within twenty minutes the small hole had filled. Although the water was not potable, that was the least of their problems. The group whooped and yelled in exuberance at their double whammy and like so many savages, danced around the spring. A few had stuck large Bustard feathers behind their ears in mock celebration.

Scooping up as much of the muddy water as they could extract from the spring, the crew set off in the fast gathering twilight to their camp. Bantering and joking about the ill-fated bird and what they were going to serve up as hors d’oeuvres and desert, kept them howling with laughter until they reached the camp.

By this time, Jim had gutted the bird while Peter and Tom set the pot cooking on the refurbished brush fire they had packed before leaving for the spring.

Using the water from the spring to first boil the bird, Jim then poured off the dirty water and started to pluck the large bird’s feathers while the others sat and watched in fascination. None of them had done this before. Where they’d come from you bought your meat at the supermarkets or at the local butcher.

The now plucked and headless bird was dumped into the steaming hot but clean water Bennie and Danny had brought from Base Camp and with a little dance and a grand flourish, Bennie walked up to the pot and to rapturous cheering from the crew, dumped a handful of salt, which he had discovered in the Airbus wreck, into the water. As he did so he shouted: “Up yours Oscar!”

It was their first kill and they all thrilled to the sense of achievement. For today they were the victors. In celebration, many of them painted their faces with the blood of the Bustard and mixed with mud from the spring. They looked like so many barbarians.

The meat cooked for an hour before the impatient gang, ripped it from the water and devoured the bird. It was still half cooked and very tough with a rank odour, but none of them noticed. They ate the bird as if it had been served with mushrooms and cream.

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