Curse of the Tropics
FOUR days have passed since we last saw familiar ground. Our flesh runs with sweat in the pressure cooker of the deep jungle. I lick my lips and relish the moisture. The last of our water ran out this morning, and there is no stream nor pond in sight. A malfunction with the compass, something deeply wrong with the earth here, led us to be lost in this cursed place. We knew we were damned when our native guides left us, melding into the bush like ghosts. I hack at the vines with a machete, but each time I cut one down two more take its place, like some wild green hydra.
The leeches drink their fill of our blood each night. Cracking of twigs and the hooting of wild beasts are enough to drive one mad in the dark where not even moonlight can breach the canopy. Just like Perkins, muttering in his sleep, delirious with fever. They’re coming for you Perkins. I sharpen my machete and wait for the war cries, though none come. Only glinting eyes in the dark. The next morning we eat the last of our food in silence. There is nothing left to say, and our throats are too parched to say it anyway.
My thighs chafe, my skin itches like fire ants are upon it, and I pass the time by reciting Hail Marys in my head. We discarded the map and compass long ago, seeking to navigate by instinct like our ancestors. All we had to do was find the river, there lay our salvation. Perkins drops dead to the ground at mid-day, doing as he was born to do. I rifle his pockets, find a scrap of food, a flask of water. Seems when he lost his wits he lost his memory too. I leave him there for the jungle to claim.
Whether by fate or the hand of God or by sheer luck, I find the river. I shamble ghoul-like out of the trees, fall to my knees in the grey mud of the riverbank, and suck down the brown water. They find me in the same place later that day, drifting downriver in the barge. I wade out to them, hoping no crocodile or worse creature would take me, and they pull me aboard with a gaff.
“Where is Perkins?” they ask, examining me like some rare insect of the tropics.
I pointed back where I’d come, into the dense tangle of trees.
“Go and find him if you wish.”
Written for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge 2017. The theme was LOST.