Author : C.T. Jackman

The jungle reminded me of home. The long periods of silence between its trees were occasionally broken by sharp shrieks and violence that ended the monotony, but perpetuated the tension, and the muggy, cramped space forced me to constantly check my path underneath the everlasting presence of watchful eyes and stinging pain, though thankfully this time the pain came from bugs and not a belt.

Everything around me jacked my blood pressure through the roof, and I’m sure that fact only made things easier for the parasites to find me and pick me apart. I swatted one that landed on my cheek, and I felt its guts smear across my stubble. Trying to rub it away probably just added to the grime, as the mud and sweat that soaked my gloves certainly didn’t make for a sanitary wipe.

A shrill bird-call echoed through the canopy, and I dropped to a knee. My eyes scanned the trees as my finger crept towards the trigger of my particle rifle. I slowly exhaled, then took in one sharp breath and held it to steady my aim. When nothing appeared, I exhaled again and called out to my partner. “Buck,” I said into the trees, quickly and quietly.

After a tense moment, I received an answer from my left. “Yeah, buddy?” he whispered back.

“Just wanted to find out where you were, so I don’t accidentally blow your head off.”

I heard him chuckle. “I hear ya.”

Knowing that the rescue crew wouldn’t appreciate the two us squatting in jungle all day, I rose to my feet and pushed further through the brush, hoping that we were still on the right track. The locators on our belts would tell them where we were, but having lost our only compass in an eel-infested river a couple hours ago, we couldn’t tell where we were ourselves.

I kept my gun trained on the shadows ahead, every once in a while checking my six. I heard the groan of branches overhead, and a quick somersault was all that saved me from getting crushed by the ton of fur, teeth, and muscle that burst through the treetops. I was already running by the time I caught a glimpse of it; with four arms and fangs to spare, it was one bad ape. I hoped to God that it was slower than it looked.

Leaves and vines whipped my face as I ran through the darkness, the ape in close pursuit. My lungs were heaving in the warm air, and my only thoughts were of a place to hide from the angry monster behind me. The toe of my boot snagged on a rock, and before I knew it, I was sent careening to the ground. I knew that the jungle finally had me when my I looked up and saw my rifle three yards away. The beast’s roar filled my ears, and it beat four meaty hands against its chest. I had a second to imagine it beating me to death the same way, but instead of getting pulverized, I heard three sharp blasts of energy and felt a shower of warm liquid against my skin. A half-second later, the ape fell to the dirt next to me, dead. I rolled onto my back, and found Buck standing over the two of us triumphantly. The barrel of his own rifle had smoke drifting from it and he offered me a hand.

“You never know what to expect here, do you?” he asked.

“No sir,” I replied, grasping his hand before getting to my feet. “Just like home.”

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