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Chapter 16: Cloaca

April 20, 2013

At first, Ian had convinced himself that the feathers were a treasure-trail of some kind. He’d thought he would play the hero, rescue the lost kid. Thought he was Indiana Jones.

He became engrossed in looking for the next one, always stuck somewhere incongruous – out of a bush or in a knot-hole in the tree-trunks that lined the path. The forest was getting denser.

He had turned left and right and followed tracks and half-tracks.

There were no real paths any more, just a tangle of tiny places where larger animals had passed by enough times to keep the vegetation at bay. Deer, perhaps. He hoped for deer. They were herbivores. They had a big-eyed docility, shy and leggy. If Bambi was anything to go by.

He felt from time to time as though he was being watched. Yellow eyes. Furry demons slipping through the shadows in the undergrowth. He did not exactly see them. He wondered if there were wolves in the forest.

Eventually, he stopped. It had been a while since he had seen a feather. He looked all around him, ahead and behind along the path, and left and right through the dense trees. He could see nothing that looked familiar. He listened. Nothing He sat down on a fallen log by the side of the path. He lad lost all sense of direction. He couldn’t even tell which way the festival lay.

He got out his phone to check the GPS. No signal. He’d been right – it was stupid to come in here.

Indiana Jones? He was Ian Jones, and the nearest he came to fighting with crocodiles was when the photocopier broke down. He was not a woodsman. The world of emails and mobile phones and finance papers had done nothing to prepare him for being lost in a thick, dark forest.

He didn’t like trees. In London, forests were not allowed to grow this big. Trees were not allowed to congregate in groups of more than three or four. Look what happened if you let them get out of hand.

Look. Stop. Life could always be got through if you eliminated all the peripheral noise and fear. Concentrate on the immediate next steps towards the end goal.

Goal – find a way out of the forest.
First step – figure out which way to go.

The path ahead appeared to wind uphill. He had been trending downwards, he thought. Which meant that uphill seemed like a good idea. Like a drowning man, looking for the surface, he thought the air would be warmer and clearer.

He set off.

All the rat-tracks and deer-runs merged, opening out into a real path. The trees on either side seemed to thicken, as though the clear space that was needed to widen the path had to come from somewhere. It had been sucked out from what little space there had been in the undergrowth on either side.

The criss-crossing tangle flowed into a single path, like ill-disciplined tributaries to the river-path that Ian too now joined. The metaphor had water running uphill. There, Ian had to admit, it broke down.

In fact, noticing how the thick canopy was closing in above him, he thought perhaps it was more like a tunnel. The tree-walls of the tunnel seemed almost solid and the dense layers of leaves above him filtered out all but a dim greenish light, alien in the gloom. Barely more than the tiniest scraps of sky showed through the canopy.

As he trudged upwards, the ground began to feel marshy under his feet. Wet. He soon noticed runnels of water trickling at the sides of the path. The further he went the wetter the ground became until he was splashing through puddles.

At what point should he turn around, give up, find another route?
He stopped and looked back. It was a long way. A sort of wind blew down the hill – he couldn’t help feeling that it wanted to push him back.

There was a bend in the tunnel-path up ahead. He resolved to walk to the next turn. If he could see nothing from there that would encourage him to continue, then he would turn back. But it seemed a shame to go back now without even looking around the bend.

He hitched his bag up on his shoulders. Perhaps he was girding his loins – whatever that meant. The slope was still gentle, but the water seemed to be getting deeper. Soon he was up to his ankles, glad to be in shorts and sandals.

The bend was just a few steps away now.
He was up to his knees. Wading.

The current was faster. He grasped onto branches and the trunks of saplings, to keep his balance against the flow. You couldn’t call it a path any more. It was a river.

The curve sharpened as he rounded it, like when you’re driving along a strange road and are taken by surprise when a bend keeps on bending, harder to manage than you expected.

Staggering, clinging onto whatever purchase he could find as he waded through the strengthening torrent, he pushed on. He no longer cared why. It had become a personal battle against the flood – no longer Indiana Jones, more like Noah.

Abruptly, the curve straightened out and Ian stopped, astonished, gripping onto the wooden tunnel-walls. The fact that he knew – knew – that this river faded away into puddles and runnels and dry ground not half a mile further along did nothing to impinge on the reality that right at this moment, he was clinging on for dear life in the rapid flow of an impossible river.

The wind had picked up speed, too.

Unable to process what was happening, Ian saw, across the way, a long, black feather. It was wound into an overhanging branch, tied with grass stems.

Ian stared at the feather for a long time. It swayed and fluttered in the wind.
Surely it could not be the boy.

He felt faint. Confused. His grip on the branches loosened. He fell into the current. At the edge it had been knee-deep. As he lost his footing, though, he was washed into the middle of the stream where he soon found that he could not even touch the ground beneath the water.

He struggled against the current, expecting at any moment that the water would run out.
He knew the river fizzled out just back around the curve.
It didn’t.

The green light winked out.
The water took him through the ground.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2013 6:46 pm

    Wordcount – 1104
    Prompt – wet (squash blossom fibres)

    Please leave a comment with a prompt suggestion for Chapter 17
    (Check the sidebar for a link to more info about this interactive project!)

  2. brendaalicante permalink
    April 20, 2013 7:53 pm

    Hi, I’m still here. Ooh, I hope Ian didn’t have his camera with him.

    Prompt: nightfall.

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