Stories Around The Fire
Camilla and Paulo looked over at Alex with matching concerned looks. He pushes himself so hard for his friends Camilla noticed, maybe too hard sometimes.
Distracted from his crook ribs, Paulo had his first proper look at the young man from Northumbria since the crash; there was a large ugly bruise on the side of his head.
"Hey Alex!" Paulo called loudly, shaking his arm. "Did you get knocked out when we crashed?"
Alex's eyes opened to slits, as he stared at Paulo. "Yeah maybe, I don't remember it so well sorry."
Paulo noted that his pupil sizes were the same and both seemed to react quickly when he waved his torch past them.
"Okay amigo, time for you to wake up then. I think you might have a concussion so it's not a great time for you to sleep."
Ignoring Paulo, Alex rolled away from his friend. Paulo shared a nod at Camilla; the two of them shook Alex until he opened his eyes fully and sat up next to them, looking peeved.
"Fine, we should probably do something useful while we are here anyway." He mumbled moodily, taking out his survival kit. The tin was snatched from his hands and he whipped his head to see Camilla opening it with a sly grin.
"I'll get the fire going Mr. SAS," She teased shaking the tin. "Besides, I think we should hand out a couple of your aspirin."
Alex nodded numbly at the sensible idea while Paulo started pouring water from the Jerry can into a dulled metal container to boil it. The three walking wounded popped a couple of aspirin each with a swig of water and the boys turned to watch their new friend light the fire.
"Wait.." Alex stopped her as she lay out her tinder. "We need to dig a pit for the fire; it will reduce the light it produces and diminish the chances of it being seen from a distance."
Camilla nodded, the practical idea made sense to her and together they scraped out an area about a foot deep with the collapsible shovel from her pack. With the light rapidly fading, the pretty tanned girl glanced flint to tender and soon a small fire was crackling away merrily. Paulo folded out a small metal frame from his Bergen and used this to suspend the container of water over the fire and got back to preparing meal sachets for their dinner.
Paulo peered over at the two teens seated close together by the fire and smiled, deciding to try help things along.
"You never got to finish your story before from the helicopter," he stated expectantly, sitting down opposite Alex and Camilla, staring at the latter.
Avoiding his eyes the girl drifted her head back to look at the stars "I've never told anyone that much about me, up until I met you guys." She confessed, her voice sounding hollow.
"Why not?" Amber asked gently, her voice carrying easily in the still night as she Hex and Li walked back to the fire.
"Life is tougher here Amber.." Camilla replied steely with a hint of sadness. "It's cheaper and you learn not to trust people so easily."
Camilla reminded Amber of someone else, but she couldn't quite put her finger on who.
"So what did you do with you parents…. Gone?" Li pressed.
"Dead. Li Dead. With my parents dead" she glanced up at Li who felt rebuked, but was surprised to receive a smile for her effort.
Switching her gaze back to the hypnotizing fire, Camilla resumed her story.
"With my parents dead I was sent to live with my grandparents on their farm in the outskirts of Johannesburg. I carried on being a bit of a wild child and a country girl until I was old enough to join the UN and try and do something useful with my life." She shrugged awkwardly.
Hex cursed quietly to himself only half listening to her story as he tried to pick up any reception with his palmtop, there must have been some damage to its aerial or network receiver when they crashed. Or maybe it's the lack of WiFi in these shitty third world countries, he considered morosely, we never get to go anywhere civilized like London or New York!
Hex tried thinking his way through the palmtops schematics in his head to identify where mechanical faults may have occurred, but he kept losing focus and eventually gave up.
Why does that keep happening to me lately? He questioned internally, his eyes following Amber as she disappeared into the female tent.
In the low khaki tent, Amber sat with her legs splayed out on her sleeping mat and drew an insulin pen from her pouch. Having just measured her blood glucose levels, she selected the correct dosage of insulin and injected it subcutaneously into the pinched skin of her stomach. Amber barely grimaced as the small needle punctured her skin and she dropped her shirt back down briskly, before lying down on her bed space in the tent.
Amber felt exhausted; it was hard work keeping up the high level of concentration required to navigate in nearly featureless terrain. Maybe I'll have a short nap before dinner she decided, snuggling up on her foam sleeping mat and wrapping her sleeping bag around her.
While her body was beaten her mind still refused to stop churning; it was still trying to comprehend their helicopter being shot out of the sky and the enormity of the task that awaited them. Adding to the stew was what had happened to the three men back at the hotel and the Hyena at Camilla's place; Amber still wasn't sure how she felt about either Hex or Alex's actions that night.
As she closed her eyes the moonlight shimmered off a large slow moving body flowing towards her.
With the boil in a bag meals heated Hex decided to take Amber's to her in the tent as a peace offering. Despite the moment they had shared after the crash, things were still tense between them. The cold look she had given him in the van still hadn't left him and he felt the burning desire to make amends with the girl he seemed to think about constantly.
He had recently heard her scream from the tent earlier indicating she was still awake and had probably found a large spider on her bed or something. So he felt confident he at least wouldn't be waking a cranky Amber.
Carrying two unopened hot bags of unappetizing sludge, Hex disappeared from the fire and headed for her tent. Suddenly he felt his ankles catch and he was tumbling forward, crashing into the ground with a shudder.
"Goddamn Guy ropes!" Hex cursed under his breath, at the generalized ache that resulted from the fall. Behind him, he spied the guilty khaki chord and the peg attached to it that anchored the tents to the ground.
As he wearily pushed himself to his feet, he noticed a funny mark in the dirt; it was a wavering line as thick as his leg leading into the tent. Puzzled by the unusual path, Hex ducked his head and slid inside the tent flaps,
"Amber I brought you some….. dinner.." he finished, freezing in horror at the sight before him. A truly enormous snake lay in Amber's bed, its thick coils, patterned in brown splotches, wrapped around the girl who was frantically struggling for breath, her lips starting to go blue.
Her terrified eyes met Hex's and pleaded without words for his help.
Without another seconds hesitation Hex leaped forwards and tried to pry his dear friend from the snakes grasp. It felt like trying to move a drum full of cement, as he wrapped his arms around a coil of snake and tugged with all his might. This is futile, he realized and Amber doesn't have much time left!
The head! He thought, looking over at the triangular shaped head bobbing above the body, that's got to be it's weakest point. With a roar of desperation, Hex balled his fists together above his head and delivered a powerful two-handed blow down on the overgrown serpent's head.
The head violently plummeted about a foot before bouncing up to stare maliciously at its new enemy, its long body unbound the now unconscious girl and began to wind itself around Hex instead. With a loud hiss the serpent snapped at Hex, barely missing his shoulder. It's rancid breath made his eyes water as he roughly shoved the lunging head away. In blind panic, he tried to jump free of the snake, causing their jumbled bodies to pitch into the canvas and spill out onto the grass.
Hex's shout and the noise of his struggle drew the rest of the camp to its feet and they rushed to his aid. His legs now completely tangled and the band of living muscle starting to close around his chest, Hex managed to gasp to the others.
"Help Amber, she's in the tent." Before the breath was crushed out off his lungs.
Alex cursed and ran back to grab his knife which he had left sitting on top of his Bergen for dinner. Li dashed forward to Hex's aid only to be knocked off her feet by a lash of the serpents' thick tail. Camilla saw Paulo dash past the distracted giant to help Amber and decided it was up to her to help Hex.
Going straight for it's head, Camilla tackled it straight on and rolled behind the snap of teeth trying to catch her. Hanging around the beasts neck she scrambled desperately for a weapon and her hands closed around the rough braids of one of the Guy ropes. With nothing else at hand, she looped the chord around the neck in front of her and drew the ends past herself with all her might.
The python bucked backwards trying to find its attacker with its teeth, as it struggled to untangle itself. Camilla strained to keep the rope as tight as she could and saw dark blood seep around the loop. Daringly, Li came up beside her and grabbed one of the ends with her uninjured arm. Together the two girls managed to loop the remaining rope a couple of times and draw an end through, effectively creating a slipping knot, before stepping back from the flailing serpent while it demolished the tent it was tied to.
The animals thrashing tightened its noose and it began to weaken as it was slowly strangled to death, while Alex dragged a dazed Hex out of harms way. With a final hiss, the great constrictor lay still among the wreckage of the tent it had destroyed in it's dying struggle.
Amber lay on the ground on the other side of the tent where Paulo had dragged her, the girls breathing was slowly improving and she started to stir as a concerned Hex ran over and slid to her side.
"Girls. That. Was. Amazing" Alex whispered in awe, looking at the gigantic snake.
"African rock python?" Li asked breathing hard, but with an amused expression, turning to Camilla.
"Spot on." Camilla nodded approvingly, trying to play down Alex's compliment. " The biggest one I've ever seen too. They can grow up to six meters long, this ones got to be at least five." She rubbed her knee, which was throbbing painfully; at some stage during the grapple she must have knocked it again.
Casting his eyes over the wrecked campsite and the spilled dinner pouches a mischievous look crossed Alex's face "Well it looks like we have found our dinner anyway."
Amber's eyes fluttered open to find her handsome hacker cradling her head with such a look of concern on her face, she had to smile at him.
"That was one whopping big snake." She whispered, content to be held by him for a while longer.
"Heh it was wasn't it" Hex chuckled, still not quite ready to talk about it.
"Were you bringing me dinner?" Amber asked softly from his arms, brushing a tuft of grass off his shoulder.
"Yup" Hex nodded not taking his eyes off her and brushing a loose strand of hair off her cheek.
"Well where is it then Gadget-Boy?" she murmured lightly, sliding further up in his arms.
"You just fought it" Camilla loudly interjected with a shrewd expression that clearly spelled payback to Amber. The prone couple rolled around to realize they were being stood over by their friends, who all wore amused looks.
"You mean Anaconda back there?" Amber shrieked, amazingly finding energy and pushing herself up off Hex and onto her feet. Alex helped the young hacker to his feet and sniggered at his sheepish expression.
"Amigo that was one big snake you two picked a fight with." Paulo commented, "Nothing broken?"
Hex and Amber shook their heads, "Just badly bruised I think" Hex mumbled rubbing his sore ribs and back. His chest and back wounds had started bleeding afresh during the struggle and Paulo wearily turned to grab the first aid kit.
Amber discretely lifted her shirt to inspect the damage and saw a rough graze from the scales that tattooed her whole torso, it was starting to darken into the worlds largest bruise. It looked and felt like she had been run over by a truck.
"Good" Li said sarcastically, "I'd hate to think you had hurt yourself Hex, while you were busy watching two girls finish what you started."
"Girl-Power!" Camilla added giving the smaller girl a high-five.
Alex quietly fished the machete from Hex's Bergen and straightened out the limp head of the snake. Amber shut her eyes in time before she saw the blade fall, but she was unable to block out the wet thump that accompanied Alex's grisly job, as he hacked into the overgrown snake.