Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Mindwalkers- Chapter 38

Chapter 38

The days had all blurred into one endless stream and they were unable to distinguish time, other than by consulting their watches.  Since leaving the compound they had been constantly on the run, grabbing what sleep they could and eating what they could find.  The military rations Slade had taken from the mercenaries were gone and were a distant memory.  Slade had been able to identify some edible fruits and berries and they had wolfed them down.  It only made their hunger worse.

Luckily they had found a spring feeding the river and had refilled their canteens.  It had also allowed Slade to properly clean Cody’s wound, but what he had feared had occurred.  An infection had set in.  The injury was bright red and sensitive to the touch.  Cody was experiencing the beginning stages of fever, a direct result of the infection to the injury and they both new it would spread.  The tube of salve was gone, along with any clean bandages.  Slade did the best he could.

The men pursuing them were as intent on capturing them as they were in escaping.  Twice in the last thirty hours they had exchanged gunfire and had barely been able to get away. Slade was certain he had killed one of the men, but was not certain how many were in pursuit.

Humans were not the only creatures stalking them.  He had seen a large cat, which he believed to be a jaguar, in the brush paralleling their course.  Realizing the large cats would use the tree canopy to launch an attack, he had been extra cautious while walking point.  He was not sure if they would track men, but he could not take the chance.  There was the possibility the jaguar was not familiar with men and viewed them as a food source. 

The more pressing issue was the snakes.  Slade did not know which ones were poisonous.  He had seen over a dozen different varieties and made sure to give each one a wide berth.  The small ones had been easy to avoid, but the larger ones were a different story.  They had stumbled upon a large anaconda basking on the river bank and the snake would not move.  Throwing sticks at it only seemed to irritate it and it would not slither into the water.  They could not risk shooting it for fear of giving away their location.  The result had been to move into the brush where the going was tougher and go around it.

Slade knew the large reptiles inhabited the water and when they had to enter it, he did so gingerly, constantly on the alert for them.  Neither of them was any match for a large anaconda in their natural element. 

In addition to the anacondas, Slade had seen a South American version of the American alligator.  He believed it was some sort of crocodile, but was not sure.  The thing was larger than any alligator he had ever seen and when it swam into the water it looked like a small boat as it plowed waves in front of its nose.  He had seen two more of the creatures earlier in the day and they had glared at him and Cody as if they were their next meal.  It was an unsettling experience. 

Stopping near a bend in the river, Slade walked over to Cody.

“How are you holding up?”

“Not bad.  Hurts like you wouldn’t believe and I know the infection is spreading.   Any ideas on how to get us out of her sooner?”

“Yes, but it may be risky.  It means entering the water and we know what’s in there.  The anacondas and those large crocodiles pose a risk, but if we stay on land we’ll be over taken by our pursuers.  I believe it’s our only chance.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“A raft.”

“A raft?”

“I think there are enough large logs here that we can lash together.  Those vines should secure them.  We just need to reach the Amazon and if it can carry us, we should be swept along till we reach a civilize outpost, provided there is one.”

“You know you’re talking hundreds of miles?” asked Cody.

“There has to be a settlement or something along the banks before that.  Besides I don’t see another option.  Do you?”

“No.  Let me help.”  Cody started to rise to his feet.

“I need you to do two things.  Conserve your strength and watch for our pursuers.  It looks like there has been a flood in the past and if I can drag some of these logs together I can lash them into a raft.  The water has deposited several near here.”

“If you insist.”  Cody smiled at Slade and as Slade turned to start construction of their raft, Cody added, “Slade, thank you.”

“Thank me when we’re out of here.  That may be a while yet.”  Slade gave him a ‘thumbs up.’

The logs were easier to move than he had expected and he pulled six of them to the water’s edge.  The raft would be rudimentary, but should support their weight.  Grabbing some vines, he hacked away at them, cutting them into lengths he could use to tie the logs together.  Securing the logs as best he could, he used a small log to pry the raft into the water.  Though there were gaps between the logs, the raft floated.

Slade went back to the vines and cut more of them and tossed them on the raft.  He could add binding to the raft as needed as they were floating.

“I don’t have time to gather small fronds for padding, so it may become uncomfortable.  We’ll have to make do.”

“Anything is better than walking.”

Slade helped Cody onto the raft and selecting a long pole, he pushed them out into the river.  After several attempts the raft was caught in the current and started to glide down the water.  Cody repositioned himself several times before he found a suitable resting place.  Slade dropped his backpack down and sat on it, glancing over his shoulder at the distant bank they had left.

“Do you think they’ll figure out we built a raft?” asked Cody.

“Absolutely.   I didn’t have time to hide our construction efforts and the marks on the vines I cut will give it away.  I have a feeling they have some locals helping them.”

“That means they could build one, too.”  The thought hit Cody and he clutched his rifle tighter.

“Yes, it does.  Position your weapon so it won’t fall over if we hit a log or some unseen obstacle in the river.  I’ll do my best to navigate this thing as much as I can.”

Slade extended the pole into the water from the rear of the raft and used it as a rudder.  By turning it ever so slightly he found he did have some control over the craft, but it was limited.  If the current became stronger he doubted if he could influence the direction of the raft.  They would be at the mercy of the river.

“Get some rest.  I’ll take the first watch.”

Slade watched as Cody stretched out as much as he could and within minutes he was asleep despite the uncomfortable position he was in. 

The afternoon waned away, but it allowed them to cover miles of the unexplored river.  There was a stark beauty to the jungle and Slade found himself admiring it despite the situation they were in.  Birds called to each other and monkeys or some type of primate could be seen and heard jumping in the canopy near the edge of the water.  The abundance of reptiles continued to worry him.  In addition to the crocodiles there were other species from the alligator family he did not recognize.  Though not as large as the crocs, they were ferocious looking with an impressive set of dentures.  Slade steered away from them as much as he could.

As the sun was nearing the horizon, he knew he would have to make a decision: navigate at night or stop.  Last night the moon had cast some light allowing them to see.  Would it be bright enough on the water for them to see?  Would they be able to steer away from danger before they were right on top of it?  It would allow them to put considerable distance between them and their pursuers.  Slade knew, if at all possible, they had to chance it.

Taking some vines, he tied several of them across the raft.  It would give them something to cling to should they strike a log or if the water became rough.  He did not think Cody had the strength to swim very far and his injury would quickly immobilize his left arm.  Plus the blood from the wound might attract predators.  Slade moved forward, being careful not to unbalance the raft and tied a vine across Cody.  He left enough room so Cody could free himself, but tight enough to hold him should the raft tip.

Darkness came quickly to the jungle.  Nocturnal animals started to prowl and Slade could hear the transition of noise.  The smell of the jungle seemed to change as well, the night bringing new scents to the air.  There must be night blooming flowers, thought Slade as he inhaled deeply.  In the moonlight he saw some large nectar eating bats flying toward the jungle canopy.  There were interesting looking creatures and he stared at them as long as he could before they disappeared.

It was a moment before  a distant sound registered as being distinct and separate from what he had been hearing.  It was a low sound, like a lot of people rushing to a place. Slade craned his head to hear.  Peering ahead, he saw the river took a sharp turn to the right and the sound was coming from beyond the bend.  Whatever the sound was would be revealed.  Slade steered them into the center of the river.  He wanted to have options available depending on what was ahead.

The raft swept into the center of the river.  The speed had increased.  Slade had been so intent on the sound he had neglected to pay attention to the rush of the water.  The raft was definitely moving faster.   Slade glanced at the jungle.  There was a change in the canopy.  It was thinning out.  What would cause that?

Slade reached over and shook Cody.  He had been asleep for a little over four hours and he felt guilty awakening him.

“Cody.  Cody.  Wake up.  I don’t know what’s up ahead, but I don’t like it.  The raft is picking up speed.”

Cody groggily tried to sit up and realized there was a vine across him.  Manipulating around it, he looked ahead and rubbed his eyes.  Mechanically he tried to move his arm and winced in pain.

“What is it?”

“I hope it’s not what I think it is.  The terrain is changing.  I tied some vines near the front for you to hold onto.”

“What do you think it is?”

“Rapids.  I’ve seen several large boulders near the edge of the river and the jungle is not as thick here.  I think we may be going through a small gorge.  I hope it’s not too rough.  This raft will never survive an impact if we strike a boulder.”

Before Cody could say anything, the two men glided out of the bend in the river.  Slade had surmised correctly.  The river entered a narrow gorge and the rock faces on either side loomed over them. The water was picking up speed as it was forced into the natural funnel and spray could be seen shooting up all around them.

“Hold on!” yelled Slade.

Water sprayed the raft and both men were soaked.  The water cascaded off of them and tossed the raft back and forth.  The water that splashed onto the deck dissipated quickly between the logs.  Slade tried his best to see ahead but was unable.  All he could do was make an attempt to steer the raft.

Glancing at the vines holding the logs together, he could see them being pulled taught and he could hear the sounds of the logs rubbing.  The deck was coming alive and instead of acting as one solid deck, the individual logs were trying to break free. 

“Dead ahead!  Move us around it!” screamed Cody.

Slade saw Cody lower himself down on the deck of the raft and grab tightly to the vines.  A large boulder was directly in front of them.  The speed of the raft was making it impossible for Slade to steer it.  In desperation, he slammed the steering pole into the water in an attempt to hit the bottom.  The river was too deep.  The pole was ripped out of his hands and sent careening into the night.

“I can’t control it, Cody!  We’re gonna hit!”

Slade watched the nose of the raft dip into the water, pitching both men forward.  The front ends of the logs struck the boulder squarely and there was a pause as the water shoved the raft up and over the rock.  They were sent flying over the boulder into the water, the raft landing in pieces all around them. 

The rush of the water around the boulder had created a vortex on the downward side.  They were thrown head first into this churning suction pump that pulled them down.  Slade felt the water grab him and drag toward bottom.  Luckily he had time to grab a lung full of air.  He knew better than to fight the current – it was too powerful.  Tucking his body into a ball, he put his arms around his head.  His main fear was being thrown into a rock by the current and being knocked unconscious.  He felt the water dragging him deeper until he struck bottom.  The river must be at least twenty-five to thirty feet deep.  He felt his ears popping.

As fast as the river had sucked him down, the vortex spit him out.  He could feel his body being hurtled up from the depths and when he stole a look up, he could see a lighter color.  The surface!  When he broke the water he sucked in another lungful of air.  Though still moving fast, the current had subsided somewhat. 

The river broadened out of the gorge and the current was pushing him to the far side where there was a long gravel beach.  Kicking with his feet, he angled for the shore.  The sounds of his boots scraping along the rocks told him he could stand and he waded out of the water.  Falling onto the beach, he breathed deeply several times before turning back to the river.  Cody!  Had he made it?

Slade gained his feet and started to wade back into the water but headed upstream.  Something floating!  The current was sending it toward shore.  Slade rushed into the water.  It was a piece of the raft.  One of the logs had been broken in half.  Slade started to turn and look back upstream, when movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.  An arm!  A man’s arm was looped around the log!

Rushing to intercept the log, Slade grabbed the front of the log and was swept off his feet, the momentum of the log too much for him to stop.  Digging his feet into the gravel bottom he was finally able to stop it and direct it to shore.  Pulling the log onto the beach, he found Cody tangled up in the vines.  The FBI Director was unconscious.  Pulling the vines loose from Cody, he pulled his body up the beach.  Placing his hand on his chest he realized Cody was not breathing.

Slade quickly positioned Cody so his head was lower than his body.  Rolling him onto his side, he started shoving on Cody’s chest and watched as water poured out of his mouth.  Slade kept shoving on his chest until the water stopped coming out of his mouth.  Moving up next to Cody he checked for a pulse.  It was faint, but there.  Administering mouth to mouth resuscitation, it was the third breath before Cody choked and started to breathe on his own.  Slade watched him for several seconds before shaking him on the shoulder.

“Cody.  You okay?”

A brief nod of the head was all Slade received.  Cody clawed his way to a sitting position and then to his hands and knees.  Cody threw up twice and collapsed into unconsciousness.  Slade checked to make sure he was breathing and his heart was beating.  Dragging Cody to high ground he hid him behind some boulders. 

The river had cut the beach head out of solid rock.  It was approximately seventy feet long and recessed into the cliff about fifty feet.  An overhead would provide protection from rain.  The bad news there was no way off the beach unless you scaled the cliff, which was a sheer rock face or you entered the river to swim further downstream. 

Slade walked to the edge of the river and stared down it.  The river continued its headlong flight and though not as fast as in the gorge, it would take an excellent swimmer to make it.  Glancing back at where he had placed Cody, he knew the man would not survive on his own it the water.  The infection had sapped his strength.

Slade placed his hands on his hips and looked back up river.  They had lost their weapons, the backpack and the raft.  If their pursuers found them they were sitting ducks and unable to return fire.

The realization settled over him like a cold chill.  They were trapped.

Read Chapter 39