[Survivor – A Thrilling Unusual Short Story]
It had been more than 4 days. He could not believe the turn of events. A week back, he had a comfortable job working for one of the richest men in the world. Now, he was afraid he would not survive another day.
A week back:
The phone rang early morning:
“David, Sophie is flying back to Paris tonight; make sure the plane is ready by 7 PM.”
After a month of leisure at the classy hotel at Victoria Falls, David was glad to have something to do. Even if it meant flying his employer’s spoilt wife back home. He disliked her to the point of avoiding being alone with her. None of the stewardesses had come along on this trip, so he realised he would be truly alone with her on this flight. She was always rude and loud. Hopefully, she will be asleep throughout the trip, he thought.
As he waited for Sophie in the hangar at the airport, David went over the weather charts once more. He was not happy with the clouds forming over Central Africa. But he could fly over most of them, he figured. He did not want to tell Sophie that they could not fly out today. His experience with her over the last couple of years had taught him to keep such thoughts to himself. If she did not get her way, she could make life very difficult for everyone she came in contact with.
After a wait of about thirty minutes, he saw the company car pull up at the entrance of the hangar. He got out of the plane to escort her in. When the car door opened, he noticed that Sophie was conservatively dressed today. She held out her hand and he noticed the nails were painted a garish blue colour. He had never seen nails painted in that colour. He took her hand and escorted her to the plane and seated her. No conversation was exchanged there.
The plane took off without incident. David would have liked to switch to auto-pilot, but the weather made him nervous. After about an hour, when he did not hear from her, he assumed she had fallen asleep. As they approached the clouds over Central Africa, he saw the weather had graduated to a thunderstorm. He pulled the aircraft up, attempting to fly over the clouds, but could not avoid them. As the clouds enveloped the aircraft, he kept it on an incline hoping to break through the clouds in a few seconds.
That’s when the lightning bolt struck the engine.
Six days back:
David woke up with a start. The cold forest floor had chilled his body, making him numb. Memories of the night before came back. He again felt the panic, the terror of feeling the plane stall and drop from the sky.
The lightning strike had roasted the controls. Nothing worked. With the plane gliding down in a slow decline, he grabbed the emergency kit and got out of the cabin to warn Sophie. When he saw her, she had the same panic and terror in her eyes that he had. He groped under her seat for her emergency kit and pulled it out. He handed her the orange lifejacket and wore his own. He put on his parachute pack and turned to her. She had not moved. David told her to wear the lifejacket one more time and then repeated it again when she did not respond.
He grabbed her arms and forced them through the opening in the lifejacket. He did the same with the parachute pack and pulled her towards the door. He again noticed the blue fingernails. She kept fighting against him and pulling him back. He pulled harder. He opened the door which let in a blast of cold, wet wind. He felt the plane vibrate. He pulled her closer to the door and told her what he was going to do. He did not know if she heard him over the sound of the wind, but she started screaming which David interpreted as the reaction to his instructions. Without warning, he pushed her out and after a few seconds, he jumped out himself.
He saw her tumbling through the air for a few moments after which the parachute self-deployed and shielded her from his eyes as a white canopy opened up. His own parachute deployed and took him in a different direction. By the time he turned back towards her, he could not see a thing. All he saw were the clouds and the occasional lightning bolt splitting them. Luckily, he landed on the ground in a small clearing in the forest. He landed on his feet and instantly collapsed on his back. He was so exhausted that he fell into a tired sleep right there.
Now he was up and did not know where to start. He found some rainwater caught in the cavity formed by a large leaf which he drank. He tried to remember all the survival tactics that he was taught in flight school. He figured he was in the Central African rainforest and civilisation was a long way off in all directions. He took out the compass in his emergency kit and headed west.
Five days back:
David had stumbled through the jungle for the last 24 hours. He was tired and sleepy, but he wouldn’t dare go to sleep during the night. He had found a few berries in the forest which he ate reluctantly. He wanted to conserve the food packets in the emergency kit. That was not a good idea because he fell violently ill spewing all the food he had eaten in the last 24 hours on the ground. After that incident, he could not eat anything the whole day and night.
At daybreak, he stopped under a tree. He spread the parachute canopy on the ground and collapsed on it into a deep sleep.
Someone was poking him. His eyes shot open and he sat up. The first thing he saw was a small dark child. Then he saw there were several other children behind the first one. He tried to stand up, but fell. He heard the children laughing and realised that his hands and feet were tied. That is when he also realised they were not children at all. They were fully grown men.
He remembered reading about a tribe of pygmies that lived deep in the Central African rainforest. They were so secluded that they had never seen a normal human. David tried, but could not remember anything else from that article.
The men picked a thick stick and slid it between his legs and arms and four men carried him through the jungle like a captured animal. By the time, they reached their village, David’s wrists and ankles were rubbed raw against the stick, his arms were ready to pop out of their sockets and he was bleeding. They dumped him on the ground and untied his wrists and feet. David could not even raise his head to see where he was. He passed out into a painful sleep.
Four days back:
David woke up to find four pygmy men inspecting him. He stood up quickly, but sat down again as two of them raised a bow with a metal-head arrow pointed at him. The other two men continued inspecting him as if nothing had happened. They raised his arm and checked it. They did the same with his leg. They kept shaking their heads. After about five minutes of poking and prodding, they walked off discussing animatedly and the two armed men also moved away, but kept the arrows pointed at him till they were out of sight.
David looked around and saw that he was placed in the centre of a shaded clearing on the ground. He was surrounded by a thick wall of thorn bushes which looked very formidable. The other side of the wall was probably safe to touch because the men went out from an opening in the wall and pushed it in to close the opening.
After a while, two men stepped into the clearing. One had the usual bow and arrow while the other carried a wooden bowl and a stone slab. The stone slab had strips of meat on it that had recently been roasted on a fire and seasoned with something that smelled like ginger. The bowl contained a clear liquid with large chunks of meat in it. As soon as David saw the food, he realised how hungry he was. He waited for the men to place the food on the ground before him. As soon as they stepped out of the clearing, he grabbed the food. The meat strips were quite chewy, but full of flavour. The soup was also tasty though he would have preferred a little more meat in it.
After devouring the simple meal, he lay down on the ground. He had to figure out a way to escape from these people. Sure, they had fed him and not harmed him yet, but he did not know how long this would continue.
For the last four days, David was as comfortable as possible. He had food thrice a day regularly. He was given his parachute canopy to sleep on and they did not touch him at all. In fact, if it were not for the armed man who came in with the food, he would have thought they are a peaceful tribe. The armed guard actually made sense when David thought about it. He would probably go through the same thing in any country where he arrived without permission. They had probably not seen a white man before and were not sure what he was.
David was not afraid anymore. He had started talking to the man who brought him his food. He started off talking softly with a lot of smiles. Yesterday they had shook hands. He tried to find out the man’s name, but could not get through to him. But the other man smiled back and chattered away in a strange language. David also eagerly looked forward to the food. In fact, he liked the meat a lot. It was soft and chewy and the gingery flavour exploded in his mouth.
There was nothing violent about them. In fact, he saw a few children looking at him through the bushes. He waved at them and the children ran off screaming and laughing. David decided that after a few more days, he would convince them to let him out of the makeshift prison. He would probably live there for a few weeks and then begin a trek back to civilisation. He wondered which direction he would head off to. He will have to figure out which country he was in before he started his journey. But David was not worried; he had plenty of time to think about it.
Just then, his new friend stepped into the clearing with the same bowl and slab of rock. He placed them on the ground in front of David and smiled at him. David smiled back and waved. The man waved back and stepped out of the opening and shut it.
David finished off the meat strips and picked up the bowl. He drank some of the liquid before picking out the meat. The first piece was slender and he turned it around. Startled, he dropped the bowl and the piece of meat and screamed.
The blue fingernail was pointing at him accusingly.
David couldn’t take his eyes off it. He couldn’t stop screaming…