Sam imagines he's invincible. maybe he's not.
Crash! The weighted bar hit the floor, and the young man gave a grunt of satisfaction. He was with his gym buddy and young men preened themselves in front of the wall of mirrors, sweat streamed from their firm, muscular bodies.
Sam wiped his face on a training towel while he waited for his friend to add more weight to the bar. On an enormous video screen, survivalist Bear Grylls hacked his way through thick jungle to a background soul-stirring music.
“God, just look at that poser, he’s earned a fortune filming this crap.” Sam nodded towards the screen.
“He’s bloody brilliant though, surviving for weeks alone in the jungle." Dave gave an admiring look at the screen, as Bear swam across a raging river.
“I reckon I could do that. It’s just a matter of pacing yourself and keeping your cool.”
“Piss off. You wouldn’t last a week without a Macca’s,” his friend scoffed.
”I could easily last a month on my own in the bush. No problems, mate.”
“Christ! You wouldn't actually to do it?”
“Yeah, I would. I have holidays due from work. You could drop me off in the rain forest, and pick me up in four weeks.”
“That's one of your craziest schemes yet. You do know it takes years to know what plants are poisonous and what’s okay to eat? Or are you planning on taking all your food with you?” .
“No way. I’d catch fish, maybe shoot a ‘roo or two. There'd be plenty of water. It'd be great.”
Similar conversations were had over the next few weeks. Dave tried talking his flatmate out of such a dangerous undertaking. But to no avail, Sam had the bit between his teeth. He was undeterred.
On the day they left Cairns, to head out into the rain forest surrounding Kuranda, the heavens opened, the rain torrential. The wet season had begun in earnest.
The vast area which Sam had selected for his exodus, was remote, with perhaps a few rumoured, isolationists’ cabins dotted deep in the forest. This time of the year, the build-up to the wet season, often sent people, “Troppo.” Hot temperatures, combined with high humidity, gave people a sort of madness.
“You sure you know what you’re doing, mate?” Dave looked up at the leaden sky, wiping sweat from his eyes. “Shit, it’s a hundred percent humidity and thirty-six degrees. This is madness.”
Watching Sam gather his stuff together from the back seat, he gave one last attempt at changing his friend’s mind. “Tell me again why you’re doing this.”
Sam shrugged on the backpack, which held everything he’d imagined he would need for four-weeks survival in the bush. “Cos I can, mate.” He patted his friend on the back, “Don’t look so worried, I’m up for it. They don’t call me Bear Grylls for nothin,” he joked.
There were a few moments of awkwardness, then Sam placed an Akubra hat firmly on his blonde head, “Okay then. See you back here in four weeks?”
Dave nodded, started the car and with a final salute, left his friend to fend for himself alone in the rain forest in Far North Queensland, fifty miles outside defined civilisation with no means of communication.
After walking for an hour along an old forestry trail, Sam decided the first thing he needed to do was a make a time-stick to keep a record of days passing. He cut himself a thin branch, carving a notch to mark the passing of first day.
It had stopped raining, but the heat was still intense. Already sweat-soaked, Sam found a place to set up a makeshift shelter, but first he needed to make a fire to cook his rice and beef jerky. Soon it would be dark.
On day two, he explored, heading North, filling his water bottles from the rapidly running streams. A fly net protected his face from swarms of flying creatures, craving the salty sweat, seeping into his rain-soaked tee shirt.
Day three. He headed in a southerly direction from the camp, thankful for the break in the rain, although the sun’s rays burned fiercely when the clouds parted. He thought to try his luck at fishing in the Barron river, having read that Barramundi abounded in these waters. Sam felt confident of a good feed as his line dropped into the wide river, using dried prawns for bait.
Day four. After a long restless night, the whining of thwarted mosquitos attacking his net, keeping him awake, he decided to try his luck again at the river. Rice, beans and beef jerky were already becoming tedious, and he longed for that elusive meal of fish, or even better, a kangaroo stew.
Day five. Developing what he called, ‘forest eyes,’ he saw animal tracks, noticed the difference between plants and trees. He began to realise that a month alone in the jungle is a very long time. A time which moved slowly. Boredom and loneliness became a reality…
Three weeks later
His appearance had changed, he’d lost weight, his beard, grown long. Dirty hair now held off his face by a red bandanna.
He almost felt he would rather chew off his own hand than eat more beans and rice, but had still been unable to supplement his diet. He experienced hallucinations. Imagined he saw someone stalking him with a bow and arrow, heard strange noises, people calling his name. Rationalising it was the rumoured isolationist who lived in the forest, he became hyper-alert, unable to sleep.
Several days before the end of this self-imposed nightmare, Sam heard something, or someone, following him on one of his long walks. He’d found that walks tired him, used up the endless time, helping him sleep. He turned around often, when he heard rustlings in the bushes. Each time he stopped all he heard was silence, as if the forest inhabitants had stopped and were listening too. Sometimes he thought the plants and creatures were in cahoots with an elusive being who intended to keep him from leaving here alive. Plants, such as the ‘Wait-awhile vine,’ reached out and grabbed his clothing. He’d tried swimming to stay clean, but the river was full of crocodiles eager to feast on fresh meat.
Sam saw a movement in the bushes and held his breath. Then he saw it, the biggest wild pig he’d ever seen. He and Dave often went pig shooting, but this one was out of their league. It showed itself, came out of the bushes and stared directly at him. There was no doubting the animal’s intentions; he was out to kill. His enormous head lowered, the massive tusks, protruding from the upper jaw, dripped saliva. The black, bristly body quivered with malice as it advanced. Sam decided to face him rather than turn his back. However, when the vast creature ran, he did the same, weaving in and out of the thick undergrowth. He’d been a champion runner at university, but the weeks of near starvation had weakened him. Aware he couldn’t outrun the beast, he knew his only chance was to climb a tree.
The animal was almost upon him. In desperation, he shimmied up the next tall tree he could climb. Thankful for the hours spent at the gym doing weights, his arms retained some muscle memory, hoisting his body out of reach of the powerful jaws.
Climbing even higher into the canopy, he rested on a large branch and peered through the foliage at the enraged wild boar below. Sam swore. After his heart rate returned to normal, he suddenly laughed out loud. Feeling alive, almost as if he actually was Bear Grylls. How he wished Dave was there to witness the great escape.
He took another look to see if the swine had accepted defeat. To his dismay, it was pacing at the base of the tree. Sam could hear enraged squeals, and smell the fetid breath as the animal rooted at the ground, mean red eyes looking up at his elusive prey. Sam remained in his precarious position overnight, waiting until daylight, terrified the predator would be waiting for him.
As dawn lit up the forest sky, he saw to his horror the boar was lying, waiting at the base of the tree…
Three days later.
Sam was delirious. Twice he’d fallen from his position high in the tree, each time catching himself before he hit the ground and into the jaws of the waiting beast. It was midday, the sun at its highest, and although Sam was in the shade, the heat from the sun caused the moisture on the trees to turn to steam. He felt as if he were in a pressure cooker. Yellow Crazy ants, tormented him, attacking bloody sores on his legs.
Desperate from thirst, in his delirium he thought he saw a man holding a rifle. Sam peered through the foliage. He didn’t know if the man had spotted him. He was thin, almost emaciated, with long straggly grey hair and beard.
“Yes, I can see you,” Sam called out, “Why don’t you just shoot the bloody thing, if you’re real?’
He gave a crazed laugh.
There was a gunshot. Sam shook himself out of his stupor and saw his persecutor raise itself from the place under the tree, roaring with pain. Blood ran down its left flank; it turned to face the man who’d fired the gun.
From his position, Sam watched in horror. The enraged creature caught up with the man, impaling him on to the huge tusks, disappearing into the bushes. Sam knew the screams and crunching sounds would stay with him forever.
Realising this was his chance to leave his hiding place and keeping his eyes on the bushes where the boar was devouring his meal, he descended quietly. On reaching the forest floor, he turned his back on the horrific scene and ran.
He heard crashing in the undergrowth. This creature was not to be denied the prey he’d been patiently waiting for. Sam became filled with a rage equal to that of his enemy and turned to face the onslaught head on. He grabbed his knife and stood his ground, watching the creature get closer. Its mouth and snout were dripping blood. Horrifically, the dead man’s white beard hung from the pig’s mouth.
Two days later.
Dave was at the rendezvous point, packing up to leave. For two nights he’d camped out, waiting for Sam to appear, but was about to go back home and report him missing.
He reluctantly got into his car, reversing down the track onto the road to town. Something made him turn around and give one last look. Spotting a movement in the undergrowth, he cut the engine. He had a feeling that someone or something was nearby.
Suddenly a man fell out of the bushes. It could have been Sam; Dave wasn’t sure at first. It didn’t look like his friend. This person was skinny and bloodied. Long hair and shaggy beard obscured his face. His clothes were in tatters and bare feet, black and bloodied. Dave got out of the car and crept closer to the figure. Strapped to the man’s back was the head of a huge boar, its tusks raised to the sky.
“Sam? Is it you?”
The exhausted man dropped to his knees, raised his head to his friend and gave a weak smile, “Got a beer, mate,?” he croaked. Slowly he sank, placing his forehead on the ground. Dave heard him whisper, “Bear Grylls ain’t got nothin’ on me, man.”