The young woman clutched the small child to her breast. The plane was going down, and everyone knew it. It was amazingly quiet on board, as one hundred and twenty people came to terms and prayed. The young mother was no different, other than the object of her prayers; her baby son. She found herself praying to a god she wasn't sure she even believed in, let alone trusted, praying that he would spare her boy.
A small, strong hand grasped a bit of her hair and tugged until she tore her gaze from the horrorific view from her window and looked down into wide, blue eyes. He was frowning, that small baby frown, that said everything he couldn't, as yet, verbalize, asking his mother what was wrong. She closed her eyes and sent up another plea.
"Please, please, spare him, he's so special, please, save him."
Tears pooled in the babyblues, and a small whimper met her prayer. The child's head dropped, tucking itself under her chin, as the small, chubby hand continued to pet her cheek.
"nonononono....please, *save* him."
A thunderous noise assaulted the passengers of the Kisoro AirFlight electrojet, as metal met treetops at an alarming rate. The left wing was sheared off and as the plane listed sickeningly to the right, the air rushed into the gaping hole left by the loss of the wing, and the woman's arms were suddenly, horribly, empty. As the right wing hit the ground, the woman's terrifying scream of, "NONONONO!" was swallowed up by the gigantic explosion.
The jungle quiet was broken by the sound of man's invention, as engines coughed, sputtered, tried to gain height, and failed. Monkeys stopped their frantic flights through the dense trees, birds skittered from the path of the huge silver monstrosity, coming so low, so dangerously low.....
The plane lurched, drunkenly, then dipped, then it's nose turned down, and like a missile, it seemed to aim for the ground. At the last minute, it veered slightly up, but not enough, not nearly enough. The wing sliced through trees and was severed from the silver body. Great, lumbering beasts below heard a high, shrill, penetrating scream immediately followed by what sounded like one of their own, crying in panic.
The silver monster continued it's destructive path through the forest, until it gave one final, heaving glide to the right, one wing digging into ground, ripping the jet apart.
The explosion lit up the jungle, the sound spreading out, almost deafening in it's intensity.
Fire, burning flames, blue, orange, yellow, engulfing the silver machine, and screams, and finally ~ silence. Deadly silence.
The curious moved forward, sniffing, twittering, slithering, but the residual heat soon had them backing off.
Several large, dark shapes moved quietly through the trees, made their way through the debris, the strewn luggage, dark, nimble fingers plucking up bits and pieces of clothing, colors catching their eyes, materials lifted to faces, smoothed over fur. Objects were pilfered, kept and hidden to inspect and play with at a later date.
But one dark shape stayed back, ears still ringing, eyes searching for the one sound, the sound that had brought her to this scene. The sound of a baby, of one of them.
The great she-beast, so recently bereft of her own small baby, moved quickly through the trees, her nose quivering, searching, searching......
The baby boy was dropped in the middle of a patch of dense undergrowth, his landing greatly softened by mounds of moss, leaves, and branches, slightly suspended between great tall trees, growing so closely together, they were almost one.
He lay there, stunned, the air having been knocked out of his tiny lungs. The velocity of his travel from his mother's arms, to this *nest*, had literally torn his blue jumper from his small body, but the jungle was warm and comforting, like his own crib at home.
Soon, breathing was easy again, and his natural curiousity took over. He rolled over and pushed himself up to his crawling position and swayed over to the edge of his *nest*. The movement was just enough to dislodge him from his safe perch and he tumbled down the short distance to the jungle floor. He landed with a soft, "oof", shook his head, and having only recently learned to stand and take shaky steps, his baby hand struck out for purchase, found it in the trunk of a tree, and using it's rough surface, pulled himself up, unsteadily, but up never the less.
The area he occupied was lush with greenery, and bits of sunlight, streaking the ground, caught his attention and he reached out, almost fell, but suddenly, the light was gone, blocked out by a huge shadow.
The baby looked up, and up, and into brown eyes.
The she-gorilla had finally pinpointed the source of the "baby" smell. There, on the ground. A baby, but ~ not.
The creature took her warring stance, down on her knuckles, brow furrowed, teeth barred.
The baby watched, fascinated. Then he too, got down on his hands and knees and squished up his features in a semblance of the funny face opposite him. Then he fell back, legs kicking wildly, and the jungle was filled with the sound of a baby's giggling.
The she-gorilla's eyes grew round, her mouth dropped opened, and she smiled a gorilla smile. She rocked back on her rear, legs out in front of her, and small sounds issued forth, sounds that were soft and inviting. The giggles stopped and the baby clumsily rolled over on it's stomach and back up on hands and knees. He waited, now unsure, but the sounds, so like his mother's, urged him forward, his little diapered butt swaying, and the gorilla put out one, large hand, black fingers wiggling in invitation, and as the baby latched onto one, the giggle returned.
Slowly the she-gorilla let her hand rise, the baby keeping hold, his body rising with the hand, legs kicking madly, his face split into a huge grin. Then she brought him to her breast, cupping his small frame with one large hand, fingers drifting over his hair, hair so much softer than her own, skin so smooth, but warm, alive, it's heart beating like her own and in that moment, she claimed him as hers.
The fire was long out, the scavengers long since gone, satisfied in their hunger. The mountain gorillas had moved back into the deepest recesses of their forest home, their trophies wrapped around massive shoulders, and necks, or layed out in soft jungle grass, to sleep on, and play with, come the new morning.
Three she-gorillas lay in nests, their babes about them, playing gently, sleep not far away. Several feet from the domestic scene, two young male gorillas, not yet of breeding age, played a game of rough house, and on a small rise, overlooking his domain, sat the great silverback.
His attention was suddenly riveted to the stand of trees just south of his family. He did not move, for he could smell the scent of his mate, but he frowned, for another scent clung to her. The trees parted and she moved forward, a small object held protectively to her breast.
Her brothers and sisters sat up, taking notice, and then they moved to her side. The silverbacked remained aloof, seemingly uninterested.
Slowly she let her hand drop down just enough to show her family her treasure. Snorts, huffing air, and stamping feet greeted the vision of the small, mostly hairless creature curled up in the crook of her arm, sleeping serenely, small hands now fists, exhausted legs twitching.
One she-gorilla tentatively reached out with one finger and ran it down the vulnerable back, then up to feel the downy hair of the small head. She snuffed in delight, and another she-gorilla sniffed and gave a low chitter. The two males just shrugged and moved off for another round of play before a nap.
The new mother moved slowly toward her mate, and he waited patiently, eyes fixed on the white blur against her dark chest. When she was a few feet from his position, she cradled the babe across her arms and held them out for his inspection. He sniffed, touched, frowned, then looked into her eyes, saw the need, but was uncertain. At that moment, the bundle moved, stretched, fists opened, the tiny head turned and eyes opened to stare into the fierce brown eyes of the silverback.
The skyblue of the innocent eyes leaped out at the silverback, touching him in the deepest corner of his mind. He drew back, almost afraid, then the baby grinned, chortled, fingers grasping, and he moved in, sniffed again, and hesitantly stuck one finger against the baby's tummy, which tickled him and his giggles seemed to swirl around the great beast, ensnaring his heart and soul. He looked at his mate, nodded, then turned his back, the protector once again.
She sighed in relief, brought her child back to her breast and let him feed. She lumbered to her own nest, where she settled in, baby resting on her chest, suckling, small sounds of contentment reverberating through her body. She was a mother again. And this baby was hers. Safe.
The jungle closed it's arms around the machine of man, night fell, and the gorillas slept, safe in the knowledge that their protector watched.
Present Day - British Airways Flight 307, one hour from Entebbe Airport, Uganda.
The man sat, body still, eyes fixed at the view from his window seat. In one hour, he would be landing at Entebbe Airport, and from there, a forty minute drive to Kampala, the Ugandan captial city. His ultimate destination; Biwandi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
To anyone interested enough to look, he would appear calm, easygoing, assured. But this was far from the case. He was on this trip due to exhaustion. And pain. And fear.
From his early childhood, he carried a dream. A dream of someday visiting Africa, specifically, the mountainous regions of Uganda, where he wanted nothing more than to sit, deep in the rainforest and wait. Wait for a glimpse of a gorilla. He could be a patient man, and the thought of waiting for hours, for just one glimpse, brought only a peace to his troubled soul.
His life was in shambles, his mind a puzzle he'd yet to solve, and on the advice of friends, he'd given in, taken a leave of absence, and booked the necessary flights. First American Airlines from his home in Cascade, Washington, to New York, than British Airways to Gatwick, and from there, another British Airways flight to Entebbe.
A car would be waiting for him at the airport, and he was actually looking forward to the two days and two nights he would spend in Kambala. He was booked into the Speke Hotel, where he hoped to enjoy rest and relaxation before begining his journey. A journey that might have no end.
His future was in jeopardy, and while he would never have consciously acknowledged this fact, the truth was that if he could not find peace, if the burning in his gut could not be assuaged, then there was a corner of his mind that told him Africa was a good place to disappear.
The pilot announced the descent into Entebbe, the seatbelt sign flashed, and the man wondered what the next few weeks would hold. Salvation or death. And did he care?
The air was the first thing he noticed when stepping out of the Entebbe International Airport. He'd been expecting the heat and the dryness, after all, it was January, the middle of the dry season. But air could cause him great pain. Simple, Washington air. But this, this caressed him, welcomed him, brushed over him like the softest silk imaginable.
Noise. Only ~ there wasn't any. The airport had been *everything* he'd been prepared for, girded himself for, the hustle and bustle, the voices, so many languages, the loudspeaker announcing incoming and outgoing, the bodies, with all their various scents, his own body, constantly bombarded. But once outside, blessed silence. Which was impossible. *Nothing* was completely silent for Jim Ellison. And yet....like the air moving gently around him, the sounds were welcome, different, unintrusive.
Without realizing it, he'd begun to smile, to relax, his muscles unwinding.
Jim Ellison hadn't looked forward to anything in weeks, but now, with his body responding to this country, his pain ebbing, he found himself jogging to the waiting rental car, eager to begin this journey.
Jim could easily have driven directly into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest, but his plans didn't include the typical "Gorilla Tracking". He'd obtained a special permit that would allow him access into the deeper regions of the Impenetrable Forest, to track unchartered gorilla families. And the man who'd made this possible lived in Kambala, the Ugandan Capital City. Ebo was a friend of Jim's boss, Captain Simon Banks and with his connections, had secured the limited pass that would open the doors for Jim's adventure.
Gorilla Tracking parties had begun in 1993, but only two gorilla families were *tracked*, the Mubare Group and the Habinyanja Group. Tracking parties consisted of no more than six individuals, per day, per group, and this would not, *could* not meet Jim's needs. He wanted to experience this "meeting" alone, as much do to with his difficulty with so many sights and sounds, as with his own need for privacy, for *loneness*.
The world was full of exceptions and thankfully so, because for the right price, the Ugandan government would and could grant private tracking permits. In this case, the price had been double what he would have spent for a typical tracking permit. And he didn't mind paying more, as he'd been assured by Ebo, in one of several emails, that the additional money was used to protect the gorillas of the Impenetrable Forest, which housed almost half of the entire world's gorilla population.
The short drive to Kambala took Jim on a scenic drive along Lake Victoria, and Ellison was again surprised to find the view both soothing and pleasing. The directions provided by Ebo were perfect and less than forty minutes later he was pulling up in front of the Speke Hotel, a beautiful, spawling colonial-style building that immediately conveyed it's European background. His luggage was taken out and rolled inside where he was guided to registration.
He had only three things on his mind as he was shown his room; shower, change, than meet Ebo on the famous Speke Terrace.
The transition from America, from Cascade, to Africa was almost seemless. He felt immediately welcome, immediately home. The cultural shock should have been intense, but instead, he experienced a tingly sensation, and he found himself looking at the people he passed, as if he should *know* one of them, as if....someone were waiting for him. He felt an excitement in the pit of his stomach, almost like butterflies, an excitement that said something was close, so near, and if he could just reach out......and touch it, he'd never know pain again.
As he walked out onto the Terrace, catching his first glimpse of an African sunset, he felt it again, even stronger, as if someone else were seeing the same sunset, at the same time, and this person knew, *knew* he was here, watching as well.
He couldn't help it, his eyes left the spectacle in front of him and began to search, to find, hoping he would *know* when his eyes found.......
The voice was low, with a distinct british accent, and he turned to face a man, about his height, with short, black hair, and a huge grin.
The man's hand came out as he answered, " "Yes, Jambo! And welcome to my country. Your flight was pleasant?"
They shook, both smiling as Jim nodded and said, "Very. Jambo?"
"A word with many meanings, Detective Ellison. But basically, a greeting."
Ebo laughed, delighted at his new friends embrace of his language.
"Please, shall we sit and enjoy the remainder of our sunset? I ordered it especially for my guest."
"I'm honored and it is spectacular."
Ebo guided him to a table he'd already secured, on the rail, where the view was even more spectacular. Ebo ordered a drink for each of them and then sat back to study his "charge". He was surprised at how relaxed the man appeared, as he'd been warned by his good friend, Simon Banks, that Jim Ellison was ill, and suffering greatly. And while there was a paleness about him, he seemed truly relaxed.
"I'm very glad you did not object to my request that you come to Kambala first, but to come to Uganda and not see my city? No, this I could not permit."
"For the miracle you accomplished, I would gladly have driven to hell. But this?", he said with an encompassing gesture, "This is definitely worth it."
Ebo leaned forward, almost conspiratorily, and whispered, "Simon mentioned that you have been ~ unwell?"
Good old Simon. Trust him to watch out for his detective even half way across the world.
"Not ~ ill. Just.....tired." It was the only word he could come up with, and not exactly a lie, after all, pain and fear can definitely tire a man.
"So, I will make sure this adventure gives you all you desire, rafiki."
At Jim's raised eyebrow, Ebo grinned and added, "Rafiki - friend."
Friend. Yes, Jim already felt a kinship with the man who would be his guide.
Ebo nodded and both men turned their attention back to the glory unfolding in front of them.
When the sun had finished it's slow and beautiful glide below the horizon, Ebo suggested an early dinner at the Rock Garden Cafe, and now, after an excellent meal of Rack of Lamb, they sat, once again gazing out over the city, sipping Brandy, and enjoying the peace.
Eventually Jim's curiousity got the better of him and he had to quiz his guide and new friend.
"So tell me, what exactly happens tomorrow?"
"Ah, yes, the detective surfaces," but his smile softened the words as he continued, "We shall begin our journey early, at sunrise, which here in Uganda is always at six. We shall travel the difficult path to Bwindi, which is why I suggested you rent a four-wheel drive. We will be taking the eastern route, to Ruhija, where we will stay one night, before begining our trek into the jungle. Our accomodations will be spartan, as you requested. The route I have chosen is long and steep but provides, in my opinion, the best possible views of our forest."
"It sounds perfect. We are on foot once we reach Ruhija?"
"Yes. We will travel for one day, up the mountain, and you can expect to see gorillas late on that first day. We will be in what my people call the "ghost" land."
"Ghost land? Sounds intriguing."
Ebo laughed outright, the deep sound bringing others around in their seats, smiles on their faces.
"Foolish, but not intriguing. You have undoubtedly read Tarzan?", at Jim's nod, he continued, "Well, the myth is here, alive and well. A ghost man who walks with the gorillas. I travel the region, and have never seen so much as a glimpse of this creature, walking, or swinging. But it makes for interesting tourist propaganda, and if it preserves our National Forest by bringing in the tourist dollar, thus protecting it's inhabitants, than I approve."
"I feel like I should be taking notes.....*watch for gorillas, and man swinging through trees*."
"There is one myth that lives. A tribe, that co-exists with the gorillas, that are never seen by outsiders. They are named for dusk, Magharibi, because they do not come out until the sun has set and can melt into the night. Perhaps our "ghost man" lives with them."
"They sound almost ~ magical."
Ebo seemed surprised by Jim's choice of words, but not disappointed.
"Yes, that is a good word for them. Magical. There is one white man, living with them. A priest, Father Benjamin. A better man never lived. Perhaps I can arrange a meeting?"
"If the meeting includes a visit with the Magharibi, than yes, I would be honored."
"It shall happen, Rafiki."
As darkness fell over the mountain, the night creatures came out, scavenging, hunting and the sounds of the jungle changed, as howls filled the air.
Above the jungle floor, a dark shape moved gracefully through the trees, using the creepers and parasitic vines of the mistletoe and orchid to fuel his flight over the ground below.
The shape landed, a sturdy branch his perch. He gazed down at the beasts below him, his family, moving slowly through the bamboo, and he smiled, but did not join them. Instead his gaze seemed to move past, beyond his jungle, to another land, as if he could see something, *someone*, beyond the boundaries that marked his home, but moving towards him, and for the first time in his many seasons, he felt restless, earning for what, he could not guess, but knew, somehow *knew* that it was coming.
Bright blue eyes blinked, the head shook, long hair flying, then he dropped effortlessly down to the floor and joined his family.
And change would come with it.
Twenty miles from Bwindi, just outside it's borders, men gathered. Soldiers. Soldiers of fortune, hired to bring death and destruction to the National Forest, hired to ensure the closure of the park. A huge consortium was behind this "army", men whose only desire was the death of the mountain gorilla, men who dreamed of the wealth their poaching would bring them.
The soldiers sat around the camp, weapons on their laps, cleaning, planning, giving no thought to the beauty they'd been hired to destroy. No thought to the majesty, the greatness of the creatures they sought to wipe from this earth.
And they gave no thought to anything that might exist in the jungles of the Impenetrable Forest that could stop them.
Jim Ellison slept deep and undisturbed, a rarity for him of late. Seconds before his alarm went off, his eyes opened. Today, the Impenetrable Forest. Gorillas. He scrambled out of bed, eager to begin, the excitement of the day before rooted again in his chest.
He grinned foolishly through his morning ritual, his eyes continually going back to his veranda, to the vista beyond, and he felt like he should say something, to somebody, to who he couldn't fathom, but the words came.
"I'm coming. Stay, don't leave until I get there."
And then he laughed at the obsurdity of it, of the words, but as he moved out on to his patio, he repeated them, almost as a prayer.
"I'm coming. Stay, don't leave until I get there."
The journey to Ruhija was just as Ebo promised and Jim was glad he'd turned over the task of driving to his guide. He simply drank in every sight, completely unprepared the land around him, lush, mysterious, and every shade of green imaginable. Medicine for his soul.
It was late afternoon when they arrived at the campsite that had been so carefully arranged by Ebo and Jim was starving by the time they'd settled in for the evening.
Their supper consisted of a delicious stew, the ingredients of which, Ebo refused to divulge, saying only that Jim would be better off not knowing. Jim smiled, wickedly, as he realized that he was eating a simple, but exotic version of *beef* stew. Ebo didn't know that the man sitting with him at the campfire was able to *taste* beyond the normal range, and that while his sensory abilities were often agony to him, there were times, like now, when they came in very handy.
"Um, yes, I'm sure you're right, Ebo, but we have beef in America, you know."
Ebo squinted at his new friend, then grinned as he realized his charge had not been fooled.
He gave an elegant shrug and said, "I tried, Rafiki, I tried. But have you ever tasted such a stew?"
"You have me there, Ebo. Many of the herbs and spices are new to me, but I do taste Cinammon? And Thyme?"
"Perhaps you are the ghost man of whom they speak?"
Jim laughed heartily, enjoying his sense of taste for the first time that he could remember. What was it about the air here? Every sense seemed to be as heightened as usual, but without the accompanying pain and confusion.
"No, Ebo, no ghost man here. Just a policeman from America."
Ebo looked as if he doubted that Jim was *just* a policeman, but he was content to allow their journey to unveil his secrets.
They agreed to turn in early, and went to their respectives tents, but once settled down, Jim found himself needing to be outside, the confines of his small tent keeping him from this new world. He picked up his sleeping bag and moved out and over to the campfire where he resettled his bag. But instead of crawling in, he stood there, drinking in the night, and finding himself amazed at the *silence* of the jungle.
He was so close now, so close the hairs on his arm were standing straight up, as if he were electrically charged.
He let his hearing take center stage, and only then could he make out the sounds of the jungle at night. Everything around him was crystal clear, every sound, a single sound, seperate, to be enjoyed. So he stood and let this world envelope him, caress him, as he would a lover, and minutes passed, and still he did not move, as a shadow seemed to glide around him, not yet touching, not close enough to touch, but there, comforting, real.
Was he going insane? Had his mind finally caved under the pressure of his senses? Was all of this ~ *unreal*?
Euphoria, a symptom. If this was insanity, so be it. It beat anything else he'd experienced. He'd keep it.
He dropped down onto his bag, lay back, hands behind his head, gazing up at the briliant night sky. Tomorrow? Or maybe Saturday? He rolled over and slept.
Four dark shapes moved toward the small stream, one shape lighter in color. Suddenly, the lighter shape stood straight. The gorillas with him stopped their forward movement, heads tilted, snuffling in the night air, waiting.
The man made a few low noises, then gestured with his hands. A warning. He moved swiftly to a nearby tree, climbed easily, slender limbs moving rapidly, until he reached a top branch. Once again he took to the sky, flying across his land, knowing there was danger, but uncertain of it's cause.
As the man above faded from their sight, the others went quickly to warn the rest of their family. It was time to move up, to move deeper into their mountain.