A tale of choice, p.9
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       A Tale Of Choice, p.9

           Alexa Stewart
 
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  IN TIME, SHELLY uncurled from her encompassing position and looked around. Her eyes grew large as her gaze rose up the rugged cliff she had just descended so recklessly. Shock filled her as she realized she could have broken her neck or been killed. She should have been. An almost vertical drop of jagged rocks, scrub brush, thorns and stunted trees was all that she could see rising for hundreds of feet or more into the sky. There was no sign of the highway. No sound of traffic, just the hot, stagnant African air and the stillness. She had bruises, scrapes, and various cuts on her body, but overall she wasn’t seriously hurt. It was incredible.

  As she stood on shaky feet, she wiped her dirty face with dusty hands, streaking her tear-stained face. She dusted herself off, to the best of her ability, went over to a large rock and sat down to figure out what she was going to do. She had no water or food with her. Her mouth tasted so foul. She craved water, any water.

  As she looked back up the hill, she toyed with the idea of climbing the slope to the highway, but she just couldn’t see any way back up the steep incline.

  No, the highway is too dangerous anyway, she thought. Those gunmen could still be up there, or worse, a whole band of them by now... And yet if they’re gone, someone might stop and help me get out of here…

  She sat thinking hard. If I could get back up there I would know if the gunman are gone, she continued reasoning as she scanned the slope once more. She evaluated every possible handhold, any possible route, but couldn’t find one. A frustrated sigh escaped her lips.

  Now what, she thought as she looked around? Then she remembered that Jim had given her the Kenyan map. She unzipped her fanny pack, pulled out her hat and placed it on her head, cringing in pain as a small bump on her head made itself known.

  With another sigh she opened the map. What am I going to do? she wondered as she realized that she had no idea where she was. She could see Route A109 winding its way from Mombasa to Nairobi, but where she was on that small ribbon of color, God only knows… and Mattie knew… the thought came unbidden. With a firm determination of will, she forced the horrible image of Mattie away.

  How long had they been on the road? It seemed like days, but it was probably just a few hours. She could see that the sun had risen into the morning sky. It’s not noon yet, at least I don’t think so. The sun’s not that high in the sky.

  As she looked at her watch she found the crystal cracked and her watch frozen in time. That’s just great! What am I supposed to do now? Read the moss on the trees or something? How am I going to survive in this hostile place? I have no one to help me, no survival skills, no way of saving myself! She cringed. Panic started to take hold of her. In a struggle of wills, she closed her eyes. Slowly and steadily, she regained control.

  I must do the best I can. I must keep a clear head. Jim would want me to be calm and reasonable. I can hear him now, think it through, Shell… think it through. You’ll be okay, just think it through.

  The thought of Jim tore at her heart again. In agony she thought of him. Jim… Where are you? Are you all right? Are you even alive? Tears rolled softly down her dirty face anew as she tried to see the map and think.

  I need to go north, that much I can figure out. I need to follow the Mombasa Highway so I can get to Nairobi somehow and get help. But where am I? she wondered in frustration. Then she noticed that the Galana River met the freeway, near Tsavo National Park.

  Had we driven that far yet? If I’m south of the river, all I have to do is walk north and I’ll run right into it, for it flows virtually east and west. Once at the river, I can turn and head east. I should be able to make straight for the highway that way.

  Maybe I can find help there. It looks like the Tsavo Gate at the park is about a 2-hour drive from Mombasa. We had a slow beginning this morning trying to escape. Mattie took detours along roads only she knew and we crawled along in sluggish traffic. Did we pass Tsavo? I hope not. But I was asleep for part of the time and the little Volvo was making good time when… she shoved the image aside and continued to think.

  If we have already crossed the river and I walk north, I’ll be walking out into the bush with no hope of finding my way, she realized in dread. There is nothing north of the river, nothing! No towns, no roads, and no water, just miles and miles of nothing… what am I going to do? she asked in agony. Her heart beat hard with the decision she had to make.

  Who could she trust if she did come across any humans along the way? Militant bands of killers could be anywhere, everywhere. They’d been on the freeway hadn’t they? Again, a deep sigh left her body. She was scared, sore, sick, hungry, and oh, so thirsty.

  Finally, she decided to walk north for about an hour, or at least what she thought would be an hour since she couldn’t use her watch. She would have to observe the sun to make sure when it was high overhead. If she didn’t find the river by then, she would turn left and head for the freeway, no matter what. She knew it was out there on her left somewhere. Only the thought of exposing herself to whatever was going on in this country prevented her from heading for the Mombasa Road straight away.

  She didn’t know why, but she felt safer being alone, somehow. I’ll walk in as much cover as I can. I can’t be found. Visions of the killings she had seen that day drifted through her mind. She watched images of herself being killed, captured, tortured, or worse. Her stomach twisted. Her heart froze as she shivered in fear… Lord, help me if you’re there, she pleaded.

  From her fanny pack, she pulled out the tiny compass that had been a gift from her father when she was a little girl. She treasured this toy, no bigger than a nickel. Why she had taken it with her, she didn’t know. But seeing it in her jewelry box at home had flooded her mind with pleasant memories of her dad and his attempts at making her into an outdoors-woman.

  He loved to take her on his fishing or hunting trips. She loved to go, just to be with him, but she could never get used to roughing it outside in the hot or cold, with all the dirt, bugs, and lack of modern conveniences.

  She recalled a time when she was about twelve, when they had gone on a fishing trip to the Sierra Mountains. Her father had tried to show her how to gut a fish. She turned green at the sight of the poor dead thing, with its eyes staring at nothing, its stomach being slit open and its guts spilling out. She had promptly thrown up and then ran for the shelter of the tent. A smile came to her face now as she thought… if he could only see me now. At least I look the part of an outdoors-woman.

  With that happy thought, the memories faded into the knowledge that her daddy was no longer living on this Earth and that he couldn’t help her anymore. For now, she was alone. As she gratefully looked at the tiny object in her hand, she turned her body facing north. She looked into the sky, trying to check the direction the sun was going, but all she could see was that it was shining brightly overhead. Well, she would have to trust that the tiny toy would show her the right way to go. With another sigh she didn’t even notice, she walked north.

  Shelly’s desire to keep herself hidden soon vaporized in the hot sun. It was too hard walking among the trees and brush. Ravines and canyons blocked her progress and she was diverted too many times to count. Eventually she gave up walking north and just fought her way out of the hills, traveling roughly east and downward. As she descended the terrain, a wide open expanse of grasslands in the valley below, revealed itself through the trees. Time dragged on as she continued downward.

  After a long hot scramble over rocks and debris, she eventually walked out onto a vast plateau. It stretched as far as the eye could see to the north, east and south. The hills and mountains rose behind her, obscuring part of the sky, but in the open grassland, there was no end to the blue expanse overhead. Walking away from the hills, the air moved and flowed around her. The air wasn’t so close and stuffy out in the open, she could breathe easier and a sudden urge overtook her to get away from the oppressive forest. In the far distant east, she could see a smudge of color that appeared to be a small ridge of foothills risi
ng gently from the plateau floor.

  The sun beat down ferociously on her tired, sore and sweating body. She was so thirsty. Her tongue stuck to her mouth and her stomach growled in protest of its neglect. The warm breeze continued to blow softly around her as she strolled through the tall grass. She was struck with the emptiness of the land and how quiet it was. No animals stirred on the ground or in the air. She was completely alone… at least she hoped so.

  It reminded her so much of her time in the fields of California as a child. The memories of her daddy returned with their trips hunting jack rabbits. Shelly smiled with the memories of the horror she expressed at hurting one of those cute little bunnies. But now… oh, how she would love to have one to eat! Her stomach growled at the memory of one roasting on the open campfire years ago. Her mouth tried to water, as she recalled the wonderful aroma and her stomach rumbled in a louder protest. She remembered all the great things her daddy used to provide and she grieved because God seemed to not be the Heavenly Father she thought Him to be. She moaned. She was so tired, so hungry and so THIRSTY.

  Onward she walked, strolling out into the open savanna. Eventually she turned back to see where she had come from. She was now standing far out in the vast sea of grass. The vastness and emptiness seemed to be the same behind her as it was ahead of her. She could so easily get lost. The hills and mountains she had come from were far behind her now. It gave her some comfort to still be able to see them, like an anchor in this open wasteland.

  Then her stomach dropped with a fearful thought, what am I doing out here in the open? This is crazy! Out here, anyone or anything can find me. There is no place to hide, no escape!

  Without using the compass, she turned on shaky legs and walked back toward the hills. What a foolish thing to do! she chided herself sternly. You fool, you silly fool! This is NOT California! People are getting killed here!

  Then she broke into a run as the dread of being found crowded her heart.

  Only when she had gotten to the base of the foothills did she stop and rest. She was breathing hard from the running she had done and sat down on a log to catch her breath. How long it had taken her, she couldn’t tell. All sense of time had vanished. It must have taken hours to get out of the hills, walk out into the grasslands and then back again. The sun was lower in the sky. She had spent a good part of the day walking in every direction, but north.

  Thinking on what to do next, she realized she would have to give the trek north more time. The desire to find the river and WATER, any water, was compelling her to continue. Just one more hour, she vowed.

  As she started north again, she noticed that she was keeping too close to the hills again, weaving in and around too many obstacles. In frustration, she decided to walk out into the fields just far enough to see her way north, but with the hopes of running to the hills and shelter if she had to.

  Time passed as the sun slowly lowered in the sky. Suddenly, she saw a herd of zebra grazing near a small cluster of trees. Past them, in the distance, she could see more trees and brush congregating in a long line across the plateau, barring her way north. Maybe it was the river! The rivers in California had trees and brush lining the banks wherever the water flowed!

  Shelly started to walk faster. The idea of water frantically drove her. She gave no heed to predators lurking where the prey strolled. Water was the essence of life. She needed it if she wasn’t going to die out here.

  After a strong walk for another hour she came to the river and ran into the water, kneeling in the shallows to drink. She was about to scoop up some water when she froze. A voice in her heart warned her not to do it. She could get sick, even die. She remembered just in time about the danger of drinking the water in this land.

  Thank God she had iodine tablets with her. Now she needed something to put the water in. She took off her hat and quickly rinsed it in the river. Holding the precious liquid in the make-shift canvas bowl, she walked back to the shore, holding it so carefully. She then added an iodine tablet. The hat held the water well enough to take a long, deep drink of the liquid lifesaver.

  Once satisfied, she took off her precious pack of supplies and laid it down by a large tree. Then back into the river she went, immersing herself in the water, washing all over and rubbing the dirt away while ignoring the stinging from her cuts and scrapes.

  Refreshed, she walked back to the shore again, sat in the shade of the tree and took out her first-aid kit. What a miracle she had it with her. What would she have done if the war had broken out the day before? She wouldn’t have been dressed for the bush, nor carrying the things that might save her life. She shuddered to think about it. As she applied the antibiotic salve to her sores, it stung, but she was grateful that she could count on it to help heal her wounds.

  As she sat there, she looked across the wide river. A crocodile was laying on the far bank, very still, watching her in a deadly way. Shelly’s heart skipped hard and long. The danger around her now became apparent. Then she saw a wake in the water moving towards her. The crocodile on the other shore dove into the water to join in the hunt.

  Quickly she rose to her feet, grabbed her things and fled the river. Just as she cleared the brush, she saw a lioness in the distance leap from the grass running full out in strong and determined strides to take down a zebra that hadn’t been alert enough. Two more lionesses appeared out of the grass.

  Not wanting to watch another death, she ran away in fear along the shoreline. Shortly, she realized she needed to calm down and get a hold of herself. This wasn’t home. This was Africa. You had to stay alert at all times, or death would find you, as Mattie would have said. Tears of exhaustion and remembrance filled her eyes.

  A short time later, she limped over to a log to sit down and examine her feet. Her ankles were chafed and her feet rubbed raw from her wet shoes and socks. She took them off and set them in the sun, while keeping a constant watchfulness, this time, on her surroundings. She applied Band-Aids to her blisters, while she waited for her shoes and socks to dry.

  Her stomach growled very insistently now. She was hungry, just like she had been thirsty just a short while ago, but there was nothing obvious to eat.

  I can’t stay by the river. It’s too dangerous, she sat thinking. Everything goes there for water, but so do the meat eaters. They take their meals there! And I don’t think they know they aren’t supposed to eat me! she grimaced at her poor attempt at humor. I’ll have to stay away from the river as much as I can, but I’ll eventually need water again, she continued to reason. Well, I’ll just have to figure out a way to get water without being eaten. But what can I do? I can’t stop them with my bare hands, jumping up and down screaming like an idiot. How can I protect myself? There is nothing I can do to stop them, nothing. Dear Lord, what am I going to do?

  Shelly looked around her as those thoughts raced through her mind. She soon found a nice, long, stout piece of wood that she could use for a walking stick as well as something to ward off an attacker, though it seemed very inadequate for the latter. Somehow, though, it made her feel a bit safer holding it in her hands.

  The sun was dipping below the mountains now. Her shoes and socks were finally dry enough to continue. But this day had been a total waste. It was a waste of time, a waste of life and a waste of purpose. Not only were lives lost, but her life with Jim may have been unalterably changed forever, shattered into pieces that may never be put back together again. Would they ever find each other again? God only knew. But, she had also wasted her time getting out of here. Obstacles and inexperience blocked her every effort. She was sitting just a few miles from where she had fled, many hours ago.

  How was she going to get out of this? She hadn’t found help, shelter, or any type of food. Yet, she realized she had found water. She was grateful to still be alive, regardless of everything that had happened and in spite of herself.

  Well, let’s see if I can find shelter for the night, she thought as she got up and headed west, paralleling the river. The Momb
asa Highway was a small thread of road off in the distance.

  By now, the sun was below the mountains and dusk hung in the air. She was able to walk for another hour or so. Yet she knew she was running out of time before dark. Where was she going to sleep? She couldn’t see any place to stay. The trees held leopards and poisonous snakes, and on the ground everything else. A deep fear of being out here after dark now overwhelmed her. She knew she had to find something, but what, where, how?

  Everything will be out looking for dinner tonight, she thought, trying to make light of her situation, but it really wasn’t funny. She was tired, sore, hot and hungry, yet no relief presented itself. She couldn’t even find a human to surrender to or ask for help. She was faced with the prospect of spending the night out here alone… all alone in a dark, dangerous place.

  Twilight was fading and a few stars appeared overhead, twinkling in the evening sky. If she was going to do something, she needed to do it now!

  I guess I’ll need to find a tree to sleep in. At least I’ll hear something coming up the tree, won’t I? And if I check the tree very carefully, maybe there won’t be any snakes there either. Either way, I can’t sleep on the ground. I just can’t.

  Tears swam in her eyes. She looked around for an adequate place to sleep, as she wiped them from her eyes. An old gnarled tree stood out in the dim world around her. It had large, thick branches far off the ground, but that was the trouble. She couldn’t reach the bottom branches. She tried to climb up the trunk by wrapping her arms around it, but it was too wide and she wasn’t strong enough to climb it. There was nothing around her that she could stack or move to climb up on.

  Then she saw a similar tree about 20 yards away. As she quickly ran to it, she was elated to see that if she grabbed the lowest branch and swung her legs up, she could get onto the hard, rough structure. She climbed wearily, doing her best to get as high off the ground as she could, watching for snakes as she went, but the twilight was coming to an end. She could see nothing. She felt her way to a large fork in the tree. Straddling the limb with her legs she tried to settle in for the night.

  How am I going to be safe up here? If I can get up here, so can a lion or leopard! All they have to do is jump into the tree with their eyes closed and they will have dinner waiting for them. They could probably do it in their sleep! But, I’m NOT going to sleep on the ground! I just can’t! I’ll take my chances up here, she thought with resignation.

  Shelly had brought the walking stick up with her as she climbed. Now she laid it across her chest, feeling a small comfort from its presence. She pulled up her legs, trying to balance on the tree limb, and get comfortable for the night, but the hard, rough surface of the tree poked and prodded her poor sore body. As she lay there listening to the sounds of the early evening, she wondered what the night would bring.

  Darkness came seconds later and the blackness of it was complete. With the night came the cold. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, shivering on her perch. In the darkness of the foliage she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face, but she could see billions of stars twinkling overhead through the canopy of the tree. The first light of a full moon rose above the horizon. Back home, they would have called it a harvest moon, so huge and orange it was, slowly rising into the night.

  Sleep wouldn’t come. The wood was hard, rough and unforgiving. She was very uncomfortable lying on its round, hard surface. She shifted her position over and over again trying to relieve the sore spots that were forming.

  The night wore on. She heard in the distance the deep-throated roar of a lion, chilling her blood. Her heart beat hard. Time seemed to stand still as she lay there, cold, unable to see in the dark and feeling defenseless.

  Drifting on and off in a light sleep, she awakened with a start as she started to fall from her perch high above the ground. With fear and adrenaline pulsing, she sat up, awake, listening to the sounds of the nocturnal dark.

  Over time, she nodded off again, only to be awakened by the screams of a creature in terror and pain, out there, somewhere. Death stalked the night. With her heart beating firmly, she remained awake for the rest of the night. She sat there listening to the sounds floating through the air. The stars in the heavens moved slowly overhead.

  Shelly wondered, Is God out there? Does He even care?

 

  Finding A Way

 
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