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Ancients of the Congo

Another story that presented itself as a dream (on Thursday night: sketched it out before it faded, had time today to give it flesh). It’s a moment in time from a much larger tale. What happened before and what happens next, I don’t know – perhaps you have some ideas?

The characters named themselves.

“Tanza’s freaking out. She won’t come.”  Philippe complains about the obstreperous child as the deluge continues. Both he and Shana – who’d been readying the Landrover – are soaked; rain plastering hair to heads and shirts to bodies as it roars through the thick-leafed undergrowth.

“What is it now?” asks Shana, following Phillippe back up to the hut where eight year old Tanza – a native of this region of the Congo – has taken refuge.

“She’s babbling about this mbilintu monster again. Says she saw it in a vision. Says it will come today and take someone. She’ll not come out to the car.”

Shana considers the mud track that serves as a road through the rainforest to their rural outpost. “Well I’m not convinced we’ll get far in this anyway, but we need to try. She needs to get to the hospital.”

They find Tanza huddled in the corner, on her small mattress. She looks up with wild eyes. “Mbilintu! Mbilintu! Il est ici!” Phillippe and Shana share a look.  “Is it the fever?” asks Phillippe.

“Could be” Shana replies, crouching to place her hand on the frightened child’s forehead. “Feels hot. That’s to be expected. Has she had paracetamol?”

“Ouais” He checks his watch. “About an hour ago.”

“Tanza, little one, you need to go to the hospital. You are sick; très malade.” Tanza stares up at the sodden blonde woman and mumbles quietly. Shana leans close to hear. The girl whispers in English. “Mbilintu, he comes for us.”

Shana takes the girls hands. “Mbilintu can’t hurt us, Tanza. We have a big strong car. We will drive away fast! and if he catches up, we will shoot him in his black heart: BANG!”  Shana hopes to reassure the girl with her Heroic Hunter impression, but Tanza still looks stupefied. Delirious, thinks Shana. We need to get her some medical help. The village’s basic medical supplies (courtesy Shana’s NGO; médecins sans frontières) could keep you alive, but serious cases still needed to be seen at the nearest hospital – some hundred miles away.

Shana stands, gently leading Tanza to follow. To her surprise, the girl obliges – seeming almost catatonic. Phillipe picks up a small waterproof jacket; slung across the one chair in the hut. Tanza takes it from him and methodically puts it on.  By the door she slips her feet into her tyre-made flip flops. The three head back out into the rain and hurry to the nearby Landrover. The adults bundle Tanza into the back seat and cover her with a blanket. Shana hands her a bottle of mineral water. “You need to keep drinking. Ok?” Tanza nods, holding the bottle reverently. “Take a drink” urges Shana – worried that the girl’s too delirious to understand. Tanza slowly unscrews the lid, raises the bottle and takes a few sips. “Good girl.”

Phillipe climbs into the driver’s seat. Shana collects an elderly .22 bolt-action rifle from the back of the car and joins him in the front. “See, Tanza? We’re ready for your monsters.”  She breathes out, wipes a strand of wet hair from her eyes and nods across to Phillipe “Right. Twende twende.”

As the Landrover lumbers through the mud, Shana retrieves a box of bullets from the glove box and loads one into the rifle. She catches Phillipe’s glance. “Safety first. We don’t know who we might bump into.”  The rainforest might not hold Tanza’s mythical monsters, but poachers and other unsavouries weren’t in short supply.

A sob from the back seat. Phillipe checks the rearview. The girl is crying quietly. Behind them the village is already out of sight. Nothing but mud and jungle now. Beside him, Shana makes placating noises, “Shh now Tanzie. I know you feel bad. Try to sleep. Listen to the rain. It’ll help you sleep”. Still looking in his mirror, Phillipe doesn’t notice the flooded hole in the road ahead. The Landrover lurches to a stop – axle deep in a pool. “Merde!” He changes down to first gear. The wheels spin.

“It’s ok. Bound to happen.”  Shana turns to Tanza – whimpering in her blanket. “Sit tight. We’ll be going again tout de suite.” Slinging the rifle over her back, Shana jumps out and helps Phillipe unload shovels, chains and planks – they are well prepared for this situation. They set about digging the mud away from the tyres and strategically placing wood for traction.

Inside the car, the windows steam up. Tanza hears the rain beat down and the shouts of the adults as they work.

And she hears the howl of the mbilintu.

Phillipe’s head snaps up. Having lived here all his life, he’s deaf to the white noise of the forest. The odd sound catches his attention. Shana’s still working to free the tyres – she doesn’t seem to have noticed anything. Perhaps it was nothing. He’s on edge today. He would never admit it, but Tanza’s vision has disturbed him. It’s easy to be superstitious, out here.

Shana – now wearing clothes the same colour as the track – shouts up to him “Get in and give it another go!  I’ll give you a push!” Phillipe gets back into the steamed up Landrover and wipes a small section of the screen to see out. Visibility isn’t greatly improved; thanks to the continuous sheet of rain.

Tanza jumps when Shana bangs the back of the car to signal she’s in position. Phillipe restarts the engine and powers forward. The Landrover gains a couple of feet and sticks again. He winds down the window and yells back to a Shana he can’t see. “We are stuck again! Try rocking it!”  Assuming she heard, he gets ready for her next signal.

Nothing happens. No movement. She can’t have heard him over the rain. He sticks his head out of the window to shout to his partner.

From the back seat, Tanza hears a sharp crack!

Phillipe’s headless body slumps back into the driver’s seat. A foetid odour accompanies it.

Tanza pulls the blanket over her head and waits…

What happens next..?  Tell me what you see…

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