Preview Book

 

1

 

    I’m totally numb. I sit in a kind of trance—unsure if I’m still alive…or if I’ve gone over to that other place.

    How could I possibly be alive after what’s just happened?

    And surely, what I see in front of me can’t be real.

    I hear soft sobbing and a low moan from one of the seats behind me but can’t bring myself to turn around—can’t take my eyes from beyond the torn metal at my feet.

    But are they really my feet? They look like my shoes all right—white Nike’s with blue laces. But how could they possibly be there?

    I run my eyes up my legs. Blue-jeans, faded nicely at the knees—the spot on my left thigh where I spilled spaghetti sauce and hadn’t been able to get it out. These are my jeans all right. But have they gone with me to that other place? Do clothes stay with you when you die?

    Behind me someone lets out a scream. It comes suddenly—a high-pitched wail that sounds as if it’s been held back until it can’t be contained any longer. It gushes free like water from a burst dam.

    The scream leads me to conclude that I am in fact, still alive. Because people on the other side don’t scream—death is a peaceful place, right?

    When the aircraft went down everyone was screaming—me included. I can feel the painful rawness of it in my throat. I’m in 29F, a window seat near the tail of the plane—or what used to be a plane. Directly in front of me is just air—half a mile of misty nothingness ending in a ridge of high mountains on the far side of a deep gorge. My eyes smart at the brightness, a blinding contrast to the black storm that enveloped the plane only moments ago. The tops of the higher peaks are capped with snow.

    Strange seeing snow in Africa. My mind picture has always been steamy jungle with some flat grassy bits. Seeing the snow makes me shiver. I don’t actually feel cold—I don’t really feel anything—but I shiver anyway.

    Beyond the jagged edge of floor that marks where the aircraft has been ripped apart—some two inches in front of my toes—there is nothing but a dizzying drop to a brown ribbon of river winding its way through lush jungle far below…and the smoldering remains of the plane’s front section—now a tomb containing most of the passengers.

    A lone hawk—riding an updraft of air from the gorge—banks its wings to swoop in for a closer look, then lofts out of sight.

    The scream has died now. Seemingly exhausted by its own force it has simply faded to nothing. But the sound-gap has been filled with soft sobbing. Then someone says quietly, “Oh…my…God.” But that’s all—no conversation—just, ‘Oh…my…God’, and the sobbing.

    I lift a hand to my face. My cheek is wet with blood. But strangely, I feel no pain—apart from where the seat belt has dug into my stomach. I don’t want to move though in case I am hurt somewhere else—in case something’s broken.

    Then I remember where the blood must have come from, and the memory is worse than if I had been hurt. The blood is from the nice older lady who was sitting right in front of me.

    In the seat that no longer exists!

    We’d talked. The lady had been travelling from London to visit her son and new grandson in Johannesburg. But when the plane broke apart, the nice lady was squashed like a ripe tomato. She hadn’t uttered a sound—she’d simply burst. Right in front of me!

    Now she will never see her grandson.

    I scrub frantically at the blood with my sleeve as if removing it will erase the event itself. The movement pulls me out of my trance-like state and I turn my head tentatively to the left—to where Scott sits across the isle. He has a kind of puzzled expression on his face as he peers into that dizzying nothingness at his feet, as if he too can’t quite grasp the reality of what he’s seeing. He must have felt my gaze because he turns and our eyes catch.

    A strong gust of hot wind rising from the gorge causes the plane to shudder. This brings everyone out of their stupor. Now, shouts and screams erupt as it occurs to us all that we might just follow the front section of the plane over the cliff at any moment. Suddenly there’s a frantic unbuckling of seat belts followed by a frenzied rush for the rear doors.

    Apart from Scott and me that is. Me because I’m in a window seat and there’s nothing in front of me. In hindsight, I suppose I could have climbed over the back of the seat, but at the time it never occurred to me. When you go through something like this, your mind doesn’t function rationally.

    Scott though, could have easily slipped out of his isle seat and been standing by the door in a heartbeat, but instead of making a mad dash, he waits for me to ever so cautiously navigate past the two vacant seats to my left. I hear myself whimpering softly as I place my feet carefully on the little strip of floor separating me from that gut-wrenching drop. I’ve always been terrified of heights, and that gorge feels like it’s sucking me toward it—like a huge gaping mouth drooling for my flesh.

    I don’t notice Scott’s face as I reach the isle—I’m too numb with fear. Later though, when I re-live that strange little courtesy of his, I have the impression he might have given me a reassuring smile as he extended a hand to help me into the isle.

    Rupert, the oldest of our group at thirty-four, is surrounded by six pushing bodies as he struggles with the door mechanism. Blood runs down the side of his face from a nasty gash on his forehead but he pays no attention to it. The door finally yields, then someone pulls a lever and a ramp flops to the ground some ten feet below. The six who’ve been milling around the door slide from the plane in a flurry of arms and legs. Rupert stands to the side, watching with a vaguely quizzical expression, like a researcher studying human behavior under stress.

    Rupert’s from London, England. At thirty-four, he’s the oldest of our group. He wrote the script of the film we were on our way to shoot, and he was to direct it.

    Now the project appears to be finished.

    But the ever-optimistic Rupert obviously doesn’t see it that way. “My camera!” he suddenly yelps, and goes darting back up the isle to his seat. When he returns, he’s holding the camera aloft triumphantly and touching the gash at the side of his head. “Nearly killed me,” he chirps lightly. “Came out of the overhead bin and beaned me on the noggin.” He’s smiling until he sees the smudge of blood on the side of my face, then he turns serious. “But you’re hurt…”

    “No, it’s nothing…” I say quickly—I don’t want to have to explain. Tears begin to blur my eyes. I don’t ask for them—they just arrive as that picture of the exploding lady comes back to me. I brush the tears away. “It’s nothing,” I repeat as I try to choke back the image that I know will never leave me even if I live to be a hundred.

    Rupert studies my face for a moment then says, “Well, I guess we’d better get out of here.” He gestures for me, then Scott, to go down the ramp before sliding down it himself. Like the captain of a sinking ship, I suppose he feels he should be the last to leave.

 

    From the lip of the gorge, harsh rocky shale dotted with a few prickly shrubs slopes gently away to a low ridge of scattered pinkish rocks that form a kind of crescent around us. Behind the rocks are trees—mostly not very tall, but there are a few incongruous-looking giants towering above the others. This little barren patch where we are strikes me as kind of weird because when I look around at the surrounding peaks of similar height, they’re all deep green with vegetation. Where we stand is like a mini desert.

    The descending plane has lopped off the tops of trees in a wide swathe and left part of a wing wedged in some branches off to one side.

    A huge tree—the one that must have sliced through the plane—still stands, but barely. It is missing all its limbs and is canted over at a forty-five degree angle. Most of its roots have been ripped from the ground and now poke, claw-like, up into the air. Stripped of bark, the trunk glistens like a skinned animal carcass in the harsh sunlight.

    Beginning at the tree, two huge gouges have been cut into the hard ground. The shallower of the two—which is perhaps six feet deep—leads to the tail section of the plane that teeters on the edge of the cliff. The other—the deeper one, shows the track of the forward section. It is strewn with a scattering of clothes and mangled bags from the gutted hold. At the end of this gouge there is nothing but empty space.

    As if of one mind, we all drift away from the plane, seemingly afraid it might somehow suck us over the cliff if it happens to go. I look around at the others. No one is speaking. Half of them are just standing there with blank expressions, gazing at their surroundings in disbelief. The others, wearing equally blank faces, are poking at the keys of mobile phones, but without any apparent success. Angela, who is African American, walks around in a tight circle with her head bowed. She holds her phone close to her face as she punches at the keys. As she passes close to me, I notice that her hands are shaking and she’s making a little mewling sound.

    “Is anyone hurt?” Rupert calls out. His very proper English accented voice seems somehow at odds with this rough setting. We all turn to him. He sees himself as our group father and his words have a catch of concern to them.

    Everyone is obviously bruised and banged about to some degree, but miraculously there appear to be no serious injuries—no broken bones or anything. But maybe it’s not so surprising because my recollection of the crash is of a downward jarring when we first hit, but after that it was like being on one of those octopus things at a carnival where you get whipped around and pushed back in your seat.

    We all shake our heads to Rupert’s question. All except Chloe that is, the oldest of the actors at twenty, who holds her forearm aloft to show him a smudge of blood. She is a wraith-like blonde who appears to have a bit of a crush on Rupert. The cut on her forearm is nothing more than a scratch but she obviously wants his attention.

    In the movie she was to have played a well-intentioned but rather flaky aid worker. I don’t mean to sound catty, but for her, the part wouldn’t have required any great degree acting ability.

    “We’ll find you a Band-aid,” Rupert commiserates soothingly. I don’t think he has any real interest in her but he always tries to keep his kids—as he calls us—happy.

    He appears totally unconcerned about the gash on his own head which looks kind of deep. It’s stopped bleeding now but he has a streak of dried blood angling past his right eye to his chin. 

    “We’ve all suffered through a terrible tragedy,” he intones gravely. “Apart from the other passengers aboard the plane, three of our friends have been taken from us.”

    For some reason these three, a girl and two boys, had found empty seats further forward and separated themselves from the group. All three had only minor roles in the film and I think they kind of resented this all along—didn’t consider themselves part of the gang. Now they lie at the bottom of the gorge.

    Rupert turns even more somber now. He shifts his eyes around the group and he’s wearing an expression none of us have ever seen before. Even when things went wrong during rehearsals and he’d had to raise his voice, his blue eyes always appeared to be laughing—like the dancing surface of a sunlit sea. Now those eyes are dark and deep like an underwater cave where eels and other nasty things might be lurking.

    “We’ve somehow managed to survive an incredibly traumatic event,” he intones, his face all frowns and seriousness. “Although we may not realize it, all of us are probably suffering from some degree of shock. If this had happened back home there’d be people to help us get through it, but out here…” He pauses, searching for the right words. “Well, here all we’ve got is each other.” He flashes us a little half-smile then—the captain assuring us that although the ship is half full of water, we may just be able to survive if we all bail together. “But the fact is we simply can’t afford to be traumatized. We’re like soldiers in the field—if we’re going to get through this, we have to postpone our trauma until the fighting’s done.” Again he hesitates, brow furrowed before going on. “And another thing. Every soldier who comes through a battle unscathed feels a certain degree of guilt—why did I survive when all my friends are dead? Well, we can’t afford these thoughts right now. All our concentration—all our energy—has to be directed toward staying alive.”

    I’m wondering how he knows all this stuff about trauma and battlefields. But then I’ve no idea what he did before becoming a film-maker.

    Most of us are hanging on to his words but Jason is looking off into the distance with a bored expression as if he’s stuck in church and can’t wait for the sermon to end. “But before we put this behind us,” Rupert says, “in deference to our three lost friends and the other passengers, let me just say… May they rest in peace.” His words are followed by a few mumbled Amen’s. Most of us are studying the ground. In my peripheral vision I see a few hands going up to swipe at eyes. I think of the old lady and my hand swipes at my eyes too.

    Rupert then turns to practical matters. “I don’t know exactly where we are but just before we crashed, the pilot announced we’d be landing in Johannesburg in about three hours. That would put us somewhere around Lutalo or the Republic of Bongani I imagine. But what part of either country is anyone’s guess. From what I’ve been reading, I think Lutalo might be a safer place to be than Bongani and it lies to the west, so perhaps that’s the direction we should head in when we leave here. Hopefully we’ll come across a village or town.”

    Becky, who has just turned fifteen, pipes up. “What about lions and tigers. Won’t they get us?”

    Rupert smiles, but not in an unkind way—Becky is one of his favorites. “There are no tigers here in Africa Becky,” he explains gently. “And lions tend to stick to the low ground. And they’re afraid of fire, so we should be able to deal with them.”

    Despite Rupert’s quiet certainty, Becky begins eying the forbidding terrain nervously as if expecting some drooling creature to come leaping out from the trees and drag her away in its jaws. I move to her side, drape a comforting arm around her shoulder and lean in close to her ear. “I think he’s right Becky,” I say quietly. “I know there are no tigers here in Africa and all the documentaries I’ve seen show lions on the plains, not in the mountains.” I throw this out with a nonchalant confidence I don’t altogether feel because of course there are other things like leopards in the mountains. My words seem to offer Becky a measure of comfort though—I feel some of the tension leave her shoulders as she snuggles into me.

    This snuggling bit gives me a weird feeling—a feeling I don’t invite and don’t really want. It must be a bit like what a parent feels for a child. It frightens me. I don’t like the idea of being ambushed into a sense of responsibility. But on the other hand it’s kind of nice—somehow warm and gratifying.

    Rupert continues. “I suspect our main problem will be the rebels,” he says, then adds, “And finding enough food and water to last us until we can make our way to safety.”

    Jason, who is nineteen, chirps up, “I remember reading somewhere that it’s best to stay near a crash site.” He’s tall and slim with long jet-black hair, high cheekbones and a thin arrogant mouth. He appears to have Indian blood. “And it makes sense doesn’t it? Someone will come to rescue us. They’ll know where the plane went down.”

    Rupert comes back. “If we were back in the States I’d agree with you Jason, because we don’t have bloodthirsty rebels roaming the countryside back there.” His voice remains soft, but there’s a hint of impatience to it.

    All of us are familiar with the fact that various rebel groups control parts of Africa. Their ruthlessness and cruelty were to have played an integral part in the film. But I think most of the young actors have only an abstract awareness of the atrocities committed by these bands—the somewhat vague consciousness of the average Westerner who reads about violence in distant lands but can’t quite picture the reality—can’t seem to empathize with the suffering of different-looking foreign people.

    The crash has obviously brought us all closer to the possibility of violent death but it will take a little longer for some of us to actually comprehend that someone might want to harm them simply for the sport of it—simply because there is no law out here in the jungle to prevent them from doing so.

    “But why would the rebels want to hurt us?” Jason argues. “We haven’t done anything to them.”

    I let out a not-so-quiet, “Duh.” I hadn’t meant to. It just seemed to slip from my mouth. I’d done some serious reading on the rebels as part of the prep work for my role. I’d also come to dislike Jason for his air of arrogance and superiority.

    He glowers at me but says nothing.

    Rupert shows a little more diplomacy. “Some people don’t need a reason to hurt others, Jason. Some people enjoy causing others to suffer. I can’t force any of you to come with me, but I don’t intend to stick around here.” He reaches up unconsciously to touch the gash on his forehead and this starts it bleeding again. The starkness of the running blood against the pallor of his face adds poignancy to his words. He scowls briefly at his red-tipped fingers but ignores the blood that trickles down the side of his face. “I feel kind of responsible for our situation and see it as being up to me to get us all out of it. In my view, our best course of action will be to salvage whatever might prove useful from the plane then put as many miles between us and the crash-site as possible. Because if we are in rebel-held territory—and I strongly suspect this may be the case—they will surely come to investigate.”

    It’s typical of Jason to take a contrary stance. He’d argued with Rupert on a number of occasions during rehearsals over what he saw as a flaw in the way the film delivered its message. Rupert was aiming for a degree of subtlety, and everyone apart from Jason appeared to understand his approach.

    Many years ago, Jason had been a child actor in a series that had been anything but subtle. Despite the short run of his show he obviously thinks this early experience in front of the camera has gifted him with a mature insight into the business of film-making…as well as most other matters. “I think you’re exaggerating this rebel thing a bit,” he insists stubbornly. “I’ve read about them. Their gripe is with their government, not us...” He pauses briefly to throw me a pointed glare then goes on, “…as anyone who knows anything about the situation would realize.”

    Again he pauses to allow this little dig to register. “I intend to stay by the plane and be rescued.” He sweeps his eyes around the group. “Who’s with me?” He flings this out in a confident voice—seemingly certain that no one could possibly be stupid enough to entertain any other course of action. His face registers surprise when only two of the others, Patrick and Tyler, sheepishly elect to side with him. These two sixteen year olds had been taken in by Jason’s bluster from day one. At rehearsals, they followed him around like puppies.

    Somehow, Rupert always managed to display remarkable tolerance whenever he was subjected to one of Jason’s numerous suggestions about the film. And he shows that same degree of restraint now. “I think you’re making a mistake, Jason,” he sighs. “But as I said before, I can’t force you to follow the rest of us. All I can do is hope what you say is true and that you’re rescued before the rebels get here.”

    Jason grins confidently. “We’ll be splashing around in the pool of some swanky hotel later today,” he crows. He glances over at his two young cohorts and gives them an exaggerated wink. “Eh, boys?” They both nod and smile in sycophantic agreement.

    “I hope you’re right,” Rupert allows doubtfully.

    While this little exchange is going on, Scott has left the group, gone over to the plane and climbed back up the ramp. Fed up with Jason and his crap, I follow and stand by the foot of the ramp. Soon, supplies begin sliding down: three cases of water; one of Coke; sixteen packages of food and some first-aid supplies. “That’s all there is I’m afraid,” Scott says tonelessly as he comes back down. “Everything else has been smashed.” His face is ashen and his eyes have a faraway look.

    “What is it?” I ask, alarmed at the sudden change in him.

    He hesitates before answering, “I guess one of the flight attendants was back there when we crashed.”

    I don’t pry for the details. The plane came down tail-first and the badly crushed galley tells the story all too well.

    Scott was to have played the lead male role opposite me. Tall and broad-shouldered with curly blond hair, he has a warm beguiling smile. But we hadn’t gotten along too well during rehearsals. In my view he’d been way too flippant—the whole thing seemed like a joke to him. Apart from this though, I have to admit he’s not a bad actor. No, I lie—he’s a good actor. Just treats his acting too frivolously in my view.

    I take my acting seriously. I see it as my only hope of ever escaping my privileged upbringing—of showing my parents that I have worth of my own—that it isn’t just Daddy’s money. But most of all that I’m not simply a rubber stamp of my mother.

    I was to discover later though, that Scott’s flippancy hid the much heavier burden of grinding poverty.

    By this time, Rupert and the two young girls, Becky and Angela have drifted over. We busy ourselves collecting the supplies from the bottom of the ramp and stacking them in a pile away from the plane. Jason and his two cohorts stand off to the side, talking and laughing with not a care in the world it would seem.

    Chloe hovers around but doesn’t actually do anything. She’s having trouble with her stiletto heels on the uneven ground but she’s obviously not ready to give them up yet.

    By the time Rupert gets around to asking if there’s anything more to salvage, Scott has regained some of his color. He shakes his head. “No. That’s it.”

    Rupert then begins dividing the supplies into two piles—a third for the three who’ve decided to stay—two thirds for us other six.

    “Just leave us three of the food packages,” Jason offers with a magnanimous wave of his hand. “We’ll be dining at the Ritz tonight.” He throws a confident smirk toward his two companions who—although apparently set on sticking with him—don’t appear to share his absolute certainty of rescue.

    Once the food and drink has been divvied up, those of us who are leaving go over to where the main body of the plane has churned through the ground—to where the contents of the cargo hold have been scattered widely—and begin sorting through the debris for anything that might prove useful.

    Jason, Patrick and Tyler now sit comfortably in the shade of a large rock, ostentatiously swigging Cokes and bantering loudly—making it plain that they won’t be requiring any of the stuff we others are scavenging. But I bet when we’re gone they’ll be sifting through the debris for treasures.

    I try to view the situation through Jason’s eyes. Could he in fact be making the better decision? If the authorities know exactly where the plane went down they could perhaps get a helicopter to the site within a few hours.

    That’s what would happen back home.

    But here? In Africa? Africa is not known for its efficiency.

    And what if the storm knocked out the plane’s radio? There’s little doubt in my mind that we’d been struck by lightning. I’d seen a blinding flash out the window and felt the plane shudder. At that point, the lights went out and the whole inside glowed a kind of luminous blue for a second before the blackness of the storm enveloped us again.

    Right after that we’d started going down. 

    There hadn’t been a peep from the speakers after that lightning strike, and the lights hadn’t gone back on again, so it makes sense that the electrical system had been fried.

    In which case it’s unlikely that anyone will have a clue where we are.

    I’m definitely making the right move by sticking with Rupert.

 

 

 

 

2

 

    It never ceases to amaze me how the tiniest little event can turn your life around completely and stand it on end. The event in my case involved my fiancé Hudson. Most girls don’t have fiancés anymore, only the ones who come from rich families—which supposedly makes them important families. Mine, the Roxborough’s, and Hudson’s, the Dawlish’s, are considered important. Hudson’s father is a Republican Senator—my father gives generously to the Republican party.

    Both our families are frequently mentioned in the social columns—my mother makes sure of that—so I became Hudson’s fiancée, and he became my fiancé. As my mother sometimes phrased it at one of her hoity-toity functions, Hudson and I are affianced.

    Anyway, getting back to my point, the two of us were shopping in Lower Manhattan when we had one of our tiffs. As usual, it had to do with my theatrical aspirations—Hudson is always belittling acting as a profession and trying to talk me into giving it up. He doesn’t think of it as a ‘suitable occupation’ for someone in my position—basically implying that well-bred ladies don’t flaunt themselves on stage. In this, he echoes my father’s sentiments.

    This particular battle in our ongoing war began when Hudson suggested that actors could easily lie with a straight face. Of course I took it personally.

    “What about politicians?” I’d fired back angrily—a dig at his father the senator whose principals had always seemed to me, rather flexible.

    The words went back and forth until I stormed off one way and he went the other. I ended up wandering around Greenwich Village.

    It was interesting—I’d been there loads of times, but never on my own. And when you’re with a bunch of friends you’re clowning around and don’t notice a lot of things. This time, despite the fact I was still fuming over the stuff Hudson had said, I was aware of my surroundings—the people; the buildings; the sheer energy of the place.

    A colorful poster stuck on a wall caught my eye. If I’d been with friends I would’ve walked right past it. Alone, I took time to check it out. It was headed ‘Dance of Tears’. In the foreground were two Africans—a man beating on a drum and a woman dancing. But instead of looking happy, their faces showed nothing but despair. Behind them were two more figures—a grinning African in camouflage holding a rifle and a Caucasian nun. At first I figured it was a plug for some kind of charity, but when I stopped to read it, my heart leapt.

    It was a casting poster.

    A small production company was looking for young actors to try out for a film to be shot in Africa.

    Wow!

    I’d never thought of trying out for a movie before. I’d always considered movies to be not really the thing for serious actors—which was kind of a dumb view when I look back on it because there are some great movie actors. I’d probably picked the idea up from an interview with some stage actor who’d flopped in a movie. Anyway, wherever it came from, I’d always had my heart set on Broadway.

    But a movie set in Africa! Hard to resist at least giving it a shot.

    I’d been to England and all over Europe and the Caribbean a few times—even Australia and New Zealand—but never to Africa.

    That evening, I e-mailed my resume to UNC Productions.

    After that I called Hudson and he came over and we kissed and made up. But I didn’t tell him about the Africa thing.

    Hudson and I had been neighbors since I was nine. We’d had our arguments over the years but they were always to do with games we were playing or things we were doing—never about who we were or what we might become. That only started when we got engaged. I guess when you’re going to marry someone and supposedly spend the rest of your life with them, it kinda follows that you might try to shape them into a form you can live with. I don’t know whether Hudson figured he couldn’t live with me as an actor, or if he simply sided with my father on that issue to keep in his future father-in-law’s good graces.

    Did we love each other? I guess so. But it wasn’t a head-over-heels kind of love. We’d been a part of each others’ lives for some eight years now. I know I’d be devastated if he wasn’t around—if he suddenly moved out to California…or decided to marry someone else…or heaven forbid, died—but I didn’t feel that burning passion I’d read about in books and seen in movies. I figured that would come later.

    We had a few steamy moments when I had to slap his roaming hands away but that was about it. I don’t know why I was so prudish at my age, but then Hudson never pushed the matter.

    I got to wondering about that too.

    A couple of days later I received an e-mail from Rupert Bartholomew Benson (I couldn’t believe anyone would actually use a name like Bartholomew), President of UNC Productions, scheduling me for a screening test.

    I did the test and it seemed to go well.

    Five days later, Rupert phoned to tell me I had the part. He asked me ever so politely if I, “might come in to pick up the full script and have a little chat.” He gave me the address of his office which was located on Grove Street, close to Bleeker.

    I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast in my life. All I could think of was that he might have second thoughts about me while I was in transit.

    I liked Rupert instantly. He had an easy way about him with none of the pretensions I’d encountered with a lot of theatre people.

    A West End Londoner, he had a funny accent and used words I didn’t understand sometimes. His face was gaunt with chiseled features that seemed to be at odds with his wide, full mouth. When he smiled—and he smiled a lot of the time—he revealed a mouth full of small, uneven, slightly yellowish teeth. Wild, prematurely graying hair gave him the look of an aging rock star, but while rock stars have a tendency to be lean and lanky, Rupert was short and stocky. His somewhat unconventional appearance was redeemed by his eyes though. They were amazing—a hypnotic, twinkling deep-sea blue. Those eyes, along with his obvious passion for his craft, made him oddly appealing.

    We spent almost two hours together. I fended off questions on my background while elaborating on my acting career. He gave me a bit of a run-down on his other films and spoke of his hopes for this current one. He was almost apologetic over his lack of commercial success in the past, but had total confidence in the Africa project—Dance of Tears.

    He also told me how he got into the film business. He’d inherited a bunch of money from an uncle who died a few years back (hence the name of his production company—UNC) and moved to California to become a film-maker. His efforts out there had met with little success but he never lost his enthusiasm. He came to the conclusion that his ideas weren’t glitzy enough for Hollywood, so he relocated to New York.

    He’d scripted Dance of Tears as a kind of staged reality piece to be filmed in a village just outside Johannesburg. Although the film was to be principally an entertainment, Rupert figured that if it was done right, it might just cross the line and become something bigger—something with a message…that starving Africans could become self-sufficient if they were able to overcome their tribal animosities and learn to co-operate with each other.

    He didn’t see it as one of those ‘Ra Ra Hollywwood things’ where cocky foreigners strut their superiority and come to the rescue of the ignorant locals. Rupert wasn’t like that. He simply wanted to get the message out that young people, uncorrupted by the prejudice and greed of their elders, could work together in order to create something pure. To achieve this, he knew he had to dish up something people would want to watch—an entertainment—something gripping enough to create a buzz.

    By the time I arrived home after my meeting, I’d read the first part of the script and fallen totally in love with the project. I knew I could do my role justice.

    I was to play Sister Agnes, a girl who’d been thrust into a convent at age ten by a fanatically religious father who feared she’d be led astray by a world of sinners. Although rebellious at first, in time she grew to accept her life in the convent. As she matured though, a romantic yearning for love of the non-spiritual kind crept into her thoughts.

    When the Mother Superior observed signs that the young Sister was becoming infatuated with a youth who delivered groceries to the convent, Agnes was hastily shuttled off to a mission in Africa.

    That’s as far as I got with the script before I arrived home.

    I must have been radiating my excitement because as soon as my mother saw me she said I looked like the cat that had just swallowed the goldfish.

    Well, I felt like that cat.

    I probably should have eased into the situation gently, but in my excitement I just blurted it all out.

    Mother always sided with Father over decisions concerning me, so needless to say she didn’t share my enthusiasm. Matters turned from bad to worse when Father arrived home—slightly drunk—from the golf club.

    You’ll notice I never refer to him as Dad, or my mother as Mom— over the years they’d become too distant and formal for such casual address.

    But back to Father’s arrival home from his club. I was invited—no, instructed—to go to his study. This was serious. A visit to this room meant one of two things—I was to be congratulated for some scholarly achievement or I was to be reprimanded. This visit was obviously not going to fall into the first category.

    I can’t remember my father ever hitting me, but he’d yell at me sometimes and that could be like a blow. And he had this laser-like stare when he was mad.

    It wasn’t so much that I feared him when he was angry—more that I didn’t want to disappoint him. He never expected me to be Miss Goody Two-Shoes—he just didn’t want me to make life-changing mistakes. Becoming an actress, in his opinion, fell into that category.

    I didn’t care much about what Mother thought—I’d kind of lost all respect for her over the way wealth had changed her…turned her into a snob. She flaunted our money shamelessly as if she was the one who’d made it.

    It had also changed Father of course, but not in a totally negative way. He’d gone after what he wanted and he’d succeeded. Our circumstances changed and he became more distant—spent more time with his business cronies than me and I guess I resented that.

    I remember that visit to his study as if it were yesterday. The room was on the ground floor of the house with a bay window that looked out over the back garden past the roses and the rolling lawn to the blue-gray water of Long Island Sound.

    Father sat behind the finely carved antique table that served as his desk with his back to the window, absent-mindedly tapping a pen on a pad of paper, fixing me with his laser eyes. I was determined not to show any outward sign of discomfort—after all, I was seventeen years old. But inside I was squirming like a worm on a fishhook.

    Finally he spoke. “You disappoint me Daina. As a Roxborough, you’re part of a family. And as such you have certain obligations to the rest of that family. One of those obligations is openness—which means not sneaking around behind the backs of your mother and me.” He paused for a moment, intensifying the stare. “It would appear however, that this is exactly what you’ve been doing.”

    “I don’t understand,” I replied softly. I knew the direction we were headed in, but I didn’t see myself as sneaking behind anyone’s back.

    His eyes continued to drill into me. “Of course you do. You’ve gone and got yourself a part in a movie—to be made in Africa of all places—and didn’t have the courtesy to inform either your mother or me about it.”

    “That’s not quite true,” I replied. “I only learned today that I had the part and as soon as I arrived home I informed Mother.” I felt myself shrinking under his gaze so I made a conscious effort to push my shoulders back and sit up straight.

    Father swiveled his chair around and stared out the window for a bit before turning back to face me. “What about college? What about Hudson? What about all the plans we’ve talked about—you taking over the business—running it. Do you seriously think your mother and I will allow you to do this?”

    I was so accustomed to crumbling before him that I almost did this time. But I wanted the Africa thing desperately enough to stand up to him. “I was hoping you and Mother would be happy for me. For getting something I want so badly entirely on my own.” This of course was a little dig at him using his influence on my behalf in the past whether I wanted it or not. “Over fifty girls tried out for the part and I got it.” I saw then, a softening of his features. Father admired success.

    I went on. “I am doing this. I’d like to do it with your blessing but…” I left the sentence unfinished.

    Father turned once again to stare out the window. I could see his jaw working. He had his back to me for perhaps two minutes, but it seemed like an hour. This is it, I thought—when he turns back he’s going to start yelling…

    But he didn’t.

    In fact when he faced me again there was the hint of a smile on his face. “I guess I have to accept the fact that my little girl’s growing up,” he said. There was a catch to his voice and his eyes were glistening a bit. “I only hope she doesn’t regret the decision she’s making.”

    After that he gave me a big hug. It was the closest we’d been in years. I couldn’t believe it. It brought tears to my eyes.

   

    Hudson of course was furious. We had our worst argument ever. After two days of hostilities, with Hudson appealing to my father (who remained neutral, to his credit, saying we’d have to learn to work things out ourselves) I hit upon a bright idea. We’d been planning on a spring wedding, so I suggested we put it forward a bit. When the movie was done, we’d get married. Over there. In Africa.

 

    But like I said before, small events can alter an entire life. That one little argument I had with Hudson in Lower Manhattan changed the course of mine—sent it spinning off into a place I never dreamed of.

    Fate; karma; kismet—whatever you want to call it—you can’t escape it. It’s the path you don’t even know exists until it confronts you and you take it. And when you do, you might think you know where it leads, but in fact you don’t have the vaguest idea.

 

 

 

 

3

 

    After a half hour of foraging amongst the wreckage, we’ve managed to put together an eclectic pile of useful stuff: a hunting rifle with a broken stock (along with a box of ammunition—which amazingly didn’t explode); half a big game fishing rod with the reel intact; a good-sized hunting knife along with three Swiss army knives; two cans of bug spray; three cigarette lighters; two small flashlights; a couple of lightweight tents; binoculars and two unbroken golf clubs which Scott selects as weapons.

    The golf clubs going into the pile spark the first post-crash laughter when Scott, practice-swinging with a four iron, comments on the abysmal state of the course.

    I’m surprised by our ability to laugh so soon after the horror of the crash—maybe we are all in shock. Or maybe what Rupert says about being able to force a traumatic event behind us is right. Perhaps it’s automatic in a situation like this—some deep-rooted instinct that closes a door on the past in order to allow us to concentrate on the future. On surviving. I know the memory of the woman bursting in front of me will come back to haunt me later, but I don’t have room for it now. There’s no room for anything but staying alive!

    Along with the other stuff, we manage to collect some clothing that’s more suited to the jungle than a few of us are wearing—Chloe especially. She reluctantly discards her black leather mini skirt for a baggy pair of men’s olive-green Dockers. And her bright red stiletto Jimmy Choo Anouk’s get swapped for well-worn Reebok trainers. Before putting the shoes on she gives them a sniff, crinkles her nose in disgust but slips her feet into them anyway.

    Scott, who’s wearing a khaki shirt that looks like it might have come from an army surplus store, points out that we should be looking for stuff that blends in with the jungle. “We don’t want to glow like beacons,” he advises. “The more subdued the colors, the better.”

    Most of us already fit that bill—I have on a lightweight olive jacket over a beige cotton shirt—but Chloe has to discard the coat that matched her red shoes and Angela gets rid of an orange tee-shirt that has POO printed in black on the front of it.

    Initially squeamish about going through the possessions of dead people, Chloe now jumps in with both feet and puts together an impressive pile of cosmetics and toiletries. When Scott points out that she’ll be carrying whatever she collects for a number of days, Chloe tinkles out a guilty little laugh and coos. “We girls have to keep our spirits up somehow.”

    Rupert performs a delighted little jig when he comes across the solar charging panel for his camera. It’s housed in a fiberglass container and has managed to remain unscathed. He also finds a pair of hiking boots in his size and reluctantly swaps them for his hand-tooled cowboy boots. He gives the cowboy boots a rather forlorn look before setting them aside. They must have been his favorites because he wore them almost every day during rehearsals—they have extra high heels to compensate for his shortish stature. But rather than showing embarrassment over this little vanity, he grins and makes a joke about it. “Anyone calls me Shorty gets a whack with a golf club,” he announces cheerfully.

    As we divide the goods among the salvaged backpacks and duffle bags, something draws my attention to the far side of the clearing—to a huge twisted old tree growing behind a tumble of rocks.

    I feel an inexplicable pull toward it.

    Later, I’d be unable to recall exactly what it was that had drawn me to that particular tree but at the time I don’t question it. I simply leave the group, walk over and pick my way around the scattered rocks to the tree. It appears to be ancient, with a massive gnarled trunk and wide-spread limbs that have runners thicker than my leg dropping down from them into the ground. Above-ground roots radiate from the base of the trunk like the spokes of a giant wonky wagon wheel. This tree must have been around for hundreds of years.

    But stranger than the tree itself, is that in the dappled shadows cast by the leaves stands an old man—perfectly still—all but invisible. I open my mouth to yell out to the others, but something holds me back. It’s weird—as if I somehow understand that this man means me no harm. His skin is the color of mahogany, his hair long and wispy and pure white, merging with a thin beard that hangs almost to his waist. His right hand holds a staff of reddish wood.

    I approach him in a kind of daze, puzzled by the way I’ve been drawn to this place and to him—baffled by the simple fact of his being here.

    As if reading my thoughts he says, “I have been sent to assist you.” His English is formal, as if from a previous century. His voice is deep—strong and resonant.

    Again, just as in the plane immediately after the crash, I feel as if this might not really be happening—as if perhaps I am dead and this might just be…God. “Who are you?” I blurt. My voice comes out high and thin. My mind is in turmoil.

    “I am Mali,” the old man replies simply.

    I continue to stare at him through mystified eyes. There’s a rustling in the leaves above me and a parrot with bright red wings darts out of the tree, but I scarcely notice it. “You speak English!” I exclaim stupidly. It comes out as almost an accusation.

    He smiles broadly and his whole face lights up. “But of course I speak English. English is the principle language of my country.” One of his front teeth is missing. But this, rather than detracting from his appearance, somehow makes him more real. Strange as this little detail may seem, it convinces me I’m not dreaming…or dead. God wouldn’t have a tooth missing.

    “We’re lost,” I say. I’m kind of rattled and it’s all I can think of to say to him.

    He nods his head in a way that says, of course—you would be—crashing down from the sky like that. “You are in Lutalo near the border with the Republic of Bongani.”

    Rupert was right on target. But of course it’s a big target. I frown, trying to picture a map of Africa. I can envision the overall shape of the continent but none of the countries within it. Once again, as if reading my thoughts the old man says, “In a moment I will draw you a map and show you which way you must travel to reach safety.” He extends a bony hand. “What is your name?”

    “Daina,” I reply, hesitantly taking his hand. “But most people call me Dee.” His hand is dry and calloused, but strangely comforting.

    “Daina,” he repeats solemnly, ignoring the shortened version. “A lovely name. Very regal.” He seems to look right into me. He has dark hypnotic eyes.

    “You said you were sent here.” I say. “I don’t understand.”

    Mali seems to find my puzzled expression vaguely amusing because the hint of a smile flickers across his face. “The Old Ones sent me here,” he replies simply. “They knew your plane would come down at this place.”

    Now I feel my face scrunching up even more. “But that’s not possible. How could anyone know? …And who are these old ones?”

    “My ancestors,” Mali replies simply, as if anyone with an ounce of sense would realize this. “The Old Ones know everything.” He pauses, looks deeply into my eyes then continues. “I am a shaman. My ancestors speak to me all the time. They guide me.”

    This is all too weird. My brain is having a tough time coping with any of it. “They’re here?”

    “They are everywhere,” Mali replies solemnly in that formal language that sounds as old as the tree.

    “This is not making any sense,” I tell him bluntly.

    He smiles. “Everything makes sense, Daina. Sometimes we simply do not understand it. But you will in time. Africa will teach you because you have an open mind.”

    I tilt my head quizzically. “What makes you think that? How could you possibly know anything about me?”

    Mali broadens his smile and replies with simple logic. “You came to me, did you not?” He pauses to allow this to sink in then continues. “But there will be time for explanations later. Now you must leave—the rebels are not far from here. They will come.”

    “We were afraid of that.”

    “You have good reason to be afraid.” The old man clears a piece of earth with a bare foot then scratches out a crude map with the end of his staff. Within the map, he indicates where we are and the route we must take in order to get to a place called Amare—the closest town considered safe from the rebels. “It is a seven day walk from here. You must travel due south.” He points his staff in the desired direction. “And travel fast. You must avoid the rebels at all cost for they will show you no mercy should they capture you. Their leader is a man named Mbobo, an albino known as the White Cannibal. He believes his condition to have been caused by a white devil and for that reason he detests all light-skinned people. He will kill you most cruelly should he capture you. He is known to dine on the flesh of his captives. He believes it gives him strength.”

     Rupert must have begun to worry about me because I hear him shouting my name. I turn from Mali to answer him. “Over here by the big tree, behind the rocks.”

    A moment later he calls out from close by. “Are you decent?” He obviously thinks I’ve slipped away for a pee.

    “Yeah,” I laugh.

    By the time I turn back, Mali has disappeared. He hadn’t made a sound—just melted silently into the bush.

    I’m scowling into the trees when Rupert comes up beside me. “We have to get moving Dee,” he says, looking at me closely as if maybe I did hurt my head in the crash. “What on earth are you doing over here anyway, wandering off like that?”

    “I was talking to an old man—a shaman.” The words come out kind of hesitantly, as if I don’t quite believe the truth of what I’m saying myself.

    Rupert continues to study me doubtfully then casts his eyes around. “But there’s no one else here.” He says it in a gentle voice. Perhaps he thinks I’ll do something rash when I realize I’m nuts.

    “No,” I respond vaguely, peering into the trees but seeing no sign of the old man. Then I drop my eyes and point out the map Mali etched into the earth. “See, he was here, he drew me a map.” I crouch down to point. “We’re here, near the border between Bongani and Lutalo, and we have to get to a place called Amare which is to the south. It’s the closest town that’s safe from the rebels.”

    Rupert nods kind of vaguely, obviously still not completely convinced of my sanity. He turns from the map to study the jungle carefully. “This is all very strange. Did this…shaman say what he was doing here? Why he was hiding behind the rocks?”

    I think about what Mali told me—about him being sent by his ancestors—and conclude it will be better not to mention that part. Although I’m finally beginning to accept what he told me, I realize how bizarre it will sound to someone who hasn’t even seen him. “He didn’t really say,” I tell Rupert. “But I trust him. He had a kind of positive aura about him.”

    Rupert studies my face for a long moment then shrugs. “Well, I guess he’s all we’ve got for now.”

    “He also made it very clear that the rebels will show us no mercy if they catch us,” I add. “Their leader apparently hates white-skinned people.”

    “Well,” Rupert shrugs. “I think we kind of suspected that—all of us except Jason and his two cronies that is. I’ll have another shot at getting them to come with us, but that’s about all I can do.”

    But Jason is adamant. He’s staying. The other two vacillate a little at first then decide to stick with him.

 

    Beyond the crescent of rocks and the tree-line, the ground begins to slope away more sharply. The canopy of foliage thickens, affording us a welcome respite from the harshness of the sun. It soon becomes apparent though, that a variety of insects also thrive in the shade. Undeterred by the bug spray, these maddening creatures swoop and buzz around us continually. But strangely, only occasionally do they bite or sting. At one point, I thought Chloe might be literally driven insane by them, the way she was dancing around blubbering and slapping at herself. Rupert managed to calm her a little though.

    The vegetation is nothing short of spectacular. There are huge trees that appear to support their own eco-system in their limbs—vines hang down like giant snakes while brightly colored orchids hang their flowers down from forks in the branches. The ground is covered with large ferns and other weird-looking plants that are like something out of a science-fiction movie. Although I know we’re quite high up, we appear to be in a sort of basin that’s kind of swampy in parts.

    Rupert has the energy of a boisterous puppy. Despite the danger we’re in—or perhaps because of it—he’s determined to capture every move we make on camera. He races ahead to film us as we file through the bush; drops his backpack so he can scramble up a tree for an overhead shot, or crouches to the side of the path for a worms-eye take.

    Rupert’s somehow learned—I guess through casual conversation at rehearsals—that both Scott and I have had some experience in outdoor survival—Scott’s in the California desert; mine in the mountains of North Carolina—and is relying on the two of us to guide our little group through the bush to the town.

   Scott’s only wilderness foray—he tells me quietly—was a five day trip into the Anza-Borrego State Park to the east of San Diego. Their group was well supplied with food and water and had an experienced guide to lead them. The largest animal they might have encountered would have been a coyote, but all they actually saw were a few lizards and an armadillo. The guide carried a rifle, along with a mobile phone that could have brought help in less than an hour.

    I’d spent a number of summers at a camp near a place called Black Bear Cove in the western corner of North Carolina. I did a bunch of canoeing, learned map reading and a few other survival tactics like where to find water away from a lake; which wild berries and plants could be eaten and which were poisonous. Again, help was a mere phone-call away.

    Hardly solid training for the African jungle. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

    But as it turns out, none of the others had done anything more adventurous than jog around a city park. And I’d be surprised if Chloe had ever hiked anywhere outside a mall.

    Scott leads our little procession carrying the heaviest backpack and the rifle with the broken stock. I follow him. My role—because of my map-reading experience—is to attempt to keep us headed in a southerly direction. A lack of both map and compass compel me to do the best I can by using little beams of light that occasionally manage to find their way through the overhead canopy. Being early summer back home, heading into winter here, the sun is tending north. So in the morning I’ll have to keep it over my left shoulder; at midday behind me and in the afternoon off my right shoulder. It’s an inexact form of navigation at best and I can only hope that any errors will eventually average themselves out. Besides, it’s impossible to follow a straight line through the trees and undergrowth so we’re forced to accept the vague trails I assume have been created by animals—paths that lead approximately south.

    The two younger girls—Becky and Angela—shuffle along close behind me, jumping at every sound, their eyes twitching nervously all around. I have to constantly reassure them that the loud growling squawk we hear is a parrot, not a lion—and that the occasional chittering coming from above is nothing more sinister than small monkeys.

    I try to keep my own fears from my voice in order to sound convincing, but in truth I have no idea what creatures are making the strange noises that reach our ears from every direction. For all I know they might come from huge gorillas capable of hauling one of us up into the trees and tearing him or her limb from limb.

    The rebels are my main worry though. I know what they are capable of. The idea of falling into their hands terrifies me. I also know that the best way to avoid them is to keep moving—fast. Starting at every strange sound will do nothing but slow us down.

    Then there’s Chloe, sighing and complaining constantly as she thrashes away at the bugs. She lags behind, holding us back until I tell her that leopards always attack the straggler of a group. This little snippet of personal jungle lore succeeds in lighting a fire under her and she scuttles up to take a position close behind Scott. It doesn’t curb her constant griping though.

    About four hours into our trek, as we file by Rupert—who is lying on the ground shooting up at us—Chloe lashes out at him peevishly, “People are dead, Rupert, and we’re fighting for our lives. Can’t you give the film thing a break until we’re out of here?” Her words are punctuated by frantic slaps at the insects buzzing around her face. I suspect the only reason she’s annoyed at him filming though, is that with sweaty makeup running down her cheeks and insect bites beginning to blotch her face, she’s looking far from her glamorous best.

    Rupert jumps to his feet and begins walking along beside her. “We’ve all suffered through a terrible tragedy Chloe” he says soothingly, casually throwing an arm around her shoulders. “But we can’t just close our eyes and pretend it didn’t happen. I believe it’s important to record our experience.”

    She shakes his arm off angrily and turns to face him. “You’re glad this happened, aren’t you? This is better than anything you could possibly have scripted.” Tears brim her eyes as she begins to feed off her own misery. “We’re stuck in this wretched jungle being eaten alive by insects and all you can think about is making a stupid film. I just want to go home—I want this nightmare to end.”

    Rupert makes a move to comfort her, but she spins away from him and sobs begin to shake her shoulders. He’s at a loss—doesn’t have a clue how to deal with her.

    We can’t afford to waste time while she has a hissy-fit though, so I do the only thing I can think of. I walk up and give her a hard slap on the face. It makes a sharp sound that surprises me but it seems to do the trick. The tears dry up miraculously as she stares at me with wide, startled eyes.

    Then I attempt to soften the slap by saying consolingly, “We’re all in the same boat here Chloe. We all want to go home. But we won’t get there by crying and complaining. And the more time we waste, the more chance we have of falling into rebel hands.” I reach out and give her hand a conciliatory squeeze then turn and continue along the trail. She stands there scowling for a bit, but a moment later she comes strutting past the girls and me to take up a position behind Scott.

    Rupert carries on with his filming but goes about it more quietly, without his former flair.

    From behind Chloe I can feel the resentment radiating from her like heat from an oven. Whether this comes from being slapped by a younger woman, or simply because she considers herself to be the only one suffering is difficult to say.

    Chloe is three years older than me—pretty in a fragile kind of way. Although there’s no denying she has acting ability, as a person she shows little depth. When we weren’t actually rehearsing, she did little more than teeter around on absurdly high heels making inane comments. She is obviously infatuated with Rupert—or was until her little hissy fit—but I think her attraction is a shallow kind of thing that came about simply because he’s the director. A power thing. An attraction toward the man in charge. Or perhaps in her thinking, simply an opportunity to further her career.

    The insects continue to torment us mercilessly. There are little bee-like creatures that don’t sting, but swarm around and land on us, apparently drawn by our sweat. And the odd mosquito finds our foreign blood much to its liking.

    Apart from Rupert, who remains oblivious to everything but his filming, we all probe the jungle with apprehensive eyes. My imagination runs wild with visions of fierce-faced rebels, pouncing leopards, or huge snakes with curved fangs slithering toward my ankles or preparing to drop on me from above.

    But none of my fears are realized on that first afternoon. The only living creatures we actually see—apart from the bugs—are a couple of brightly colored birds and a baboon as it swings through the branches high above, giving us what sounds like a derisive hoot as it passes.

    After walking for about five and a half hours we arrive at a small rocky clearing that ends in a sheer drop of some sixty feet to the forest below. From this place we have a view out over the tree-tops to miles of jungle sloping down toward a strip of winding brown river. Way off in the distance a wisp of smoke rises up through the trees—the only sign of any human presence in this vast spread of jungle. Could this be a rebel camp? Unfortunately it’s to the south—the direction we’re travelling in.

    The sun is giving off its last rays when we reach this little plateau so we decide to make camp for the night. The first thing Becky wants to do is start a fire to ward off lions. Rupert defers to Scott and me over this, and we both consider it to be too risky. “We don’t want anyone who might harm us knowing where we are.” Scott explains gently. “A fire here could be seen from miles away.”

    I throw out a little snippet of comfort. “We’ll put you in the middle when we go to sleep, Becky, so if anything comes to get you, it will have to eat one of us first.” But I can’t resist adding mischievously, “And if you’re lucky, it won’t still be hungry.”

    She laughs at this, but it’s a fragile little sound.

    “I think we should keep a watch during the night,” Scott suggests. “We don’t want baboons sneaking in and stealing our food.” He diplomatically avoids mentioning that a leopard or cheetah might also come sniffing around for a meal—and those particular predators might not be interested in airline food.

    “Good idea,” Rupert agrees. “Why don’t you and I split the sentry time between us?”

    Chloe, who’s hardly uttered a word since her previous little outburst, now asks nervously. “Are there spiders here? I’m terrified of spiders.”

    As Rupert and Scott appear to struggle over how to formulate a diplomatic answer without lying, and the two younger girls begin contemplating this new horror, I play the baddie again and put it to her bluntly. “There are spiders everywhere Chloe. And there’s nothing we can do about it. They’re not likely to bite you though, so there’s little point in worrying about them.”

    Chloe glares at me for a moment then turns to Rupert. “Maybe we can make up some kind of bed on legs. I won’t be able to sleep a wink if I have to lie on the ground.”

    Rupert sighs. “You’re going to have to. We don’t have time to make a bed, and besides, there’s nothing to make it with.”

    An expression verging on panic comes over Chloe. Having come through the plane crash, she no doubt envisaged survival in the jungle as it’s depicted on the so-called reality shows—the contestants calculatedly disheveled but nonetheless well groomed. Clear streams to wash in, hot food served on plates of leaves, and comfortable beds fashioned from woven grass, perched on legs that spiders somehow can’t climb.

    Rupert continues. “We’ll be putting the tents up. They’ll have groundsheets and screens so you’ll be fine.”

    “But we can’t just sleep on the ground,” Chloe persists. “It’s hard as a rock.”

    Even Rupert’s good humor begins to show signs of fraying at the edges. “Yes,” he says with a sigh. “It will be hard, but if you’re tired, you’ll sleep.”

    Chloe is about to reply when the sound of a gunshot snatches the words from her mouth. This is followed by two more shots then a short burst of automatic fire.

    Then silence—total silence.

    I hadn’t registered it before, but as the sunlight left the jungle, night creatures had begun to call out to each other. Now their quiet leaves a frighteningly noticeable gap.

Davina Roxborough
Daina aged 11. Drawn by her school friend Fiona.
 

Daina Roxborough is a young actress who lands the part of Sister Agnes in a movie to be shot in Africa. When their plane crashes in the rugged mountains between The Republic of Bongani and Lutalo in Africa, Daina and fellow actor Scott—the only members of their group with any outdoor experience—become nominal leaders of the small group of survivors.

Their proximity following the plane crash forges a close friendship between the two actors—a friendship that is destined to test the strength of Daina’s commitment to her fiancé back home.

The White Cannibal
The White Cannibal
by P.B. Lawson

Eight teenage actors, along with their young director, are the sole survivors of a plane-crash in the mountains between The Republic of Bongani and Lutalo in Africa—a region controlled by a cruel warlord who is reputed to dine on his captives.

Two of the actors—Daina and Scott—are thrust into the role of group leaders due to their knowledge of the outdoors. Daina, from a wealthy family, has a fiancé back home—an attachment that becomes threatened by her proximity to Scott.

The survivors are assisted by a mysterious old African shaman who appears to have a telepathic connection with Daina. The spirits of his ancestors, he claims, have told him that she has been sent by the Gods to ignite the torch of freedom in his country.

Through an unexpected encounter with a teenage soldier in the rebel army, Daina and Scott are drawn into the world of the young men and boys who have been forced into military service in order to ensure the safety of captive relatives. The meeting inspires the two actors to volunteer their assistance in freeing the young soldier’s mother and sisters from the rebel stronghold.

Following the plane crash, Daina—who was raised in luxury—has had to trudge through a jungle inhabited by wild animals while evading the search parties of a cruel warlord…until the time when she, Scott, and a group of young soldiers set out to face the Cannibal in his mountain stronghold.

The White Cannibal draws on the amazing backdrop of Africa—its mysticism, its unique wildlife, its breathtaking topography, and the colorful diversity of its people. The book might be compared to The Hunger Games in that its protagonists are young people using their wits and courage to triumph over extreme adversity. But controlled environments have been replaced by the equally fascinating and daunting reality of darkest Africa itself.

The White Cannibal is the first in a series of three books featuring Daina Roxborough.

WC Cover.jpg
The White Cannibal
by P.B. Lawson

The White Cannibal takes you on an unforgettable journey. You become part of the book.

Robin Cornish

This is an incredible adventure superbly told! The White Cannibal is without doubt the best book I’ve read in a long time.
Apart from being a wonderful story, it opened my eyes to some of the horrors that are going on—right now—in this tortured country.

Matt Selfridge

The White Cannibal took me into the heart of Africa. As Daina puts it—‘terrifying and exhilarating at the same time’.

Brad Caslin-Smith

In The White Cannibal, the equally fascinating and daunting reality of darkest Africa itself replaces the controlled environments of science fiction. A truly scary place. I loved it!

Jan Bethly

The White Cannibal grips you relentlessly because you know this could actually happen. I found the amazing reality of modern day Africa more fascinating and frightening than any mythical setting.

Geoff Robertson

Daina Roxborough is my heroine. I can’t wait to read the next book in her ongoing adventure.

Trudi Cristl

Totally believable! The White Cannibal took me on an amazing journey into a frighteningly real place! It is one of those rare books that will remain with me for many years.

Hannah Houston

The White Cannibal took me into the heart of Africa. As Daina puts it—‘terrifying and exhilarating at the same time’.

Brad Caslin-Smith

The White Cannibal grips you relentlessly because you know this could actually happen. I found the amazing reality of modern day Africa more fascinating and frightening than any mythical setting.

Geoff Robertson

Totally believable! The White Cannibal took me on an amazing journey into a frighteningly real place! It is one of those rare books that will remain with me for many years.

Hannah Houston

In The White Cannibal, the equally fascinating and daunting reality of darkest Africa itself replaces the controlled environments of science fiction. A truly scary place. I loved it!

Jan Bethly

This is an incredible adventure superbly told! The White Cannibal is without doubt the best book I’ve read in a long time.
Apart from being a wonderful story, it opened my eyes to some of the horrors that are going on—right now—in this tortured country.

Matt Selfridge

The White Cannibal takes you on an unforgettable journey. You become part of the book.

Robin Cornish

Daina Roxborough is my heroine. I can’t wait to read the next book in her ongoing adventure.

Trudi Cristl

About the Author

P.B. Lawson

I was born in Sydney, Australia a long time ago. But I'm still a kid at heart—at least that’s what my friends tell me.

Most of these friends have, at various times during my life, suggested that it might be time for me to grow up. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I tell them. “Why would anyone want to do that?”

Whenever I’ve asked someone about their favorite time in life they usually tell me it was when they were ‘young and crazy’ rather than when they were ‘mature and sensible’.

The only bad thing I can think of about not growing up is that people sometimes don’t take you seriously. But then does this really matter?

Whenever I do something inappropriate for my age (some would call it 'childish'), the people who know me don’t say, “What an idiot!” they just nod their heads and remark, “What do you expect from that clown Lawson?”

But I can be serious sometimes. If you’re going to write a book you have to take the project seriously or you’d never get past the first page. In writing a book of fiction you are entering a world of fantasy. I think it’s okay to be serious about a fantasy world.

I just try not to allow it to smudge into real life.

© 2014 P.B. Lawson
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part requires written permission.

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