Deb Ashemoore thumped her spent cigarette out the passenger window of the jeep, filling her lungs with hot, humid air. The trail which passed for a road had suffered the ravages of a recent storm, the floodwaters leaving deep furrows and scattered debris to complicate the already difficult task of traversing the snaking path. Twice, the driver had found it necessary to leave the roadway, skirting a felled tree and, later, a drowned cow. The jeep bounced over a patch where the road had been washed away completely, and Deb strained against the seatbelt.
“That’s gonna leave a mark,” she muttered, sliding a hand beneath the strap to massage her left breast and her–she hated to admit it–middle-age paunch.
“I am sorry,” offered the driver, a young man named Ibrahim. “This season, it has been a bad one. The worst I can remember.”
“Yeah, in more ways than one,” Deb said. “How far is it now?”
“Not very far, I think.”
All around them the patch of jungle steamed, only a few yards from the road itself. Already it fought to reclaim the ground which had been cleared for the construction of the roadway, tall grasses and saplings comprising a river of lush green, parted by the ugly, open wound of the makeshift highway.
“Tell me again about your sister,” Deb said.
“I have not seen her in a year,” he said. “No letters, nothing. She comes here, and then, nothing.”
“You mentioned that your mother is sick. Why do you think your sister hasn’t made any effort to see her?”
The young man sighed. “This place, it poisons your head. Makes you forget your family, your old life.”
“But she stays of her own free will?” Deb asked.
“No,” he said. “The people here, they have no free will.”
Quite suddenly, out of the curtain of green and brown, leaves and vines and trees glistening with slime, there emerged a chain-link fence, at least fifteen feet in height, crowned with coils of razor wire. The extent of the fence to the right and left vanished into the jungle, and a sliding gate blocked the roadway, to the side of which stood a guardhouse. The roof of the building supported a short tower, some ten feet taller than the fence. From the opened-sided shelter at the tower’s summit, two men with AK-47s scrutinized the jeep. A third man stepped from the guardhouse.
Ibrahim braked and Deb stepped from the vehicle, approached the gate. A few words were exchanged and she returned to the jeep. The gate slid open with an electrical whine.
“It is good I will not see this devil,” Ibrahim said, driving behind the guard. “I do not know if I could control my temper.”
The road led into the compound proper, several single-story buildings linked by a network of muddy trails. Heavy lights were mounted atop thick poles and electrical cables stretched from building to building. The hum of generators, muted by distance, coupled with the engine of the jeep in providing the only sound. No one, excepting the guard who led them, could be seen.
“Where is everybody?” Deb muttered.
The guard motioned them to stop.
“The man will wait here,” he said. “You will come with me.”