I wipe my brow to no avail. The sweat on my arm just adds to the moisture building on my forehead. I shake my head, whipping droplets off my face and onto the leaves around me. My breaths slowly become heavier, my chest exhausted from sucking in enough air to keep me moving.
It was just a day and a half before when we were washed out of our village. The stilt huts lost their grip from the dirt and slipped away during the freakish flooding. The huts were positioned in the most sheltered positions, secure enough for generations of monsoonal down pours and safe from the cursed blast of the afternoon sun. When the tidal gush came there was nothing we could do but hold onto the collapsing wooden frames and pray that we remain floating away with the water rather than buried under the mud it carried with it.
My heart skips a beat, fear chokes its way into my stomach at the memory of the storm. As quickly as the water came it left, sucked into the earth around us, consumed by the hungry terrain to leave us wedged against a tree. The head count was quick. In the small village the shouts and checks soon confirmed only one person was missing, a small boy of the local chief. The chief bellowed and sobbed to the grey skies, aching for his son to burst free from the slush. We offered to march for help across the jungle to the closest telephone.
I shove my boot into the side of a small mound to join the rest of our group at the top. My footing slips in the mud. I slide face first down the mound collecting a second skin of mud in my fall. I slop around in the mud, exhausted and defeated by the crushing embrace of surrounding nature. Hope sinks away from me. I just want to be home again. I’m done with this adventure. The escape into the true jungle was a dream, now the thought of remaining a moment longer snatches onto my heart and freezes it until the weight of hopelessness is all I can feel.
Shouts come down the mound at me. They scream for me to move, to stand and run. They are too late in their warning. A shiver ripples through the dense ground covering. The leaves vibrate and taunt as they bear down on me. The yells switch to telling me to stay still and calm. My chest shudders spotting the menace peer through the green. The snake’s head shines dully from where the sun hits its scales. Its wicked tongue flickers out at me, already tasting its next meal. The beady eyes consume my thoughts. The black death is finally here for me. The storm was just a warning, the first torment before my death. I’ve struggled all day only to fail in the trek to find help.
The snakes face reaches out next to my abdomen. I refuse to watch. I press my face down into the mud, halting my breaths and begging for a swift release. Pressure builds on my back, signalling the final crush. I brace for the death blow that doesn’t come. The weight of the beast presses me further into the mud as it slides across. The slime of the jungle across my body helps it slither over me with ease. The snake cruises its entire body into the undergrowth on the other side of me, the tip of its tail waves at me as it disappears with a final flick. Someone from the group slides down the mound next to me. The panic rushing through my body shakes my muscles yet fails to activate them into meaningful action. I’m dragged up over the mound and set upright in the mud.
A dozen eyes glance over me, relief flashing in their sight. A new energy to move quivers me alight, ready to trek the final miles to help and onto home.