Etched between the hills and mountains ran a river, meandering and wandering along the valley floor, bouncing from one hill to the next. It fell gradually and pooled in spots where fish swam and nibbled on algae which formed on rocks by the river’s edge. In other places, it gushed and plunged over edges and cliff faces in beautiful waterfalls.
Along the river ran a red clay path which criss crossed the river, climbed and descended the hills and skipped through open plains where cows grazed in the midday sun under the watchful eye of Kogi indians whose ancestors had lived in the valley for centuries. Spiders and snakes darted across the path, hiding in the shrubs and eventually disappearing into the rainforest beyond. The rainforest swept across the hills with moss covered trees that soared into the clouds above, wrapping around the mountain peaks.
In the late afternoon, rain began to fall. It fell straight and soft, past the green trees, ferns and bushes, landed on the clay rock strewn ground and then slowly trickled along a crack, passed walkway stones, down the bank and into the river below. Sun rays penetrated the canopy above and bounced off the frothing boulders, reflecting off of the light rain and illuminated a small hiking camp which sat a few dozen feet above the river on the north bank in the shadows of the enormous trees.
The camp was basic with two separate shelters. In one shelter, three single beds with blankets and bedding as well as patched up mosquito nets lined the center. At the far end was the kitchen with a single fireplace and log table. The second shelter was similar to the first and sat empty just slightly down the hill from the first. The metal roofing pinged with each rain drop that fell.
Nick lay in one of the beds in the first shelter, huddled under a woven blanket. Sweat trickled down his brow to his nose and fell on the bedding.
“It’s cold” he said, calling out to Catherine who was working over the camp stove. Catherine turned around, approached him, and put the back of her hand to his forehead.
“It’s the fever, darling. You are still burning up. It’s unbearably hot.” she said, returning to the fire. Nick pulled the blanket tighter under his chin.
Along the length of the shelter, pregnant clotheslines dangled all sorts of shorts, pants, socks and under things. They hung deathly still in the humid air, dripping wet.
The river below purred softly as the rain drops sprinkled along her length. The various boulders and rocks that protruded the surface gave the river picturesque curves in the sparkling light of the afternoon sun.
“I’m making some soup. I hope this finally helps.” called Catherine. She pursed her lips as she stirred the pot, every so often stopping to taste.
Sitting quietly at the log table was a darker skinned man. He watched Catherine prepare the soup. On his left leg hung a large holster which contained a machete that, were he to stand up, would barely dangle its blade tip above the ground. His jeans were torn slightly at the knees and muddied along the shins and cuffs.
“Señora, that is the last of the potatoes.” he said quietly, watching Nick. He paused. “We should consider the alternatives.”
Catherine stopped stirring and dropped the spoon into the soup, her hands trembling. “And what exactly are the alternatives, Pablo? Hmm? Starve him? Hmm? Leave him?” she cursed. Her lip trembled. “You can have the soup with him. I am not hungry.”
The man slouched his back and dropped his head. “Señora, it has been four days now – ” he said.
“I know what you are about to say and I will not hear it.” said Catherine, slamming her hand on the table. “I will not.”
“Si, señora.” said the man and turned to watch the river.
The rain continued to fall along the river banks. Across the river, a waterfall protruded from the forest and spouted a small stream onto the rocky shore. Pablo watched as the thin rain fell and the waterfall gushed.
At the foot of Nick’s bed, a black cat growled at an orange and grey striped cat. The two sat and stared at each other. The black cat hissed and arched it’s back but stayed still, staring at the other. They sat nervously staring at each other.
“Here you go Nick.” said Catherine as she poured out soup with a wooden ladle. She brought the soup to Nick, stirring it, releasing the steam from the broth. her hands trembled as she held out the bowl.
Nick raised himself up on his elbow, accepting the bowl with his right hand. His large frame arched in the bed, creaking the bed frame beneath him.
“Are you cold?” Nick asked.
“No. I’m fine.” said Catherine before turning away and wiping her eyes.
“I’ll be ok, darling.” said Nick, looking down at the soup in his hands.
“I know you will. Of course, of course you will.” said Catherine. Her voice cracked and trailed off as she turned back to look at Nick. “I wish… I wish… I wish it would just stop raining is all.”
Nick coughed, deeply and gurgling as he slowly moved the spoon to his mouth. The spoon trembled and some spilled onto his blanket.
Pablo sat and ate the rest of the meager soup. He twisted his spoon with each bite before resting it finally in the empty bowl. Catherine returned to the table and sat across from him.
“I will leave tomorrow to seek help señora. We need food and medicine. I will leave as soon as the rain stops.” said Pablo staring at the river below.
“Thank you Pablo.” said Catherine, her voice still trembling. “We will stay here until Nick can walk again and the fever has broken.”
“Si, señora.” said Pablo. He stood up, washed his dish and sat back down at the table, all the while continuing to watch the rain fall into the river. It fell softly and quietly in between the trees.
The afternoon sun shone brightly on the growing river below. The water level had begun to rise and some rocks which only an hour before had been clearly visible were now having water splash over them. The purr of the river was slowly growing into a slight growl.
The black cat sat at the foot of the bed and moved slowly towards the other. It hissed nervously, pushing the striped one back towards the edge of the shelter.
Nick sat up and fixed his eyes across the river.
“Do you see her? Do you see her, Catherine?” Nick shouted. Catherine turned to look at the opposite side of the river where Nick was pointing to. There was nothing but forest and rain. “I think I see Clair! Clair!” he called, waving his hand. Catherine stood up and walked over to Nick.
“Darling, you should rest.” said Catherine, helping Nick to ease back under the blankets. “Clair is not there. Clair cannot be there or anywhere else anymore.”
Nick looked at her with a confused expression.
“But I saw her, just there by the river.” he said.
Pablo watched the two of them with concern. He tapped his foot, watching the rain fall impatiently. As Catherine returned back to the table, he leaned in close. “Who is Clair?” he asked.
“She was his sister.” said Catherine.
The rain began to fall with a thunderous force. The pings and pangs were replaced with a deafening machine gun as the rain smashed against the metal roofing. The two cats sprang to their feet, fearful of the sudden change. They stood staring at the puddles that grew in the cobble path leading away from the shelter.
Where once only a small trickle of water ran down from the hill, now a stream had appeared. It cut along the path and surrounded the elevated shelter. The afternoon sun began to fade and soon thunderous claps of lightning echoed along the river. The wooden posts of the shelter shook with each explosion of thunder.
The river was now raging and growing with a ferocity that gave Pablo much concern. He sat nervously, fingering the machete at his side, watching the river swell with each passing minute.
Catherine sensed his concern. “Are we safe?” she asked, a slight quiver in her voice.
“Maybe. But maybe not.” said Pablo. He knew the river well. But today, it was like a river he did not recognize. Ferocious. Aggressive. Angry. This was not the river he knew. The two cats had climbed to the shelter’s wooden trusses and now sat at either ends of the shelter from each other. The black cat continued to gnaw and swipe at the air towards the striped one but now, with the distance between them, the striped cat rested more soundly.
“I have seen this fever before, señora. The jungle has him in its grip now.” said Pablo. “He may say strange things. It is perhaps best to ignore his words.”
“Perhaps.” agreed Catherine.
“Catherine!” Nick called out. Catherine stood up and went to his side. He was pale and still sweating a lot. He had begun to shake. She pulled the blanket tight around his shoulders.
“What is it, darling?” she asked.
Nick looked clear into her eyes. He was shaking but he looked calmly at her. “Do you think I will see Clair again?” he asked.
Catherine’s eyes swelled with tears at the question. She turned away to wipe them. Nick reached out with a trembling hand from beneath the covers and rested it on her leg. She put her hand on his. Catherine sobbed, her right hand wiping away at the tears. “I just wish it would stop raining!” she cried. “This stupid rain. Always this rain! How do they live like this!” She cried for a bit more before Nick let go of her leg.
“I don’t know if I will see the sun again.” said Nick. “It’s very cold.”
Catherine snapped around, her eyes red from the tears. “Don’t go saying something foolish like that. Of course you will. It will stop raining and Pablo will return in a few days with food and medicine and your fever will be gone and we can start to hike back out of this god forsaken jungle and return to New York and end this crazy journey.”
“Maybe.” said Nick. He was staring at the other side of the swelling river. “The river is growing.”
Catherine stood up and returned to join Pablo who had started to boil some water. He reached into his sack and pulled out two tea bags. He poured one cup for Catherine and made the second for himself. They both sat quietly in the deafening noise of the rain, drinking their tea.
Catherine lit a few candles, dripped some of the melted wax onto the tabletop and secured the candle into the wax base. She watched it flicker and soon a few moths danced in awe around the flame. They flew madly about the candle with excitement. Finally one flew too close and landed in the wax pool at the base of the flame. Catherine watched as it drowned in the wax and burned brightly.
Catherine and Pablo sat quietly under the shelter as wave after wave of rain poured down in sheets of water. Finally, Pablo turned to face Catherine.
“I will go to bed now.” he said. “I hope the rain will stop by morning.” Catherine nodded without saying a word. Pablo stood and walked over to his bed. He took off his shirt, lay his machete on the ground beside the bed, took off his pants and climbed under the netting and blanket and was soon asleep.
Catherine sat alone, cold, sad and fearful at the table. She reached above her to feel the clothes above her hanging from the clothesline. They shed water as she squeezed them. “This jungle will be the death of us.” she said quietly. The sounds of explosive thunders raced along the valley, one after another, each one closer and more intense than the previous. Catherine jumped in her seat with each shock. They were getting very close now. At her feet, she felt the water of the streams from the hills which now completely covered the cobblestones of the shelter floor.
“I guess that’s it then.” said Catherine. She stood up and sloshed over to the middle bed. She took off her shoes, shirt and pants, hanging them on the clothesline above and lay down in the darkness. She lay there, thinking of Nick, Clair and how eager Nick had been to leave New York and all its sad memories and charge into the jungle and how she had agreed to do anything to forget the past. Surrounded by the river and the thunder and the rain, Catherine fought and, despite everything, managed to find sleep.
In the middle of the pitch black night, Nick woke. He reached across with a cold wet hand and rested it on Catherine’s shoulder. Catherine woke with a startle at the touch. She turned over and peered into the blackness, trying to make out Nick’s face. From the darkness came Nick’s voice, trembling and weak.
“I forgive you.” said Nick. There was a long pause. A thunder clap tore along the valley. “What happened to Clair was an accident and was not your fault. I forgive you.” Tears formed in Catherine’s eyes as she heard Nick speak. The rain poured down and the river thrashed in the distance but she did not hear it.
“Thank you.” she said softly but to no reply. Nick had already fallen asleep again. She lay on her back in the darkness. She said a small prayer, rolled over and went back to sleep.
In the morning the rain had stopped and the red soaked clay earth path lay basking in the sun. The shelter closest to the river lay in shambles, its timbers strewn across the camp and its roof sheared in half. Some posts clung to their foundations while others had fallen. Cobble stones were spread along the path and depressed soil kissed the sun’s rays for the first time in years. A couple of bed frames were smashed and their nets tangled in the timbers. The two cats sat perched on a few of the split logs, eyes closed, facing the sun above.
Catherine leaned up to asses the situation. Her shelter remained unharmed for the most part. Pablo had done as he had said he would do. His sack and clothes were gone and his bed lay empty next to her. Catherine turned to face Nick. She listened for his breathing and watched for any motion. She leaned over near to his face and rested her hands on his shoulders.
Nick awoke and stared into Catherine’s eyes. “Let’s go home.” said Nick in a soft calm voice. Catherine began to cry, tears falling on his face. She hugged him and they sat quietly in the growing warmth of the sun and watched the river retreat and listened to the birds sing in the beautiful green valley where a river ran between hills and mountain tops and cows grazed and spiders and snakes scampered across a red clay path into the forest beyond.