Short Story - The Jungle
My hands won’t stop shaking.
What were you thinking?
I didn’t do anything. I hide like I did. It all happened so fast. Someone came running by and knocked me over. He stumbled to his feet. Then I saw them chasing him, two men from downtown I had never seen before. They were dressed in navy coats, fingers on triggers like they didn’t want to talk about whatever happened. One was bleeding. I could see a trickle of blood running down his arm and the malice in his grimace. His eyes met mine and it was like I’d done it. I ran once I saw their guns point my way.
Up the street was the person they were chasing. He turned to look at me just as the first bullet hit the brick next to him.
He’s barely got hair on his face.
Young men like him die every day doing what I think he did. There’s not enough food. Not enough water. Not enough of anything. Government shipments come now and again, but they’re never enough. Some disease in the country rotted the supply, they said. We don’t believe them. No one gets to see what they keep for themselves. This youth was just trying to survive by taking what they were keeping from him. He’s got a life ahead of him. Mine is behind me. He turned down an alley as more shots followed. I ran after him.
The alleys of the city are tight. People rot everywhere. The smell was awful when all this started. Now it’s just what we are used to. The men with guns behind me probably weren’t used to it. There’s a red line between us and them. It’s dangerous for them to come this deep into the jungle alone. The people here are angry but afraid. When men like these show up in force with their tanks and armor, we scurry like rats. But if there aren’t enough of them, the jungle’s jaw unhinges and eats them alive. Whatever the boy took, it must be worth it.
“Let me help you!” I yelled, trying to catch up.
My mind became more frantic with each step. The air here is moist and heavy, and I felt it like damp blankets trying to smother me. The walls of the tall, overgrown buildings closed in as though they wanted to bury me. The wires of chain link fences tore into the fabric of my faded jacket like claws. Sweat poured down my face as I took each breath like it would be my last. The young man slid in and out of my vision with every twist and turn in the path. With him too far away, the men focused their fire on me. Debris shot up from the rubble around me, burning my eyes while I struggled to evade them.
We finally emerged from the alleys to a wide street filled with the homeless. The young man ducked in and out of shanty houses and tents until I lost him in the haze of sunlight and shadows. Now it was just me being chased. I rushed through the broken door of an abandoned apartment building and hoped the men wouldn’t find me. Two sets of feet enter the hallway behind. It didn’t work. They’re gonna kill me.
At least they won’t get the boy.
I slow my breathing. It’s the one thing I’m good at. But the hands keep shaking, shaking so loud they scream here I am. My father disappeared on a day like today. Back when things were supposed to be civilized. There never was civilization here in the jungle. Not their civilization. School didn’t teach me much, other than math so I could be a clerk and histories that would help me understand why I grew up in a jungle and would die in a jungle. There was only one good thing when the country died and the red lines were drawn. It became our jungle.
Have courage, I tell my heart. The door creaks open.
Have strength, I tell my legs as I crouch up to move unheard.
Have swiftness, I tell my feet.
They spring to action, and I catch the man across the neck before he can turn and fire. My momentum crashes us both against a wall, and he fires two shots. One hits a window. The next hits his own leg. He groans. I punch him in the jaw and step on his wrist. He releases the gun. I lurch for it, but the door is kicked open by the second man. I dive past the gun and into a bathroom. He fires into the wall, but his shots miss. Hollow clicks follow. He is out of bullets. I hear the groans of the other man, bleeding on the ground. Then, another pair of footsteps. Two more shots. Someone collapses to the ground. The groaning stops. Silence follows.
“Come out,” a younger sounding voice calls.
My heart stops. I stand and turn the corner, my eyes on the ground as the room comes into view. Both of my attackers are dead. The young man stands still in the doorway. His eyes are wide. He is afraid. I wonder if he has had to kill before. I look down at his hand, the one not holding the gun, and see what all this was for. Medicine. I nod at it. He nods back at me. We return to the jungle.