Another story from the jungle, this one being the one that still gives me nightmares on occasion. Now, I can not really claim this as happening exactly as I remembered it, not in any honest sense. I remember it as happening like so however, which still has me waking on occasion in a cold sweat.
This is back in some weird little island in the Philippines learning jungle survival stuff from the nigridos. My friend Tony and I were getting the hang of some of the finer points of staying alive in a world that wanted you dead and festering with larvae. Tony is a solid guy, the kind of friend your lucky to have. He had my back, I had his, and it didn't matter what stupid shit the other decided to get himself into, he wasn't going into it alone. Seriously the guy was loyal to a fault, still is. This is actually how we ended up in the middle of the bush together god knows how many miles from whatever could be considered civilization and light years away from anything remotely safe. Part of the final test of what you learned out there was to go out alone for a coupla days and make your way back to the village. It was a basic practical test, ideally you had a nigrido shadowing you not too far off making sure you didn't get yourself graved by being an idiot. You'd never know these guys were there though, ever, they knew this territory and knew how to work it. The jungle is dense, profoundly thick. I know you've probably heard stories about how you can walk past like...an entire ruined temple in the middle of South America and never even clue in that its there even though your practically on its doorstep. Its true, you step ten feet from your buddy in the wrong direction, blink wrong and bam, your alone.
We had both done pretty good as far as the nigridos cared, we picked up things fast and weren't shy about doing things most westerners balk at, eating bugs, getting filthy and reaching into mysterious holes to grab whatever might be lurking in there. I had no problem with this as my dad was kind of a nutjob survivalist in my early youth and had a thing for doing things "the Traditional Way," Tony had no problems doing this stuff because he had balls the size of a C-130, loaded with tanks, and driving those tanks were condors with helmets.
Anyways, its time for the practicals, and although we were supposed to solo that noise, Tony and I basically said "no dice we're going in as a pair," to which the nigridos smiled and nodded and agreed that we were smart to demand such a thing. You never go out there alone. I always thought it was kind of a trick question thing anyways, sending your goofy ass out into the dense solo when all throughout the training they go on and on about how you're a dumb shit if you go out there alone. Bonus points for us I guess right?
We get bags over our heads and led to a little riverboat. They rumble us out for a few hours and then unceremoniously dump our asses onto the beach. The nigrido tosses us a knife, stares at us for awhile before making this weird little gesture and buggering off on his boat. I couldn't catch the exact gesture, but it was like a gang sign I guess, quick, fingers all tangled up. His boat was shit, I swear it was made out of warehouse pallets or something the like. Tony and I both figured the guy probably went up river a bit then bailed on his own craft and fixed to shadow us and keep an eye out.
With bravado fed by the others presence we went into the jungle all smiles and ego. We were good, we knew this, we were not afraid and figured this would be fun as hell, and give us some future stories to tell the ladies about and hence get laid. Tony has a knack for direction and the two of us sussed our whereabout after only a few hours. It was daytime, so climbing a tree gave us a pretty decent view. Not a lot to see really, but somehow he figured on a direction we were supposed to go and we headed off. Moving through the jungle can be slow work, in the movies you have to hack your way through shit with a machete like Indiana Jones or some shit. Reality is a bit different. If you know where to step, you can avoid all the work of cutting stuff down. Along fallen logs is pretty good, up roots and the like, but don't ever put your foot alongside something like that, that's snakefood. The nigridos do it at kind of a lazy jog, we were more deliberate but still moving at a pace that was comfortable to us.
We chattered constantly, it wasn't to keep predators away, as far as we knew the island had no real big threats like cats or anything, we did it because Tony and I couldn't shut the fuck up when we were around each other. I'm sure you guys have friends like that. Those two chucklefucks in the back of the classroom in highschool always snickering and loaded with injokes, that was pretty much us, in the jungle...with a single knife and something to prove. The first day was pretty damn uneventful, we didn't eat, and we spent almost the entire time moving. We found water in different places, big cone shaped leaves are good for that, and they typically come with snacks of differing squiggly varieties. We made camp up in the branches of a big goofy ass looking tree, took light watches and slept like babies. I woke up covered in bugs the size of my fingers and Tony fell off his branch and got stuck in the crook of the tree when he woke up, clumsy bastard.
The second day started out like the first, chattering, moving, high spirits. The jungle was getting smellier and bleaker as we went, I think we were close to an estuary or something because there was a briny smell. The soil went from firm with a heavy layer of dead vegetation, to black-brown silt and loose. Tony and I tried making some fire, took us awhile but we did the trick with thread from his shirt and long bendy twig to make a bow with and whatnot. We got some smoldering going, but shit out there was so wet it just made a lot of thick black smoke and never really caught. I figured if we kept some tender dry ontop of our heads or something and maybe found some good dead wood we'd have something worth burning. As time went on we got to talking about old times, funny crap we had done, new ideas for pranks with which to torment our hapless buddies with and the desire to come out of this not only successful but as badass as possible. We didn't want to be the Swiss family fucking Robinson, we wanted Rambo. I mean seriously, how could anyone want anything BUT that. Imagine that crap, coming out of the bush all grim faced and scarred, with like a dead deer over your shoulder and the skulls of your enemies tied around you in a belt made out of human hair. Not that we had enemies local, but I'm sure we could make some right?
That's pretty much us. It was around mid-day Tony and I noticed this weird echo effect with the jungle. It was hard to notice because we never really shut up, but when we talked, there was this weird echo that was soft and sounded far away at first. Until he pointed it out and we started listening more carefully. Every time we talked, there it was, that echo...it wasn't as far away as it initially sounded either, just deceptively soft. We figured it was maybe soundwaves bouncing off the broadleaf plants in the area or something and coming back at us all curved up. We weren't rocket scientists, but we weren't proper dumb either. Tony and I made a game out of it, we'd start chattering at each other and then he'd hold up his hand, fingers splayed and visually countdown with em, we'd stop mid sentence when he hit zero, and could hear the last few words said bounce around us in a weird jungle whisper. At dusks we had been getting kind of tired of the game and blew it off, but before we went up to rest Tony pulled it on me one last time. Normally echoes just kind of stop or trail off right? This time...I dunno, it just kind of looped, and it looped wrong.
The last thing I had been saying to Tony was something along the lines of "I'm a goddamned sexual tyranno-" and cut off. What we heard bouncing around us in that quiet sibilant way was, "I'm a god damned, god damned, god, god, I'm, damned." Tony and I stopped talking and just kind of stared at each other for a bit. We weren't ruling out echoes yet, though over all our time out here doing this training we hadn't ever really heard it before, or mention of it. We were both creeped right the fuck out, and when one of us is creeped, the other picks up on it and the hackles go up. We found ourselves a solid tree and that night we did not pull light watches, we pulled proper. I'm figuring a little after midnight Tony woke me up with a hand on my shoulder.
It's dark at night in the jungle, god damned dark, and noisy. The canopy over head pretty much prevents any good starlight coming through, and the skies are most always fat with gray clouds. The bugs get set to screeching at night and they don't quit for nothing. Underneath our tree something was rooting around in the bushes, even through the bugs we could both hear it. Shuffling, a quiet snort, crunches, snuffling. Sounded like a pig to me and I was set to bark at it and maybe spook it off when Tony's hand on my shoulder tenses. Then I could hear it.
Muttering in between the snuffles. A snort, some bushes rustling and a few low scattered words. Bits and pieces of sentences. It took me a second, but fuck me if it didn't sound like Tony down there pissed off and searching for something he'd lost in the bush. You know when a grumpy ass drops a contact or something and gets to searching for it muttering under his breath, it's like that. Whatever was down there was fucking talking. It wasn't making any sense though, the weirdest fucking thing. "So tits," snortsnort "Yeah the green," shuffle, "Named after fucker," rustle. Then a laugh, and I froze when I heard that. It started with my laugh, which is this goofy Mark Hamill as the Joker thing and ended with Tony's troublemaker's drawl. See we had been bullshitting for the past what, day and a half, and spent a good time laughing our asses off at each other. Whatever the fuck that thing was down there it was like it was trying our voices on for size.
We'd both seen Predator, we'd been quoting that shit for days out here. I can't even begin to count how many times I'd just stop while one of the instructors was explaining something, stare off into the horizon and mutter, "Theres something out there, up in them trees." Which never failed to make Tony laugh like a retard. Military types watch a lot of god damned movies, and your typical boots on the ground motherfucker can quote like a champ. No lie, we can even do crazy shit like quote a movie line for line with a different cast from yet another movie. You haven't lived til you've seen a bunch of petty officers do a scene from Aliens with Thurgood from Half-Baked as the Sarge. We caught the similarities to our situation pretty god damned fast. It was eerie listening to this thing natter about imbecility down there, it had no comprehension of the noises it was making, but it was fucking making them.
Tony slid me the knife and secured himself in his spot and I kept the watch until dawn. The thing trundled off a half hour or so before daybreak. I'm no Apache, but I know knives well enough to be comforted by holding one, but even that didn't break the "oh what the fuck have we gotten ourselves into," gloom that caught us.
The next day was a grim fucking thing. We weren't chattering, we weren't joking around anymore. Nerves were on edge and both of us had to have looked like someone had gutted our favorite dog. Tony did at least, I'm a goofy looking guy so I probably still looked like a run of the mill dork. Believe me, the urge to quote predator was pretty god damned strong but we just couldn't get past the feeling that we needed to be quiet and careful. Tony managed a half-hearted Arnold gargle when we were headed up a ridge, I think in an attempt to beat the gloom, but even that couldn't do it. He does a good Arnold gargle too, for those that don't know what that is, its hard to describe really its like a weirdly accented "Arghlearg" noise done in Arnies manner that's pretty unmistakable when you hear it. Wow, actually writing that down makes it seem so dumb as hell, still funny as all get out though I think.
We didn't hear that weird echo as long as we didn't talk. We were starting to get hungry though, and random bugs wasn't doing much to assuage that. It felt like, I dunno the right description, it felt like we were being bullied if that made any sense. We couldn't talk, we weren't allowed to. That got us both feeling a little pissed off. Tony and I individually aren't anything I'd call cowards, we aren't heroes by any stretch of the word, but were not pussies. Together though, we get stupid brave. I'm sure you might see where this is leading. To us it was a natural shift. It took a few hours of grimly trudging along in the direction we believed was the right way to go for the shift to happen, but it was kind of inevitable. Screw this thing. Screw this stupid talking thing. I broke the silence proper, started bitching about the girls on this island, how they had curves like a dirt road. Tony countered immediately that I lacked the proper gear to drive a dirt road. We started chattering again, this time aggressively, we were defying this damned spooky thing. We began the most ridiculous conversations. How do you properly screw a dolphin? Do you beach it and plug the blowhole? Do you sneak up on it in a zodiac, spear gun it's ass and go at an eye socket? Crap like that. We were uncouth savages. We were listening for that stupid echo, waiting for it.
We were not disappointed. The echoes started up, it was hard to get a location, but the best I could figure was back and towards my side a bit. Tony scored a major victory when he said something along the lines of, "Dance around that flagpole bare-assed and body-painted like I'm a drag-queen paramount." The echo came back as "I'm a drag-queen." Tony stopped in his tracks, turned around and screamed back at it, "YOU'RE FUCKING RIGHT YOUR A DRAG-QUEEN YOU DICK EYED JUNGLE CUNT!" It was liberating, terrifying though. That was the first time we actually addressed the god damned thing. But we did, we addressed it, we acknowledged it as existing and that just sat bad. A small victory but that feeling in our guts, that wasn't the feeling you get when you win a fight. It's the feeling you get when you start a war.
When Tony had called that thing out it was a declaration of war. We both started getting hostile, not towards each other mind you, but towards this whatever the hell it was.
We got to planning, and threatening, vocalizing the horrible things we were planning on doing to it once we caught a hold of it. I distinctly remember Tony saying something along the lines of "I'm strangle this goofy-assed thing, I'ma kill it with my bare hands." I laughed, "Dude what if it's a fuckin' nigrido and he's just screwing with us." Tony just stared at me. I shrugged, couldn't blame him for the sentiment really.
Thing is, we kept going on, we never turned around, neither of us wanted to actually stand our ground or charge off after it. There was this distinct sensation that doing so would have been one helluva bad idea. We were getting hungry though and figured that it was probably time to do something about it. There's a lot to eat in the jungle if you're not shy, frogs, bugs and the like can keep you going like a trail ration, but if you want something with more substance you have to kill it, or if you're some sort of fancy botanist I suppose you can tell a jungle death turnip from a potato and do it that way. We were not botanists, and I only knew which plants could get me high, unconscious or stop bleeding. Tony climbed up a tree and managed to brain some sort of monkey critter with a rock. The guy could be quiet as hell, and the monkey critters out here were curious and stupid. The specific trap we used to catch the monkey off guard was me laying down in a space between some trees and doing my best curly impression from the Three Stooges. You know the thing where you lay on your side, and start running and kind of churn circles while going "whooop whooop whooop." Well, that's what I was doing, which got a few monkeys coming down and looking at us like dude, what the fuck are you doing, and Tony hit one with a rock. We were some crafty bitches.
I managed to start an acceptable fire, previously I had taken our tinder and folded it up in a dry leaf and worn it on my head like an idiot. The campfire was tiny, but it did the trick, I cleaned the monkey critter as best I could and we cooked it old school on some sticks. The sticks caught fire frequently, and a lot of the meat burned to inedible carbon but my god it was good. We cooked the hell out of that monkey, I'm sure it was loaded with parasites, but burning the hell out of it had to help, and I figured we could get purged when we got back to our unit, or hell, just the village if I could boil some water and drop some tabs. The other monkey critters watched us eat, they were quiet, just staring. Probably should have felt bad about that in hindsight, but neither of us was feeling charitable or friendly really. Something about having meat in our bellies and actual fire, albeit a small one made us feel a lot more ready for this weird shit and we got to planning on how we were gonna handle it.
Idea one was to continue on as we were going and maybe just pick up the pace. It was the safest idea by far and Tony figured we had another day until we got to either a shitty road we could navigate off of or a larger river we could follow. Idea two was to cover ourselves in mud, arm ourselves with bows made from roots and shit and ambush the thing. I shit you not, we figured why the hell not. Idea three was to split apart at night, have each person in a different tree and stay up until whatever it was came snooting around. Whoever was in the tree it decided to investigate would signal the other who would come down and murder the hell out of it from the rear. I liked idea three and voted for it, Tony voted for two and the monkey's skull sided with me making it a unanimous vote for idea three, because Tony was Italian and Italians don't get to vote.
There was some threatening of each other's life, but in the end we pretty much settled on our two tree ambush idea.
We didn't move from that site that day. We sharpened some sticks, thick short ones make good spikes. Tony let me keep the knife since I was a bit swifter with it than he was and he carried the spikes. The guy is strong, much stronger than me and I figured he could put those things too much better use than I if he could get a good line up. Figured it would go like this. It would start bothering one or the other of us who would throw a twig at his buddy. Buddy would come down and engage whatever it was, at which point the initial target would drop down and help secure the kill. We went over it a coupla different times, figured out some possible oh-shit secondary plans but really, there wasn't much to it. This thing had been creeping us out for awhile and we wanted it dead, we felt kind of elated by the thought of killing it. Turn the tables on its ass and come out like badasses. We got ourselves motivated and I did something which is I guess kind of embarrassing but whatever. I put on warpaint. I guess that's dorky as hell. I took some of the black-silt soil we had been around, mixed it with monkey-juice and smeared three dark lines across my face. Tony thought I looked kinda badass so he did the same. We used to do this during training and paintball games, hell, once during a hide and go seek game with some corpsman girls at camp Lester we did it. Yes, we played hide and go seek, with the legitimate intent of getting laid by said corpgirls, yes we smeared our face paint on the aforementioned corpgirls. He did a full on handprint on his face, it looked very Conan meets Geronimo meets a Guido. The paint tightened up into pretty solid noticeable lines when the fluids coagulated, which took all of fifteen minutes or so.
Our site was decent too, an opening in the canopy over where we had set our campfire promised that if there was any light to be had that night, we'd be able to make some use of it. We picked out our trees, climbed up there and took a few practice throws with twigs we had nearby. I hit him in the eye, he kept aiming at my balls. Spirits were high, sort of...it was a false high, bravado I think.
Night came, and with it, bugsong. High chirps and cackling buzzes all over the place. I near pissed myself when what I had assumed to be a knot of wood next to my thigh twitched and started this staccato screech that ricocheted off the trees. Was a big assed beetle thing. We lucked out in that cloud cover was lighter than it typically is and we had a good moon. Not bright by any stretch, but more than we had any night previous. We waited. Felt like forever, sitting up in a tree, trying to keep your heartbeat regular. Knowing the second we heard whatever it was we heard we'd get that adrenaline kick to the nuts that would make our whole body start shaking. I'm not sure how long we waited up there before it came. At first I missed it entirely, I was so intent on listening for it I missed it entirely. When I finally zeroed in on the snuffling, rummaging, muttering beneath me I realized I had been hearing it for some time now. It was under me. Me.
I pulled my knife up and crouched on my branch, my free hand making sure for the love of god I had a strong hold on a nearby branch. I took a few minutes to steady myself and really listen. I wanted to make sure of a few things before I alerted Tony. I desperately wanted this thing to be alone, and I wanted to get a general idea of its size. Size wasn't too hard, judging by the heaviness of the rummaging going on beneath me it was man-sized, maybe a bit bigger but lower to the ground. As for the numbers, well fuck...I only heard one. Small comfort that.
I had a pile of little pre-snapped twigs and I grabbed the whole damn thing and tossed it towards Tony's tree. Now, remember I said Tony can be a quiet guy. I had no idea if I had hit him, or if he had started moving, I could only really guess as to the actions over on his end. I got a good grip on the branch with my legs and made to swing under it, do kind of spider man maneuver and maybe stab downwards. It was a bit overelaborate yeah, but I used to climb trees all the time as a kid, and dangling like a douchebag was second nature. Nowadays the dangling not so much, douchebag I still got. Anyways, I'm dangling, I let go with my hands and get ready to knife this fucking thing in the head when I see it.
A huge moment of confusion washed over me when it happened. I damn near went loose and fell off my branch. Tony is looking straight up at me. He's gotta be like, four feet off the ground just looking at me with this blank retarded look on his face. Mind you, its pretty dark, but I can see a face...swear it looked like him, at first. Then I focus on it a bit more and notice. It has no fucking facepaint.
It's not Tony.
Shit, it doesn't even look like Tony's face anymore, it's just A face. But it's a god damned human face, looking up at me, blinking. My blood runs cold and I can feel my body come to a screeching halt. "Tony, get the fuck back up in your tree." I say.
"Up in your tree." It says back, sounding pleased with its god damned self.
I can hear Tony, the real Tony over there in his tree rustle as he gets right the hell back up in the branches. "What the hell is goin' on, what the hell, what the heeeeell is that." He's got this angry nervousness in his voice. I've heard him like this only a few times, usually before we got our collective asses kicked by some angry merchant marines. The thing is still staring at me, and I'm making out more of its body. It's a fucking pig. I mean, it's body. Its got the broad rectangular barrel of a body. Its quadruped though I cant make out the distinct feet, its got a human, or at least human-ish face. "It's a pig Tony, it's just a god damned pig." I say, and the thing is mimicking me just the same as always. I can hear an exasperated sigh over in the other tree and I continue, "It's got a people face though, stay the fuck up in that tree Doc." Doc is a magic word to corpsmen, its a business word and it isn't lightly used, marines call us Doc, but usually only after we've proven ourselves I guess you could say, corpsmen rarely refer to each other as such, unless were trying to elaborate on a point. I was elaborating my point as hard as I could, as calmly as I could, without shitting myself. I was still upside down, if I had shit myself, well...think about how unpleasant it would be to fill your pants and then have it run up your damned back and into your hair. Blech.
Man-face is looking up at me and Tony goes silent over there. We stare at each other for along while before I manage to find purchase and swivel back upright. I'm not looking down anymore, let that thing root around.
I didn't sleep that night.
It left before morning, like it always did and Tony and I went to ground and moved out, as fast as possible. We talked little, only that what I had seen was an unquantifiable thing, I could not predict any actions outcome on something I knew absolutely nothing about. I mean shit, if it had been like a tiger or something ridiculous like that, I could have figured something out, even something stupid, but not this thing. If it had been the nigrido, well, Tony and I would have likely kicked the hell out of him, but I woulda chilled Tony out before he killed him no problem. It wasn't anything I knew though, it was wrong, and bizarre and very disturbing. We immediately initiated idea one. We didn't hunt anymore monkeys, we didn't fish, we didn't eat bugs. We drank sparingly as we went, which gave us some serious dehydration issues. Tony had an idea of where to go and that's where we went, fast.
Thank god for the river, when we found we made so many miles. We weren't playing around anymore either. The first civilian craft we saw, which was this shitty little rickshaw thing, we flagged it, asked for a lift and we got back home.
When we arrived at the village we were haggard, dehydrated, cut up and miserable. This wasn't a big surprise to the nigridos, everybody came back from the practical like that. What bothered them is the man they sent out to watch over us never came back.
That keeps me up some nights.
By Canis Latrans of SomethingAwful