Fun and games in the depths of a hostile rain forest.



"The insanity of nature," she whispered, her voice a tatter of sound to stir tepid jungle air. He scarcely registered the words within her breath over the din of the night-bound forest.

Wearily, he cocked his head to one side, though he would not waste wind to form the question. She licked her lips and rolled her eyes, scavenging the strength to repeat herself.

She added, "It's bizarre in its cruelty… it's cruelly bizarre. Look at it," she hissed, her lips cracking painfully to shape the sounds, "it would strangle us, if it could. It would feed from our corpses. With its creepers and vines… with its endless roots. I seem to feel it… growing into me… becoming me."

He shuddered, and pulled her closer. Insects of indescribable forms and colors crawled over their bodies, heedless of their disgust and revulsion, yet they dare not move for fear of disturbing the forest, for fear of all the fierce, hungry things that the forest sheltered within its abominable darkness. He, too, felt the jungle settling into him with the grip of countless tiny rootlets, and, for a single nightmarish moment, he envisioned his flesh as nothing more than rich, nutritious soil that must nourish the trees.

"Don't-," he panted wearily, "don't say that. Don't say that again."

"I hate it," she spat acidly! The forest heard, for it fell ponderously silent. Softer, drawing her head and her mouth into the steamy hollow formed by the pilot's head and neck, she repeated more vehemently, "I hate it!"

An unspeakably large preying mantis crawled into their leafy shelter, which they formed by bending together a little dome of green, growing things within the crux of a towering set of tree roots. The monstrous insect crossed the littered forest floor, its mammoth footsteps audible, its form bathed in the diffuse, sapphire glow of an invisible moon. It paused at the tourista's right shoe, which it nibbled delicately.

"Oh- my- God," breathed the female, her form stiffening. "What the hell is that? What is that? What is that?"

"Shhh," he cautioned, daring to fling the daunting insect out of their makeshift shelter with a kick of his boot. "It's just a bug," he reassured softly, pulling her deeper into the angle of the tree roots and, thus, farther away from the threat of the jungle. "We have bigger things to worry us right now, so you must be quiet."

"I hate it!" She spoke into the muffle of his flesh, her tone petulant and denying, as though she might make the natural world disappear with a curse.

Despite himself, he smiled, and replied hoarsely, "And it hates you, too." The pilot gripped the woman's shoulders, and squeezed her gently.

He comforted her, not because he found her attractive, though once he had. He comforted her selfishly, not to soothe her but simply to keep her quiet, lest she draw the unwanted attention of something bearing rapier claws, saber fangs, and an empty belly.

"You must be quiet, now," he hissed gently, his tone pleading and desperate. "The nocturnal predators are the worst… the largest and the most prolific. We must be quiet throughout the night. Don't move. Don't say another word."

Pontificating his worry, the night erupted with the fierce roar and snarl of a stalking monster that had leaped atop its prey. A hapless, smaller thing squealed from terror and pain. Its howls of agony, the snapping of bone, the rip of sinew and flesh, and the satisfied grunting, smacking, slavering of the feeding predator warned the tourista silent better than any combination of human words ever could.

She clung to her pilot in the darkness, terrified and trembling beneath the dampened, filthy rags she wore, her head buried beneath his chin. He felt the shape and form of her through her terror, and he pondered the circumstances that kept his senses focused on everything save the nearness of her body. Though he longed to trace the sensuous contours of her hips, his fingers busied themselves swatting countless biting, stinging, and sucking insects from the exposed patches of his flesh. Though he burned to bury his face in her hair and breathe the womanly scents of her body, he instead turned his nose to the breeze and struggled to filter meaning from the forest's heady olfactory confusion. Though blinded by nightfall, his eyes bulged and strained to see into the shadows, oblivious to the lure of her beauty.

Meanwhile, the forest grew insidiously into the folds and creases of his clothing, of his skin, of his bones. He itched everywhere, though he scarcely dared to scratch. Every impulse of his being urged him to bolt into the jungle, swatting and tearing and ripping at all that frustrated and tortured him, yet he knew such a loss of discipline must certainly result in a violently horrific death. He had witnessed this too many times already, as had the tourista.

Fifteen days earlier, they had started across the vast expanse of the jungle as a crew of five and a passenger manifest of thirty-six. Now, only he and she remained.

One by one, the others had disappeared into the jungle's insatiable maws. Several had run off into the night, raging impotently against the oblivious forest, delusional and paranoid of the vines and creepers, maddened by the incessant gnawing and feeding of voracious insects. Ultimately, beyond the perimeter of their pathetic temporary night shelters, only the jungle triumphed. They never saw the departed again, though the roar of satisfied monsters inevitably finished their gruesome tales.

Panic entailed separation, and separation entailed doom. Together, they could find comfort in one another, each could whisper sanely into the other's ears, thereby dispelling the haunting sounds of the forest, if only temporarily. Alone, they would suffer from the hooting, cooing, cawing depravities of the rainforest without effective remedy of any kind, without the sanctuary of a single phrase that says 'you are human – you are not of the forest'.

Through the night, the pilot traced the bolt and chase of frenzied fauna through the planet's proliferate flora. The cacophony played endlessly, though he never heard the same combination of lust and fear twice. If he could sum the music of night in the jungle into a single noise, he might compose a symphony of mouths forever opening and closing, forever chewing, chewing, chewing unseen in the darkness. Hundreds of mouths, thousands of mouths, millions of mouths, all masticating breathlessly in accompaniment of rolling tongues, smacking lips and gnashing teeth. Further, playing dimly, remotely in the background of death, dismemberment and lusty gorging, he might add a refrain of bestial reproduction, of grunting, squealing, hissing delight, of purest primordial ecstasy. During the night, the rainforest seemed a shameless orgy of bloodletting, feasting and sex. No bestial act transpired quietly or unobtrusively.

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