Chapter 1 : Prologue
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My dearest Rob,
I know that you will never read this letter. Writing to you has become my only way of marking the days. The thought of your next letter gives me hope though no owl can follow me here.
I wish I could tell you that I’m safe. I wish that I could deny that I’m writing this letter with the dirt from under my fingernails. I won’t lie to you, my darling. I have never been more scared in my life. I dream of seeing the stars again, of returning to the Africa I once fell in love with. Instead I’m trapped in this cell of a room with no comfort but writing to you on the walls.
If I am free again I promise I’ll do anything I can to make this up to you. I did not know of the risks I was taking when I came here. Africa is beautiful, yes, but equally deadly. Money changes hands here like dirty laundry and we’re not quick enough to follow it. I’m frightened, my love. I don’t want to become yet another of those animals they kill and use for profit.
I’ll write soon, darling. I promise.
All my love,
I was roused from my sleep by the sound of Teddy calling softly through the corrugated iron sheet that was acting as the crude door to my cell. Goosebumps rose on my arms and legs as I unfurled myself from the tight ball I’d kept for warmth. My joints are stiff from being stuck in this room for days. The only daylight I’d seen all week was the small splinter of sun that managed to slip under the cracks around the rough edges of the door. The nights were cold regardless of how much sun crept through the gaps and I still shivered as I approached the doorway.
“I’m here,” I whispered, moving to the edge of the walls to hear him better.
“I needed to hear your voice,” he sighed. He barely raised his voice but the night was so quiet that he didn’t need to. I could hear every breath he took and every slight movement of his feet on the dust beneath him.
“Did they leave you unattended again?”
More shuffling of feet. “They still think my leg’s broken. Better keep it that way.”
I grimaced, wondering how long they would let us stay in this place. A growing sense of doom had nestled itself in my chest knowing that one day soon our captors would want to be rid of us.
“I’m cold,” I said eventually. “I never believed that Africa could be this cold.”
“The desert is cold,” he mused.
The postcard perfect image of Africa had certainly never involved curling up in a dark shack to keep warm at night with cockroaches crawling over your feet and mosquitos feasting on your blood. Dry air left my lips cracked and eyes red with itchiness. Sunburn arrived in cycles when the nearest available cream was perched on a shop shelf some fifty miles away.
Once, we had both been full of dreams of an adventure in the savannah. We were supposed to go home once we reached Tanzania, yet here we were thousands of miles later in the Namib Desert in Namibia, praying that our journey would end soon.
“I wrote a letter to Robin,” I said after a pause. It was so quiet I could almost hear his heart beat a fraction faster.
“Did you?” His tone was strained, almost too casual. He had stopped shuffling too.
“I know he’ll never read it, but I suppose that was half the point. I felt like I had really finally told him.”
My words grew fainter as dehydration took over. I leant against the wall for more support, knocking the iron door with my knee as I did so. The clang was loud to ears that were accustomed to silence and my head spun at the noise.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
Teddy paused, knowing that I was deliberately ignoring his concern. He knew everything about me by now. We were more than the best friends we had been three months ago when we left London for this strange new continent. He knew my every movement before I had even thought of it myself. He knew that my skin bruised easily and that a purple smudge would have seeped across my kneecap by the time we saw morning.
“Do you think he’ll forgive you?”
I shrugged. He couldn’t see me, but I knew he understood. “I don’t suppose he’ll ever find out now. And if he does … I don’t think he’d blame me. I think he’d understand.”
In the distance a dog started to bark, the sound echoing and fading into the distance surrounding the small settlement. I wanted to believe that the sound would carry across the vast desert until it reached another life form other than the roaming antelope and someone would discover our location. No dog could bark that loud, however.
“I should go. I’ll be back tomorrow, I promise.” Teddy’s voice was reluctant, but he and I both knew that the price of getting caught was one neither of us could afford to pay. He left as quietly as he came and left me alone again.
It took me a while to move from my spot against the wall. It seemed to be the only thing in the room that had managed to retain some of the scorching heat of the day and leaning against it had taken the edge off the cold. Once I did manage to move, I resumed my position on the dusty floor and curled up as tight as I could and drifted into an uneasy sleep.
I squinted as a small trickle of light reached me from underneath the door. The sun was just starting to rise and I could see a small patch of flies clustered on the floor in the light. I swatted a mosquito off my arm and saw that the door to my cell was being shifted aside.
“Victoire – wake up! We’ve got to go.”
The urgency in Teddy’s voice roused me from my grogginess and I sat up, half crawling and half standing as I reached for the door. “What’s going on?” I whispered, trying to keep the panic from my voice.
“I’ll explain everything later, we have to go now.”
With one final heave, there was enough room between the door and the wall for me to squeeze through. I barely had time to take in my surroundings as Teddy placed his hand in the small of my back and pushed me forwards. “Move, come on. Through that alley, you see it?”
I nodded, stumbling as I tried to find my balance. We were surrounded by a group of small shacks, made from old wood and rusty doors. Washing hung on wire strung between the shacks across a small courtyard, obscuring our view. Between two of the buildings was a tiny gap, just large enough for us to slip through in single file. Teddy’s hand on my back kept me pushing on.
The sun was hidden behind the taller buildings now as we slipped into the murky alley and disappeared from sight.
My heart pounded in my chest. I needed to catch my breath and stop my head from spinning with panic. I didn’t get time to stop as Teddy urgently shoved me onwards. I didn’t care that my bare feet were covered in dirt and mud and rubbish and God knows what else that lay on the alley floor, I didn’t have time to question him. Either we were escaping or we were being hunted; Teddy was saying nothing except the occasional chivvy and all the while pressing his weight against me to keep me moving.
Out of the alley we were met with blinding low sunlight. My hands sheltered my eyes and the momentary loss of vision caused me to stumble and trip. I fell forward, my hands coming up to break the fall but Teddy caught me by the arm and pulled me upright again.
“Keep going,” was all he said, not allowing me a moment to gather my thoughts.
“Where are we-?” I began but suddenly he shoved all his weight onto my shoulders and forced me to the ground.
“Don’t move,” he murmured against my ear, so quiet and gentle that I couldn’t even feel the air leave his lips.
I held my breath. Teddy had forced us both behind the wooden slats of a chicken coop, our noses almost touching the dirt and his arm pressing against the small of my back to keep us both down. Footsteps approached. My heart was thudding so loudly against my ribcage that I was sure it would give away our location. Just as spots began to appear before my eyes from holding my breath, the footsteps faded and I exhaled as quietly as I could.
Neither of us moved for a few moments. I could feel Teddy shift slightly against my side while peering around the edge of the chicken coop. This slight movement startled the hens inside, causing them to squawk and flap in alarm.
“Go, go!” Teddy urged, dragging me up with him and shoving me forward again. We ducked into another alleyway and we halted, looking back to check that no one had followed us.
My eyes fell on my companion, watching the way his lips pursed as he watched behind us with grim determination. His dark hair stood at all angles, the dust and mud set into every strand of hair. I’d long since stopped caring about my appearance; we were used to the dirt and grime that both desert and savannah life had offered us. Despite everything we had both seen since our arrival in Africa, I could still read him. I knew that his heart was beating inside his chest just as erratically as mine. I knew that he had grown weary and weak from dehydration and hunger, just as I had. And I knew that he was doing what needed to be done to keep us both alive.
Eventually he looked back at me, his pursed lips relaxing into what was the nearest thing to a smile that he could muster. I took his hand in mine and squeezed it gently as a token of my appreciation. He looked stunned by this gesture, almost as though he had forgotten who I was.
“Come on,” he mumbled after a moment as though he had woken himself from a daydream. “We’ve got to keep going.”
We turned away from the chicken coop and continued down the alley. Reaching the end, we sheltered our eyes as we crept into the sunlight.
“Argh!” I jumped as I heard Teddy cry out behind me, doubled over as a man withdrew his hand from his stomach.
“Teddy!” I screamed, watching in horror as he crumpled to the ground. His attacker licked his lips as he turned to face me. The sight of a familiar face took the air from my lungs and I started to splutter as I swallowed the wrong way. He stood tall, ignoring the groaning victim behind him as he drank in every inch of my body.
Anger rose within me and I lurched forward to hurt any part of him I could reach. We had trusted him and now he was here, facing us like we should have seen this coming, like it was our inevitable fate. Before I could sink my nails into his arm he grabbed me and threw me aside. I tripped, landing in a heap at his feet.
“Well, look who it is,” he crowed, running a hand through his greasy hair as he towered over me. “I’ve been waiting a long time to see you again, Miss Weasley.”
AN: Welcome to my new story, Atlas Air! The title is inspired by the song of the same name by Massive Attack. I'm making up for my extended absence by writing a story for you inspired by places I visited on my travels. I really hope you enjoy it and I'd appreciate any and all feedback you have for me. Thanks for reading! Marina
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