Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Forest

It was a treacherous drive up to the foot of the mountain. Their objective was to find a secret hideaway waterfall deep in the tropical rainforest. But the road wasn’t paved at all and the blue Jeep they rented rocked side to side with every centimeter they crawled forward. The directions the guidebook gave them weren’t very helpful. It had difficulty distinguishing left/right with straight ahead. This didn’t faze Gretchen’s young parents, not one bit. They were forever high-spirited, most optimistic people she had ever known. After they reached the dead end for the second time, mom said with a little sigh, “This here says left but I guess they meant right". Haha, a good one mom. Sometimes their nonchalance was sickening to Gretchen. After more than an hour of this choppy ride, her barely digested toasted frozen waffles breakfast was starting to creep back up to her throat. Her cynical ARE WE THERE YET? Protests went largely ignored.

Finally, they reached what seemed to be ‘the Gate’ at the foot of the trail. The stiff wall of the green mountain with its peak forever shrouded in clouds, was standing tall behind the gate: pretty impressive sight for anyone’s standard but not to our heroine Gretchen, who just started high school this year and now had to spend her Christmas vacation with her parents, away from her friends. “Can I have some water?” Gretchen asked her dad who had been admiring the view looked back. “Hon, water?” He asked his wife who was getting the backpacks out of the Jeep. Mom in turn asked Gretchen, “Did you bring water?” Great, my parents are idiots, Gretchen thought.

They started the hike. The sun was way up in the sky and being merciless. As they made their way into the forest the trail became narrower and narrower with its bright red earth forest floor covered with snaky tree roots and cacophony of decaying leaves. Birds with considerable lungs croaked and chirped all around.
The hike was stiff up-hill. Gretchen’s parents, a fit athletic pair, had no problems wading through the rough terrain. But even with her soccer league trained calves, the girl was lagging behind. It was hot and they all were sweating profusely.
She really didn’t want to be there hiking in the jungle. She wanted to be on the beach working on her much needed tan instead while reading the latest Stephanie Meyer book- just chillaxing. Her legs were still too pale for her liking.

A bright green gecko crossed the red earth in front of the girl. She tried to grab it but it was too fast. It wasn’t running away. Just out of her reach, it was running one step ahead, as if teasing her. She ran after it until finally it disappeared into dense bushes.
By the time Gretchen looked up to see the trail, her parents were gone. Silly them, they just went too far ahead without noticing me behind them, she thought. She hurried up the pace to catch up to them. After five minutes, she found herself alone deep in the jungle. She called for her mom and dad to no avail. The panic set in. She started to run what seemed to her to be the way she came from, in order to go back to the gate. She tripped on the exposed roots of a gigantic eucalyptus tree and fell to the ground. She felt moist red dirt on her face as she laid there. She noticed for the first time that the sound of the jungle subsided- no wind, no birds, as if time was standing still. Only thing barely audible was her heavy breathing. Tears welled up. Gretchen, get up! She told herself. You need to get moving. Stop crying like a baby. She got up and patted herself down. She was sweaty and her white shorts and sneakers were covered in red dirt. Her dark hair was tangled with leaves and red mud. She was very thirsty and burning up under the unrelenting sun. She removed her sweatshirt. Then she realized that in her panic, she left her backpack some ways back. But there was no way she’d go back. When she started walking again she experienced a searing pain in her right knee. It was badly scraped. The redness of the wound was accentuated by her whiteness. She bit her lower lip, as if not to cry.

The wind started blowing and the bird started chirping again. She needed to move down hill. After walking a while though, she noticed the trail was gone. She was completely disoriented in the deeper part of the jungle. The sun disappeared in dense vegetation. She called out for her parents again. Nothing. From dehydration and exhaustion, she felt dizzy. She decided to sit under a large tree to catch her breath. She couldn’t help herself from crying this time.

“Why are you crying?” Said the voice and it startled her to no end. There was a brown skinned boy about sixteen in front of her. He was wearing nothing but a long baggy swimming trunk and had a fuzzy unkempt hair. He smiled warmly.
“Who are you?” She barked.
“Devin” He said. “Are you lost?”
“Have you seen my parents?” She asked frantically.
“Calm down. What’s your name?” There was a very saintly tranquility about him.
“Gretchen!” She exclaimed.
“Well, hello Gretchen.” He said.
“Do you know the way out of this forest?”
“I sure do.” He said. “I live here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Kauai is my home.” He said.
“Can you help me?”
“Of course.” He came closer to her. “You are a mess. And your knee…”
She looked down for the first time at her scraped knee. The pain that she pushed to the back of her mind during adrenalin rush out of fear came rolling back.
“Aw.” With that, Gretchen fainted.

Weightlessness, then piercing cold on her skin was what Gretchen came to. The sunlight fluttered in ripples before her eyes. Her own voice was muffled and she couldn’t breath. It was Devin who was holding her in his arms in the icy water in the middle of the forest.
“Cold!” She jumped off of Devin’s grip and fell into the natural watering hole created by a small gentle waterfall surrounded by rocks. She swallowed a mouthful of water involuntarily as she flapped wildly in fear. But soon she found that her feet were touching the bottom. It was a shallow side of the pool, only a waist deep.
“Hey, watch you step!” Devin shouted.
She quickly trudged through and got out of the water.
“What is this place? Why am I here?” She asked.
“You fainted. You were burning up.” He looked around calmly. “It’s pretty here, no?” He swam back and forth in the pool.
“I need to go find my parents. They are looking for me.” Gretchen cried out.
“Your parents are on the way Gretchen. I answered your phone.” He said, pointing at her backpack, which was leaning against the rock on the side. There were small threads of steam rising out of his body as he emerged from the cold water. There was something very assuring about the boy. If anybody could impress her, it had to be Devin and his calm demeanor.
“Relax, will you?” He said. “It’s hot out, come into the water. Soak in. It’s OK.” He splashed the water toward her, making large ripples.
"I need to pee." She whispered, blushing.
"Oh?" She couldn't look him in the eye.
"Over there. I won't look." He pointed to the bushes at the other end of the pool.
Gretchen had to double check if the boy was looking her way while she went.
"It's only natural. Don't by ashamed!" He shouted from a distance.

The water was so clean, she could see small creatures attached on the rocks at the bottom of the pool.
“Don’t be afraid, they are just tadpoles.” Devin said.
Gretchen read about them in her biology class that it was a good sign to spot amphibians in the water. It meant the surrounding ecosystem was healthy.
She slowly submerged herself, treading carefully not to step on those future cane toads. The water felt good. Devin came closer and she heard her heart beating faster. He laid his brown fingers on her scraped knee, which wasn’t bleeding anymore.
“Does it hurt?” He asked.
“A little.”
His forearm brushed against her exposed thigh. She blushed.
“Can I ask you something?” Gretchen asked.
“Are you a vampire?” She asked earnestly.
“Don’t be silly now.” He said.