After three years of being held hostage by militant forces in the Congo, Derek Gunn knew not to take full, deep breaths when working in the mine. The air was a poison, and he wasn't ready to die. He climbed the ladder, his steps slow. His arm was poised to catch one of the women or children not able to complete the arduous trek up from the mine. He'd saved a few, using his long arms to catch them before they fell to the rocks below. More often, however, they perished, their bodies taking two or three lives at a time to the bottom of the cavern. He tried not to memorize names and faces of newly arrived workers, but he'd been a journalist most of his life. He remembered too many, and his heart broke too much.
The mine entrance came into view and a full moon lit up the area to greet him back from the depths of hell. He rarely saw the sun. Soldiers, some as young as twelve, stood in military fatigues aiming AK-47s at the workers to ensure no one slipped into the jungle and escaped. One freed worker could provide the location of the illegal mine to outside groups. And this mine was not a small artisan mine. The main rebel group in the area had procured this spot by killing nearby farmers. It was the mother load of gold veins. The rebels used the nuggets found primarily to purchase weapons and supplies.
Derek glanced around for the two other Americans in a group otherwise made up of Congolese villagers. Harry emerged five minutes later, followed by Mitch. Each man tapped the base of his throat twice to tell the others he was doing fine, and then they separated. One American to a truck.
They hadn't been face to face in almost two years since the last time they'd attempted to escape. Now, they all lived in different areas, but still managed to leave each other messages scrawled in the dirt in the lavatory pits. Stones left on the ground in Morse code also provided a means of communication. Recently, one of them discovered that certain bugs glowed on the walls of the mine when crushed. Made into certain patterns, the marks could warn each other of unstable areas.
Derek nodded to his friends and then climbed into the last truck. He always sat at the back edge, waiting for any opportunity to leave this prison and return home. A few of the children positioned themselves on the floor of the truck to listen to his stories, told in their native language. He tried to give them hope, to give them something to think about when the days became unbearable. Several of the child soldiers also sat close to him. He caught a few of them smiling at his fables fashioned from his recollections of the Brothers Grimm, Dickens, Mother Goose, and old sitcoms he remembered.
The women tended to be more weary. They often worked during the day and fended off rapists at night. They didn't want company. They wanted to be alone. It didn't matter. He only had need for one woman in his life, even if she was only a wisp of a memory.
The truck jumbled the group from side to side across dirt roads scoured by harsh rains and lifted by thick roots. A few downed trees created roadblocks and made the driving more dangerous. The lights of the other trucks had faded into the distance until only darkness guided their way back to camp. The rough rumble of the truck engine blocked the night music of the local birds, frogs and insects of the jungle. And then the world exploded.
The loud boom erupted from the front of the truck and the entire vehicle swerved to the right and tilted toward the site of the blown out tire. Once the descent into the gully began, the heavy weight of the metal and human cargo twisted the vehicle over itself. Derek 's heart accelerated out of its usual slow tempo. He reached out to brace himself, but couldn't grasp anything while his body twisted and curved around with twenty other bodies. A sharp pain pinched into his elbow as part of the truck crushed his arm. The world continued to spin, and he pulled his arm free before all movement stopped. People screamed, and the engine revved. The headlights pointed into the ground, only one worked now and made shadows and added confusion, but offered no guidance in its glow. Smoke billowed up and provided even more of a curtain over the scene.
People sprawled across the truck and spilled onto the ground struggled to right themselves, but the frantic movements of some and the screams and cries of others made the process difficult. The whole image was a surreal mash up of body parts and broken truck parts. Derek felt his way out of the wreckage, ignoring the shock of pain in his arm. The darkness and the chaos would hinder his vision, but he could use it to benefit his escape.
Once free, he rolled to the edge of the road. The high grass and a few downed trees provided decent camouflage. His breathing was labored and loud. Even if they listened, they'd never hear him. Too much chaos, too much panic. He placed his hand in front of his mouth to slow his breaths and silence his fear. When the flashlights turned on and the soldiers scrambled to pull the victims from the truck, he had to make a decision, rescue his friends or save his own ass. He slid into the jungle, praying no one would follow.
YOU ARE READING
Shadows of GoldMystery / Thriller
After Roxanne Wolfe told her husband Derek Gunn to go to hell, his plane crashes in Africa. No survivors were found. To numb her soul, she dedicates her life to protecting CIA operatives on foreign soil. Derek, a journalist, escapes a rebel group i...