These are the first three chapters of the third in my series of young adult novels, provisionally entitled The Artefact and set partly in Amazonia, partly in Scotland. I have been struggling to complete it for a couple of years and in February 2012 I asked readers of A Few Kind Words to help me decide whether to continue with it or abandon it. They were more or less equally divided. Watch this space …
YOU MAY not know much when you’re eight years old, but there is one thing you will never mistake for anything else, and that is your parents’ fear.
Suddenly you realise that the two people you’ve always relied upon to know what to do, to keep you safe, are as helpless as you are. Perhaps you feel like crying, but you know that it will make no difference because even if it prompts them to recover themselves and smile and pretend that everything is going to be all right, you will have seen the panic in their eyes, and that’s enough. It’s too late. The world will never be the same again.
I know, because it happened to me, Adam Jamieson. And when it did it was only the beginning of something much bigger …
I’m nineteen now, so the chain of events I’m going to describe began more than a decade ago. I don’t claim to remember everything that happened, every word that was said, every feature of every place I passed through, so sometimes I’ve had to use my imagination. I think everyone who tells stories ends up doing that, mixing memory and imagination, because you can’t always be sure where one stops and the other begins. But if I’ve put words into some people’s mouths, filled in the details of some events or locations I don’t fully remember, the important parts of the story I have to tell are as real and true as the fact of day following night.
I’m writing this now for two reasons. The first is to get the whole story straight in my head, because I know I’m going to be asked about it over the next few days. The second is to help me keep my mind off what might happen next; by which I mean the possibility that I might go to prison. My lawyer doesn’t think it’s likely, but it will depend a lot on the judge we get. He says it’s better to be prepared for anything.
And as I stand here on the edge of this precipice, I figure that having my story sorted, being clear about who and what I am, is as prepared as I can be.
I’M THIRSTY and my feet hurt. We’ve been walking since early morning and now the sun is right overhead. It’s like an open hand, pressing down on us from the sky. And it’s humid. My clothes stick to me and sweat runs down my face into the previous night’s mosquito bites.
‘When are we going to stop? When are we going to stop? When are we going to stop?’
I’m not saying it out loud, but it has a kind of steam engine rhythm inside my head that helps me ignore all the discomfort and keep going. For the hundredth time since we set out, four days ago, I wish they’d never brought me.
An enormous blue butterfly, big as a dinner plate, drifts out of the wall of forest beside the path and floats along ahead of me. If I had a stone in my hand I would probably chuck it right now – out of exasperation with my parents, and South America, and the whole lousy expedition. More than anything in the world I want to be back at home in my room with my own bed and my own things. I long for anything familiar, even the feel of my skin being cooled by a breath of haar, the mist from the sea that often shrouds Edinburgh on summer’s days.
‘When are we going to stop?’ I try it in Spanish. ‘Cuando vamos … ?’
I like foreign languages. I like the sounds they make, the taste of strange new words on my tongue. I’ve been listening to people speaking ever since we arrived here, and looking things up in the little phrase book we bought before leaving home. ‘When are we going to … ?’ I can’t remember the word for ‘stop’, though I saw it on enough road signs during the couple of days we spent in the city, before setting out on this journey.
My parents are up ahead of me, the backs of their shirts darkened with sweat. A steady rumble rises out of the ravine that drops away on the right hand side of the path. Earlier, I strayed to the edge and felt my guts churn at the plunge to the frothing coffee-coloured torrent below, roaring out of the mountains to empty itself into the distant Amazon, hundreds of miles downstream.
If it wasn’t for that river we’d be at the camp by now. It would still be hot and sticky, and probably mosquito-ridden, but I wouldn’t have sore feet any longer. I’d have a proper camp bed to sleep in rather than a foam mattress on the ground, and there’d be something to eat other than beans and rice. Surely, at an international scientific camp, there will be something to eat other than beans and rice.
But the river washed away the bridge we were supposed to cross, and now we have to walk another thirty kilometres to the next one. And there’s a further problem. That thirty kilometres is taking us into territory frequented by the Niños de Muerte, the Children of Death, as the local freedom fighters are so alluringly known. I’m not supposed to be aware of this, but I overheard my parents discussing it as we camped at the site of the destroyed bridge, two nights ago.
‘I’m not sure,’ my father was saying. ‘Maybe we should just wait till they fix it.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Donald,’ my mother replied. ‘We could be here for days. This is the third world, for God’s sake. If they can’t even fix the potholes in their roads, what hope is there of them repairing a bridge. We’ve got to get on. Take the risk. Anyway, the guides know the score around here.’
‘If they’ll take us,’ muttered my father.
And they are taking us, their minds made up for them by the wad of dollar bills my mother produced from her money belt.
The rainy season ought to have finished by now, but in the last week there’s been what everyone hopes is one final meteorological convulsion. Now the guides have gone on ahead to check up on a landslide that’s rumoured to have carried away part of the trail. My parents and I are following them, and some way behind us are the porters, carrying our packs and camping equipment.
’Cuando vamos … when are we going to … cuando vamos …’ I mumble to myself, dreaming now of a cool blue swimming pool.
Looking back, I still don’t really know why they took me with them. It would have been so much easier for them to have left me with my grandmother, my father’s mother. I would have loved it, Gran would have loved it, and they wouldn’t have had to bother about me. But they’d got it into their heads that this would be good for me, their precocious only child; the experience of a lifetime, if you can call a mere eight years a lifetime. I was a bit too clever for my own good, that was the trouble. And although I can see now that it was really a kind of ruse on my part, a way of getting the attention I was afraid they might otherwise not give me, they took it as a sign that I wanted to learn things, to understand things, to become a walking repository of knowledge like they both were; and they reckoned this trip would encourage me to be interested in the things that interested them, to see them ‘in the field’, as my father said.
They’re scientists, both of them. My father’s a botanist and my mother’s a pharmacologist. They met at university and they’ve worked together ever since. Their whole life, apart from me, is science; and they would have liked me to become part of it too. I think at that moment they must have had a fantasy of me as some kind of junior rainforest detective, creeping about in the undergrowth with a plant book and a satchel full of collecting jars, shouting ‘eureka!’, which is Greek for ‘I’ve got it!’. Well, I may have been only eight years old, but I could have told them even then that that wasn’t going to happen.
This trip was their big break. They’d been awarded the funding to take part in an international expedition to survey one of the last areas of virgin rainforest in South America. I think they’d been given the money because they were a husband-and-wife team, so the organisers effectively got two for the price of one. Anyway, their part of the project was to study certain families of plant and the medicinal properties they were thought to have. By the time we set out, the camp had already been established for three months, and now a steady stream of people from different disciplines were passing through it. I thought of the old rhyme about the ark: the -ologists came in two by two, hurrah! There were entomologists and herpetologists, ornithologists and ichthyologists, microbiologists and parasitologists, ethologists and ecologists; a plague of investigators descending on a few hundred square miles of previously unsullied natural wilderness.
In normal circumstances it would have been a three-day hike from the airstrip, followed by a half-day upriver in a canoe. But with the bridge down, and the lead guide for some reason unable to raise camp on his radio to get further instructions, it was down to my mother’s powers of pecuniary persuasion that we were making the downstream detour, which would add at least three days to the journey, and perhaps expose us to the tender mercies of the Niños de Muerte.
You could say it was irresponsible of them to take me with them. Some people did. It was term time and they’d taken me out of school, another thing I was unhappy about. There were disapproving looks in the school car park when other parents heard what they were planning. But scientists are an odd bunch. Once they get an idea in their heads, or even the idea of an idea, they seem to forget about everything else. Discomfort and danger become irrelevant and all that matters to them is the pursuit of the idea. (I once heard someone say that scientists are only interested in their bodies because they’re what carry their heads to meetings.) Anyway, the fact that I was only eight, that I might end up being a burden to them, didn’t come into it. I would tag along and at the first glimpse of a rare plant, I would whoop with excitement, just like them. Or so they thought.
But even my parents, Donald and Anne Jamieson, with their doctorates and research funding, couldn’t have begun to predict how it would turn out.
WHAT WAS the defining moment? I’ve often wondered. Was it when a warm exhalation from the lungs of the planet met cold air over the spine of the continent and clouds broke to swell distant rivers, high in the Andes? Was it when a raging torrent of muddy water crashed out of the foothills to sweep the bridge from its footings? Or was it when, as I learnt much later, my mother sabotaged the guide’s radio so that he couldn’t contact the camp for further orders?
I’ll never know, of course, and it wouldn’t change anything if I did. But I do often think that had it not been for those things, I would have a very different story to tell now. At other times, though, I think it was simply my destiny, a function of the person I am, and that some of what occurred later would have happened even if I’d never set foot in South America.
But I’m getting ahead myself.
If you’ve never seen rainforest, it’s impossible to imagine how dense it can be. A green wall of trees, creepers, bushes, ferns, undergrowth, all crowding together so tightly that not even a cat could find a way in. And when it rises up a steep hillside it seems even more impenetrable.
With the forest on one side of us and the ravine on the other, there’s no possibility of doing anything except following the trail. But as we round the final bend and come to a halt where, instead of the forest and the trail there’s now just a bare patch of hillside down the centre of which oozes a broad river of mud, our guides are nowhere to be seen. It’s as if they’ve vanished into thin, if humid, air along with the trees that once stood on the hillside, which now resembles a First World War battlefield. They can’t have made their way into the forest, no one could. They certainly won’t have climbed down into the ravine. And they can’t have crossed the mudslide, it’s too wide and too powerful. A boulder the size of a piano glides slowly past us and topples soundlessly into the ravine as my parents stand looking around, at this point more in confusion than dismay.
‘They must have gone up the hill,’ says my mother, pointing to the edge of the bare patch, ‘to see if there’s a way around the top of the landslide.’
‘Yes,’ says my father. He looks unconvinced.
We sit down and drink some water and wait. Even through my hat, the sun’s heat feels like someone holding an iron over the top of my head. I collect some small pieces of wood and amuse myself with a version of Poohsticks in which, rather than reappearing the other side of a bridge, the sticks are carried over the edge of the ravine by the mud. It’s not really very amusing, but it keeps my mind off the mosquito bites. I think that it would be quite easy to go mad here.
‘The porters should have arrived by now,’ says my father, after some time.
‘Mmm…’ My mother glances up the hill.
‘I’ll go back and see,’ I volunteer. It’s something to do.
‘You’ll do no such thing,’ says my father getting to his feet. He exchanges glances with my mother, then sets off back up the trail.
‘Bloody guides,’ mutters my mother. ‘They should have told us what they were going to do. I’ll have something to say about this when we get to camp.’ She gets up and walks to the trees, where she starts dragging out bits of dead branch and clumps of foliage. ‘We need to get out of the sun. We’ll make a shelter. Come on, Adam. Come and do something useful.’
Abandoning my Poohsticks I trudge over to join her.
We’ve managed to put up a frame of sorts and have begun to attach some huge leaves to it, when I realise that my mother has stopped working and has turned to stare up the trail. She frowns as if she can’t make sense of what she’s seeing.
A group of people is walking towards us. But it’s not the porters. There are two older men, two younger men, a young woman, and my father. With the exception of my father they are all thin to the point of being famished. They wear filthy, ragged combat fatigues. One of the older men is armed with a rifle.
I step closer to my mother.
She takes my hand and walks briskly towards them. Before they have even stopped she has begun speaking to them, loudly, in English.
‘Thank goodness,’ she says. ‘You’ve come at just the right moment. Our guides have left us. You can help us find the way.’
They look at her incomprehendingly, though there’s a trace of surprise on a couple of faces. It’s obvious that she is not frightened of them, and perhaps they’re not used to that.
As they draw nearer, one of the younger men pushes my father hard in the back. He stumbles, almost falls, then recovers himself and turns to face them, placing himself protectively in front of me as he does so.
They stop in front of us. For a few moments, no one says anything. I see my father has a restraining hand on my mother’s arm. It feels like a stand-off. I look at them more closely. The two older men might be brothers. They are unshaven and have bad teeth. The two younger men, I can now see, are in fact boys; in their mid-teens at the most. One looks wiry, as if he does some kind of work-out despite the obvious lack of proper nourishment, but the other is puny, his combat trousers gathered in folds beneath his belt. They have a sullen look about them. And then there’s the girl. From her posture I’m beginning to get the sense that she may be the leader. She’s slender and trim, and the fatigues, torn as they are, fit her neatly. Were it not for a face almost completely devoid of expression, she might be pretty. She has high cheekbones and faintly almond shaped eyes, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail.
My mother needs to say something, I can sense it. My father’s hand tightens its grip on her wrist, but to no avail.
‘Now look, we’ve got nothing against …’
‘Ustedes!’ The young woman flings out a finger.
My mother’s words fall away.
‘Ustedes. Americanos.’ There’s no mistaking the accusation in her voice. ‘You. Ameyr-eecaan.’
My father shakes his head.
‘No! No America!’ he says.
‘Americanos,’ repeats the girl, nodding.
‘Si. Si Americano.’ The puny boy is pointing at my feet. ‘Teemerlan,’ he says. ‘Teemer-lan. Americano.’ He sounds pleased with himself.
My parents look confused.
Then I get it. Timberland. My boots. He’s right, it’s an American brand.
On his feet are sandals made from sections of car tyre. His toenails are blackened and ragged.
‘We are certainly not Americans,’ says my mother, oblivious to the fact that they don’t understand a word she says. ‘We’re scientists. We’re going to the camp. The Guapo Valley survey.’ Now at last she registers the blank looks. ‘Sci-en-tists … ?’ she repeats and mimes looking through a microscope, adjusting the focus.
The illogicality of her explanation is lost on our captors, for that is what they are, I’m in no doubt by now. These malnourished mestizos are not about simply to send us on our way with a ‘have a nice day’.
‘Inglaterra?’ adds my father, hopefully. ‘England?’
This won’t do. ‘Somos Escoces,’ I say with a rush of national pride. ‘No Ingles. No Americanos. Escoces. Escocia.’
They look startled, but whether it’s on account of the information itself, or the fact that I’m only eight, I can’t be sure.
‘Escocia?’ says the young woman to herself. She frowns, then shrugs.
‘Pasaportes.’ She looks at my mother, the blank expression returning. ‘Quiero ver sus pasaportes.’
‘Ah …’ Now my mother is stumped. She spreads her hands. ‘We don’t have them. They’re in the …’
‘With the porters,’ my father says. He mimes putting on a backpack, then gestures around us to indicate that we have none.
‘Equipaje,’ I volunteer. It’s a guess. I saw it on a sign by the baggage carousel at the airport.
The young woman nods, then turns and walks away a few paces to confer with the older of the two brothers. I notice now that she has a vicious-looking knife stuck in the back of her belt. With that disturbingly dead-eyed look she has, it doesn’t take much to imagine her using it. All of a sudden I want badly to pee.
The other brother and two boys stand in a semicircle, staring at us.
I don’t know that I can hold it much longer. But I’d rather die than pee my shorts in front of them.
‘Mum,’ I whisper, ‘I’m bursting.’
‘Can’t you wait?’ she whispers back crossly.
I shake my head. Any moment now I’m going to have to let go.
My mother puts on her best smile and points at me. Then, to my intense embarr-assment, she goes ‘Psssssss …’ and raises a beseeching eyebrow.
The young woman nods at puny boy who grins and takes the rifle from the older man. Then he steps forward and takes my hand. He leads me to the edge of the mudslide. Suddenly my heart is thumping. What if he pushes me in? But he just points at the mud, then turns his back on me and quite needlessly holds his weapon at the ready.
As I finish he turns back to face me and kicks off his sandals.
‘Teemerlan,’ he says again with a broad smile, pointing at my boots.
My heart sinks. He may have the beginnings of a dark moustache furring his upper lip, but his feet don’t look much bigger than mine.
I hesitate and his grin fades at once. He fingers the safety catch.
‘Okay, okay,’ I say. I bend down and unlace my boots. I hand one to him. He takes it and crams his stinking foot into it, then holds out his hand for the other.
He pulls it on, laces them both and stands up. I look at the rubber tyre sandals and want to cry. He takes a couple of paces and looks down at his feet. Then he does a kind of shuffling march up the path for a few yards and back again, where he stamps around for a few moments in a kind of circle. A grimace starts to spread across his face. It’s all I can do not to cheer. He takes another few paces and stops, shakes his head, sits down and tugs off the boots. He’s scowling now. He stands up and holds them, one in each hand, looking at them intently, as if he can’t bear to let them go. Then he stamps to the edge of the ravine, raising his right arm. My heart’s in my throat. He begins the throwing movement, and at the last moment spins round to release the boot in my direction. The second follows an instant later.
He makes a noise that’s more of a bark than a laugh.
The young woman has finished conferring. She’s glancing around as if to see whether we might have hidden anything. Then she jerks her head back up the trail.
‘Vamonos,’ she says.
She and the two boys take the lead. We fall in behind them. The two older men bring up the rear.
‘The baggage?’ says my mother softly, glancing at my father.
‘Looks like it,’ he replies, sounding hopeful.
But they’re wrong.
We’ve been walking for about twenty minutes when they stop. I’ve been looking at the ground, in particular at the short tyremarks made by puny boy’s sandals, as if some weird little vehicle has hopped down the trail in front of me. When I look up I can see the retreating figure of older brother marching on up the trail, but the young woman has vanished. Now it’s wiry boy’s turn with the rifle. He’s standing pointing into the forest with it. My parents are looking as bemused as I feel. It doesn’t look as if a rat could get in there.
‘Vamonos, vamonos,’ says wiry boy impatiently.
My father follows the direction of his rifle, stepping round the side of a large tree, and disappears. I follow suit and at once darkness closes in. I hear the others coming in behind me, but I can see almost nothing. I sense a path, or rather an impossibly narrow absence of vegetation, which makes me want to turn sideways. But since the ground rises steeply, that is not a practical idea. By sound more than sight, I follow my father, and gradually as my eyes adjust to such light as filters down through the forest canopy, a kind of watery lessening of the gloom, I start to see the backs of my father’s legs and the soles of his boots.
‘You okay?’ he asks over his shoulder.
I grunt and keep on climbing. I can hear my mother panting behind me. Is this an adventure? I’m wondering. It’s certainly something to tell my friends about, though I don’t like clambering through this airless gloom. It’s making me sweat like a piglet, and I’m not sure that I like not knowing we we’re going, either.
Stopping only to drink from streams, we walk for the rest of the day. Once or twice, my parents try to engage the young woman with questions, but she won’t have it. She points fiercely ahead and keeps walking. How she knows where she’s going is beyond me. The forest, I now realise, is criss-crossed with narrow trails that all seem identical to me in this uniformly dense, lightless wilderness. And yet as we come upon yet another intersection or bifurcation, she leads without an instant’s hesitation. From time to time we come out into a clearing, or crest a hilltop, and the relief, though momentary, is intense. The forest is beginning to seem to me like a living creature of malign intent which will engulf us with foliage, strangle us with creepers, choke us with moss, if we stay still for more than a few moments. Though even these glimpses of a world of light have their drawbacks. From the hilltops, all we can see are more hilltops, an endlessly undulating sea of vegetation, with nothing to suggest human habitation in any direction, not even a column of smoke.
But then, as the day wears on and my exhaustion grows, my mind dulls down and my universe shrinks in until it consists of nothing but my breathing and my aching muscles and my father’s heels. I no longer even notice the curiosities of vegetation and insect life that abound beneath my feet. It’s all I can do to keep my legs moving, and that only for fear of what the young woman might do if I give up.
EVENTUALLY WE stop in a small natural clearing dominated by an enormous rock in whose crevices saplings and creepers have taken root. It’s the wrong continent, I know, but in my dazed state I can imagine Shere Khan draped across its summit, flicking a set of rapier claws from their sheaths as he considers what to do about the troublesome man cub. But before Mowgli has had time to make an appearance in my fantasy, the young woman stops and barks something, in response to which wiry boy prods my father to the ground. He gives an exhausted grunt and lets his head hang between his raised knees, as we follow him.
‘Good to stop,’ he says, forcing a smile.
My mother nods and looks at me. ‘You all right, Adam?’
Younger brother is looking at me in a peculiar way. I don’t like it at all. It’s as if he wants to take a bite out of me. I feel like shrinking away into the rank, mouldy-smelling earth. And suddenly all my resistance, all my efforts to be stoical, desert me and I burst into tears.
My mother who, I long ago discovered, is uncomfortable at the best of times with public displays of emotion, even from small children, tries and fails to looks sympathetic. Instead, she ends up looking mildly irritated. It falls to my father to offer solace. He puts his arm around me and pulls my head forward onto his chest.
‘I know, I know. This is difficult,’ he says. ‘Really difficult. But you’ve done so well, son. I don’t know how you managed it.’ He gives a shallow laugh. ‘I don’t know how I’ve managed it.’
After a few moments I feel a third hand starting to stroke the back of my head, but it lacks conviction. I stay there, head buried in my father’s sweat-soaked shirt, whimpering and snuffling like a puppy.
Puny boy has been sent to the stream that we can hear whispering through the undergrowth nearby. The light is failing quickly now, and he appears through the murk with an army issue water bottle, from which he allows us a few sips each. It’s almost worse than nothing. Suddenly I have a raging thirst. I could drain the Amazon. It’s all I can do not to start whimpering again.
Puny boy and the hungry-looking brother are now lighting a fire with the dead stuff that lies in drifts everywhere we look. It crackles and hisses and gives off a thick, pungent smoke. Wiry boy is standing guard, rifle hanging loosely from his hand and a bored expression on his face. As if we would be going anywhere… The young woman has disappeared around the back of the rock where, for a terrifying moment, I imagine her grinding the blade of her knife to throat-cutting sharpness.
Then there’s the sound of feet and older brother comes trotting into the clearing. The young woman emerges from behind the boulder and he triumphantly hands her three small red notebook-sized documents. Our passports. She moves closer to the fire and studies them, glancing towards us as if to compare likenesses.
‘Escocia?’ she calls out.
‘Escocia,’ we reply, though it’s not what the passport says.
She shrugs anyway as if to say ‘never heard of it’, and it occurs to me then that perhaps she can’t read. She scowls and sticks them in her pocket.
What about the rest of our baggage? I wonder. There was nothing of any real value in it, just clothes and toiletries. All the scientific equipment has been sent out to the camp in advance. But even so, our possessions would surely have been a great prize for people as poor as these. Maybe a different group had taken care of the porters. Maybe the porters were part of it themselves…
Now there’s a blackened pan on the fire and in it small chunks of some kind of meat, which younger brother has produced from a satchel. He squats by the fire holding a stick, with which he prods the chunks around the pan in a desultory fashion. Over the last few minutes, night has fallen. This is the densest, most impenetrable darkness I have ever known. If I look away from the flicker of firelight, I can hardly see my feet. My parents are mere shapes beside me. Things have begun to rustle and scamper in the undergrowth. The back of my neck prickles and I edge closer to my father.
‘I think they must be going to rans – ’ my mother begins.
‘Silencio!’ barks older brother, who has taken over the rifle from wiry boy. In the firelight he’s just a silhouette, but a threatening enough one for all that.
After a couple of moments he lowers the rifle and moves over to inspect the kitchen.
‘Yes. If they had other plans,’ my father whispers, taking a chance that I won’t grasp his meaning, ‘I think they would have done something about them by now.’
‘Let’s see if they feed us,’ replies my mother.
Which, eventually, to our great relief, they do. Puny boy appears with three large leaves in each of which nestles an unappetising looking mess of cold rice decorated with a couple of lumps of meat. Hungry as I am I approach the meat with extreme circumspection. Rat? Parrot? Monkey? I try not to let my imagination run away with me. Whatever it is, it turns out to be tough and rather tasteless, but perfectly edible. We sit there, all three of us, chewing in grateful silence. At our backs the forest is now alive with nocturnal movement and voices. In front of us, our five captors are sitting round the fire, studiously shovelling down handfuls of rice and meat.
When they’re finished the young woman produces a small, battered book and starts to read aloud from it in a lifeless monotone that echoes her dead-eyed look. Again I have the strange feeling that she can’t actually read, that she is just reciting from memory. Occasionally her companions nod or in unison repeat a phrase she has just uttered. It makes me think of church, where my parents occasionally haul me on Sundays; although even the minister, a lugubrious man with the voice of an elderly crow, is more animated than this young woman.
After she has been going for ten minutes, and shows no signs of letting up, my parents start whispering. They work through the various options available to us and settle on the ransom scenario as being the most likely one. The meal and the rest make them sound, to me anyway, almost restored. At this point, worn out and full-bellied, my universe is still intact. It’s been a frightening and exhausting day, but I’m safe with my mother and father, and even though the young woman and her crew may have thrown a temporary spanner in the works, it’s my parents who are still in charge really.
There’s obviously not going to be a bed of any sort, so I brush away whatever lumps I can from the earth beneath me and lie down. I close my eyes and wait for the sleep that must, after a day like today, be only seconds away.
But of course it isn’t.
There’s something hard under my hip. Something is crawling up my leg. The mosquito bites have started itching again, or maybe they’re new ones. The latter seems more likely now that I notice the tell-tale whine close to my left ear. A large animal crashes around somewhere not far off, and then an unearthly screech sets my heart thundering. And so it goes on. Each minute seems to last an hour. The young woman’s drone ends eventually and my parents stop whispering and settle down beside me. But while their whispering was almost soothing, their tossing and turning is not.
Eventually, against all the odds, I start to drift off. My last thought is to wonder drowsily why, since our captors seem so keen to hang on to us, they haven’t tied us up to stop us running away during the night.
I’m about to find out…