Saturday, June 23, 2007
The moment he noticed the first one he noticed the others. Three, six, eight…perhaps a dozen crocodiles. They were perfectly camouflaged in the forest debris and wet mud, and it was only the movement of one, that alerted Hugh. Now he saw their cold reptilian eyes glowing with yellow hunger.
He heard the mosquitoes, a cloud of them, whining right against his ears but he refused to move.
He was tired and sore and starving. He eaten a few cashews he picked up from the ground. He’d covered perhaps 10km over several hours, looking for shelter, and any other survivors. He did not see a single car, or a single person alive. But having seen more of the destruction in the surrounding area, it was obvious to him now that a storm surge from the sea had swept over the island, and what that had not destroyed, the wind had lashed or sliced to smithereens.
He stood absolutely still. It was the greatest predator the world had ever known against two handfuls of a creature that had stubbornly refused to become extinct. Did these crocodiles really think the tables had turned so soon? Did they really think they could pursue this creature that made handbags and shoes out of their skins, and ate them for dinner at restaurants around the world?
They answered this question in concert, for three of them suddenly moved rapidly and decisively forward, their long noses curving left, while their raised tails snapped in the opposite direction as they moved.
Hugh knew he smelled of blood, his new shirt had a bright red gleam under his ribs that had soaked down his side turning into a dark brown. He was afraid to run lest he tear the wound even further, and he wasn’t sure if he could. Waves of drunk weakness swarmed through him. His cool forehead had a lather of steam on it.
Instinctively, his eyes moved, surveying the area for a weapon. Nothing, just twigs and driftwood. He moved backward, and the response from the crocs was confirmation that this human being was scared after all.
“YAAAHH!” Hugh shouted, waving an arm, then wincing painfully and clutching his side. Fresh bright red blood seeped between his tightly bunched fingers. His eyes darted up. The loud noise seemed to have worked on the croc nearest to him, but others further away advanced, not wanting to loose out on the action. There were more than a dozen Hugh realized; in his peripheral vision the place was crawling with the big lizards, some of them perhaps three times longer than he was.
He was retreating, step by careful step backwards, and they were advancing, drawing alongside one another and opening their jaws wide to threaten their competitors.
He’s mine, they seemed to be saying.
The sole of his shoe squeaked on smooth metal. He looked down to see a smashed sign:
IRAWAN. He thought he remembered something about crocodile farms near Puerto Princesa.
He found a rock the size of his fist and hurled it. It missed the nostrils of the leading croc by a whisker. An odd growing noise. The croc surged; Hugh leaped into the air on pure reflex and jaws snapped shut on falling rain. He landed on the crocs foot, and was surrounded now by crocodiles. The crocs head turned and the side of his jaw bumped him against the calf.
Have I been bitten?
God I am so tired…
He heard a deafening sound, like an explosion. Man and croc froze in shock, then another explosion, and the back of a croc sliced open. In unison the crocs turned around and writhed away, like fifty slithering snakes.
Hugh stood like a statue, heart racing, the noise still roaring in his ears, and his side burning still from the effort of the leap. A hand shot out of nowhere and suddenly gripped his forearm. The shock of this sent a sick chill down his spine that made him want to pass out.
As though he’d suddenly become mentally retarded, he followed the brown hand along the arm to a khaki screen t-shirt. His neck was bulging. He was saying something to him. Shouting. On his head he wore a military style cap, and yes, his trousers and boots were military issue too. In his other hand he held a still smoking shotgun.
The man was saying something but Hugh could hear nothing. He thought of the money in his backpack, and then felt a salty snake coiling on the back of his tongue. He tried to fight the nausea. He tried to resist it. But the snake grew saltier, he tried to swallow but his tongue was dry…and then he slowly collapsed, with the vivid Jeepney grumbling behind the military man, and children’s bug eyed faces staring at him as he fell…under the barrel of the smoking shotgun..
Now there was the constant groan of the truck, and flashes.
The Jeepney rocking violently on a rough almost impassable stretch of muddy road.
A child dabbing a wet cloth at his lips.
The man with the military cap shouting at a kid wearing Prada sunglasses to leave the man’s bag alone.
The innocent blue sky.
The radio turned up very loud. A man’s urgent voice in a tongue he didn’t understand.
The frown dug deeper and deeper into the man’s face. His jaw dropped again and again.
The children sometimes laughing madly, other times they were strangely sedated.
The heat woke him. They had stopped inside a jungle. It was raining softly now. The Jeepney was empty. They were all outside, helping an old woman trapped under a tree trunk…they got her out and found her one leg had been crushed to a pulp, and when they turned her head her one eye was missing. She made soft noises and then slept…or perhaps died. They lifted her into the Jeepney, then after some moments, pulled her out of the truck and set her down on the long grass beside the road. They covered her with palm leaves and drove deeper into the jungle.
The incessant clanking of fuel drums.
Stopping to pick up fruit or some other abandoned item.
It was a nightmare that seemed to continue for ever. The road did not end however many times he lost or regained consciousness. It was just the road, and the pain, and the rain, on and on, without end.
The fever burned him in waves.
The pain in his belly became a dull ache and then numb.
He glanced under his shirt and saw a gray splodge.
I am going to die…
This is not a movie. This déjà vu Daffy Duck mother fucking shit is real, and it’s happening to me. It’s happening to everyone here…
A child’s hand with the kidney shaped pieces of an orange, bumping softly against his lips. His body was dry and yearned for the juice, but his jaw was too weak to chew.
He said one word softly: “Water.”
And water was poured over his cracked lips.
I am going to die aren’t I?
Moving. Trees flashing by the windows. The passengers bobbing on their seats as the rough road continued on and on.
They stopped moving. A hand pushed firmly under his back. His eyes popped open: “What’s happening?” He saw the military man leaning over him, and the children’s faces leaning over the front seat. The man reclaimed his arm.
“I think you are dead,” he said.
“We goto Sabang. There is safe place there. Big strong house. But not many survivors. Canyou understan this?” He was Filipino but there was a definite American edge to his accent.
He closed his eyelids slowly, opened them.
“Okay. You bleeding inside your body, my fren. You need doctor very bad.”
“How far?” Hugh croaked.
“Sabang no far, but this road very bad. Many underwater. So wait for water. Maybe long time.”
“News…” he whispered.
“Huh? I can hear.”
“You know news…of the world?”
Their eyes met and he saw the shadow in his eyes.
The man sat back and stared through the panicked wiper blades.
Hugh could hear the rain pounding the Jeepney’s roof. He heard the distant sssh of rain on mud, and the softer roar of a river in spate, tears a road into chunks of mud, melting it like chocolate.
The man’s words seemed disembodied…like echoes…coming out of the roar of the engine and the rain.
“Do you wan hear bad news or God awful fucking news?”
The man glanced at the children in the back of the truck and his body began to shake. Those dark, angry, anxious eyes pinched shut and his lips quivered. He let out a short wail, his bulging bicep pulling a hand over his face. When his hand dropped away his face worse a mask of composure. Even in his semi conscious condition, Hugh found this transition disturbing.
“Riya Sanhigh soul and pyon yang, these cities all gone in the nuclear bomb.”
He closed his eyes.
The world is going to hell…so…
… if I die now it’s okay.
The man’s face, his nose, was almost touching him.
Hugh’s eyelashes fluttered.
“London and…and New York?”
The man’s eyes seemed to be searching his for something.
The man’s head quivered. He was nodding.
“London and New York…these are okay.”
He sat back, sniffing. “And we’re okay, okay.”
He noticed the tip of a child’s hand being proffered from behind, soft voices saying “okay” and more thumbs poking over his seat.
The man nodded. “It’s okay its okay.”
Outside, just in front of them the soft roar of a river in spate grew loader, and the road was tearing into chunks of mud, right up to the wheels of the Jeepney. The man reversed 20 metres and watched the road in front of them still melting away like chocolate.
Click on the title of this post to link to a YouTube clip on crocodile movement.