“Sometimes I think my friends, like death, are all that I am sure of. And I have thought about it a lot. Will I die for them if I have too? Will they do the same for me? Is there any sacrifice, that might be too great?
The answers I find gives me comfort. And it is in that comfort I find the hope I need.”
Sir William Kaye
PROLOGUE: Someone I knew, once said the only way three men can keep a secret, is if two were dead.
I cannot remember now, what circumstances had arisen and forced us into a discussion about death. Whatever it was it must have been important enough for me to hold on to that point after all these years. Why I believe it must also be years is another issue altogether.
The point though is that to me the statement is not too bad, not really. At least somewhere in there is a kind of weird hope. I think.
However for the past few months I have encountered people who share a slightly different philosophy. They firmly believe the only way three men can keep a secret is if they are all dead. So much for false hope. I have evidence to prove just how much they believe that.
Why I even decided to write this is also another matter in itself. Maybe the reason might help me, or maybe you, to understand this whole situation better. I have no real explanation that can either bring me comfort, or offer you light, as to the frame of mind I am in.
For some time now, the truth as to when and where this will all end has been haunting me. I am certain it will be with me in an unmarked grave, my funeral attended by two diggers and half dozen black crows. The rain I think will be falling silently out of a stone-grey sky. On that day I will slip into the darkness that I have evaded for some time now. That dream has been with me for so long, I am starting to believe in it.
They say I am free and my end will come like all others with a funeral, a wake, friends and family. But there is a line I speak out loud every time they try to feed me that: I am very far from being free, but at least I am not far from being dead. That I tell them is the truth and I say it not because I like the way it sounds. I say it because I have been made a firm believer in this fact, after certain scary events. And I smile or at least I try to. As I always do.
The mere fact that you are reading these lines proves at least one more thing: I was right, and the very darkness which I have tried so long to avoid, is now indeed my only comfort.
CHAPTER ONE: November 29th, 1992
The beginning of this will always be easy for me to remember, because it was simple enough. It started with the butterflies. And bad luck of course. Bad luck was something which the world continued to spin on. There was no running or hiding from bad luck. When it was time she simply came and all you could do was shake your head and follow her to wherever she wanted you to go. In a way, I guess she is also like death, which comes just as uninvited and is equally as hard to run or hide from, if not harder for that matter. All you can do when either of these twins of bad fate showed up is follow. That I have always accepted. So while there was some measure of pure bad luck that got me out on the coast, it was those butterflies which caused it.
I was out on the North Coast Road, looking for the chance to get a few pictures of and maybe even capture a colony of black and gold butterflies that had been spotted by some hikers a few days before. I had my doubts in the beginning. By the description given, of butterflies with what appeared to be writing on their wings; I not only shook my head in disbelief, I laughed. However a few of my colleagues at the newspaper where I worked seemed more than convinced, and one editor wanted to at least run the story in the Sunday Kids feature section.
I am not an insect fanatic, but there is something about collecting butterflies’ pictures that amuse me. This of course is a long way down the alley from stamp and coins collectors. Butterflies are graceful and beautiful and what I think I crave in their movements as they dance on invisible floors of wind, is their freedom and their supposed lightness of purpose. I don’t wish to be like them the way people wish to be free like birds, flying high and mighty over all creation. No, my interest is simply in their colours, their grace, their flight. I can watch them and be as mesmerized as some people would be watching fishes swimming around in a tank. I read somewhere that in the serene movements of those fishes, doctors have been able to start some work on relaxation experiments. I believe the same could be said of my pastime.
Besides, I would be in a win-win situation with the actual issue. If I got the pictures, I would be the first and only person with them. If I didn’t, I could still laugh at them all and say, I told you so. I thought as I packed some sandwiches, that stranger things have happened and if there was a possibility that such a species did indeed exist, I really wanted to know about it. I had no other plans anyway and the area on that side of the country was not really difficult to search. It was not very dense either and I made up my mind to only spend a few hours there, instead of the whole day.
I however spent my entire Sunday peering up trees; slipping and sliding into ravines and drains. I fell a couple times, bracing the fall so as to protect my new Nikon camera. Thickets of thorn, for which I was inadequately dressed, compensated for the lack of thick foliage. By four o ‘clock, seven hours wasted, tired, bruised and scratched I decided, enough was enough. This was just a pastime anyway and I was not getting paid for it. I had parked a half-mile down on the country road and was hiking, without equipment, through semi-dense jungle territory. I was ready to call it a day when I heard a ship sound its horn.
For a few seconds I stood still, half-believing I had imagined the sound; but the horn’s sound cut through the trees which towered over me with ease, disturbing both the silence and a nest of young crows. I instinctively headed right, along a track in the direction of the sound. I had caught glimpses of the sea during the course of the day, but I had not thought to wander down to it. I could hear her roaring just ahead of me though, as I followed her scent. A few minutes later I stepped out of the shade and into the blazing sunlight. It took some time for my sight to adjust; and, using my free hand as a shade for my eyes, I looked out to the sea. Somewhere below me, to the right, was not just one ship, but three. They seemed to be just anchoring and I noticed at least twenty men on the beach.
At that stage I should have left; just taken my camera and my old Nissan Sunny and driven back west to my apartment. I did not do that. What I did was crawl my way closer to the men on the beach and the three ships. My heart raced as I watched what I sensed to be a strange affair. I had never heard of ships docking on this part of the country, and on a Sunday. No, something was certainly wrong. I was about to find out what it was.
I understood then, for the first time, the lure of curiosity that overrides common sense. Or maybe it was not curiosity that killed the cat, but outright stupidity. I thought too that it was the same in horror movies I enjoyed. Didn’t the characters always proceed to their death? Always determined to look behind one more door, or to walk down one lonelier hallway after another, or some other senseless matter? Didn’t we always just watch, willing them to turn around and run? Didn’t we ourselves always assume that if we were in their shoes we would be a lot smarter, or at the very least run faster?
Yet still here I was walking closer, creeping up with my camera poised, and almost whispering hello. I did this as the reasonable and cowardly part of me, insisted I turn around now and run. I kept ignoring the voice and its advice, choosing instead to put that and my beating heart behind me, as best as I could.
I spent another hour and ten minutes hiding in the bushes. Taking pictures and shaking my head in disbelief. I was sure on the beach below me a huge drug deal was going down. I could not hear what was being said, but my camera caught their faces. Locals numbered at least fifteen and then about twenty more of whom I was certain came from South America, either Venezuelans or Colombians. They were off loading blue barrels which were sealed in plastic; at least a hundred of them.
I did not notice when the three men in suits arrived but I saw them checking the items that the barrels contained. They nodded and spoke to each other. They always stayed together like the three stooges. I was taking their pictures even before my brain registered the faces. Two of them came into view easy enough, but the third was always able to keep his face hidden.
And then my heart froze. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck rose. My mouth itself went dry. I knew these men. My very next thought, before I slipped halfway down the incline and they saw me, was this: you are not supposed to be here. The one that followed was: I’m dead.
I did not want to die. That much I admit. I knew though, I had to drive like a man possessed or I would end up on the roadside, with more bullets in me than I really deserved. And maybe I deserved a few, because I was no saint. I was not yet ready to cash in on my life. Not then anyway. I drove, willing my old car to do things that a few hours ago, I would not have imagined. Nothing like being pursued by two sedans loaded with drug traffickers and enough ammunition to stage a coup, to give one a new perspective on life.
Every corner I took was supposed to take me closer to hope and a second chance. My squealing tires and the volley of gunshots that punctuated the air, spoke of other plans. The only sound louder then was my beating heart, causing a dull but steady thud, which travelled from my chest straight to my ears. There was only forest on both sides of the narrow road and no traffic headed in the other direction. It was just me and the welcoming party behind. The closer and closer they edged, the more I saw my hope slipping away. It seemed like they were willing my car to stop, just as much as I was willing it to go.
Suddenly my car was rammed from behind, and I lost control for a few seconds. I swore, and, hunching over the wheel, I employed all previous driving experience, to stay ahead of the game. My car was about seven years old and could hardly make it up to eighty miles, without sounding like it was about to explode. I had bought it third-hand I think, from a dealer three blocks down from where I worked. Back then it was cream, a shade down from the once glorious white it must have started at. The radio and the air-conditioner didn’t work and nothing I tried over-powered the smell of cigarette smoke, which I assume the first (or second) owner smoked by the case. Today, two years later, nothing about the car had changed and the dangling pine tree was more out of decoration than service, just like the rosary that swung haphazardly back and forth.
The truth was this: when I bought the car for an un-godly sum of four thousand dollars, the original idea was to drive to and from work, and occasionally use the back seat as a mini office and bedroom. If I knew that at some point I would need a car to drive that would save my life, I would have taken the black mustang at the front of the lot. Or at least I would have fixed the radio, so that I could have some sing-along music, on what might be my last ride.
I stole a glance at the camera on the seat beside me. The question whether what I had just seen was worth the trouble, entered into my mind for the first time.
Editor’s Note: Wired868 has been authorised to publish excerpts from Kirk A Inniss’ maiden novel, The Black Butterflies for readers; and we will do so on a weekly basis. Please share with your friends and give us your feedback.