Eight European men, clad in exploration gear, covered in sweat, and breathing heavy, came to a cliff. All but three sat down. A vantage point meant a break, as the leaders of their group would decide their next move.
“Here we are,” Vasco said to his disciples.
In front of them was a sheet of green, coating the tops of trees. From their vantage point they looked at the canopy of this jungle, and all of them could tell that it allowed no light to touch the forest floor.
“We’re going in there?” Keller said, “Do we need to? Right now?”
Keller rubbed where his left eye used to be. It had been removed since their run-in with a local tribe. Things had gotten violent too quickly for the explorers to react, and his eye had been slashed. Without proper medical attention, it was decided that amputation would be necessary.
“Accept your luck, Keller,” Gama shoved past his comrade.
“Easy for you to say. You still have both your eyes,” Keller grumbled.
“Ready the torches. We’re going in as far as we can. We’ll make more tomorrow,” Vasco ordered.
Keller, Gama, Vasco, and five uneasy men gingerly made their way down the cliff, into the blackness of the jungle.
Once they were on even ground, the torches were lit, and Vasco made observations about the earth.
He leaned down, sniffing like a dog. He crumbled it in his hand, and then tasted it.
Keller looked into the dark, still rubbing his makeshift eyepatch.
“It’s untouched. For a long time. We are treading on Gaia’s own refuge, men!” Vasco roused.
There was some light rabble. No one was as excited as he was. Keller’s lost eye was only one in five violent and miserable experiences they had faced in their excursion.
Poisonous creatures yet to be identified, angry tribes, treacherous footing, and everyone’s favorite; trench foot.
“Alright,” Gama roused further, “Be on the lookout for anything. Especially anything man-made.”
He took a step towards one of the men; this one was distracted by bird flying overhead.
Gama grabbed at his collar and growled, “Look. Up. This time.”
Although John was indeed looking up at that moment, it had been his duty one day to be the eyes in the canopy. Snakes, spiders, and all manner of predators could drop from above. He had not been vigilant, and large predator had snagged the rear guard.
Gama let the man go, and John swallowed.
“Let’s go,” Vasco said.
The eight ventured into the heart of the jungle. Torchlight barely touched the trees, which were wider than a house by a large margin. The spaces in between were covered in roots and wet earth.
As they marched, it was evident that they were the only things making noise.
Vasco signaled for them to stop. The line halted, and some of the men took out their flintlock pistols. Gama knew better than to trust a gun in this damp place; he unsheathed his saber.
“No noise,” Vasco said.
Labored breathing and torch flame were the only noises that anyone could hear.
“Vasco…” Keller whined.
“Shhh,” Vasco silenced him.
They waited, listening. Nothing happened.
“Vasco, we should leave,” Keller said.
“Why did you agree to this venture, you coward?” Gama spat.
“I…I can’t remember. But this. This is alien. I don’t like it,” Keller whined.
“You’re an explorer! Act like it!” Vasco scolded.
“I have to go, I have to leave,” Keller began breaking down.
He took a couple steps away from the group, hyperventilating.
“Keller, you get back here!” Gama shouted.
“I have to leave. The silence. It’s too much,” Keller grasped at the left side of his head, stumbling over roots.
“Keller!” Vasco yelled.
Gama waded his way towards the retreating Keller, and after only a few steps there was a scream.
Spindly, rubbery, and white appendages grabbed Keller from the unseen canopy, pulling him upwards. The men followed him with their horrified glances until Keller’s torch fell from his hands.
It fell ten feet, back to the earth. The scream was silenced.
The men stared at the burning torch. It sat between roots. They gathered closer. Each of them stumbling over the poor footing and each other’s feet.
“Alright! Alright!” Gama spat, pushing at the men to get a small amount of space.
“We stick together, and we leave,” Vasco swallowed.
“Aye,” Gama nodded, squinting at the forest canopy.