Once they had safely crossed the lake of deadly leeches, the crew walked without further incident until the lowering angle of late afternoon sun reminded them it would soon be time to find shelter. It had been challenging walk. The foliage in places was so thick, it had been necessary for Lapis to walk ahead slashing a path with his sword in order for them to advance. So it was by unanimous consensus when they stopped upon finding a somewhat open space to prepare a meal from the supplies they’d brought from the Indiscretion.
“Gadget,” said Emerson, “why don’t you scrounge around in those bushes over there and see if you can find us enough wood to heat us up a pot of beans.”
“Right away Sir Sir.” Gadget replied running off.
Emerson looked around noticing several incredibly large and robust flowers. “Do you think we might be able to bend some of those plants over to hold up our canvas?” he asked.
Lapis shook his head. “Those stalks are too thick, they’re not going to bend. We could easily tie a rope between two and throw the canvas over top. By the looks of them any two would be more than strong enough to support the weight.
As they busied themselves with the task of setting up camp their moods began to improve dramatically. The cooperative effort of this mission was a bonding experience and though he would never admit it Emerson found himself starting to appreciate Dominic Lapis’s company.
“I have wine.” Junie Ginsburg said excitedly as she pulled a leather wineskin from her pack. The three adults paused to pass the wineskin back and forth amongst themselves as Gadget continued to forage in the bushes.
At the risk of straining the friendly atmosphere Emerson broached a sensitive topic. “It is likely we will encounter Malus’s base sometime tomorrow afternoon.”
The church brother nodded as he took a healthy swallow from Junie’s wineskin before passing it back with a nod of thanks. “That is my thought too. I am ready,” he said, ‘however we are to proceed.”
“You know,” said Emerson, reaching for the wineskin, “I understand that at times Malus can be scathingly derisive in social settings, often rubbing people the wrong way, but I am quite fond of that boy. I would hate to see anyone get hurt.”
“I have no intention of hurting anyone if there are alternatives.” Lapis’s said brusquely, his tone hardening somewhat though not to the point of upsetting the generally positive mood.
“Wait a minute.” said Junie looking around suspiciously. “Sorry to change subjects so quickly but why is it so quiet here?” she asked. Suddenly they were all acutely aware of something they hadn’t noticed before… the silence. Not a single animal, bird, or insect could be heard.
It was Gadget’s unexpected call of alarm that broke the unnatural peace, “Bollocks!” he shouted with a tinge of panic from the edge of the clearing. “This bugger of a dandelion ‘as caught me!”
They looked over to see green tendrils wrapped tightly around Gadget’s ankles pulling him along the ground. Despite the thickness of the trunk, one of the plants had twisted in a disturbingly serpentine manner and bent low to the ground.
Lapis immediately sprung into action reaching for his sword as he ran to Gadget’s assistance. Before he had covered half the distance however, the tendrils from another flower reached out with surprising speed and accuracy tripping him up and leaving him sprawled upon the ground, his sword flying from his hand and landing just beyond his reach.
How fast one’s perspective can change! The flowers, which only moments earlier had appeared so lovely in the rain-forest clearing now took on a menacing countenance. Each plant stood an amazing 4 to 8 feet in height with a stalk as thick as a thigh. They were each topped with an immense double-lobed set of leaves that were thick and stiff, shaped like two shallow elongated bowls. Their colouring was a dark and mottled green on the outside and a deep crimson red on the inside. They were joined at the end nearest the great thick stalk. It looked almost like two hands touching at the base of the palms just before the wrists. Around the perimeter of each they were fringed with finger-like cilia. The effect gave the appearance that each plant was topped with an immense and toothy mouth tipped back and open to the sky.
The fact that they oozed a mucousy slime from between the tooth-like fingers only added to the disturbing aspect.
Emerson and Junie watched with an increasing sense of horror as another of the large plants tipped forward, pulling Lapis to within range of its horrid mouth-like lobed leaves, snapping him up in a single trap-like motion before springing back upright.
It all happened so fast. Before they had a chance to react, both Emerson and Junie felt a sudden and surprisingly solid blow from the side. The trap-like jaws of another large plant caught them both unawares from behind. They felt themselves being squeezed together by the sticky red walls of the interior of the plant’s trapping mechanism.
“Okay,” Emerson called out, “everyone stay calm. It may not be as bad as it seems.”
“Ahhhh!” Gadget’s muffled scream came from inside his own plant trap. “This cabbage is trying to eat me!”
From inside the plant cell in which he and Junie were confined, Emerson felt a light burning in his fingertips where they came into contact with the walls of the plant. Outside he thought he could hear the muffled shouts of men running through the jungle. Something was happening outside. His eyes started to burn from some sort of noxious substance as he tried to process what was happening. He heard a soft thud and then Gadget’s cry of relief as he most profusely thanked somebody.
Emerson was finding it difficult to breathe. The plant continued to constrict, pressing both he and Junie together in a crushing embrace. His lungs burned with each breath he took. He knew he was on the verge of losing consciousness. “Miss Ginsburg…”
“Yes Mr. Lighthouse?” replied Junie, her voice hoarse as she struggled to breathe. She shifted her arms around Emerson to accommodate the shrinking space.
“The situation seems dire and I just want to say, in case this is the end…” he paused to clear his throat.
“Emerson?” Junie choked, their faces now only fractions of an inch apart.
“I just want to say…” he whispered…
Suddenly the plant that was suffocating the life out of them jerked with a violent shudder opening its jaws and dropping them both to the ground.
Somewhat dazed, Emerson looked around. He spotted Gadget none-the-worse for wear not far off but quickly realized that Lapis was missing. Junie, having noted that fact too, joined him in scanning the killer plants. The soldiers who had saved them had chopped down every flower within the area. All of the plants but one lay neatly chopped upon the ground. The one which had held Lapis, unlike the others, appeared as a pulpy mass of destruction. Rather than just a simple clean slice through the trunk it had been utterly destroyed and Lapis was nowhere to be seen. Emerson looked to where he remembered Lapis had dropped his sword, noticing that that too was gone. Emerson cast a glance at Junie who nodded back in understanding.
“Emerson Lighthouse,” the officer in charge of the army called over, “what brings you to the jungle?”
Recognition took hold as Emerson focused on the man who had addressed them. “Mr. McGregor.” he said, recognizing the former chief purser of the Henri Giffard XVI. “How are you sir?”
“I have no mind to be civil to you mister so mind your tongue.” McGregor barked. “Answer me honestly or I will run you through with my sword and leave you for the centipedes.” the man practically spat. “Now I repeat: what brings you in the jungle?”
“It is my honeymoon.” replied Emerson sensing obfuscation to be the appropriate course. “Can’t you see I am here with my lovely bride?” Emerson put his arm around Junie Ginsburg.
“Cor, I didn’t know you was married folk. Now it all makes sense to me. Does Mister Brother know?” he asked “‘Ey…” Gadget looked around. “Where is Mister Brother?”
McGregor narrowed his eyes. “Is there another of you not present here?”
“No sir.” replied Emerson. “The boy misses his brother who returned to the ship with our captain. A tot really, too small to come on this walk.”
“You brought a baby to the Jungle?” the officer sounded incredulous.
“Of course,” replied Emerson losing all pretense of conviction, “you wouldn’t expect us to leave our little bundle of joy at home?”
“The baby is yours?” McGregor clarified.
“Indeed.” nodded Emerson matter of factly.
“What’s its name?” McGregor said quickly, searching for holes with which to trip up Emerson.
“Dominic.” Emerson responded without hesitation.
“Yours?” McGregor snapped rapidly losing his patience.
“Like I said.” Emerson’s tone goading the former purser.
“As would be his brother then…” McGegor pointed to Gadget, “that one who looks to be about nine.”
“Hey, don’t judge.” said Emerson testily.
“Do you take me for a fool? I should strike you for your insolence mister.” said McGregor stepping forward and raising his hand.
“Mr. McGregor!” a familiar voice called out from behind the ranks. “Your manners have just earned you a demotion. Return to camp. You sir, Mr. Moody, you are to assume command for the interim.”
The ranks parted as a tall lanky figure emerged. “Hello Sir Sir.” Malus grinned. “Welcome to my island.”
((I’d like to thank Dominic Lapis, who’s input really shaped the direction of this post, including the title))