Title: Deserted Challenges
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, nor is the programme. They belong to the folk who made them. I do not claim them in any shape or form.
Rating: 18 (UK) NC-17 (US)
Summary: In a completely different world, life teaches so much more than one could have hoped to have learned.
Spoiler or Other Information: This is my
second fiction, inspired by
many true events witnessed by either myself or others. It's been a long time
since I've seen the show, so can't remember the dates of when it took place.
Also, it takes
place from after the end of the series. The title sucks, but I couldn't think of another. I would love to know what you all think.
The noise of the helicopter was deafening as the hovered close to the ground. Orders were being yelled to and fro, but the words weren’t being heard. The sheer volume of the loud engines drowned every other sound. The people running from one area to another, passing goods to each other. To an onlooker it would appear chaotic, but to those there, it was highly organised. Food, weaponry and medical aid were being passed from person to person, stacked up in a neat heap in a nearby tent. The men and women were grinning at each other, their prayers were finally being answered, they hadn’t been forgotten. As the helicopters drifted into the sky, the noise dimmed down, and were quickly overtaken by the chatter of the people left on the ground.
“Beer! We have beer!” yelled one of the young men opening up the top crate. “God bless… Mr. Budweiser!” He pulled out a bottle, and uncapped it with his teeth before gulping down half the bottle in one go. He burped loudly and grinned. “God bless him indeed.” He yelled, reaching for another bottle and tossing it to one of his companions standing across from him, near the sandy dunes. She caught it expertly and uncapped it with her fingers, grinning as she brought the bottle to her lips. This was a good day, she thought as she drank the contents. Oh yeah, a good day.
“Okay, folks! Let’s move these boxes into safe-keeping before we get raided…” ordered a handsome middle-aged man. He grabbed the beer crate, despite the protests of the young man before him. “Now, now Hugh, there are fifty other people here, who want beer.”
“Ah come on man! At least 47 of them are tee-total,” Hugh protested.
His boss grinned at him, and took the crate, “And who would those three drinkers be?”
Hugh stepped around the crate, and pointed to himself, “Well, there’s me.” He pointed to what he perceived the crate thief. “And there’s you. “ He walked towards his companion, and threw an arm around her shoulder. “And there’s Sam.”
Sam laughed, and watched her friend drop to his knees.
“Please, man… don’t take the beer from me…”
Their boss laughed and walked away. “Grab some crates… and Sam you have messages from your headquarters.”
Sam couldn’t have moved faster, if she tried, almost tripping over Hugh’s kneeling form, as she grabbed a crate and made way for their camp. She caught up with their boss, well everyone else’s boss, but she considered him hers too.“E-mails, Yuri?”
Yuri grinned, “Looks that way… how long since you last heard from home?”
Sam pondered for a moment as she continued walking, “About a month.”
Yuri nodded, setting the crate down before the medical tent, and trying to avoid the running children that surrounded him. “Then you’re due e-mails.”
Sam dropped her crate and tried to make her way through to the chief tent, avoiding the crush by the oncoming children.
“Hey, Santa came…” Sam heard Hugh yell as she pulled apart the material door. She could see the stacks of papers on the make-shift table, and lifted the pile with her name scrawled across the top.
She sat down on the bed, and read through the names, sorting them so she could read her favourite last.
She pulled the top one off.
For the attention of Samantha McPherson.
I got Bob to agree to an extension of two months for your story, but you need to have one then, or Ill have to let you go. And don't make me do that. Were not hearing much about the situation over there, and e-mails are still being delayed, so were assuming that no news is good news. The American Embassy tells us they still have tabs on you, even though you've been forced to move your camp. God, I wonder whatever convinced me to let you do this damn story. Anyway, everyone here is hoping you are well, and were looking forward to having you back on American soil again. Please, take care of yourself. And remember two months. And if there's no story your visa is no longer valid, as we can't support it.
Make sure you have a story.
P.S. Your request for a photographer has been granted, but were having problems with the bureaucracy. You know how it is, so don't count on it.
Sam sighed as she placed it to the back of her pile. She had been here for eight months and had collected so much for her story. This was her biggest one yet, and she wanted it to be great. Better than that, she wanted this one to make a difference. People in the western world were so wrapped up in what was going on in the current economics, the terrorist situation and the climate crisis, that they were oblivious to the strife taking place in Sudan. Sure they knew that bad things were going on, but not the extent of what was happening. She wasn’t sure another two months would be enough as Yuri refused to let her leave the camp after the last raid which had killed thirty-two people, and injured over a dozen. She would never forget the screams of agony that filled the desert, the rapid gunfire that had exploded upon them, the panics of the people, the blazes that had been set upon the tents. She wanted the world to know, but she also knew that words were not always enough, she needed the pictures too.
She pulled up the next e-mail.
For Sam McPherson.
Sam, when are you coming home? Its terrifying what I'm hearing which isn't much. Are you okay? A stupid question unless you can shout across the world. If you can though, please do! We all miss you. There is not much to tell you, except Ben has lost his first tooth. My little boy has lost his first tooth. He has such a cute gap in the middle of his teeth now. I've attached a photo. Can you get photos? Sorry, again for asking a question I wont get an answer too. The shouting across the sea is still an option. What else? Oh, Josh has switched schools, he's coaching for Kennedy now. Isn't that weird? He loves it though, plus the pay rise is really useful as the kids are drying us out. Work is good. I saw Harrison the other day, he's married! To a man! He's in Toronto now, but he looks great. And we always knew he was gay, didn't we? Carmen says hi, in that silly wave she does. She is actually sitting next to me as I type this. I roped her into babysitting. Yes, she's still easily persuasive. Hang on, she wants to type something.
Hey Sam. Come home! We miss you! Come home!
Okay, that was Carmen with not a lot to say, but she is actually all teared up now. We really do miss you. And we cant wait to see you again. Please, take care of yourself.
Love you lots and lots, Love Lily, Carmen, Josh, Ben and Katie.
Sam smiled as she read the e-mail. She missed them too. She always thought that retaining a friendship as they all went their separate ways after finishing High School would be near to impossible. But they did it. Well except Harrison, but there were reasons for that. She couldn’t believe he was gay, actually she could. She was glad to hear he was happy, all their petty differences now seemed so irrelevant. She made a promise to herself to contact him when she got back home. She slid the page to the back, and studied the next page. Ben was cute with a gap in her teeth. She wished she could actually yell it out across the world to Lily, but she would have to make do showing the photo to every person who would put up with her gushing over her god-son.
She picked up the next sheet.
For Sam McPherson.
Thank you for my birthday present, even though I know Mom got it for me, but said it was from you. She told me to thank you though. So thank you. I had a great birthday party, and got loads of presents. Oh yeah, you got me a new stereo. Just so you know, when you come home. School is ok. The teacher was talking about Africa, and I said you were there. She asked me why, and I said you were writing a story. She was really interested, but I couldn't tell her what your story was about, so she wasn't interested anymore. Mom wont let me watch the news, but I sneak downstairs when they go to bed and watch it. They never talk about you. Maybe they will one day. That would be so cool. Get famous so I can be cool in school. Mom says you'll be home soon, but she said that two months ago, so I don't know if she's just saying that just to get me to stop asking her. Oh yeah, Molly is moving to San Francisco. I'm going to miss her. School will be weird without her. Oh yeah, I got an A in my English essay. Mom says you'd be proud about that. Anyway, dinner is ready now. And Dad is shouting at me to move my 10 year old behind downstairs. Yeah, I'm ten. Double numbers now.
Come home soon.
Sam grinned at her sister’s inane typing. She regretted the fact that she wasn’t there to celebrate her tenth birthday but swore to make it up to her when she got home. And since when she could afford to by her a stereo or when Mac ever needed a stereo was beyond her. She pulled up the next one.
“Hey Sam, you done? We kind of need some help with a jeep.”
Sam glanced up at the Indian man before her. “Yeah sure Dev,” she said as she pushed the papers into her cargo pants pocket, buttoning it so not to lose them. She followed him as he started picking up his pace. She thought as she jogged behind him how fit she must be by now. Why get a tread-mill when a trip to Africa could have an even better affect?
She saw Anna and Charlie waving to them as they ran towards them She liked Anna as she always reminded her of Carmen. The Australian would always get into panics about the simplest of things, which Sam found quite endearing.
“What’s up?” She asked as she steadied her run into a walk.
“The tyre blew out… and Yuri wants it hidden. He thinks we’re going to have visitors in this area.” Charlie stated as he took the jack Dev handed over to him. Sam wasn’t too sure why she was needed as the boys had everything under control, but felt boxes being dumped into her hands. She raised an eyebrow at Anna who just shrugged as she continued piling up the boxes. “We need to get these to Yuri…” she stated matter-of-factly.
“Oh, I get it. I’m the gopher.” Sam replied with jest. She frowned as the boxes continued to pile on. “I can’t see anything, Anna.” She could hear Anna and the boys laughing. She frowned. “There’s nothing in these boxes, is there?” She heard the laughter get louder. She dropped the boxes and pouted. She was getting used to being the butt of their pranks.
Charlie stood up and slapped her on the back, “You caught onto that one pretty quick… we were hoping you’d at least walk with them.” Sam looked at Dev who was grinning and Anna who was struggling to contain her laughter.
“Ha Ha!” She sarcastically laughed, and threw one of the boxes at them. “Do you actually even need me?” She asked, desperately wanting to return to her e-mails.
“Yeah, we actually need to push this truck,” Dev said as he walked to the back of the vehicle. Sam and Anna busied themselves, throwing the boxes into the jeep, turning it into a game, while Charlie and Dev pushed it slowly.
“And with twelve boxes, I am the winner!” Sam yelled jumping up and down with her arms in the air. She let the boys cover the jeep up as she followed Anna to the medical tent.
Anna was a nurse who had volunteered the last two years of her life to help the people here. She had lost many, and still maintained a positive attitude which Sam found extremely admirable.
“So you heard from home?” Anna asked as they stepped around the soccer game between Hugh and two other aid workers and forty children. The children were winning.
Sam smiled, “Yeah, it’s been a month since I last got anything… it’s great to hear from them.”
Anna nodded understanding that all too well. She and Sam both took a deep breath as they stepped into the aid tent, knowing that it would kill their high spirits.
Sam stood back and watched Yuri administer an injection into a woman’s arm while talking to her soothingly. Anna had disappeared to the back of the tent. Sam hated it in here but it was such a vital part of her story. She could hear the whimpers from the ill and hurt children, the cries from the harmed women, and the groans from the injured men, and every sound tore her up just that tiny bit more. She felt herself being dragged by another doctor, Lucinda, and was instructed to assist in holding a man down by his shoulders.
“I need to look at his leg. Sam just keep him lying down.”
Sam used all her strength to hold him down, watching Lucinda pull of his bandage and feeling the man jerk against her hands, and heard him scream. Lucinda frowned at the gruesome injury, before looking up at Sam and shaking her head, “I can’t save it.”
She gently replaced the bandaging and asked a nurse to inject some morphine before letting Sam know she could leave go. Sam looked up at the roof and took in a deep breath, before looking back at the man. He seemed to be fading quickly into slumber. Thank god for morphine. Pity, we don’t have enough of it, she thought as she went to see if anymore help was needed. Yuri shook his head, “See you on food line this evening.”
Sam wandered over to the privacy of her own tent. She was one of the few that didn’t need to share due to her journalist status, and she was honestly grateful for her own space. As much as she liked the people, she worked with, each day demanded its alone time, and the sprawling deserts were not somewhere you went for a walk for.
She sat on her camp bed and pulled the letters out. She shuffled through to find the one she wanted to read.
For Samantha McPherson.
We are all hoping that you are well, and hoping that we will see you really soon. The house is empty, so I've have the perfect opportunity to be all motherly without Mac raising her eyes at me. She turned ten last week, and seems so grown up. You got her a stereo by the way. Yet, she doubts that you bought it in Sudan and posted it over. But I can always dream. Mike and I watch the news everyday, but they don't tell us much. But Henry assures us no news is always good news. But we still worry. I'm sure you don't want to hear me go on about how worried we are, so Ill tell you what's been happening here.
Mac is really happy in school but her best friend is moving away. She is upset about it but wont let on. I wonder where she got that from.
Brooke came for a visit last weekend, and is looking great. She seems very happy.
Mike and I are planning a vacation with Mac in a few days. We were thinking about going to Spain. Also, gives me a great a chance to speak Spanish. And before you even think it, yes I know I cant speak Spanish, but I can always try.
It is very difficult writing a letter when there's so much to say. My grandmother would write me a cookie recipe when she had nothing to say, but I don't see that being much help to you.
I would love so much to be able to hear from you. Even more I would love to see you.
Okay, I'm getting really motherly now so I'm going to end this letter.
We all miss you so much and cant wait to see you again. I cant wait to hug you again.
Love you always, Mom and Mike. xxxxxxx
Sam brushed away the tears as she felt them fall from her eyes. She sniffled as she reread her mother’s words. Even when she was in college, she didn’t miss her mom this much. She heard the plastic drum outside and tucked her letters under her pillow with the rest of them. She grabbed a loose jacket before leaving her tent.
She went to the food serving line and stood in her place behind one of the large serving vats. She scooped out the rice and poured it into the bowls people handed to her. She swore she would never touch rice for as long as she lived once she left. Yet, here, it was the best on offer, She smiled at the small boy who had managed to find three bowls. Rations were in place, and she knew she couldn’t break them. She evenly poured the rice into the three bowls to make the boy think he had extra. The boy laughed with glee as he scampered away to what was left of his family.
“Hey Samster, you coming for beer?” Hugh called out as she washed her hands in the water vat. Sam looked up and smiled, “So Yuri says there’s another one for you then?”
Sam wiped her hands dry on her pants and jogged quickly over to Hugh. The two approached the fire surrounded by about twenty other aid workers. Yuri through them both a bottle, which they opened almost before they caught them. Hugh drank his down quickly and sighing loudly in satisfaction. Yuri shook his head at him, “You know there is no more.” Hugh sulked, “Now you tell me.”
Sam laughed at Hugh as he pulled his pout. He was indeed good-looking with dark blue eyes, and a boyish face. His sandy hair was shaggy and uneven, which was his own fault as he always let the kids cut it. Sam couldn’t deny that he was attractive, but couldn’t ever act upon it. It would be like sleeping with a brother. She sat down next to Anna, who was cradling an orphaned infant as she drank from her bottle. Sam smiled at the baby, who appeared very content in the busty, blonde woman’s arms.
“So Sam, anything exciting from the States?” Dev asked.
Sam looked over at him. “Nope, my little sister got a stereo from me for her birthday…”
“Lucky her,” Yuri spoke. His staff and team had developed a fondness for the slim, brunette despite their initial resentment against having a journalist amongst them. She never interfered, and she always helped, sometimes too much. He couldn’t help but worry about her, more so than the others. He saw everyone as a child to him, and as he had none of his own, they might as well be his children. He had spent the better part of his life working in parts of Africa, and there were more bad days than good. Today was a good day.
Sam listened with half an ear to the chatter as she watched the refugees prepare themselves for sleep in the make-shift tents. She looked up to the sky and watched the stars twinkle back at her. It always gave her a sense of comfort knowing that everyone she knew were under the same sky.
She drank the rest of her beer, and stood up. “Good night all.”
“Ah, but the night is young,” Hugh declared wrapping his arms around legs. Sam patted him on the head, “Yeah, but I need to get some work done.”
Hugh tightened his grip on her, “But that isn’t nearly as much fun as the beer.”
Sam grinned, “My editor told me I need a story in two months or I’ll be deported.”
Hugh left go immediately, “Be away with you.” He practically pushed her in the direction of the tent. She waved at everyone else who all wished her a good night.
As she made her way to her tiny tent, she could hear mothers soothe crying infants, grandmothers thrill small children with age-old tales and fathers talking amongst themselves. She always loved this part of the night, where for a few hours, one forgets where they actually are.
Sam knew she had no intention of doing any more work as she had one more e-mail to read. She pulled over the material behind her, and lit the candles surrounding her small bed. She lay on it, making herself comfortable before reaching out for the letters under the pillow. She flipped through the sheets before she got to the one she wanted. She pulled a candle closer to her, and snuggled into the thin mattress.
For Sam McPherson.
I'm doing just grand. I've started up a new job which is going really well. Its letting me move back to California which is even better because I can see the ‘rents and Mac more. So, I need to think of somewhere to live. I was thinking of your place, but that would be weird. I mean, where would I put all my clothes? They couldn't possibly be mixed with yours. Joke.
There's not much else to say, other than I cant wait to see you. I miss you.
Sam frowned. That was it… there was no lengthy letter which she loved to read. She reread the letter and felt a surge of disappointment course through her. She pressed the page to her chest and let the tears fall until she succumbed to sleep.
The sounds of the roaring engines of a helicopter pierced through her dreamless slumber. Sam sat up immediately, and grabbed her nearest bag with all her notes in it and stuffed the letters in there too before racing outside. Once she reached the main camp, she saw no need for alarm, as everyone else seemed to be quite calm. Maybe, aid was being generous this month, she thought as she approached the main tent. She saw a small crowd of aid workers surrounding the door.
“Hey, there she is,” Charlie yelled as he saw her approaching them. “Sam, your photographer has just landed.” Sam increased the speed in her steps and watched Charlie approach her, “And she’s really hot.” He wiggled his eyebrows and Sam just raised her eyes to the sky, before walking through the crowd.
“Ah Sam, there you are…”
Sam stopped in her movement, her mouth dropped open, before bursting into a grin, “Brooke! Oh my God!”
She felt two arms flung over her as she was pulled into the tightest of embrace by the taller blonde who was grinning just as insanely.
Yuri coughed slightly, “I assume you know each other…” He said, his mouth turned into a smile.
The two women parted and neither could wipe their grins of their face. Sam spoke up, “Yeah, Brooke is my step-sister… what are you doing here?” She turned to the tall blonde.
“Well, I’m your photographer.”
Sam’s mouth dropped in surprise, and Brooke laughed slightly, “My new job is with your paper.” Seeing Sam not snap out of her surprise she continued with her explanation. “Henry recruited me about two months ago, and then told me you needed a photographer… I volunteered.” She stopped mid-sentence seeing Sam shake her head manically. “Sam, don’t you want me here?”
Brooke’s voice sounded hurt which pierced through Sam’s train of thoughts. She looked up at Brooke’s face, seeing hurt and confusion in her hazel eyes.
Yuri cleared his throat and mumbled his excuses to leave, guiding all the onlookers away from the tent. Sam’s eyes followed them until they became tiny figures in the distant before returning her eyes to Brooke. “It’s not safe here…”
Brooke laughed, “You’re here?”
Sam nodded, “But something could happen… and Brooke you shouldn’t have come.”
Brooke threw her hands in the air, before bending to pick up her camera bag. “Sam, I came because I believed in your story and because I thought you’d like a friendly face…” Her voice became louder as she stared hard at Sam. “I was obviously wrong…. But, you’re stuck with me…”
Brooke marched out of the tent, Sam hot on her trail. Sam reached out and grabbed the blonde’s arm, spinning her around to face her. “Brooke wait!”
Brooke stopped moving, and waited impatiently for Sam to speak. Sam smiled sheepishly, “I’m sorry…. I really am. It’s great to see you, and I honestly, couldn’t think of a better person to work with.”
Sam knew that Brooke was an expertly, talented photographer and was always passionate about her work, as Sam was. They would make a great team.
Brooke smiled, “Good to know because I’m the only person you’re working with.”
Sam laughed, “Well, there’s always plan B if you don’t work out.”
Brooke raised an eyebrow, “What’s plan B?”
Brooke pushed Sam gently backwards, “You don’t even know how to work one of them.”
Sam grinned, “I got the instructions written down… how hard can it be? If you can do it…”
Brooke pushed her again, laughing, “I’ve only been here for twenty minutes and you’re already trying to make my life a misery, you really must have missed me.”
Sam smile turned serious, “I really did.”
Brooke nodded in agreement and whispered, “Yeah, me too.”
Sam changed the topic before it became overly emotional and clapped her hands together, “So where you sleeping?”
Brooke shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Sam looked around at the tents and saw Yuri in the distance and ran to him, leaving Brooke no choice but to follow. “Hey Yuri, we got a bed for Brooke?”
Yuri looked up from the child whose chest he was listening to, and looked back at the boy, smiling. “Dafur, you sound good… Sam, Brooke’ll be bunking with you… Dafur, can you stand up straight?”
The little boy proceeded to copy Yuri’s movement and didn’t flinch as Yuri examined his old wounds.
“What happened to him?” Brooke whispered to Sam who whispered back, “His home was set on fire with him, his sister and his mother trapped inside… they wanted his father, and he wasn’t even home. His mother died, but he got his sister out who is over here.” Sam announced picking up the tiny girl who giggled.
Sam bounced her and turned to Brooke, “Brooke meet Wayla… I can never say her actual name, but Dafur calls her Wayla, so do I. Wayla, meet Brooke.”
The smiling girl grinned at Brooke who couldn’t help but grin back. Sam placed the girl back on the ground who promptly took her hand. She smiled down at her, “So shall we give Brooke the tour then? Let’s dump your stuff in my tent, and then go… unless you have a problem bunking with me… I mean, I don’t mind…”
Brooke smiled, and let her hand be taken by Wayla’s other hand, “Sam, I don’t mind at all.”
After dropping Brooke’s luggage in the untidy tent which Sam apologised about sheepishly, the two women let themselves be dragged by the tiny tot.
“And that’s the medical tent. Surgical and clinical care happens there. It’s not the most sterile, but it’s the best Yuri and Lucinda can come up with… have you met Lucinda?” Sam said as she pointed to the largest tent there. Brooke shook her head and Sam continued, “She’s serious but she’s nice. She’s British… she was married to a doctor in Khartoum but he was killed in a blast. She’s really decent, and really good with those patients. Just don’t get in her way.” Sam nodded before pointing to the next spot on their tour. “That’s the food line, we all take it in turns to cook and feed the folks here. We all eat the same thing, and believe me you’ll hate rice by the end of your time here.” Brooke nodded. “Oh and that’s Hugh… Hugh!” Sam yelled out and watched her friend bound over to them. He grinned and Brooke couldn’t help but grin back. “Hugh, this is Brooke.”
“Brooke… I heard you were hot, but wow!” Hugh exclaimed as he shook her hand, giving her the once over. Sam raised her eyes to the sky and saw Brooke look at her questioningly. Sam just shrugged. “Hugh is slightly insane, the best treatment is nod and smile.”
Brooke nodded and felt Hugh’s arm flung around her shoulder, “Brooke, this could be a beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Seeing Brooke slightly unnerved appearance, he laughed. “Sam’s right, I’m slightly insane but it’s good to have you here. An extra set of hands is always good around here, and do you like the sun?” He asked. Brooke nodded.“Well, there’s plenty of sun here,” He grinned, letting her go. He turned to Sam,“In two hours… Yuri is doing an amputation so his leash will have loosened on you.” Sam nodded and watched Hugh run back to where he was building new tents for new arrivals.
Brooke raised an eyebrow at Sam, “He’s odd.”
Sam laughed in agreement, “Yeah, but he’s fantastic… I couldn’t have gotten through this whole experience without him.” She felt Wayla pulling on her hand and looked down. “I think we’re supposed to be moving.”
“Where are you going that you don’t want Yuri to know?” Brooke asked as she felt herself being dragged though the dry sand. Sam glanced at her before returning her attention to the blonde nurse coming past them. “Hey Anna, that’s Anna… “ She pointed out to Brooke, “And that’s Charlie, and Misha, and Reef and Lou and….” “Sam!” Brooke interrupted Sam’s babble knowing full well that she wouldn’t remember the names being fired at her. She could sense Sam’s avoidance and it irritated her. “Where are you going?”
Sam stopped in her steps, picking up the tiring toddler swiftly in her arms. “I better take her back.”
Brooke called after Sam watching her leave quickly. She followed her. “Sam, I am your photographer whether you like it or not…”
Sam turned and nodded, “Fine… you’ll see in a couple of hours. But stay close.”
Brooke nodded and was relieved to find Sam slowing her steps. She watched two men rummage through the crates and pointed one out. “Who’s that?” she asked with obvious admiration in her voice.
Sam glanced over and frowned, “Oh Dev.”
“He’s nice!” Brooke purred with appreciation. Sam watched Dev, and couldn’t deny that the Indian certainly had an exotic appearance about him, with his slender muscular form, long wild hair, and days old stubble. He had, she guessed, a mysterious air about him, and he wasn’t actually that bad a person, but she resented the appreciation in Brooke’s eyes.
“Dev!” Sam called out. Dev looked up and waved and smiling, a row of perfect of teeth, Sam thought. She gestured for him to come over. He dropped the ropes in his hand and glided over. She pointed him to Brooke. “Brooke, Dev. Dev, Brooke… my new photographer.” She watched Brooke smile, her special smile for those she found attractive, and felt the need to leave. “Dev, can I leave you show Brooke around, I’ve got stuff to do.” She left not waiting for an answer from Dev, but never expected a negative one. How could anyone not want to be Brooke’s guide?
Sam never turned around as she whisked the now sleeping child back to her tent, not ever noticing the hint of disappointment in Brooke’s eyes.
Sam was writing furiously on a notepad when Brooke found her. Sitting on one of nearby dunes, scribbling as if there was no tomorrow. She guessed, maybe here, there may never be a tomorrow. She put the thought out of her head, and went to sit on the dune next to her. Sam never acknowledged the company, but she knew it was Brooke next to her. There was always something comforting about having the blonde around, even in the days they hated each other. Sam continued to scribble until she had finished what she wanted to write before looking up, and found herself mesmerised by Brooke’s profile. Brooke was squinting in the blazing sun, taking in the camp that lay before her. Watching the people move between the tents, making it appear as a content community rather than a sombre refugee camp. If there were so mourning cries or pained screams that pierced the easy chatter, one would believe it was indeed a content commune. Brooke’s long blonde tresses were being tamed by a hand as the gentle breeze threatened to catch them. Her clothes were different from the fashionable attire Sam was used to seeing. Instead a simple pair of denim shorts and a light blue vest, which Sam had no doubt were also designer label. Charlie and Hugh were right, she was hot. Sam thought shaking her head slightly. She had always known this but every so often was reminded. Sam never felt any envy for Brooke’s looks or appeal to the other gender, she felt oddly proud. People loved Brooke, yet she was Brooke’s best friend.
Yes, she was terrified of having Brooke here, when personal safety was never guaranteed. On the other hand, Brooke was here… she couldn’t think of anyone else she would rather have by her side.
Brooke noticed that Sam was staring and grinned, “What you looking at?”
Sam jumped and smiled slightly, “Was just wondering whether your clothes were designer or not?”
Brooke feigned insult as she pushed Sam gently, before frowning, “Sam, are you ok?” Seeing Sam’s puzzled face, she chose to elaborate, “You left in a rush earlier.”
“Yeah… just had loads of work to catch up on… I mean two months until deadline.”
Brooke knew that Sam wasn’t a person to be pushed for an answer so left it. She saw Hugh approaching them and nudged the brunette. Sam grinned, “Hey… it time?”
Hugh nodded and Sam jumped up, pulling Brooke up with her. “You got your camera?” Brooke nodded and followed them. She remained a few steps behind Sam and Hugh, observing the interaction between the two. They were obviously flirting, with the odd touches and appreciative glances as they joked and laughed together. What’s going on there? She thought as she saw the jeep hidden from view of the camp. Charlie was behind the driver’s seat, singing off tune as her made faces in the rear-view mirror.
“Oy! Wanker!” He yelled as he felt Hugh clip him behind the head. He looked back in the mirror and brushed his hair down. “Now, look what you did?” He whined.
Sam and Brooke climbed into the backseats as Sam shouted introduction. Charlie grinned at Brooke before turning the key in the engine. They remained silent under Hugh’s introduction as they slowly drove away from the tent.
“So, Brooke where you from?”
Brooke jumped as she heard the shout over the engine and wind. She had been taking in the deserts, occasionally taking a photo, particularly every time they drove past a cross that had been erected from the ground. She guessed they could talk now. She looked over at Sam, who was leaning back, relishing the heat with her eyes closed.
“California,” she shouted back.
“Yeah? So’s Sam…” Charlie stated in amazement.
“They work together you doofus, of course they’re from the same place,” Hugh elbowed Charlie.
“Actually, Sam’s my step-sister.” Brooke yelled, quite proudly.
Charlie slowed the engine as he and Hugh both turned around. Sam felt the sudden loss of breeze and opened her eyes, seeing two pairs of eyes staring at them. She looked at Brooke who she thought appeared as confused as she felt.
“You’re Brooke?” Charlie asked slowly.
Brooke nodded before turning her eyes to Sam, as if asking for an explanation. Sam could only shrug. She couldn’t explain the sudden fascination.
“Well, Brooke it’s great to meet you… Sam has told us so much.” Hugh declared before nudging his blonde friend to start driving again. Charlie grinned as if nodding his agreement, and started to the journey again.
Brooke turned to Sam who seemed slightly embarrassed. “What have you been saying about me?” All sorts of nightmarish thoughts were running through the blonde’s head, her paranoia beginning to loom. Sam shook her head. “I don’t know what they’re talking about.” She saw Brooke’s doubt and said firmly, “Really, I don’t.” Brooke still was doubtful but dropped the subject.
Sam leaned in closer to point out crosses that had been vandalised, forgetting about the conversation altogether. Brooke’s eyes followed and she could see that some of the crosses had been knocked over, some had been set on fire and some had messages scrawled over them. She may not understand the local dialect but she knew those messages weren’t the friendly ‘welcome to’ kind. She looked at Sam who had moved closer to her. “During one of the raids on a camp, not ours, they charged in just after the people had buried the dead. They killed more people, raped the women, beat the children and threatened any foreigner they came across, killing a handful. After they left, the people came back to bury the newly-dead,, only to have their cemeteries destroyed by the bastards again. Some of the folks from there are with us now.”
Brooke was watching her, appalled. Sam rested a hand on her shoulder. “I just want you to be sure about being here… let you know what to expect.”
Brooke nodded, both resenting and understanding Sam’s concern. After all, the brunette had been here for a long time, enough time to have seen people at their worse and at their best.
The two returned to their eyes to the road as they felt Charlie slow down. He climbed out and Hugh and he grabbed the tarp from the trunk to cover the vehicle.
“We’ll be walking. Stay close.” Sam instructed as she pulled Brooke to follow them.
Sam didn’t leave Brooke out of her sight. She watched the waves of emotions dance across the blonde’s face, and understood them, as she too suffered the same fate when she first arrived. She just hoped Brooke wouldn’t witness everything that she did.
The deserts started merging with the ravaged towns. The sand became rough as it turned into roads, the dunes replaced by rubble that were once homes. Brooke grabbed Sam’s arm, terrified to lose her, as they walked through the masses of the people that were oncoming, most of whom were armed, some of whom were as young as six. Sam grabbed Brooke’s hand and whispered into her ear, “Just don’t make eye-contact.”
Brooke drew in on the comfort from Sam’s warm hand, and entwined their fingers. She jumped every time she felt a rifle being shot, and felt Sam jump with her. She was relieved to find the crowd dispersing around them as they started walking towards one of the buildings that appeared to be a bar.
Hugh and Charlie moved faster and Sam pulled Brooke so she could catch up. On entering, the four sat around the table, and Hugh gestured for four beers. Brooke could feel many pairs of eyes watching her and felt uncomfortable.
“It’s the hair,” Charlie explained as he noticed her discomfort. “I got it too, still do, actually.” He stated with a grin.“You get used to it, as they will, but blonde hair is a rarity around these parts.”
“Yeah, remember Kit?” Hugh yelled as he paid the barman as he took the four bottles. Charlie laughed. Hugh turned in his chair to look at Brooke directly, “Yeah, this red-head British girl… and I mean flaming red. She left a few months ago, pity because she was always up for a good time. Anyway, the people around her never stopped touching her hair. She’d be sitting down eating and have hundreds of hands in her hair. It was weird. Red hair is a lot rarer than blonde.”
Brooke smiled, feeling a bit more relaxed. She looked over at Sam who was watching the action on the streets and ignoring every word spoken. She turned and saw two teenage boys smoking, with rifles hanging over their shoulders. Brooke removed her camera discreetly and took a photo before feeling a hand swipe down on her arms. She looked at Sam who was staring angrily at her. “Don’t be so damned obvious!” She hissed through her clenched teeth.
Brooke put the camera back in her bag and glanced back at the two boys who had remained oblivious before returning her eyes to Sam’s furious eyes. “They see you with a camera, they will do anything to get that camera of you.”
Brooke nodded and harshly whispered back, “How the hell do you propose I take photos then?”
“When I tell you to,” Sam barked back. Brooke felt her own anger building. “I don’t work under you.”
Sam laughed bitterly, “But you do… God! Don’t be impossible on day one!”
“Woah, ladies, ladies!” Hugh interrupted as he glanced at Charlie who was equally as stunned by the outburst.
The two girls turned their heads to him, and he suddenly had wished he hadn’t spoken. He coughed awkwardly, “Look, Brooke, it’s not safe to take photos openly, and Sam, lighten up , she now knows not to do it… now let’s drink our beers while we wait for Jorge in a nice, friendly and calm fashion.”
The two stared at him before staring back at each other. Sam felt her shoulders relax and smiled apologetically at Brooke. Brooke smiled back, whispering, “I won’t do that again… but I won’t work under you.”
Sam laughed, “Believe me I knew that the moment I saw you this morning.”
The two picked up their bottles and clinked them together as if declaring a truce on their mini-outburst.
“Who’s Jorge?” Brooke asked as the tension settled. Charlie grinned, “Jorge is the man!” As if that explained everything. Hugh nodded.
“Okay then. He’s the man.” Brooke repeated. “And what exactly is so great about this man?”
Charlie leant forward as Hugh scraped his chair further. “Jorge knows everything!” He whispered.
“He’s God?” Brooke asked, her face serious, her eyes dancing with mirth.
Hugh and Charlie appeared disappointed at Brooke’s lack of enthusiasm, and Hugh scraped his chair as close as he could get to the table. “You’ll know when you see him, won’t he, Sam?”
Sam still watching the two boys, turned and nodded, not listening to any of the words been spoken. She was intrigued by these boys who were laughing and joking, with all the ordinariness of two boys from her own town, and yet seemed so much more scarier, because she knew they would kill when asked to. How can that happen?
She watched an overweight, small man bundle his way towards them and sat up, nearly kicking the chair she was resting her foot against over. “Jorge,” she said, smiling.
Brooke looked up at the plain, little man and raised her eyebrow at Hugh, mouthing, “He’s the man.” Hugh threw his hands in the air, exasperated. The four turned their heads to the man who sat down with them. He was struggling to regain his breath, and looked over at Brooke with suspicion. Sam noticed and stated, “That’s Brooke.” He nodded as if that was an acceptable answer before he rubbed his hands of his shorts, and then mopped his brow. He saw that Sam was watching him eagerly. He smiled. “I’ve got the location of a base, about forty miles north-east from here.”
Sam grinned, “Thanks Jorge.”
Jorge looked over at Charlie and Hugh who had equally expectant faces. “About six miles out of town to the west, food drop down.”
“Thanks, man!” Hugh yelped, clapping his hand against Jorge’s back. He looked over at Brooke with a told you expression. She just shook her head, still having no idea what just happened.
After Jorge left as quickly as he arrived, the four relaxed in a friendly atmosphere as they drained their beers. Hugh slammed his empty bottle on the table. “Who’s wants to go shopping?”
His three companions followed him as he eagerly ploughed his way through the crowds. Brooke reached out for Sam’s hand, fearing she’d be lose them but knowing Sam wouldn’t lose her.
Brooke wanted to ask questions about Jorge but sensed that battling though crowds of armed and shouting men was not the time to do this. They can wait until they get back to the camp.
The four were quiet while driving in the opposite direction of the town and of the camp. They slowed down as they saw a large base, being armed by very few. They slowly turned the jeep so it was hidden behind a dune. Hugh bent down and pulled open a hatch. He took out two pistols, handing one to Sam, and putting the other in the waistbands of his torn pants. He and Charlie jumped out of the jeep, and ordering that the two girls remained in the car.
They watched the two boys sneak stealthily away. Once the boys were out of sight, Brooke looked over at Sam, who was cradling the gun carefully in her hands.
“Ever used one of them?” Brooke asked her, almost afraid of the answer. Sam shook her head. “They don’t shoot foreigners generally, but it makes me feel safer. They know that the deaths of foreign aid-workers can lead to interference from other countries and so avoid it.”
Brooke nodded, as she studied Sam. The brunette seemed stronger than she remembered. Her figure toned, her skin darker, yet it was her inner strength that seemed to be more noticeable. Sam was always strong, but this new form of resilience was new to Brooke. Then again, seeing Sam hold a gun was new to Brooke. She knew that Sam hated guns as she did, and in their naïve days, they had sworn that they never would own one. Yet those days of innocence didn’t exist here.
Sam jumped up as she saw the two boys running towards them, heaving a large crate with them. She nudged Brooke and climbed over the seat into the driving seat. Brooke followed suit and clambered into the passenger’s seat. She started the engine and slowly pulled away from their parking spot. The jeep creaked with the extra weight of the crate and the two boys as they jumped in.
“Yee Hah!” Hugh yelled as the jeep speeded up. “That was fun!” Charlie grinned with the same amount of exuberance. “Seriously, I could be army, or CIA or FBI or something… and you’d be what? What do you Brits have?” He asked Charlie who answered, “Eh… Scotland Yard?”
Hugh seemed unimpressed and shook his head. “No man! You’d be Bond!” Charlie laughed, “Yeah, that’s me Charlie Bond.”
The two boys glee was contagious and Brooke and Sam couldn’t help but laugh with them.
“Yeah, I’m Federal Agent Hugh and you’re Charlie Bond. We’re the freakin’ A Team!” Hugh cheered as he passed Brooke his gun.
Brooke took it and felt a sudden desire to throw it out of the jeep. The metal felt alien to her.
“The hatch is under your seat. Put it in there, and this one two,” Sam said as she handed her the other gun, not taking her eyes of the road.
Brooke bent over, struggling with the door of the hatch, trying to find it’s opening which was very difficult to do due to limited space. She felt around with her hands, straining with her back to reach further. She could hear the laughter dying down as she finally found it. “Gotcha!” she whispered with joy, as she felt a hand on her back holding her in place.
“Looks like we’ve got company,” Charlie declared, all joy quickly replaced with tension.
Brooke wanted so badly to sit back up after dropping the guns into the hatch, but Sam’s strong hand refused to let her. She heard Sam mutter as she cut the engine. “Put the camera in there.” Brooke pulled the bag off from around her neck, and dropped it in before closing the lid gently. She sat up slowly and saw a jeep about a hundred yards ahead of them, with seven armed men standing in it.
She glanced over at Sam whose hand was still on her back. Sam’s face was giving away nothing. The men’s jeep stopped and they climbed out with predatory grins spread across their faces. They pointed the guns at the four and gestured for them to get out. Sam and the boys climbed out, their arms raided in a peace fashion. Brooke, however was frozen to her seat, not being able to move as she stared at the several guns being pointed at them.
One of the men approached her, and nudged her with the gun. Brooke yelped slightly and couldn’t force herself to move.
“Brooke! Get out!” Brooke felt a sudden sense of courage at Sam’s plea and climbed out. She knew she was alone on this side of the jeep as the other three were on the other side. She couldn’t stop herself from shaking as she felt the tip of the gun being combed through her hair. She closed her eyes, willing herself to stop being so afraid.
She opened her eyes and nodded at the man’s question. He leered at her, before stroking her cheek with one finger.
“Move!” He yelled as another man prodded her in the back with his machine gun. Brooke tried not to run to Sam, as she walked towards her, drinking in the comfort that Sam’s eyes were giving her. Once she had reached Sam, she felt the brunette’s hand on the small of her back. Brooke never felt as safe as she did in that second.
The four watched as three of the armed men proceeded to rip apart the jeep, taking everything they found, including the crate. They had missed the hatch and Brooke, for the first time, knew exactly what Sam had meant when she said it was dangerous here. That hatch had just saved their lives.
Two of the men yanked the lid of the crate and summoned, the man who had been leering at Brooke. The man was obviously in charge. He glanced at the contents and was enraged, as he looked back at the four foreigners. His glare tore through them, and Sam tightened her grip on Brooke’s arm, as the man raised his gun, marching towards them.
Hugh yelled as the butt of the rifle was slammed into his forehead, and cried out as he felt the same butt be forced into his stomach. He fell to his knees from the sheer blow, and closed his eyes as blood seeped over his eyelid from the newly-open wound on his forehead.
“Hugh!” Sam cried out, running towards him, only to be pushed back by another armed man. Brooke grabbed her by her shoulders, trying to hold her as she watched two men kick Hugh repeatedly in the stomach.
Meanwhile, Charlie was belted in the back of the head by another armed rebel, and fell flat on his face. He too was beaten on. The two girls shouted out and tried to resist the urge to push through the gunned men. They knew this was a fight they would lose, and so would have to be tortured with watching their friends be battered.
Once the kicking and punching came to an end, the leader spat on Hugh before laughing. He summoned the men to follow him back to their jeep, stopping only to take the keys from the recently raided aid workers‘ vehicle. As they drove past, they fired their weapons into the sky, jeering the foreigners.
Hugh rolled into a foetus position, rocking himself in a failed attempt to stop the agony that had overcome him. Charlie whimpered into the sand, his face covered with grains and dirty tears. Sam ran to Hugh and placed an a hand on his shoulder only for him to flinch.
Brooke stood in shock and in fear as she watched the two boys who had just been laughing and joking, cry in pain.
“Brooke, what do we do?” Sam pleaded.
Brooke looked at the worried brunette and took a deep breath. She pulled Charlie up to his feet, supporting his weight around her neck. He dragged him to their jeep, and helped him to get into the backseat. She grimaced at each moan that came from the injured Brit. She knelt beside Sam, and gasped at the oozing blood coming from Hugh’s head.
“Can you stand?” She asked gently.
“I’m okay,” came the mumbled response. Hugh rolled onto all fours and tried to pull himself up into an upright position, only to feel his knees buckle on him. The two girls were immediately by his side, and slowly helped him walk to the jeep. They aided him into the jeep carefully, and Hugh leant back, letting his head roll onto Charlie who had passed out from fear and pain.
Sam looked at Brooke. “There’s no keys!” She declared, her voice raised in panic.
“We’ll be ok,” Brooke assured the brunette as she climbed into the driver’s seat. She bent over to pull the wires lose, and tapped them together, grinning with relief when she heard the engine coming to life.
Sam jumped in next to her, staring at her in surprise. The blonde kept her eyes on the road. “You need to tell me where to go?” Hearing nothing, she repeated. “Sam, I don’t know where I’m going…” She turned to see Sam staring at her in shock. “Sam, what?”
“Where the hell did you learn to hot-wire a car?”
Brooke laughed at the shocked question. “Oh right. One of the kids I was doing a project on in New Jersey taught me.”
“Remind me to kiss that kid when we get home.” Sam stated, pointing out the turn off to Brooke.
The remainder of the journey was in silence, with Sam turning to check on the boys who seemed to have relaxed in their pain.
“Yuri!” Sam yelled as Brooke drove straight into the camp, not caring about blocking the pathways. The white-haired man looked up from the woman he was tending at the two, and his face was overcome at anger at seeing them driving the jeep without permission.
“What the hell are you two doing?” He yelled as he stormed over before seeing the two boys, “What the hell happened? Anna, Elena, Greg, get over here!” He ordered the three closest people to him.
Sam and Brooke followed the four, now six, who carried the injured boys into the medical tent, and watched as they were lain across make-shift beds. Yuri turned to them, “Wait outside!”
Yuri’s tone was one not to be argued with and the two stepped outside and sat on crates waiting for news. They sat in silence, Brooke watching the movement of the people between the tents, and Sam watching the sand.
“I’m sorry,” Sam muttered.
Brooke turned to the smaller brunette and whispered, “It wasn’t your fault.”
Sam said nothing, just kept her eyes on the ground. Brooke studied her, wanting to comfort her but not knowing what to say. She was in too much shock about the recent events. Twenty-four hours ago, she was in Germany. Forty Eight Hours ago, she was hugging her father. Everything was happening too quick for her to even try to understand.
Yuri came out and his anger seemed to have dissipated as he studied the obviously frightened girls.
He stood over them, his shadow forcing both girls to look up at him.
“They were lucky. Charlie has some severe bruising. Hugh, a couple of cracked ribs, bruises and a stitched up cut… What happened?”
Sam and Brooke both sighed their relief, before Sam spoke, “We were on our way back when we were raided.”
“What did you have in order to be attacked?”
Sam didn’t speak and so Yuri redirected his question to Brooke who didn’t know what to say. She looked over at Sam who was watching her carefully. Brooke suddenly felt like she was in the principal’s office, where she didn’t want to rat out on her friends. She too said nothing.
“Did you get supplies from their bases?” Yuri asked patiently. He took their silences to be a yes, and struggled to remain calm. They had obviously been through an ordeal, but he wanted to wring their necks. “How many times do I have to tell you all not to go anywhere? When will you understand, it’s not safe? You could have been killed.”
Sam stood up, and looked into Yuri’s dark eyes, “We know… but there’s so much that needs to be told.”
“Not at the cost of your own life,” Yuri hissed back.
“You never cared before when we got stuff back,” Sam retorted.
“Of course I did. Every time you leave, you’re putting yourselves at risk.”
“We’re at risk here!” The brunette shouted.
She turned and walked away, her form shaking with anger at the sheer injustice of everything.
Yuri and Brooke watched her leave, Yuri with an element of paternal care and frustration and Brooke with concern. Yuri turned to Brooke and said gently, “She’ll get herself killed if she’s not careful.”
Brooke understood that Yuri was asking her to help control Sam, but she knew that the brunette was not one to control. When Sam wanted something, she went for it. This very thought scared Brooke, yet she knew that she never was going to leave Sam’s side. Sam was too important to her for her to hold back.
Brooke sat beside the fire, amongst people she had didn’t know, holding her bowl of food. She didn’t feel hungry, and couldn’t force herself to eat. She had spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to find the brunette, and had failed. She put the bowl on the sand before her.
“You going to eat that?” An European accent asked her. She looked up and saw a small, slightly over-weight dark woman staring at her. She shook her head, and watched as the woman scooped the bowl up and walked to the Food Line. No waste here, she realised.
“Hey, you okay?” Anna asked as she slipped in beside Brooke. Brooke nodded.
“We didn’t meet properly. I’m Anna.”
“Brooke, as in Sam’s sister?”
“Step-sister.” Brooke clarified, not really knowing why. Sam and her had been part of the same family for thirteen years, but Brooke would never see them being sisters.
“What a day you had?” Dev said as he sat on her other side. “Just arrived and already getting into trouble.” He said with a smile. Brooke could only nod. She wanted to find Sam.
“Have you seen Sam?” She asked.
Anna shook her head and Dev answered, “She just needs to cool off.”
“I know that… I just want to know where she is.” Brooke spoke with irritation, startling Dev. She noticed and apologised, “I’m sorry. I know Sam... It’s been a long day. I’m going to bed.” She stood up and walked slowly, trying to remember the location of her tent.
She had spent a good ten minutes trying to find the tent, but considering they all looked the same, she had given up hope.
Brooke smiled at the accent and turned, relieved to see Charlie walking slowly to her.
“You okay?” He asked sincerely.
Brooke nodded, and for the first time since the raid cried. Charlie was immediately by her side, wrapped an arm around her shoulder, “Hey, it’s okay. We’re all okay.”
Brooke smiled weakly through her tears. “I’m just really tired and can’t find my tent.”
Charlie smiled, “You bunking with Sam.” At the blonde’s nod, he took her hand and led her to a tent furthest away from them. “Your castle.” He said giving an elaborate bow, and then winced from the pain. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Charlie smiled and began to walk away.
Brooke watched him go and called after him, “Charlie!” The fair-headed Brit turned. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Charlie nodded and continued walking
Brooke saw that a new bed had been set up and lay on it. She knew that she couldn’t sleep before she saw Sam. She wanted to see Sam. She needed to see Sam. Sam was comforting in such a strange place.
Sam stepped into the tent and rummaged in the darkness for a lighter to bring the candles to life. She lit the first one.
“I couldn’t find the lighter.”
Sam jumped, “Jesus! Brooke! You scared me!”
“Sorry!” The whispered apology carried through the darkness. Sam sat on her bed and lit the remaining candles, letting light break through the tent, and saw Brooke rolled over on her side watching her. “Hey,” she whispered.
“Hey,” Brooke smiled back.
“Are you okay?”
Brooke nodded, “You?”
Sam nodded. “I’m sorry I ran off.”
Brooke laughed slightly, “You’d have done the same at home.”
Sam smiled and lay on her own bed, turning so she could be facing Brooke. “I’m so glad you’re here, Brooke… I really am.”
“Really?” asked Sam, somewhat surprised. She could think of so many better places to be.
“Yeah, with Mary Cherry running for Governor, Sudan seems to be so much safer.” Brooke joked.
“What!” Sam sat up.“Mary Cherry is running for governor?”
Brooke nodded, “Yep.”
Sam fell back on her bed, “Then we truly are doomed.”
Brooke laughed softly and heard Sam doing the same. They felt a comfortable silence fall on them as they continued watching each other, letting the flames on the candles dance in their eyes.
“Would anyone vote for her?” Sam asked after having obviously giving it a lot of thought.
“You would never know these days.”
“That’s true.” Sam stated. She allowed herself drown in the hazel eyes across from her, and for the first time since she left home, she felt safe.
“Mac’s stereo is great.” Brooke said, not because it was important but because it was something to say.
Sam laughed, “Yeah, I’ve got great taste.”
Darkness fell on them like a thick blanket as Sam blew out the candles.
Sam rolled over onto her back. “Good night Brooke.”
“Good night, Sam”
Just as she had reached that moment where sleep was to come Sam heard Brooke call her. She sat up, leaning on her elbows, adjusting her eyes to the darkness. She could make out Brooke’s silhouette. “What’s wrong?”
“I really need to pee.”
Sam leaned over to light a candle and watched the blonde dancing uncomfortably, with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Sam laughed and pointed to the door, “There’s a shovel and sheets… walk away from the camp and dig a hole.”
Brooke frowned and whimpered, “Come with me.”
Sam saw Brooke pout at her and sighed dramatically, pulling her own blanket around her as she left the tent.
Sam stood watching the stars, pulling her blanket closer to her to shield her from the coldness. Her geography teacher was right. No clouds meant cold nights. She could hear Brooke swearing under her breath behind her, and she smiled. Welcome to the wilderness Brooke, she thought.
She felt Brooke come up beside her and turned to her. Brooke raised her eyes to the sky, “I’ve never seen so many stars before in my life.” She declared in amazement. Sam nodded. “Yeah, isn’t it beautiful?”
The two stood for a while watching the stars twinkle and dance across the sky. They drew comfort from their blankets, from the beauty that the world could provide and from each other.
Sam watched Brooke sleep as the sun streamed through the thin material of their tent. The blonde face seemed so young, innocent and at peace as she slumbered. Sam felt torn between her work and Brooke, and knew with when given that choice who would win. Yet, Brooke wouldn’t let her make that choice. Sam never wanted Brooke to go through what happened yesterday again, and so had made the decision to not let it happen again. She saw Brooke smile slightly in her sleep, and wondered for a second about what was making the blonde smile.
She crept out of the tent, hoping not to disturb the sleeping blonde, and saw that the camp was coming slowly to life. Yuri, the man that never seemed to sleep, was making his way from tent to tent, checking on everyone. A handful of people were busying themselves in preparing the first meal of the day. Children were running around, despite the protests of their elders. Women were washing clothes in the not so clean water tubs. It was the beginning of another day.
She walked through unnoticed, a skill she had picked up after years of professional journalism. A skill that was incredibly useful, especially in a place like this where Yuri watched her with an eagle’s eye. She watched the operating tent, and saw it to be empty.
As she approached her target, Dev stepped in her way. “Hey, how are you?”
“I’m okay,” Sam answered absently, desperate to get away.
“Yesterday must have been scary.”
“Yeah it was,” Sam looked up at Dev and saw concern in the deep brown eyes. “Yeah it was.” She repeated.
“You were lucky.”
“Where’s Brooke?” Dev asked looking in the direction of Sam’s tent.
Sam felt a pang, “She’s asleep.”
“Oh,” Dev said, sounding disappointed. “Well, I’ll see you around.”
Sam watched Dev leave, feeling that pang again. She wrote it off as over-protection of Brooke, yet Dev wasn’t a bad person. She couldn’t explain it. Maybe it was her instincts.
She shook her head and returned her attention to the operational tent and saw it to be empty.
She slid in and rummaged through a crate, before banging her fist against it. She walked out and saw Anna watching her. She smiled and waved. Anna waved back. Sam continued to walk through and the camp until she reached the dunes that acted like a city wall for the centre. She walked around them and found Brooke leaning against a covered truck. Brooke was dangling keys from her fingers. “Looking for these?”
“What you doing here? I thought…”
“You thought that you could sneak off without me,” Brooke cut her off. Sam sensed the irritation coming from the blonde and sighed, trying to grab the keys from Brooke’s hand. Brooke raised her hand higher. “Sam, I know you. When Jorge said about that base yesterday, your eyes lit up as if it was Christmas Day. I know you‘re planning to go there.” The blonde‘s hazel eyes sparked with rage. “Do you have a death wish?”
“I need to get some work done.” Sam said straining again for the keys.
Brooke stepped out of the way with ease, “Without photos… if it was anyone else, you’d bring them, but because it’s me…”
Sam stopped grabbing for the keys and looked at Brooke, “I just don’t want you hurt.”
“And I don’t want you hurt,” Brooke said gently, stepping towards the brunette. “We’re in this together… and you can’t protect me, as I can’t protect you. But you can’t keep me from doing what I am here to do.”
Sam watched the blonde and sighed, “Fine, but if anything happens I’m telling.”
Brooke laughed and handed Sam the keys, before helping her remove the tarp. As she slid into the passenger’s seat, and rolled down the window to release the staunch, stale air and heat from inside the vehicle, she asked, “How mad will Yuri be when he finds out?”
Sam grinned cheekily, “Just let’s make sure he doesn’t find out. They never use the truck unless a delivery is being made, which never happens.”
Brooke looked straight ahead as Sam put the truck into drive. She took her Nikon out of its bag and removed the lens cap, before directing it at the vast emptiness before them.
“What you taking a picture off?”
“Nothing… absolutely nothing. There is nothing here, Sam. No life.”
Sam nodded as she heard Brooke whisper in what seemed to be sadness. Brooke turned the camera to take a profile of Sam driving. The brunette was staring straight ahead, eyes barely concentrating on the route, but seemed to be lost in deep thought. Brooke would love to know what was going through that head of hers. She laughed inwardly, she had always wanted to know what Sam was thinking. Sam amazed her with her feistiness, her eagerness, her sheer determination to do what was right even if it was wrong. Sam was in a word, unique and Brooke loved knowing her.
Sam glanced at Brooke at the click of the shutter, and raised an eyebrow in question.
Brooke dropped the camera to her knee and pouted, “You ruined that now. I was a great photo and then you turned.”
Sam just raised both eyebrows and shook her head. Brooke smiled, “You look beautiful, Sam.”
Sam felt her cheeks redden from embarrassment at the compliment and saw Brooke shake her head in what appeared to be confusion. “Thanks… so do you.”
Brooke nodded and turned her head to look out the side of the jeep. Why she just said that, she didn’t know. But it was true, Sam had grown to be a stunning woman, a well toned figure, long, dark tresses pulled back in a messy ponytail, flawless skin that had coloured under the African sun and the deepest, mysterious eyes. Brooke nodded to herself, yeah, Sam was beautiful.
Sam glanced over at Brooke, before returning her eyes to the road. She found the comment a surprise but hadn’t questioned it. Brooke had always spurted out random comments in awkward situations, and this was an awkward situation. Wasn’t it? The two of them hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and now were forced together in a tense situation, of course it was awkward. But it didn’t feel awkward to Sam, it felt anything but. Maybe it did to Brooke. Sam didn’t know.
She drove between the dunes, watching as they became higher, the ground became steeper. She felt the truck struggle to climb through the lose sand, and finally come to a halt, as it tyres became trapped. “Shit!” Sam hissed, slamming the palm of her hands against the steering wheel. Brooke looked at her, “Yuri is so going to kill you now.”
Sam glared at her, “Shut up and help me.” She pulled open the door and slammed it behind her. Brooke’s eyes twinkled with mirth as she laughed lightly and followed the smaller woman out.
The two studied the rear tires which had sunk half way down into the deep sand. Brooke lifted her head back, and pulled her sunglasses down over her eyes as the sun blazed upon them. “Guessing AA is out of the question.”
Sam who was kneeling beside her looked up and laughed sarcastically. She stood and stretched her back, “We’re going to have to push it.”
Brooke and Sam heaved against the large vehicle, and the beast didn’t move forward an inch. Sam swore loudly, kicking the tyre, while Brooke sat down on the sand, sifting her fingers through the golden grains. She looked at the truck and down the dunes. “You think we can push it down?”
Sam gazed at Brooke as if the blonde had grown a second head, “We’re trying to go up not down.”
Brooke nodded, “Yeah, but I’m asking for when we go back… I think we need to get the truck back to. We can walk up.”
“Are you sure you’re Brooke McQueen? Where in LA she refused to use her feet as long as their was an engine around.”
It was Brooke’s turn to laugh sarcastically.
The two girls went to the front of the truck and pushed it downwards, laughing in relief to see the truck was moving backwards. “Thank God!” Sam shouted joyfully, “Yuri would have killed me!”
Brooke leaned in through the window and grabbed her camera and Sam’s backpack. She tossed it to Sam, “Let’s walk then… lead the way, because I have absolutely no idea where we’re going.”
Sam was again amazed at how much Brooke could continually surprise her. Just when she thought that she understood her, the blonde would suggest walking through an empty desert in a ravaged country, completely unprepared.
Brooke tied her long hair back in a ponytail and stopped walking, taking in the vision of pure wonder. Nothing to be seen but sky and sand. Sam turned around when she realised that Brooke had stopped moving. “Come on, I would like to get back before Yuri goes completely ape-shit.”
“Isn’t it incredible?” Brooke said spreading her arms around.
Sam looked around. If you took your time, and let everything around you stop for a moment, you could really see beauty. She watched Brooke take photos enthusiastically, and was beginning to think that the blonde had an endless film in that camera. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot, struggling to be patient. Brooke noticed and pointed the camera at her, snapping for the last time.
“Okay then, tell me where are we actually going? Or are you aiming to see how lost you can get?” Brooke asked as they ventured forward. Getting lost with Sam didn’t seem to be so scary, but she really wanted to not get lost.
“It’s a rebel camp-out. Well, it was once a village, which had been torn apart. The rebels had made there home there. I just want to see what exactly is going on there.”
“Ah. So we’re just going to walk in, as two Americans into a rebel base, with no form of defence whatsoever, and you’re going to what, ask questions?” Brooke asked, but not harshly. Sam stared at her, “We’re not going to be seen. We’re just going to look.”
Brooke nodded and the two continued their climb. Once they approached the top, Sam gestured silence by putting her finger on her lip and pulled Brooke to lie flat.
“Oh my God!” whispered Brooke lifting her sunshades onto her forehead, feeling emotions ride through her like a rollercoaster. “Sam? What is this?” Her voice trembled as she took in what was before her. She had seen many things, boys with guns, teenage girls shooting up, beatings, car-crashes, pain, agony, and even on one occasion death, but nothing had prepared the young blonde for what lay before her.
“I don’t know…” Sam struggled to form the words. She had thought that she had seen the worse but that was not the case. She moved closer to Brooke as the taller woman did the same. They couldn’t tear their eyes from what lay before them.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies lay carelessly stacked upon each other. Men, women and children tossed into the heap without any sense of dignity. Eyes wide open but dead to the world. The rising stench from the bodies circulated in the blazing sun, as sounds of vultures could be heard.
“What happened?” Brooke’s voice could be barely heard and Sam ran a hand over her back, pulling her closer.
“I don’t know.” Sam tried to find some sign of life in the distanced village and could see no one. Was this where Jorge was talking about? She stood up and started to climb down the dune towards the village.
“Sam!” She heard Brooke cry out and felt the blonde running after her. She stopped before the bodies and felt anger brewing inside her. How could people do this?
Brooke stood beside her and raised her camera, and recorded what she could only describe as hell on earth in film. Tears streamed down her cheeks behind the camera. She moved around the bodies, continually pressing the button. She dropped the camera around her neck and looked over at Sam who hadn’t moved an inch. She could feel the tears on her cheeks, but didn’t want to wipe them away. This wasn’t a place to hide tears. No one else was crying for these people.
A faint sound could be heard, a sound of a baby crying. Sam and Brooke both looked up at each other to make sure they were hearing right, before looking to the heap of bodies.
“No, no, no!” Sam said, running towards the pile. She could feel the nausea burn through her, as she pulled bodies from each other. Brooke was at her side, helping her with the heavy weight of the lifeless forms.
“Oh God!” Brooke said as she carefully lifted the tiny person into her arms. The infant couldn’t be more than a few weeks old, and was struggling to cry. Sam yanked her sweater which had been tied around her waist off in hope to wrap the baby up. The baby was too small and too weak. Brooke held her to her, rocking, amongst the dead, feeling another die in her arms.
Sam watched the blonde rock, and spoke gently, “We were too late… we need to go.”
Brooke’s teary eyes met with concerned once and she nodded, “We need to bury her.”
They dug the hole with their hands in silence, and gently placed the child inside. As they covered it, Brooke’s sobs broke through. “Why the hell is this happening? Why aren’t we trying to stop it?”
“Ignorance is bliss,” Sam stated harshly, before standing up. She watched Brooke smooth the sand over and stand with her. She knew that this was Brooke’s moment, the moment when all innocence was lost, and she sincerely hoped, Brooke wouldn’t let the moment become her life. It had happened to some, she had known some. She remembered hers, witnessing a boy being gunned down by jeering men.
Brooke looked at her, and wiped her tears from her cheeks with the back of hand. “Can we go now?”
The two walked in silence, fingers entwined with each others through the sand.
Yuri was waiting for them by the dunes, as they pulled the truck up. He had been prepared to shout at them for their stupidity, but seeing the ashen faces, he knew that there was no need. Sam climbed out, and handed him the keys. Brooke walked away towards the dunes
Yuri watched her leave before turning to Sam placing a hand on her shoulder. “Sam, what happened?” He was gentle, and Sam wanted to cry. “It was horrible, there were so many bodies and she died in Brooke’s arms.” She couldn’t fight the tears anymore and threw herself into Yuri’s arms. Yuri hugged her close not understanding, but not questioning.
“Yuri, man… Luce is looking for you…” Hugh called out as he limped towards them, not seeing Sam. He stopped immediately replaced with concern. “Sam… what happened?”
Yuri shook his head at him and gestured to come closer, turning Sam to the boy. Sam let herself be hugged and comforted by Hugh’s soothing words.
Brooke was watching them from her spot in the dunes and felt herself cry at Sam’s cries. She wanted to be the one hugging Sam. She wanted to be the one doing the comfort. Sam’s tears broke her heart all over again.
Hugh guided Sam to a quieter area behind the operational tent, and sat her on crate, before sitting down himself. He winced at the discomfort the movement caused his ribs, and Sam looked over at him. He looked terrible. An ugly stitched wound above his left eye, a bruise shielding his right eye, his arms black and blue with a foot imprint in his shoulder. “You look like shit.” She whispered.
Hugh laughed, “So do you.”
Sam smiled weakly, wiping her tears with the back of her hands. Hugh slid his crate to be closer to her. “What did you see? I mean, I’ve never seen you like this before.”
Sam shook her head, and broke eye contact. “There were so many bodies… Jorge gave me the address of a mass grave.”
“Holy shit!” exclaimed Hugh, putting his hand around Sam. Sam rested her head on his shoulder, and felt comforted by his finger tips stroking her hair. They sat in silence for a few moments before Sam pulled her head away. She smiled gently at Hugh who returned it. Hugh leaned forward and let his lips touch Sam’s. Sam was momentarily surprised by the contact, but let her eyes fall close, allowing him to deepen the kiss. She pushed herself into him, and felt him tightened his arms around her. Their tongues duelled, their hands held each other in place. Hugh let his hand slide down her back, massaging the base of her spine gently. Sam pulled back from the contact, and watched Hugh who was staring at her with hooded desire.
“I’m sorry… I can’t do this now,” Sam muttered as she ran from him.
Brooke hadn’t moved from her spot on the dunes from the moment they had returned. She watched the people below her move along with their routines, envying them for not seeing what she had seen. For not holding a child who died in their arms. For not having to bury an infant in a make-shift and unmarked grave. Then again, maybe they did. In fact, they probably did. How can they keep moving on? Brooke wondered as she felt the heat of the sun lessen as it began to sink in the distance.
“Hey you,” Sam said softly as she wrapped a blanket around the blonde’s shoulders. Brooke pulled the blanket to her, unaware that she had been shivering. She said nothing but watched as Sam sat down beside her and handed her a bowl of food. She shook her head, but the brunette forced it into her hand. “You need to eat.” She ordered.
Brooke felt as if she was forcing the food down, a feeling she hadn’t felt since she was a teenager. But knowing that Sam was watching her, she finished the meal. It didn’t make her feel better but made her feel alive. Brooke placed the empty bowl between her feet and continued watching the camp prepare for the night. She felt Sam move closer to her, and hand her a bottle of beer.
“Yuri thought we might need these.” Sam stated as she uncapped her own.
Brooke nodded and opened hers. She looked over at Sam for the first time since the brunette had joined her. The dark brown eyes were filled with concern, with sadness, and with love. Brooke smiled, and Sam knew that she hadn’t lost Brooke. Brooke would keep living. They clinked their bottles together.
They drank in silence, watching the lights dim within the tent. Sam shivered as she felt the cold night hit her. Brooke noticed and lifted the blanket to let Sam under. The two huddled in the warmth of the material and of each other.
“How much therapy do you think we’re going to need when we get home?” Brooke asked suddenly.
Sam laughed out loud, a laugh that could only be brought on by the aftermath of stress. She looked at Brooke who had a smile on her face. “Do you think anyone would be brave enough to take us on?”
Brooke giggled, and shook her head. Their laughter had ended as quickly as it had started. Brooke leaned her head against Sam’s and Sam wrapped her arm around the taller girl’s waist. “I never want to forget that.” Brooke’s voice was barely audible. “Never let me forget it, Sam.” Sam nodded.
“Sam!” Sam sat up at the sound of her name being cried out, and tried to readjust her eyes to the darkness. She could hear whimpering and cries from across the tent, and was immediately at Brooke’s side. She shook the blonde gently, whispering, “Brooke, it’s okay, it’s just a dream.”
Brooke opened her eyes, and felt Sam’s hand on her shoulder. She could feel a sheet of sweat clinging to her body and threw the blanket of her, letting the cold air hit her. She grabbed Sam’s hand with her own. “Don’t leave me.”
“I’ll never leave you,” Sam whispered earnestly.
Brooke kept her grip on the comforting hand and pulled Sam towards her, hugging her tightly to her chest. “Stay with me.”
Sam crawled into the small bed, and due to the lack of space, lay half on top of the taller woman. Brooke held the brunette to her, feeling comfort in the warmth of another person, of the even breathing against her neck. Sam relished in the sound of the steady heartbeat and the hand on her back.
Sam opened her eyes slowly and for the first time in a long time she forgot where she was. She felt at home. She studied her surroundings, taking in the sandy floor, the empty bed across from her, the half-worn candles, the scattered bags, letting the clues of her location connect inside her mind before finally, the realization sink in. She could feel the body beneath her and knew it was Brooke. She leant up on one elbow and watched the blonde sleep. She idly traced a finger along the jawbone, and across the soft lips before lowering her head, with the intention of replacing her fingers with her lips.
“Fuck!” She whispered as she realized what she was about to do. She jumped up with such force that the blonde shot up, stunned. “Sam, you okay?”
“Yeah… I’ve got to go,” Sam muttered, looking everywhere but at the woman she was just about to kiss.
Brooke watched the brunette flee from the tent in confusion, feeling the emptiness of the tent.
“Sam!” Hugh yelled as he limped across the camp towards the brunette who was hurrying through the tents. Sam stopped and looked at him, and felt confused. She wanted to run, everything told her to run, but she slowed her steps. She turned around and saw Brooke standing in the doorway of the tent watching her, and she felt panicked. When Hugh reached her, she forced a smile.
“Are you okay?” Hugh asked softly, placing his hand on her shoulder, noticing her jump beneath it. Sam nodded. “Really? I mean, about yesterday… about the kiss?”
“Let’s forget it.” Sam said all too quickly.
Hugh looked hurt but nodded. “If you want to…”
“I’m sorry Hugh,” Sam interrupted. “I just can’t… I’ve got to go.” She glanced back at the tent and found the blonde no longer there and then to Hugh’s hurt face. She muttered another apology and continued moving fast.
The largest problem Sam found with her current situation was that when she needed to run, there was nowhere to run to. Once she reached the end of the camp, she stopped moving, and felt the urge to scream in frustration. She hadn’t felt this confused since she was sixteen, and this was not the time to be confused again.
“Brooke?” The blonde turned to the Indian accent and smiled as she saw Dev coming towards her. “Are you okay?”
Brooke nodded and then shook her head, “I don’t know.”
She sat down in the warm sand, pulled her knees up and lay down. She watched Dev as he sat beside her. He met her hazel eyes with his dark eyes and smiled, “You seem lost.”
Brooke laughed without feeling, “I feel it.”
Dev placed a hand on her knee, “You know, I’m here if you ever want to talk.”
Brooke nodded, “Thanks, but I don’t need to talk. Talking means nothing at the moment.”
Dev seemed confused but let it pass. “So what are you going to do today then?”
Brooke closed her eyes and thought for a moment before opening them and looking back at him, “Anything that doesn’t involve a moving vehicle of any kind.”
Dev grinned, “I understand that… want to work with me…”
Brooke wanted to be with Sam, but the brunette had vanished from view, yet again. She sat up and smiled at Dev, “And what work would that be?”
“Nothing attractive. Building tents?”
Brooke frowned, “I have no idea how to build a tent.”
Dev stood up and lifted his hand out to pull Brooke to her feet, “Well, I’m a great teacher.”
Sam had spent an hour wandering between the dunes, trying to figure out that near-kiss she had made earlier that morning. She wanted to believe that it was in the spur of the moment, and tried to rationalise that it was due to the emotional events of the last two days. She knew that she was lying to herself, but lying was easier. She couldn’t let herself be honest, it would only complicate things. The last thing she wanted to be doing was trying to solve matters of the heart. She decided that she was going to stop these thoughts and forget it. However, when she had returned to the camp, she found the centre of her thoughts in the company of an attractive Indian.. Those feelings weren’t going to go away, were they?
She sidestepped the tent building and went towards the medical tent. She needed to focus on her story. She stepped inside to the stifling heat and the stench of untended wounds, and let the reality step back into her life. Yuri spotted her and walked towards her, “Sam, how are you?”
Sam shrugged, “I’m okay… I want to do interviews.”
Yuri was stunned at the change from the emotional wreck of a girl of yesterday to the numbed woman before him. “You could take a break?”
“And do what?” She asked impatiently. “I need to be doing something.”
Yuri relented and called over a scrawny, African man of about thirty over, “Jonah! Can you do translations please?”
The bald man looked over and saw Sam. He nodded and approached Sam. He liked the journalist, and thought her to be unlike others he had translated for. She cared. “Sure… Jaja is able to talk now, if you want?”
Sam looked to the weak man that lay in a nearby cot. It was impossible to believe that the man that lay there was in his early twenties, as fear had aged him. Sam could remember when he had arrived. He had hobbled on a stick, screaming and crying at the top of his voice in the middle of the night. She and a few others had been on guard and heard his cries from the distance. On arriving, he had grabbed her shirt and fell to his knees, moaning over and over again. It wasn’t until Hugh had shone a torch on him, that they saw he had been bleeding profusely from his side. Now, he was haunted, as were many of the people.
She pulled a crate over to his bed, and smiled gently as she sat down. Jonah sat on the other side of the bed and explained quietly to him what Sam was going to do. Jaja nodded before looking at Sam expectantly.
“How old are you?” Sam listened as Jonah gently translated her words to the defeated man. Jonah repeated Jaja’s words as if they were his own.
“I am twenty three.”
“Where do you come from?”
“Near Kusti, a small river village.”
Sam sighed and smiled softly at Jaja, knowing the easy questions were over. She glanced around the tent and seeing the other patients, all of whom had stories, in fact their stories were all they had left. She knew some of their stories and wanted to know all of them. She returned her dark eyes to the empty ones before her. This wasn’t going to be easy.
“Jaja, what happened?”
She listened as he murmured in soft tones, and as Jonah translated just as softly.
“My wife was getting the water, my daughter was outside playing. I was working in the city. It takes me two hours to walk there and back. I got back and it was quiet. There were no sounds. There were no noises. People were looking at me as if I was not there. I knew my wife and child were dead before I found them. My daughter was shot in the chest. She was still holding her toy in her hand. She was so small. I tried to make her live, but she was cold. My wife, I could not find. I could not find her face. She had no face. They shot her face. They tore her dress. They did things they shouldn’t do. They raped her and they shot her.”
Jaja looked away from the ceiling and turned his eyes to Sam’s grabbing her arm in his strong fingers. He lifted his head, and spoke without feeling. Sam didn’t remove her eyes from him as she asked Jonah what he was saying.
“They wanted me. They wanted the man. I was not there. They kill my family. My wife is dead. My child is dead. I am dead. There is nothing you people can do to stop us from being dead, even when we are alive.”
His eyes raised to above her head, and Sam knew without looking that someone was standing behind her. She knew who it was from the hand placed on her shoulder. She watched as Jaja collapsed back on the bed returning his gaze to the cloth ceiling. She wanted to know more, she leant closer still feeling a hand on her shoulder.
“Jaja, how did you come here? How did you get hurt?”
“People were leaving our village. They were frightened. Their sons were dead, their husbands were dead. I buried my wife and child and I left. I tried to find help, but there was nowhere. I spend weeks walking when I saw men. They were bad men and had guns. I asked for water. They laughed at me. They spit at me. They hit me. They kick me. I try to run but they catch me. They call me names. They hurt me. They do not leave me go. I think they will kill me, but they do not. They tell me I can go. I run but they shoot me. I come here.”
Sam nodded and whispered a thank you as she stood up. Jaja was another ghost, one among millions of ghost. She stood up and felt the hand drop from her shoulder. She turned to see hazel eyes filling with tears. Brooke gestured to her camera and Sam nodded. People don’t believe in ghosts without proof. She heard the shutter as Brooke clicked it three times.
Brooke lifted the camera away from her eye and studied the young man. He was younger than she was, and yet seemed older than her father. He had lost everything and everyone he had lost and still he breathed.
She touched him gently on the shoulder as she left, and felt nothing beneath her hand. If his chest wasn’t rising, she would have mistaken his as being dead.
She found Sam outside the tent, “Hey… that was…”
“Brooke, can we not talk about it?” Sam said, turning to her. Brooke was surprised and Sam softened her features. “I’m sorry… I just can’t talk about it yet.”
Brooke understood. Some things just can’t be talked about. “Where did you go this morning?”
Sam looked at her in a slight panic, “Eh… I had to do something… I had to… you were busy with… Dev.” She ended in disappointment.
Brooke raised an eyebrow, “I hope you can write better than you can speak.”
Sam laughed lightly, “I’m sorry. Can we forget it?”
Brooke was concerned and wanted to know more, usually she’d let it be. But this time she wanted to know, “Forget what?” Sam said nothing and Brooke stepped closer, brushing a hand gently through the dark wild tresses, smoothing them down. “I missed you.” Brooke’s voice was so gentle that it made Sam want to pull her closer.
The two women turned to see Dev running towards them, stepping apart from each other.
“I was beginning to miss you,” Dev declared as he reached them. Sam couldn’t help but raise her eyes. An action that didn’t go unnoticed by the taller blonde. She turned to him and smiled, “I was doing some stuff with Sam.”
Dev glanced at Sam and grinned. Sam nodded to him in greeting. She felt very much like she was being a third wheel, and a small part of her wanted to leave. But she wanted to feel close to the blonde. She needed it after speaking to Jaja.
“We were just finishing the last tent, and I was wondering if you wanted to go for a walk, the view of the camp is fantastic from over there… for a photo, I mean”
Brooke nodded, “Yeah,” She joined him, grabbing Sam’s hand pulling her along with them. Sam couldn’t help but smile at Dev’s face. The Indian hadn’t intended on her coming along. Yet, she was going to be selfish, she was going to keep Brooke’s company for now.
The three stood on top of the dune looking down at the camp, enjoying the panoramic view of the tents amongst the never-ending sand. They didn’t say anything as Brooke took photos from various angles, eventually kneeling. Sam watched her with a bemused expression. Brooke dropped the camera around her neck and looked up to her, “What?”
“Have you always been this flash-happy?” Sam asked, with jest.
Brooke stuck her tongue out and elbowed her in the knee, causing the brunette to yelp. Sam hit her on the head with her notepad, which only caused Brooke to push her into the sand. Sam screamed as she hit the sand, and rolled over seeing Brooke laughing at her. Sam launched herself at her, tickling every available part of Brooke’s body she could reach. Brooke pushed against her screaming and laughing, trying to free herself.
“Ahem,” Dev cleared his throat loudly as he watched the two girls in almost embarrassment. Sam pulled herself up on her hands, still hovering over the taller blonde’s body. The two looked at each grinning before looking at Dev who just shook his head, smiling. “Children,” he muttered.
Sam glanced back at Brooke and suddenly felt aware of the closeness between them. She laughed awkwardly as she pulled herself up. “I better go and see how Hugh is doing… I’ll catch up with you later.” She mumbled as she left quickly.
Brooke stood up and brushed the sand from her clothes and her camera, before smiling over at Dev. She watched Sam’s form grow smaller as she disappeared amongst the mass of tents and people. “Everything looks so small from here,” She said absently-minded and then grimaced as she thought how stupid that must have sounded. Dev chuckled and moved closer to her, “Yeah, it is… Brooke, I have something to ask you.”
Brooke looked over at him and she knew what he was going to ask. She had been with enough people to know what is going to happen. She liked him. He was charming, funny and a gentleman. And he was gorgeous to look at, but this wasn’t the place to be looking for a future husband. In fact, she didn’t even want a future husband. That thought had surprised herself, because for years she thought that was exactly what she wanted. Not anymore, not since coming here. Not since… She closed her eyes tightly to halt that train of thoughts.
“I like you. You’re special… I was wondering…”
She had to stop him, “Dev, you’re a great guy, and if we were anywhere else, I’d definitely consider, but…” She spread her arms gesturing their location, “This isn’t the place.”
Dev studied her for a moment before nodding, “You’re right… I’ve been here for so long, and you’re the first person to remind me of a world unlike this one.”
Brooke smiled gently at him, placing her hand on his arm.
They stood in silence before Dev cleared his throat, “Dinner should be ready now, and I believe it’s your first time on food line.”
“Shit! I forgot.” Brooke almost shouted, dropping her hand and running down the dune, almost slipping in the sand. Dev chuckled as he followed her slowly.
“Samster and Anna are neck and neck after the terrible Jenga collapse for Petey.” Hugh commentated loudly as the two girls were balancing a stack of bowls in one hand, with the other behind their back. “Charlie, add another bowl to both parties…” The blonde Brit balancing carefully on a heap of crates, added a bowl to each stack. “Thirty bowls for the Samster and for Aussie Annie… and still they’re neck and neck!”
The crowd of children and their parents were watching the circus acts in glee while waiting for their meals to be prepared. Brooke pushed her way through the crowd and stood back watching the inane activities. “Another bowl please, Mr. Charles.” Hugh ordered, obviously enjoying his position as ring-master. “Oh, I believe we have a record… Thirty one bowls, ladies and gentlemen…Hey Brooke!” The sandy-haired man yelled as he spotted the blonde.
Sam spun around at the sound of the blonde’s name, her stack collapsing around her, some hitting her on the head.
The audience laughed as the brunette ducked, smiling sheepishly.
“We have a winner… Aussie Annie, our winner!”
The Australian jumped up and down, clapping her hands. “Go me!” She declared with a huge grin across the face, before shaking her hands with her opponent.
Sam walked over to Brooke, “Come on, I’ll show you what’s what…”
Brooke stood between Anna and Sam, and enjoyed listening to their banter as she ladled the food into the dishes past towards her.
“Sam, you can’t be serious… Futurama is not better than The Simpsons!” Anna exclaimed almost hitting Brooke in the head with her ladle as she turned to face the brunette. “Nothing beats Homer.”
“Yeah, but The Simpsons is based on the stupidity of a dysfunctional family, and the sheer coincidences of their whereabouts, causing the events in their lives.” Sam said matter-of-factly.
“And being set in the future, in a time of space isn’t just as inane,” Brooke added before Anna got to continue her debate.
“Exactly,” Anna said, banging her ladle against the vat, making the elderly woman before her jump. “Does she always over-analyse and philophise or however you say that word everything?”
“Philosophise.” Sam corrected, but was ignored.
“Yeah she does,” Brooke laughed, pouring out another dish. “You should have heard her analysis on cheerleaders.”
“Really?” Anna asked, obviously intrigued.
“Yeah. She would find any excuse to compare the cheer squad to demon spawn.”
Anna laughed joyfully at this, “What was it she got into a battle about the other day? Oh yeah, the irrelevance of wasps… with an environmentalist vegan.”
“No way!” Brooke exclaimed.
“You both do know, that she is still here.” Sam said quite unimpressed by the conversation taking place at her expense. Brooke turned to her.
“You arguing with an environmentalist vegan? What would Lily say?” Brooke asked quite cheerfully.
Sam laughed, “Let’s just make sure she never finds out.”
“What was it you said to Elena?” Anna asked, waving the ladle in the air as if it would bring back memories. “Oh yes! If you had to choose between the wasp or the tiger, which would you choose?”
“I was right though,” Sam shouted defensively, “You would save the cuter of the two… the tiger.” She turned to her queue. “I hate wasps.” She added as an afterthought.
Brooke laughed and also turned back to her queue. The three continued in their light-hearted conversation, as the queues became shorter. Brooke couldn’t help but catching glimpses of Sam smiling gently at the people before her, or laughing carelessly at Anna’s jokes, or simply listening with thoughtfulness in her dark eyes.
Brooke couldn’t help but watch Sam all evening, looking away every time the brunette saw her. Sam had always fascinated her, but this was a part of Sam Brooke never knew. The part of her that made her want to watch her, hear her, be near her. The part that Brooke couldn’t name. The part that scared her.
As the two lay in their beds in the darkness that night, they were so aware of each other. It made it impossible to sleep. After, what seemed an age of tossing and turning, Sam let out an exaggerated sign and heard Brooke giggle.
“You can’t sleep?” Sam asked as she rolled to be facing the blonde even if she couldn’t see her.
Brooke shook her head as she also rolled to face the other girl. “No, I can’t stop thinking.”
“Really? Am surprised you know how to think.” Sam stated.
“Ha Ha!” Brooke laughed sarcastically.
The two stayed facing each other, despite not being able to see each other, and allowed the comfortable silence fall on them. It was Brooke who sighed this time.
“What you thinking about?” Sam asked.
“About you.” Brooke stated without even thinking. On realisation of what she said, she continued, suddenly glad for the darkness. “I mean, why you’re here… you’re amazing.”
Sam smiled, “You’re here too, must mean you’re amazing too.”
“Yeah, but I’ve seen so little… and it’s enough to torment me for the rest of my life. What you must have seen… I can’t even begin to imagine it.”
Sam perched herself up on her elbow, leaning her head on her hand, “Believe me Brooke, you’ve seen the worst.”
Brooke nodded and became silent again. She heard Sam fall back on the bed and suddenly wanted to be there with her. “Sam?”
“Can I sleep with you?”
Sam thought about it, remembering what nearly happened that morning but also remembering the comfort and the fact that the previous night sleep was the best she had. As she weighed the pros and cons in her head, she could hear Brooke’s bed rustle as the blonde was trying to make herself comfortable. She guessed that the blonde took her silence as a no. Maybe that was a good thing.
“Yeah, you can.” That came out of her mouth without permission and Sam nearly kicked herself. She could hear Brooke approach her and moved to make room. She felt Brooke’s weight as she lay on the bed. Sam rolled on her back as the blonde moved on top of her, hugging her.
“Good night Sam,” Brooke mumbled as she kissed the brunette’s smooth neck. She froze as she moved her lips away trying to figure out why she did that. She felt Sam stiffen beneath her. Brooke snuggled her head into the crook of the Brunette’s head, praying that Sam wouldn’t question her or worse still, ask her to get out.
Sam tried to relax her breathing as she mumbled a good night. She had no idea why Brooke had done that, and assumed it to be as a result of their closeness. As she heard Brooke’s breathing even, she relaxed.
The high-pitched screaming woke the two up, making them jump up in the bed. The screams of agonies were coming from many people.
“What’s happening?” Brooke asked, as she struggled to pull her shoes on.
“I don’t know,” Sam answered as she too yanked on her shoes.
Within minutes from the blood-curdling screams, the two girls were out of their tent.
“Sam! Get over here!” Yuri yelled as he ran alongside a stretcher, carrying a screaming man, towards the medical tent.
Sam and Brooke tried to catch their breath, as they tried to take in what was happening. Twenty wounded and frightened people had just arrived, screaming and moaning into the darkness of the night. All the aid workers were trying to get access to them, help them. Parents were holding their curious children back. People just stood watching as the two girls did. On hearing her name being called again, Sam ran towards Yuri, pulling Brooke along with her.
“What happened?” Sam asked as she lifted another stretcher with Dev on the other end. The boy on it couldn’t be more than fourteen years old, and his eyes were filled with fear. There wasn’t an inch on his skin that wasn’t covered in blood. Dev shook his head, and the two continued, trying to avoid the chaos, into the medical tent.
Yuri was running from one patient to another trying to set up some form of triage.
“His arm needs to go,” He stated miserably when he reached Sam and Dev. Sam looked at the boy’s arm, and beneath the pool of blood, she could see the bone. She tried to calm her stomach.
Brooke was at the opposite end of the tent, holding a little girl who was sobbing, as Anna was checking for wounds. The small girl was covered in blood, but seemed to be unaware of Anna’s prodding. She was crying in vain for her mother.
“There’s nothing here. It’s not her blood… Can you hold onto her?” Anna asked without waiting for an answer.
Brooke tightened her grip on the child, singing softly in her ear, trying to soothe the tears. She watched as the too few doctors, and the few more nurses tried to battle to save the lives of those who had just fallen on them. She saw Sam holding down a teenage boy, her eyes closed as Yuri reached for a surgical saw.
Sam opened her eyes to look into the terrified eyes below her. The boy was mumbling, but was calmer, thanks to the morphine Yuri had given him. She could see that the boy needed her, and she struggled to keep her eyes open for him.
Brooke had managed to calm the little girl down. The child’s sobs had ceased and she clung to Brooke, choosing her as a comforter.
Sam could hear the saw grind through the bone, and hear the moans from the nearby injured. Yet, she didn’t let anything distract her from focusing on the boy’s dark eyes.
Brooke watched as Lucinda lifted a sheet over a woman’s form, stopping only for a second. That second standing for a life-time of grief. Lucinda moved on to the next person, Anna and Charlie following. Brooke saw the arm of the dead woman hanging from the side of bed, a single stream of blood falling down her skin. The blonde stood, still holding the little girl close to her and walked over. She pulled back the sheet, carefully, as if unveiling an expensive crystal. With her free hand, she tenderly stroked the woman’s face. She could hear the child whimper into her chest, and she knew that this child had just become orphaned.
Sam watched the boy’s eyes close as he drifted into a deep sleep, a probable coma. She had been told that happens with amputations at times. She loosened her grip on the teenager’s shoulders and watched as Yuri expertly stitched where his arm once was. She looked up and saw Brooke cradling a mourning little girl. She looked down at the boy once more to check if he was indeed sleeping, before walking towards the blonde.
Brooke held the little girl close to her, cradling her head with her hand. She watched as Sam tenderly lifted the arm and placed it carefully alongside the dead woman. She lifted the sheet to cover her again and turned to Brooke.
“You should take her outside.”
Brooke looked from the little girl who had fallen into a fitful sleep in her arms to Sam, “Will you come with me?”
Sam looked around and knew there was nothing more she could do, before glancing back at Brooke. “Yeah.”
The two women sat in the sand, a distance from the screams and moans. Brooke rocked the sleeping child as if she was a baby. She may as well be a baby, she was so small. Sam marvelled at the blonde’s ease with children, remembering fondly when Mac was a baby. Every time their baby sister cried during the night, it was Brooke that was woken to help Mac get back to sleep. She could remember the unimpressed look that the blonde displayed every time someone came in to her room with the screaming baby. A look that changed into adoration, the moment that same baby was placed in her arms.
“What you thinking about?” Brooke interrupted Sam’s thoughts gently.
Sam looked up and smiled, “About you.”
Brooke wanted to know more but Sam had jumped to her feet and started running.
“Hugh!” The brunette yelled as she ran in the sand. Brooke too stood at hearing their friend’s name.
Hugh was limping as fast as he could towards the camp, obviously in pain from his cracked ribs. The two girls reached him, and Sam went to catch him as his knees buckled.
“Woman… baby… over there!” Hugh spat out, gasping for air.
Sam ran back to the tent, leaving Brooke help Hugh sit down and catch his breath. She couldn’t find any free doctor so grabbed a lantern and ran back in the direction Hugh had come from. Brooke watched as the brunette ran past them and dumped the sleeping child in Hugh’s arms and ran after her.
“Shit… she’s having a baby!” Sam almost screamed when she reached the wailing woman. Brooke came to a stop right behind her. Both women stared at the woman in deep labour, both shocked. This was certainly the last thing they had expected.
Sam dropped onto her knees, trying to calm the frightened woman down. Brooke could only stand and watch. Sam saw Brooke stare and yelled at her, “Brooke, I need help here.”
Brooke head snapped up and she too fell to her knees, “What can I do?”
Sam shook her head as she spread apart the woman’s knees and looked, “Oh fuck! Brooke, what is that?”
Brooke peered beneath the cloth, “That’s the head.”
“Oh Jesus!” Sam said almost standing up again. Brooke grabbed her arm.
“Sam, hold her… I’ll deliver I guess.”
Sam could only just look at Brooke in astonishment before mutely going behind the woman, holding her. The woman started screaming again. Brooke grabbed her knee. “No! Don’t push! Breathe.” Brooke started imitating the breathing she had seen on the TV, hoping that the woman would understand. Brooke urged Sam to do the same. The woman understood and started breathing as they were.
“I can’t seen anything!” Brooke yelled as she grabbed the lantern trying to pull it closer to where she needed it to be. “Okay, push!”
The woman kept breathing, and so Brooke had to show her what to do, making the sound effects for reassurance. The woman pushed. “Oh God the head is out.” Brooke yelled as she placed her hand underneath it again. “Breathe!” Sam started breathing and the woman followed. “Push!” This time it was Sam who imitated the move. “One more push, “ Brooke shouted excitedly.
The newborn baby cries pierced the cold, dark night like sweet music, and was soon mingled with joyful laughter from both Brooke and Sam. Brooke pulled her shirt off to cover the baby, smiling at the crying mother, “It’s a boy.” She stated proudly, as she placed it on the woman’s chest. The woman hugged the infant closely to her, as Sam peered at the baby boy. “He’s beautiful,” She whispered, before looking at Brooke who had happy tears streaming down her face.
Sam crawled over to Brooke, stroking away the tears, “You were amazing.” Brooke laughed nervously, leaning into Sam’s gentle touch. Sam watched as Brooke’s hazel eyes sparkled in the dim light from the lantern. She moved closer, wanting to touch those lips with her own. She could hear the blonde hold her breath as she did the same.
“Sam! Brooke!” Yuri yelled as he ran with Dev and Petey following with a stretcher. “What happened?”
“She had a baby,” Sam said, amazed by the miracle of life.
Sam looked over at Brooke who was standing up. She hissed to herself, kicking herself for her near-actions.
Brooke saw Hugh still cradling the little girl in his lap as she walked back to the camp. He smiled at her. “Heard you’re a midwife.”
Brooke grinned, “It was incredible, I’ve never done anything like that.” She sat down beside her, and stroked the sleeping child’s face. “How is she doing?”
“She’s been sleeping all this time,” Hugh said as he watched Sam emerge from behind the dunes. He saw her being deep in thought. He placed the little girl in Brooke’s arms. “Take her…”
Brooke barely had a chance to react as Hugh was already limping away from her. She saw him walk to Sam and looked away. She studied the child, willing herself to stop thinking about the brunette. Sam made her feel something she never felt before… no, that wasn’t true. Sam always made her feel something that no one else did. And it terrified her. She didn’t know what to do. No one else, man or woman got to her this way.
“Hey Sam, how you doing?” Hugh asked as he approached the brunette. Sam looked exhausted. Sam looked behind him and saw Brooke look away from her. “Damn,” she mumbled.
Sam looked at Hugh and smiled, shaking her head, “Nothing… it’s been a long night.”
“You going back to bed?”
Sam looked up at the sky and saw that daylight was breaking through. “No point, it’s almost morning time.”
“Can we talk then?” Hugh dipped his head, and Sam looked at him and sighed.
The two of them walked away from the camp again, watched carefully by a hurt Brooke.
“Brooke?” Anna called to her as she walked over to her. “For someone who has just delivered a healthy baby boy, you look pretty depressed.” She said as she sat down beside her.
Brooke shrugged. Anna bent her head, and smiled at the sleeping girl. “Don’t you love them when they’re like that? Innocent, and forgetful.”
“What a night!” Anna exclaimed as she lay back on the sand. She watched the blonde rock the little girl and frowned seeing sadness crease her face. “Brooke, what’s wrong?”
Brooke shook her head, “I’m so confused.”
“About what?” Anna said sitting up again and placing a concerned hand on the slimmer girl’s shoulder.
“Everything… I mean of all the places, why here?” Brooke exhaled, not making eye-contact. She wished she hadn’t said anything, but maybe she needed to say it out loud. Anna looked confused, and Brooke glanced at her. She smiled embarrassedly and stood up. “I should find her a bed.” She said gesturing to the little girl.
“Brooke, I’m here… if you want to talk,” Anna called after her earnestly.
Brooke looked back and smiled gratefully before searching for Yuri.
“Sam, I just wanted to know that we’re cool…” Hugh asked as the two leant against the truck.
Sam nodded, “Of course we are, I shouldn’t have done that. Kiss you, I mean.”
Hugh frowned and let a pause come between them before clearing his throat, “Sam, you’re a beautiful woman, and I would be a liar if I didn’t say I wasn’t attracted to you…”
Sam jumped of the truck and looked at him, stopping him with her stare, “Hugh, you’re a sweet guy… but I like someone else.”
“Oh,” Hugh said quietly, looking everywhere but at the brunette.
“I’m sorry,” Sam mumbled. She loved Hugh but not in that way at all. She loved…
“Is it some one here?” Hugh asked, staring at the ground. When Sam didn’t answer, he took it to be a yes. He tried to think of some one that could be lucky enough to have Sam. When no obvious name came to mind, his curiosity won over him. “Who?”
Sam sighed and looked at Hugh. “It’s a mess. Such a mess… I don’t know how it happened. Okay, I do know… but Oh God!” Sam exhaled, burying her face in her hands.
Hugh leant forward to place both his hands on her shoulders, “Sam… what is it?”
“I fell in love with her the moment I first saw her. Even when we hated each other I loved her… and it takes me now to admit it. And I can’t even get her… Oh God!” Sam nearly yelled walking away from Hugh’s hands.
“Her?” Hugh mumbled, before his eyes widened. “Brooke?”
Sam stopped her pacing to look at Hugh, before laughing hysterically, “Yes, I love Brooke… Fuck, I love Brooke… I love Brooke!” Her voice quietened as she stared at Hugh in horror. “What am I going to do?”
Hugh sighed, and pushed all his own feelings aside. “Well Samster, you’ve got yourself into a pickle there.”
The two of them could only nod before giggling like school children.
Brooke listened to Jonah carefully speak to the little girl, informing her gently about her mother’s death and who they were. The little girl didn’t say anything, didn’t even make the same slight, just held onto Brooke tightly.
“What’s her name?” Brooke asked Jonah as he stood to leave the two.
She watched as Jonah asked the little girl.
“Her name is Sittina.” Jonah said gently as he left.
“Hey Sittina, I’m Brooke. And we’re going to get you some food, okay?”
The little girl didn’t show any understanding at all but followed Brooke to the food line. She ate her food quickly despite Brooke’s request for her to slow down. She watched as Wayla carefully approached them, obviously curious by the newcomer. Brooke waved her over, “Come here Wayla.”
Wayla laughed as she ran towards the blonde, before shyly waving at Sittina. The two little girls were of the same age, and Brooke watched as Wayla gabbled quickly to Sittina, before taking the newcomer’s hand and running off. Brooke watched as the two new best friends ran off towards the other children, with a smile on her face. Children really were incredible.
Brooke looked up at Sam who was smiling down at her. She smiled back,“Yeah, looks like.”
Sam stood there awkwardly as Brooke picked up the empty bowls and walked back to return them. Sam followed her, and Brooke noticed the excessive awkwardness, “What is it, Sam?”
Sam looked away from Brooke and at the medical tent. “I was wondering if we could take a photo of our newborn?”
“God yes!” Brooke exclaimed excitedly, running to their tent to get her camera and another jacket.
Sam held the baby boy gently in her arms, cooing at him quietly as he screamed for his mother. “Babies don’t like me, it’s official!”
Brooke laughed as she let the camera hang from her neck. She let Sam put the infant in her arms and immediately the baby stopped crying, looking at the blonde curiously.
“You on the other hand… babies love you!” Sam stated, pouting.
Brooke giggled at Sam’s pout and suddenly had the urge to kiss her. She frowned immediately, dumping the baby into Anna’s arms before running away.
“Brooke!” Sam called after her, running after her.
Once the brunette had reached the outside of the tent, she had lost view of the blonde amongst the people. She eventually spotted the blonde with Dev and despite her better judgement, she chose to follow.
“Sam! We’re due a sandstorm… we need to peg down the tents.” Charlie yelled as he stepped into the brunette’s path.
Sam looked at him and at Brooke’s retreating form and sighed. She took the pegs and hammer being handed to her. She followed the blonde Brit to the tents and stooped down to start hammering the pegs into the cloth. Sandstorms were always a threat, but never had she witnessed one. Apparently the last one happened the night before she arrived. She was hoping the next one would be after she left. She could feel that she was being watched as she hammered each peg with might. She looked up and saw two little girls watching her shyly. She grinned as she coaxed them closer. “Hey Wayla, who’s your friend.”
Wayla laughed and ran to the brunette, grabbing her arm tightly. The other little girl watched them with an expression of curiosity and fear. Sam smiled gently at her, “Hey, I’m Sam, what’s your name?”
The little girl said nothing and Wayla giggles, leaving go of Sam and grabbing her new friend’s hand bringing her closer to the brunette. Wayla talked quickly and loudly and then turned to Sam and pointed to her. The little girl spoke quietly and Wayla smiled a toothy grin. She pointed to her new friend and spoke to Sam, “Sittina!”
Sam smiled at the two girls and decided to let them help her. The three of them pegged the tents with much tickling, laughter and playing.
“Brooke, what’s wrong?” Dev asked with concern as the blonde paced in circles in front of him.
“I don’t know… I’m trying to… Argh!” Brooke yelled, tossing her hands in the air before returning to her quick pacing.
The Indian watched the tall woman with some amusement. He liked the blonde, she had a sense of mirth in her hazel eyes and he enjoyed being with her. She made him feel, and he hated to say it, young, even though he wasn’t much older than her. Life here aged him quickly and she brought freshness with her.
“Brooke, please stop. You’re making me feel dizzy.” Dev stifled a laugh as the blonde came to a sudden halt and looked at him. She smiled sheepishly.
“I’m sorry Dev, I just am trying to figure my head out, and it’s so difficult.”
“Yeah, that can happen…”
Brooke smiled at him before beginning to pace again, this time slowly. Dev stood in front of her effectively stopping her. Brooke looked at him and could feel the breeze picking up speed, cooling her hot skin.
“I’m your friend, Brooke… you can talk to me,” Dev said with kind eyes.
Brooke watched him for a few seconds before taking a deep breath. “It’s…”
Gunfire broke through the camp, with the sound of several engines and laughter mingling between each shot. Brooke looked towards the camp and ran, “Sam!”
Dev ran after her, trying to grab her.
Sam’s head shot up as she heard the approaching engines and gunfire, and instinctively she grabbed the two little girls close to her. She ran through the camp with one thought in her mind.
Sam reached the top of the crowds which were being brought together by the several armed men. Yuri stood at the top, his arms spread in a protective stance, his face defiant. Across from him were several aid workers being pushed back with guns, one of whom was a frightened tall blonde being held by an Indian.
Sam sighed in relief in seeing Brooke, and kept a grip on the two little girls hands, both of whom had started crying from fear.
The leader stared mockingly at Yuri as he ordered his men to take the medicines and the food. As the people watched helplessly as their means to live were being taken in crates by the large men, Yuri shouted, “You’ve taken what you want, now go!”
The leader laughed at him, stepping closer to him, menacing him with his glare. His men laughed as they dragged crate after crate towards their trucks. When they had finished ransacking the tents and taken what was needed, they stopped, waiting for instructions.
“You can go now!” Yuri shouted, his voice braver than his feelings. The leader stepped forward, flashing a grin at him.
The sand started sweeping up in the breeze, grains hitting the scarred cheeks of the grinning rebel. He laughed loudly into Yuri’s face. “We want women!”
Yuri pushed against him, “You bastard!” He was pushed back onto the ground by two armed men, and felt helpless against the fifty or sixty guns being pointed at them. He struggled to his feet, as four young women, girls, were being dragged, kicking and screaming from the crowds.
Sam struggled to keep a grip on Sittina’s hand, knowing that the little girl wanted to run away. She could understand the feeling, but wouldn’t let Brooke out of her sight until it was safe again. She felt her blood boil as she watched four helpless girls being taken against their will, pushed towards the trucks, kicked and beaten when they tried to run.
Brooke watched in horror as she saw the women being picked up and thrown into the back of the trucks like sacks. She could hear their cries and screams, once they were hidden from view and she hated how helpless she suddenly felt. She spotted Sam opposite her and could see her feelings being mirrored in Sam’s angry face.
The leader grabbed another woman and pulled her out, only to be stopped by Yuri. Yuri grabbed her other arm and tried to pull her back. At the threat of being shot with the rifle, Yuri yelled out, “She has AIDS!”
The scarred leader grinned at him as he lowered the rifle pointed at the middle-aged man. He kept his grip on the terrified woman. Yuri watched with relief as the leader dropped her hand only to shout when the leader pulled out a pistol and shoot the woman in the head. He laughed as the woman slumped to the ground, her lifeless eyes pointing to the sand-filled air.
Yuri stared at the dead body in horror, before returning his angry gaze to the laughing rebel.
“Does she have AIDS?” He yelled as he pointed to another woman. Yuri shook his head praying that they would leave.
When sand hit Sam’s horrified eyes, she had to leave go of Sittina’s hand to wipe them clear again.
“Sittina!” She cried as she ran after the little girl who was running into the armed men’s circle. The little girl had seen Brooke and wanted to be with her.
Brooke saw the little girl run towards her and ran out to her.
“What about her? Does she have AIDS?” The leader yelled at Yuri as he grabbed the little girl by the back of her dress, picking her up.
Brooke stopped to a halt as she watched the leader dangle the helpless child in his strong hand. The rebel turned to the blonde and grinned. “You tell me, does she have AIDS?”
He walked closer to her, and Brooke could feel herself shaking, “No… p-p-put her down p-p-please.”
The grotesque man laughed loudly, “You Americans!”
He stepped closer to the trembling blonde and dropped the child by her feet, before putting his face close to Brooke’s own. Brooke could feel the wind whip against her skin, and could smell his stale breath. She could see nothing in his eyes, no emotion.
“You bastard!” Sam yelled as she pushed him to the ground. She was half his size but had no problems striking him to the sand. She continuously punched him in the face, screaming at him. She ignored Yuri’s shouts, Hugh’s shouts, even Brooke’s shouts. She wanted to kill this man, and nothing was going to stop her.
The howling of the wind and the whack of a rifle against a skull were the only sounds to be heard. Sam rolled of the bulky man and clutched her head. Brooke dropped to her knees beside her and cried as the young man pointed his rifle at the brunette.
The sand whirled in the wind as it became stronger and louder, beating it’s grains against everyone. The leader stood up, clutching his bleeding nose, glaring at the small brunette. He spat blood on her before gesturing his men to leave.
They fired their guns into the air, jeering the frightened crowds they left behind. Yuri stumbled to Sam’s form, rolling her gently to check her wound. Sam remained mute, just focusing on Brooke’s caring hazel eyes.
“The wind is picking up! Everyone inside their tents now!” Yuri ordered as he and Brooke helped Sam onto her feet. They could hear people scurrying to their tents, against the screaming wind and the growing masts of sand.
“Please take her,” Brooke asked Anna, pushing the little girl towards the Australian, not once removing her eyes from the blank brown eyes before her.
Sam hissed as she felt her wound being stitched gently by Yuri.
“Why did you do that?” Brooke asked, her voice high with fear.
Sam just looked at her and said nothing.
“You could have been killed!” Brooke almost yelled.
Sam looked away from the blonde and concentrated on the door of the tent. She watched as the sand lifted from the ground to be replaced by new grains. She felt herself being shaken by the taller woman and glared at her.
“I thought I lost you… of all the stupid things you could do, you do this!” Brooke yelled, the reality of the situation sinking in harshly.
Sam jumped of the bed, ignoring Yuri’s protest and stepped towards the blonde.
“I did it for you!” She hissed, before racing from the tent.
“Sam!” Yuri yelled, quickly followed by “Brooke!” as the blonde ran after her.
Brooke focussed on the brunette running ahead of her, ignoring the biting of the sand, the howls of the wind and the shouts of the aid-workers. She saw Sam come to a halt as the sand began blinding their visions. Brooke stopped in front of her and grabbed her arm, spinning her around.
“Sam! We need to get inside!” Brooke shouted over the wind.
Sam shook her head. She couldn’t bear it anymore. She tried to flee from Brooke’s grip, but the strong fingers tightened their hold.
“Don’t run! Please Sam!” Brooke begged, stepping closer to the brunette.
“I can’t…” Sam struggled to speak.
Brooke took another step closer, and covered their heads with her jacket, ignoring the pain the sand caused as it whipped against her shoulders. “Can’t what, Sam?”
Sam looked into the concerned hazel eyes. “Please, Brooke… don’t.”
Brooke saw fear in Sam’s eyes, a type of fear she didn’t recognize. “We need to get inside…” She never got a chance to finish as she felt the brunette’s lips on her own. The lips were coarse from the sand and harsh wind, yet felt soft as they gently massaged Brooke’s own. Brooke tightened her hold around Sam’s neck with her forearms, urging the brunette to deepen the kiss.