BY BRENDA SHORT
Copyright is held by the author.
IT HAD been a strange day all round and now, there was a storm rolling in. The unusually warm and gentle wind that had dominated the afternoon, was suddenly building in velocity, whipping leaves into a frenzy and causing the youngest, most supple branches to thrash around. This was surely an indication that the weather was declining rapidly. What had been an idyllic day so far was about to change for the worse.
The cloud ceiling that was gradually enveloping the bright, blue sky was creeping in, low and slow, like an insidious intruder, wall cloud for the most part with multiple depths of grey, but to the south, there was an ominous black sky with more than a tinge of green. Green sky was tornado sky — get-the-hell-out-of-here sky — find-a-deep-trench-and-lie-down sky! But I knew instinctively that something else was wrong.
Here was I exploring the undergrowth, fulfilling my lifelong passion for discovering unusual small insect species, looking for the perfect protein source without the ick factor, when I should have been back at my camp, battening down the hatches, so to speak. But, something was definitely about to happen. I could feel it in my gut and I was never wrong about these things.
The hairs on my arms were prickling and my senses were on high alert. The storm wasn’t my biggest worry at that point. There was another, much more imminent threat. Then I heard it, the deep, throaty roar of the engine and the sickening sound of cracking and snapping as the forest was ripped apart. It was back!
I hurried as fast as my legs would carry me, struggling with the unpredictable terrain, battling the overgrown forest floor still waiting to be explored in parts, which slowed me down at every turn. I eventually arrived at the outer limits of what had been my temporary home. The campsite was in complete disarray. I walked tentatively amongst what was left of it. All of my carefully constructed insect traps were broken, torn or uprooted and spread over a large area. Nothing was left untouched, everything had been affected in some way. I thought optimistically that I might be able to salvage something, but I knew deep down that it was all gone. There would be nothing to find here.
It had happened before, several times and just like now, I had been left empty handed. I would have to start all over. Oh well! It could have been worse. I might have been here, if I hadn’t been so distracted and I would’ve been strewn all over too. I would just have to begin again, but not now when there was a pending storm. It wouldn’t do any harm to look around, but only for a minute though and then I would have to find shelter.
Why would they do this? But of course, I already knew why. They wanted me gone. Every time I set up camp, they would find it and destroy it completely. My evening meal was gone and it would be many hours yet before I would eat the next one, but for now, I had to find a safe spot. Mother Nature would quickly heal over the scars left behind and the area would soon appear totally unaffected, as if I had never been there.
I scanned the landscape, realizing that I may have waited too long to seek shelter. Large drops of rain had begun to fall, kicking up dust bombs wherever they landed. The parched ground ate up the water for the first minute or so, but the dust soon turned into mud that splashed up with the sheer volume of the rain that was falling now. The ground was quickly saturated and so the rain began to run in torrents over the forest floor with nowhere to go but downhill.
I took to higher ground and finally crouched under some dense bushes, well away from trees. I had no other recourse, as shelter was scarce to find. The winds were wild and even the stronger tree branches were whipping back and forwards helplessly, at the mercy of the storm. I just hung on to the underside of the bushes and waited it out. The vicious storm crackled, spat, rumbled and banged for a while, throwing copious amounts of water onto the earth, then stopped quite abruptly, as if it had changed its mind, the sun breaking through as the clouds retreated, almost on cue. The rumbling continued, but lost its volume as the storm tracked northwards.
Suddenly, there was steam, lots and lots of steam rising from the sodden ground and the forest plants. The afternoon sun seemed to have a new found strength and beamed down with such ferocity that the ground surface quickly dried out and was once again firm to the feet. All that was left of the storm were a few stubborn puddles that would disappear soon enough.
I left the safety of the bushes, retraced my steps and went back to the task of looking for a new camp, steaming along with everything else. I had been soaked through. I looked around for quite some time, but couldn’t find a location that was anywhere near suitable, but just as the light was beginning to fade, there it was — the perfect spot!
I would have to go hungry though, because I had lost my supper in the raid, but if I set a trap before I went to sleep, I might make sure of my next meal. I finished preparing my sleeping area, such as it was and then went about rigging the trap. I used whatever I could find and fortunately, there was plenty of useful material in the undergrowth. I was pleased with my new camp, created in such a short time and with such primitive materials, and so I settled down, although I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to sleep much, if at all, but I was exhausted and slept the whole night without disturbance.
Next morning, I awoke refreshed and alert and left early to check my trap. I wasn’t disappointed. There it was! My next meal. The little bugger was smaller than I had hoped, but plump and healthy none the less. It was looking at me unblinkingly with large round eyes, obviously terrified. I didn’t really like this part, always felt guilty, but I had to eat and I didn’t have a choice. I would deal with it later, but I wanted to check the area for unusual insects before the birds took them all.
By mid-morning, I was so engrossed in my passion for rare insects that I had decided to wait a while longer to eat. My little friend wasn’t going anywhere for now and I had just discovered another bug not far from the camp that I was unfamiliar with. I realized my good fortune when I found it crawling on the back of a leaf. I attempted to pick it up and examine it further. What a find! But . . . was it poisonous I wondered? My exuberance would kill me some day.
This bug was too small to hold enough poison to kill me, but I would be more careful in the future. After all, this was an unexplored forest, as far as I knew. However, this morning’s expedition had been a healing process, a catharsis of a kind, exorcising the trauma from the previous day and now, I had allowed myself to be so completely distracted by this new species, so engrossed in my discovery that I didn’t hear the telltale sounds of danger, of something moving towards my location.
The adversary closed in on me, blocking out the sun with its sheer size, the rhythmic crunch of breaking twigs on the forest floor failing to arouse my suspicions until it was too late to escape. An engine roared to life and the enormous machine advanced tearing down everything in its path. Everything was sucked into this behemoth, including me and the small bug that I had been examining.
Down into the void I tumbled, trying in vain to grab hold of anything on the way down, but the suction was too strong and at one point, I felt a great pain in my lower leg. My screams were drowned out by the noise of the engine and moments later, I fell out of the tunnel and hit a hard, unyielding floor inside the machine, landing badly on my leg as it twisted underneath me. More unbearable pain! I found myself in a chamber of sorts and the debris just kept coming at me from the bottom of the tunnel. I dragged myself away from the hail of rocks and branches, stopping when I reached the side of the chamber. I checked for injuries and that’s when I realized that my leg was broken. I screamed again, a scream of rage, a cry of anger, pain and frustration, but it was drowned out by the noise of the engine.
Then, all of a sudden everything just stopped and there was a wonderful calm. The air was full of dust, making it hard to breathe, but the dust began to settle eventually. I could see to some extent, but not quite well enough to make out the dimensions of the chamber yet, however, I could tell that it was huge. I had tried to bend my leg, but the pain almost made me lose consciousness. I forced myself to stay awake, looking around for a way to escape the chamber, but it seemed to have no way out except by the way I got in and that wasn’t an option. I bit myself long and hard and the sting of that took my mind off the pain in my leg for a few moments. I looked around again for something, anything to help me, but there was nothing to find so far, only rocks and debris, branches, twigs and leaves.
What was that in the corner? It could be a cocoon, maybe. No, the dust had settled on it, making it seem oval, but there were little legs and arms and . . . eyes. I could see eyes, unblinking, but staring at me, accusing me, or so it seemed.
This was to have been my evening meal. I recognized the stare, but it didn’t look so terrified now. The eyes were devoid of emotion. I moved away, suddenly feeling guilty and the eyes didn’t follow me. Just what I thought. It was dead!
So, I was the only living thing in this prison, it seemed. And, just as I had that thought, the chamber jolted upwards into the air and gave the impression of motion. I was tumbled and bumped around, further exacerbating my injury and making me cry out in pain. This continued for the next little while, but I managed to climb up the side wall of the chamber, high enough to avoid being crushed by the larger rocks as they rumbled around the floor.
Eventually the motion stopped and the chamber crashed to the ground. I was grateful for the respite, but soon, another, more sinister noise reached me. The sound was of crackling twigs and burning brush. Was I to be cooked alive inside this chamber? Hopefully it would be over quickly. My heart was racing at the thought of slowly cooking to death. I didn’t have much time to think about it, however.
The top of the chamber opened suddenly and the whole thing turned upside down, over an inferno. It all happened very quickly and all of the rubble and forest debris began tumbling into the fire, causing it to erupt, the flames licking the edges of the chamber, almost reaching inside. I saw my meal fall into the flames and spark and sizzle for no more than a second. My skin was seared by the extreme heat and my hair singed, but I still managed to hold on somehow, although not for much longer, I knew.
Then, by some miracle, the chamber was on the ground again, the top open to the sky. I pulled myself on to the top of the wall. It hadn’t cooled off yet and was still almost hot enough to burn…uncomfortable to the touch, but I had to get out soon, if I was to escape. I waited until it cooled a little and then scrambled over, favouring my broken leg. Luckily, it wasn’t too far to fall, but it knocked the wind out of me and the pain from my leg made me lose consciousness. I’m not sure how long I lay there after I hit the ground, but when I came to, I was still breathing hard so I waited to catch my breath while I checked out the environment. I had to get out of this open expanse and into a wooded area, where I would find a place to rest and recuperate. I also needed water and food.
There was a large wooden structure nearby. It seemed to be deserted and the whole thing was surrounded by trees and bushes. I began dragging myself towards the structure and then was overcome with pain and weakness. This would take some time, I knew, but I was in a life or death situation. The sun was intensifying the burn to my skin and causing it to sting horribly. I ignored the pain and discomfort and kept moving until I reached the structure, then crawled into the shade and collapsed.
When I awoke, it was late in the afternoon. The air was finally cool and my scorched skin didn’t hurt so much now, but my leg was throbbing. I would have to figure out what to do about that, but at least I was alive — and hungry. Suddenly, I was thinking with my stomach again. This was a good sign, right?
I would need to set up a trap, something simple, but effective. I had outwitted the predator and cheated death and I would survive! The best place for a trap, as far as I could see, would be inside the structure, so I began again.
Too late, I realized that I had been distracted again by the thought of food as always and after all of my best efforts I wouldn’t win this time. The soft, moist ground had muffled the sound of his approach and my nemesis had caught up with me for the last time. He sprayed a fine mist into the structure and I choked on the acrid fumes, struggling to breathe and knowing it was futile, unable to hold on any longer, but hung up by one good leg. I was literally caught in my own web. Just as I was losing consciousness, I heard him gloat.
“Gotcha . . . !”