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Even as the sun vanishes behind the tall, impossibly green trees and the rainforest around me fades into darkness, the air feels unbearably hot. I can’t walk anymore tonight. I’ll have to find a place to sleep. The leather pouch that the mystic gave me just before I left the village hangs heavily from a loop on my belt, knocking against my leg softly with each step that I take. He insisted that I take the pouch, filled with crushed flowers and roots and soil, into the jungle with me so that I might be safe from danger. I agreed, partly to oblige him in whatever superstition he might be heeding, but also partly because the villagers here know more about these jungles than anyone. The concoction in this pouch may very well be a great bug repellent or emit a subtle odor which wards away any number of wild beasts. I’d ask the mystic exactly from what dangers this little leather bag is supposed to protect me, but I know that the stubborn old man would never tell me. I’ve spent enough time in that village to know that he is not one to explain himself. If I asked him to elaborate on the purpose of the bag, he’d only scoff at the fact that I’d be so insolent as to not trust his wisdom.
Ahead of me I notice a stout, leafless tree. The wide trunk stands perhaps five feet high and the branches all fan out from the top in nearly horizontal fashion, calling to mind a gigantic sea anemone. The fact that there are no leaves on any of its rough, jagged branches sets it quite noticeably apart from the lush green all around it. The night gets thicker with every passing moment, and the need to sleep is wearing on me more than ever, so I decide to make camp here. I manage to scramble up the side of the tree, sitting in the shallow bowl formed at the top of its trunk by the radially extending branches. This is the perfect place to rest for the night. I can set up my sleeping bag here and stay off the moist, insect-ridden ground. Being up off the ground also means that I won’t have to worry about being discovered by some big predator during the night. I’ve noticed some mangled animals around this area, and I definitely don’t want to meet whatever did that.
I sit in the slight depression at the center of the bowl of branches, and discover that although the rest of the tree is coarse and hard, the top of the trunk is porous and soft, almost spongy. It’s so comfortable I decide that I don’t even need my sleeping bag. Casting my backpack and shoes over the side of the tree, I curl up in the bowl and quickly fall asleep.
I wake up, refreshed and squinting into the sun that streams through the canopy. A small monkey scurries up the boughs of a nearby tree. It’s a tamarin, I think. It scrambles closer before coming to rest on a green branch which overhangs quite nearly where I’m sitting in my squat tree.
Suddenly and all at once, the stocky branches of my tree begin swaying in the still morning air. Their movement is slow, subtle, and almost serene. Without warning, the branch nearest the monkey sweeps upward with a sound like splitting wood. It catches the animal square in the chest, knocking the little creature skyward. The tamarin flies up perhaps six feet and then begins to fall. It looks as if it might land right in my lap, and in my shock all I can think to do is try to catch it. I ready my hands, but before the monkey reaches me, the tree’s branches all snap together over my head, catching the poor animal and crushing it from all sides. The sun is blotted out as I find myself in a cocoon of gnarled wood branches which have all come together to grasp the crushed tamarin. From the center of their union above my head, blood begins to seep and drip down. Pressing my back against the wall of branches in terror, I watch as the blood falls in drops, then as a single, steady rivulet into the center of the bowl at the top of the trunk. The spongy wood in this depression soaks up the blood as quickly as it falls, drinking it in greedily.
As the stream of blood turns back to a steady drip and then eventually stops, the branches begin to separate, letting the sun stream in once again. They return to their original positions and the crushed, bloody tamarin sticks, impaled, to one of the jagged branches until the tree shakes it off with a jerk of that limb. It hits the ground wetly and I suddenly realize what mangled those other animals that I had seen nearby.
I sit, motionless, for fear of alerting the tree to my presence. It is only after an hour that I find the courage to climb down and return to the village. It is only after I realize what allowed me to spend the night unharmed from this carnivorous monster that I am able to move. Looking at the leather pouch at my hip, I realize what dangers the mystic foresaw.
By David Feuling at http://www.ss-comic.com
(inspired by rumors of the “ya-te-veo” tree)