The day had begun with a light breakfast in the cafe adjoining the hostel, where I was booked for the following three days and two nights. I had arrived two nights previously, and finding the morning ritual of eggs and beans with fresh juice enchanting. I had flown into San Jose, though quickly grown disenchanted with the city lights and left for the Mar de Caribe side of Costa Rica. I would sit at beachfront café’s ingesting the local cuisine, before meandering around the tiny coastal villages that dotted this hidden paradise on the Caribbean Sea. Sun-bathing along the white sand beaches before a warm, tropical evening descended to punctuate the perfection of my long-awaited vacation was the dream; escape from the dismal monotony of an ordered regiment back home in Chicago. Perhaps I would wander through humid tropical nights, before brief rainstorms would roll past, cooling the air for a few hours, as I searched the ruins of this ancient Mayan civilization, here on the southern edges of Costa Rica. That was the plan, the dream within my mind, anyway. And this day had begun not unlike the mirror envisioned in my mind; though the pungent air seemed thick with colors and sound even more profound. Clouds threatened and retreated, as they danced across the sky without incident. This morning drew on toward afternoon; thoughtful and sated and in a positive repose, I and the clouds becoming one, with a wanton disregard for any tourist time. I was being reset, and, so it seemed another beautiful day was on the rise. I cleared my mind of all schedules; planning, rather, to make it my mission on this magnificent day to go and simply disappear into the mists of this marveled shore. The sand, and the sun, in calm serenity, for one blissful, indulgent day, doing nothing else, was, most definitely, the remedy. After the red beans and rice, with eggs over easy, and a mountainous glass of fresh jungle juice served in the café next to my hostel, I ambled down towards the beach entrance.The only beach access was through a national park portal, which was tucked neatly at one end of the village, leading to a walking path, along and through the rainforest for five to fifteen kilometers, depending upon how adventurous one felt. Along one side of the path was the beach, and along the other edge was the border with the forest, as it wound along in a semi-straight line. It was perfect Costa Rican symbiosis, and I was wide-eyed and full of wonder, as this magical enclave opened up to me. As fate would have it, a young American woman I had met in the hostel where I was staying had offered me a small bag of marijuana, which her sister had provided her before departing for the city and her own flight back home, and, which she had offered me before leaving for the city. Now I was content to simply relax in the sun, with just that much more poignancy to my adventure, smoking a few puffs of this herbal offering, and realizing the warmth of the heavens embrace in the negatively ionized ocean air surrounding me. I had rolled a few joints before breakfast in my room, now securely hidden within my wallet, wrapped between an American five dollar note and some various Costa Rican currencies. Now inside the park, I procured the precious bounty from my pockets. As I attempted to light the joint, it soon became clear whomever the god of the winds must be, must have had an issue with Rastafari; as the constant, heavy wind made every attempt unsuccessful. I jockeyed around the other side, kneeling down with elbows in a weak windbreak, to light the joint once more, still to no avail. Suddenly, I realized the presence of two bicycles were just whirring past on the path at that same moment. I followed the disturbing sight in my peripheral vision trying, not to seem like I was doing anything more than lighting a cigarette; only then realizing these two bicyclists were wearing the official uniforms of the park patrol. The trees were thick along the path but not so thick that I could not sense the two park rangers had stopped ahead and seemed to be discussing something. Perhaps they had added up the sight they had just witnessed and were preparing to address the issue; I could feel my heart throbbing inside my chest, my senses alerting to these men, now, like some jungle animal in the shadows of this jungle all around me. I noticed one of them going toward the beach side, while the other one remained along the path, where they had initially stopped, perhaps fifty yards ahead; seemingly, giving his partner a bit of time to get positioned before he made his own angle on my position from the main path. I did not have to think twice about my next move, as I also realized that the outcome of any run-in with the law down here could lead to a much less blissful vacation than the one I had planned. I crossed the path, heading toward the jungle on the other side before the patrol guards had gained on my previous position.A twenty yard swath of low shrubs led to a wide edge of forest, looming up thick and threatening. I could see the shadows of the park patrol now, closing in on my trail with some frightening stealth. I could feel them pressing on, closing in on my position, as if coordinating a special-ops exercise; with me being the quarry. I peeked through the brush leading to the forest center; it was so thick and so lush I could scarcely see a foot in front of myself. Hurriedly, I rushed headlong deeper inside this monolithic temple of foliage, brushing ferns aside, as I found my way to the edge of this magnificent forest, now looming up, nearly enveloping me there where I stood. The first ring, of what I would soon learn was like traversing Dante's Inferno, was a bit of a swamp. I could see a grove of trees not far along, should I choice to continue forward in this way. The echoing sounds of a troop of some monkey species feeding in the nearby trees barked out. Trying to feel my youth, and seemingly so, I hopped in a few mounds further into the swamp, listening to the silence, and my beating heart. Feeling more like a kid hunting bullfrogs back along the tame Maryland lakes and streams of my youth, I was bounding freely. A few hurried bounds and my sandals were lost to a watery grave, no time was allowed to retrieve them, just a last rushed vision, as they slowly submerged behind into a muddy grave. It did not matter in here though, all was water and wet earth; so in a sense I was now unburdened in my greater purpose of flight. I landed, suddenly sensing some separate heartbeat within close range. Indeed, the presence of a marvelously marked boa just before me, curled in the sun, upon one of these precious mounds above the water line. My reeling mind was able to remark at the beauty and amazing girth, which was difficult to believe, in the specimen, there at my feet. Quite shockingly, my youthful, Maryland memories drifted swiftly away in that same instant, morphing to this surreal reality showing before me. The boa was simply dozing in the morning sun; I felt myself juxtaposed against this vast natural biosphere, out of my element. I tried to reset, gazing upon this prehistoric memory, as the boa slowly began to unfurl, and slither away out of sight. It was a slow motion miracle that took a bit of effort and time to complete, leading me to believe this boa must measure in excess of eight feet. I had little time to drink in the marvel and wonder of this grounding vision, however, as I was still fleeing from the sounds I could hear approaching. And so, I was forced to enter this world without the benefit of stealth; that flora and fauna foreplay every young adventurer knows so well as they forge through unknown territories. Possibly the further in I could make it without true detection, the more trouble it was worth to the rangers, in the end. I crouched low and listened, as I waited for the boa to completely vacate, thus giving me the access I required to continue further. I could hear faint sounds proceeding behind me, still, though the reeds were so high and so thick that any visual contact was impossible. If they were going to catch me it would be in an instant. Undaunted, in fact somewhat mesmerized, I hopped along a few more hops, held within some strange dichotomous reality, now, fleeing for my ongoing freedom while, also, hoping to wander upon some more of this glorious wildlife I had just witnessed. I did not have to wait long. Bounding through the widening marsh, through high reeds, from one mound to the next. I heard some muffled conversation in the distance, feeling more certain of the comfort zone gained, yet, the danger of pursuit remained a slight possibility, so I forged heavily and mechanically forward. As I took off on a measured leap from the one mound to the next, panting heavily, having gathered myself into a sweaty, almost trance-like froth; there it was, as I landed in a hard thump upon the mound I had sought as my next refuge in this ragged, unclear procession. Both my saving grace and a deadly inclusion in this marsh, which my haggard mind had not imagined might exist; an alligator lay not more than five feet away, as my body swayed, trying to balance upright. So many secrets must dwell in these unknown environs, though, here I was the witness, as this monster gazed directly into my eyes, holding me spellbound in his ancient, reptilian pupils. Perhaps wondering, as well, for this haphazardly encounter. I was truly lost in do or die zone. I measured each breath, my mind in an oddly juxtaposition between flat line calm and what to do so as not to die mode. Luck seemed to be smiling on me now, even as I saw something so raw and native and cold in this animal’s stare, it seemed this behemoth had graced me as something less than foe, as he merely eyed me curiously. I, ever so slowly, and so ultra-carefully as to be cognizant of each step, sidestepped my way around in a crescent angle to reach the safety of the other side. This remnant from the ages past, it was clear, would have no trouble dragging me deep into its watery lair, devouring any chances of my escaping anything other than a bubbling and bloody burial, in the brutal end. The truths this monster had gleaned over the millennia, making it master of these environs was quite so clear; here, Nature reigned supreme. I could still hear the road ahead as cars passed in a very slow and staggeringly, lonely procession. Each new car passing was a signal, some distant sentinel in the wilderness deigning a new path, a new lengthening angle to traverse; still, nothing was truly discernible by now. Each sentinel stalking the frontiers of my slowly growing demented mind, emoting my new coordinates in this mirage of sound, was the beacon of hope to keep me forging ahead. Soon, however, a feeling of dread slowly descended in the idea that my flight into this dim and hidden world might have been a very severe mistake, as the light began to fade, adding a new and very distinct urgency to my predicament. Still, there seemed no sense in turning back, so onward I plod. Brilliant white cockatoos and green parakeets skirted the trees in marvelous display, as they danced among the trees on some ritual mission back to the roost for the night. The monkeys continued to call out, as I sensed their distance growing, perhaps uneasy now with my presence, or, perhaps, returning home to some treetop nests of their own, as the evening glow closed to a shadowed sky. I plod forward toward where I hoped the road would eventually materialize; a hopeless hollow growing inside my soul was being born. I was remembering lost pets I had loved, my sister when we were children smiling sweetly, my mother's voice began to echo through my inner ears. The light was fading fast. I continued forward, being careful to give these massive spiders, sitting so prettily in their webs, glistening in those last shards of light. Adding to my maladies were the thorns on most of these shrubs and trees, which seemed to swallow one down at crucial junctures. I found that with a stick there was a trick to destroying the web and allowing the spider time to scurry along to the safety of a tree limb, before plunging deeper into the dark chasm opening up before me. I sometimes caught the glimmer of shaded figures scurrying heavily off, as its home was torn asunder, other times there was no movement, an even more uneasy thing to imagine. These denizens of this tangled maze I was treading must feel my brutish manner so awfully out of place; that with such swift destruction of the amazing structure it had created with the rapture of its reality; a miracle taking days to complete. A total annihilation of all things sacred, unto it, as it must have been. My mind was reeling and failing fast now. As glorious as this adventure had begun; I realized once I lost the advantage of light I would not know where these spider webs lay, neither any of all the nocturnal dangers that would be emerging for their own nightly rituals. I would be trudging headlong into the spider’s webs and their angered inhabitants would have me blind. It was not long before full terror set in, darkness descending in what amounted to a near full stop. I was being entombed, fatally blind; the light disappeared just so quickly. I leaned up against the nearest tree and gazed up to find some peace in the sky above, hoping and praying now to my most pure heart for just one more hour of daylight. It was not a possibility at this point, and I was, finally, lost. Darkness fell inside this jungle like a blanket was being pulled up over one's head; hungry, biting insects and sharp thorns poked and scratched, gnawing at bare flesh. In an instant, darkness now ruled, and the sounds that accompanied it began to chorus around. The feeling of dread boiled through my veins, as though a fever was burning me from the inside; layers of humanity being shed with each new heartbeat. To simply know I was still alive seemed some last hope for my own humanity of one. Lost and terrified, but alive, at least. I realized I must continue forward, whichever direction I chose, and ultimately I would reach the safety of the road; were I not to fall prey to the alligator from hours previous, or one of his close cousins in the night. The solemn reckoning of a human, within such pure and severe animal magnetism, was a daunting taste to behold; the base metals of body electric mixing in my mouth, and steaming off my skin with blood, sweat, and tears yet to come. It was a palpable sensation, finding this core of deconstruction. Becoming accustomed to the pitch black inside this forest was beyond my human senses; I simply had not honed these defenses up to this point. I was a pampered city animal with all the comforts of modern man outweighing this malaise, if any man ever should. The cars arrived more infrequently, so that deducing forward was so much more an uncertain arrangement. And darkness, my constant and unwelcome companion. Still, one foot before the other would be some progress, should I not lose my body or soul in the final worth of this night. The poisonous thorns from these trees were now tearing into my hands and arms; even as I was falling through those webs I feared, venom soon coursing through my veins from the various flora and fauna inhabiting this eerie realm. Without the advantage of sight, in order to evade these angered arachnids, I was being entwined in the turmoil they had to endure as I destroyed their refuge; their burning, vicious bites raining down upon me, as I was helpless. Without any other recourse, I tempered my mind that I must blindly force my way through all these barriers, even as unclear as it was as to where it would lead me. I shrank to my core and continued headlong. The combined poisons of trees and spiders was taking effect on me in short suit. Inside this darkness a new light was leading my way, the light of my animal instinct, a fleeting and fatal strength I found in reserve and relied upon. High on these natural venoms, I was becoming a new force to reckon with. An animal within, emerging warily. The stealth and grace with which these wild creatures used to navigate through this tangled mass would be a world away, but I was on the trail to find that same soul. I prayed again to a most pure heart that the animal in me was as noble to survive. I pondered the idea of divining my way through these imminent and inherent hazards by making myself ultra obvious to all ~ a bull in a china shop tactic; though this was obviously flawed. Thick trees blocked my way forward, sideways, or upwards. I grew hopeless for a long moment as I pondered this plan to make the road, which I had never been truly confident of, less and less, now, with my dwindling physical strength. Resting, now, firmly entrenched in this cauldron, I found a scattering of large, fallen timbers arrayed in a sharp and sleek slope.The massive trunks connected and intersected in various ways that, it seemed, one might use as a sort of swamp-floor highway. Granted, I must ease my way over the larger branches protruding along the upward route, sometimes requiring great dexterity and strength, and testing my faith in gravity; but it was still a more certain route than crashing through spider webs and the uncertainty on the muddy floor below. I sat listening to the silence; a more comforting companion than any other exertion of my beaten body and soul. All my strength tapped, still, a noble voice beckoned me to forge ahead; I could remain. One foot in the front of the other was the only way. The most lethal blow to a safe exodus occurred, as I stepped down, slipping, my weight took me down into the mud below. I sensed something move and felt myself delving into a darkness so black I could not comprehend. I remained motionless but it was too late; my destiny already arranged; and with lightning speed, I knew I had made a much darker and more serious blunder. My foot, now, felt pierced. My head made that upward register, rising to the crown, as if my spine were alit with a foreign fire. Quickly, within a few more feet, my left leg and the side of my body that was most closely attached to the foot, which had been pierced, began to go numb. In passing waves, I soon had little to no feeling, nor control, in this appendage. My body was assessing this loss of control, while my mind was offering me my only real haven. I must gain control, if only in Mind over Matter, for without the function of ambulation I would be doomed. For the night had only just begun, and there was no chance of surviving an entire night within these foreign fathoms unconscious, as I feared I was falling. My mind raced, as much as it was able to race under such duress. On the one hand I knew from my Boy Scout and outdoor training, that if this was, as I suspected, a poisonous snake bite, I must not overheat. Indeed, the best course of action would be to rest and relax and drink plenty of fluids, in the hopes that the poison would subside and not become lethal, through the racing of an elevated heart. However, my predicament was that I had only swamp water to drink, a virtual parasite soup that could not be left as any sane alternative. I had no place to rest comfortably to reassess and plan something logical. I had found, in the times I had been the least active, I could feel the jungle and its nocturnal inhabitants closing, slowly, in on my position, as if the heat of my breath and the beat of my heart were a signal beckoning them to investigate this blood and pus cornucopia, more formally. I was now at the very precipice of survival; I could not afford a mistake or miscalculation. This malfunctioning limb seemed to completely misunderstand the rest of my body, as it followed in dumb and deaf suit one step behind. I broke off one of the branches along the fallen-tree highway and used it as a makeshift crutch, allowing a slight amount more comfort in the passage forward. I had to concentrate intensely to complete the most arcane action of ambulation now. I found I was, soon, falling completely over if I relied too much on the use my left leg. It was like a foreign entity attached to me. I was losing the conscious ability to control my leg and torso's movement. I tried to place the sheer horror of this predicament out of my mind, and continued forward; nevertheless, at a much slower pace. My mind fought with reality to fend off the destabilizing effects of poisons and utter horror. Uncertain if I could continue, I assessed and reassessed my heart and my very soul. The rapture was taking hold. I climbed up into the embrace of the hard, sharp-knobbed branches, my final refuge. I laid my head back into the fork of one side, draping my feet up across the other side, as though I was some old Indian on an ancient burial pyre. It felt, just so, fitting. For here I lay, a burning fever of hopelessness and regret, lost to such odd ends in this rainforest swamp on the frontier of the Americas; the only energy left in my body, that being gleaned now from such a myriad of various poisons I could no longer imagine the origins of. I was like a dead man, neither painfully conscious, nor blissfully unconscious, but somewhere in between, a new growing pain taking hold of me, as I longed to enter the Gates of Heaven to be renewed. I lay there and prayed to my God, and thought of my mother, her nurturing love I had known as a child exuding over me, in this fallen state. And I waited for my death to overwhelm me. I prayed, also, that sleep might overwhelm me, and I would wake to a new dawn and the prospect of a pristine, new life. I resisted the throbbing fire, searching higher and higher into my hip and through the deep muscles of my thigh and buttocks, my foot now a heavy, numb anomaly. I lay in this pose, gazing up at the marvel of stars above the jungle canopy. It was a calming juxtaposition of serenity that I held both fixedly in my eyes as well as the inner gaze of my waning soul. My mind was leaving my body behind; I saw another world held within that glittering of stars overhead, the promise of my peace. Another place so far removed from this torture that I wished I could conjure my passing; it was so beautiful a reality. The lands of Zeus and Athena and the Ancient gods of this other world openly welcomed me; the light of this human realm flickering more dimly. I closed my eyes and tried to rest, giving away all my strength to this wish. Within moments of my resignation something startled the branches above me. I could not see what it was; though my measured breath now seemed like jet engines breaking the silence. I attempted to delineate fact from delusion in this maddening darkness. My mind and body came together slowly again, and then it was behind me. I torqued my head sharply and made as aggressive and combative a noise as I could muster, in an attempt to frighten whatever it may be away. Again ~ the sound ~ though, now, below me. Then, without warning, a hand, or a paw, or something intent on knowing the nature of my being, touched my exposed buttocks. As I lay in the crook of this tree, my behind lay below the fork, as my back grasped the V-hold in this manner, so that my bottom was exposed. I could only imagine it was one of the monkeys from earlier in the day come to investigate. Or was it, perhaps, something more lethal like a jaguar or ocelot, come for some more intimate inspection; my scent so foreign and strong. I jolted up into a ready position, the most sincere bellow of my life erupting from the top of my lungs. I heard the echo of my anguish dashing through the silent forest and recognized it, only as a foreign entity. And in that moment heard my own mortality racing through the vast unknown void of this soul's path. In a startling transformation, and expelling the glorious silence of this venom induced rapture, a crackling sound began to startle the air in the dark distance. Slowly my altered state of near euphoria was interrupted; I was being returned to this wretched reality, my spine rattling back to line. And again the sound; a piercing crackle I could not decipher. Then, with a loud, sharp, splitting sound it came into closer focus, as my brain regained its bearings and came to some sallow sense. It was the sound of a tree sheering at the trunk; an immense snapping electrifying the air surrounding. It was like the jungle was breathing, and this was all part of some exhalation. It took a few moments to complete, though once complete, the tree in question could be heard losing its battle to stay upright. And then another, more horrible idea came to cross my mind, as I heard the tree come crashing through the canopy toward the forest floor in a sort of slow motion repose. It was one of those slow motion moments in one's life where normal actions seem to last through every final detail of that action, in clear, exaggerated visage that lingers to full focus. I realized the power and force of this falling tree would surely kill or maim some poor creatures that may lay, unlucky, in it's path, or those held high in the upper branches of the tree in their nests or homes. I seemed to sense their lost souls going onwardly through this dark chasm which enjoined every sentient being within. Only, here in my makeshift funeral pyre, I realized I might be one of those sadly creatures along the tree’s path toward its final resting place. To be crushed to death in this manner would be the final insult to this sickening experience, thus far. I could hear the tree gaining maximum velocity, as it made its way toward the earth. I had no time to react, only the time to listen, and to ponder the possibilities. It seemed to be coming directly toward my position, closer and closer with each splitting branch, as it careened toward the earth. And then it was over. I could sense something great in the silence, which accompanied this behemoth's staggered and slow travail unto this final rest, where it would slumber in the wet earth, engulfed in a decomposing soup of mud and branches. My soul erupted in a slow, awakening joy, for that I remained. My mind raced to deduce the probabilities of witnessing such a monumental, natural occurrence; the death of a tree that may have taken nearly a century, or longer, to complete. And in that moment, all I could deduce was the miracle of my beating heart as it resonated from the stars above unto this dark and soggy grave. And in the death of this one mighty tree, I could feel the earth alive as never before. As I lay in this stunned silence, now overwhelming this world, unto which I was beholden, so absolutely; my body seemed to melt away into the vastness that remained. My mortal existence no longer seemed to have preeminence; rather my body was floating throughout an even vaster, silent truth, mingling innately with my soul. A higher portal was slowly opening and I was too bloody and beaten to resist, so I followed. And, somehow, I could sense that this tree, and I, and the alligator, and the monkey, and the spider, and the snake, the very essence and entirety of it all, and even the earth itself; somehow we all measured the same. We all were equal in this creation. And here was my message, my messenger. Here was the bridge between the madness of this dark and blinding hell, and the light of the more civilized and mannered world, from whence I had come. I simply sat, feeling the weight of it all; realizing the moon and stars above me, all the life around me; and I widely wondered. I wondered if my return would come, as well; or if I even wished to find that world again. Was there, truly, any need beyond this manifestation taking place, here, now. Could simply sacrifice this life I owned, lose this body I had come to call home; realizing all this, happily, with a smile. The answer, though morose to my friends and family whom I loved, was yes. For I was this chrysalis, inside the void, being reborn. I would only fly freely, for I must.
Each week authors will be given a new question to answer which will lend additional insight into their story and writing process. Do you have a question you'd like to see the authors answer? Tweet it to @aNextAuthor!