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Adventure Holiday – Part II

II

          He regained his senses at the door of his Deville.  He’d finally had it restored and painted firefuckinengine red, in the proper super-high gloss.  Ted got in, checked his hair and roared off, wisps of California nightlife playing magnificently off the chrome.  The curvy silhouette of his date dripped honey in his ear, “She handles beautifully.”  He nodded, jaw tense, as he barreled around a corner and opened it up.  “Ooh!” she gasped as he slipped through a red light.  Her features were indiscernible in the darkness.  He could see just the ashen blonde edges of her hair, cropped at the shoulder.  He found the road again just in time to dodge an idling taxi with a deft maneuver.  “That’s it!” she cooed.  His hands guided the machine into more heavily trafficked neighborhoods, weaving through the other cars with purpose.  “That is how you drive!” With each squeal of tires, every lurch, his companion urged and moaned, pushing him to push the car, his shirt soaked with sweat, until all he could hear was her screaming “Go!  Drive!”  He jerked the wheel with white knuckles.  He looked hard at the woman, trying to make out her face in the streetlight.  Groping for the light, he suddenly exploded through the windshield in slow motion, hearing the tink of each shard of glass floating around him, through him, until he landed limply on the blacktop.  Lightposts and skyscrapers loomed and swayed above him, dancing back and forth to the hiss of rain on pavement, the last number of the night.  Then she was over him, looking down.  It was Margareta, angelic and glorious.  Ted thought she had come to claim him, but she faded.  There were only the signs and buildings of the city, cold dervishes spinning and whipping wildly over the street, over his broken, dying body, fading out.

He regained his senses on the jungle floor, his face covered in blood and mud and his leg screaming.  A storm thrashed the moonlit treetops above.  He screamed.  In a panic Ted tried to lunge forward, away from the pain, but he was held fast to the mossy jungle floor, fading out.

 

For the duration of the storm he sat, half-buried in mud, in a ditch behind Rudi’s dilapidated home.  For days heavy torrents and gales beat the earth with frantic noise.  Cyclones of mad dreams whirled in his semi-conscious mind as he wandered between worlds, his mind flailing to grab hold of anything but confusion and pain.  In the darkness, dreams of knife flashes and milk-thighed urgencies, of hot spite and bitter love tortured him.  When his eyes opened, nature’s tantrums buffeted his face, sharp fingers of broken bone plucked staccato rhythms of agony upon his body, sending him spiraling back into his nightmares.  He had no refuge.  He could only keep drifting from world to world, drowsily savoring the in-between times.  Impotent, Ted swam in his fevers, battered by the wind and the rain.

 

As the storm subsided and the warmth of the sun touched his eyelids, the curtains of concussion began to open.  Muddy run-off from the steep mountain was flowing across his lap.  Ted wondered if he could trust it.  He was deathly thirsty and tried a handful.  It was gritty and tasted of rotten leaves and urine.  He spit it out along with some partially congealed blood.  While he was unconscious his grinding teeth had shredded his inner cheeks and much of his tongue.  The heavy rain had splattered him with mud, leaving him covered in mottled filth.   Streaks of his fevered sweat had carved angular channels in the layers caking the toonish arcana of his vainglorious arms. 

A distant rumble of thunder cut him to the stem and hinted that perhaps portions of the grand forest were still being punished.  He shuddered to think of the storm’s return.  He dimly remembered repeatedly having dreamed of drowning or being suffocated, then waking up with the rain beating his face and the howling wind sounding something like a sobbing child. 

Moving was difficult.  Any shift of position intensified the pounding in his temples.  His glasses had broken in the fall, gouging the bridge of his nose.  He could feel the dirty scab twisting down the middle of his face.  His whole body hurt.  The lazy ache in his head drifted down his body to meet sharp jabbings rising from his right ankle.  The sensations blended into a throbbing cramp in his groin.  The headache he could push through.  This wasn’t his first lights-out concussion. 

The ankle, however, was alarming.  He knew it was broken, but how badly?  Ted held out hope that he could hobble the three or four miles of trail back to the road.  He certainly couldn’t expect any help from his formerly gracious hosts.  Trying to lift his leg out of the mud, he cut short a scream.  Oh no!  Was he heard?  He winced nervously through the brush toward Rudi’s cabin.  Nothing was stirring.

Again he heard faraway thunder, but the tone was thin and the sky clear.  It didn’t seem real.  He realized it was snoring.  Rudi was sleeping off another late drunk.  Listening now above the water running over his lap, Ted could also hear Soleese munching and pawing the ground nearby.

Well, if he couldn’t walk out he would have to ride.

 

The rope he found laying around was heavy and slick with mud.  Ted had dragged himself to a broken split-rail just behind the cabin.  He had difficulty with the simple slip knot he used to think he’d never forget.  It was funny how the old movies never showed cowboys actually tying any lassos.  They were always at the ready.  Funny, he thought, what comes to mind sometimes.  Really funny.  His hands were shaking with frustration and hunger and creeping dread.  Hilarious.  Fresh tears wet his cheeks before he held a workable loop. 

The elderly grey donkey milled about calmly, occasionally glancing at the muttering man.  Whatever humans fussed about rarely affected it.  It had everything it needed here at the cabin so it stayed, unfettered.  The large, cloudy eyes became suspicious, though, as this strange new human hopped closer.  It had been a long time since the beast had smelled such desperation.

Ted managed to rope Soleese with just a couple of tosses of the loop and without panicking the animal.  When he tried to pull it close enough to mount, however, Soleese began to whinny and jerk.  Ted’s head snapped toward the suddenly silent cabin.

“Soleese!  QUIETO!”  The shack rang with impact of another pot against the wall.

Ted waited many minutes, then resumed breathing.  Soleese seemed more submissive after the scolding, but Ted still doubted his chances of getting onto the donkey to ride.  Holding the rope, he flipped over a splintered bench from beside the house.  He sat with his back braced against one set of legs and his own injured extremity sticking out ahead.  With the slack end of the rope he whipped Soleese on the rear.  Soleese jumped, startled, but with a second whipping he began to pull, plodding down the trail from his masters’ home.  This relationship was familiar to the animal.  Though the trail was painfully bumpy, Ted was beaming.  It wouldn’t be more than a quick jaunt down to the road, down to what passed for civilization around here.  He’d even been able to nab a handful of coca leaves as he skidded past the neglected sacks.  He was triumphant.

Inside, Rudi was snoring again. 

 

After days of rain the jungle was calm again, hot, dripping and content.  Golden light floated on the hum of a cool breeze.  Ted felt his panic receding and let the scenery peel back his cynical scowl.  He sucked coca leaves to quell the pain in his leg.  He was now surrounded by the verdant paradise of a child’s dream, more beautiful and soothing than any place an adult expected to find in waking life.  Technicolor birds swooped cheerfully.  It even seemed to him that Soleese was picking a soft and careful path through the trees as not to jar him.  “Thank you mi smelly amigo,” said Ted with great pomp.  “You will be handsomely rewarded.”  Soleese snorted.

Ted could hear the rushing of a nearby waterfall.  He had a sense that if he could peer over the next ridge he could spy on a secret accord between parrots and apes in the spray of the falls, sealing a treaty to share the treetops after centuries of bloody warfare.  Anything less magical would have seemed unreal at this point.  Rudi was lucky to have all this as his world, thought Ted.  He was suddenly guilt-stricken.  The old man had fought and endured so much to hold onto his small piece of this wonderful place.  He lived simply and took in strangers without reserve, and how did Ted show his respect?  By insulting his wife.  By cursing the man.  By stealing his donkey!  There wasn’t anything he could do now to redeem himself.  The rules here were simple and he’d trampled them all.  Maybe he could find a way to return Soleese, find someone on the main road to bring the donkey back…

His mind came around full circle and focused on the present.  Where was the road?  Where the hell had Soleese taken them?  Ted looked behind and realized they had been going steadily uphill for some time.  They were now on a narrow hillside trail with a steep dropoff to their left. 

“Damnit Soleese, the road is at the bottom of the valley!  How long have we been climbing?”  He gave the rope a jerk.  The animal pulled back sharply and continued up the trail.  Ted cursed and jerked the rope harder and Soleese stopped.

“Turn around dimwit!”  He pulled with one hand and whipped the donkey with the other.  Soleese didn’t know what to do.  There wasn’t room on the trail to get by this angry man and go the other way.  It pawed the ground in frustration.  

“Idiot!”  Red-faced and screaming, Ted grabbed a large stick from the ground and swung it threateningly.  “Ass!  Moron!  Damn you!”  The donkey didn’t react, which enraged Ted further.  “Fucking beast!”  He swung again and connected.  Soleese reared and jumped, sending Ted and the bench into the air.  They came down on top of Soleese and all three tumbled off the trail, rolling over each other down the embankment and into the brush.

Ted groaned.  He hurt all over, again.  There were broken ribs now, and Soleese lay across his twisted legs, but it was all a distant pain, faraway seeming.  He was pretty sure he knew what that meant.  The breathing of the donkey on top of him was as labored as his own.  Soleese was broken as well.  The golden hum of the forest was supplanted by an eerie green radiance. 

As Soleese’s breathing slowed, Ted counted down the animal’s final breaths, without pity and without spite.  Soon his prophet, his savior, his executioner was gone.  Ted thought of Margareta, strong and proud.  He recalled her eyes, huge, cold, dark as a grave, banishing him.  They floated over him now.  A madly yellow bird started and flew out of a nearby tree.  Ted watched it fly across those eyes until it was a rapidly fading peripheral ghost.  As it faded, the ghost drew away with it the unearthly greens of the earlier light, leaving Ted in a cool, gray place.  The mossy ground cradled his head like a mother.  Peru became quiet for him.  He began counting down.

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Adventure Holiday – Part I

Adventure Holiday

Part I

 

            The brown man smiled.  “Me too, Yankee.  Me American, too.”  He gestured around with a shaky hand.  The one holding the rifle was steady.  “El Mundo Nuevo, eh?”

He faded into the shadows of the jungle cabin chuckling.  Ted’s grin collapsed into a scowl more suited to his face.  The woman remained before him.  She stared at him with hard midnight eyes while Ted swore bitterly.  She understood, he knew it, but she dismissed him with silence.  After some long moments the woman followed her husband into the shelter, slamming what time had spared of the door.  Alone on the porch, hungover as hell, he looked down at the spot where he’d slept the previous night.

The clack of the latch was punctuation on his sentence, exile.  “Indian bitch!”  A delayed reflex of anger drew his 9mm before remembering that he had no bullets for it.  Glassy-eyed, staggering, he waved the pistol pathetically.  His shoulders sank and he holstered the gun.  He was done here.

The late-morning sun was beginning to penetrate the canopy, heating the ground and raising a tactile funk in the air.  Ted shifted his bag to calm the itching of sweat on his shoulders as he walked.  His hair was wet and flat and his glasses were sliding down his nose.  “Rains my ass.”  He halted for a slug of water from his canteen and glanced at the old man’s cabin thirty yards back through the trees.

 

He’d met Rudi the previous day on a trail not far off of the main road through this part of the jungle.  The aged Peruvian was walking alongside his donkey, both of them heavily burdened with canvas sacks full of leaves.  Ted had a hunch. 

“Coca?”

The sun-cured man wore coarse linen and a wide-brimmed hat.  He grinned.

“Coca, si.  Yankee?”

“Yankee, si.”

“Well den Yankee.”  The man fetched a fistful of leaves from his sack and popped two into his mouth.  The rest were presented to Ted.  The lean, tattooed American accepted.   The donkey approached him unsteadily and nuzzled his shoulder with affection.  The old man was delighted.  “He hates gringos!”  He seemed genuinely amazed.  Thus began a simple conversation along the trail, filled with laughter at each other’s broken English and shattered Spanish.

Rudi invited the adventurer back to his home where they spent the evening and most of the night chewing coca leaves and drinking a spirit distilled by the locals.  By sundown Ted was finishing his second jarful of drink when there was a commotion at the door. 

“My wife, Margareta,” said Rudi as a dark woman burst through the door carrying a large basket of produce.  Noticing the stranger, her face rapidly flashed through surprise, fear, puzzlement, annoyance.

 “Quien es?” she demanded.  “Who’s this?”

Our guest, who is very thirsty, eh?”  Rudi motioned to their jars with expectantly arched eyebrows. 

“Teddy Brando,” offered the tipsy Yank, hand outstretched in mock formality.  She stared.

Margareta threw down her harvest and advanced on her man.  Ted feared for the old man’s last few teeth.  She merely gave Rudi a playful whack on the back of the head and winked at Ted, then retrieved the jug of lubricant from the counter along with a third jar.  Ted studied her as she poured three oversized portions.  She was short and dirty and had muscles like a man.  The narrow face and broad shoulders, tight waist and thick legs; his Cali-Coast taste told Ted that she didn’t fit together properly, but there was an indifference and honesty in her movements that he found pleasing, if not quite attractive.  She smiled young, though, seeming much younger than her husband.  Ted would have been forced to give-or-take fifteen years to guess either of their ages anyway.

 

The earthy jungle moonshine was slowly coating Ted’s vision in a sticky primordial syrup, making the contents of the single room snicker with each flicker of the lantern’s flame.  All of the wood furniture was worn smooth by generations of use and seemed to grow right out of the plank floor.  An old stove of blackened iron held court over the room from one corner, sided by a lasciviously leaning cabinet, doors whorishly ajar, like a prostitute’s plunging neckline drawing guilty glances at shadowy wares.  As the jars emptied, Ted was less and less offended by the odor of the donkey housed in an adjacent lean-to.  The mingling man and beast smells seemed appropriate to this world.  This was how real people lived.

Rudi’s stories were well rehearsed.  He unwound narratives of oppression, revolution, and betrayal forever cycling in a restless portion of the world.  He spoke mechanically and without strong emotion, just shades of weariness and regret for having survived so many tales and therefore having to endlessly repeat them.  Often in his stories he paused and gestured to an ancient rifle hanging near the door with a reverence that was lost on Ted, who understood only fragments of the bilingual tales.  Margareta seemed bored.

Ted was floating on moonbeams and bravado.  He told them of his travels around the world on adventurous vacations, visiting foreign lands and learning many things of the world.  He even told a couple spiced-up versions of some of his Special Forces exploits, the ones he wasn’t supposed to ever repeat.  His boasting wandered the Gobi, conquered Mediterranean volcanoes, island-hopped Samoan empires, overthrew penny despots and tyrants and finally arrived at his more recent travails.  Rudi was sympathetic as Ted explained how the guide referred to him by the Tourism Board led him for hours into the wilderness and then demanded extra money, only to disappear into the thick forest when Ted drew a hidden gun as a reply.  More than a novice survivalist, Ted had no worries about finding the road again, but he had run out of daylight.  He was forced to make camp alone in the jungle.  There was little kindling dry enough to fuel a fire and he spent the night huddled over a hissing pile of coals the size of his fist. 

Rudi tittered and shook when the American tough confessed the panic that had risen in him as he was ambushed by the din of the howling Peruvian night.  His mind could not reconcile the darkness with the teeming metropolis he was hearing around him.  The old man fell laughing at Ted’s admission that he had fired his pistol blindly into the bush hoping to kill every scurrying phantom, until he ran out of ammunition many hours before dawn.  Margareta, who’d appeared asleep for an hour, sat up and laughed openly.  Ted applied his most menacing barfight visage to her corner of the room.  The woman was unaffected.  Ted began to stew silently and Rudi was forced to retake the reigns of the conversation.  Rudi stared through his front door and began to recall yet another chapter of his harsh history, but Ted was no longer listening to his host.  He was instead blearily staring Margareta down, trying to show her who she was laughing at.  He’d killed, she shouldn’t doubt.  He’d killed for a living and been given medals for it.  Even an ignorant jungle squaw like her should be able to see he was a killer…

 

In his anger and humiliation his eyes were fixed on Rudi’s rifle.  Its coquettish gleaming entranced him.  It was quite a piece.  Some geek collector in LA would fall all over himself for it, he was sure.  Rudi noticed his fascination.  “We fill your pistola tomorrow, Ready Teddy, if rains let us.  No worry.”  Ted was skeptical of this conditional promise.

“Rains?”  He hadn’t seen a single cloud since he’d stepped off the plane.  “You get the Weather Channel up here?”  He laughed sarcastically.

Rudi was unphased.  “Soleese told me.”

“Soleese?”

“SOLEEEESE!”  Rudi jumped to his feet, his face crazy.  He grabbed an iron pot from the counter and flung it against the back wall.  The crash of the pot was answered by a panicked hun-haww from outside.  “Soleese,” said Rudi calmly.  He sat back down.  “Soleese limped today.  The rains will come.”  They sat in silence for several minutes.

Ted was startled by a grinning Margareta as she plopped down on a stool beside them, another full jar in her hand.  Powerful woman, he thought, from all that work on the mountain I guess.  He could admire that hard kind of life.  Now, suddenly, there was something about the low lantern flame glistening off the moist brown of her cheeks, the glow of her wet, laughing lips.  In her eyes the howling of the jungle sang him different promises.  Ted’s brow softened as he stumbled into something akin to love.  Another gulp and he careened into an intoxicated desire to own her, to be owned and dissolved into her primitive soul through her primitive body.  In his imagination he embraced the feral churnings of her work-strong hips against him in animalistic throes, her awkward teeth gnashing incantations of passionate monsoons, until they were driven raving through the alien hinterland.  Teach me to survive the wild jungles of night, O Mestiza! 

Margareta saw this change in him and began giggling.  Again, her mirth at his vulnerability made him feel ashamed of his desires, of his fundamental un-jungleness.  Head swimming in the weakness of his need, he inwardly raged at her with a dizzy hate enhanced by his own self-loathing.  She’d tricked him!  Gulping sloppily, he wanted to humiliate her, as she had humiliated him.  He needed to show her how weak and stupid she was for not pleading for his protection.  That old man…  That old lecher!  He couldn’t take care of a woman like her!  Couldn’t please her!  He’d probably sell her to the first sleazy guerrilla to make an offer-

Ted’s posture relaxed and he leaned back against the wall, smiling like a snake.

 

It had only been a passing thought. You never know the customs of others.  Like that time in Cape Town.  There’s crazy folks with crazy ways.  You never know.  Some places, with enough money…  A simple inquiry.  But it wasn’t a question of how much, was it pal?  Besides, it was a joke really.  A drunken joke between men.  To take it so seriously… It wasn’t necessary for the old fool to translate it to her.  Boy, she was right on him like a feral cat.  By the time he’d gained advantage and had her pinned Rudi had the rifle down and aimed right at his heart.  “No decoracion, senor.  Not for show.”  The old codger held that gun mighty steady for so many jars of ‘shine.  Dizzy-drunk as he was, Ted had known to not fuck around.  He’d staggered out the door, feeling the unmistakable prick of polished steel training on his spine up until he heard them bolt the door shut behind him.  He took a few long breaths to try to clear his head, but nocturnal Peru was eager to greet him with the full thunder of its life.   It pounded his temples with its screeching fists.  He had made it only a few steps before his head spun and his knees broke and he folded, heaving violently in front of the shack.

 

A sting roused Ted from his reverie.  A swollen mosquito was feasting on his stenciled bicep.  It was nearly the size of Ted’s thumb.  It had gotten an early start on the day.  Just before he killed it, he felt a kinship with this hunter, this survivor.  We feast on flesh, he thought, and he smiled.  He raised his hand slowly.  The creature, lethargic and blood-drunk, did not react.  Ted brought his hand down on his arm with a smack and felt a cool spray on his neck and shoulder.  He wiped his arm, smearing the blood across the mouth of a koi fish, watched it trickle over the lips of a tiki and pool at the feet of a row of hot-rods.  How much of that blood was mine, you little bastard?  He flexed his arm to make the bloody tiki smile.  He touched his face gingerly.  It felt like she’d managed to give him a black eye, but he had no mirror to check.  There were certainly some scratches.  He satisfied his crawling back with the bag again and glanced backward at Rudi’s shabby home. The damp scorn of the previous night rose bitter in his mouth and he spat back at the cabin to be rid of the taste. 

 

That self-righteous old ass is nothing but a third-world pimp, and a drug trader to boot.  The kindness of strangers, ha!  Shoving guns in the backs of civilized folk.  Damn savages.  I wonder how much he gets for one of those giant sacks of leaves.  Hey, maybe I’ll find out, hmmm?  Something to do, anyways.  Give him something to think about after he sleeps it off and wants to go make a buck for more beans and booze.  Just out of sight here, now creep back around.  What’s a joke between men?  Just swing up that hill around back, and wait.  Steeper than I thought, treacherous.  Watch it.  Damn jungle, crazy overgrown everything.  Here, this’ll do.  Pack’ll be safe here.  Bet it’ll be easy to off the stuff out on the main road.  Maybe even for some ammo.  A little hair of the dog wouldn’t hurt either.  Hey!  Fucking bugs everywhere man.  Had enough of this place.  What’s that?  Okay, there she goes, out for water or something it looks like.  Probably to peddle her ass to the monkeys.  Goddamn animals.  Just a piece though… nah, forget it.   There’s the bags, just below.  Nice of him to leave ‘em out back for me.  Would that donkey make any ruckus?  Nah, just smack it in the head with a board, that bench there if you have to.  Hun haw– Whack!  Christ, I can hear the old fuck snoring from up here.  Alright, she’ll be out of earshot by now, got to move quick.  Swing down like Tarzan, shimmy.  Pirouette.  Damn, steep man.  Slowly now.  Watch the loose rocks.  Footing’s tricky.  Almost there.  Got to clear that ditch.  Slow down!  Shit, wait-