They didn't break camp at dawn, they broke one hour later. By eight they'd breakfasted, packed, and were headed up into heart of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. And once again, Jim Ellison was struck by the sounds of *silence*. He knew that life was all about him, in the trees, in the brush, underfoot, and yet - silence.
The air was thick with life as small winged insects zipped about him, never quite landing, their hum the first *sound* he was conscious of as they moved out and up. Ebo had given him a natural insect repellent that neither irritated his skin nor his sensitive sense of smell, *and* it worked.
He could feel the heat, the life of this land thrumming in his blood as an excitement built around his heart and mind. He'd never felt so alive, so in tune with the world. A world that just a few days ago was an obstacle course for the detective. A world of traps, of sounds that could devastate him, send his head reeling, of lights that could brighten, sparkle, fracture, intense and painful, and of touch, of materials that could suddenly drive his skin insane. But since arriving on the Dark Continent, he'd been in complete relief, even daring to try to let his senses work *for* him instead of against him. So far, he'd only been marginally successful, but even that bit of success gave him hope.
They traveled easily, Jim having no trouble keeping up with Ebo's pace. He was used to the jungle, even if the jungle had been in South America. He was in excellent shape and more than once had caught Ebo looking at him in wonder, but pleased that Jim was able to equal Ebo in stamina.
As they moved up, Ebo pointed out the many and varied species of jungle life, and it didn't take long for Jim to begin to actually *see* and *hear* the life around him. The most prominent "noisemakers" were the monkeys. Swinging above their heads, chattering, sometimes in anger at what they undoubtedly perceived as an invasion of their territory. The Colobus was the most prevelant monkey, but as they went higher, Ebo would go off the path, pulling Jim with him, to suddenly stop, and Jim would see what Ebo was trying to show him. Chimpanzees. Whole families, moving, foraging, and not just a bit hostile.
Jim was constantly amazed at the color of this world. At first glance, one saw only green and some snatches of brown. And while it was every variation of green and brown imaginable, it was still, just green and brown....However, as jaded American eyes grew accustomed, as they really began to *peer* into the growth, the amount of color literally jumped out at Jim and he found himself almost - mesmerized by the beauty. The deep, rich purples of the jungle orchids, and the fushias, the intense blues, and pinks, and the butterflies, how many times had he found himself entranced by a flower of incredible color, only to have it fly off, wings incandescent in flight? And the birds, birds of every color imaginable, of every color combination possible. Birds with no fear of man, dipping low, twittering about the two men, chattering up a storm.
The amount of water, the streams, the waterfalls, became another source of amazement for Jim. It was every jungle movie he'd ever seen, and more. They were moving along one of the streams, just before noon, when they reached the second waterfall, a fall so spectacular, that Jim immediately requested that they stop and take a break. The water was too inviting to bypass. Ebo agreed and decided that this would be a perfect spot for their lunch. Their noonday meal was simple, consisting of some fruit, pungent cheeses, crackers and bits of dried meat, lightly seasoned, and nothing like any jerky Ellison had ever had.
As the meal was allowed to settle in very happy stomaches, Jim found himself drawn to the streams sparkling blue depths.
"Ebo, is swimming in this stream safe?"
"Ah, it is inviting, isn't it? But here, at this level, no, I would not recommend it. The water snakes and parasites are highly dangerous. But the higher we climb? Yes, a swim will be mandatory for us both."
So now Jim had the delight of seeing gorillas *and* a swim to occupy his mind as they packed up and moved out.
It was after two when Ebo stopped suddenly, concern in every line of his body.
"What is it?", Jim asked.
"There is something wrong. We should have seen at least *signs* of gorilla foraging. Bent reeds, broken bamboo, indentations on the jungle floor, but nothing. Our gorillas have an uncanny knack of sensing danger and moving deep into the forest for protection. It would appear the case here. They have not even ventured down today. I am worried."
"What should we do? Keep going or head back down?"
"The danger could be as simple as a crazed cat, on the rampage, or....something - more sinister. You know of our history, of the rebel uprising two years ago?"
"Yes, the tourists who were killed. They closed the park if I remember correctly, and gorillas perished as well."
"Yes. We lost eight gorillas during the war."
"So you think we could be dealing with another insurrection?"
"No, absolutely not. But....something has kept our gorillas away."
"Well, if I have a choice, I'd like to keep going."
Ebo smiled at his friends words, and not in the least surprised at his choice.
"Then we go forward. I believe we can handle anything up ahead. You are a good man to travel with, I can see this. We continue."
Jim didn't tell Ebo that while he too felt the unease of the jungle around them, he also felt that tingling again, so strong now, and he could no more have turned back than he could have sprouted wings and lifted off the jungle floor.
The man moved silently through the trees, moving steadily down, farther and farther away from his family. Trouble was coming, he sensed it, and he had to find *it* before *it* could find his family.
As he moved quickly and quietly, exchanging vines, climbing up, higher, ever higher, skimming the very tops of trees, taking a route he knew by heart, strong hands propelling him, he felt more than danger, he felt a sense of - homecoming. As if the danger and the *thing* he'd been waiting for were, while not one and the same, together, entwined somehow.
He was close now, close to the strangers who came with cameras, who came to see *his* gorillas.
Jim and Ebo traveled another hour, with still no sign of gorillas. But, quite some time back, Jim had begun to feel ~ watched. Apes? Some other animal? But then the tingling feeling had returned, and he found himself looking up, around him, trying to find something, and just thirty minutes ago, he could have sworn a flash of white, high above him, and he'd shaken his head, smiling as Ebo's words about a "ghost man" came back to him.
No ghost man. Just his imagination.
His head jerked up at a sound, and there it was again, that brief glimpse of streaking paleness.......then gone before he could get a fix.....but it seemed to be moving "ahead" of them now.....maybe, another chance to spot it?
Two men below him. One he recognized, a friend to his family, the other - a stranger. And yet ~ not. As he'd swung above them, the stranger had glanced up, as if he'd known...could sense him, and he'd seen such blue eyes, eyes that seemed to see so much, so much more than anyone else.......but the danger was close now, just ahead, and his worry increased tenfold, because the stranger was moving *toward* the danger and not away from it.
The stench hit him hard, almost driving him to his knees.
"James? James? What is it?"
Ebo stood by Jim, who was doubled over, retching, and Ebo put his hand on Jim's back, frowning in concern.
"blood - blood, so much blood. I can't - breathe. Can't you smell it?"
Ebo could smell nothing out of the ordinary, but somehow he didn't doubt for a minute that blood was exactly what his friend could smell.
Eventually Jim straightened, the sour, coppery scent fading, or he, simply becoming immune to it. He immediately began walking straight ahead, and Ebo could only follow.
Fifteen minutes later they entered a clearing and the sight that greeted them sent Ebo off to the edge, to give his lunch back to the jungle.
Four people. Three men, one woman. Dead.
Their bodies had been hacked to pieces, and the blood covering the jungle floor was even now, wet and slippery.
Cameras, clothing, sleeping bags, food, water, all scattered about them, torn, ripped, dismembered, like their owners. But all there. Nothing taken.
A shaken, pale Ebo returned to Jim's side, his head moving in denial, from side to side.
"No creature would do this, Rafiki, I know this."
"I agree. This was the work of man. The wounds, from a sharp weapon, a machete perhaps. But why?"
Even as he asked, Jim moved about the perimeter of the clearing, his eyes clued to the ground.
"....six, no seven, men. Boots. Combat boots."
Ebo watched the detective at work, listening, and fear struck as the words "combat boots" was spoken.
"Ebo, this was no rebel attack. This was quick, efficient and they moved out almost immediately. And they took nothing. They meant to kill and nothing more."
As Ebo and Jim talked, they were completely unaware of the man several feet above them, kneeling on a tree branch, hand on a vine, watching.
He lifted his head, tilted it, then rapidly stood and propelled himself off the branch.
Soaring through the air, he could now see the men, weapons at the ready, coming back down the mountain and heading for the two at the site of the massacre. He could not allow the stranger to be hurt. It must not happen.
He changed direction, hoping he'd be in time.
The soldiers moved stealthily forward, rifles held in front of them. A scout had returned to tell of two more, a guide and a another tourist, just below their previous position. They had only one objective - to kill these two as well.
Jim grabbed Ebo's arm and whispered, "Men. Just ahead. Soldiers, I think."
"We must move swiftly, Rafiki." But before either man could move, two soldiers burst through the underbrush, ready to kill.
Jim didn't pause, he simply pushed Ebo out of the way and launched himself at the nearest of the two. The soldier was unprepared for such a move and Jim landed heavily against him and they both went down. Ebo found himself the target of the other soldier and if not for Jim's quick action, would have been shot where he stood. The soldier did fire, but Ebo was diving for cover and scrambling through the jungle as bullets flew past.
The soldier quickly raced after Ebo, not realizing he didn't have a chance, this was Ebo's world and there were very few who could so successfully disappear.
Jim and the other soldier were still struggling, Jim trying to get the weapon, and he managed to land a brutal kick to the man's stomach and they rolled away from each other. The soldier reached for his knife and before Jim could prepare himself, the knife cut through the air and sliced through soft flesh. The man dropped the weapon and swung up the rifle, but Jim was ahead of him, and in spite of the slash to his arm, he dove for the protection of the jungle.
The man above witnessed the fight, saw the tall, blue-eyed man dive for cover, *and* saw the other soldiers in position to surround the stranger. He must make his move now.
Jim scrambled through the brush, vines whipping him, slapping his skin, but he "sensed" that he was surrounded, that escape was not possible.
He stopped, trying to catch his breath. He listened. They were all around him. He had only one choice. To fight.
Brushes rustled, footsteps coming closer, and to his right, at least two soldiers, about to breakthrough the forest, to where Jim stood, ready. He moved into his fighting stance.
The two soldiers stepped into the small clearing, saw the man, bleeding, ready to fight; they simply raised their rifles.
The air came alive and a whooshing sound behind Jim Ellison captured his attention, and the attention of the soldiers. Jim turned, expecting to see more men, but instead, he looked up and.......could not be seeing what he must be seeing.
A man. Bearing down on Jim, from the air, hand outstretched, inviting.......and Jim Ellison had only the impression of flying brown hair, startling sea-blue eyes, before the hand was there and he was miraculously reaching up, and flesh touched flesh, and his other hand grasped the vine, and he *was* flying, an arm coming around his waist, to anchor him until his purchase was solid, and they were moving up and away, away from the stunned soldiers, men so surprised, they could not even fire their weapons.
The soldiers turned and watched the two men disappear into the forest.
Jim was in excellent shape and agile in his own right, but nothing could have prepared him for this - for flying. Or the circus act that went hand in hand with the flying. The exchange of vines, happening so fast Jim barely registered it, because it was so easily accomplished by the man who'd pulled him from certain death. He had no sense of the man, other than skin against him, as his ghost man wore little, and what exactly he *was* wearing seemed little more than a tan blur.
They must have traveled several miles from the soldiers, must be safe, and just as this thought came, they landed on another tree, but this time, they remained. Jim actually had the opportunity to "look" at the man who'd saved his life. Or so he thought. As he turned to him, the man rested his finger against lips and pointed down, then lowered himself easily and lightly, feet touching down, head up, eyes beckoning Jim.
Jim looked down. He could do this. He was a cop, an ex-Ranger, he would simply slide down the vine like his ghost man. Not as graceful, but he got there, and so what if he landed on his butt?
This *Tarzan* simply looked down at him, where he sat now, his back against the tree he'd just come down, then blue eyes locked onto the gash in Jim's arm and he immediately moved away, searching, finding, plucking leaves, flowers, and bringing them back to Jim. The man squatted down, his hand wrapping around a rock as he began to pound the plants together. As he worked, Ellison studied him.
Ebo's ghost man was young, at least ten years younger than Jim. He could see that in the face that was concentrating so fiercely on his task. He looked to be no more than early to mid twenties and was much shorter than Jim, but lean and muscular, with every movement economized and graceful. His hair was indeed brown, a rich brown with streaks of light in it and inspite of it's length, it was curly. Jim would have to make sure the history books were changed. *Tarzan* definitely had curly hair.
His face was angular, with a broad forehead,full high cheekbones, a strong chin and lush, full lips. In Jim's world, this man would have been considered beautiful, but here, in the jungle, he was more an exotic creature, dazzling in his grace, agility and beauty. His chest was covered lightly with hair, from shoulder to shoulder, but as it narrowed down to his stomach and below, it thinned out to a fine point that disappeared just below the piece of skin that barely covered the man's genitals.
The "clothing" worn by the ghost man was simply a very thin piece of leather with an irregular patch of stretched and dried animal skin in front and another irregular patch in the rear. As he squatted, doing his work, Jim's eyes could trace the outline of his rear, see the pale skin, and Jim reacted to the vision with a small intake of breath that brought the ghost man's head sharply around, as if to ask if he was alright. Jim could only mutely nod, as he forced his eyes back to watching the slender, strong hands work their magic on the plants.
After pulverizing the leaves and flowers into a kind of paste, the man stood and moved to Jim's side, where he squatted once again. He caught Jim's eyes, questioning, requesting permission and Jim again nodded. One hand tore carefully at the bloodstained shirt, revealing the very nasty gash, still oozing blood.
The paste was smeared liberally on the wound, from top to bottom, then the young man again requested permission with a look and again Jim nodded, not sure what he was giving permission *for*. The man leaned across Jim's body, his hair brushing lightly against the older man's face and neck, and his scent rose up and Jim inhaled deeply, reveling in the mixture of earthiness, maleness and the salty mix of sweat and adrenaline.
The man tore a bit of cloth from the bottom of Jim's shirt, then quickly and efficiently bound the paste to the wound. When he was done, he stood, looked about him and with a signal telling Jim to remain seated, he moved about them, stooping every so often to pick up small pepples and bits of wood. When he was satisfied he came back to Jim, leaned over and taking Jim's left hand into his own, he poured the pepples into it, then made a motion indicating that he was going back up, and miming that Jim should drop a pepple. The light dawned for the older man. It was a timing device. This ghost man was telling him that he was leaving, but that by the time the pepples were gone, he'd be back. Jim could only nod as it was evident that this man did not speak and undoubtedly would not understand Jim's words.
A moment later, with one worried look back, the ghost man disappeared from view and Jim was alone.
With the exit of his saviour, Jim felt so bereft, it was frightening. And he quickly realized why. Ebo's ghost man was what Jim had been moving toward. In his presence he'd felt complete, his senses calm. The man's touch had soothed the tingling and the excitement had faded to a quiet, comforting buzz.
Jim Ellison was no stranger to the delights of the male form, but his reaction to *this* man, to *this* male form, went far beyond anything he'd experienced before. Questions began to assault his mind, questions like, who was he? How had he come to be here? Could he truly live in the wild? He thought back, pictured the young man again, and realized that there was something wrong with the vision. His hair was hardly a straggly mess, and it's scent had been good, clean and natural. And his eyesight had told him that it had been trimmed, not regularily but not roughly either. And his face, obviously he must shave somehow, because he had only a two day growth of stubble, heavy but still indicating grooming.
He supposedly lived with the gorillas, according to the myth. But everything about him said *more*. Then Jim remembered the tribe Ebo had talked about, the Magharibi. Perhaps, he also lived with them? So maybe he understood Swahili? Which did Jim absolutely no good whatsoever. His knowledge of the language was regulated to things like asking what time it was, and about food, that was it. On the other hand, they'd had no difficulty understanding each other, no trouble at all, and Jim had seen a keen intelligence in those sparkling blue eyes.
He glided through the trees, covering as much area as possible, making certain that the enemy was no longer a threat to the stranger. He knew his family was safe, and as he moved silently through his land, he felt stirrings that had long been squelched. The tall man had moved him as no other, and he knew he'd found what he'd been looking for all his life. But with that knowledge came a bittersweet truth; what good was finding this man now? And never had he felt so apart from the world outside. The tall, blue-eyed stranger came from another world, and would return to it, and he, Bakari, would stay here.
His eyes scanned the area below, looking for signs of Ebo, and he found them. Ebo was safe, the body of the soldier on the ground below him told him that. And Ebo knew his way to the village. He could go back now, knowing that for the time being, they were safe.
Jim looked down at his hand ~ it was empty. He glanced up and the young man stood there, quiet, watching, studying him as he had studied not so very long ago. How long had he been there and why hadn't Jim sensed him?
Jim struggled up as the man moved silently toward him, his eyes never leaving Jim's. When he stood just inches away, he pointed up.
They were going flying again. And why not?
When they landed this time, it was on the ground, in an area that Jim could only describe as paradise. It was lighter here, with more room for the sun to slide between the smaller bits of growth, and from the sound, Jim knew they were near water. The man moved off and Jim followed, watching the play of muscles along the slender back, and the sway of one piece of tan cloth.
They emerged into what would be a glen back home, and the water was here, in the form of a small lake and waterfall. The beauty of it stole Jim's breath away, which led to another view of beauty. As Jim gasped, the man looked back and when he saw the wonder on Jim's face - he smiled. A genuine, cover to cover smile that transformed his face as he suddenly looked like a boy playing acting. And Jim gasped yet again.
With an impatient wave of his hand, the ghost man indicated Jim's clothing, that he should remove them, but before Jim could question, the man had climbed the rocks, to the top of the falls, and with barely a pause, dove in, his body slicing through the water with the barest of a splash.
It didn't take much more than that to convince Jim to strip and join his ghost man.
The water was cool, refreshing, and invigorating as he swam somewhat clumsily, his arm hampering him a bit, but not stopping his enjoyment.
Many times in the next several minutes, he caught his ghost man staring, with what Jim could only describe as approval. They swam, dove, but oddly enough, stayed several feet apart. And this fact reminded Jim of a special he'd watched once, about a species of bird that did some kind of dance ritual prior to mating. Was that what was happening here? They were certainly *dancing* around each other and he was sure his ghost man was as aware of this as Jim.....the occasional glimmer of a smile told him that.
By silent mutual agreement, both men climbed out and dropped onto the soft, deep, lush grass to dry.
The afternoon was almost gone, and a sweet lethargy overtook Jim and before he knew it, he was asleep.
The young man rolled onto his side and took in his fill of the other man. He let his eyes glide down every inch of the well muscled body lying next to him, and with some hesitation, reached out and slowly touched a finger to the still wet, smooth chest, so unlike his own.
This stranger was his. He knew it. And he belonged to this stranger. But this knowledge bought him no comfort.
It was time to wake him, to take him to the Magharibi. A battle was ahead, a battle to remove a cancer from his jungle.
Two soldiers made it back to the camp. And the story they told of the flying white man caused a small sensation among those in charge. One man in particular voiced an interest and as the men talked, he listened and smiled.
The Ghost Man was real. And he would bring a fortune on the open market, not to mention that once he was gone, the gorillas would be easy targets.
The man, George Akiris, gave quick orders, and several more soldiers moved out.