My book The Consequential Element is nearly ready for release! I'd like to share the Prologue with you. Next week I'll post Chapter 1 and the following week will be Chapter 2. Enjoy! And please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think. Really - I want to know and would appreciate your feedback tremendously. Thanks.
he'd been rescued. That's what they said. Only she didn't feel rescued; she felt captured.
Danielle sat in the middle of the organized chaos, a thick military blanket held tight around her shoulders. They landed in the clearing of the Safe Zone in Congolese territory only minutes before. She watched through the open sides of the chopper as Congolese troops and U.S. military men shouted to each other over the rhythmic sound of the helicopter. The tall, dry, sun-burnt grass resisted violently against the strong winds blowing down upon it from the slow turning blades.
“Keep this chopper running; be ready to move out on my orders,” said a tall soldier with up and down stripes on his sleeve.
Danielle looked past the chaos into the deep jungle that surrounded the clearing. The new sun had risen and its bright rays cast down through a cloud; she imagined them shining directly over what was once her village. Was this Allah’s will?
“You’ll be all right, Miss,” a soldier said, and knelt before her. He helped her from the chopper and waived to a man in camouflage with red crosses emblazoned on white bands around his arms. The medic ran to them and ducked as he approached.
“Miss,” he yelled, “are you hurt? Can you walk?” asked the medic.
Danielle couldn’t speak.
The medic took her arm and led her toward a large, white, open-sided tent. “Miss, I’m going to examine you to be sure you’re all right. Do you understand?”
Again, Danielle was silent. His words left his mouth in English, but her mind distorted them. Nothing made sense to her. Why did they do this? As the medic placed the stethoscope on her heart she thought, you won't find anything there. He helped her on a table and began his intrusion.
Men in green camouflage and others in solid black moved about in rapid sequence, carrying out orders from a man with the name "Bull" taped to the front of his helmet. He pointed toward Danielle and two soldiers turned and headed in her direction. They passed by her tent and jumped into a black military jeep. She overheard them as they pulled away:
"Poor kid looks pretty fucked up."
"Yeah, three years as a prisoner with those assholes'll do that to ya."
Three years? Has it really only been three years? I'm only seventeen?
These were the men who attacked her village. They’d called out her name and killed her fellow soldiers - these were the men who claimed to save her.
She looked up at the medic’s face – he couldn’t be much older than her, maybe eighteen or nineteen. He nodded and smiled. She didn’t smile back.
Close to her right, inside another large tent stuffed with radios and communication equipment, Zulu sat watching her, a green blanket draped around his shoulders. Another medic held a stethoscope to his chest.
A jeep sped from around the corner and Danielle saw two men in the front and one in the back. The passenger was dressed as a civilian. She eyed him carefully while her thoughts confused her. He was familiar, yet not. A part of her wanted to run to him, a part of her wanted to run from him.
She looked back at Zulu who limped his way through the chaos and stood before her, but did not speak. She moved off the table and locked her eyes to his, helpless to stop them from filling with tears. Her comrade - her friend - why did he betray her?
Someone grasped her shoulders from behind and spun her around.
“Danni! Oh my God, Danni,” the man said, and pulled her close in a bear hug before releasing her at arms length.
Danielle looked up and examined his face. Her mind reeled with confusion. Why did she feel for this man? What did she feel for him?
“Danni, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I tried to get you out of there from the very first day.”
He stared into her eyes and she could almost hear his thoughts. His thumb traced the long scar from her jaw down her neck. His once neatly trimmed beard was now bushy and white, his gray/black hair had thinned and receded back on his forehead, but his eyes – the dark handsome eyes that had once laughed and danced – remained. He was…familiar; he was…safe.
“Uncle Roland,” she whispered.
A smile curved his mouth but tears filled his eyes. “Yes, yes, my dear,” he said, and pulled her to his chest.
"Monsieur Dupre, thank you for rescuing me," said Zulu.
"No son, it is I who thank you," Roland said. "You are a very brave young man. My friend Bull told me if it wasn’t for you they may have never found Danni. He told me how you risked your life when you pulled her from that hut. If it wasn't for you, this rescue would never have been possible. You saved my niece's life, and for that I will always be grateful. Your mother would be proud."
“Yes, son. I’m sorry. She was a good woman and a good friend. My sister, Danni’s mother, loved her very much.”
“They’re dead,” Danielle said, without emotion.
Both men looked at her.
“You’re dead,” she said to Roland. “You are a ghost. He told me you were dead.”
“No, I’m not dead. He lied to you,” Roland said. "Danni, my dear. You're going to be all right now. I promise you." He pulled her close and hugged her. She stood rigid in his arms, numb with confusion. Her head rested on his chest, and she noticed her pale hand against his black uniform. She was touching him - the man she had dreamed of saving her all those many nights long ago – the man Obasanji said was dead. But now he seemed alien to her. These were not her people – he was not her people - not anymore.
Her people were back in the rebel camp in the mountain forest. Her guardian was Obasanji; she belonged to him. Images raced through her mind. Did he live? She’d seen his angry eyes when these men ran her from the camp. He’d pointed his AK-47 at them - at her - and fired, yelling wildly. And then she was in the deep, dark jungle forced to run with the American soldiers to a waiting chopper. But did he live?
Bull came up behind them. "Dupre, you need to be ready to pull out in ten minutes."
Roland nodded. As Bull turned Roland placed a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you.”
Bull smiled at Danielle. “Well worth it my friend. Well worth it.”
“How can I ever…”
Bull held up his hand. “Not another word. You saved my ass in Nam. It took all these years, but now we’re even.” He smiled, patted Roland on the shoulder and ran off toward the chopper.
Zulu placed a hand on Danielle's shoulder and looked at Roland.
"Five minutes," Roland said.
Danielle watched her uncle jog off toward the camp and then faced Zulu.
"Danni, listen to me. You are safe now. You are with your uncle. He loves you and will care for you. You will be all right."
"Why, Zulu? Why did you betray us? Why did you turn your back on your brothers and sisters - your comrades?" She wasn’t angry, her love for him went too deep for anger, but she needed to understand.
"I did not betray you. You do not belong here. You are not a rebel soldier anymore than I am. That is not who we are. We are not murderers, Danni. We were prisoners, and we did what we had to so we could survive."
Danielle watched the dark clouds roll over his eyes. She knew his pain, she’d lived it. But her mind would not allow her to betray her comrades, even with words. "You're wrong."
"No, I am not."
“He’ll kill us.”
“No, he cannot harm you any longer. You will be safe now.” His eyes cleared and he smiled down at her.
“I will be fine. I am going to return to my people in Botswana. I will be okay.”
"Our mothers’ spirits are here, I can't leave her."
"No, Bano, they are not here. Their spirits live in us, here," he said, and pressed his palm to her chest. "They will forever be with us. They goes where we go now. You must leave this place. Leave and never come back. If you do, you will die."
"And you? How do I leave you? I would have died without you with me these past three years. You’re all I have." Danielle grabbed his arm and moved in close to him. "Come with me, Zulu. Please, I know they'll let you."
"I cannot. I need to return to my village. My people will be happy with my return. I'm sorry, Bano. Please know that my heart goes with you."
Danielle stepped back. "Bano - you call me Bano - your princess - but you don't care.
You will let me leave."
She saw Roland nod and tap his watch.
"Danni, we cannot speak any longer. They are ready for you. You must promise me you will never return," Zulu said.
"I hate you!"
"Yes, now promise me."
Danielle looked at the helicopter and the men waiting to take her away. She squared her shoulders and turned toward Zulu. She took a step closer to him and stared up into his dark eyes. The eyes she had learned to read, to love, that had given her comfort for three years. Now they said good-bye. Tears fell and her voice cracked, but she spoke with anger. "I promise you, I will never return."
Roland approached and tapped her arm. “We need to go.”
Danielle stared at Zulu a moment longer silently praying he would change his mind.
“Danielle, we have to go…”
She turned and ran to the helicopter, away from her uncle – away from him. A soldier pulled her inside and her uncle climbed in a moment later.
Roland took her hand in his and looked at her, but her eyes were fixed out the open door, locked on Zulu.
“I’m sorry, Danni. Please try to understand. Perhaps one day…”
Her uncle’s voice trailed off as the chopper’s blades spun into motion. She could not pull her eyes from Zulu. The chopper slowly lifted and she watched as the last piece of her soul ripped away - until nothing remained of Danielle Montgomery.