21 in the Bush

Based on the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None

By Campbell Turner, Correspondent

“I’ll have another, barkeep,” I said, placing my empty glass on the bar’s wooden surface. Tonight I had a lot to think about, nothing a slight buzz couldn’t help with though. On nights like this, I couldn’t help getting in a thoughtful sort of mood and a buzz made the whole of it much less troublesome. After finishing my last drink, I rose and walked towards the door.

“Ey! Come back for your whiskey, ya blasted crook!” yelled the barkeep. I smirked, the fool was awfully feisty, his reaction would make one think I had taken his daughter, not a drink. 

“Put it on the tab,” I replied slyly, looking right into his eyes as I walked through the closing door. That barkeep had gotten some of the mildest of my trickery. After all, I had never been an honest man, let alone a good one. I sighed and looked at the dim sky. I learned that well 4 years ago…

I was intrigued by the landscape when I’d finally arrived. Africa looked much different than what I’d imagined, more green and much hotter. In the few minutes I’d stood outside admiring my surroundings, I was already sweating bullets. As I was about to walk inside the barracks to get some much needed relief, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Long time no see, Lombard,” they chuckled. I recognized the voice immediately and greeted them with a pat on the back.

“Nice to see my old drinking buddy again, it was rather dull drinking with the captains when you left, Henry” I replied good naturedly. 

“Tricky one you are Lombard,” Henry replied amused, “Let’s go in and rest. You can tell me about how you snagged the promotion on our way out.”

When we were all assembled the next morning for a scouting mission I was shocked at our numbers, five of us Englanders and 21 natives as guides and protection. I had never been on a scouting mission before, but I had assumed the group would be rather small. Upon heading out, it became increasingly clear that we were doomed. The natives, although helpful at first, soon began overeating and leading us to dead ends. When it finally seemed as if we were going to get somewhere, we got ourselves caught in a natural trap, an immense and humid forest that we couldn’t seem to navigate. As the days went on, the food began to dwindle and Henry along with the other English fellows pulled me aside.

“What are we goin’ to do Lombard? The food’s only going to last for three more days,” A rather scrawny looking one asked.

“Yeah, if those blasted natives didn’t eat so much-” Another who looked quite similar to the first – a brother perhaps – added in. 

“I think there’s a rather simple solution, isn’t there?” I asked.

“What? If you’ve got somethin’, say it Lombard!” Henry demanded.

“I say we find a way out of this forest, and as soon as we do…we leave them and save ourselves,” I answered slowly, trying to nudge them all into the idea. They all looked at each other and slowly but surely they succumbed to their hunger and agreed. We were going to abandon the natives. The idea that I had proposed finally sunk in. I had never been kind, but I was never a murderer. 

The day before the food ran out we discovered a way out so we rounded up our group and stole away in the night, making sure to take the food with us. It took a while to get back, long nights and hours working in the blazing sun. Then when we got back, we were greeted with scrutiny and questions.

“Where are the rest of your men?”

“Why are you several weeks late?”

“We almost sent death letters to your family. What were you doing out there?”

However, Henry, the most experienced out of all of us, batted them away easily and we were allowed leave. I, of course, never returned and instead made my rent by doing petty crimes and odd jobs. 

The whole affair seems quite bothersome to me now, four years later. Quite amusing that they never figured us out, but quite annoying that those who were stationed in Africa at the time had heard the tale. Old veterans especially love to talk about it.

“Were you in the war?”

“Where? Oh, really? Did you hear about that one scout group, the one with 21 dead natives and only five survivors?”

From there it either devolved into small talk, trying questions, or my least favorite, the person I was talking to giving me their take on the events. Some thought it was an accident and some thought it was murder. The latter are correct of course, with no food and no sense of direction those men undoubtedly starved. Thanks to us, they found 21 in the bush. Dead.