Alicia Delacroix looked down at her mud stained US Army Jungle Boots; one of her laces had become untied. She knelt down and tried to tie the hardened lace into a bow. Her hands shook, making the simple task she had learnt four years ago a tricky challenge. Eventually, unable to control her shaking and realising she was wasting time, she gave up and felt her body ache as she lifted herself up straight. Alicia listened to the quiet around her, searching for a noise in the dense forest that she found herself in. All she could hear was the gentle moaning of creaking trees as they bent in the wind, together with the soft song of birds high up in the overhanging canopy of green. She looked around, trying to take in every last detail of the forest, her eyes darted about before detecting movement in the shadows. She heard her breathing as it got louder with each pounding breath she took, she struggled to keep her heart from leaping out of her mouth with fear.
She needed to move, but could not move.
‘Move.’ She whispered to herself, ‘move Alicia.’
On her command her legs un-stiffened and she began to walk, as her limbs loosened her pace got quicker until she was back running. Alicia leapt over broken branches and battered logs; she skimmed through gaps of tree trunks, hearing only the crack of twigs from the ground, her pounding boots and her aching chest struggling for breath.
Suddenly Alicia lost her footing and her face fell into a small mound of damp leaves. She spat dirt from her mouth and wiped her eyes. Her foot was stuck under a moss-covered log. She felt panicked, but quickly tried to calm herself and leant over to try to pull her foot free; but she wasn’t caught in a log, her boot was wrapped by a small hunting trap.
It was then she heard a twig snap nearby. Alicia twisted her fallen body around toward the noise and saw a dark figure slowly walking towards her. Becoming anxious, she wriggled her leg around and tried to wrestle her foot free of the twisted wire but it was no good.
‘Well, well, well.’ Came a voice that Alicia recognised but did not want to hear. ‘You have to be careful when playing in the woods, did your parents not teach you that?’
Alicia looked up into the devilish eyes of Simon St Clare, a family friend and her arch-rival.
‘You can’t take it from me Simon, I won’t let you have it.’ Hissed Alicia as she continued to wriggle her ankle free of the bond.
‘I don’t think you’re in a position to negotiate anything at the moment.’ Simon laughed.
He bent down to her, his blonde hair fell over his face and he brushed it back with a gloved hand. ‘Would you like me to help you?’ Simon said gently.
Alicia could not reply, but Simon did not wait for her. He removed his expensive leather gloves, placed them carefully in one hand and took a huge deep breath of delight at having finally won.
Of course,’ he spoke as he danced over logs and mounds, ‘it would be impossible to untie this knot without knowledge of what it is. I trapped you in an old Aztec animal trap. The more you struggle, the tighter the wire becomes, a bit like a Boa Constrictor when it has wrapped itself around its prey. The trick is to stop struggling and look for any sign of weakness.’
All the while Simon spoke, Alicia worked at the knot until at last it was loosening, she unravelled it from around her ankle and felt the deep cuts in her shin from when she had fallen. Simon continued his glory speech of self-congratulation.
‘Now Alicia, you and I go way back and I do hate having to catch you in this way, but needs must and my family need The Idol; so you will do the right thing and give it over to me for safe keeping. I mean, it’s hardly safe in the hands of a girl. Let me tell you a little something about how the world works. In order to survive you need money, in order to get money you need to find ways of obtaining it and in order to… ’
Simon triumphantly turned to where Alicia was caught only to find that she had completely disappeared.
‘Oh…’ Simon almost swore until he saw the silhouette of Alicia limping through the trees.
With each step Alicia took her lower left leg screamed with pain, but she hardened herself and tried to block the feeling out as she continued on her way to the river, and safety.
Suddenly, she noticed other people keeping up with her on her left and right hand sides. He’s paid the locals, Alicia thought, even though they have no idea what his plan would be with their Idol.
Spurred on, Alicia’s pace quickened and she could hear the rushing water of the river ahead of her.
Sitting in a boat on the river, Alicia’s guardian Mr Coombs read the same paper from a few days ago. He had read it from cover to cover since he had bought it and since then neither Alicia nor himself had been anywhere near a shop to replace it. The gentle rocking of the speedboat in the water and the heat of the afternoon was making Mr Coombs drowsy; he could feel his eyes drooping and with a sigh he let his head fall into his chest so he could catch up on a bit of sleep.
Then he heard his name coming from somewhere in the woods.
‘Mr Coombs.’ Alicia shouted from deep in the forest. ‘Start the motor.’
Mr Coombs immediately sprang up and switched the engine for the boat on. It purred as it came alive and it was then that Mr Coombs saw the small figure of Alicia running painfully towards him flanked by locals’ intent on stopping her getting to the boat.
Knowing his duty, Mr Coombs grabbed at the pistol on the shelf of the dashboard and fired two warning shots in the air. It worked, the locals stopped briefly to work out where the shots were coming from. But Mr Coombs saw Simon still hot on Alicia’s tail and gaining on her fast.
Coombs fired another shot, sending birds screeching away from the treetops. To Mr Coombs’ surprise there came a reply of pistol fire and a bullet whizzed past the hull of the small power-boat. He cursed; then noticed Simon hurtling towards them with a gun in one hand pointing towards the boat.
‘Sorry!’ Simon shouted, ‘But I need that Idol!’
‘When did he get a gun?’ Coombs muttered to himself; then waved toward the oncoming Alicia. ‘Come on!’ he shouted.
Alicia finally reached Mr Coombs and sprang into the back of the speedboat. Immediately Coombs threw the throttle forward, the propellers hit out at the water as the boat jumped into motion and sped down the river.
Alicia looked back at the figure of Simon standing on the riverbank, defeated. As a small gesture, he waved toward the escaping Alicia.
‘He’s got a gun.’ Mr Coombs said as he guided the boat along the twists and turns of the river.
‘Yes.’ Alicia confirmed as she rubbed at her blood-stained and aching shin.
‘Then he’s getting serious.’
This is an excerpt from Chapter One of the new book: The Adventures of Saskia Dare.