The sound of beeping woke Fred in the middle of the night. Was it his secretary with an urgent message or his mom calling? Either way, habit ruled over his actions. He rolled to his side and reached for the phone. The light on the screen blinded him momentarily. Fred blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted to the glare. The image of a hyena on his phone made him sit up. He knew that symbol well. It belonged to Zafeera and the resistance.
The whole world knew them as terrorists – labelled by the dictator ruling over their country Libya. The Libyans, however, knew the truth. Those brave enough to oppose the tyrant secretly supported the rebels. Fred, being an outsider, had only known what was broadcasted in the mainstream news. Thus, his relationship with them had a rocky start.
The thought of receiving a message from the rebels was incredible. He had thought that after his escape, all ties with them had been severed. What made Zafeera go back on her word?
Fred swiped his hand over the phone to see the rest of the message. It was encrypted. The code was familiar though. He padded towards his desk, grabbed pen and paper and wrote what he remembered from a late night lesson with Zafeera. An hour later, he had the decoded message in his hands. They had been cut off from their supplies and needed medicines for the casualties. The rebels wanted to meet at ten in the morning, the same time James had arranged the get-together with the others. He would just have to cancel his previous engagement.
At past nine in the morning, Fred sat on a bench surrounded by niches filled with ashes of the dead. He was alone in a columbarium located beneath an old chapel. A wrought iron gate stood beside him.
According to rumors, the maintenance staff had tried to conceal the tunnel’s opening with a solid wall in the past. Strange occurrences, however, happened after every attempt to permanently seal it off. The wall would be broken down the next day; equipment would go missing, workers manifesting all kinds of allergies… What succeeded was the gate’s installation. It served as part of the columbarium’s décor and remained closed but never locked.
Waiting had never been this uncomfortable to Fred. The room was a tomb to him, windowless and stifling. His only consolation was the occasional breeze coming from the tunnel. Sitting and doing nothing made Fred think about the past, too. He avoided recalling his last conversation with James. The incident from eleven years ago was just the beginning. His mind went fast forward to five years.
“You didn’t know?” Zafeera asked, grinning wolfishly. Her teeth were a stark contrast to her deeply tanned skin.
I mostly stayed in school,” Fred retorted. He fiddled with the metal band on his wrist. The bracelet’s edges were smooth and round. Its surface gleamed against the night light. The craftsmanship was beautiful but deceptive. It was the mark of a prisoner.
Fred had tried to escape every night in his first week of captivity. His captors had been reconsidering keeping him alive when she stepped in.
Zafeera, daughter of a former diplomat-turned-resistance leader, had taken an interest in Fred. Secretly, she offered him a bargain he couldn’t refuse: freedom in exchange for a favor.
That same woman had personally clasped the band on him. In doing so, she had taken full responsibility over Fred. He was free to practice medicine under the head healer’s supervision but couldn’t leave headquarters. The bracelet would alert Zafeera and her men if he tampered with it or escaped. The only one who could remove the bracelet was the person who put it there. She had assured him afterwards that it was meant to protect him from his angry guards. But Fred knew that behind her kind words, she didn’t trust him… Later, Fred would be surprised with the risks she had taken to protect him.
“You’ve been in the Mysts for two years. You could have heard something,” Zafeera went on.
Fred continued to play with the bracelet. Anger and hurt clouded his judgment.
“Stop doing that,” she said, annoyed.
He obeyed, his eyes still fixed on the object that kept him prisoner.
“Look at me.”
He met her gaze.
“We’re alone, Fred. Stop acting like a…” She flicked a hand at the bracelet.
“What? Your prisoner? Isn’t that what I am?” Fred said bitterly.
“I’m not going to apologize about what happened last night and this morning.”
“Was last night just an act?” He glared at her, daring Zafeera to do her worst. Fred had overheard a conversation between father-and-daughter earlier. Her favorite pet, she had called him.
“No,” Zafeera admitted. Sadness flickered in her dark eyes. Fred saw it and instantly regretted his behavior.
“What were you saying about the tunnels?” he asked.
Zafeera moved to the doorway and locked it. She sat beside him and said: “The tunnels will be your escape route.”
Fred learned from her about the underground tunnels in different parts of the world. What made the Mysts special was it either led to a place no one has returned from or to another land. Zafeera’s tunnels were the latter. Its distinct characteristic was the clean smelling breeze that moved through it. It was an easy means of travelling if one knew where each tunnel leads to.
He felt the men’s approach even before the gate opened. Months of watching his back at their HQ and after the escape had sharpened his instincts. Two men slipped into the hall: one burly and bearded and the other lean and clean-shaven. Fred didn’t recognize these people. Were they new recruits?
The heavier built man spoke to his companion in their native language. He nodded in Fred’s direction and took his post by the staircase.
“Lightning-man. It is I, Zafeera’s little brother Mohy,” the slight fellow said.
The wide grin matched Zafeera’s. Mohy had been ten when Fred last saw him. He had been pale and sickly, a regularly visitor of the sickbay. The present Mohy looked healthy and cheerful.
Zafeera had once told Fred she wouldn’t allow her youngest brother to fight in the wars or lead missions. The gentle and intelligent Mohy would make a better scholar than a soldier.
If he had been sent on this mission, the situation must be worse, Fred thought.
“Lightning-man, I can see worry in you,” Mohy said, his face solemn. “There had been an ambush two weeks ago.” He put up a hand when Fred was about to interrupt him. “She’s fine. Zafeera wanted to see you, but duties demanded her attention. I’m not supposed to say this but I think you should know. We lost most of her medicines and medical supplies in the fire.”
Zafeera had been fatally injured a few years before they met. The wound never healed properly. She relied heavily on his medicine to keep the pain at bay. Her family, their healer and Fred were the only ones who knew this information. Had their enemies gotten hold of this information from a spy perhaps?
“Maybe, I should come with you.” Fred slung the bag containing the requested items over his shoulder.
“Like I said, she’s alright. Zafeera would have both our heads if we returned with you.” Mohy shook his head. “She’s already angry because I insisted on taking this mission.”
“Does anyone else know about her condition?” Fred said under his breath.
“We’ve checked that, too. No one else knows.”
Still, Fred couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was wrong. Mohy, carefully watching his expression, remembered one of Zafeera’s men say in passing that the foreigner had a knack for sensing trouble.
“I’ll try to persuade Zafeera to have a guard with her at all times while I make my own inquiries,” Mohy reassured.
“Who else knows you’re here?”
“Father and…” He pointed at the man stationed at the foot of the stairs. “He’s my bodyguard. Speaking of Father, he either still doesn’t trust you or resents the fact that you blew his offer.”
That was one way of putting it. Offer, indeed. A job offer to become an assassin violated all of Fred’s principles as a doctor. It was madness to even ask him to kill someone in the name of their cause.
“Father blames you for putting the idea of becoming a healer in my head. Sister and our brothers don’t share his views though.” Mohy chuckled.
The bodyguard returned to Mohy’s side after some time. It signaled the end of the men’s conversation. They had to head back to HQ.
“You’re in luck. I made something smaller and more potent for her. The prescription is inside.” Fred pulled out a blue box almost as big as his bag containing the medical supplies they requested. “The rest of it will last you a week or two.”
“You have my heartfelt thanks, Lightning-man.” Mohy accepted the box and bowed.
“It’s the least I could do.” Fred clapped him on the back. “Send my regards to Zafeera.”
“I will.” Mohy’s comrade opened the gate and they both entered the dark tunnel.
“Lightning-man?” Mohy paused, his face already half-concealed from the gate.
“Why do you call me that?”
“It is who you are,” Mohy said matter-of-factly.
Fred stared blankly at him.
“It was how you saved me.” Mohy grinned and shut the gate.
After all these years, Mohy had known – seen what Fred had done. It was that incident which precipitated his sudden departure from the rebel’s HQ. The leader and Zafeera witnessed Fred’s extraordinary abilities when Mohy almost died.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Please be reminded that this is fiction and has nothing to do with the real Libya.
I had a lot of ideas about Fred’s captivity. I’m considering writing a short story on this one. Hehe. That might take a while though. I’m still adjusting to my new work schedule.
Another ghost is coming soon. Stay tuned. 😉
If you have suggestions, requests or simply have an opinion, please leave a comment. Comments and likes are always appreciated. I’d love both. 🙂
***P.S. New chapters will be uploaded every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month.