Short story. A couple are stranded in the jungle, far from all civilization.
|Jessica Sandrino wiped the dripping sweat from her forehead, following her husband Nick through the trees. Even under the canopies, the heat was still unbearable. |
“Honey, let’s not get too far from the bus!” she called, jogging to keep up with him. She stumbled over a sunken tree branch, bumping into Nick. He caught her, laughing.
“Relax, they won’t leave without us.” He grinned, showing all-white teeth. “C’mon.” he began walking again, releasing Jessica and leaving her at the mercy of the uneven jungle floor.
The recently married couple was spending their honeymoon in Africa, as they were both zoologists. Currently, they were with a group exploring the Congo basin rainforest.
“I don’t think there’s anything this way, anyway!” Jessica panted, avoiding a prickly bush blocking most of their makeshift path. “I mean, we haven’t seen any -“ Nick shushed her, taking her hand and pulling her forward. Together they crouched between overgrown vegetation, peering out at the pond below.
At first, Jessica didn’t see anything, and was about to stand and ask what she was supposed to be looking at. However, she soon discovered what Nick was excited about. Crouched in the undergrowth at the other side of the murky pond, a pair of almond-shaped eyes peered out, glinting in the shade that the nearby trees produced. Jessica held her breath and kept absolutely still as the graceful jaguar slunk out of the bush, walking silently and slowly to the water.
With a glance around, it sunk down to drink, splashing the muddy water around. Jessica didn’t dare whisper her excitement to Nick, but instead slid her camera out of its case hanging around her neck, taking the cover off the lens. As silently as she could, she turned on the camera and ducked lower, resting the outstretching camera on the little mound of dirt in front of her.
Luckily, the little beep didn't disturb the sleek jaguar. Jessica put her eye to the camera, snapping a few shots of the rare sight. The large jaguar began to slowly creep back into the bushes, looking around to check for visitors. Ears pricking up, the giant black cat shot to the nearest tree, leaping up to the first branch with graceful ease. It was almost completely hidden in the leaves, lowering itself on the large branch and keeping quiet. Jessica took some more pictures, before another animal caught her sight. Suddenly, a few other animals entered the open space - three wary deer stooping down for a drink.
"This is incredible..." Nick breathed. Jessica smiled in response, taking more photos. The sun glistened on the water as the deer drank, peaceful and seemingly safe. As soon as the third deer lowered it's horned head to the pond, the resting black jaguar leaped from the trees, soaring down to the deer and pinning two with its claws. The young deer squealed and whined, thrashing and splashing to get away from the predator. The third deer who wasn't entrapped by the jaguar galloped away, abandoning it's companions and disappearing into the jungle. The jaguar ripped the throat of the deer, both with its claws and teeth. Jessica lowered her camera for a second, watching in amazement. She'd never seen a jaguar hunt, much less been this close to one. Idly, she glanced at her watch, cursing silently. Their safari bus would leave in five minutes. To make it back, they'd have to go immediately. Jessica snapped a few more shorts before tapping Nick and pointing to her watch. He waved her off, mouthing: "It's fine." Frowning, she shrugged and continued to photograph the silent but deadly jaguar as it feasted on the bloody deer.
Only a few minutes of gory eating later, Nick's slight movement alerted the jaguar, who bounded away quietly, disappearing into the vast jungle. Sighing in disappointment, he stood, stretching his legs.
"Come on - they're probably waiting for us by now." Jessica said, putting her camera away. She was pleased with the shots she took, and couldn't wait to show the others. Following Nick's steps closely, the two hurried through the jungle as it became thinner, until they saw the slight clearing in the thick trees that allowed their two large Jeeps to drive through. When they reached the path, however, there were only tire-tracks.
"Unbelievable!" Nick yelled, kicking the ground and causing a dust cloud to rise. Jessica fought back the urge to say "I told you so!", and instead stood silently, listening for sounds of the buses.
"If we hurry, we may be able to catch them." she suggested. "They'll stop if they see us." Grumbling, Nick nodded, knowing there was nothing else they could do.
A few hours later, they were still following the tracks of the bus. The pair had long since given up running, and proceeded in a wobbly stroll. The shrieking birds above them drowned out the hope of hearing the bus, and so they were stuck with trying to catch up. They yelled for their group, but their only response were the birds, challenging them with even louder chirps.
"I need...To sit down." Jessica gasped, slumping down on a fallen log. Nick looked just as exhausted, his dark hair and skin drenched in glistening sweat. He took a gulp from his bottle, offering it to Jessica. She shook her head, pulling out her own water. How could they have been left behind? She thought.
"Someone's got to have noticed that we're gone." she said for the fifth time that day. Nick didn't speak, staring out at the twisting road ahead.
"We'll get out into the open soon - they'll see us." Jessica insisted, wiping her forehead with her dusty sleeve. She knew the chance was thin, however, as the bus was most likely miles ahead, and night was falling. Nick allowed a few minutes of rest - during which he paced impatiently - before they set off again, jogging down the path. When the path took a sharp turn, Nick continued forward, not following the tire-tracks.
"Nick!" Jessica called. He glanced back at her, beckoning for her to follow. "Nick, where are you going?"
"Short-cut!" he yelled back. Rolling her eyes, Jessica hopped over a few fallen braches, winding her way around the over-sized vegetation surrounding her. She almost lost sight of her husband as he disappeared behind a colossal tree, but soon found him again as she navigated her way around it. At this pace, she couldn't keep up with him.
"We should have reached the road by now!" Jessica shouted breathlessly, stumbling over a rock. She glanced down at her ankle, cursing under her breath when she saw that it was bleeding. There was no time to stop and put something on it, however, and she hurried through the wildlife at a faster pace. Occasionally, they would spot a few small animals scurrying away, or an exotic bird soaring by. Jessica was lucky to snap a few photos. Liam is going to love these... Liam, their 'tour-guide' of sorts, loved animals, and encouraged his group to try and spot different creatures around them.
Eventually, Nick stopped, and Jessica was glad to finally be able to take a seat. She plonked herself down on the ground, leaning down to examine her bleeding ankle.
"Are you okay?" Nick asked, alarmed. He crouched next to her, squinting at her cut.
"Yeah, fine, it's nothing." She smiled faintly, digging through her small bag for the first aid kit they were allocated. She found it and held it up in triumph, grinning as she found a band-aid and slapped it on the cut. When she looked up at the sky, her smile disappeared. It was quite dark now, and they'd only get lost if they tried to navigate the jungle alone.
"Let's get back to the road." Jessica suggested. "It's getting dark."
It was decided. The pair started trekking back through the obstacles the jungle held in the direction that they believed the path was in, but it was taking longer than Nick had estimated. After letting a few yawns out, they sat down again, finding a hollow tree and ducking inside.
Nick was no expert on camping in the wild, but they'd both done it before and weren't too worried about surviving the night.
"Get some sleep," he smiled. He took off his jacket, hanging it above the opening in the tree, reflective side out. He hoped that if their safari group came back to look for them, they'd spot it. After attempting to stay awake and look out for their friends, Nick drifted off to sleep next to Jessica, shivering in his dreams.
Jessica was awoken by human voices. Her eyes flashed open, and she ducked out of the hollow tree in a second. She strained her hearing, listening closely.
"Jessica! Nick!" voices called from the distance. More noises - was that an engine starting?
"We're here! Over here!" she screamed, going back to Nick and shaking him awake.
"Nick - get up, quickly! I hear them!" he leapt up, almost hitting his head on the tree before he slid out, clumsily grabbing his jacket.
"Hey!" he roared. "We're here!" The noise of the engine was definitely audible now, but it was suddenly getting quieter.
"They're driving away! Come on!" Nick cried, sprinting off. Jessica struggled not to trip as she ran after him, yelling at the top of her voice to get their attention.
The pair ran and ran, not getting any closer to the departing safari group.
"How could they have not heard us?" Nick growled in frustration, pounding his fist against a small tree, shaking the leaves above.
"At least we know they're looking for us." Jessica tried to be positive, resting against another tree. Nick turned to face her, glaring.
"That doesn't mean they'll find us!" he yelled. He took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. He murmured an apology for yelling at her. Jessica sighed, looking at their surroudings. They rested in a little clearing, surrounded by endless identical trees and vines. At some points in their journey, the foliage had been so thick that they had to change paths if they couldn't part it.
They set off again, going in the direction the voices had come from earlier on, hoping to find the road.
Liam Walshbourne paced impatiently before the campsite, hands on his hips. He brushed his sandy-blonde hair from his blue eyes, glancing around at his waking group. Just the day before, two of their group members had gone missing after being left behind when the group was allowed to explore freely. Liam still blamed himself for not checking that everyone was there. An hour ago, he'd set out with a few others back the way they came on the road, calling for Jessica and Nick Sandrino. There had unfortunately been no response, but they wouldn't have heard one anyone over the noise of the bugs and birds.
Liam had decided that the safari group would stay in the area until they were found. Today they were to move camp farther back, where Jessica and Nick might still be. Everyone was put into four large groups and ordered to return to their campsite (after leaving a visible trail to find their way back) in exactly two hours or less. The groups set off quickly, all intending to find the lost couple.
Liam himself joined a group of six, slowly walking through the thickest part of the jungle in a line, calling out to Jessica and Nick in a chorus of voices that barely rose above the birds' incredibly loud noises. They scanned the ground for footprints or any trace that they'd been through, but found nothing.
Meanwhile, the Sandrinos were completely oblivious that they were heading in the wrong direction, and away from their hope of rescue...
"They're nearby - they've got to be." Nick smiled for the first time since they'd been left behind, holding Jessica's hand as he pulled her along. The pair were giddy with excitment, knowing that their group could be just around the corner. Jessica's mouth was dry with thirst, but she made no complaint as she and her husband walked through the wild landscape, pointing out interesting examples of wildlife to each other. Nick laughed off his earlier worry, and looked forward to telling this story.
Their hope soon dwindled, however, as they found no trace of their friends after almost an entire day searching.
"Maybe we're going the wrong way?" Jessica suggested, biting her lip with growing worry. Nick shook his head, telling her that it was impossible.
"Their voices definitely came from this direction - and besides, this is the way back to the road." he didn't sound so sure, but tried not to let it show. They took yet another rest, Jessica perching on a very low branch from a nearby sturdy tree and Nick finding a seat on a large rock. As soon as he sat, the rock wobbled loosely and he held his arms out, trying to position the rock so that it would stand properly. He smiled at Jessica, stretching his arms out in front of him. They dug through their backpacks, checking what supplies they had left.
"My bottle's empty." Jessica informed Nick. He showed her his own empty water bottle with an annoyed sigh. The light snacks of fruit he had brought had been quickly devoured the night before, leaving only an apple. Jessica wrinkled her nose when she saw the bruised, old apple.
"We better find them soon." she whispered to herself, zipping her bag shut. In the same moment, Nick felt something sting his ankle, looking down to spot a bright-scaled snake poking out of the rock beneath him. It was attatched to his ankle, it's fangs sunk it. He yelled out in pain, grabbing the snake and yanking it out. This caused even more pain to shoot up his leg as the fangs tore his skin. The snake slithered away quickly, just as Jessica reached Nick.
"Oh my God, are you okay?" she crouched down, panic filling her as she examined the bite on her husband's foot. She quickly glanced back at where the snake slid off in the hopes of identifying it, but it had disappeared into the grass.
He grunted an unintelligible response, but Jessica could tell that he wasn't okay. She helped him to sit on the floor, propping his ankle on her lap. She dug through her tiny first-aid bag, but found only simple band-aids. She snatched out two of them before slowly wiping the dripping blood from Nick's ankle. He flinched and clenched his fists, trying to keep still as the poison spread up his leg.
Once the blood was cleared away, Jessica applied the two band-aids to the upper and lower bite marks, wincing when she saw how deep they looked.
When she looked back at Nick, he was pale and rigid. She placed a hand on his knee. "Nick?" He opened his eyes, cracking a forced smile. "Don't worry. We'll get back to the others soon." She helped her husband to stand, watching him with worry. She asked him if he could walk.
"Yeah, I'm fine." he took a single step on his bitten ankle and stumbled forward, crying out. Jessica raced to him, catching him before he fell. She didn't know what snake had bitten him, but it was obviously serious. Silence fell around them, the birds' chirping silenced and the rustling leaves finally resting. Jessica glanced up, just in time to see an airplane fly by far above them - a strange sight in this wild jungle. It stood out against the clear, starry sky, cruising like a rigid white dragon.
Night had fallen quickly, and Jessica was soon left to help Nick limp through the jungle, supporting him by his shoulders. They moved at a snail's pace, Nick weakening by the step. Jessica couldn't carry him forever. Quickly, she had to find somewhere to settle for yet another hungry night out in the wilderness. She had no luck in finding any other hollow trees, and had to lay Nick down in the open. She joined him, laying down beside him and staring up at the moon.
Nick was silent, but his heavy breathing was clear.
"I'll get you out of here. Don't worry." she whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips before closing her eyes.
Morning broke and Jessica was awoken by a chorus of birds screaming from above, rustling the leaves as they exploded into the air. She jolted up, breathing quickly from the nightmere she'd had. She yawned as she glanced at Nick, freezing as she saw him. Nick was more pale than the night before, his skin cold to the touch. His chest was still, lacking a heart beat. His lungs were frozen, and his ankle swelled.
"No, no, no..." she whimpered, expertely putting two fingers on his neck. Nothing. She repositioned her fingers, trying to find her husband's pulse. She put her ear to his chest, felt his wrist...Still, nothing.
She placed her hands on his chest, pounding them down to try and kick-start his heart. "Come on, come on..." she begged, attempting mouth-to-mouth. Nick hadn't drowned, though. He'd been poisoned.
"Please, wake up! Don't leave me!" she sobbed, her tears streaming. She rested her head on his chest, weeping against him. Nick was gone. I might as well die here. She thought. There's no point anymore. She closed her eyes, her escaping tears wetting Nick's grimy shirt.
"...Nick! Jessica!" distant voices called them, but Jessica blocked them out. The yelling voices became louder and louder as the crunching footsteps on the underbrush came closer. Jessica heard a gasp and a scream, but kept her eyes closed.
"Jessica? Oh my God, Nick!" Liam Walshbourne's familiar voice echoed in her head, but she tried her best to drown it out.
"Is he dead?"..."We found them!"..."Look at Nick!"..."I think he's gone." Voices surrounded her, but she was silent as someone pulled her off Nick. She opened her eyes to see Liam helping her to stand. He didn't speak a word as they walked the surprisingly short distance back to the campsite, where they were greeted by relieved but shocked faces. Liam brought Jessica into the bus, seating her at the front.
"You're safe now, Jess." he comforted her. She looked at him with tear-filled eyes, her calmness breaking. She hugged Liam tightly, sobbing endlessly into his shoulder. When she was finished, she looked up and out of the far window, just in time to see Nick's body being lowered into a hole in the dirt.
Thanks for reading! Not the best ending, I know, but I thought I'd leave it at that. Please comment, the most helpful/useful reviews will get gift points. :)