CHAPTER ONE: NO DICE FOR BUD
Mummy Bud was Abasa’s mother. She was in the highest
state of anxiety humanly possible. Her soul had been
rendered desolate. She was inconsolable. She focused her
haunted gaze on her other daughter, Tulip, who sat on the
hard dirt ground a short distance away. She knew Tulip was
struggling to comprehend why their world had so suddenly
and so viciously been turned on its head. Her daughter was
traumatised as a result of what had transpired, and could
undoubtedly use some consoling from her mother. Bud,
however, felt just too drained and defeated to attempt it,
despite dearly wanting to.
Oblivious to her mother’s stare, Tulip was catatonic from
shock. All she could do was stare silently down the dusty road
that led to wherever it was that they had taken her beloved,
kidnapped sister. Tears streamed down her face. She was
mystified and heartbroken.
They had finally come for their Abasa just before she turned
13; just when she was just stepping into the throes of puberty.
Bud knew that Abasa was going to die. She had known there
was a high probability that they would eventually come; and
that when they did, Abasa would not live beyond that day.
There was a history to this, which was why Bud was certain.
But she couldn’t tell her eldest daughter everything she knew
about her sister and why they had come for her.
Prior to her abduction, Abasa and her elder sister Tulip,
who was 15, had the chore of fetching water from the tightly
controlled Water Quarter. Water was in very short supply in
their area. This meant a daily pilgrimage some three miles and
back over parched land to the outskirts of their labour camp.
Their route unavoidably took them past the pristine patch
of forest, which stood out like an eerie oasis that didn’t
belong. Water storage was not permitted for personal use
despite being in constant demand for very basic needs, such
as drinking, cooking, limited laundry and ablutions. Water
storage was only permitted for farming – the produce of which
barely sustained the virtually enslaved population. Water for
recreational and aesthetic gardening, swimming or the taking
of refreshing showers at will were mere pipe dreams of a
bygone age. Such ‘unnecessary indulgences’ were forbidden
by the local Atavida authorities.
Usually on these water trips, Abasa with her heavy
canister, which appeared more than her fragile body could
manage, would wander off into the forest, sometimes for
hours. She could be seen from a distance by those who,
like Tulip, sensibly wouldn’t venture, swinging about in
the trees on the forest periphery. She was often thought to
be whispering to herself as she swung along, or so it seemed
to the curious passers-by. At the beginning of their water-
fetching apprenticeship, Tulip had complained to their mother
that Abasa’s frequent wandering into the forest was the reason
for their often lengthy delays.
The forest in question was deemed strange by those
who lived in the area because it was a mysterious anomaly.
Though aesthetically pleasing, it simply didn’t belong to the
dry, barren landscape. Its presence didn’t make sense, and
its shape was weird, almost a perfect circle. And too, it was
evergreen. The trees and plants were always lush, their leaves
never aged or discoloured regardless of the season. The forest
also didn’t play host to animal life. Even the birds that sailed
by on their migratory searches appeared loathe to stop there and perch for much-needed rest and food. It was as though
their collective ornithological instincts led them to conclude
that something was just not right with that particular patch of
Residents couldn’t classify it as an oasis since there was
no obvious water body to support it. There was no lake, pond,
river, rivulet, brook, creek, weir, lagoon or stream. It just stood
there, vast, circular, lush, silent and sinister. The presence of
this anomalistic forest was baffling. Here was an entity that
ostensibly symbolised life and its continuous regeneration
and yet stood ominously silent and lifeless
Growing up, Abasa had faced constant admonishing by
her caring single mother not to venture into the inexplicable
forest. Her father had disappeared during the mass riots of
the previous decade against the early excesses of the ruling
Atavida government when they first aligned with the alien
Omini. It thus fell solely on Bud to set her daughters to rights.
For a while, Abasa was regularly punished for disobeying.
No form of punishment, however, made any difference to her
in this particular matter. She was a well-behaved child who
obeyed her mother apart from the business with the forest. It
was like an addiction that couldn’t be cured. At times, when
relieved of her water fetching duties that Bud had hoped
would keep her away, Abasa still managed to find her way
there. It was as though she couldn’t live without entering the
forest every single day.
On the days when she was physically confined and
prevented from going there, she went desperately cold turkey.
She became actually ill, lost colour and couldn’t eat nor
drink for the duration. Her mother, baffled, simply gave up in
despair and eventually permitted her almost unbridled access,
as long as Abasa’s strange forest visitations didn’t interfere
with her daily chores and the very limited studying that was
permitted by the authoritarian authorities.
Her adult neighbours, who knew of the child’s penchant to
lurk within the ominous forest, began to see her as an oddity, a freak, despite her undeniable pleasant and gracious manner.
And many looked seriously askance at her, accordingly.
On that fateful day they came to kidnap her, Abasa was up
at the crack of dawn. Leaving the mattress she shared with
her sister on the floor, she went to lie by their mother in the
cluttered single room that served jointly as the kitchen, living
and sleeping quarters. She pressed against her mother’s back
on the tiny camp bed, holding her tightly.
Bud, her mother, woke up with a start at this unusual
intrusion. Bud was perplexed by her daughter’s out-of-character
clinging. Abasa had never been clingy and demonstrated a
determined independence that belied her tender years. That
morning, for the first time ever, Abasa appeared somewhat
reluctant to leave home for their water rounds.
Bud was, by this time, becoming very unsettled by her
daughter’s uncharacteristic behaviour. She went limp when
Abasa suddenly rushed into her arms saying, ‘I love you very
much, Mummy Bud, and I’ll always be with you and Tulip
whether I’m here or not.’
Abasa’s words hit her mother like a fearsome blow to the
gut, expunging all air from her body as she gasped. Had she
not been in her daughter’s embrace, Bud knew she would
have reeled and keeled over. This was the moment she had
been dreading for so many years. Upon hearing her daughter’s
words, the terrible fears she had so stridently banished to the
deepest recesses of her heart and mind instantly resurfaced
with a vengeance. The hopes she’d permitted herself to
cherish came crashing within seconds and instinctively, she
knew their time was up.
They were coming for her Abasa, just as they had decreed
they would. For a second, she thought of keeping Abasa back
at home, but knew it would be futile. She couldn’t thwart
the inevitable. She was under no illusions about what would happen. The Seer, Mr Boaf, had been very clear in explaining
what was to occur. She felt paralytic as the sheer extent of her
powerlessness sunk in.
Her innocent child was to be literally taken away from her
to be put to death and there was absolutely nothing she could
do about it. There was no one she could talk to, no higher
power to appeal to. She felt like screaming, but couldn’t for
the sake of her children. The verdict, as she had been told then,
was inexorable. Woe, woe – they were all lost, completely lost
unless… unless the good man came. But the good man hadn’t
come, so there was no ‘unless’. This was it, she thought, with
Deeper into her reminiscences, Bud’s mind reverted further
back to when it had all first began, and how it came about that
they came for her Abasa just as she was turning 13.
Abasa was seven when it all first happened. By then her mother,
perplexed by her daughter’s inexplicable need to spend half
her life in the forest lingering in trees, was beginning to think
her daughter not quite normal. She was much closer to the
truth than she could have ever imagined possible.
Yes, she had discovered who her daughter truly was six
years before they finally came. On the day of her disquieting
and destabilising discovery, it was her once-weekly day off
from her forced-labour work. She had begun her morning
chores by getting rid of the perennial film of dust that coated
everything, everywhere. It made their little shack that barely
passed as home even more unsightly and distasteful than it
already was. Light but steady breezes lifted dust off the dry
barren landscape and distributed it everywhere, without
discrimination, virtually throughout the day. It was a nightmare
to live with, exacting lengthy dusting sessions each day. Her
daughters had been gone an hour for their water duties.
After her initial phase of dusting, she had gone to the
communal baths to have a wash with the limited water
available. She soon returned and donned one of her three
loose-fitting regulation brown dresses that did nothing to show
her curvy yet taut, work-hardened body. She was 40 then and
very pretty with the pleasant, open-faced Andalusian features
of her Spanish forbears. She had shoulder-length, silky,
auburn hair that was full-bodied yet prematurely greying, a
light Mediterranean complexion, and sad, smouldering, big
But her sadness was never about herself or her
circumstances. She was only sad that her daughters were being
forced to grow up in an oppressive, restrictive environment
that promised no future beyond bleak despair. At least she
had, at some point, been fortunately blessed with a fulfilling,
carefree life of love, friendliness, material abundance and
social harmony as a youth in the twilight golden days of the
true New Experimental World. That was before the rise of
Nonetheless, she strived daily to make herself as presentable
as possible despite their drab, dismal circumstances. This
wasn’t an exercise in vanity. Rather, she did this to set an
example for her daughters. She wanted to teach them never to
give up and always make the best of whatever was available.
She had been standing in front of her only aged, cracked
mirror sprucing up herself when she heard the screams and
had rushed out to the front of their hovel in apprehension.
Her elder daughter, Tulip, ran towards her with a dozen or
so of the neighbourhood children in tow. Most of the children
were whimpering and Tulip was a picture of pure panic.
‘Mummy, Mummy, you have to come, you have to come!
Something is happening to Abasa, Mummy. Something bad
is happening to Abasa,’ Tulip screamed over and over again.
Bud was transfixed. Fear washed over her in waves,
rooting her to where she stood. Maternal instinct, however,
took over, granting her an almost instant recovery. One of her daughters was in danger and had to be saved – was all that kept
pulsating through her brain. Some of her off-duty neighbours,
having heard Tulip’s screams also rushed out of their identical
tiny hovels to offer assistance. Theirs was a closely-knit,
interdependent existence. A procession of parents led by Bud
was soon running after the children in search of Abasa. Not
knowing what to expect, many carried rudimentary farming
implements, such as pitchforks, shovels, axes and scythes,
along with them. These could come in handy as combat
weapons should the need arise.
On arrival at the scene, they all literally skidded to a halt
as one. The sight that met them at the fringes of the forest was
one they could not have anticipated in the wildest stretching
of their collective imagination. It was strange, sinister and
shocking. It was a vision that would haunt many for a while to
come, especially the children.
Abasa was suspended in mid-air, tautly spread-eagled
between two sturdy, branchless trees. As the only branchless,
leafless plants in the lush forest, the anomalistic trees resembled
unyielding, inanimate pillars of death. She was at least twenty
feet above the ground and thus unreachable. Lifeless-looking,
brown sisal twines that extended directly from the trunks of
the trees bound her outstretched arms and legs. She resembled
someone about to be drawn and quartered.
A singular lifeless twine from an indeterminate source had
also snaked its way through the entanglement and managed to
coil itself loosely around her throat. Both ends of the twine,
however, appeared poised in mid-air, as though waiting for
some mysterious green light to choke the life out of her. Abasa
appeared to be in a trance and wore a serene, seraphic look.
Her eyes suddenly started to flutter as the twine around her
throat very slowly started tightening. The signal seemed to
have been mysteriously given. Her life began to gradually
Those who were not screaming were at a loss as to what
to do. Others had turned their tear-stained faces away, unable to bear the horrific sight of the young girl being gradually
asphyxiated to death by some mysterious, unseen ominous
force right before their very eyes.
Bud had rushed to the base of the trees hysterically
screaming to whatever malevolent spirits responsible, to
please spare her daughter. She repeatedly kept jumping up and
down in an attempt to reach and grab the twines that bound her
daughter’s ankles. It was an instinctive yet ineffective venture
as her daughter was too high up. Sympathetic neighbours
felt initially powerless to help the stricken mother, and the
children added to the bedlam with their wailing. Having
recovered from their shock, and being propelled as well by the
anguished lamentations of Bud, a section of the adults began
discussing how best to save the child with the implements
But before any strategy could be agreed upon, a figure
came crashing loudly through the dense foliage. This caused a
sudden hush to fall on the gathering of bewildered parents and
children. He emerged between the narrow opening of the two
death-laden trees that bound and held Abasa. The man sat on
a large sabre-toothed tiger, tightly holding onto the creature’s
mane as reins. The crowd was horror-struck and instinctively
backed away, frightened by what appeared to be an immediate
danger to them all. Some adults and many of the children
instinctively fled pell-mell. The braver adults, shakily stood
their ground, menacingly brandishing their farming weaponry
at the man and beast. Even the stricken mother warily paused
in her anguished keening, but did not retreat, despite her fear.
There was no force on earth that could scare her away from
her helpless daughter.
Though many of those present had heard of formerly
extinct animals being reintroduced onto Upper Earth, none
had ever actually beheld such a magnificent yet deadly
looking beast with such fierce, extended fangs. While this
held some of them in thrall, the stranger dismounted in haste, pointedly ignoring the pugnacious posturing of the would-be,
implement-wielding combatants amongst them. The man and
his beast were strangely silent. He wore a determined look
and was draped in bleached sackcloth. He was Caucasian, tall,
lean, white-haired and heavily bearded. He appeared quite old
and had a knife between his very white teeth.
Walking hurriedly towards Bud, he firmly held the now
whimpering mother by the shoulders and led her away from
the base of the trees. He surrendered her to some of the
neighbours who had become less belligerent, having surmised
that neither the stranger nor his beast meant them any harm.
Those who had fled also returned as their curiosity over the
beast and what was to transpire got the better of them.
The stranger then motioned everyone to move further back,
signalling them to form a perimeter some twenty-odd feet
away. From around his waist, he uncoiled a lengthy, pristine
white, silk rope with what looked like a palm-sized grappling
hook at one end. He repeatedly swung the end of the rope
that sported the hook in circular motions above his head with
increasing speed and in a sudden deft motion lassoed one of
the trees just above the sisal twines that bound Abasa’s left
wrist. He took off his voluminous sackcloth, flung it over his
silent beast and bare-chested, shinned up the rope with agility.
When he got to the top, he untied the rope, then tied one end
around his waist and the other to the tree, securing himself.
Carefully yet firmly, he unwound the twine around her
throat, relieving the pressure, giving her back her life. He
dexterously cut off her other bonds with his knife and, with
surprising strength, gently hauled her on to his back. Making
sure she was secure, he descended with care.
Once on the ground, he carried the unconscious Abasa
in his arms and made straight for their compound, walking
very briskly. The beast, however, stayed put. A gratefully
relieved but perplexed Bud, Tulip, the neighbours and their
children followed in procession behind the stranger. He unerringly found his way to Bud’s hovel, as if he had been
there before. As they went along, most could not help but steal
backward glances at the mighty beast that was now slumped
and contentedly purring at the forest fringes, waiting for its
master, who still hadn’t spoken a word.
Inside the hovel, he placed Abasa on her mother’s camp
bed, settling her with care. He took a clean white handkerchief
from the pocket of his voluminous bleached toga pants and
leaning over, gently wiped away flecks of foamy spittle that
had formed at the corners of Abasa’s mouth. He straightened
up and spoke for the first time in low, authoritative tones. He
spoke so only Bud was privy to his words: ‘My name is Boaf
and I am a Seer. I need to speak to you alone about what just
happened to your daughter. The danger isn’t over. Thank your
neighbours and send them away. Have one of them look after
your other daughter and then come back.’
Bud did as she was bid and returned. The Seer Boaf then
proceeded to instruct her: ‘Your daughter, The Abasa, is part
Tree Nymph. She is the forest version of a Mermaid. She is
human like us in body, but her spirit belongs to the forest.
That’s why she’s always in the woods with her other tree
spirit siblings and forest family. What happened today was
an attempt by the tree spirits to claim her life. They believe
she belongs with them. It will happen again. They’ll keep
trying until they succeed. The Abasa won’t be permitted to
live beyond 13 unless certain events come to pass.’
Bud was dumbstruck. Her green eyes mirrored her
incredulity. What could this madman be possibly talking
about? How could he suggest her daughter wasn’t fully
human? Was this some sort of dastardly joke in very bad taste?
‘I’m sorry, Sir, but what are you talking about? What crazy
talk is this? I’m very grateful to you for saving my daughter’s
life, but you’re really scaring me! Who are you and where did
you come from? How come you just appeared out of nowhere
on that beast? I desperately need some answers here. Nothing you’ve said makes any sense. Who or what is trying to take
my daughter, and why are you attaching a ‘the’ to her name?
How do you even know her name?’ she hurled back at him
in a rekindled hysterical rush, her animated green eyes now
‘Calm down, lady. I know all this is sudden, but I’ve little
time. I must head back into the forest to intercede with the
tree spirits to grant your daughter more time in this life. I’m
on a very serious mission regarding The Abasa alone to the
exclusion of everything else. And from what you’ve seen
today, I need not remind you that this is a life and death
situation. If you value her life, which I’m most certain you do,
you’ll calm down now, sit and listen carefully to me.’ He said
this even more authoritatively, sterner than ever. This had the
desired effect as Bud nervously sat to listen. Her huge, now
sadder eyes never left the mysterious stranger’s face.
‘Your daughter is much more unusual than simply being
a Tree Nymph. She’s very special. If she’s permitted to live,
she’ll be destined for very important things. Without being
able to give you specifics, her destiny is, in many ways,
inexorably bound to the destiny of Afrilantis, alive or dead.
Alive means good and dead means bad for everyone.
‘Your daughter is the main object of a great Omen that
you’ll one day hear about – hence the ‘the’ prefix to her name.
However, I’m not privy to everything as yet, so there’s not
much more I can tell you about that in particular. Are we clear
so far?’ he asked the bewildered mother, wanting to make sure
she was absolutely in no doubt about his meaning.
Bud was by now even more alarmed and mystified. Where
was she even to begin with her questions? Of course, she
had long suspected something unusual about her younger
daughter. But certainly nothing as scary nor as sinister as
all this! She had thought along the lines that Abasa had an
over-active imagination, which given proper nurturing, might
have probably amounted to something in a more auspicious environment. And there was also the worrying business of her
forest visitations. But to be waylaid with matters pertaining
to life and death and destinies and forest spirits and Tree
Nymphs? She had a million questions, yet an overarching
concern for her daughter’s safety compelled her to remain
silent. She nodded her head in response to his question.
He continued, ‘I know this is plenty to take in at one go,
but we’ve no choice but to get on with it. I know you have
many questions, most of which I’ll not be able to answer now.
That doesn’t mean there are no answers. But I cannot show
you where to go and seek them. Right now, I have to give
you a pair of dice, which you must accept. Hide them where
no one can reach. Lock them up in a strong box and keep the
key on your person at all times. Open the box after three days.
If both dice are still there, then your daughter will live. The
tree spirits won’t come for her. She’ll inherit her destiny then.
If only one remains then there is only a fifty-fifty chance that
your daughter will remain alive beyond 13. If however, both
dice have vanished then I’m sorry to say that nothing can be
done. Only the good man can do something. But the good man
may not make it to you in time. This is what’s been revealed
It took a supreme effort for Bud not to lunge at the stranger
and shake some better explanations out of him. ‘My daughter
has three days to live?! Is that what you’re saying? Are you
senile or plain stupid? What the hell is this nonsense? Maybe I
should call in my neighbours. I won’t accept this!’ Bud reacted
with some force and was on her feet like a shot.
The stranger quickly raised his hand firmly, halting her.
He raised his voice a notch. ‘Sit back down before you do
your daughter more harm. Now! I said now!’ His voice was
steel but Bud could sense concern in his voice. She sat. He
continued, ‘I didn’t say she will die in three days, but she
won’t see puberty if the dice vanish. And you’re not, under
any circumstances, to reveal what I’ve told you to anyone.
To do so would put your daughter in greater peril. I’m sorry about all this, but I remain hopeful for your family. I saw a
vision of the good man trying to reach your daughter. A very
good man. The vision was blurred, but it persisted. But that
guarantees nothing. Ask me no more questions. Don’t even
ask me about the good man. Just take the dice and do as I’ve
said. I must be off now.’
With that, the Seer Boaf gave her the dice and waited
until she had placed them in the only box with a lock that she
possessed. She placed the key in her brassiere after making
sure it was firmly locked and vowed it would never leave her
person. Boaf then left.
The following three days were a living nightmare for Bud.
They were days of lonely, quiet, and intense desperation. She
couldn’t discuss the matter with anyone and took great pains to
act in a manner that wouldn’t needlessly alarm her daughters.
How could such a sentence be placed over a mother’s head
like a diabolical Sword of Damocles, looming and quivering
malevolently to decapitate and thus terminate the life of a
most beloved daughter?
And now they had come and taken her away. Yes, the dice
had vanished but that was so many years ago. Why couldn’t they just leave her be?