Part 16

It was not an easy trek. Nor was it as hard as I had imagined it to be. Lena kept us going and on track for the first half of our journey, the others treating it as some extended school field trip–first interested, then bored, then tired of being there.

This particular section of forest under the high canopy was not as dense as I would have thought, though the moisture was intense. Even now, choking on the humidity was an immense task. Give me a mountain trail and I’ll climb it up and down, thin, dry air and all. A rocky canyon in the badlands and I’ll scrape and shuffle along all day. This, though, was such a different beast.

And yet, Lena’s stocky, sweat-streaked pant legs took us unerringly through the twisting beaten path. As we went, she hummed and mumbled to herself, but did not speak much except to warn us of soft spots, ant lanes, hanging, stinging leaves and vines. I tried to keep pace but could not.

Três started out well enough, smiling and trying to make small talk with me, but soon kept quiet, the trail taking its toll on her. Graham huffed and grunted, but probably fared the best of all of us, bringing up the rear.

At midday someone finally asked the inevitable how far do we have to go? It was Três, beating me to it by seconds. She had tied a yellow and green bandana around her head to keep the sweat out, her skin practically a shade darker already.

Lena stopped us and led us off to a stream a few feet wide, trickling down from a small falls from a ridge nearby. From here we go up, up, she said. It will be plus difficile, but we will make it before nightfall.

Graham took a swig from a canteen and passed it over. I took a drink and choked, a powdery, sharp, citrusy taste hitting me. This can’t possibly be Tang? What the hell? I sputtered.

Not quite, said Graham. Close, though. Electrolytes, young man. Ration it.

The others eyed the thing like a coiled snake, but took it anyway at Graham’s insistence. Lena confirmed the water was safe to collect and drink, but only from this stream as far as she knew.

I asked her if she was scared of any wild animals out here, or if we all shouldn’t group together tighter. She shook her head and said no, the worst thing out here is the people. Desperate, dumb people, clinging to livelihoods.

Graham suggested scouting ahead at that, causing Heléne to say, maybe a bit too firmly, that no, there were no villages near here, just the high ridge and the good doctor’s research station.

Somewhere off in the brush past the stream, parrots and macaws gossiped, filled the space. We were getting close to our quarry, I knew it. I could feel it. Something in my dream had called to me.