“It was on the hunt, and it wasted no time to let us know, with a roar that digs into the depths of your soul and threatens to rip your heart out with claws the length of your body. Uncle Ben’s head flicked towards mine. I have never seen so much fear and so much hope written on the same face at one time. Run; that was the plan. Poorly executed. If we had only been quiet, that heavy breath, the stench of rotting wood, blood and humidified sweat, may not have reached ever closer to our nostrils - the scent prowled on the air.”
Auntie’s eyes intensified with memory; a cold mixture of adrenaline and fear.
“We continued our run – so far did we go, dodging every new species we had come so far to collect and document. The running did not end – we kept going and going, on and on, pushing our bitten arms through knife-cutting leaves, gaining more and more scars, until he tripped – uncle Ben tripped. His scream I will never forget. The forest went silent, though my head was not, air was forced inside me as I rushed back to his aid. There was no time to ask if he was alright – I did not need to ask; there was his leg, skin torn and blood, red and gory, flooding down it. I looked into the woods over his head and fumbled with my shirt until the fabric came away. His leg was tied up.
It called him; the blood did, the putrid stench which flooded the air caught his attention; the deafening roar once again split open empty air.
Ben’s almost exhausted face became my focus: he gave me one look, then extended his finger, my eyes following, to the tree which at the top held our house.
‘We made it.’ I said, but Ben shook his head. I knew. We had to get up it if we were to hold onto our lives. Ben’s arm wrapped around my shoulder and in a limping run we edged closer to the trunk. The ladder was gone. Foul breath; the stench was nearer. Whispered, broken, toddler words became my language, my body frozen to the air. I couldn’t see Ben. My vision began to cloud with rain, and the weight of myself became too heavy for me to hold up. I fell. I fell to the floor in a non-cognitive heap of skin and bones and blood and beating heart. Black it was, down there, where the ants sting and the ground spikes. When I awoke I was up halfway up the tree, thunder and claws rumbling at the base of the trunk.”
Uncle Ben cut in:
“I had seen her fall unconscious to the ground. Lisanna, so strong and sound minded, broken when hope looked lost – her brain kicking out like Winter to Summers plight. For a moment, I did not believe it. I thought she had died, and almost frozen too, I neared her, no tears were able to form on my eyes pinched by humidity. What did escape, was my heaving breath, in and out as my feet closed in on her body. I dropped to my knees in despair, and, with my brain still rational, I laid my hand on her heart to find it beating just as it was before. My own heart almost climbed the tree without us. From the air I yanked at the vines and fastened unconscious Lisanna to my back. Then I began to climb. Every inch was a pain.
The first time I used my leg I screamed, stepped back onto the jungle floor, and yelled at the air again. I breathed in. Out again. Then I put my foot to the tree and pushed, my arms soaring up the trunk with another vine holding our body-weight around the tree. I pushed again. I grit my teeth. We were a good six feet off the ground and I heard the roar again. My eyes widened, my pace quickened, and we did another six feet in half the time. There it was; ominous, pouncing, snarling rustle, the snorts and growls of death. Another three feet. It was upon us. I heard it bashing the trunk, again and again, trying to throw us off. I used all I had to just hold on. It was angry and roared again, before below, all became silent… I climbed up another couple of feet, then I looked down.
It stared up at us, with hypnotic eyes of fire, orange and glowing, its pupils moving between Lisanna and I, as if they were tectonic plates on the verge of an earthquake. I swallowed the brick in my mouth and shuffled further to safety. The green beast took its talons and drew them down the length of the bark, the nose a piercing screech. Lisanna awoke.”
“You bet I did. That noise, more than the roars, felt as though my chest was slowly and delicately being torn open: ripped until my heart and lungs would flop the eighteen feet to the ground. Thank goodness this beast wasn’t a tiger; we would be dead already. No this was a hunter, rather enjoying filling us with fear rather than eating us. I saw its eyes, I saw its claws, and I saw at its feet a dead rabbit-like creature it had dropped at the base of the trunk as a warning – and hysteria hit.”
“She called my name: once, twice, four times, eight times, sixteen times. The counting kept me sane as I kept climbing, inching slower up the trunk as her calling got faster. Then came tears. I heard giant sobs and felt them run down my back and soak my already drenched shirt which was half hanging off me. I could smell the salt, even over the putrid stench of venom and death below. Then she screamed, the same words over and over: ‘let me go and save yourself’. I had to grab the trunk tight again, unable to climb anymore with her writhing to get free of the vines that bound her to me and the tree. I called her name through gritted teeth, she kept screaming.”
“I remember he said: ‘stop moving or we’ll both die.’ The tears did not subside, but I did stop moving eventually, exhausted from my battle with inevitable temporary imprisonment. And Ben climbed.”
“We reached twenty-five feet before the tears stopped. You could still hear it clawing and yawning at the base, but had turned to eat the rabbit creature.”
“Twenty-five feet. This was only five feet away from the tree-house. Goodness knows why we built it so high.”
“And we climbed it all.”
“No you did, I just clung to your back like a helpless child.”
“Either way, that five feet was climbed, and through the gap we had left between trunk and platform I hauled ourselves. I untied Lisanna, then, exhausted, lay listless on the wooden platform.”
“I could tell you about afterwards, about cleaning his wounds with the rain, of avoiding snakes which slithered where he rested. But I shan’t. I shall let your own imagination run wild with tales of near death and reckless escapes. And that beast? – it did not move from the trunk for days.”