Tall dark and handsome.

Tanvir Naomi BushUncategorized 11 Comments

My back aches making sitting at this computer difficult. When I stretch my shoulders make noises like a car being put into the wrong gear. I creak like an old house but the novella is still dripping from my brain word by word by word. I am half way through and still have no idea what is coming next. As my life outside the novella is rather tepid and uninspiring I thought I would cheat today and give you a little more of the book. It’s a longer piece so be warned and it involves the tall, handsome Agent Caleb Macleesh. I wanted to make my male lead darker, conflicted and then it came to me..


When Calab Macleesh was a child he moved with his parents to Guyana to join with a group known as the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project . They arrived en mass in sweltering tropical summer heat in 1974 when he was nine years old. He remembered that stifling heat and the smell of green growing things, the constant noise of insects. His mum, Thanh, originally from Vietnam, felt comfortable in the jungle environment, twisting her long hair up from her delicate neck in shiny dark pleats to keep cool. His father Bradley was Chinese American, had grown up in San Francisco and was less enthusiastic at first. Bradley was paranoid about the insects and constantly battling the mosquitoes in the sparsely built development. With good reason it turned out. Bouts of malaria and fever were common and occasionally deadly in this new land reclaimed from the nearby dense thorny thicket.

They were originally given barracks together but after a few weeks Caleb was taken with the other children to a different part of the settlement. He was frightened and cried for his mother but children are resilient and after a while he got used to the new way of life. He saw his parents less and less, usually for a brief hug and chat in the evening. Eventually it was less then once a week. By the time he was 13 he hardly thought of them as his parents at all. He could still pick them out in a crowd but he no urge to run to them for anything. He had become closer to his friends, the other children with whom he shared his days, the older adults who were bought into teach and care for them including the 76-year stone-deaf gardener, Old Grover.

On November 18th 1978 Grover and Caleb were part of the gang digging swales and ditches into the hillside adjoining the settlement. No one was concentrating on their work. For the first time that he could remember, Caleb had seen strangers in the community. Men in suits and with cameras and microphones had arrived the day before led by a handsome man the adults referred to as The Congressman. They had been secluded in the Pavilion, talking with The Leader and had emerged angry leaving en mass in the night.

Planes had flown overhead earlier heading for the airfield at Port Kaituma and Caleb had even seen some of his fellow settlers getting into land rovers with suitcases and bags that very afternoon. Now in the field it was as if everyone was waiting for something, like waiting for a storm to break. Finally people gave up the pretence of work and just stood silently looking down on the rickety prison like town. Grover caught Calebs’s eye and signalled for him to come and help dig further down the field towards the edge of the jungle. Reluctantly Caleb did as he was told but five minutes later came the ear splitting screech and wail of the ever present loudspeaker and The Leader’s voice boomed out sending a flock of snowy egrets and wood doves white and smoke grey frantically flapping up into the air.

Jim Jones called for his people to come to the Pavilion. The day was turning now and people would have been heading home from the fields anyway but this was different. The Leader sounded odd, his words were slurred. Caleb didn’t want to go but there was no dissent in Jonestown. Once he had refused to help in the kitchen and they had hung him upside down in a well until he had fainted. And anyway what could be frightening about a town meeting? Perhaps they were just going to have to move again.

He had been about to follow the others already moving off down the hill when old Grover had grabbed him firmly by the wrist and signalled ‘Stop! Lie down!’ Caleb had looked into those old rheumy eyes and lain down in the ditch right then and there next to the old man. Caleb saw that Grover had been digging two deep ditches just for them both all this time. They stayed there with their faces pressed in the dirt listening to the terrible diatribe that came vomiting out over the loudspeaker. The leader first engaging and encouraging and then ranting and shouting.

“I don’t care how many screams you hear, I don’t care how many anguished cries, death is a million times preferable to ten more days of this life. If you knew what was ahead of you – if you knew what was ahead of you, you’d be glad to be stepping over tonight

The loudspeaker crackled and feedback burnt holes of sound in the sky. Grover was sobbing. Caleb could hear him crying into the earth. All night they lay there feeling the insects crawling over their skin and the trickle of sandy soil and in the morning the military arrived with the grinding of land rover gears and the shouts of command. At midday they were discovered by a Guyanese soldier who looked like he had seen the devil. ‘All dead,’ he kept saying. ‘All dead’

And indeed they were, 918 people men woman and children had been led up to drums of cyanide, potassium cyanide and potassium chloride mixed with Kool Aid and encouraged to give it to their children and then drink themselves. Their deaths must have been quick but painful but there had been little if any resistance. The Congressmen and several others had been murdered as they tried to evacuate a few of the terrified families by airlift and it was this it seemed that was the signal to prepare the drums of poison. The already drug addled and paranoid Jim Jones was catapulted into a complete megalomaniac meltdown dragging nearly a thousand people down with him into his personal hell.

The terrible strangeness and ugliness of what became known as The Jonestown massacre resonated around the world with photographs taken from the air of the hundreds of bodies lining in concentric circles around the vats of poison. Jim Jones had been found shot to death but if by suicide or by another’s hand no one would tell. The photos headlined the Times, Newsweek and the international press. People could not understand how a mother could voluntarily walk up to a vat of poison, drip it into her baby’s mouth and then drink herself. Another layer in the nightmare.

Grover and Caleb were repatriated to the states and were separated in spite of Grover’s attempts to hold onto Caleb. He was too old they said and wouldn’t be able to deal with a teenage boy. Eventually Grover went to stay with a cousin in Florida and Caleb was put into foster care and promptly forgotten.

Comments 11

  1. What an amazing backstory to give a character!

    I can’t believe that happened so long ago; I remember it on the news and the disbelief we all felt that something so terrible could happen to so many people at once. It was one of those news stories you never forget.

    Good luck with the rest of the novel: we’re halfway there tomorrow, keep writing!!

  2. How wonderful that you found the flow with such seeming ease and that this book is channeling through you!

    I remember Jonestown quite clearly. Today is an anniversary of that terrible event, I think, because they’re broadcasting the footage once again.

    More words, great novelist! More words!

  3. Post

    Thanks you very much Susan, Tim, Reya,
    I first saw the story in lurid detail in a Newsweek that someone had left out on a table. i was 8 and it changed my world. That parents would kill their children!? ..I had nightmares for a long time. The time line and character Grover are real by the by…he survived by hiding in a ditch!
    Thanks againn for your lovely suppport,
    T xx

  4. Wow, this story is meant to be, I am sucked in, ready to turn the page, and then I realize there isn’t one to turn.

    Keep writing~ Don’t stop, you are too good at this!

  5. Post

    hey Tam, yep the fast seems to have helped on several levels. My booty officially rebooted! And ta to you Nao, tinku, family affairs! You really do help me to keep on plugging away!
    Cuz, you are a wuss.
    Thanks y’all!
    p.s. a little odd bt i really had no idea it was the 30 year anniversaty this month. Spooky!

  6. Resonant. Boing Boing has a bunch of links from 11/20 of research into the whole event. Including one that suggest CIA involvement.

    The story haunts me because my brother was in the Children of God when it happened, and I was still living at home, just 16 years old myself.

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