MHP presents Timeline!

 
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by Nicholas Ahlhelm
The plane engine sputtered and died. With one hand on the throttle, Jane Dodge used her free hand to take another drink from the flask of whiskey. The cockpit shook around her as she held the control stick fast. It fought her, but she tightened her muscles and kept it in place. Still the plane edged ever downward.

She glanced out her side window at the vast expanse of African jungle below. Fuel line’s must have frozen and snapped. I can smell the gasoline splashing out on to the cylinders. Nothing to do but ride this jam out.

She stood up, pulled the two straps up over her shoulders, and took a deep breath. She yanked the cockpit latch free.

“I came to get away from my troubles and find some excitement. Looks like now’s the time.”

She hurled her body from the cockpit and in to the open air. Without her hand on the throttle, the plane instantly lost any semblance of control it once had. The nose bent straight down towards the ground just beneath her. It struck the ground beneath her and exploded in to a fireball.

Her parachute popped open. The sudden rush of win yanked her body up. She looked down at the flaming wreckage below her. Her path took her down towards the fire. She tried to arc the parachute away, but the stubborn piece of canvas continued her descent towards the flames.

The second engine of the twin prop plane suddenly exploded beneath her. Jane yelped as pieces of flaming debris hurled at her. She covered up and hoped for luck. The debris flew over her and she breathed a sigh of relief. Until she heard the crackling sound of fire and smelled the burning canvas.

The burning parachute gave away above her. She hurled towards the ground. She struck a tree just to the south of the burning wreckage. Its foliage tore at her frame, but at the same time served to slow her fall.

Still, she could barely hold on to the insanity of her sudden circumstances. She saw images of her mother, her father, even dear lost Tim. Then the world came crashing in to her face and everything went black.

*****

He emerged from the shadows of the jungle. Clad only in a loose loincloth and his ceremonial headdress, he mumbled an arcane scripture under his breath as he shambled along. He ripped a low hanging tree branch from a tree as he entered the clearing. He tucked it in to the headdress for later.

He found her near the clearing’s edge. She didn’t stir. He could see a broken leg and a broken arm. Blood seeped from several wounds. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t survive for more than an hour.

He set the bottle in his hand down on the ground next to her. He took a moment to reset her broken bones. He retrieved the bottle and held it reverently in both hands. His trunk dipped in to the bottle and the waters inside. He brought his trunk down over the woman and dripped the water over the wounds. The blood hissed and burned away as her wounds sealed. He brought the liquid to her lips. She drank hungrily without waking.

He blew a sharp trumpet from his massive snout. She did not stir.

He removed the branch from his headdress. He backed in to the jungle and cleared his trail with a swish of the tree branch across the dirt.

The doctor disappeared deep in to the jungle and awaited the goddess’ rise.

*****

She awoke to the smell of burning fuel. She slowly lifted her head from the rough jungle floor. Her flight cap slid forward in to her hands. It was a torn mess. But compared to the rest of her garments it was a masterpiece. Her shirt and jodhpurs were little more than rags now. Despite her nakedness, she knew she should be thankful. She only had a few bruises and minor scratches in the aftermath of the plane crash.

I can’t wander around this jungle like some modern day Eve, she thought. She searched through the ragged remains of her pants and found the knife still strapped to the waist. She yanked it free from the leather sheathe and stared at the still pristine blade. I have to be able to find something around here I can cut in to a decent outfit.

She started a search of the crash site. The fire from the plane was mostly burnt out, but a large section of jungle now sat flattened in to its crash site. She located her parachute just south of her, but it was in almost as many tatters as her clothes.

She wandered out in to the broken trees left by the trail of the falling plane. She climbed across the remains of one ancient tree. She gasped as she dropped back to the ground. A massive giraffe sat beneath a broken branch. The branch lay across the majestic creature’s long neck. It was plain to see the animal’s crushed throat.

She rested a hand on the giraffe’s massive shoulder. “I am sorry for your death, but I thank you for the gift you’ve given me.” She buried the knife in to the animal’s flank. She made short work of pulling the hide from the shoulder to the legs free. She cut the hide to avoid a few torn, bloody bits where the animal fell on a field of jagged rocks. By the time she finished, she had three brief but useful pieces of hide.

She climbed a tree and stretched the portions of pelt over a spider web of tree branches. Here they would sit out under the hot sun to cure.

She returned to the area around the plane and looked for her food. Most of her supplies went down with the crash, but she remembered she carried a few snacks in her pants pouch. She searched around her crash site. It took only a few minutes to turn up a pulverized but still quite edible Mr. Goodbar. She ate bits of it as she took time to search the crash site for any other surviving goods.

She gave up the search after over an hour. She instead returned to her parachute. She cut the tattered remains in to thin but sturdy strips. She settled in to a shaded nook beneath a large hanging branch and drifted off to sleep.

When she awoke she found the sun drifting down in to the west. She climbed back up in to the trees to retrieve the hides. She found them cured at least well enough for her to work with. She set out using the knife and strips of parachute cloth to turn the giraffe pelts in to a working bikini. It offered her little modesty, but still served her better than complete nudity.

She knew she would starve in a matter of hours if she didn’t go in search of food. She tied her knife to her belt with another piece of parachute canvas and climbed a tree. She found that her years of ballet and dance paid off as she moved from tree to tree with relative ease. She disappeared off in to the jungle hopeful for any help she might find.

*****

The tribesmen brandished spears as they emerged from the jungle in search of the smoke’s source. They circled the strange object that the smoke still slowly rose from. Unsure of its origins or nature, they all brandished their weapons towards it.

A woman entered the clearing after them. Her pale skin seemed to shine and sparkle in the sunlight. Her red hair was topped with a patch of feathers and bamboo, the mark of the tribe’s ruler. Nurla’s hold over the savages kept them in check, but she knew what the smoking remains meant.

Outsiders.

After decades of youth and control over her African tribe, the sky machine meant danger for everything she built.

“This bodes ill,” she said.

The tribesmen nodded in awe, not just of the strange sight but of her. They all spoke the Queen’s English flawlessly, learned from their fathers and their fathers’ fathers who learned from Nurla herself more than fifty years past.

“What must we do to serve you, oh great one?”

“The sky bird is an omen of a demon rising. You must go as my missionaries to the nearby village and warn them of the demon’s coming. Tell them of my power and offer them my protection. I will arrive in due time.”

“Yes, great one. We will obey.”

The tribesman hurried off in to the jungle, towards the village of Towla. Nurla stalked off in the other direction. She could only pray the outsider had not found the hidden fount.

*****

From a high tree, Joan hung down and looked at the village below. It was dusk now, only minutes from full night. She saw the signs of a few fires, but no one seemed present. Hunger gnawed at her stomach. She knew she would need to eat soon.

She remembered the stories told about cannibals in the jungle. She didn’t think she would find any here, but she also figured that an empty village allowed her to avoid taking the chance. She swung down from the branch. She silently crept in to the nearest dwelling.

She found a surprisingly modern hut. Separate bed mats lined the walls while a small kitchen table filled the center of the room. A covered vase sat in the middle of the table as did a bowl of water. The sight of water made her realize just how dry her throat was now. She gulped down several ounces of water before she opened the vase.

She found some kind of mash inside. She couldn’t place it by smell or appearance. She took a tentative bite. She found it sweet and salty, but otherwise flavorless. The lack of flavor didn’t stop her from swallowing several more mouthfuls.

She heard yelling from outside. She ducked out the door to see what was happening. She saw no one, but still the voices echoed through the village. She thought that they sounded almost British. She stuck to the shadows as she made her way back to the trees. She circled the village to the source of the fires.

The villages were all of an almost gray tint, but the group at their center were all very nearly jet black. In the midst of the darker contingent, a white woman stood on a raised platform. Her head was thrown back. A loose white cloth covered her arms and shoulders and draped down over her red and blue garments. Without the flowing cloth, she wore almost as little as Joan.

“Another Westerner? How?”

The man at the other woman’s side yelled over the concerned words of the crowd. “Silence! Nurla, Goddess of the Moon, favors you with her presence! Be silent and heed her words!”

Nurla lowered her head and gazed down at the gathered throng. They all bowed their heads in fear as she began to speak.

“People of Towla, listen to your goddess. I come to pay honor to the leader of your neighbor’s tribe, the great Kaibono. He lays in wait in a tomb for me, surrounded by the sacred cobras and his ceremonial pearls. I must go to him, but an evil demon has come from the sky to stop us. I will need the protection of your strongest warriors if we are to reach our destination.”

“We will follow you until death, goddess!” The warriors raised their spears and roared in agreement.

“It is as I thought. The people of Nurla remain always loyal! Follow me, warriors. Leave your council to watch over the city and prepare the scrolls to mark down the annals upon our return!”

Her personal guards helped Nurla from the platform. Followed by the local tribes’ warriors, they disappeared in to the far jungle. I can’t let this stand, Joan thought. This Nurla woman will kill this entire village as well as me, to get her way. They may lash out at me, but I must warn this council of the dangers they face.

She leaped down in front of the three members of the council. The two younger men seemed to be twins. The elder looked impossibly old. The twins brought up their hand axes and waited for an attack.

“Hold! I have come in piece. I warn you that Nurla lies!”

“Blasphemer! Prove your words or we will see you die!”

“I am as human as your goddess! Give me a chance and I will prove it to you.”

The younger councilmen looked to their elder. He nodded and said something in his native tongue.

“We will follow you,” one of the twins said. “If you try to lead us astray, we will kill you where you stand.”

Joan didn’t much care for the offer, but she knew it was the best she could hope for at this time. “Fine.”

She started in to the jungle. The twins followed her without lowering their axes. The old man kept pace a few steps behind. She watched them as she made her way back towards the trees. They seemed to honestly be following her and for that she was thankful. When she first made her presence known, she feared a fight. If she could win them over, she may yet survive the jungles.

“Beware! Ahead of you!” She turned forward just in time to see the cobra drop from the trees. The massive creature slithered around her. It opened its mighty jaw. She stared in to the sight of its large, deadly fangs. Her hand snapped out and caught the reptile around the throat.

The cobra fought her grip with great strength. She knew she couldn’t hold it for long. Her other hand dropped to her knife. As it broke free of her grasp, she brought the blade down in to its forehead. The blade sliced straight through the serpent’s skull and through its jaw. The dying snake couldn’t even open its jaw as it died in her grasp.

She shoved the body of the lifeless serpent away from her. The councilmen looked at her in awe. “No one has ever survived an attack from the sacred cobras!”

“It would take the powers of a goddess,” the other twin said in agreement.

“Or a demoness,” the old man added. “We will wait and see, brothers. Let us all continue on our way.”

*****

The tomb loomed before the hunting party. The doctor watched from the shadows as Nurla, flanked by her personal guards and the two most beautiful women of the village, yelled commands at the men of Towla.

“Enter the tomb of the dead king and bring me his ceremonial pearls! They contain bits of the moon itself and only the moon goddess may possess them.”

“Mistress, the sacred cobras are inside!”

Nurla pointed to the entrance. “If you enter the tomb with total faith in me, without doubt in your goddess, the cobras will not be able to strike you.”

The men still looked uneasy. She pointed at the three doubters. “No more questions! Enter! Your goddess commands it!

The tribesmen looked uneasily at one another. The doctor knew that none wished to enter. But he doubted any of them could resist the commands of their deity. His guess was confirmed as the men turned to make their way in to the tomb.

“Ah, the cobras strike at me!”

The other two men rushed past the dying man and towards the urn filled with Kaibono’s pearl. They hefted it on to their shoulders. They ran past their fallen brother, now covered in cobra bites as they made their way back to the others.

They dropped the urn at Nurla’s feet. But they did not back away in the same awe they possessed before.

“My brother worshipped you like no other in the village! Yet he died at the mercy of the sacred cobras! You have pretended to honor the dead and lead us! But I name you a defiler of a tomb and a false god!”

“You speak blasphemy! Kneel before you and I will make your death merciful!”

The two men did not kneel. They only stared darkly at Nurla. The other Towla tribesmen moved to flank their brothers in arms.

“You would dare stand against me?” She turned to her own men. “Kill these fools. All but the women. I have use for them.”

Her personal guards raised their spears. Four Towla men fell before they could even fight back. Within seconds, the master warriors of her guard pushed the untrained hunters in to disarray.

The leader of the Towla hunting party roared over the melee. “We must return to the village! We must warn everyone of the goddess’ betrayal! Scatter! Survive for our people!”

A guardsman ran the man through with a spear only a second later, but the message was clear. The Towla tribesmen scattered in to the jungle.

The doctor watched on in silence. He saw too much death today. He said a prayer for the people of Towla. They would need all the prayers they could get if Nurla survived the day.

*****

“It’s the councilmen! Stop, it’s the council!”

Three men stopped short in front of Joan and her tribal companions. Joan raised her weapon, but the old man went to meet them.

“What is the meaning of this? You are supposed to be at the side of the goddess!”

“She is no goddess, elder! She is only a witch and she has stolen the sacred pearls of Kaibono.”

“Calm, brother. Tell me your story.”

The elder listened in silence as the hunter gave his story. Joan heard all her fears confirmed.

“This will mean war,” the elder said to the others. “I can see no other way around it.”

A war will play right in to her hands, Joan thought. Kill the leaders and leave the benevolent goddess to move in and pick up the pieces. It’s time I go and meet this so-called goddess.

“Make your preparations, chief. But do not head to war until I’ve returned. I think I may be able to end this fight before it ever begins.”

The elder looked at her. Joan wondered if he saw her as another false goddess. Or a demoness. She could understand the source of their fear. The fear of the unknown was man’s greatest fear, a fear she worked the last several months to overcome.

“You have one day,” the elder said. “Then we will hunt down and kill the Gwai and their witch goddess.”

Joan nodded. She looked up and away from the tribe. She found a suitable tree, ran to it, and bounded up in to the branches. She marveled out how easy she found the movement from one tree to the next. She felt almost cat-like in her reflexes.

She knew just the place to cut the false goddess off at the pass.

She returned to the crash site in a matter of minutes. She hovered in the trees as she waited for the goddess and her men.

The morning sun rose as she watched and waited. When the sun reached midway on its path to its noon time high, the trees across from her began to sway and move. Nurla emerged, flanked by her guard, and several local women.

Just as they approached, Joan dropped from the trees. The guards raised their weapons, ready to strike.

“This woman is not what she seems. She has led you astray, just as she did the Towla! Do not listen to her commands!”

“Kill her,” Nurla commanded. The Gwai warriors moved to heed the command.

A spear hurled straight towards Joan’s head. She gasped in shock. But she found her body reacting even faster than her mind. She dropped to one knee, reached up, and plucked the flying spear from the air.

“That woman has caused enough bloodshed! If you won’t listen, I will make you take heed.”

She bounded towards the downed plane, the spear still in her hand. She found a wet spot on the ground and smirked. She flicked her knife against the tip of the spear. A spark flew off the spear’s blade. She turned for cover as the spark fell to the wet grass.

The gasoline exploded with a deafening boom. The Gwai tribesmen dived for cover, in fear for their life

The Towla hunters emerged from the jungle only moments later, drawn by the sound of the explosion. Joan realized the elder had far less faith in her than she thought. He kept his men at a close distance to their Gwai enemies.

“On your feet, all of you!”

The Gwai raised their heads to look at her. She could see the same reverence in their eyes that they gave to Nurla minutes before.

“Do not fear! I caused the explosion to make you all listen to me. Nurla leads you astray. She wants the pearls only for her own wealth. She will set you at each other’s throats just to get them. When you are all dead, she will walk in and claim your children as her property.”

“She’s gone!”

“Disappeared in to the jungle!” Joan knew they were right. Nurla was nowhere to be found.

“We must hunt down Nurla and slay her! This evil cannot stand!”

“No!” Joan walked to the urn. “The pearls remain in your care. Enough blood has been shed in her name today. We must go in peace today. Nurla has lost much of her empire today. Let the jungle avenge her crime.”

She leaned on to the urn. “I tell you the truth this day. What have you to say?”

The Gwai and Towla eyed each other warily.

“We will return the pearls to Kaibono’s tomb. We will beg the lost king for forgiveness.”

She let the two groups of hunters lift the urn. They disappeared moments later in to the jungle. Only the Towla council remained. The elder walked up at bowed.

“We wish to thank you for our salvation, goddess.”

“Don’t speak nonsense! I’m just me!”

“No,” one of the twins said. “You are either a goddess or a demoness that much is plain! Either you will rule over us, or we will force you from this valley at the tip of our spears. You must prove your strength to us if we are to worship you!”

“What good will that do?”

“Much,” the other twin said. “Our brothers have already gone to see to your test.”

The councilmen backed away from her and the clearing.

A few seconds later, two more men, identical to the twins, emerged from the jungle. They struggled to hold two lengths of rope. At the end of the ropes, a massive jaguar strained to break free.

The elder yelled from near the trees. “You will either survive and prove yourself a goddess. Or you will die for bearing false witness.”

“This is madness!” Her discomfort fell on deaf ears. The brothers released the great cat and it bounded towards her.

She dived out of the way, but it was too little too late. One great forepaw caught her with a gash down her left arm and leg. Blood flowed freely from the wounds, but she refused to let that stop her.

She watched as the cat stalked around her. She knew it waited for its chance to strike at her. She hoped it didn’t realize she looked for the same opening.

The jaguar rose up to strike. She could see its massive jaws come towards her jugular. But she ducked under its mouth. The jaguar’s forepaws cut in to her shoulders, but she ignored the pain.

She drove her dagger up in to the jaguar’s gut. She yanked the blade upwards. She watched the great cat’s eyes widen as her hand sunk in to the wound with the blade. The eyes deadened and Joan knew she struck the jaguar’s heart. She backed away and released her dagger. The cat’s own weight brought it to the ground.

The council and the women ran forward. “It is true! You are a goddess! You have proven your wisdom and your strength today, oh great one! You are truly Rulah, goddess of the earth.”

She shook her head. “I’m not earth goddess. You can call me Rulah, Jungle Goddess.”

“We are at your service forevermore, oh great and powerful leader.”

This isn’t quite what I had in mind when I started this journey, Rulah thought. But I kind of like it here. And a girl can always change her mind and go home. How often does a girl get to be a goddess? I know I shouldn’t, but I rather like it!

“I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I’m famished. How about we head back to the village and get a goddess sized feast started?”

The councilmen only nodded their agreement as they followed her back to Towla.

*****

The doctor watched from the jungle shadows. Despite his massive frame, he could disappear completely from the passing tribe’s view. He watched them pass with a joy he hadn’t seen in quite some time.

He stroked his long gray trunk. He couldn’t help but feel proud. Everything went swimmingly. His plans moved along perfectly.

The Towla and Gwai were at peace. Nurla’s powerbase was severely weakened. And the rise of Rulah… he couldn’t count the plans he had for Rulah. The thought brought a chuckle to the witch doctor. His trunk shook as a hardy guffaw emerged past his tusks.

Tembo could not believe his good fortune. He would celebrate in his own way today. Tomorrow he, and the jungle’s new goddess, would have much work to do.

All characters and situations are © and ™ 2005-2009 Nicholas Ahlhelm.
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