I felt the ground move beneath my feet and I went to my knees -- and then to my feet and backing away as quickly as I could. Through the debris of leaves and twigs, I saw the undulations of the largest snake I had ever seen.
I don't mind snakes. They're fine animals. But when you land on one in the middle of the jungle and he's as wide as both your legs, you have a moment of existential understanding about your place in the universe. Or in the jungle. And that place might well be 'dinner' right now.
Edmond simply shrieked and climbed up the tree to the first branch, about ten feet above me. I didn't want to tell him that I doubted that would help. This guy could pull down the tree if he wanted to.
Apparently we weren't interesting enough. I stood very still and watched this titan of snakes disappear into the underbrush. I didn't move. I barely breathed. I stood there a long time, and then with a force of will, I turned my head and looked upward.
"You might as well come back down," I said.
"There is no way I am ever setting foot on that ground," Edmond replied. He sat with his ears back, his tail twitching, and gave a little jump when something made a loud squawk not far away.
"I'll carry you," I said. "Besides, these snakes can climb trees pretty easily --"
He leapt down and landed on my shoulder, digging all his claws in before he tumbled off onto the ground. I yelped and nearly fell, but we managed not to go down.
"Stay close to trees. If you go down, I want a quick escape."
"And what about me?"
"I'll yell a lot and hope something can help."
That sounded like the best plan at this point. I took a step forward, slowly testing the ground. It gave way a little but nothing actually moved. A few steps away from the tree and the ground felt solid. Things moved, but they were small and quiet down here. There was far more noise in the trees above us now.
We were intruders, Edmond and I. We said little, both of us listening for trouble. It would be coming. This was a dangerous place. The creatures that leapt through the trees or flapped across the open spaces were many and loud -- I didn't worry so much about those as the ones we couldn't see, like giant snakes hidden in the shadows. I did keep closer to trees for Edmond's sake and hoped that I'd have a chance to climb as well.
Sometimes I looked up and tried to see the bridge. I was doing my best to head in the same direction, but we had to detour around a swampy area -- snakes again, but not as big as the one we'd first seen, and maybe even crocodiles. Or were they alligators? Caymen? Did it matter at this point? I saw eyes looking out of the muck and mud and simply hurried past. Edmond who had been complaining about the bugs, said nothing at all.
One of them moved through the muck, keeping pace with us. I didn't run. I thought very hard about magic, though, trying to figure out what I could do. I needed protection.
The area was clear over the swamp, though. I looked up and thought I saw the distant bridge. I tried to keep that in mind as I circled around this large area and headed back into the jungle again.
"We'll need to rest soon," Edmond said. He sounded far less exuberant than usual. I felt badly, knowing he had leapt off the bridge to stay with me. How do you thank that kind of loyalty? I'd start by not letting him be dinner for some snake.
"I don't think there's any place safe here, Edmond," I said.
"No, there isn't," he agreed. "But walking around until you're too tired to keep to your feet won't help either of us."
"I want to see a destination," I said. "I want to know we're getting somewhere."
"Maybe we'll see something later," Edmond said. He sounded worried and I wasn't certain why. You need rest before you head off in the wrong direction. Tired humans do odd things. Let's just sit down for a while."
He did have a point. And this area had a little cover but also open spots that let me see if anything was coming our way. I found a boulder that I climbed up on -- Edmond even left my shoulder when he saw nothing sat atop it. It was uneven and uncomfortable, but a slight dip towards the top gave me a place to sit. I brushed the layer of water out and settled in. I was not comfortable, but I was still. Edmond came and settled in my lap.
"We'll get out of this," he said. "We've gotten out of a lot of stuff already."
"You jumped off the bridge to join me. That was crazy, Edmond."
"It was," he agreed. "But I couldn't let you go off alone."
I scratched his neck and back. He purred.
The light never changed, but a slight breeze blew through the area. The insects were more interested in the swamp than in us at the moment, and as we rested, so did most of the creatures around us, no longer protesting our movements through their world. It was not really quiet --
A huge head appeared around the base of a tree across from us. The largest damned snake I had ever seen. It blinked.
"Oh, hello," he said, his voice rumbling and deep.
Then he took a step forward. Yes a step forward. The long neck rose higher than me. The huge legs crushed the ground beneath him.
I'd found the dinosaurs.
To Be Continued. . . .