Once we step into the world on the other side of those trees, we are immediately taken aback by the picturesque scenery. We intentionally walk slowly through the entranceway in a bid to take in as much of it as we can. We’ve completely forgotten about that mystery girl. This is the kind of beauty that makes you want to cry or propose to your girl; none of that will be happening now but I’m just saying: this place is beautiful!
“Over here Dr. Blay, look,” she says as she holds up a little wooden cup that she just picked up off a little wooden table. “Do you think anyone lives here?”
“It’s possible,” I say as I feel the rough grains on the wooden cup she just handed me.
The world on the other side of those trees is one that will no doubt strike you as beautiful at first sighting with its luscious foliage, a flowing river and tiny straw huts before it which the people of this land surely must inhabit. To me what really struck me as beautiful wasn’t all this magnificence but rather the mere reality of seeing organised human civilisation again after so long. There is hope for the Earth after all.
“Hey Alex look,” I say and point to two figures in the distance. “People. You think we should go and talk to them?”
“Of course,” she says.
We begin walking in the direction of two people, one young lady in a grass skirt and a yellow top and a man donning only a pair of worn-out brown trousers. They are staring at us curiously. They don’t move or react as we walk toward them but just keep standing together and keep staring at us.
All of a sudden, when we get a bit close to them, they suddenly begin to run and start screaming, “W’om aba oo!” at the top of their lungs. Almost immediately, a crowd of village people appear from the huts wielding weapons and fire of all sorts and they start pressing in on us while chanting in their local language.
“What were those two people saying?” I say to Alex as the crowds get closer and closer and pin us to the rock wall behind us.
“Not sure,” she says. “But we’re certainly not welcome here.” The crowds are getting so close to us that I can feel one of the sharp sticks one of then is holding poking my belly.
“Okay Alex, I really don’t see how we’re going to get out of this so I guess this is farewell,” I say. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you.”
Before she can muster up a response, we all freeze, including the wild mob as a shrill scream comes from behind them. A little figure cuts like a weed hacker through the crowd and then stands before us. She orders the mob back with a word I don’t understand but it sure was effective.
“Why you do this?” she says and the crowd begin to murmur among themselves and slowly lower their weapons. “They my friends, Alexandrai and Dr. Brain.”
“Ummm, it’s Dr. Blay actually...no? Okay then.” I tried to correct her but she stared at me with an eye so evil that prompted me to backtrack and shut it. When she turns fully to us, I immediately recognise her.
“I, Akosua Gyatabin, Princess of the Osamanpa tribe give you crown as sym-bo of peas and fren-sheep.” She removes her crown made of lovely flowers and twigs, places it on the ground before us and takes a step back.
“Did she just say as a symbol of piss?” I whisper to Alex with a chuckle but she nudges me in my side.
She bends down to pick it up and says, “Awww thank you Akos...oh sorry, I mean, Princess Akosua. We are very honoured to be your friends.” She begins to place the crown on her head but the crowd start to gasp in unison so I grab her hand.
“I don’t think it goes on your head,” I whisper into her ear. “That must be for royalty only.”
“Oh, good call,” she says and slips the crown on her wrist and the crowd immediately calms down.
“Good choice,” the tiny Princess says. |”You not royalty and if you put crown on head, gods make volcano erupt, kill us all.” Alex and I begin to laugh hysterically at her statement but she isn’t laughing so we stop in the assumption that she must be serious. “Both of you come. You invited to royal feast for guests.”
“Oh that sounds lovely,” Alex says as she begins to walk away. “You coming Dr. Blay?” I look at my watch to check if we are still on track but when I see the time, there’s only one sensible course of action to take right now.
“Alex look,” I say as I raise my hand to point to the sun which is setting rapidly. “We need to go, now. We’re behind time.”
“Princess Akosua, I’m...we’re, so sorry but we have an urgent matter to attend to so we need to go now but I promise, we’ll be back again, someday.”
“Friend Alexandrai, you always welcome in Osamanpa Kingdom,” she says. “You too Dr. Brain.”
“It’s actually Bla...You know what? Never mind,” I say. “Let’s go Alex.” I was about to correct her but she gave me that eye again so I decided it best not to.
“Wait!” The little princess calls from behind us. “You forgot parting gift.” She signals to some servants who place a giant package wrapped in leaves into Alexandria’s hands.
“Wow, thank you very much Princess Akosua,” Alex says. “Bye!”
“Goodbye Alex and Dr. Brain.” Aaargh! That little girl is evil!
Once outside, Alex puts the package down on a rock and exhales a breath of relief because it looked like it weighed a ton.
“What’s in this thing?” she says as she begins to unwrap it.
“I don’t know but it sure smells nasty.”
“Wait I know that smell, it can’t be...it is!” she exclaims. She quickly unwrapped the package and in the middle were two huge steaming piles of what looks to me like assorted innards and intestines.
“What in the world is that?” I say while pointing in disgust to that thing.
“It’s haggis Dr. Blay,” she says. “I haven’t had this in ages!” She picks up one long intestine and slurps it up like a strand of spaghetti. Something that looks like blood that’s all over it splatters all around her mouth but I think it’s only tomato sauce.
“OH MY GOD, I think I am going to hurl,” I say as I put my hand up to my mouth. “You mean people actually eat that?”
“Of course, haven’t you had haggis before?” I shake my head and press my hand harder to my mouth as I feel a bit of vomit rising in my throat. “You can’t be serious. It’s like the national dish of Scotland.”
“It looks more like a death threat than a dish.”
“That’s because it is made out of steamed sheep organs and intestines but gosh is it tasty; try it.” She holds up an organ to my nose and the smell almost makes me puke.
“No thanks,” I say as I brush her hand away.
“Oh come on it’s really good and besides, you’d better eat now, because you never know when or if our next meal will come along.”
Reluctantly, I take the dripping organ from her hand, hold my breath and make sure to imagine candy as I take a small bite expecting to taste something that makes that threatening vomit in my throat rain all over Alex as revenge but to my utter surprise, it wasn’t half bad, heck it was even good. I sit down beside Alex and begin to eat it more heartily now.
“Told you it’s good.” I sign that I’m enjoying it and we continue eating our haggis with steady determination.
“Oh gosh, I now have a favourite food outside of my comfort zone,” I say as I rub my full tummy.
“I still can’t believe you have never had haggis before,” she says.
“Actually you should,” I say. “As a kid, my parents were really protective, I mean like really really, so they never really allowed me to travel or to explore new foods. It wasn’t until college that I really had any freedom but since I wasn’t really raised to go out and explore, I had a hard time adapting.”
“You poor thing,” she says as she puts her hand on my head and ruffles my hair.
“Yeah, well anyways let’s get going before it gets dark,” I say and swat her greasy hand away. “That would be suicidal.”
“What would be suicidal?”
“Being out here in the dark, you know, with all those post-humanoids lurking around.”
“Yeah but what makes you sure that they’re around here anyways?”
“Nothing for sure but just to be safe let’s get going anyways,” I say. “Better safe that sorry.”
“Okay,” she says as she grabs her gear bag and I help her to her feet.
We check the GPS and to our relief, it says that the wasteland in which the wreckage of the hoverbus is in is just about a kilometre away from us. The only thing that stands before us and it right now is a small hill but after having about three pounds worth of haggis, any hill would look like Mount Everest.
“Pick up the pace Alex,” I say when I notice that she’s lagging behind. We are only about halfway of halfway up the hill but she is already breathing like she just completed a 5K.
“I’m, trying,” she says. “I think I ate too much.” She stumbles and almost falls over but regains her footing.
“Oh stop giving excuses Alex; I ate as much, if not more haggis than you and I’m good.”
As if right on cue, I feel a sudden rising pressure in my stomach. All my limbs lock up simultaneously and a cold sweat furrows my brow. My tummy also follows suit and starts to hurt so much that I can barely move a muscle.
“What’s wrong?” Alex asks as she catches up to me on the hill where I’m doubled over in pain.
“I don’t know; my tummy just hurts like, really bad.”
“Aha now who’s giving excuses?” she says. “I feel much better now.”
“Good for you,” I say as I sink to my knees in pain.
“Hey Dr. Blay, you up for a little wager?” she asks with a maniacal tone in her voice.
“Bring it on.” Even though I’m in excruciating pain right now and can barely breathe, I never ever back down from a wager and I’m not about to start now, especially one that involves Alexandria.
“Okay, so last one to the top of the hill owes the winner a favour.”
“Ah that‘s it?” I say as a needle like feeling pierces my kidneys. “Can’t the stakes be a bit more interesting? Is the favour limited in any way?”
“Nope,” she says. “A no holds barred favour. Are you game?”
“Let’s...do, this,” I say as I manage to stand up straight despite the agonizing pain in my abdomen.
“Begin in three, two, one...go!”
She starts to walk faster up the hill and I keep up with her for the first few steps but soon, as the pressure in my abdomen reaches a boiling point, I collapse to the floor, writhing in pain as she moves on.
“What’s the matter Dr. Blay? Feeling a bit full?” she says as she takes a commanding lead.
I cannot lose to a girl. I think this to myself as I watch her inch further and further ahead of me and I watch her from the ground powerless to change the situation.
All of a sudden, my frustrations from losing boil over so I reach out and grab a clump of grass and try to pull it out but it’s so engorged in the hillside so instead of coming out in my hands, it rather pushes me as inch forward a bit. I just had a brilliant idea.
I grab another clump of grass with both hands, pull and low and behold, I move forward again. I look up and see Alex almost halfway to the top and begin to move faster with my new technique. After a few pulls, I am much closer to Alex. My arms really hurt and I consider giving up but as I see Alex approaching the top, a new wave of purpose floods me and keeps me moving forward.
She is approaching the top steadily but I’m very close to her. As I prepare to make my final three lunges to win, she takes a huge leap so before my hand touches the top, her foot lands first and she wins. I’m absolutely devastated. At least we were playing only for a favour and not something very important. What are the chances that she’ll even use that favour at all? Very slim. It still hurts that I lost to that girl though.
She jubilates by jumping around on the flat ground at the top of the hill but soon collapses to the ground in exhaustion as I rub my sore arms beside her. I manage to get to my feet after a few minutes of recuperation but she’s still on the floor panting and looking on the verge of a heart attack. I walk over to her and offer her a hand which she takes and gets up. As she pulls on my arm, I feel a searing pain that I hide because if I tell her about it, she might think I’m calling her fat and that might hurt her feelings. I’m going to get her to use that favour right now so that she doesn’t have it over me for too long.
“So, what favour do you want me to do for you, you know, since you, beat me.” Saying that really hurt.
“Oh, I’m not using that now; I’m going to save it for a rainy day.”
“But come on, you have to,” I say. “What will you possibly have for me to do in the future? I advice you to use it now while I’m young and able,” I jog in place to feign fitness while I’m actually on the verge of passing-out.
“Don’t worry, I’ll use it soon enough,” she says vaguely. “Can we go?”
“Yeah sure,” I say with a twinge of disappointment that she didn’t take the bait and waste her favour now. “Wait!”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Your helmet, it’s not down,” I say. “You might have suffocated if you crossed.”
“Oh yeah, thanks,” she says as she pulls up her hood and the attached breathing helmet as I do mine also, even though I don’t need it. “Good call.”
We examine the length of the gorge to see if we can jump it but we decide that it might be just out of our reach so we begin to think of another option.
“I’m stumped,” she says. “All we have is this rope and our weapons which are all completely useless in this instance.”
”You know what? They might not be useless, give ’em to me,” I say and she hands me the rope.
I walk over to the edge of the gorge and tie it to a big rock. With one almighty toss, I get the rock with the rope attached over to the other side. I tie the other side into a lasso and secure it on another rock, creating a precarious looking tight-rope over the gorge.
“I am not walking over that,” she says defiantly.
“Oh yes you are,” I say. “It’s the only way across, unless you fancy jumping it of course.”
“Which way is the hoverbus?” I say as we navigate our way over a small hill of sand. Just as I turn away from Alex, I immediately spot some rotting bodies partially buried in the sand and make a loud gagging sound; these must’ve been left here by some post-humanoids.
“Oh that’s sick,” Alex says in disgust as she waves the air in front of her face by reflex which is a totally useless action as a result of the helmet. “The hoverbus is about two hundred meters, that way.” She points in the direction of a small valley which looks like it descends into a river. The sun is too hot out here.
As a result of Alexandria’s antics, we’re far behind schedule. She wasted about twenty minutes of our time by reaching halfway across the gorge, looking down and walking back. She did that EIGHT times until she was finally able to do it and I even had to come and pull her across. I should have let her go first.
The sun is getting really low now, thanks to Alex. I’m talking about as low as it gets when it almost looks like a giant orange in the sky. I doubt we’ll be able to get this job done while there’s still daylight out. This is very very bad. There’s no use crying over spilt milk now since I cant reach into the sky and place the sun back at the its peak so I try to push all negativity out of my mind because we spot the hoverbus’s wreckage in the distance.
“We’re running out of time so let’s work quickly; in and out,” I say as she uses her hands to pry open the misshapen side door and we step inside.
The inside is really dark so she turns on a light and the interior illuminates with a warm white glow. I plop into a seat on my left and a cloud of dust fills the inside of the bus. I watch her as she sinks to her knees and goes through some of the old stuff we left behind. I was absolutely sure that she was searching for something very important but when she pulls out a stick of gum and slides it into her pocket I glare at her with an eye.
“What?” she says when she notices that I’m staring at her. “It’s really expensive gum.”
“What exactly are we looking for in here?” I say after three long seconds of glaring.
“We are looking for parts to make the transceiver,” she says. “I needed my soldering iron.” She waves the soldering iron she just plucked out of the bag in the air like it’s a trophy.
“Oh really?” I say with an attitude. “And I guess the best way to find it is in your packet of gum huh?”
“Don’t judge me,” she says as she gets up and exits the bus. I get up and follow her as she walks to the front and tries to open the bonnet but it seems to be locked up tight. “Darn it! Dr. Blay, could you please look on the driver’s seat; I think I left the keys there. Please use it to open this darn thing for me.”
I walk over to the unbelievably misshapen driver’s door, pry it open and true to her word, the keys are sitting on the seat covered in a thick blanket of dust. I shake the dust off, stick it in the key slot and the bonnet pops open when I turn it. I remove the keys and place them in the glove compartment. Time to get to work.
As we get down to this unnaturally greasy business, a sudden partial darkness blankets the whole place as the sun finally sets. I check my communicator and sure enough it says the time is 5:57pm.
“This isn’t good,” I say as we notice the darkness.
“You know what we gotta do now,” she says without taking her head out of the engine.
“One of us needs to keep watch while the other works just in case some post-humanoids come around and catch us completely off-guard,” she says, this time taking her head out the engine and then popping it back in.
“Good idea,” I say. “So, I’m guessing rock-paper-scissors to see who does it?”
“Nope, you’re gonna do it,” she says bluntly.
“What? Unfair!” I say in outrage. “I always do the fighting. It’s your turn to bash some heads while I do the technical stuff. I can still handle myself around technology; I’m a scientist too you know.”
“Oh yes I’m not doubting that fact but you’re still going to keep guard and do you know why?” she says without looking up from what she’s doing in the engine.
She now looks up and into my face while wiping some engine grease off her left cheek. “The time has come for the rectification of my owed arrears.”
“My favour, I’m using it now,” she says as goes back to what she was doing.
“Oh come on you can’t be serious?” I say in flabbergast. “This is life and death we’re talking about; there has to be an exception.”
“Nope,” she says. “The terms were and I quote, ‘no holds barred’ remember?”
“You planned all this didn’t you?” I say to her as I get my prongs out.
“I may or may not have.”
“You are pure evil.”
“Thanks, I try my best,” she says sarcastically. “Now get to it, I’ve got work to do.”
It’s already been five minutes and there’s been no sign of any post-humanoids. This job is turning out to be quite easy. I’m so bored that I’m about to rest my sore backside on a rock but am jerked alert when I hear a faint purring sound. I look around frantically but can’t see the source of the noise.
“What was that?” Alex says from inside the engine.
Full alert mode now with my prongs armed, ready to spill mutant blood.
I’m a bit petrified right now though due to the fact that each of the last two times we crossed paths with one of those things, I almost died with Dr. Whitman being the one to save me. Yup, I’m dead.
I hear the sound of feet shuffling frantically through gravel, or sand and remain on full alert. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a tiny figure leaps at me and I instinctively swat it away with my hand. I fumble with my light while almost dropping it, shine it on the creature and exhale a deep breath of relief when I see that it’s just a tiny post-humanoid and not a human child as I initially feared.
“What was that?” she asks again.
“Just a kid post-humanoid,” I say as I stick the prongs into its chest and finish it off. “I got it.”
“Awww a kid?” she says. “That’s too bad. How many are there?”
“Only one so far,” I say and retake my battle stance. “Aren’t you done back there?”
“Almost,” she says. “Just keep them away for a few more minutes.”
As if on cue, two more post-humanoids appear out of the darkness and skulk slowly toward me, making that terrifying purring sound with their mouths that sounds like the mid-point between a screech and a roar. If more appear, I’m dead sure I wouldn’t be able to finish them all off alone. I just might have to keep them occupied long enough to allow Alex to finish the transceiver.
I reach out and grab the first one and smash it headfirst into the other one beside it and they both crash to the ground in pain. I start to feel a bit awesome and puff my chest out but it immediately deflates when a third one creature appears out of the darkness and they all charge at me simultaneously. I dodge one but the sand makes me trip and lose my footing which allows the other two to jump right on top of me and take small but painful bites out of my arm. I manage top push them off, get to my feet and land my prongs in the back of the third one as he dashed in Alex’s direction. Once their brother falls, the other two drag its body away into the darkness to regroup, or so I think.
“Aren’t you done back there?” I say as I place my hands on my knees and try to catch my breath after that exhausting battle.
“Almost,” she says. “Are they gone?”
“Yeah,” I say. “But I’m pretty sure they’ll be back.” No sooner do those words escape my mouth does my eyes catch the white, soulless eyes of killers walking toward me out of the shadows, now with even more reinforcements. “Alex better hurry it up! There are five of them now!”
“Almost got it,” she says. “Just keep them occupied for a while.”
I quickly turn away from her as the soldering iron creates black smoke while she utilises it. I aggressively brandish my weapon to them and they pause in fear but still keep inching forward with blood thirst tattooed all over their clear, soulless eyes. I don’t think I can take them all at once like this so I’ve got to lead them away from where Alex is working; I can see that they have eyes for her.
In a bid to get their attention, I lunge at one of them with my weapon in hand but it dodges my attack easily. My plan works to perfection. I look over my shoulder and see them belligerently pursuing me; exactly what I intended. In order to make sure that I don’t stray too far from Alex, I plot my runs in little ’8’s.
“Dr. Blay, got it!” she says.
“Broadcast it now!”
“Okay, here goes,” Alex says as she tunes the radio.
Unfortunately for me, I lose concentration and trip on a sand dune, face-planting into the sand. I quickly roll over and see a post-humanoid hovering above me. Adrenaline courses through my veins enables me to incredible dexterity completely foreign to me as it slashes violently at me but I evade it. I stumble to my feet and continue my running despite the fact that I’m completely spent.
“Mayday mayday, this is a distress signal from Alexandria Knoster of the Knoster party on an Intel mission outside of the Underworld. We are currently stranded somewhere roughly twenty-five to fifty kilometres east of the Underworld. Please send a mode of transportation and medical supplies.” She waits a few seconds for a response but nothing. She repeats the distress signal and waits but still nothing.
“What’s wrong?” I say as I almost collapse to my wobbly knees but still find an injection of adrenaline to keep going.
“I don’t think the signal is strong enough!” she says. “What do we do now?”
I try to think of an idea as I run but thank God that at the moment my brain is thinking at super speed due to all the blood pumping in by brain.
“Alex?” I say.
“I want you to take the transceiver and run; you hear me, run, back to the grassy plains and don’t stop until you reach there.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll catch up with you; just gotta shake these guys off my tail.” She pauses tentatively for a few seconds but eventually takes off. Now I just got to shake these guys off my scent.
Once I’m sure that Alex is far, far away, I begin to get reckless and imaginative with my attempts to shake these things off my trail by letting them catch up and slipping just out of the grasp of one of them, causing it to crash into another one of them but they still refuse to give up the chase. I think they must be really desperate or just really stupid.
We suddenly come up on a sharp drop in the sandy plains and this gives me a bright idea. Everywhere is basically almost dark so I use the sand as a cover to hide from the chasing party, hoping to get one of them as a pawn in my elaborate plan. Fortunately enough, one of them strays from the group and is walking backward toward where I’m currently hiding, totally unaware of my presence. I get off the ground slowly, silently grab my weapon and sneak up behind it. With one sharp movement, I stab it right in the throat from behind with such ferocity that it barely has time to react, let alone scream. After a few seconds, it stops squirming on the ground as its life force ebbs out of it.
I drag the lifeless body slowly past the other creatures seem to be completely oblivious of my presence and stop when I reach the edge where the sand suddenly drops into a valley. I stand behind the body and manoeuvre its arms to get their attention.
“Yoo hoo, I’m over here!” I say. “Prime, fresh human meat, come and get it!” They all stare in my direction and soon enough, they all begin to charge toward me, well technically the body. I’ve got to time this just right.
Immediately as I hear them getting close, I suddenly leave the body and dive up out of the small drop. Hopefully they’ll take the bait, tackle it and it’ll send them toppling violently down the small hill. I watch as a huge cloud of dust rises from down the hill and exhale a huge sigh of relief. I doubt any of them could survive a fall like that and even if they did, I doubt they’ll still have any interest in coming after me. I take a few moments to catch my breath brought on a result of more than ten minutes of nonstop running.
My breath changes back from the fire burning in my lungs to normal oxygen so I begin to make my way to where I told Alex to meet at, keeping wide-eyes for anymore post-humanoids. Sure enough, I spot about three or four of them coming my way so I drop to the ground, trying to blend with the sand. They pass just a few inches from my fingers, totally unaware of my presence but my heart skips about two beats when one of them stops, looks back and begins to sniff the air. Fortunately, the others screech at it and then it stares right into my eyes as if to say, “You’re lucky.” I wait for a few minutes to ensure that they are a safe distance away then get to my feet and begin to run. I don’t even bother to look back and hope that they aren’t tracking me.