Blazing Trail - September Short Stories
The jungle air was thick with early morning humidity. Rays of light had started to peak through, providing a green hue that would last throughout the day. A convoy of safari trucks roared at a steady pace, stopping and starting to ensure they were on the right path.
Elijah, the driver of the lead truck, shifted down and tapped his brake lights to signal to the following convoy. He slowly ramped over a bolder that was trapped in the earth by the gargantuan root holding it down.
Mason, his co-driver and guard, sat beside him and made a whooping sound while slamming his hand on the hood of the truck. Elijah laughed and honked to the rear group that the route was still navigable.
Their crew was covering good ground. They estimated to be at the Lafarge Estate by noon.
During the dry season, it was always a gamble sending supplies through the river transport system. The alternative, having a crew make the 70 mile trek hoping that the trails hadn’t been washed out, had its own draw backs. Regardless, the Lafarge group would be happy to have their supplies a day ahead of schedule.
Elijah and his group were custom to the dense jungle trails. They knew which tribes to avoid, which ones liked to trade, and what roads were most times safe. Roads, is sort of an overstatement. The automobile infrastructure at this point in time was no more than narrow paths that had been cleared through years of animal migration and bush-walker hand tools.
They continued motoring along, being sure to keep an eye out for any new land marks that may have laid a claim in the lush jungle. The convoy hadn’t taken the trip yet this year, and it was quite possible settlers had moved in. If they were lucky, it would mean newer and better roads. If not so lucky it could mean conflict.
A new settlement meant workers, more people to be precise, which meant the locals wouldn’t be happy, and would want to move to find better territory.
Looking at a hill that would lead into the valley, Elijah revved the engine and crawled up the steep terrain. Reaching the crest he honked four times and swerved narrowly avoiding a tree that had fallen onto the trail.
The trucks came to a halt. Luckily everyone had been quick enough to avoid any collisions. Two Jeeps that made up the rear of the convoy backed up slowly as Elijah stepped out to survey the obstruction.
He reached for his handkerchief, kept in the breast pocket of his shirt, and walked to the root of the tree. It was ten yards from where the log now lay.
The stump had been cut with axes it seemed. Coating the fresh cut was a thick layer of blood and fur.
“Mason, keep watch! We have locals that aren’t happy.” He looked around the valley taking in the wide view they were finally offered. “I want the saw crew on this yesterday. I can see the Lafarge perimeter and nobody’s getting paid for a delay.”
He walked to the other side of the fallen log intent on getting a better view of the valley. Reaching into his pants pocket he pulled out a pouch of brown stringy leaves, looking down he fingered a generous helping and stuck it to the bottom of his front teeth and gums. Content with the sour earthy taste he continued walking up the make shift trail.
The Lafarge Estate was an hour or two off. Elijah had a clear view of the fire perimeter that had been set up around what now appeared to be the growing span of a colony. A few border shacks had been erected in areas that had once been an extension of the jungle.
He turned back as he heard the buzz of the crew’s newly acquired chain saw. It was a luxury that had paid itself off on their last trip. Now it seemed to also justify the price tag.
While cantankerous and finicky, it made clearing a trail one hell of a delight. Elijah and his men had already begun discussing taking bigger supply runs. If they could travel roads, or make their own, where others hadn’t there was a good wage to be earned.
“What’s the word boss?” Mason asked him when he approached the work crew.
“I reckon the local tribesmen are none too happy about Lafarge expanding like they’ve been.” He pointed at the downed tree that was now cut into quarters “They hauled that here to stop us, can’t imagine what they’ll do to the river runners on some of the fast spots.”
“Well, that’s too be expected, I’m sure someone will make a deal, or sort it out at some point. I can’t say I remember who had claim over these parts anymore.” Mason removed his hat and wiped sweat off of his brow “’course whoever has the bullets tends to win out in the end eh?”
“Aye, seems so.” Elijah agreed, punctuating with a spit onto the ground.
The saw crew finished clearing the hillcrest within an hour. Hot midday temperatures could already be felt within the jungle. Remounting their vehicles they continued the trek through the valley.
They found no other blockades to heed their progress. The jungle remained silent, save for the roar of 4x4 engines.
Elijah and his crew arrived at the Lafarge receiving yard soon after, it seemed the cleared perimeter had helped increase their pace upon leaving the bush. Pulling up to one of the cargo stores they turned off the hot engines.
A group of six men came out to greet them, all wearing bright coloured trousers and coveralls. Three of the men, possibly the Frenchmen, were well tanned and shirtless. The remainder seemed to be locals for hire. Probably illegitimate sons of stakeholders kept on the books but shied away.
They exchanged goods, crates of medicine, luxury food and canisters of fuel were traded for rum, sugar and early harvest produce.
Elijah spoke with the overseeing Lafarge sibling while his crew refuelled and tuned up the trucks. He hated speaking with the French, it wasn’t a culture thing he just couldn’t understand what half of them were saying.
It turned out that they had been fighting off a local group that had moved in from other territory. The Estate’s hired crew told stories about how the newcomers were savage, and were willing to take land if they felt threatened. The Lafarge’s were waiting to decide on the best course of action. Offer supplies, or defend with guns.
As if on cue, a shot was heard from the edge of the compound. The Frenchman cursed in his language, shook Elijah’s hand and stormed off in the direction of the gun shot.
Returning back to his convoy, Elijah found Mason at the front of their rig topping up coolant.
“I hate dealing with those frogs. Never know if they’re actually there you know?” He said to his guardsmen.
“Yeah, he probably thinks the same about dealing with us limeys.” Mason screwed the cap back on the radiator and jumped down from the hood of the truck. “What was all that about then?”
“Well they’ve been having a skiff with a new group of locals. Trying to decide how to stop them from coming in at night, no clue about that gun shot.” He grabbed a wad of leaves from his pouch and looked back at his crew.
“Alright, enough dicken about, load up your canteens, we got a good half a day drive before we make it to the water station.” He stepped around to the passenger side of the truck and got in, starting his engine when Mason joined him in the passenger seat.
“Christ, guess they decided to start shooting them, hey ‘Lijah?” Mason nodded in the direction of the compound gate.
A group of men could be seen carrying a body into the receiving area. The body was covered in blood, and camouflaged with jungle foliage. The sibling that had been talking with Elijah walked past the men and made for the main building.
As they drove off they watched the body being laid to rest on the ground.
Their journey held no obstructions, however when they came to the top of the valley again, the logs had been removed and instead turned into carvings. One had the look of an altar, for what the convoy dared not say aloud.
That night Elijah and his men sat around a fire, some joked about opening a bottle of the freshly acquired rum, but they all knew it was in jest. They held strict rules about no drinking while on a trail. And with the recent news surrounding the Lafarge territory, they felt it best to have their wits about them.
They slept in the back of the trucks most of the time. It was the surest way to keep predators at bay, next to having coals on a fire. However, it was still hard making sure snakes and insects didn’t get the better of one. Panic was a guaranteed way to get bitten.
Just after lights went out around the camp, and all that remained were the embers of a dwindling fire, the animals surrounding them began to cry out. Some could be heard charging through the brush, seemingly in the direction of town away from the Lafarge Estate.
Elijah rose, grabbing his revolver as he did so. He unzipped the back of their truck, peering into the jungles dark interior.
Behind them, an orange glow could be seen through the tree tops.
“Everyone keep buttoned up and ready. Can’t tell what’s going on in this brush, get those lamps back. I’ll be damned if we need repairs after a bull rushes our truck.” He sat with his back against one of the crates and kept watched over the convoy.
Mason stirred beside him and with a flare of gas the back of the truck was illuminated by lamp light.
“This will make for a long night. S’pose we can sleep in shifts after they settle down. What the hell do you think would cause them to fright like that?” His guardsmen asked as they bunkered down.
“Beats me, but I have a bad feeling about that glow. As soon as light comes through we should hit the trail. Tell the crew to eat in their trucks.” Elijah looked out and scanned the dark jungle.
They arrived back at the hub town late the next evening. Their trucks again thirsty for fuel and overheating, but they had experienced no other delays.
At the landing bay Elijah exchanged transport papers for hard currency. Counting the bills as he returned to his convoy, he handed a folded portion to Mason.
“Get those handed out, tell the men to bring the trucks back to the shop. Take the next day or two off. I’m hanging around here to find some more work. I heard there’s a five day trip going south that nobody signed up for.” The aged bush driver took off his hat and scratched his head.
“You know, I don’t think we should take any eastern trips this summer, not until there’s some good news coming out of there.”
Mason had known the ex-loyalist for quite a few years, and could tell that something was bothering him.
“Why ya say that boss?” He asked.
“Well, Lafarge is gone for one. Burned to the ground, last night when we heard the jungle come to life. So that crosses out one of the main settlements. There’s still Gatineau and Juarez, but they’re in the same territory.” He looked Mason in the eye “I don’t feel like getting caught, and I say we should do whatever we can to avoid it.”
“Fair enough I suppose boss.” Mason nodded.
He left Mason to hand out the convoy’s wages, and then left to walk towards the Goods Station in search of more work.