The Green Coil
By Paul Stansbury
“The jungle is the green coil. It squeezes the blood from your heart, the air from your lungs and the humanity from your soul,” intoned Silvio, the guide, trying to sound dramatic. It was the end of the first day up the Tuichi River and the adventure vacation group had set up camp in a small clearing on the bank. “You go 100 meters into the green labyrinth without a guide and you’re lost – never find your way back.”
After supper, back in their tent, Ash pulled some weed from his backpack. “Scored this yuyo from a guy in Rurrenabaque,” he said. After lighting a joint, he inhaled a slow, deep breath, then held it out to his tentmate.
“Naw,” replied Lynda. “You don’t know what kind of weird crap they put in that stuff. You’re crazy to smoke that junk.”
“Gotta do something to make this carnival ride tolerable,” Ash whined. “So far, this little soiree has been a bust. We sit in a damn boat all day, camp in some dumpy clearing with the ants and mosquitoes. Added to that, we have to listen to the guide go on and on and on about the ecosystem and not getting lost in the woods. I’m ready for some excitement.”
“What’d you expect? This is the Amazon, not a tube ride at the amusement park.”
“Well, I expected more than this,” Ash grumbled. “Remember what the ad said?” He read from a damp, folded brochure fished from a shirt pocket. “Make your own camp, catch your own food, swim and wash in rivers or lakes and carry all your own belongings. Visit pristine parts of the jungle by the river Tuichi. Learn survival secrets from authentic Indian guides. What a pile!”
“Finish that up, Ash. Silvio is fixing supper.”
The dark descended rapidly. After they ate their meal of mystery fish Silvio had caught in the river and some rice and beans, Lynda and Ash zipped their tent against the onslaught of mosquitos. Ash lit up another joint. He insisted the smoke from his yuyo would keep the bloodsucking vermin at bay.
Even second-hand, the yuyo’s potent vapor made Lynda’s head grow woozy. Soon, she drifted off to sleep only to be awakened by the sound of thrashing inside their tent. She fumbled for her flashlight and pointed in the direction of the noise. She saw Ash disappearing through the open tent flap. Pulling her boots on, Lynda scurried out after him, sweeping the flashlight around the camp. Ash was at the far edge of the clearing. He looked back once, eyes wild, before leaping into the jungle. Forgetting the guide’s warnings, Lynda followed. Two steps in and the jungle swallowed them up.
“Ash!” Lynda called, as she stumbled through the roots and vines in the black folds of the jungle. Plant fronds, razor sharp, tore her flesh. Stumbling forward, she rubbed her stinging cheek, then turned the flashlight on her fingers. They were covered in blood. She continued searching for some time until she found Ash crumpled on the jungle floor.
* * *
In the afternoon on their third day of wandering, they came upon the Indios, wraith thin with angular faces and round black eyes. Bones pierced their ears and noses. Painted bands of white covered their frail bodies. Occasional blotches of ochre completed the decorations.
The Indios led Lynda and Ash further into the jungle until they arrived at a small village. It was little more than a small patch of dirt circled by crudely lashed lean-tos. In the center was a smoldering firepit. Lynda and Ash stood silently as the Indios placed green fronds on the coals, sending a thick column of smoke up through the jungle mantel. An old woman disappeared into one of the huts and returned with a sparse meal of berries and dried meat which she offered to them. They devoured the offerings ravenously while the Indios watched intently.
“Think maybe we could get something to drink around here?” asked Ash, still gnawing on a wad of meat.
The Indios remained silent.
“Don’t think they speak English,” said Lynda.
“You’re probably right. Think there’s a chance they’ll take us back to Silvio?” he asked.
“I doubt they can be of help getting us anywhere except maybe to the river.”
“That’d be a start. How far away from the river do you think we are?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Lynda. “Hell, we’ve been wandering around for three days now. Could ‘a been going in circles or heading deep into the wild. No telling how close we are to the river.”
“So, how we gonna get them to help us?”
Lynda sat quietly for a moment, then got on her knees. “Here goes nothing,” she whispered, smoothing out a patch of dirt with her hand. She traced two wavy lines with her forefinger. Raising up, she placed her hand on Ash’s shoulder, then on her own chest. “You take us to the river?” she asked, extending his arm outward, then pointing to the wavy lines
The Indios sat motionless.
“Yeah! To the river,” pleaded Ash, furiously jabbing his finger at the wavy lines.
The Indios placed more wood on the fire. Soon the flames burned brightly. They stood, facing the jungle, chanting solemnly in their cryptic tongue. “Hwarro,” they called out over and over, arms outstretched as if in supplication.
“Waddya think that’s about?” asked Ash. “I hope they ain’t planning to eat us.”
“Shut up, Ash. If they were gonna eat us, we’d be dead already.”
The chant continued for some time until without warning the Indios fell silent. A tall, gaunt figure, with features like the Indios, emerged from the jungle carrying a large communal bowl. He held it out. One by one, the Indios each took a drink. Then they held the bowl out to Ash.
He looked at Lynda. “What should I do?”
“You asked for something to drink, didn’t you?” she barked. “Better not risk getting these folks upset. Besides, if you can smoke yuyo, you sure as hell can take a sip of whatever that stuff is.”
“I guess you’re right,” conceded Ash. He took the bowl in his shaking hands and took a sip. Grimacing, he held the bowl out for Lynda, who brought it to her lips. The bitter concoction squirmed down her throat.
The Indios began to sway, murmuring in raspy whispers, “Hwarro… Hwarro… Hwarro…” Lynda sensed a deeper, more sinister underlying drone. It seeped into her soul. The Indios slumped to the ground. They thrashed in the amber glow of the fire, arms melting into their torsos, legs fusing together.
Lynda’s head was reeling. The Indios’ flesh began to quiver as they thrust their heads back, jaws straining open, cheeks splitting at the corners of their mouths. From each, a sleek glistening snake emerged, leaving behind a flaccid sheath of skin. The snakes writhed in a knotted coil at her feet. Fangs sank deep into her legs. Lynda now grimly realized the tall figure was the Hwarro of the Indios’ chanting.
“Lynda,” his loathsome voice throbbed in her head. His black eyes focused on her. Hwarro held out his bony hands, beckoning.
“Run Ash!” Lynda screamed, bolting into the jungle. She ran headlong into the black, thrashing through the vegetation. It tore her flesh and snarled her feet. Fangs bit at her. She could hear Ash behind stumbling, gasping for air between shrieks of pain.
“Lynda,” Hwarro whispered in her soul.
* * *
Unaware of time and distance, Lynda ran until she thought her lungs would burst. Finally, she reached the river, lurching free from the constriction of the jungle vegetation. Having grown accustomed to the perpetual dusk inside the green labyrinth, the sun blinded her eyes. Legs and arms, whether from fatigue or venom, refuse to obey and she fell headlong to the rocks and sand at the water’s edge.
Lynda thought she could hear Ash whimpering. “Ash, are you there?” Lynda attempted to call out. Her voice was a feeble whisper. Lying on the riverbank, unable to move, she stared at the sand, realizing it wasn’t really sandy colored. She could see all the grains in their infinite spectrum of colors nestled around the stones and the rotting bits of wood. Across the river, where it bowed away from the sand bar, the rainforest rose up to meet the sky. The river had cut an angry swath in the red soil at its base, exposing boulders and roots.
“Lynda,” Hwarro laughed.
She couldn’t hear Ash’s whimpers anymore. “Ash,” she rasped again.
Before passing out, she heard Hwarro’s evil, beckoning whisper, “Lynda.”
She awoke to excruciating pain. Ants swarmed over her, biting, and tearing at her flesh. She knew they would carry the pieces back to their colony to feed their larvae. She wondered how long it would it take to strip the meat clean from her bones. “Ash,” she rasped. No answer. Lynda was relieved. She knew the ants were devouring him also and she didn’t want to see it. She wondered if Hwarro whispered to the ants, calling their names?
Lynda could no longer feel her arms or legs. It made no difference. She slithered forward, shedding what remained of her bleeding husk of skin. Her scales glistened in the sun.
Joining Ash, they glided into the dense vegetation of the jungle.
There, in the shadows, Hwarro hummed to her his soft lullaby of welcome.
Paul Stansbury is a lifelong native of Kentucky. He is the author of Inversion – Not Your Ordinary Stories; Inversion II – Creatures, Fairies, and Haints, Oh My!; Inversion III – The Lighter Shades of Greys; and Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections. His speculative fiction stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky. www.paulstansbury.com