Moses was a Liar: 3 GENESIS 5.1: The Rape of Morality

Posted: October 27, 2011 in SciFi

 It was about six months after Zyndile and Tom had moved to their new settlement that the first disappearance occurred.

Christine and Karl were working on their home when they heard someone calling outside. Emerging from their home, they were very surprised to find a tired Father Ridgeway and Suzette approaching.

“This is a surprise, Father. To what do we owe this privilege?” Karl asked.

“We’re very tired, Karl. We’ve been rushing around since the day before yesterday afternoon and left very early this morning to come here,” the priest replied. He was clearly unaccustomed to a long hike and the speed with which he and Suzette had covered the distance between KRAT and New London was a considerable accomplishment.

“Why what’s wrong?” Karl asked in concern.

“Amanda has disappeared,” Suzette blurted out. She was close to tears and clearly about to collapse. Christine immediately helped her into the house where she gave the two weary travellers some water. She was quite surprised that they had chosen to come to her home.

“What happened? Tell us everything. Wait let’s get Oscar and the others in to hear your story as well,” Christine said motioning to Karl to call the other two households. She had a bad feeling about their presence. Oscar and John arrived just as Karl was about to call them.

“What’s up, guys?” Oscar asked.

As the priest started speaking, June as well as Esme also arrived panting a bit as they had run from the fields where they were planting seeds. They had noticed Father Ridgeway and Suzette approaching. It was unusual for them to have visitors and more so from the Jesuit priest and Suzette.

After waiting for everybody to settle down, Father Ridgeway explained that Amanda had gone to the bathing spot on KRAT on her own, despite the standing rule that they always be accompanied. She never returned. Nobody had noticed that she was gone until it was supper-time and Suzette enquired after her. A search party combed the forest but found no sign of her or any indication of a struggle. She had disappeared into thin air.

She would not have left KRAT without company, and as it had become dark, they were unable to search the whole plateau until the next morning. No sign was found of her. Once they had established that she was not on KRAT they had decided to inform both villages in the valley of her disappearance and ask for help to search for her.

“Have you looked around the cliffs of the plateau, John?” Gary asked.

“We’ve sent out two parties to scour the cliffs in opposite directions, but they haven’t come back to us yet. They should have finished by now. I asked them to light a fire and send a black smoke signal before dark today if they find nothing or, the Lord forbid, find her body,” the priest replied.

“Well we haven’t seen her or anything suspicious have we?” Karl asked his neighbours. They all shook their heads in confirmation.

“Could she have been caught by a wild animal you think?” Gary asked.

“Surely that would have left some sign. I shudder to think about the possibilities, Oscar,” Father Ridgeway replied. He seemed to feel responsible for her disappearance and was clearly greatly stressed.

“There is of course one other possibility,” Gary offered looking knowingly at Karl and Oscar.

“What?” the priest asked.

“We have seen the tracks of snoopers around the valley,” he replied.

“Who? Surely not…”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Karl said. “We have been following their sign for a while now. It’s Jim and his crew who have been scrounging around the valley; clearly they’ve been watching us.”

“Oh no!” Suzette exclaimed. “Do you really think they could have abducted Amanda?”

“Well we know it’s not beyond them, Suzette. Ask Christine,” John Duguid replied.

“Why would they do that?” she asked her voice breaking knowing the answer but denying the reality of it.

“They’re all male, remember,” Gary offered unnecessarily.

“Look,” Christine suddenly said, pointing out of the open door of their home. In the distance they could clearly see KRAT. From the top of the mountain, a thin wisp of smoke was rising into the still afternoon air. It was black.

Now there could be no doubt. Amanda had disappeared without trace.

A search party would have to criss-cross the valley to find any trace of the missing girl or of her possible kidnappers. Zyndile’s settlement would also have to be advised. A joint exercise would be needed. Gary was delegated to travel across the valley to Tom and Zyndile to inform them as he was the fittest and could reach them before nightfall the next day to arrange that a council of war as he called it, be called.  In the meantime, Oscar together with the priest and Karl started discussing their options. They realised that Jim and Bennie would be expecting some form of retaliation and would have prepared themselves very thoroughly this time, in anticipation of this.

Three days later, with still no sign of Amanda, the group who had congregated at New London were quiet. Zyndile, Tom as well as five other men had arrived from their village, while Father Ridgeway and Suzette had been joined by another two men from KRAT. The rest of the gathering consisted of the New Londoners.  They had no illusions what lay in store for them. The possible death of Amanda or her abuse by the men of Jim’s Lost Tribe lay heavily in everybody’s thoughts. She was a popular person and besides being attractive, was fun loving and never did anybody any harm.

Oscar started the discussion with a brief overview of what had transpired. The priest then related his side of the happenings while Karl gave them his perceptions regarding the whereabouts of the perpetrators. Once everyone’s questions and views had been aired, it became time to plan their response.

“The way we see it, meaning Father John, Karl and myself, we have to accept that Amanda’s been abducted by Jim’s Crew for purposes too terrible to contemplate, and let’s have no illusions, we are certain that she has suffered greatly at their hands. They hate every one of us and will vent their fury on the poor girl. It has become a savage world we live in and they are the product of this world. As Christine told them when we banished them, they operate and live as sub-humans. If Amanda’s still alive, we’re duty bound to rescue her from these beasts, but at the same time we’ll have to be very careful as they know we’ll retaliate. They await us and I’ve no doubt will be ready for us. Confronting them with brute force will not succeed despite the fact that we outnumber them. We need to outwit them.”

“At the same time we’ll have to protect our flanks as they will seek to divide and attack us. I think it was Sun Tzu, the great Chinese general, who would have recommended them to use guerrilla tactics against a superior force such as we could be if we wished to be. No, I believe we need to succeed through strategy without trying to be reckless and rash heroes.  To again use Sun Tzu’s philosophy, he considered war an intellectual undertaking subject to rational analysis.”

“Sorry, Oscar! I have a problem with this rational bullshit,” Gary interjected. His patience was being tested by Oscar’s careful assessment of the challenges ahead. “We have a task at hand which will require strategy, yes I agree, but at the end of the day we have the upper hand when it comes to a straight fight and that is what this will ultimately come down to. We’ll have to annihilate these bastards.”

“Hang on Gary!” Karl said, not very surprised by Gary’s impetuousness. He knew that the younger man had a hot temper, but they needed the maturity and leadership only Oscar could provide. The risk they ran would be to blow everything, cause unwanted casualties and fail in the ultimate mission which was to extract Amanda from the brutes who had taken her.

“In a way you’re right but let’s cool down and look at all the options we have,” Karl carried on. “The way I see it we’ve only a couple of realities to consider: firstly, they have Amanda. They’ll not hesitate to use her as bait to weaken our attack and confuse our approach. Secondly, they know more about us, where we are, when we will attack and how many of us there’ll be while we know zip-all about them. In the third instance, they’ll be on familiar ground as they will not come out in the open to confront us, meaning we’ll be on unfamiliar ground which they could have ‘prepared’ in advance for us. Let’s hear Oscar through and keep our wits together.”

Gary quickly saw the sense in Karl’s assessment and he had sufficient respect for his views to agree. He was nonetheless fidgety and raring to go.

“OK let’s continue,” Oscar said loudly, looking at the delegates from the three settlements

“Oscar, can I just say something at this stage, please?” Christine said from the back of the living room.

“Certainly, Christine. What would you like to add?” Oscar said smiling at her.

“I too have studied Sun Tzu; one of his tenets was that successful campaigns should be based on deception; in other words to confuse the enemy we must use subterfuge, delusion and even feign incapacity or a division among us. He used to say that you must attack the mind of the opposing commander. This is what I believe to be the way we should approach this messy business,” she said, looking around at the gathering.

“Thanks Christine. Yes I support the notion but how do we go about this?” Oscar asked the group, “Are there other views or opinions about this?”

“We must assure victory in whatever we do, Oscar. If deception is what’s called for and we know that it will work, I am all for it,” Esme commented.

Fr John who had been listening quietly, said: “We must ask the Lord’s guidance. Through Him and Him only will justice be done. An innocent has indeed been taken from us; that is the will of God and although we may question His wisdom and judgement, it is not for us to judge. I suggest we all pray for His guidance and deliverance. In His name great deeds are done; let us be led by Him.”

“Crap, absolute bloody crap, John!” Gary exclaimed in anger. He leaped up from his seat and standing in the centre of the living room, said: “I’ve had enough of this. Praying for guidance or deliverance will get us nowhere. Where was your god when she disappeared? You say it was God’s will. What type of god is it who’ll allow an innocent as you put it to be kidnapped, raped and murdered for all we know? You ran to us for assistance; we who according to you, are pagans and devil worshippers. Is that also an example of the mysterious ways in which your god works?”

“Gary, stop it!” Oscar intervened. “We all share your frustration but shouting at John will get us nowhere. We must focus on the problem at hand and if we’re unable to work together on this, woe betide Amanda.”

Disgusted Gary walked from the room.

The discussion carried on for the whole day and as it progressed, even Gary who had returned somewhat calmer, started to realise the wisdom of their approach. At times the arguments became quite heated but slowly a strategy started to emerge which minimised risks while improving the considerable odds they faced. The life of Amanda was too valuable to risk but as they discussed their options the reality of her situation started to sink in; Jim and his ruffians would have extracted their revenge on her some time ago as her disappearance had taken place all of four days ago. Their own lives were now also at stake and as harsh as it may sound this would have to be their primary consideration. In addition, by weakening their own defenses when they send out a posse to rescue Amanda, Jim could outflank them and further kill or abduct their women or children.

Room was made for all to overnight and early the next morning they all departed to their respective villages to begin the preparations as they had agreed.

 

Unbeknown to them but as they had suspected, they were being watched from afar. Bennie and Graham had been sent out by James from their cave to keep a lookout after they had captured Amanda. Graham had objected the most as he had had only one turn with Amanda, something he had been dreaming about for the last three years; his first woman. His thoughts still turned to her in anticipation upon his return to their hideout.

Their hideout had been well selected. After their landfall two and a half years ago, the thirteen banished survivors were in a sorry state after spending close to ten days on the seas drifting to and fro in wild and unpredictable eddies and currents with the winds thrusting them this way and that in their small craft.

After recovering sufficiently to scout their surroundings they realised that luck was with them. On the far side of the mountains, they discovered a verdant valley which lay substantially lower than the level of the seas which surrounded KRAT. The seas had obviously arisen through some cataclysmic geophysical disturbance on the opposite side of KRAT. A massive wall of rocks, sandstone and sediment had caused the seas to back up into the valley. It was this rock wall which had kept the Airbus survivors captive on the plateau for more than a year.

Danny discovered the cave in the far side of the mountains and when they all reconnoitred it, found a network of caves which virtually honeycombed the shale-like mountain-side. The location of the caves gave them a view of the whole valley below them, but its greatest disadvantage was that they could not see KRAT or Mt Brutus at all unless they traversed the two mountain ranges between them and the red seas.

It was a simple decision however to stay in the caves as they were secluded from view from the valley below while they were dry and relatively warm. After getting rid of some unwelcome bats and a leopard that had the same idea as them, they made themselves comfortable in their new abode. Water was available from springs in the valley and they were able to quite quickly create storage facilities with rock and clay to hold sufficient water for their domestic use. Washing and bathing only took place in the valley below as did their ablutions.

Life for the banished survivors was not a cake-walk however. They had to start afresh with the manufacture of hunting weapons and traps. It took them close to eighteen months to stabilise their supply of fresh meat from the animals they hunted in the valley. Their diet consisted largely of meat with some fruit they could find in the summer.

Uppermost in their minds however was one thing: revenge. It dominated their discussions and plans but James had enough power to control especially Bennie and Graham who he knew he could not let out of his sight.

Combined with their thirst for revenge was their need for sex. Despite alternative sexual practices in their camps, it was women they all dreamt about. They had marked out the women from KRAT in order of priority and while Christine was a prime target due to her history with them, they realised that she would be protected. This shifted the focus to the younger girls, Elizabeth, Rachel, Amanda and Shenaaz while a few of the older women such as Esme, Christine, Zyndile and June still constituted acceptable alternatives.

James nevertheless made it clear that if any of the women were to be abducted, it would have to be a united and concerted strategy as they would be attacked immediately by the KRAT survivors. Any female captives should be selected for their long-term value to the camp and they should be isolated from any rescue attempts. If they could destroy the attackers in the process, so much the better for their own survival. With this in mind they fortified their caves and created secret escape routes which only they knew about.

Twelve months after their arrival, they were almost all destroyed when the massive five hundred meter high sandstone barrier in the mountain range, which was slowly being eroded by the continual water seepage deep below the surface on the dolomite rock-bed, suddenly exploded when Mt Brutus erupted about twenty kilometres away. The gap that was created in the mountain range was enormous as the sea crashed its way through the narrow chasm into the green valley below taking everything before it.

After the waters had receded, the survivors were horrified to find that their valley had been totally destroyed for as far as the eye could see. The salt water had deep-scoured the fertile soils leaving behind massive boulders and sterile leached sand. Of the trees and wild animals there was no sign any longer while the springs had disappeared.

For months after that they suffered great hardship as they had not bothered to store water or food for any lengthy period. Their thirst and hunger drove them to rove far and wide and they survived largely from scorpions, slugs, birds such as they could trap and some hyrax and bats from the cave system. They ultimately discovered water in a small spring which flowed from the rocks in the mountain-side about two kilometres from their caves.

Driven by their hunger, it did not take them long to decide to preserve Fred’s flesh, the oldest of the group who had died of hunger and deprivation. Danny refused to participate in this cannibalistic ritual but the rest of the crew had no such scruples. Fred’s clean-picked bones served as useful tools and even decoration when Graham pierced his nose with one of Fred’s small rib bones.

James had hidden Amanda in a cave which was well removed from the rest of the system. When he, Bennie and Graham had captured her, they had fled from the forest on KRAT under cover of nightfall and using skins of animals to hide their footprints, had made good ground to their cave to reach it by the next nightfall.

That night they had a great feast. To welcome Amanda who was tied to a stake in the ground, they danced with their naked bodies covered in tallow and ochre mud. The tallow was derived from Fred’s body a few weeks before. The flickering fire cast a spell over the small tribe as they danced in their ghoulish red bodies in celebration of their prize.

Amanda was barely conscious but they ensured that she was given enough water and food and especially meat to keep up her strength. Her terror was palpable as pleaded with her eyes with whoever glanced her way. Mouth gagged, she was unable to cry out or speak. The hungry stares of the members of the tribe and their huge erections were her only responses.

As the flames receded, it was James who claimed her for the night. Graham was about to fight him for her but thought the better of it. Her screams waxed and waned through the night, echoing through the caves where other men lay impatiently, until all was quiet in the early hours of the approaching dawn. The next day the rest of his tribe would each have an opportunity.

Three years had been a long drought.

 

Christine woke up screaming. She could feel Amanda’s pain and horror. She leapt out of her bed with a confused and sleepy Karl in close attendance.

“What happened?” he asked.

“The poor child! I tended her hurt for so long after the air crash I feel I have a special bond with her as I have with all my patients. Oh Karl!” she cried. “They are brutes and will destroy her forever. We must do something to save her. We must, we must,” she cried beating him on the chest as he held her close to him as the tears of frustration streamed down her cheeks.

“There now, shush. There is nothing we can do now. It’s no use beating ourselves up over this. We are in a harsh world and we must look out for ourselves. You often said so yourself.” He held her tightly. Her body was shaking and shivering from the nightmare but also from the thought of what Amanda must be going through. Karl stirred the coals in the kitchen and set some water to boil. A herbal tea would calm her down. The two sat quietly sipping the hot liquid which warmed its way into their bodies wrapped in warm blankets.

“Karl, there is something I must tell you,” Christine said in a hushed voice. The quiet of the night pressed in around the couple.

He waited without saying anything.

“I think I’m pregnant,” she said calmly, looking at the man she had come to love and respect.

He looked at her in wonder. How his life had changed he thought. From being a virtual fugitive from organised crime, here he now sat in the wilderness of a strange new world, hunter-gatherer, fathering a new child in a new civilisation by a woman who had his total love and respect. He felt fulfilled yet humbled.

“I had a suspicion, I must admit. Your tantrums were a dead give-away. I’m so happy and I know you are too, my darling. You’ll have to learn to think for the baby now and be less stressed about things you can do nothing about,” he said happily, hugging her as the two of them shared the special moment in a world which was waiting to destroy the weak and pounce on the unwary.

The next morning Christine was working in the garden when Mark walked up to their home. He had trekked down from KRAT to tend his cannabis nursery.

“Morning Mark, how are you?” Christine asked him as she ushered him into the house for some cool water.

“I’m cool thanks. A bit stressed about Amanda’s disappearance hey?  A bad scene that, not cool at all. Everybody on KRAT’s all stressed out, big time man, don’t know what to expect,” he replied thankfully accepting the gourd of water from her.

“Tell me Mark; why did Amanda go to the ablutions on her own? She knew that it was not very clever.”

“Well, don’t know like I should be saying anything, but when I saw her she was crying when she ran past me on her way to the bog,” he said pensively.

“Why? What happened? I can’t understand why she would’ve done such a thing in the first place,” Christine pressed him.

“Well as I heard, she tuned Suzette and the priest shortly before,” he said.

“What about?”

“It’s a small world up there Christine; Father Ridgeway like rules the roost since you guys took off, you know?” he said almost accusingly.

“Doesn’t surprise me, but what did they fight about, Mark?” she insisted.

“The way I heard was that Amanda was like wound up with the priest shacking up with Suzette. She tuned him that he was supposed to have taken like an oath of celibacy and should be like an example to the youth and others in the settlement. Suzette told her to shut the fuck up and that she could move out if she didn’t agree with the set-up. There was some heat generation and the priest tuned her to go and like wash her mouth in the river for swearing at Suzette and not to return until she was prepared to say that she was sorry. Like that’s when she ran past me to the bogs to get away from them.”

“But it seems too trivial for Amanda to do something this stupid, Mark,” Christine said puzzled. Something didn’t quite gel for her.

“Well seems Amanda came to hear of Suzette’s being with child, like she’s preggies man,” the young man stated somewhat diffidently, chewing on a piece of grass.

No wonder that the priest and Suzette were the ones to bring the bad tidings to them, Christine thought. They had had something to hide and obviously felt guilty about the girl’s abduction. The bastards, she thought fuming at their stupidity and its tragic consequences.

Mark thanked her for the water and left to tend his precious plants.

Christine walked to Karl where he was sharpening a spear-head on a flat stone behind the house and told him what Mark had said.

“OK so now we have a fuller picture of the background Christine, but that doesn’t really change anything except to strengthen your already low opinion of the priest,” he responded. He was not one to get involved in arguments but knew how to keep things simple and stick to the task at hand.

“True, but I cannot stand their holier than thou attitudes. The way they sketched the happenings, it was Amanda’s stupidity that led to her being abducted. That’s what pisses me off, Karl. It’s so bloody typical of mystics; they always look for the problem elsewhere, not with themselves.”

“Listen my dear, you have something far more important to worry about, so don’t go getting your blood pressure up now,” Karl commented quietly.

She turned away knowing that Karl was right but she could not forget the pain she had felt for Amanda in her nightmarish dream. She shuddered and felt a bitter cold shiver run down her spine.

 

James was confused. It had been two weeks since Amanda had been kidnapped, yet nothing had happened. He knew that Oscar and his lieutenants were aware of Amanda’s kidnapping and what would happen to her. Why did they not retaliate? What was going on? He sent three scouting missions to spy on the small settlements but each had returned with the same message. Life in each settlement was going on like nothing had happened.

It slowly dawned on him; they were calling his bluff! They wanted him to make the next move. They couldn’t care a stuff about Amanda’s situation but were challenging him to come out of hiding and face them on their terms. The bastards! “What should I do now?” he fumed as he paced up and down in front of the entrance to the cave system.

Amanda was inside cleaning the eating area as she had been told. She had made their lives a lot easier and they made full use of her. She was a slave to their every wish. Christine would not have recognised what was once a young lively girl full of bounce. This creature had turned into a pitiful hag who spoke to no-one; saw nothing with empty eyes and moved like one who was at least eighty years old. She was virtually naked and filthy. When she moved too slowly for some of them they delighted in kicking her in the butt to sprawl in the dust in front of them.

James had lost all interest in her after the first night and had thrown her to the proverbial dogs; and dogs they were; dogs on heat with only one bitch to satisfy their craving.

Sitting around the fire with Amanda serving up gruel for them to eat, Jim later put his thoughts to his gang.

“The bastards want us to come out to play!” he said while he cleaned his teeth with a bone picked from the bird stew they had eaten.

“So? We’ll oblige them then shouldn’t we?” Graham, ever the impetuous one responded without thinking further about it.

“I dunno. I don’t trust ’em further than I can throw ’em,” Bennie responded.

“We need another bitch don’t we? Why not oblige them? If they’re waiting for us to come and play, so we’ll play,” Graham continued unconcerned by Bennie’s more cautious approach.

“Stop thinking with your balls! That’s exactly what they expect us to do, Graham. You’re so fucking stupid you’ll walk right into their waiting arms,” Jim said disgustedly.

” ’ere’s what I think,” Bennie said. “They want us to show our ’and first and they expect us to kidnap another woman, so they’ll ’ave a watch set up around the women. I think we let them stew and wait till they tire and then we strike.”

“How long do you think we should wait, Bennie?” Graham asked.

“Dunno, maybe like a month or so; we’ve nothing to lose,” he answered.

Jim however disagreed: “I don’t think that’s the way to go. I’ve been thinking. We must try to attract them here to our hide-out. They still don’t know where we are so they need to find us first. Maybe we can send them something to think about.”

“Like what?” Bennie interjected.

“Like a piece of the woman. What about her hand? Or maybe some fingers.”

“Shit guys, whose going to cut off her hand, hey?” Danny objected.

“Shut the fuck up, you wimp. I’ll do it,” Graham shouted.

“Wait guys, think about it,” Danny continued, unperturbed by Graham’s rebuke. “She’s been handy around and all. If we do her serious harm she could die and then even you Graham would miss her and we lose our advantage and bait for Oscar’s guys.”

“That’s true. We’ll have to threaten dire consequences if they don’t respond but they’ll want to be sure she’s still OK,” Jim commented, agreeing with Danny’s more reasoned approach.

“Why don’t we send a small deputation to negotiate with them. We have, what’d you call it Bennie, leverage now,” Graham suggested.

“and what do we negotiate for, Graham?” Jim asked.

“More women, that’s what. They have more than they can use and we need women or we’ll die out,” he replied confidently.

“Oh sweet Jesus! Do you really believe they would agree to that?” Jim replied. “No, that’s so stupid!’

“Well fuck you too, Jim,” Graham responded angrily, “I’m getting fucking tired of you calling me stupid. According to you, you’re the only one with any brains here and as I remember it, it’s through your fucking stupidity that we’re holed up here in the first place.”

James got up from his customary chair and walked to Graham, lifting up his arm to strike him. Bennie however sensing the threat to his friend leapt up and struck him down with a rock he had secreted in his hand when the two had started their argument.

Jim fell like the proverbial sack of potatoes. He lay quite still as Graham and Bennie commenced to kick the living daylights out of him.

“Stop it, you fucking fools,” Danny yelled trying to pull them away from each other with little success as they continued to pummel, kick and hit Jim. The rest of the crew looked on without any interest.

Tiring from their attack, Bennie and Graham eventually let up and sat down on the ground to contemplate their handiwork.

“Fucking serves ’im right, it does,” Bennie said to no-one in particular, quite breathless at the sudden exertion.

Graham stared at Jim’s inert body.

“Do you think he’s still alive?” he asked.

“Dunno and don’t care,” Bennie replied getting up and walking out of the cave to wash his face.

Danny got hold of some water and splashed it on Jim’s face. There was no response.

“You’ve killed him, you fools,” he screeched in panic. James had always had some time for Danny’s views and they seemed to get along.

He ran to fetch some more water from the skin bag, and splashed it on Jim again. This time he moaned as he turned around to lie on his back. His head and face was a mess. One eye had been kicked out of its socket and at least three teeth were missing. Danny called Amanda who walked up listlessly and helped him to wash off the blood and mucous. They tried to pop back the eye they into its socket but it was damaged beyond saving. It was eventually thrown away and the empty socket stuffed with some leaves to stem the blood.

After some time they were able to help the injured man up and carry-dragged him to his bed where he flopped down on the hard rock bed covered with animal skins, barely alive.

Danny stayed with him while Amanda walked out of the cave. She had no interest in his fate or her own any longer.

Meanwhile Bennie and Graham were discussing their options outside the cave.

“That sorted the arsehole out. He had it coming, I tell you. You think he’s alive?” Graham asked with mock concern.

“I told you I don’t care. Now shut the fuck up while I think,” Bennie replied irritably.

“Bennie, we must do what you said earlier. Let’s see what they’re up to. I think you and me should go out and spy on them again. Maybe some opportunity will present itself while we’re watching what they’re doing, like a kid or someone walking around alone—we nab him or her and take off.”

“’im or ’er? You’ve developed a taste for boy’s meat ’ave you? What’ll we do with a boy?”

“I dunno, Bennie but it’ll get them all worked up and then we can ambush them in the canyon as we planned. In fact, the way I see it, the boys’ll be less protected than the girls.”

“H’m. Maybe you’ve got a point. What’re we going to do about Jim?”

“Fuck him. He’s being giving us enough shit for a long time now. We leave him be and strike out tomorrow. What do you think?”

“OK, let’s do it. Get our rations sorted out and then we leave early when the others are still asleep,” Bennie decided. It was up to him now. He was not going to allow any interference and knew he couldn’t afford to fail his crew again. Jim was out of the way now and would be for some time.

 

The next morning before anybody stirred, the two set off. They were well versed in survival skills and carried with them water and food, mainly consisting of dried meat, millet and sorghum. They also carried bows and arrows as well as bush knives which they used to chop undergrowth, firewood and skin animals with. Their bush knives had been crafted from sections of the Airbus with wooden hafts and sharpened to a fine edge. The terrain was also nothing strange to them and they were probably as familiar now with the valley as were Karl and Gary.

The greying dawn found them only a couple of kilometres away from the emerging settlement of New London. Hiding themselves beneath a small overhang on a hillock which faced the settlement, the two spies settled down to observe the activities of the inhabitants as they carried out their daily chores.

After a couple of hours they started getting bored with their vigil and decided to sleep for a short while, each spelling the other. There was very little happening in New London anyhow. According to their count all the villagers were accounted for. Graham had the first shift while Bennie made himself comfortable and quickly fell asleep on the hard ground. It wasn’t long before Graham also nodded off. The stress of the previous couple of days and the long walk got to him.

Karl and Gary had been watching the two of them for some time. They knew that sooner or later Jim would send out a small team to establish why the villagers had not responded to Amanda’s abduction. They’d ensconced themselves for over a week in a well concealed observation post quite high in a small range of hills from where they could easily observe the whole valley as well as the approaches from the Great Divide. Meanwhile, as agreed with Tom and Father Ridgeway, two men from Zyndile’s village disguised as Karl and Gary had been delegated to create the impression that they were busy with their daily chores around their settlement and that things were totally normal. A head-count would confirm that all the inhabitants of New London were home.

Descending carefully from their lair, Karl and Gary stalked the small hillock where the two spies were hidden. They took care not to be seen and stalked as they would have stalked a hare or small buck. They knew that their quarry was dangerous and would retaliate at the first indication of danger. Splitting up in order to approach from two sides in a pincer-like movement, Gary was the first to notice that Bennie and Graham were both asleep. He signalled Karl and they quickly and noiselessly ran to a spot where they would be able to hear what Bennie and Graham were saying to each other. Karl smiled grimly at Gary when they heard two sets of snores coming from their small hideout. With Gary on his flank, he straightened up and walked right up to where Bennie lay. They were both carrying large clubs and short stabbing spears and were well versed in the use of these weapons. They were also totally prepared to use them.

Prodding the sleeping Bennie with the sharp point of his spear, Karl shouted: “Wakey, wakey boys!”

Bennie started and grabbed at his bush knife which lay under his head as he rolled away from Karl, but Karl had anticipated his response and moved in close to him so as to deny him any manoeuvring space with his weapon. As Bennie raised his broad knife, Karl hit him hard on the arm causing him to cry out in pain and drop the knife. Bennie jumped up and was about to run when, Karl again hit him, this time on the side of the exposed neck dropping him like an ox. He stood over the fallen man and looked to where Gary had disarmed Graham without any trouble.

“So boys, what have we here; just visiting are you?” Karl asked in mock friendly tones. The menace in his body language was unmistakable though. Gary herded the cowed Graham to sit next to the groaning Bennie.

“Haven’t seen you two for some now. Must say we haven’t had time to miss you either,” Karl continued.

Bennie rolling over onto his back and rubbing his neck with his good arm, groaned while staring balefully at Karl and Gary. His right arm was badly bruised and swollen where Karl had struck him.

“OK arseholes; game’s over,” Gary said with enough venom in his voice to scare the Devil out of his skin.

“What have you done with Amanda?” he shouted, raising his club to strike Graham who shielded his head with both arms in fear.

“Who? We don’t know no Amanda?” he said as he tried to distract Gary’s attack, to create an opportunity to reach for a knife he had concealed beneath the skins draped around his upper body. Gary circled his prey waiting for him to try anything; he was relishing the moment when a slight movement from Bennie to his right distracted him, giving Graham the opening to whip out an evil-looking aluminium knife. Lunging forward at Gary he managed to sink the knife into the arm which was holding his club causing Gary to curse in pain as he dropped the club to the ground. As Graham extracted the knife and lunged up towards the injured man to stab Gary a second time, Karl seeing the danger swung around and stabbed Gary’s assailant through the chest with his stabbing spear. Graham looked at the wooden haft of the spear sticking out of his chest, in total astonishment. The knife he was holding in his hand dropped to the ground; stepping slowly backward, he sank to the ground while holding on to the spear’s shaft with both hands in a feeble attempt to withdraw it from his body.

Sighing and mumbling something unintelligible, Graham keeled over on to his side and died, still clutching the shaft of the spear.

Bennie who was still sitting on the ground looked at Graham uncomprehendingly.

“You’ve killed him, you swine,” he said in a matter of fact kind of way.

“Yes, that’s how we deal with rats, Bennie,” Karl said without any emotion as he tended to Gary’s injury. “Get up. We have some talking to do and since we don’t have to listen to Graham’s whining any longer, you’ll have to do.”

After bandaging Gary’s wound with some woven and absorbent hemp, he kicked Bennie into a standing position, tied him without any sympathy for his injured arm, and shoved him out of the small shelter so that he could keep an eye on him. Satisfied that he posed no further threat, he dragged Graham’s body out of the hideout and lay him out on a level piece of ground. With some effort he removed the spear from the dead man’s chest. They then gathered stones and covered the body in a shallow grave.

After resting and drinking some water, the three started the short hike to New London.

Christine, Oscar and Esme saw the three men approaching. One was clearly a captive and was stumbling in front of the other two who were prodding him with little sympathy. As they neared the small settlement it became evident that they had captured Bennie.

Christine was the first to run to Karl who grabbed her and swung her around in pleasure. They had been gone for over a week and they’d missed each other. She looked at Bennie with distaste: “So Bennie you couldn’t stay away could you?” she said sarcastically.  Rubbing his injured arm, he didn’t reply.

They guided Bennie into Oscar’s house where the villagers had gathered and set him down on the ground. After giving him some water, they related their encounter with the two and about Graham’s demise. Meanwhile Christine tended to Gary’s wound with some herbs and ointments.

“What do we do with him now?” June asked.

“Well we’ll have to let the other villagers know first of all, then come to some arrangement as to what we intend with Bennie. I’m sure that Jim will have something to say about the situation so we’ll have to keep a sharp lookout until everybody’s here,” Oscar said.  Karl noticed Bennie’s eyes flicking at the mention of Jim’s name.

“Jim knows you’re here, does he?” he said prodding the captive with his spear. Bennie remained quiet. They were aware of the bad blood between the two leaders and Graham’s death would certainly put Bennie at a disadvantage.

“OK. First things first. Where’s Amanda and what have you bastards done to her?” Gary asked as Christine finished bandaging his wound.

Bennie refused to respond.

“We have ways of making you talk, you bastard. We’ve told you before, hurt any of us and you’ll have us on your neck in no time,” Gary said again.

Oscar walked behind Bennie’s back and beckoned the other men to follow him outside out of ear’s reach. They all trooped out of the house and gathered to hear what he had to say.

“Look, we’ll have to hang on until Father Ridgeway and Tom arrive. We must light the fire with white smoke as we agreed to signal them. Remember that although we are all survivors, this attack was aimed at the guys up on KRAT.”

“Whoa, hang on Oscar. Let’s not fool ourselves. This attack was aimed at all of us, especially the women. Amanda was the unlucky one but it could just as easily have been Rachel or Zyndile,” Karl objected.

“You’re right of course, Karl. What I meant to say was that we’d agreed that whatever we did when we captured one of them, that it would have to be a joint decision as to what we’ll do. Graham’s death is also the first violent death in the valley and while I have absolutely no qualms about it, we need to consider the way forward concerning stuff like justice, the rule of law and so on. If we don’t, we’ll certainly slide down a slippery slope to total anarchy and brute force.”

“That’s fair enough Oscar, but right now we’re still missing Amanda. We have to get her back if she’s still alive. Jim’s gang has been reduced to ten or eleven and they would be no match in a confrontation,” Gary interjected.

“Hang on guys,” Oscar cautioned. “We’re running ahead of ourselves. I thought we’d agreed not to go the direct confrontation route. To extract Amanda will require a well planned exercise with maybe only a couple of guys to wait and watch for the right moment. They’ll be on the alert when Bennie and Graham don’t return, so it’ll be a lot more risky.”

“In the meantime what do we do with Bennie?” John asked.

“We keep him tied up to the stake we use to skin and hang animals out here. He’ll keep for a couple of days. But let’s soften him up. We need to get information out of him, so no water except a little bit of salty water from the hot springs. That’ll drive him crazy soon enough,” Oscar proposed.

The small band of men returned to the Karl’s house where the women were keeping watch over their captive. They removed him and quickly and expertly tied him spread-eagled with leather thongs to the stake. His feet were tied to small stakes that were normally used to spread the carcass of an animal on the ground with his arms secured above his head over the cross beam of the stake. Bennie was totally at their mercy. Karl fetched some water from the hot bath in his house and holding Bennie’s head, poured a full cup down his throat. He retched and spat out the bulk of the foul tasting water and cursed them all to hell. Karl then, stripped most of the animal skins from Bennie’s upper body and poured a large leather bucket of the warm salt water over him. This would dry and form a crust on his skin and hasten his thirst as the moisture in his body was wicked out by the salt on his skin. They left him hanging there and returned to Karl’s home to discuss the next steps.

Meanwhile John and Esme gathered the wood and salt they had prepared for a signal fire and lit it. As soon as the fire was burning brightly, Esme poured the salt which contained a high concentration of sulphur over the flames, causing it to splutter and almost die out, but emitting a tall pall of white smoke into the quiet afternoon air. The lookouts they had promised to post on KRAT and Zyndile’s hill were sure to spot it. It would take the priest all of the next day to reach them while the fitter and more athletic Tom would reach them by early afternoon. In the meantime they had no option but to wait and carry on with their normal daily chores while Gary chomped at the bit; both with his injury which turned out to be a flesh wound and the delay in getting Amanda back to safety.

During that night, the men took turns to keep a close guard over their captive. Bennie was in great pain. His parched throat and salt encrusted face and swollen lips burned as he called for water. They obliged with more salt water which he swallowed in desperation; this caused dysentery. His humiliation was complete as the stench of his excrement stained his legs, and permeated the small area between the three houses.

The following morning found Gary sitting outside watching Bennie, while he was in a virtual state of collapse. Concerned that he may die, Gary asked for some warm water and again soaked him with it. It gave him some short term relief as the filth washed off and sluiced away from the area.

“So how does that feel now, Bennie?” Gary asked, walking a bit closer to the wretched man.

Bennie looked at him with salt encrusted eyes filled with hatred.

“Want to tell me now what you’ve done with Amanda?” he asked again.

With no response from Bennie, Gary picked up the gourd with the salt drinking water and held up to Bennie’s parched lips. He twisted away to avoid the poisonous liquid and succeeded in dashing the gourd from Gary’s hand to the ground. Irritated, Gary kicked Bennie between his spread out legs.

“Hey Gary, let up man!” Christine shouted as she emerged from the house. “We need him alive. Don’t lower yourself to their level.”

Somewhat chastised, Gary turned and stalked away. Christine, ever the nurse brought some fresh water and forced Bennie to drink it. Realising that the fluid was potable, he slurped the last drop from the gourd with closed eyes.  As she turned to walk away, she heard him say softly through cracked lips: “T’anks.”

It was mid-afternoon before everybody had gathered.

Oscar, still the informal leader by tacit consent, called the gathering to order and informed the new arrivals of the happening of the previous day and the successful trap they had laid for Amanda’s captors. He also advised them of Graham’s demise and what they had discussed concerning the way forward. Nobody had anything to say about Graham’s death; a cockroach’s death.

Father Ridgeway was the first to react.

“Oscar, the Lord has blessed us with a successful strategy, but Amanda is still captive and no doubt suffering greatly at the hands of these beasts. Should we not use Bennie as bait to trade her release for his return to them? In such way we will achieve our goal and Bennie will be given his freedom,” the priest said.

“What!” Gary shouted, “are you really proposing that we let Bennie go? Jesus Christ, you must be joking.”

“Your profanity is forgiven,” the Jesuit replied, “because you are wrought up and have suffered injury, but yes that is exactly what I propose.”

“No way, Doris Day! I haven’t spent ten days lying in ambush for these bastards, being attacked and almost killed just for us to let the bloody perpetrator go again,” he replied angrily.

“Father, thanks for your proposal,” Oscar interjected. “While it has some merit I agree with Gary. Letting Bennie go would be counter-productive. He’ll be back to avenge himself and Graham in no time. No, we need something more creative. At least we had almost three years of peace after we banished them; now they’re back to cause us as much harm as they can. We have Bennie here and I believe we’ve softened him up somewhat. Why don’t we men go and speak with him? He may have something to tell us.”

“I’m going with, bru,” Christine said, “don’t you dare deny us women the right to ask him questions or to hear what he has to say. Remember that it was a woman who has suffered at his hands.”

“My dear, this is not the work of a woman…,” the priest started to say, when Christine exploded: “John, this whole damn mess is your fault; you and Suzette have been at pains to hide that from us…”

“What do you mean?” the priest asked in feigned surprise. Only Karl was aware of the priest and Suzette’s role in Amanda’s abduction.

“Don’t try to bullshit us now, father. You know full well that you chased Amanda to the ablutions before her abduction, to wash her mouth after she and Suzette had an argument about your moving in with Suzette and about Suzette’s being pregnant. It seems that Amanda respected your precious catholic vows more than you did holy man!” she stormed. “It was you who sent her to the toilets without anybody to accompany her wasn’t it? You never bothered to tell us about that now did you, you holier than thou creep and then you have the gall to put the blame on the poor girl!”

“Now, listen here…” the priest started.

“OK, OK,” Karl interjected. “That’s all we’re going to hear from either of you, now shush Christine. And father, I believe that it would be wise for you to withhold your pearls of wisdom when you’re around us.” He took Christine who was shaking with rage in his arms and led her away from the small but shocked meeting. The priest’s role in Amanda’s disappearance had not quite sunk in yet.

They all trooped outside while the visibly shaken priest followed them in some embarrassment to the stake where a forlorn and seriously distressed Bennie was still hanging on his thongs.

“Cut him down,” Oscar instructed.

Bennie collapsed at their feet as the restraining thongs were cut through. He was close to unconsciousness but Karl doused him with clear fresh water and in the cool late afternoon, he soon started to shiver from the cold and from exhaustion.

“OK, Bennie. Let’s make this totally clear to you,” Oscar started. “We’ll have absolutely no hesitation to string you up again, if you refuse to answer our questions. We are not playing games. If you don’t co-operate you will suffer serious consequences. We have Father Ridgeway here as well as Tom from the other two settlements, so as far as we are concerned, whatever is decided to do with you will be a joint decision. Now let me ask the first and most important question: is Amanda still alive?”

Bennie, shivering from sheer exhaustion as well as the cold, looked up at his captors. He knew that for him the game was over. He had seen Graham die a couple of days ago and realised that Oscar and his team would fulfill their threats. He nodded.

“She’s alive, you say?” Oscar repeated to make doubly certain.

“Yes,” he mumbled.

“Where are you keeping her?” Oscar continued the interrogation.

Bennie merely inclined his head toward the Great Divide. It was too hard to talk.

“What condition is she in?” Gary asked.

Bennie just looked at him, cringing ever so slightly. He was not prepared to answer that question. From his body language it was clear that the answer didn’t bode well for her. Christine’s skin crawled at the thought of the young woman alone among these sub-human specimens.

Father Ridgeway leaned over Bennie and said to him in a gentle tone: “My son, confess thy sins and you shall be forgiven in the eyes of our Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ. Regardless of your sins, Jesus loves you and will forgive you if you repent.”

Bennie merely spat in his face.

The surprised priest jerked upright and slowly wiped the spittle from his cheek. Stepping back, he thought he caught a look of mockery on Christine’s face.

Turning to the onlookers, Oscar said: “I think we have enough information for now. Let’s get back to the house. Tie the man up again, please,” he asked John and Karl.

Back in Karl’s house, they all sat down while Christine and Esme boiled some water for char. The priest disappeared to the ablutions to wash his face.

“We now know that Amanda is still alive,” Oscar said unnecessarily.

“…or at least was when Bennie and Graham left their hide-out,” Gary added.

“So now what?” Karl asked as he and John Duguid returned to the room.

“I guess we now have no option but to get her back,” Oscar answered. He realised that Jim still had the advantage over them if they attacked him. Without Graham and Bennie, his resistance would be weakened substantially but the mission would still be risky.

The discussion carried on for some time and finally it was agreed that Tom, together with Oscar and John would make up the expeditionary force. They realised that they were grossly outnumbered but were not prepared to risk leaving the women and children behind without sufficient protection, should Jim decide on a pre-emptive attack, possibly to liberate Bennie.

Bennie meanwhile would remain captive but with some food and water, until a decision could be taken about his future. Gary and Karl were tasked to keep watch over him.

 

After a good night’s rest with Father Ridgeway overnighting in June and John’s home, the three-man posse departed. With the foresight of experience that they may be watched, they left under cover of darkness and struck out on a false trail to shake off any suspicion. By mid-morning they had reached the massive gorge through which the waters had escaped from the valley and silently made their way toward the suspected location of Jim’s lair.

By afternoon they stopped to sleep until midnight when they planned to approach the caves the fugitives were thought to be hiding in.

Under cover of the moonless night, the three scaled the precipitous walls of the canyon, often slipping on the shale and loose stones but making sufficient headway to reach a small cave which would have to serve as their hideout until they have reconnoitred the lay-out of Jim’s lair.

The next day was spent preparing their weapons and resting. Shortly after nightfall, they left their dry camp and crept up the remainder of the slopes towards the Jim’s caves.

Crossing a rock-strewn but flat expanse of the original valley floor, they carefully made their way through the boulders, Tom swore as he stumbled over a small object which rattled loudly out ahead of him. Stooping down to pick it up, he sucked in his breath and exclaimed under his breath to Oscar behind him: “Look here,” and held out the object.

In the darkness, the object gleamed dully. It was a human skull, but not any skull. It was the skull of someone who had had a gold filling in one of his front teeth. Oscar racked his brain trying to remember whether a member of Jim’s group had such a tooth but failed to recall all the members of the Crew. He carefully placed the skull in a bag over his shoulder and they carried on. Their find seemed to signal that they were close.

The mountain range loomed up before them as they carefully and silently picked their way up the slopes toward the general direction of the caves. After another two hours, they reached a level plateau which seemed to stretch out some distance ahead of them before the bulk of the massif loomed darkly above their heads. It was very quiet and they couldn’t detect any signs of human activity as they approached the mountain-side.

Oscar was very uneasy. The pressure was telling on them and the lack of further sign of the gang’s presence worried him. The eastern sky also started to lighten. The climb had taken them longer than anticipated. It was time to find a suitable hideout again, he thought. Beckoning to the others, he caste out to the left, away from the canyon which they had consistently kept to their right, when he noticed a well trodden pathway leading up and down the mountain. By sheer coincidence they had found the access route!

With renewed energy they scuttled up the steep path taking care to make themselves invisible as far as was possible. Two hundred paces further they rounded a ridge to come face to face with a small enclosure that was built to keep out wild animals. Crouching behind the dry branches, Oscar peered through to see if he could see any movement, but all was exceptionally quiet, too quiet. He was very uncomfortable to approach the caves, which were quite visible through the strengthening dawn, and motioned to the others to hide themselves wherever they could.

As the day dawned, they watched the camp-site. It was clearly Jim’s base. In the centre a stake had been driven into the ground while a large fireplace was situated close to it. The fire was cold. They could not discern any utensils lying around; the camp looked spooky and deserted.

After watching the site for any life for another hour, Oscar and Tom moved though the concealed entrance in the palisade fence while John remained on guard outside. As they neared the cave entrance and moved through the complex of inter-linked caves, it quickly became evident that the caves were empty; beds, utensils, food and all the normal signs of human occupation had been cleared out; Jim’s gang together with Amanda had disappeared!

Searching for signs of their departure, all they found were a few discarded items which had been chucked on to a nearby rubbish dump. Their trail quickly petered out on the rocks and although they caste around the site in ever-increasing circles, they could not find any sign of the direction they had taken.

The valley below them showed no signs of movement either. The trail had gone cold. To make a point of the folly of the chase, a soft rain started falling which further ensured that the trail would be obliterated.

Disgusted, Oscar sat on a rock and peered out over the valley.

“Where would you have gone if you were on the run?” he asked no-one in particular.

“Oscar, do you think we know enough about the cave network? It was pretty dark in there and we may have missed a small fissure or exit through which they could have escaped,” John said.

“Your right as usual, John. Let’s rest a bit then really explore the caves. I can’t believe they could’ve left no sign whatsoever. Maybe we should pack some fires and take some torches into the depths,” Oscar agreed, standing up to gather brush wood for the torches.

They spent the rest of the day fine-combing the caves. They were quite astounded by the extent of the caves and found a total of twenty different entrances facing in different directions. It was also evident that the complex of caves had served many generations of inhabitants. The walls were covered in primitive paintings and frescos. The ceilings were black with hundreds of years of fires.

In the late afternoon, John exclaimed, calling to his two comrades.

“Look here, I’m above you but you’ll have to climb up here from the outside,” he called.

When they reached him, he pointed to the soft sand in the cave entrance. It was clearly a footprint of a young woman, Amanda!  This energised them to sift through the sand. They were duly rewarded when Tom found something Amanda always wore; it was a small hair clip made of the anklebone of a small bird. Amanda had decorated it with the unmistakable dye of cochineal they used on KRAT.

Nightfall was approaching and the three scouts prepared to overnight in the caves before returning in the morning for New London. Their mission had failed but at least they were now quite confident that Amanda was alive.

 

A full day’s walk from the three sleeping scouts, Danny and Amanda were helping Jim cope with his injuries and the long walk.

Danny had convinced the gang to vacate their caves when they discovered that Bennie and Graham had left without informing the rest. They had done exactly what Jim had argued against and Danny knew that if they were captured, Oscar’s people would trace them and try to get Amanda back. At one stage he even considered abandoning the girl to throw the followers off the trail but James, even in his weakened state disagreed and they took her with them. She didn’t resist.

Their gang had now been reduced to only ten, eleven if Amanda was included. They moved quite quickly and with their knowledge of the terrain were able to move between watering holes. The general direction they had taken was southerly, following the general lines of the Great Divide. They knew instinctively that as they progressed toward the south, it should start getting warmer as they approached the savannahs of what used to be Central Africa.

Jim’s condition was serious but he had recovered sufficiently from his brutal beating to walk. His open eye socket had been covered with a soft animal skin, while the contusions on his body were slowly disappearing. The worst damage had however been to his mind. His rage had almost consumed him while he was lying in the cave. He had rejected any attempt by Danny to help him and it was only after some time that he started to calm down and allowed someone to tend to his injuries. As soon as he was fit enough, he didn’t waste any time to start packing up and getting the rest of his gang to follow suit. He also knew that when Bennie and Graham returned to find him alive, the chances were that they would dispatch him without further ceremony. There was no room for them and him in the same group. His basic strategy was to retreat and regroup to fight another day. They had to lose themselves in the great African plains where no person could follow. They had become the Lost Tribe.

 

Upon arrival back at New London, Oscar quickly debriefed the rest of the villagers about their mission. Bennie had in their absence been locked up in a small stockade that Karl and Gary had built.

The disappointment in the failure of the mission was palpable. They didn’t know what to do next and the thought of leaving Amanda to her own fate created a feeling of utter dejection and sadness. When the priest suggested they pray for her, it was not only Christine but all the others who totally rejected him and his god. He was asked to leave the gathering immediately. Gary escorted him to the border of what they considered their village boundary. As he crossed the boundary, Gary said to him: “John Ridgeway, you are considered to be persona non grata in this village. Never return here and never ask for us to help you again.”

The priest was about to say something but the look on Gary’s face stopped him in his tracks. He turned around and made a forlorn figure as he tramped his lonely return to KRAT.

Back at Karl’s home, the discussion had shifted to Bennie. He had now become a burden to them and could certainly not remain in the valley. They however quickly agreed that he be tried for kidnapping, suspicion of rape and indecent assault as well as insurrection against the residents of Red Valley as Oscar had started calling the valley.

Their tribunal was quickly assembled and Bennie was hauled from the stockade with his arms tied firmly behind his back with a leather thong wrapped around his throat.

As he stumbled into the gathering he knew that this was his day of reckoning. While he had lost none of his bluster he was now quiet.

Oscar commenced the trial without further ado:

“Bennie Smith, you stand accused of a number of crimes and although it will no doubt be your defense that we have no right to try you, we wish to tell you that we do. As much as you decided to create your own rules by attacking a young woman, kidnapping her and no doubt subjecting her to indecent assault, probable rape, sodomy and torture, we will try you by our laws. We have sufficient evidence that she is still alive so will not add murder to your charges. How do you plead?”

“I refuse to plead t’ any of this kangaroo court’s charges. You ’ave no right t’ try me or t’ punish me for anything. You’ll regret this when Jim and the rest of my gang come out t’ spring me from captivity. We’ll avenge ourselves also for the brutal murder of Graham,” he replied with a bravado which belied his body language which spoke of abject fear.

“Let it be recorded that the accused pleads not guilty,” Oscar said and continuing added: “I must advise you that if you’re placing your hopes of release on your comrades, you’ll be sorely disappointed. They have deserted you to your fate and have fled. We don’t know where they’ve gone, but thought that maybe you could enlighten us.”

“They’d never leave me behind, never, ever, I tell you,” Bennie almost shouted, “In any case Jim would not ’ave been able to leave, ’e’s not fit enough…”

“Oh?” June asked innocently, “please tell us why not.”

Bennie quickly realised that they had not seen Jim. But Jim could never have recovered sufficiently to pack up and go. His mind raced; what should he say?

“Well he was sick you see…”

“Yes please carry on.”

“Well, he ’ad a bad fall and couldn’t walk when I last saw ’im.”

Tom stood up and walking to Bennie, placed a human skull in front of him much to everyone’s shock.

“So whose skull is that, Bennie?” Tom asked.

“Dunno,” came the dull reply as Bennie looked at the skull with the gold-filled tooth.

“I recognise it,” Christine said from where she was sitting. “That’s Fred’s skull; I recognise the gold filling. He actually came to me once to ask for a pain killer for toothache.”

“Oh, so what happened to Fred, Bennie?” Oscar asked.

“He died,” Bennie said looking at the group furtively.

“What ailed him, Bennie?” Christine piped up again.

“I dunno, I’m not a frigging doctor now am I?” Bennie said again sullenly.

“The bone Graham had through his nose looked like a human rib bone to me,” Gary said. “Was that a donation from Fred?”

Bennie kept quiet, eyes shifting left and right. His silence confirmed their worst suspicions. Jim’s gang had become cannibalistic!

“Shit, so you guys actually ate your own buddy,” Gary shouted in disgust as he pushed his face into Bennie’s face.

“OK Gary,” Oscar intervened. “Let’s get back to Amanda and Jim.”

The audience was dumbstruck. It was totally inconceivable that fellow passengers on the flight three years ago from London to Johannesburg and ultimately fellow survivors, were able to descend into such pits of despair and hopelessness; it was a one way road into hell.

“Did Jim instruct you and Graham to spy on us, Bennie?” Oscar queried.

“No, I mean yes ’e did,” Bennie lied unconvincingly.

“What were his instructions to you?” the interrogation continued.

The coward in him came to the surface. “It was all ’is plans, the girl, spying on you and everything,” he blurted. “I was just following ’is orders.”

“But I thought you said he was unfit, how unfit was he then if he could have planned everything and sent you on your mission with Graham?” June asked again.

“Well, it was like this. Jim and Danny were the real planners behind everything. They ’ad it in for you after you banished us and wanted revenge. Kidnapping the girl was also ’is idea. ’e said ’e needed some relief and she was good enough for ’im. ’e was also the first to do ’er…”

The audience erupted into chaos and try as he might, Oscar could not get them to calm down. This was turning into a lynching mob he feared as Gary ran up to Bennie and kicked his legs out under him. They were baying for blood. The small mob dragged the hapless man outside with the members of the tribunal trying to create a semblance of order; to no avail.

They dragged Bennie to the stake and Gary quickly and deftly whipped a leather thong over the cross-member which he then looped around the victim’s neck. Pulling it taught, Bennie eyes were already bulging in fear as he tried to plead with his captors; his face went blue as the noose tightened. The small crowd fell silent, waiting for the miserable creature to be hauled into the air. Karl took the opportunity and leapt to Gary loosening his grip on the rope allowing Bennie some respite.

“Stop! Let’s not allow ourselves to become beasts, baying for blood regardless of the justness of the hanging of this filth,” he said, motioning with his head to Bennie who was standing with his head lolling to one side. He was almost out on his feet.

“Justice will forever be a lost cause if we act at a sub-human level. God knows, this man deserves no better, but what we do here now today will set a standard for all time to come and I for one will not be party to a system that I cannot defend. This man deserves to die for his crimes, but he also has a right to be heard; he has a right to justice and such justice as we are prepared to live by, is the justice according to which he should be judged.”

Turning to Gary he asked: “Will you Gary, be able to defend a lynching and will you Tom, Zyndile be prepared to live by a system which allows no man, woman or child the right to a fair hearing?” Karl did not wait for an answer.

“Justice is all about judging others by respecting their rights; by respecting the truth and by respecting yourselves. Our morality will not be evaluated by others; it will be judged by ourselves according to what we hold dear and I for one believe that the principles I live by will be destroyed forever if we continue with this lynching.”

Karl let the thong drop from his hand, and noticed that Gary had followed suit. He turned to Bennie, and said: “I despise everything you stand for. You are a looter and parasite on the world. You are also a coward and could not even face up to your own contribution to Amanda’s kidnapping and torture. You’ve no pride and no moral right to exist. That has been the failing of the governments of the world we have come from; that has been the failing of religions and that has been the failing of all those who have consistently protected the rights of parasites, criminals and the weak such as you. While you stand here accused of vile crimes, you still believe you have the right to life and I agree with you, you have a right to life but not the life you may wish for; not a life among humans who are able and proud of the fact that they can make choices and be rational; or among children even, who still need to learn the difference between right and wrong. No, you have chosen life among sub-humans; life with non-thinking beasts; life where the ants and the tireless dung beetle are at a moral standard far superior to yours.”

“I have seen your kind in my country of origin; parasites and brutes who believed that force is equal to the intellect of those who have created the world they live in; who believed that through force they hold the moral high ground. I have seen how they systematically destroyed independence, intellectual thought and productivity through intimidation and demands for equality for all while not being honest enough to tell the world that their equality is the equality of the useless, unproductive and immoral. I do not wish to be part of such a world again and I will not permit you the privilege to be part of mine.”

He looked at Christine. Her eyes were shining with a light he had never before noticed. She turned toward the house and he followed her into its comforting depths.

The small crowd looked at each other sheepishly. Karl had brought them from a precipice they did not quite grasp the significance of yet. Even Oscar was quiet. He sensed that Karl had shown the colours of a true leader and a morally just man; a man that he would be happy to follow.

“Take the prisoner and lock him up again, the trial shall recommence tomorrow” he instructed. Gary and Tom quietly obeyed while the rest returned to their dwellings. Tom and Zyndile were accommodated with June and her daughters and they spent most of the early evening talking about the worlds they came from; their families and friends and the things they held dearest to their hearts.

Bennie sat in his stockade, slowly rubbing his neck which still showed the angry red marks where the thongs had bitten into his flesh. The news that James had ducked, threw him. Even if he could escape, where would he go? Jim would never allow him back even if he knew where they had headed. What were they going to do with him? He shivered at how close he’d come to swinging a couple of hours ago.

The night went quiet as the lights in the homes flickered out one by one. In the distance a jackal called its mate.

 

The following day Bennie was hauled before the Tribunal again. This time he was subdued and co-operative. He knew that his fate lay in their hands. He was at their mercy and hoped to exploit their sense of justice to his own ends.

“Bennie, we will keep this hearing simple and short. You have been accused of the crimes of kidnapping, indecent assault and rape. We have also recorded a plea of not guilty on your behalf. Do you have anything to add at this juncture?” Oscar started proceedings.

“No,” came Bennie’s subdued response. His neck still smarted from the previous day’s near-lynching.

“Then we as the Tribunal further record here that you have admitted to knowing the circumstances of Amanda’s whereabouts and that you were party to her kidnapping and assault. Do you agree with this?”

“Yes.”

“Then you leave us no option but to find you guilty of the kidnapping of Amanda; of removing her to your tribe’s hideout and that there she was assaulted, raped and generally maltreated. Do you have anything to say in mitigation before we pass sentence?”

“I was but part of the gang and cannot be ’eld responsible for the collective actions of Jim’s gang. I plead for your mercy,” he stated quietly; bravado a thing of the past.

“We note your plea for clemency. However, Amanda had no such opportunity and she had no choice or right of appeal. You are as guilty and indeed will bear the collective weight of guilt of your compatriots. We hereby sentence you to be caste out into the wilderness. You shall be marked with the curse of your crime and forever be shunned by whosoever shall meet you. You have chosen to be caste into the twilight world of the monster and the subhuman; we will honour your choice. Take him away.”

Gary and Karl immediately bundled the pathetic man out into the open where he was again incarcerated in the stockade, pending his removal to what Oscar had called ‘the wilderness’. Bennie had no idea what that meant; neither did he understand what the marking implied.

Back in Oscar’s house, they discussed what Bennie’s sentence implied.

“Karl, I want you and Gary, that’s if you agree to do it, to take Bennie away and to dump him as far away from this valley as possible,” Oscar said. “There must be no possibility for him to rejoin Jim’s gang again. He is to roam the wilderness and to survive on his own. Karl you have a much better idea where this could be?”

Karl thought for a while and said: “I think we should take him as far north as we can. About a week’s trek from here, there is a mountain range which forms a natural barrier and seems to have permanent snow. Seeing that Jim’s gang has gone south from what we can see, it would be very difficult if not impossible for them to meet up again. But what about the marking, Oscar? What did you have in mind?”

“I wasn’t sure myself actually; just thought we have to do something without being barbaric about it,” Oscar replied.

“He should be castrated,” Gary piped up.

“Or have a hand chopped off, isn’t that what some religions do?” Esme offered, looking at Christine who just shook her head.

“No, can’t we brand him almost like a mark of Cain?”

“Yeh, with the word ‘rapist’ on his forehead,” Gary proposed, warming to the task.

“Guys, listen to yourselves,” Christine said quietly, “you’re discussing ways and means to extract revenge on this man. Don’t get me wrong, he deserves everything he gets and certainly doesn’t deserve mercy. What worries me is what example we’re creating for the future. By maiming and marking him we’re descending on what I believe will be a downward spiral of an eye-for-an-eye style of justice which is exactly the barbarous style of Shari’ah law of Islam. I know there are many who believe that this is exactly what went wrong in our societies, i.e. not dealing with criminality in a decisive manner, but what separates us from the primitive ways of early man and even the punishments meted out to criminals in the dark ages as well, is our sense of justice and impartiality. Before we realise it, we will be witnessing the stoning of perpetrators for any crime we believe deserves it. As Karl said yesterday, I do not want to part of such a system.”

“OK Christine, what do you propose we do with Bennie?” Oscar somewhat irritated. He knew Christine’s moral stance well but she wasn’t bringing them any closer to an equitable solution.

“The decision to banish him to the wilderness is sufficient, I believe. I would blindfold him for the journey. He should have no idea in which direction we have taken him. That would place him in a difficult position; he will have to survive by his own abilities. It should also isolate him sufficiently to ensure that he doesn’t threaten us in the valley again. If Karl knows where to take him, I think we should leave it at that. In any case by marking him, who would understand the mark? I think his actions have marked him and will continue to do so.”

“How do the rest of you feel about Christine’s proposal?” Oscar asked looking around at the small gathering. There was general assent although Gary would still have preferred to extract a more visible form of punishment. The man must feel for what he’s done, he thought to himself.

“OK so it’s decided then. Karl how soon can you leave? The sooner we are shot of the man the better,” Oscar asked.

“On the morn if that’s OK with you Gary?”

“Let’s leave as early as possible,” Gary said.

 

The following morning the small party of three left before anyone else had woken. They tied a rope to Bennie’s neck and strung it between the two of them to ensure that he didn’t try to escape. Bennie had no idea what they were doing as they blindfolded him and instructed him to follow them. After stumbling along at the outset he soon became accustomed to the gait and they progressed quite rapidly to disappear over the horizon. By the time Christine and the rest of the settlement rose, there was no sign of them.

Karl and Gary trekked for 6 days before they removed Bennie’s blindfold and untied his hands. They had traversed three small valleys and two mountain ranges, the last which rose steeply into the skies to pierce the sullen cloud cover above them. Karl knew of passes through the range and after leaving the last range well behind them instructed Gary to remove Bennie’s blindfold.

Opening his eyes to the unaccustomed bright light he peered around him at the unfamiliar surroundings.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“In the wilderness, your new home,” was Gary’s short reply.

Around them lay a wasteland of sand and very short scrub. To their left Karl had found a small oasis and this is where they set up their last camp for the night.

“Are you guys really going to leave me ’ere?” he pleaded pathetically.

“You bet your life, bru, and be thankful that it’s not worse.”

“But how will I survive here? ’ere’s fuckall,” the doomed man whined.

“You should have thought about that earlier. You have water and food you’ll have to find. We’ll leave you with about one day’s supply of dried meat. The rest is up to you,” Karl said gruffly. He was in a hurry to get back to his pregnant wife.

The following morning they loosely tied Bennie’s feet and hands to a palm tree to slow down any attempts by him to follow them back. Without any further formalities or greetings, they set off back to Red Valley following a false trail over hard ground and rocks to throw him off their tracks.

Bennie’s cries and screams faded into the distance, as Karl and Gary disappeared over a small hill to the west of the oasis.

The oasis was the only water for hundreds of square kilometres. All animals trekked there to quench their thirst. That night a pack of wild dogs found the tracks of a prey they had never smelled before and after following it for a few minutes found their whimpering evening meal.

 

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