01 Feb The Monsters of Belize
This is the official incident report for the events occurring on March 17th during the Belize zip lining shore excursion submitted by Thomas Strickland. The afore mentioned excursion is currently fully endorsed by the cruise line. Itinerary for it states that passengers may begin to disembark from the ship at 7:30 am to convene with their tour group and guide in the port plaza by no later than 8:15 am. From there, passengers travel via bus for approximately 1.5 hours deep into the jungle for a day of zip lining through the canopy of foliage ending at 2 pm to allot time to return to port and reboard by the ship’s departure time of 4 pm. However, on March 17th the tour group for this activity, in its entirety failed to return from the excursion by the specified departure time. As a result, I was dispatched to investigate the disappearances, recover the missing passengers, and assist with boarding the next ship that would be by in two days’ time. Typically, a tour group failing to return is caused by human error, such as a guide losing track of time or neglecting to align their watch to the correct time zone. I departed from the ship and decided to remain in the port plaza for a while to wait in case there was simply a misunderstanding on the hour as there seemed to be no sense in driving the long distance to the zip lining station, if the tour group was merely running behind schedule.
Watching the ship sail out of the port and disappear from sight, I prepared myself to be berated by angry passengers, who undoubtedly would be outraged the ship had left without them with all their belongings aboard. It would be nonstop apologizing on behalf of the cruise line once the passengers arrived. Yelling and screaming directed at me as if I were to blame as I cordially, vehemently apologized until the next ship came to the rescue. Alas, this is my profession and it pays well, especially considering incidents such as this are rare and sparse. I grabbed a drink from a bar in the port and tried to call the tour guide’s satellite phone for the fifth time. Yet again there was no answer. This was peculiar as it is protocol for tour guides to always answer their phones. I speculated that perhaps their phone had been damaged or lost during the excursion. If it was their only means of tracking time, it could also explain the late return. I continued to wait at the bar until 5 pm local time. There was still no sign of the tour group. Sighing, I called for a ride dreading that I would have to venture into the bug infested jungle to look into the matter further. The majority of the ride to the station doesn’t pertain to my investigation. I did note at the time that the closer we drew to the outpost, the denser the jungle foliage became. I watched the scenery fly past my window as vast, golden straw fields spanning until the world curved out of sight began to grow small, fan leaved plants that slowly stretched towards the sky and became so compacted that daylight barely shone between them. The turn off the main road to begin the drive down the bumpy unmaintained road of the station was covered in jungle canopy. It was as if someone had once carved a tunnel through the trees and vines that intertwined with one another into a mass of verdure for the road. An occasional rogue branch would forcibly brush the side of the car jolting me from my daydream. It was noticeably darker on the dirt road as sunlight was mostly obscured by the thick vegetation. We arrived at the barren station and I immediately exited the cab to stretch my legs. The ride hadn’t been terribly unpleasant, only long and quiet as my driver didn’t speak much English. My driver also exited the vehicle, surveying the deserted station with trepidation. He said something in his native tongue, which I didn’t understand, but I felt the sentiment it conveyed. What happened here? There were no staff members, tourists, or the slightest signs of life nearby. The station appeared to be completely abandoned. “Hellooooo?” I yelled to which there was no response. Listening carefully, I heard absolutely nothing, not even an insect stirring. I entered the main building to begin looking for clues as to what had transpired. Several chairs were overturned and an old outdated computer monitor lay in a broken heap on the ground. The stone receptionist counter not only consisted of the same materials as the rest of the building but was also inlaid into the floor. A scattered array of notebook pages containing furiously scribbled words and red smudges adorned the counter and surrounding floor. After taking several moments to arrange them in order, I discovered what had transpired. They read as follows: “If you’re reading this, I’m probably dead. I’ve been hiding here for hours now and no one’s come to help. The blood loss is making me feel woozy but I managed to stop most of the bleeding from my leg by tying part of my zip lining harness around it as a tourniquet. I fear it won’t make much a difference now, though. Outside of my sanctuary, I can hear the monsters roving around, waiting for me to leave. I have to do something to distract myself, so I’m writing this. Lying in wait for my imminent death is too much to bear. Maybe someone will come to rescue me before it’s too late. If not, at least this will pass the time and hopefully someone will find this so my family can find out what happened to me. My name is Bethany (last name withheld). Please tell my parents how much I love them and please tell my little sister that I’m sorry I was so cruel to her in not letting her come on vacation with us. Seeing as how things turned out, though, I’m glad I didn’t. It was just supposed to be one last adventure with my best friends celebrating our graduation from college, before having to be adults functioning in the real world and I wanted to let loose. I’m sorry Bug! I didn’t mean to make you feel like I didn’t love you or want you around. The rest of the cruise was super fun and I wish you could’ve been there, up until today. This morning everything seemed so normal. The four of us woke up in our ocean view suite, groggy from the previous late night of partying in the ship’s club, but we were excited for our last shore excursion of zip lining, even if it meant we had to get up early. We fought over the bathroom and single mirror in the room, but we all managed to shower and get ready in time. Like zombies, we dragged ourselves down to the lowest level of the ship to exit onto the dock. Right as we were about to step off, I noticed I was still clutching my coffee. Quickly, I chugged it and left the cup behind on the ship. I regretted having to leave it somewhere completely out of the ordinary for housekeeping to discover but there was little else I could do. We filed into the port and were revitalized with excitement. I inhaled the marvelous smell of clean sea air and with wondrous eyes beheld the beauty of the tropical fauna. Admiring the colorful little shops selling shirts and various trinkets, I hoped we would have some time after the excursion to grab souvenirs. Courtney, Amber and Jessie seemed to be as invigorated as I was. Excitedly, we convinced another individual from the ship to take a picture of us doing our squad pose in front of the large Belize welcome sign. Laughing at ourselves for being such obvious tourists we thanked our fellow passenger and headed toward the rendezvous point for the zip line tour. Our tour guide was a fun local. She shared insight into the culture and regaled us with hilarious anecdotes of past tour groups on our ride to the zip line station. The bus we were packed into bounced with each bump in the road with a loud clanking sound and jarring motion. The bus’s shocks had likely gone out long ago, but I enjoyed the more authentic feel of the ride. I watched out the window as we passed by dwellings covered in bars and surrounded with iron fences. This must be the nice part of town, I thought. We passed by several children in matching uniforms walking to school. A man stood on a street median holding up bundles of bananas for sale. Soon, the buildings and houses were replaced with fields, which were soon overgrown with trees and vines coexisting perfectly with one another. “I think we’re getting close!” Amber said with sparkling eyes. “This is gonna be awesome!” Courtney chimed from the seat behind Amber and me. “Beth, take a pic!” Jessie insisted passing her phone up to me. I squeezed closer to Amber and held my arm as high as I could in order to get everyone in the photo. I turned the phone around to see what I had taken. Courtney and Jessie stood up leaning over our seat to judge the picture as well. “Perfect!” Jessie said satisfied, taking her phone back. We turned off the main road onto a little dirt path and the bus started to thrash, throwing us all around. Feeling relief as we came to a stop, the four of us jumped off the bus ready for today’s endeavor. “Well I’m awake now,” I sarcastically indicated. My friends laughed and nodded in assent. “Yeah, there really should be seatbelts on a bus like that. I’ve been on rollercoasters that jerk you around less,” Courtney remarked. “Rollercoasters at least have safety bars,” Jessie added. “Come on, we should get in line! Everyone else is already ahead of us,” Amber pointed out waving towards the hoard of people waiting.
We took our place in line and talked about how excited we were to be zip lining, how much fun the cruise had been, and how sad we were that it was about to end. Soon we would return to the busy rat race of life.
“I wish the cruise didn’t have to end and we could stay on vacation forever,” Amber solemnly stated.
“I know!” Courtney agreed, “Wouldn’t it be nice to just live on a cruise ship and see the world while doing rad things?”
Amber appeared to have something weighing heavily on her mind. In an effort to cheer her up I said, “We should do this again in a few years! Once we settle in to our new jobs and save up, we should have a reunion girls’ trip!”
“Yes! Totally!” Courtney agreed.
“Yeah,” Amber quietly said almost as a sigh.
“What’s wrong?” I finally inquired.
“It’s just…..” Amber began then hesitated.
“Just what?” Jessie asked in concern.
“That you’re moving to Seattle and Courtney’s taking that job in New York. We’re never going to see each other. Then there will be husbands and families. Beth will meet a nice girl and settle down. Our lives are going to grow apart after this. I’m sad because I know this will be our last adventure together,” Amber blurted out. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to ruin our last day,” she concluded rubbing the tears that were forming away. She didn’t have much in the way of family back home. Over the years of school together, we had become her family. She had even joined me at my parents’ house for Christmas last year. My folks welcomed her with open arms and my little sister was glad to have another person to play games with.
I placed my arms on her shoulders and reassured, “Hey now, we’re always going to be friends. It’s true we may grow apart somewhat, but we’ll never lose touch. Right?” I asked glancing at the other two.
“Of course!” Jessie answered patting Ambers back.
“BFF’s till we die beotches!” Courtney chimed in squeezing us together for a group hug.
After the embrace, Amber was smiling again. “Thanks guys,” she said wiping away the remaining tears. We continued to wait in line and steered the conversation away from going home and towards how excited we were for the zip line.
“Have any of you zip lined before?” Courtney asked. We all responded no and she continued, “Oh, it’s so much fun! This one sounds even better than the ones I’ve gone on. Seven zip lines in a row!”
“What do you mean?” Jessie asked.
“Well usually there are only a couple lines to zip across, but this one has seven! There’s a little bit of walking between a couple of them I think, but it’s mostly zip, land on a platform, and zip again.” Courtney motioned waving her finger from one spot to another for emphasis. She had been the one to pick this excursion, hence knowing the most about it. Each of the four of us picked an excursion for the group. Amber choose swimming with dolphins, Jessie picked deep sea snorkeling, and I decided we would explore Mayan ruins, which ended up being an all day hike around the outside of some pyramids rather than getting to explore the inside like Lara Croft but we still enjoyed it. All in all, it had been an amazing trip none of us would forget.
Finally, we made it to the front of the line where a happy instructor fitted our gear and went over the safety precautions. We were each given a harness, gloves and a helmet to wear for the duration of the event, including the half mile hike straight uphill to the first line. Wearing it was easier than carrying it, but the harness was uncomfortable and rode up my shorts. The instructor informed us that we didn’t need to worry about braking, since it was done automatically when we got close to the end of the line, where a staff member would catch us and hook us up to the next line. He also warned us to tuck our knees in before landing to prevent injury. He then told us to begin our journey up the hill whenever we were ready and concluded with, “And most importantly, have a great time.”
I wandered over to the cooler for some water while my friends applied bug spray and adjusted their gear. Little did they know, but I was terrified of heights. Only my parents and sister knew of my secret fear, which they thoroughly enjoyed teasing me about. Freaking out quietly, I filled the paper cup with the cool liquid and downed it. “You can do this,” I reassured myself in a breathy whisper. I refilled my cup and sipped the hydration. Glancing at my friends, I confirmed they were still preoccupied. I looked to the jungle surrounding me. The greenery was thick and beautiful. Ivy and vines twisted around tree trunks and branches. It was incredibly peaceful. My peace was soon interrupted by a staff member.
“Hey! How are you?” He asked in a thick accent.
“Good,” I timidly answered possessing a strong dislike of strangers. “How are you?”
“It’s another beautiful day!” He declared as he outspread his arms. Smiling, he then asked, “Are you out here by yourself?”
It may have been a cultural difference but the question sent a warning alarm blaring in my mind. I answered, “No, I’m with my friends.” His brow furrowed with displeasure. I quickly chugged my remaining water, tossed my cup, and added, “I should get back to them,” as I hurried away.
I rejoined the group and Jessie asked, “Ready?”
“Yeah,” I slowly said, “Did you guys see that?”
“What, you talking to a local hottie? Yeah. Too bad for him, he chose the wrong one of us,” Courtney answered laughing.
“No, he was really creepy,” I corrected.
“Look, just because a guy’s hitting on you doesn’t mean he’s a creep, lezbo,” Courtney fired back still laughing at her own antics.
I glanced over and he remained by the water cooler staring at me in the same way I suppose a hungry wolf eyes a tasty sheep. Deciding the quickest way out of the situation was to drop the matter I said, “Yeah, yeah. Let’s go.” Leading the way up the steep incline, my harness chaffed the inside of my thighs. I sincerely regretted not wearing longer shorts or pants like Jessie had, but it was so hot and humid and it never occurred to me that it could be problematic.
Soon the first platform came within view. A staff member sent the last person in front of us off and they screamed in terror across the line. I then realized I shouldn’t be the first of us to go. “So, Courtney, you’re gonna show us how it’s done, right, Ms. Pro Zip Liner?” I teased.
“Duh!” she answered passing me at the base of the few stairs to mount the platform. Trying to be as subtle as possible, I hesitated motioning for the other two to pass me as well. Jessie nodded politely and Amber curtsied seeming to be none the wiser. Courtney was clipped in and sent off proclaiming, “Whoo!” as she zipped on to the next platform. Once there, she turned around and waved to us with an ecstatic smile showing all her teeth.
Jessie was next. By the time she left the first platform, Courtney had already disappeared from the second. There didn’t seem to be adequate room for more than two people to be on that platform, including the attendant. Amber was sent down the line meaning it would be my turn next. I slowly approached the edge of the platform peering down at the plummet to certain death. Looking up, I caught sight of Amber smiling and waving from the second platform so I reciprocated feigning excitement.
“Ready?” the smiling attendant asked.
Amber had already disappeared. I took a couple deep breaths before hesitantly answering, “Yeah.” Instantly, I was shoved off the platform and sent flying down the line. I shamelessly screamed and laughed all at once, probably sounding like I was insane. This would be an accurate assumption as I was insane with fear. Soaring across the canopy was exhilarating, yet terrifying. My heart was beating so rapidly in my chest I thought it would burst. I approached the second platform and slowed a bit as the braking system engaged. Recalling the instructor’s words, I picked up my feet just before I slammed into the staff member, who caught me. He seemed used to being hit with that kind of force, barely rocking in place. I briefly wondered about the alleged braking system, thinking that it left much to be desired.
“How was it?” the attendant asked me.
A huge smile swept across my face as I answered, “Awesome!” I was glad to be facing my fear in the most exciting fashion but I was already nervous for the next zip.
“Ready to go again?” He asked, while clipping me onto the second line.
I followed the chord with my eyes but it disappeared into the canopy and the third platform was hidden from view. Silently, I reassured myself and nodded my head confirming, “Ready.”
Again, I was sent soaring amongst the greenery of the jungle, this time actually entering into it. A few brave trees attempted to retake the path of the zip line, twisting towards it. Leaves grazed my feet and arms as I flew past. I tucked my feet up towards my chest for fear of them getting snagged on a branch. Soon, the next landing came within view, but something was terribly wrong. Courtney laid on the floor of the platform with Jessie crouching down next to her. Amber stood as a sentry until she noticed me, then yelled to Jessie and hoisted her up. They poised themselves looking like umpires ready to catch me. Automatically slowing slightly, I braced myself. I crashed into them, but thankfully they prevented me from colliding into the tree that the zip line was anchored into. Amber managed to stay on her feet, but Jessie fell, landing beside Courtney.
“Thanks,” I gratefully said, standing on my feet. Jessie rolled to her knees wincing and outstretched one of her legs. Her attention returned to Courtney. “Is she okay?” I asked worried about the severity of her condition.
“She’s been out cold since I got here a few minutes ago,” Jessie answered without looking up from checking Courtney’s vitals.
Amber fidgeted with my clips as she tried to unhook me saying, “Yeah it took us a while to unclip me. We were afraid you would crash into me. Then we were scared you weren’t coming at all.”
“Where’s the staff for this platform?” I asked the question with the obvious answer, since the four of us were crammed onto the tiny platform alone.
After a brief silence, Jessie sighed and Amber answered, “We don’t know.” Her voice shook as she struggled to remain calm.
“Courtney was the only one here when I got here and well……”Jessie’s voice trailed off as she gently slapped Courtney’s face.
“We need to get help!” I urged on the verge of panicking.
“How? Our phones don’t work out here and there’s no one around,” Jessie stated irritably. Most likely she had already had the same conversation with Amber moments ago, but I had missed it.
I glanced around us, brainstorming ideas. We were still a long ways away from the ground. There were some large tree trunks and branches within reach, but I was no climber. I followed the third line visually, which lead to an abandoned platform. I scanned the area surrounding the fourth landing and noticed there were stairs going down to the side of it. Maybe there was another way down or at least solid ground, which I would prefer immensely in contrast to a rickety platform suspended in the air supported only by the trunk of a tree.
Courtney stirred with a groan. “Oh my god! Are you okay?” was heard amongst the group as we crowded around her.
Perplexed she slowly asked, “What….happened?”
Jessie brushed Courtney’s blonde bangs aside revealing a large red mark down the side of her temple, where her helmet could not protect, and concluded, “It looks like you hit your head pretty good, probably on this tree.” She smacked the sturdy trunk for emphasis.
“Oh,” was all Courtney said, clearly still dazed from the encounter. She put her hand down to push herself up. The moment she put pressure on it, she retracted it as her face twisted in pain and she sucked in a quick breath through gritted teeth. She lifted her hand for examination. “Shit!” she gasped seeing that it was blue and swollen.
“Oh damn!” Jessie said, “You must’ve put your hand up to shield yourself. It looks broken,” she paused thoughtfully for a moment and continued, “We should probably wrap it in a sling.”
“With what?” I asked peering around the barren platform.
“Uh….” Jessie looked around as well. Sighing, she stripped off her tank top answering, “With this.” She carefully wrapped Courtney’s arm in the makeshift sling to prevent further injury. “There,” she said when finished.
“Now what?” Amber inquired.
“Now, we get down and find help,” Jessie answered, her voice betraying that she realized the task was easier said than done.
“But how?” Amber seemed more frightened with each passing second.
“There’s only one way,” I stated matter-of-factly.
Amber looked to the zip line and then back to Courtney questioning, “But how is she supposed to….”
“She’s gonna need our help,” Jessie interrupted, standing up. She winced and leaned her weight to one side.
“Are you okay?” I asked with growing concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Jessie claimed. Noticing the worry the group continued to share for her, she explained, “When I came down the line, Courtney was still hanging from it knocked out. So to avoid crushing her, I caught my leg on the bottom of the platform to stop. It hurts, but I’ll live.” Jessie was unquestionably the toughest amongst us. I envied her resilience.
“We should take a look real quick,” I suggested, since Jessie was the only one of us smart enough to wear pants, which hid her injury.
“No, it’s fine,” Jessie reaffirmed stoically, “Besides, nothing can be done about it till we find help. Let’s just focus on getting down.”
“Okay, what do we do?” Amber asked wide-eyed.
We all looked to Jessie, the born leader among us, who answered, “Okay. Amber, Beth you two are going to have to go before Courtney. Whoever goes first, try to hit the tree with the side of your body. That will probably do the least amount of damage. Keep your arms and legs tucked in. Then, you can help stop whoever goes next. After you two go, I’ll clip Courtney in and send her down. The two of you should be able to catch her so she doesn’t get hurt more. Courtney, try to give them your good side.” Courtney nodded in acknowledgement. “All right, we can do this! Who’s going first?” Her feigned enthusiasm was anything but contagious.
I looked at the terrified Amber and then down the drop of doom. Knowing it had to be me, I volunteered, “I’ll go.” Relief briefly washed over Amber’s expression. I clipped onto the line, took a deep breath, and then an idea occurred to me. Without another thought or word, I grabbed onto the line with my gloved hands and swung my legs up.
“No, wait!” someone yelled, but it was too late. I had already begun to slide myself on my legs, pushing hand over hand. The sharp cord sliced through my calf like it was butter and I released my grip entirely, sending me whizzing along the line, bleeding all the way. I approached the fourth platform and held my breath, tensing my entire body for the impact. As I slowed slightly, I twisted my body sideways and collided into the tree. The violent contact sent a crack up my spine, but other than a good bruise and a slashed calf, I was fine. I unclipped myself before standing and fell onto the unforgiving wooden floor.
“Are you okay?” one of my friends yelled to me. I wheezed for a moment trying to regain the breath, which apparently had been knocked out of me. Sitting up, I raised a thumb to signal that I was all right, or at least alive. Slowly, I got to my feet and leaned against the tree, ignoring the warm blood trailing down my leg. Barely audible murmurings could be heard from the previous platform.
“Come on, Amber! I got you!” I yelled. I could feel the heightened concern emanating from the third landing, but out of ulterior options, Amber was convinced to clip on and jump. She speedily zipped towards me. Once she was close enough for the brakes to attempt to slow her, I could see she had her eyes tightly sealed shut. I endeavored to catch her like and oversized football but more like a bowling ball, she knocked me on my ass. My head dangled over the edge of the terrace and I thanked whatever deity was watching over me. Amber appeared completely unscathed. She quickly unclipped herself and helped me up.
“Oh shit, Beth! Your leg!”
“I’ll be fine,” I insisted, refusing to see it for myself. There was no time to argue, so Amber dropped the matter.
We poised ourselves, ready to catch Courtney. When she hit the brakes, she turned left to protect her injured right wrist, heeding Jessie’s advice. Together, Amber and I caught her without incident. Courtney took a step down towards the stairs to give us room. Faint rustling came from the jungle beyond. I dismissed it as unimportant and prepped for Jessie’s descent. Successfully, we also caught her without further injuries.
Once Jessie had unclipped, Amber asked, her green eyes wide with fright, “What’s next?”
“The fastest way down would be the zip lines,” Jessie sighed.
“What about the stairs?” I interjected hopefully.
“The stairs just go to the next zip line,” Courtney answered, staring into the jungle as the sounds of rustling grew louder.
“I don’t know how many more I can take and we’re not even halfway done,” I pleaded.
“It’ll still be easier than walking back,” Jessie insisted.
“Guys?” Courtney tried getting our attention.
“We can’t be that far away,” I protested.
“Guys?” Courtney repeated a little louder.
“We wouldn’t even know which way to go!” Jessie argued. Amber remained silent like the youngest sister who knew better than get involved in the elder siblings quarrel.
“Guys!” Courtney yelled.
“What?” Jessie and I asked simultaneously.
“Do you hear that?” Courtney asked. Her face was pale from dismay. We quietly listened as the sounds of leaves and twigs crushing under the weight of something approached. Dread blanketed us all like snow covering a mountain top. A low growl erupted from the thicket and we knew it was time to go.
We followed the stairs down and around to the next zip line as fast as we could in our collectively injured state. Each step of my right foot produced a tinge of pain and a disconcerting sloshing sound as a result of the blood pooling in my boot. The sickening feeling of it squishing between my toes made me want to vomit. I forcibly pushed the thought aside and kept my eyes trained on my destination. Amber arrived at the line first and before I could protest, she clipped on and jumped. She disappeared into the canopy, which obfuscated the next landing. The growling grew louder and a surge of adrenaline overtook me. I clipped on and jumped, hoping Amber had enough time to get out of the way. I barreled down the line. The next platform came into view, and I caught sight of Amber struggling with her clip. The brakes engaged as she managed to unclip and fell to the floor. I twisted sideways and slammed into the tree, at the last second also catching a glimpse of Courtney en route. Amber jumped to her feet and reached for my clip. “Catch Courtney!” I redirected. I was unable to detach from the line in time. Courtney and Amber smashed me into the tree. Amber did soften the blow, somewhat, but the frail girl wasn’t able to stop her by herself. I finally unclipped, standing on my feet. Attentively, I watched the line for Jessie as Amber assisted Courtney.
A minute passed and there was no sign of Jessie. As we waited impatiently, Courtney started to cry. I screamed Jessie’s name across the jungle, but there was no reply. Courtney sobbed louder. Amber wrapped a comforting arm around her, seeming to be mostly in a state of shock blankly staring at the empty zip line. I screamed her name again and again to the point I thought my throat would bleed from the exertion. Only silence replied to my pleas. I fell to my knees and unabashedly cried my eyes out. Amber and Courtney joined me on the floor. The three of us huddled together on the wooden planks and mourned our friend, who had always been there for us. Jessie consistently had a shoulder to cry on, held our hair back in the bathroom when we drank too much at parties, and always knew what to say to cheer us up when life was tumultuous. She was like an older sister looking out for us. We all loved her dearly. My heart ached. The loss was unbearable. We remained that way, crying and holding each other until we once again heard the barely audible rustling.
“We’ve got to move,” I scarcely managed between sobs. Courtney shook her head and buried her face in my shoulder. “Amber you’re gonna have to catch Courtney again, okay?” I gingerly asked. She sniffled and nodded in response.
Amber clearly understood the urgency of our predicament. She stood, clearing her eyes of the myriads of tears. She clipped and jumped, almost in one fluid motion. I forced the still bawling Courtney to her feet and clipped her in, shoving her without warning as the familiar growling ensued. My cheeks were soaked in tears, but I was too emotionally numb to care. I clipped onto the line and peeked behind me at a mouthful of fangs and razor sharp claws reaching for me as I jumped, narrowly escaping the gruesome fate one of my best friends had just succumbed to. Worse yet, it was my fault. I had to be so damn argumentative. If I had only trusted her instincts, which had proven time and time again to be spot on, and headed to the next zip line, she’d still be alive.
The bogus braking system, which left much to be desired, barely slowed me down before I crashed into Amber, who thankfully saved me from the tree. She sucked air in through clenched teeth as she clutched her shoulder with her opposite arm. As I detached myself like a professional I asked, “What’s wrong?”
She tried unsuccessfully to force a smile and answered, “I’m fine, my shoulder just hurts a little and my arms kind of numb. I hit it pretty hard this time and something popped.” Her left arm hung limply at her side.
Instantly, I knew and I think even she knew it was dislocated. Asking myself WWJD, what would Jessie do, I stripped off my tank top and made her a sling like Courtney’s. “Just to be safe you probably shouldn’t move it. We’re almost back to the base, where someone can take a look at it,” I said with a reassuring smile. I paused to contemplate our next move as all three of us were now injured. What would Jessie do? I thought, feeling lost without her leadership. I could feel the blood drying and caking on my leg and took that as a good sign, but I still refused to examine it. Amber was right handed and her left was the useless one, so she could help Courtney, who had broken her good hand, and also clip herself onto the line. I would have to go first and catch them, since both my arms were fine. Knowing the plan, I shared, “All right, so I’ll go first. Amber help Courtney. I’ll catch her and then you. Make sure you spin to your good sides, okay?”
They both agreed to understand and I took off down to the next platform. I detached, landed and briefly glanced down the last line to safety. We were so close, a hill even begun to emerge under this landing. Solid ground was within sight. The hill wasn’t necessarily close enough to jump to and was steep enough to warrant tripping and rolling down, even if we could. Unfortunately, the zip line was still the safest option.
The rustling sound resumed behind me right before I caught Courtney. This thing was fast and intelligent. Not only had it kept up with us but it followed me to the landing we all had to pass through. Could there be more than one? “Come on!” I urged Amber to hurry. I caught her as well. Then clipped and jumped without a second thought.
One last tree was on my collision course. To save my left side, which was undoubtedly bruised beyond recognition at this point, I turned to use my right, completely forgetting about my gashed calf until I felt the impact force blood to gush from my wound down my leg like the water of Niagara Falls. I detached and turned to face my friends. Amber was clearly panicking and therefore struggling with Courtney’s clip. She glanced behind her and shoved Courtney from the landing as a brownish blur tackled her out of sight. I can still hear Amber’s screams mixed with Courtney’s as she plunged to the hill below and tumbled down. In her panic, Amber failed to secure Courtney’s clip.
I ran towards my rolling friend, but I froze as the terrifying monster that had been stalking us leapt in front of me snarling. Courtney came to a halt and lay motionless. To my everlasting shame, I slowly backed away. The creature lowered its head releasing a shrill scream and I knew it was about to pounce. I bolted, running faster than I knew was possible, oblivious to the bloodletting from my open wound. I rushed, purely fueled by adrenaline, into the main building and barely managed to lock myself in a storage closet. I could hear the monster lurking outside the door, rummaging and tracking my scent, the sweet scent of my alluring blood. That must’ve been what attracted it to us and why it was so easy to track us. My friends are dead because of my stupidity and stubbornness, but I’ll be with them soon.
No help is coming. It’s probably better this way. No one else needs to die because of me and the enticing scent I’m exuding. I finally looked at my leg. I tied part of my harness around as a tourniquet. It’s what Jessie would have done. I don’t think it matters, though. The gash is deep. It goes all the way to the bone. Who knew? It’s doesn’t hurt anymore. Nothing hurts anymore, except my heart. I’m so tired, but I have to leave these pages where someone will find them. Please tell my family I love them, and tell them I’m not afraid of heights anymore, but I am mortified of pumas.”
The notes end here. I shuddered as my satellite phone vibrated in my pocket. Answering it, it was explained to me that the attendant on the fourth landing watched as a puma, also known as a mountain lion, attacked the staff member on the third platform, where the second line ended. He fled via the zip line, informing the other attendants on his way down. They all panicked and fled in the same fashion to the base of the station. The tour guide struggled to contain the fear that abundantly spread amongst the tourists. In the chaos that followed, she dropped her satellite phone, which was trampled beyond repair. She managed to usher everyone back to the bus and they fled to the city to inform the authorities and contact the cruise line, in that order. All but four guests seemed to be accounted for.
Ending the call, I looked around the interior of the main building in which I was standing. I noticed a trail of bloody footsteps leading behind the counter where I had found the notebook pages. I followed the trail to a sealed door. I tried to open it, but it was locked. Pounding on the door, I called Beth’s name, but there was no answer. After several attempts of ramming the door with my shoulder, I succeeded in breaking it down, revealing a storage closet that was barren, except for a pool of blood and the remnants of a tattered notebook. I checked around the station for the missing passengers, but found nothing else of note.
I returned to the city to assist the remaining passengers, who I had lost empathy for due to my discoveries earlier. After asking several locals, it appears that the heavy deforestation in the area has eliminated much of the puma’s natural prey and led to an increase of puma attacks on people, especially in the vicinity of the zip line station. In my professional opinion, this excursion should be removed from the endorsed excursions list. I am also requesting a leave of absence to visit the family of Bethany (last name withheld) to inform them of her last wishes.