“A Strange Land”

Ben scrambled to the back of the cabin. He braced himself. One hand pushing against the ceiling and the other gripping the back of the seat. He was set to kick the door open, when to his surprise, he noticed the handle was now in the open position. He gave the door a little push with the toe of his tennis shoe; it easily swung out. Bandit didn’t hesitate a second, he jumped to the ground and ran.

“We’re definitely not in the hangar anymore,” said Ben. They had apparently landed on a grass runway surrounded by jungle.  

“Bandit come back,” yelled Jold as he squeezed past Ben, jumped to the ground and chased after him. Ben reacted, one big leap and a few strides later he was ahead of Jold in the chase. 

“I’m not staying here,” said Kate.

“Me neither,” said Tali.

They both hopped out and ran, with Willy bringing up the rear. Tali  passed Jold and caught up with Ben. She was by far the fastest runner of the five. When they reached the tree line, all five came to an abrupt stop. Bandit never slowed, he simply vanished into the dark jungle.

This was unlike anything they had ever seen in the mountains of Colorado. The tallest trees must have been 100 feet high with branches that widened out like an umbrella at the top, blocking much of the sunlight. Vines were twisted around what appeared to be tree roots, except they were above ground. Plants that looked like giant ferns with beautiful red and yellow flowers where everywhere. What little ground could be seen was covered with a thick layer of rotting leaves that seemed to be moving.  

“We gotta find Bandit, we got to,” said Jold.

“We will, yeah, for sure, he’ll probably find us.”

“Everyone…, be quiet,” said Tali. “Listen…, I think I can hear Bandit barking.”

“That’s him, it’s coming from that direction, let’s go.” said Jold.

“If we go in there, we’re going to get lost,” said Kate.

“No, we won’t, I got a compass and Ben has his GPS. We’ll be okay,” said Willy.

In they went, Ben leading the way. Circling around boulders covered in slippery slimy moss, climbing up and over downed tree branches and crawling under low hanging vines was not easy. Every few minutes they stopped and Jold called out, “Bandit, come boy.” When they heard a bark, they headed in that direction. But sound can play funny tricks on you in a jungle.  

After what must have been an hour of searching, Kate took charge. “Everybody stop, now! We need to go back to the plane. It’s going to be dark soon and we’ll never find our way out of here at night.”

“She’s right,” said Tali, “let’s go back.” Even Jold shook his head yes.

Willy pulled out his compass. “I think we’ve been heading east; all we have to do is turn around and go west.”

Ben reached into the side pocket of his military style camos for his hand-held GPS. He had used it hundreds of times in the forests around Buena Vista. All you had to do was turn it on, find your location and navigate home, easy. He pushed some buttons and stared at it for a minute, then pushed the buttons again and again. “It’s got power, but no signal for some reason.” He looked up, “well, uh, I  guess we’ll have to go with the compass.”

Using his compass, Willy stood facing directly west. Then, he  closed one eye and looked through the popup sight attached to the rim of the compass. He picked a landmark in the distance that was due west and could be easily identified. He and Ben had practiced this when they camped with their dads. It doesn’t matter how much zigging and zagging you do so long as you keep that landmark in sight. When you reach the target, you take another sighting.

“I’ll take point,” said Ben. “That would be army talk for I’ll take the lead.”  He moved at a pace that kept everyone breathing hard, never taking his eyes off the target. Willy followed just behind and the rest in single file. They marched on for a least an hour, stopping just long enough for Willy to get the next sighting. They hoped he really knew what he was doing. Then, Ben stopped before reaching the next target. He turned and faced the gang, “It’s getting too dark to see where I’m walking. I think were going to have to stay here until daylight.”

“Great,” said Kate. “I told you we would get lost.” She looked up and held out her hand, palm up. “And now it’s starting to rain.”

They looked around for shelter. A huge plant that stood about four feet high with giant palm branches was off to one side. They scrambled under its broad green leaves and huddled together, grabbing hands as the rain progressed from a sprinkle to a torrential downpour. It worked; the palms kept them from getting completely soaked. In Colorado they would have been experiencing hypothermia by now, but the rain in the jungle felt a little like a warm shower.

The only light was the bright green screen of Ben’s GPS. Without that they could barely see each other. Ben had an idea. He needed to try it before the batteries in his GPS died. “Hold the light this way,” he said to Willy. Then he cut one of the palm leaves off with his pocketknife. It was about a foot wide and two feet long. He folded the edges up a bit and held it in the rain. It funneled the fresh water into a little stream. “Anyone want a drink?” he asked. At least no one would go thirsty.

Jold, who almost always had something to say, was quiet. “We’ll find him,” Tali assured him. He squeezed her hand. “I hope so.”

Ben checked his glow-in-the-dark army watch. “What time did we get into the Shirley Ann?”

“I think it was about lunchtime,” said Kate.

“My watch must have stopped, it still says 12:15. That can’t be right.” Willy pushed a button on the side of his digital watch. The back lighting was so bright in the pitch dark that they could see each other. Then he looked at Ben. “This is getting really weird, mine says the same thing.”

“Who cares about what time it is? We’re lost in a jungle and our parents have no idea where we are,” said Jold. “My parents are going to kill me when we get home…, if I don’t die out here first.”

“My mom is going to be so worried,” said Tali. “Totally, mine too.” said Kate.

The rain finally gave way to clear skies. A few stars and a sliver of the full moon were visible through the thick canopy. An eerie calm settled in and eyelids grew heavy. It was so quiet they could hear Jold’s stomach growling, but no one laughed. Night was not a time for sleep in the jungle and the quiet didn’t last. Predators that had hunkered down through the storm were now on the prowl, stalking their prey. Strange alien sounds echoed from every direction. They feared they were being watched. Morning could not come soon enough.

Tali squeezed Kate’s hand, bowed her head and whispered. Kate leaned in, pressing her cheek against Tali’s. “Jesus, we’re lost, please help us find our way and help my mom not worry too much.”  “Amen,” said Kate.

When the rays of the morning sun finally pierced the darkness of the jungle night, their fear was confirmed. Someone or something was creeping through the shadows only yards away. “Who’s there?” Willy blurted out. Ben jumped up, he stood tall with his feet shoulder width apart, left foot slightly ahead of his right for balance and leverage. His opened pocketknife was at the ready in his right hand. Willy joined him on his left and Jold to his right. Shoulder to shoulder they stood. Scared or not, they always stick together and wouldn’t go down without a fight. Kate and Tali huddled in close behind.          



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