Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Start at the beginning: Indonesia: Getting Answers. 2. Start the music. 3. Read. 4. If you like what you've read, help spread the word!
The edge of the jungle came to me while I rested immobile at the base of the temple. I glided along like a boat on the water, unseen forces pushing irresistibly. In the thick of it once more, the sky above me flirted from behind towering palm tree fans. She blushed fuchsia whenever my eyes connected with her otherwise violet skin.
The forest sucked me along and drew all the curtains so there was no longer any seeing out, or in. Each movement left me invisible to the place I’d inhabited only a moment ago. My existence was erased and rewritten every moment.
Only trees and butterflies and thick-lipped amphibians with glass black eyes had ever seen this virgin forest. I floated along like a ghost in a museum; an uninvited and inconsequential tourist.
The flavor of the insistently earthy tea repeated once more against the back of my tongue and I tried to swallow it again. On its way down, it had tasted like earth; on its way back up, it was all fire. I hiccupped searing flames.
All around me, trees reached out to slide long, emaciated fingers against my skin, leaving a goose bump freeze in their wake. But there was no hostility in the grasp of the branches. The jungle just wanted to caress me as I glided through it. It couldn’t keep its fronds off me.
I knelt in front of a snake. Turning her empty eyes to face me directly, she stopped and waited. There was no way to read her. The eyes are not the windows to the snake’s soul; they are only mirrors that you fall into in one last mistake.
My throat burned and my skin itched.
“You know where I need to go,” I accused her and she stuck out her tongue. I knew, even as she slipped once more beneath the undergrowth that the words that were babbling out of my mouth had been confused by more than just foul tasting tea. I was stoned out of my mind on mushrooms. I recognized the symptoms now.
There had been something familiar in that flavor, indeed something dangerous: a cytotoxic undertone in the bouquet of rotting forest and earthworm medicine.
My stomach rushed up against my throat without warning but there would be no relief from the journey now. I had no choice but to see it through to the end. When I recovered at last, I found myself moving again. How far had I come? How long until night? My feet did not belong to me.
Everything went dim as I walked for what might have been many hours. My mind didn’t drift as it usually does, telling me stories about my journey; about where I might be going and what I might find when I got there. No, things got quiet inside me. Hushed like dying.
A scream brought me back. My eyes swiveled up to the source of the noise: a tiny man with a nose like a water balloon and rainbow painted genitals. He pulled his lips back at me so I could get a better look at his teeth and rocked back and forth, tiny cherry red penis proudly displayed before me.
If he’s a monkey, why is he talking?
“If you know you’re on drugs, why do you think this is real?”
I did, I froze, mouth open in a perfect circle. My tongue scrapped against the roof of my mouth and crumbled away like sand in the wind. Holes in me.
“Your dick is red.”
He grinned, canines long like swords.
“You have blue balls.”
He squatted down to hide them.
“Get back in the fucking trees. You don’t belong here on the ground," I shouted with more anger than I knew I had. But it was more for myself, for telling this monkey how to live his life. “Swarthy man monkey.”
He stepped aside at last, but there was nothing behind him except impenetrable forest. I could not move forward.
Above me, the palms began to fold in on themselves like feathers, one by one tucked back neat in place along bent wings. But this wasn’t forest; these were wings and he was reaching out for me with them, to tuck me in safe against his cold body. Cold-blooded bird. He rested his spear-straight beak against my neck, to hug me tighter.
The last thing I remember was the eye of the pterodactyl, black like a hole in my childhood.
When I woke up in my hotel room Wednesday morning, Tuesday had never happened, as far as I could tell. I’d lost the day, somewhere out there in the forest of Indonesia, somewhere in the arms of a dream.
Photos courtesy of Connie Freeland