Authors: Cynthia Price
After their base in Central America was hit with a neurotoxic virus, four friends struggle to escape. Nothing goes as planned and they end up lost in the jungle in the midst of biological warfare. Nowhere is safe, and the team has to face injury, the elements, and some things they thought they’d left behind for good.
Copyright © 2015 by Cynthia Price
All rights reserved.
In no way is it legal to reproduce, duplicate, or transmit any part of this document in either electronic means or in printed format. Recording of this publication is strictly prohibited and any storage of this document is not allowed unless with written permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
They left a trail of dust behind them as they sped down the narrow forest path. The small, muddy red four-by-four held everything that remained of their belongings. The suspension creaked with every little bump in the road, hurling them from one side of the vehicle to the other. The run down car once served as an open top response vehicle, a relic of the soviet era; now it was their only chance of escape.
“It won’t hold out much longer!” cried Steve as he worked to keep the car from falling off the road into the steep valley below; the dust and gravel offering precious little in the form of grip.
“You told us you could drive, it can’t be that hard!” replied Jenn, an edge of concern in her voice.
Steve gritted his teeth. “We’re going to have to unload something.”
“Like what? Water? Food? We can’t leave any of it!”
“Just pick something, and fast!”
Phil and Emily sat silently in back, hanging on to any possessions they could grab and trying to stop whatever they could from flying out of the ex-army Jeep. They could barely hear the commotion in the front over the roar of the tires on gravel.
“Guys! Guys!” Phil shouted, trying to get their attention, “Shouldn’t we be slowing down?”
Tires shredded across the uneven trail high above a deep forested ravine. Even the hand break wasn’t enough to stop them as they careened from side to side, becoming ever closer to the grassy banks of the road.
One flip. Two. There was no going back. For a split second, the jeep flew through the air and then plummeted off the side of the road. The steel water canister flew through the open side of the car, splitting open on the roll cage. Medical supplies were crushed under the weight of Phil, desperately trying to hold on and maintain what little grip he had left. Emily had been flung from the rear of the car at high speed. She flew past trees and across sharp, rocky terrain. Jenn was lucky enough to wear the old car’s only seatbelt; although she wondered what her fate would be if she couldn’t get it off.
Just as suddenly as the fall began, the car ground to a halt in a small clearing. Adrenaline coursed through Phil’s veins as he struggled to orient himself, having been flung from the car himself. He sat up and saw the nearby overturned car.
“Is everyone OK?” He called. He waited a moment, but no response came. “Hello?”
The forest was eerily quiet in the midday sun. Phil tried to calm his breathing as the rush of adrenalin slowly faded from his system.
“Come on guys!” He called again. Nothing.
He took a deep breath, fighting the urge to panic, and surveyed the situation. Steve remained trapped underneath the front wheel arch. He was struggling to breathe and had a deep gash across his forehead. Phil stood up gingerly and made his way over to the fuming wreckage. He had hoped for the best, but soon realized the severity of the situation.
Immediately his EMT training kicked in. Ignoring his own injuries, he spoke to Steve in a gentle voice. He gave him a stick to bite on and slowly tipped the car back into an upright position. With not even a first aid kit left from the crash, he wasn’t sure of what to do next.
After elevating Steve’s legs, he made his way over to a now conscious Jenn and gently sat her in an upright position, making sure she didn’t have any other major injuries. The twisted undergrowth made moving around a painful ordeal, so Phil tried to keep all movement to a minimum.
“What happened?” Said Jenn as she slowly came around, “Where am I?”
“The car lost control. You’re fine. I can’t see any deep cuts. Can you try and stand up for me? Yep, slowly, watch that rock, slow…”
Jenn crashed back down in a heap on the ground pulling Phil with her, struggling to keep her head upright.
“Where am I?” She asked again, panic in her voice. She began to hyperventilate, grasping for oxygen in the thick, moist air.
“You may be slightly concussed,” replied Phil, trying to stay calm, “I think the brakes failed. Steve couldn’t seem to stop the car. Look over there, that’s where we came from.”
Phil pointed up towards the road. The cliff loomed menacingly over the crash site high above the tree line. He wondered how any of them could still be alive. Jenn turned her head and peered up the rock face, a look of confusion plastered on her face.
“Where’s Emily?” Jenn couldn’t seem to find words in her jumbled mind. She had so many questions to ask, but felt lacking in cognitive ability. She doubted the fact that she was still alive.
Phil turned sharply when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He barely recognized Steve. Once a handsome man with blond hair and a strong jawline, Steve’s face was now covered in a stream of congealed blood running from his forehead to his chin.
“We have to go right now.” Steve said, looking Phil directly in the eyes.
“Just give me a minute, I want to make sure that Emily knows-”
“No time, don’t you smell that?”
“What do you mean? I think that-”
“The fuel tank. Completely busted. You’re covered in fuel, how the hell can you not smell that?”
“I thought it was…”
“Gross.” Steve sighed, running a hand down his tired face. “Grab Jenn, and get that empty water canister. We’re leaving.”
Phil didn’t seem phased by the situation, and soon accepted his distinct lack of a sense of smell. Quickly he rushed to grab all he could and headed towards Jenn, who was hugging a tree and desperate to leave.
“Follow me,” Phil whispered, trying not to startle her in her panicked state, “we have to get a move on.”
Jenn’s eyes grew wide with fright. She stared over Phil’s shoulder, before running downhill with all the strength her legs could muster. Even in her confused state her fight-or-flight response kicked in; there is no fighting a fire. Phil felt a warm heat on the back of his neck and followed suit, not looking back as the sound of an explosion ripped through the forest behind them.
The group of three met up further down the hill. Battered and bruised, they assessed the sticky situation they were in as they watched the only chance they had of escape smolder in the distance. The forest from here on was dangerous and unforgiving. Hesitant about leaving Emily behind, but wanting to move to safety before dark, the group slowly moved on deeper into the valley.
“You remembered to bring the masks, right?” Asked Jenn, remembering their goal as the fog in her head began to dissipate. Steve had just about managed to stop the bleeding with his shirt, at the expense of being more exposed to the elements. Phil had a heavy limp; running down the hill he had tripped and ripped a calf muscle, which had now swollen to almost double its previous size.
“We lost everything in the fire. We have nothing.” Steve replied.
“Are you serious? Not even water?”
“Well, I still have my knife on me, and we have that canister. Nothing else though. I even lost my shirt…”
Jenn blushed at the thought. She had always felt a connection with Steve, and always enjoyed admiring his strong physique. They continued slowly down through the thick underbrush, chopping and carving a way as they went, hoping to reach a place to sleep by the time the sun set. What little light remained leaked through the thick rainforest canopy, and they gave up hope of a nice stay in the Hilton.
As the final rays of light filtered through the dark canopy the group bedded down for the night on the rough forest floor. Humidity rose and insects emerged from their nocturnal hideouts, all looking for an easy meal. The ground was still rocky and rough, even underneath the layer of decaying leaves. Any hope of a decent night’s sleep quickly evaporated, and they realized that they were dinner for the night. Sweltering under the canopy’s shelter, they slowly closed their eyes and tried their best to ignore the hungry mosquitos.
Steve rose first in the morning, and woke the others so they could move on from the insect hive they had slept in. The early morning air was cooler and fresher, but the lingering moisture in the air caused them all to sweat through mottled and broken skin. Jenn’s face was covered in a bumps and sores, rubbed raw against the muddy ground overnight.
“We need to find water. Water we can drink, not this stuff. This puddle looks like it’s been used as a latrine!” said Steve thirstily, encouraging the group to stand up and carry on walking, to find somewhere they could safely set up a semi-permanent camp. “Look, there’s water all over the flipping place. But can we drink it? No, we can’t… Jenn, what the hell are you doing?”
Jenn was busy slurping at the small muddy pond- previously described as a latrine- when she heard her name. She turned sharply and caught Steve’s eye.
“Really?” cried Steve.
“Well, what else am I going to do? I need to drink. Even you can see how much we’re sweating.” Jenn snapped back defensively. “I was desperate.”
“You have to at least filter the water before drinking it. Just look at it. It’s gross! Imagine what Phil did in that last night. You know what he can be like!”
“I was thirsty, okay? It’s my body, I’ll do what I like with it.”
“Just don’t come crying to me when it’s coming back out… both ends…”
Jenn stood up, and moved off rapidly towards Phil in the distance, moving slowly off into the jungle and almost invisible in the thick jungle of trees. Phil had always been hard working and independent, and his line of work became all the more valuable when the war started.
Trained as an EMT but fascinated with tropical disease, Phil had been stationed in Central America, the outpost for research regarding the biochemical that had been used against the United States. Iran had left their peace treaty with the UN un-renewed, and after many empty threats had finally decided to pull the trigger. Most of the Northern United States was now a wasteland ravaged by a simple yet deadly virus, one for which there was no known cure. Most Americans were evacuated to the south of the county, but a select qualified few were shipped out to Central America to the neutral country of Nicaragua to lead the research effort. Phil led the sub team providing medical assistance to researchers, but as of yet no one’s treatment methods were effective in treating or even preventing the spread of the virus.
Phil continued his work in the quarantined, repurposed army base, and soon became good friends with other members of outpost. The outpost was secure, and no one could get in or out without a full check over and 48 hour isolation. As a result most of the team became good friends, some even in a romantic way. Jenn had hit it off with Phil immediately, but they tried not to let it get in the way of their work. It was hard to be secretive on such a small military base, being constantly surrounded by the same people day after day, week after week. Phil lost count of the amount of times they were caught in the walk in larder; neither could keep their urges under control.
Their relationship they managed to keep away from their closest friends. Steve and Emily didn’t have a clue.
The group headed further down into the forested valley in the sweltering afternoon heat, heading downhill as much as possible, with the hope of finding water. Steve knew of several small rivers in the nearby area, but without a compass or navigational equipment he had no idea which way to head.
The gloomy forest soon began to feel imposing, with no distinct features in the green and brown repetitive landscape.
“We need to mark our path. For all we know we could be wandering around in circles.” Said Steve after gathering the group for a pep talk.
“We’ve been heading down hill, it’s impossible for us to have gone around in a circle.” Phil returned.
“OK, at least if we get even more lost than we were before, we can return to this point. From here it should be fairly easy to get back to the car.”
“Alright, that makes sense. I’ve got the knife; I’ll start marking trees every couple of minutes or so.”
“Jenn, what do you think?” Steve said with an air of sympathy. Jenn was beginning to look pale, and with every step her balance once again began to leave her.
“I’m fine, do whatever you think is necessary; we just need to keep moving, I need to keep moving. We need to get down to the river.” she replied, although even speaking seemed to take a lot of effort and left her almost out of breath
The group continued to wander slowly down towards the canyon base, marking their way as they went and avoiding the various animal and plant life that might hurt them. Tall trees soon gave way to boulders and blue sky, and Phil spotted a small stream of crystal clear water emerging from the rocks up ahead. After making the decision to bed down for the night, Steve and Jenn went ahead to scout out the route ahead using the last few hours of remaining sunlight, leaving Phil to tend to his swollen leg.
The road ahead looked tough, much tougher than the forest they had just come through. Unstable boulders loomed overhead as well as underfoot, and grey ruins of fallen rocks lay strewn over the river bed. Simply walking was going to be a feat of balancing, and both Steve and Jenn decided that Phil may struggle given the current state of his leg.
“Come and have a look at this!” Steve called to Jenn, who was several minutes behind him and struggling to balance on the loose scree. Jenn had wanted to turn around for the last half an hour, not at all convinced by the route Steve was keen to take.
“I think it’s a camp! Look, down there in the distance!” he said, with great excitement in his voice.
“How the fuck are we meant to get down there though?” Jenn snapped, not sharing Steve’s enthusiasm and angry at her opinions being ignored, “It has to be at least 100ft down, not mentioning the fact that once we do get down,
we get down, it must be several miles further downstream!”
“Give me another option then. We don’t really have much choice.”
Steve knew she was right. Even with climbing equipment, getting down the waterfall would have been a challenge. But the cabin seemed so promising and close.
“Let’s wait till the morning to make a proper decision. For now, let’s make sure Phil’s okay.”
“I’m gunna need some help getting back.” Jenn said slowly. “I’m flippin’ exhausted. I don’t think my stomach’s doing too well either...”
“You could have at least taken off your pants!” Steve gagged, shocked he hadn’t noticed the smell beforehand as a brown fluid trickled down the back of Jenn’s leg from underneath her shorts.
“Leave it okay, I’m sorry… I don’t know what happened. It just sort of… Came… Let’s get back to Phil and I’ll clean up in the stream. Just hold my hand, I’m not too stable.” Jenn’s sudden vulnerability soothed her anger as they both set off away from the waterfall.
The journey back seemed to take three times longer than the journey down to the waterfall. Turning around and retracing their steps to make sure they hadn’t walked right past Phil, they noticed the empty water canister in the distance.
Phil was gone.