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CHAPTER 1 – ENTRAPMENT
A sacred spell had been lifted.
Dominique stared at his mother. He asked again as he’d done every day before. Today, he was sure she said yes. She was finally letting him out to play with the older boys. Francois, his older brother by only a year, went every time.
The threat of danger was always the same, but Dominique turned quickly startled into action. He couldn’t stay and he wouldn’t ask a third time for fear she would change her mind.
He was soon running and laughing through the forest surrounding their little tribal territory. He could hear the joyful screams of the other boys as they all ran toward the clearing and their kickball field. He glanced over seeing the bobbing heads of the others.
Over the weeks of solitude, Dominique practiced his moves in the depths of their hut. There was a little behind the back pass he was anxious to show off. He was ready for today.
This was going to be the day he’d show the older boys how great he really was, a real super star. Maybe after today, they would always request his company and he wouldn’t have to beg his mother to let him go.
In his excitement, Dominique didn’t see the tree root stretched across his path. He tumbled. Hitting the ground hard. It knocked his breath out of him.
Dominique tried to calm himself, taking a deep breath to regain his lung capacity. He sat up focusing on the sound of the boy’s laughter beyond him. No one had noticed him fall. The sounds were moving away. Thank goodness, he knew his way.
He took stock of his injuries. Dominique looked down at his shin noticing a small cut. Weeks ago, he would have cried having seen the blood, but out with the boys today he wasn’t about to look like a baby. He bit his lip to squash the pain as it mounted.
As he moved he heard the first of the high-pitched screams. It was not the scream of happiness he was expecting. Staying low, Dominique inched toward the clearing. Another scream echoed through the trees.
Through the long blades of grass, he could see the older boys in the opening. They were surrounded by older boys and men he did not recognize. Each of the men had a long black and brown gun in his hands pointed at the younger group. Dominique was more frightened by the one man wielding a large knife then all the guns. He’d seen men in the tribe come back and survive bullet wounds. No one seemed to live after a fight with a machete.
One of the men was holding Francois off the ground. All Dominique could register was an immensely big arm around his brother’s neck. Francois desperately tried to grasp the muscular arm as he struggled to breathe. The pressure didn’t relinquish.
Other men slung their weapons over their shoulders and each grabbed another boy. Dominique wanted to run out and yell but fear riveted him in place. As the men moved, Dominique noticed the ribbon of color on their pants. The bright red stripe was a well-known emblem, which struck fear into his people. These were men from the neighboring tribe. These were men trained by the Liberation Army. They were hurting the women and children of all neighboring tribes.
The man with the machete walked up to each of the boys and tied a strip of dirty cloth around each head, gagging the frightened youngsters. The faint protests were silenced if not by the gag, by the shiny blade that came up beside each small face. The knife brushed the skin as if caressing the small faces. There was no love in the face of the man moving the weapon.
Any last muffled calls receded as the precession began to walk along the forest line moving away from Dominique. As he watched, Dominique saw his brother slung over the shoulder of the last man. Francois focused on the foliage. To Dominique, Francois stared right at him. Francois moved his hands clearly telling Dominique something.
Sitting in the cover of the forest Dominique replayed the frantic hand gestures over and over in his mind trying to decipher the coded message.
Francois had first made a movement with his hand to his mouth and with the same hand closed all four extended fingers down over his thumb. Then he had pointed to his third finger encircling it.
To the best of his young knowledge, Dominique concluded this message told him to tell their father. Their father, the tribal leader, wore a ring to designate his status. Their uncle wore a matching ring, a co-leader in the tribe.
These rings were handed to another member of the tribe upon the death of the previous leader. It wasn’t necessarily handed down through generations of the same family. It was given to the man the previous leader saw as most deserving. Sometimes there was no designate and the tribe remained ruled with only one leader until the ring chose another, which usually meant someone deserving.
Dominique didn’t fully understand the process of leadership and didn’t know how the two brothers had each become leaders, but he hoped to someday wear the shiny jewelry himself whether or not his father or uncle passed it to him. He wanted to earn the status.
He refocused his mind on the hand gestures from his brother, perhaps this was his chance.
The first gestured decoded. The next series of symbols confused him. The hand movements had seemed random. Francois had shaken his head in a negative fashion while pointing at the ground. Then his brother had made a sleeping symbol by putting his hands together in prayer under his head. It was the circle symbol, which really made Dominique wonder what his brother was trying to communicate.
The last symbol Francois motioned before the branches closed around him scared Dominique. His brother made a slicing motion across his throat. He knew this symbol meant death.
Was it his own? His brother’s? His father’s?
It didn’t matter. Dominique was terrified.
As darkness fell, Dominique remained sitting alone in the shrubs next to the clearing. The forest around him had quieted of the melodic bird songs. It came alive with the calls of the night. It was time to return to the camp. He was scared of his father’s reaction. Dominique knew they would be disappointed in his hesitation to tell the tribe the other boys had been kidnapped. He hoped his father could decipher the code Francois was trying to send. Perhaps with the message, they could save all the boys.
On shaking legs, Dominique trudged through the forest. His swollen shin throbbed. The distance back was excessively long.
Stumbling into the tribal compound, Dominique returned in a dream state. The familiar stucco buildings surrounding the central hearth closed in on him. The fire’s lapping flames reached for him like tentacles. The people’s faces were somber and their eyes read his soul.
Dominique’s mother came running to him hugging his little body. He didn’t feel the pressure of her arms around him. She asked again and again where the others were.
The camp returned to its normal appearance, as Dominique pushed passed his mother toward the fire and the two tribal leaders. Still in a daze of emotion he mumbled his story and displayed the symbols Francois had communicated.
The seriousness of anger was etched on the senior man’s face. His father sent him away with a quick side arm gesture. Dominique ran around behind the family’s hut and hid in the shadows crying because he was so easily dismissed. His father showed two opposing emotions: concern for Francois and annoyance for Dominique.
Curled in a ball, he sobbed. Dominique realized the women of the tribe joined in his tears. Their wails filling the air. Everyone had learned his tale. Dominique wiped his tears, silently moving into the darkness behind the two men to listen to their conversation.
Dominique still wanted to figure out the message. He hoped it was intended to save his brother.
The leaders talked in hush tones. Dominique could tell his father was arguing about fighting for his older son’s life, whereas his uncle wanted to find a peaceful resolution to regain the children. The two continued to debate back and forth.
In the end after much conversation, nothing had been settled except the two men could hardly look at each other let alone talk. Each declared their own decision to the tribe and let the rest of the men decide who they wanted to follow.
Dominique could see the men who joined his father had sons who had been taken. Leaving women, children, and a few men to remain in the compound. The depleting numbers had continued to grow smaller over the last few months as families chose to move on.
Life had been good until a year and a half ago. He didn’t really remember all the details but had heard enough stories from the older boys to put together some semblance of the truth. The army with the red burets had moved into their little territory. The army decided who lived and who died. Unfortunately, the army didn’t want anyone to live.
With the military presence, a number of families had heard of promising futures near Lake Victoria and had decided to leave during The Great Migration. Only half stayed to continue life here. The brothers had remained stubborn to keep claim on their land.
The army had become friendly with the neighboring tribe. The friendship gave them training and weapons. Then the army moved out. Their neighbors, people they had long been friendly with themselves, began to war against them.
Then the light skinned men had come with their light blue hats. They had tried to build friendship again between the tribes. They had called meetings between all the leaders. They had brought water in bottles for everyone. Many sealed bottles remained hidden in his uncle’s tent because it wasn’t needed until the animals migrated again and the sun dried the lake. For the most part Dominique knew the issue was more about territory and access to water for growing their crops. The water in the bottles wasn’t the solution, if anything it made things worse.
Dominique knew the other tribe had been fooling the strangers into believing they would talk toward peace. Francois had told him how the older boys had watched from the cover of the trees when the tribal men had killed two of the men in blue hats and hurt a woman badly. The bodies had been buried in a pit originally dug to trap animals for meat.
Four months ago, the weird fence had been built across the grassland and the planes had come and gone often bringing new men and women in light brown uniforms. Dominique had watched the new people become friendly with the other tribe. He couldn’t understand why if the tribal men had hurt the people in blue hats, the new strangers distanced themselves from Dominique’s tribe. He wondered what was wrong with his father and uncle. Dominique didn’t understand why the two leaders didn’t try and welcome the strangers too. They were never willingly to make friends with the people who came. Dominique felt if the strangers knew the truth they would help his desperate tribe.
Since the arrival of the strange new army, the other tribe had been slowly and methodically reducing the numbers of men in Dominique’s tribe. He had watched men leave to go hunting, only to see less return. He had heard the stories of the attacks and imprisonments. He had become scared of the tents and structures that dominated the grasslands.
* * * * *
Dominique woke to the sound of gun slides and dry clicks from the rifles of the men in the camp. He peeked out of the empty hut. His father stood checking his gun and ammunition. His mother at his side seemed to be begging him to bring her son back to her. They talked in quiet words their bodies close. His mother touched his father’s arm lightly. His father turned and kissed his mother’s cheek, promising to do his best.
Dominique knew while they were distracted in their quiet conversation it was time to move. He slid out of the hut and melted into the forest. He was sure he wanted to watch. If he could learn how to fight against the enemy than maybe he could earn the right to wear a ring in the future.
Quietly he moved through the lower plant cover toward the clearing. He knew this would be where the others would come. When he got close to the edge he could hear conversation of other men and the shallow breaths of people straining and working hard.
Dominique could not risk staying on the ground or he might be discovered by the men from his tribe as they came this way. He looked for a tree he could climb. It didn’t take much effort to find a tree that had enough leaves to give him cover and enough low branches to allow him to climb.
Once nestled in the limbs of the tree he peeked around the branches to look out into the clearing. The picture before his eyes was not one he would soon forget. There in the middle were the young boys. Each held a shovel. They were once again surrounded by the men with rifles. The man with the machete was commanding the young boys to dig.
Dominique watched as the boys struggled to remove dirt. It was the details of what was being revealed in the dirt that bothered Dominique more than the boys being forced to dig. Dominique could see there were people buried in the dirt. Lots of people. He knew they weren’t alive. Their skin was stretched and hollow. In some places, no skin remained. He looked away taking in a quick breath of air. Something told him the boys were digging a grave. Dominique hoped his father would come soon before the boys were killed and buried amongst the others.
This land had once been their sacred land in which they buried their dead. Dominique had been to a couple ceremonies. He had thrown the dirt and corn. He had hummed along as his mother had prayed; not knowing the words he had pretended. But over the last year no ceremonies had been performed here. His uncle had declared the land forbidden and off limits.
Why had the boys used the clearing for their kickball games? Dominique didn’t know or understand. If they had run off to the hills to the north of camp they would have been able to play kickball in the empty crop fields. Although he argued the clearing was closer to camp.
He heard the movement around him in the trees. He held his breath so as not to be discovered. He saw the men of the other tribe grab the children and shrink back into the forest on the other side. It seemed they too had heard the approach of his father and the other’s fathers.
The group of ten men led by only one of the leaders stepped into the clearing. They had their guns raised and seemed to search all around for the enemy. Dominique wanted to scream out a warning, but he was once again scared quiet.
Some of the men seemed to lower their weapons as if they weren’t sure what to do now that they had found the clearing empty. Like a waiting lioness the other tribe’s men pounced. The rifle blasts sounded loudly in the quiet morning. He watched as the bodies of the men closest to him jumped and moved like they were being pulled by unseen ropes. Dominique saw the deep red mist fly in the air and spray over the ground and others.
His father and the men, he knew, hardly had any time to react before the guns of the neighbors were surrounding them. Only a few had returned fire. Dominique was proud that his father had been able to shoot twice and had seriously wounded one of the kidnappers.
The next ten minutes was awash of movement. The men Dominique knew were forced to drop their weapons. Many were injured having been shot by the opposing rifles. The men may have dropped the rifles but they were ready to fight having seen their sons on the edge of the clearing. Dominique could see the shiny glint of the tribal knives in their hands. Unfortunately, the small weapons were no match for the larger machetes. The machetes were wielded quickly over each of the men from his tribe. Each machete swung three times at the trapped group of fathers. In turn, each of the victims fell to their knees in agony as if their legs could no longer support their weight. They tried swinging their arms with their own weapons but the attempts were futile.
The bodies of the men not yet dead were then rolled into the hole that had been dug by the children. One on top of the other, he heard the cries of agony as the men were tossed like bags of corn into a pile.
For the first time, Dominique saw with horror his brother. Francois was still in the hole. He had hidden there when the others had retreated. Now Dominique could see his older brother was being pinned into the hole as the weight of the bodies on him increased. His brother tried to claw his way out. Tears rolled down their faces in unison as both brothers were helpless in the dire situation.
The tribal men from the other camp grabbed shovels and again covered the hole and the newly added bodies. No one seemed to notice or care that his brother was alive and struggling to climb out. As the last shovel of dirt was thrown Dominique lost sight of his father and brother. They were gone.
He watched as the other boys, also crying, were once again hauled away. One man stayed behind as if guarding the pit to ensure no man tried to crawl away. Dominique watched as a leg kicked out of the dirt but was quickly subdued by the slice of the machete. He knew no one was going to come back out of the dirt alive. As much as he wanted to run to the pile and dig his brother out with his bare hands the sentry made it impossible for him to save Francois.
The cries of the other young boys died into the morning. All had watched their fathers severely injured and buried. Dominique knew the feeling of loss they all felt. Dominique felt his uncle needed to give into the demands of the other tribe or everyone would die. Dominique wasn’t ready to die. He had to figure out how to be strong and brave. He would do the right thing for his brother and father.
Skeleton Safari chronicles the adventures of anthropologist Dr. Samantha Carlson in Africa. After being recruited to investigate a mass grave in Uganda, Samantha is taken hostage by rebels. Caught between two warring tribes, Samantha must solve the riddle of the grave, change the allegiance of the United States’ army, save a group of men from certain death, and… save herself.
Want to read more? Get your own copy and learn if Dominique can honor his lost family members. Available now at Amazon.com