For the first ever Weekly Writing Challenge, Emily chose Horror. While most of my work is dark in nature, it is most certainly not what you, or anyone else, would call “horror.” I am not a horror writer. There are lots of those, out there, and they are incredible, complex creatures. My friend Richard Thomas is one of them. If he reads this, he will probably laugh until he vomits, then promptly fold his computer up and toss it in the garbage bin, for it will have been ruined with the terrible stain of mediocrity. Sorry, Richard. Look away. Run while you still can.
In other words, I’m not super confident about this story.
Nevertheless, I agreed to take part, whatever the obstacle, in this weekly challenge, and Emily’s selection was a doozy. This short, flash fiction tale is based on a true story. What really happened is, in my opinion, about as horrific as real life gets. I hope you enjoy reading it.
by J.T. Carlton
Brandon looked up and saw the forest canopy above. It was breathing heavily. A deep, cleansing pant, ocean current inhale-exhale. Violent calm, like the saffron bloom of a supernova, millions of miles away. Brandon felt the soul of every tree, every leaf, every squirming creature. He felt his fellow travelers, too, bent and purging on the rainforest floor beside him. The slosh of every toxin landing wet against the dirt echoed between the trees. A cacophonous symphony of gagging and trembling, of spirits dying and rebirthing, surrounded him.
His vision blurred, sweat pouring into his eyes and tears streaming out, Brandon felt around in the darkness for Charlie, but she was nowhere to be found. Her journey must’ve taken her farther ahead, into the awful prospect of the forest. No doubt she was dancing with the jaguar in there. He did not want to join the tumble.
Brandon rolled onto his back. He felt very ill. “This is it,” he whispered to himself, to no one. He wished Charlie could be there to hold his hand, pet his face, wipe away his fears. He would do the same for her, if only he could find her. There was nothing stopping him, and yet, everything. No force in this world could peel him from the forest floor, not now or maybe ever. He would have to wait it out.
The world flamed out, all but the sounds. As they faded, Brandon felt the universe churning. He felt the spinning of galaxies, the rolling nebulas, the savage pirouette of existence. He turned his head to the side and coughed until the whole world came spewing forth. Then he managed to choke out one last word.
“What do you mean, he left?”
Charlie stepped forward. She put her nose in the Shaman’s face, tried to build herself up, become bigger and more imposing. She’d tried reasoning with him, with herself. Now it was time for a different tactic.
“Your friend,” the Shaman said in broken English, “he leave this morning. With men, they go to village.”
“That’s bullshit.” Charlie spun on her heels, wrung her long brown hair hard with her fingers. “He wouldn’t just leave me here. Brandon wouldn’t do that. I know him.”
“You go to village? See yourself?”
“Yeah, I’ll go,” Charlie said. “But so help me god, if I don’t find him there, I’m coming back here for you. And I’m bringing the police with me.”
“You go.” The Shaman pulled a bundle of thick cigarettes from a pouch on his belt and lit one end with a heavy match. The smell twisted up, seized Charlie’s senses. She felt her stomach turn. The Shaman strolled off into the corner of the hut, waving the burning cigarettes through the air.
Charlie hurried down the short front steps of the hut and took the map from her pocket. It was six kilometers to Monte Salvado, the nearest village. It would take nearly two hours on foot, if she set a good pace. She checked her water and stowed the map, then set out on the dirt road, heading South.
“I’m coming to find you, baby.”
“See the white girl has gone,” Vitor said, pulling off his Shamanic robe. He placed the burning cigarettes into a small bowl and set it on the floor of the hut. “Yes, yes. Only us now. Only Vitor.” He walked down the stairs and stepped out into the middle of the road. She was gone. “We go now,” Vitor said. “Yes, now. The boy must be taken.”
He grabbed hold of a small wheelbarrow, turned and headed North, up the road. It wasn’t far away. In fact, when the wind was just right, you could smell the faint waft of decay, offensive and lingering. Vitor pushed the cart up the road, and seeing that he was the only one around, he stepped off onto a small hidden path and made his way through the dense forest. The air was thick and warm. Vitor had lived his whole life in the jungle, but his body never adjusted to the heat. Sweat was constant, uncontrollable, like breathing.
Several yards into the jungle, Vitor stopped by a small bush and pulled the leaves apart. The boy’s body was stiff as a board and putrid, already attracting maggots.
“The jaguar, it must eat,” Vitor said. “You be a fine meal.” He hoisted the body over the rusted metal edge of the wheelbarrow and lifted it up.
He came to a small clearing, about ten minute’s journey from his hut, and dumped the boy’s body into a large pit in the ground. There, the forest was so thick you could not see past the wall of trees surrounding, standing guard over this place of sacrifice, of worship.
“Don’t do this.”
Vitor stopped cold. He looked down at the boy in the pit, dirt smeared along the edge of his face, eyes wide and twisted in horror. Vomit covered his chin and the front of his shirt, and the skin around his lips had taken a bluish tinge.
“Stop, you.” Vitor said, scowling. “This not Vitor’s fault.”
From the pouch on his waist he pulled a small clear bottle and a book of matches. He said a short prayer. Next came the bottle. He twisted off the cap and turned it over, dripping the clear liquid across the boy’s clothes, his skin.
“Don’t do this.”
Vitor spun around, searching the darkness beyond the trees. There was no one here. Only Vitor, and the Jaguar. The Jaguar was always here, always watching.
“You don’t speak,” Vitor said, lighting the match. “You feed Him. The Jaguar come now.” Vitor dropped the match. Fire danced up, licked the low-hanging leaves and sent a spirit screaming into the dirt. Vitor watched as the boy turned to ash. Then he grabbed the handle of his wheelbarrow and set off back toward the road.
The jaguar would bless his hut tonight.