Excerpt: Get Me Out Of Africa
Certain I was about to die, I imagined the eulogist's speech at my funeral. "Kes Madrid was a wonderful employee, willing to go the extra mile to make her newspaper the best in all of Denver. A daring adventurist, who was somewhat insane if we're being honest, she met her final spirited demise while traveling on a white-water raft down the Zambezi River in Africa. Everyone knows the Zambezi is a death trap, but it's too late to warn her now. It's so typical of a redhead to do something stupid like that, but with her green eyes, it was inevitable for her to want the thrill of a ride."
Dressed in a black suit and a black top hat, the man clears his throat while my parents sob. "Oh, Edsel," my mother says. "You're so right about Kes. She was insane."
The man looks like an Edsel, kind of a dinosaur of a man.
He shakes his head, grimacing slightly as he speaks. "What a loss. We all knew and loved Kes for her laughter, her loving forgiveness of all who wronged her, and her love of fruitcake, keeping our church bake sale going for many years. All donations will be given to send the mummified fruitcakes to charities in the future."
The man in my head was crazy. I hated fruitcake and revenge was my middle name—not forgiveness. And Mom was the one who was nuts, not me.
I couldn't die now, thinking my eulogy might be wrong and doom my name to mummified fruitcake heaven.
No, this couldn't be the end of my life. This had to be just another chapter. Little did I know, not only was it a chapter, it was actually the beginning of my new life, one that would actually make me proud.
Popping back to the present, I faced the Zambezi River ahead, terror filling my brain at what I saw. "I don't like this. I want out!" The small gray raft crashed against the huge wave raging around us while I grabbed as many backpacks as I could, getting soaked in the meantime.
Why my boss insisted on all these backpacks was beyond me. I had only one, for one change of clothing and my cameras.
"What's the matter?" Mr. Hamilton, my blue-eyed, brown haired boss, faced me with his back to the upcoming waves, looking like this was a normal day at the office. His slight British accent didn't waiver one bit, so I wasn't sure if he was as terrified as I was. "This is a great adventure and you can write about it for weeks."
Maybe, but I wouldn't be the one writing it. It would be written for my funeral, from Edsel, the crazy eulogist with a sick fondness for fruitcake donations.
I had to raise my voice to be heard over the loud fierce white water. "I don't like adventures. I also don't like death or fruitcake. Make sure they know that at my funeral."
He shot me a confused look, but I ignored him. Instead, I eyed the land to my right, seeing no nasty African animal waiting to eat me. "Can't we just move over to the side and get out? I wonder if cabs come this far out to save people? I'd even tip the guy extra. If he does, I'll even treat for pizza later, but no fruitcake. I hate fruitcake and don't ever forget it."
"I don't think I'll forget that, but it's an odd request. Are you sure you're not on drugs or something?"
"No. I just want a nice funeral."
I rocked the raft to move toward the side, but Mr. Hamilton kept it solid, still shooting me a strange look. So I hated fruitcake. Sue me, buddy.
"Chicken," he said. "I thought you were tougher than that. You told me, over the past two weeks, you could get any article in this place and make my newspaper shine. What did you say again? 'It would be a 'must read' for everyone in the world.'"
"So I over-exaggerated a bit. I don't want to do this anymore. I really just want to live." Tears of fear teased my eyes. "Can't you see this is more than we can handle?"
An evil smirk covered his face. "Now you're scared? It's just the Zambezi River. I promise we won't die."
Just the Zambezi? Was he nuts? It was a huge deadly torrent of water with mean, dastardly animals just waiting to eat me.
I shot him a confused look, hoping he'd get it, but knew he wouldn't. I still had to try to convince him that death wasn't on my agenda. "No, you won't die. I'm lighter and could just be thrown overboard. Then I'd be eaten by who-knows-what." I let go of the raft tether on the side, and slapped a bug on my arm. "I'm probably going to die of mosquito bites anyway."
Thrown a bit to the left, I grabbed the tether as I lost my balance. Letting go was just a stupid move. Adding it to crazy Edsel's speech, I then knew I was officially becoming insane. Maybe I had malaria?
"You didn't worry this much when we were touring Zambia," Mr. Hamilton said with a grin.
"I wasn't this close to death then, either."
The raft tilted to go over some rocks, righting itself as I caught my breath. As my stomach fell back into place, I could only think about hurling my breakfast over the side, or at Mr. Hamilton, just to get my point across.
He pointed to the riverbank. "Take some shots for the article."
"What? Let go of the raft? Are you nuts?" Swatting a mosquito was one thing, but actually holding a camera? Certain death, for sure.
"No. You won't die, and your job is to write that article. If you can't do it, I'll just go back and have Tara—"
"No, I'll do it." I didn't want to deal with that woman. She was the evil pink witch, and I was glad he'd left her in the other raft with the guide.
Where were they, anyway? I turned to look, but we were approaching a bad part in the river so I turned around again. Not only could I see the waves of death, I could hear them, which is even worse for anticipating my demise.
The raft flew up then fell on its side for a moment with a splash before it leveled off again. I held on with white knuckles so I wouldn't be thrown overboard. I wiped the dripping water from my face, removing my hand from the tether for just a split second.
To the left side of the river was a huge vertical cliff made of weathered rock. Turning to the right, I saw a sandy bank with smaller rocks and a few crocodiles. We truly were stuck between a rock and a hard place with no way out.
"I really don't like this!" I shouted.
"You'll be fine. This is just an adventure and great for newspaper sales."
Some adventure, and forget the sales. Dying while white-water rafting in Africa was, by no means, my idea of 'fun' or an 'adventure.' I kept telling myself that I'd make sure this wasn't the end of my life, but my fears kept my brain whirling into the pit of terror, where the thought of fruitcake reigned.
I held onto the raft handles for dear life, the backpacks still on my arms. "Remind me to tell you how much I hate adventures."
"You already have, but I'll make a note of it on your review." He pointed toward the right as he spoke over the white water noise. "Get some pictures of those lions eating something over there. They look scary and will make the reader want more."
It looked like they were eating either a deer, or some other tourist willing to try out the white rapids for an 'adventure.' "You've got to be kidding. This is the worst part of the river so far. I can't let go of this raft or I'll die."
"No, you won't." He shook his head. "Get pictures. Otherwise, the article won't be worth much at all, and we'll both be out of jobs."
"But I could be thrown out of the raft."
"I'll remember that on your next review."
"Oh, brother!" Could this man think of anything other than business?
While praying I'd live, I let go of the side of the raft and opened a backpack. After searching inside, I yanked out a camera and began snapping pictures. I knew the shots wouldn't come out, considering I was taking them one-handed and the raft was rocking. But I couldn't let go of the raft, or I'd be in the water. However, I had to take the pictures or I'd be out of a job.
He pointed. "Get those old trees over there, too," he added in a loud voice. "They look like they're upside down."
"Those huge baobab trees?" There was no way I'd get a good shot of them, and I knew it.
"Use a wide-angle on them."
"I know how to do my job," I muttered, snapping a blurry picture.
The rapids suddenly spun us around, making me ride backward down the huge river while my boss faced forward. I screamed again as we lurched over a small waterfall, landing with a thud and a splash, carrying us even farther into nowhere land. My stomach flipped over and its contents entered my throat, making me vow never, ever, to do anything close to white water rafting again. That included roller coasters and the merry-go-round. Even a cab ride seemed out of the question, unless it was going to get me out of Africa somehow.
I shook the camera to get the water off, but the lens was wet, so I shoved it into a plastic bag inside the backpack. After zipping the pack, I pulled it back onto my arm, grabbing the tether again. What was he thinking, asking me to get pictures? He must have really hated me.
I watched behind us, since I was traveling backward. "I hope this little adventure gets rewarded in my paycheck—if we ever get home."
"Don't worry." He leaned closer to me. "We'll get a great story and you'll be famous…again."
At the next opportunity, I planned to confront him about that snide 'famous' remark and the nasty glare he threw me.
While holding onto the raft the best I could, I watched Mr. Hamilton grab the remaining backpacks. My arms were full and I could barely hold on. Waves crashed down on us, filling the raft with at least six inches of water. My hair, shirt, and shorts were wet, my shoes were soaked, and death was imminent. I shut my eyes, held on tight, and hoped each moment wasn't my last.
"Please let us live…please let us live," I prayed, opening my eyes.
The raft suddenly stopped rocking and the thunder of rushing water quieted. We'd reached a calm section of the river. It was even calm up ahead, which made me feel safer.
"Whew! I'm so glad we made it. That was even kind of fun, in a sick sort of way." I let out a big breath, then turned toward the front and pointed up ahead. "Look at the fighting hippos. They're scary animals but almost look like water cows to me. That was some ride, but do you think—"
Without warning, our raft was thrown onto its side. Both of us were flipped into the water with the raft landing upside down on top of us, the water going up my nose as I tried to hold my breath.
I pushed myself up from the depths to the top of the water with the backpacks I'd grabbed, full of camera gear and clothing. It wasn't easy, but I was strong and tough enough to make it happen. I just hoped whatever made our raft flip wasn't a hippopotamus. With their jaws and attitude, that would've meant instant death.
I reached the surface, gasped for air, and looked for any huge animal near me. The raft had floated toward the hippos downstream, almost out of sight.
Pulling the straps of the heavy backpacks onto one arm, I headed toward the bank, praying the native wildlife would ignore me.
While struggling through the water, I looked down the river again, where the eyes of a crocodile had just broken the top of the water. Ripples followed the top of its head as the croc swam toward me. At least it wasn't a hippo. They were the scariest animals and killed many people in Africa, or so I'd read, but crocs weren't any better.
With just a few feet left to get to the bank, there was a slight chance I'd make it, even carrying the backpacks. I did the crawl stroke the best I could.
Just as I pulled myself onto land, the huge crocodile jumped up and opened its mouth close to my arm.
"Help!" I screamed, dropping the backpacks. I fell backward and crab-walked in the mud away from the giant beast. I didn't want Edsel to make any croc jokes at my funeral. No, I wasn't going to die by being crunched and chewed, but actually preferred the fruitcake comment instead.
Within an instant, Mr. Hamilton was on the crocodile, kicking him back toward the water, dropping everything in his arms.
"What are you doing?" I asked with a gasp.
"I saw some guy do this on TV—piece of cake." He faced the huge animal. As he kicked the crocodile in the nose, it retreated, and we were safe from its massive jaws and big teeth.
Finding myself sitting near a bunch of trees, I stood and looked at all the mud on the back of my tan shorts, still keeping an eye on the river in front of me. I hated being dirty but at least I was alive.