Part 17

The rest of the hike took its toll on Heléne. As we cut around mossy banks and soft ridges, up switchbacks and less canopied areas of the trail, she started to flag. Her steps didn’t waver, but she was slowing, and as she looked back and forth to get bearings, we all could see the hesitancy. What was it about this other doctor? No one bothered to ask, but it hung there, thick as the early jungle mist.

Near evening, we stumbled onto the remnants of the fire. Again, being used to wildfires among the high temperate zones of Alberta, this was something almost familiar, but all too alien. Lush vegetation surrounded the charred remains of about a half acre of woods and plants, dirt and vines. The massive trunks of some of the __trees__ were marked badly, but still stood proud and tall as gods. Already the charcoal and ash was giving way to the wet, decomposing and being overtaken by insects and small birds, creeper vines and most of all, our good friends the ants.

Graham, his face full of sweat and dirt runnels, said barbeque didn’t go well?

Três laughed and I followed. Lena stopped, almost turned around, then thought better of it. So you are now taking your smartass turn, oui? It is almost endearing, you know. Ava made jokes too, but not at my expense.

She sighed, then looked for a place to sit, signaling our break.

A few moments later in that partial ruin, Três asked if they ever did find the specimens she was looking for.

Lena smiled and said yes, a handful, I had scramble to get them. And dear Ava, poor girl, she pulled me back from a flaming vine and got a burn en la bras, her left arm, blister the whole way up, like this. She drew a line up from wrist to elbow.

You stuck around a spreading jungle fire just to grab your little friends full of terror-poison? I asked. I should have learned by now her… commitment. I shook my head, just slightly. Out of admiration or disbelief, I still don’t know.

Quiet reigned for some time, or at least relative quiet (and much more pleasant than the night howls). We all ended up lost in some crag of thought, caught on a side passage to reasoning our way through this strange now.

Does anyone else live out here that you know of? Asked Três. Lena and Graham were already gathering themselves.

Manocarci is the only field worker out here, he’s made it such a focus, his work, travail. He’s so… admirable. Dr. Heléne looked dreamy-eyed as she spoke. But, she continued, there used to be local tribes that would come through the area. But that has not happened in the past few years. South and east, there are… they are farmers, but they are also thugs. They tend to stay away from us and we them. If only because we can’t tolerate each other’s raisons d’être.

It was the most she had said in quite some time. Her face had set into a stern mask, unlike the wild-eyed entomologist we had seen.

Três looked up the hillside and through the trees to the ridge, smiled brightly, and said, He sounds great, lead us on.