Something was following him. He was certain of it. The strident chattering of monkeys in the dense, green canopy overhead had abruptly ceased, and an eerie quiet pervaded the jungle. A determined gleam came into Nick’s watchful eyes, and he tightened his grip on the gun in his hand.
He was on an urgent mission to deliver needed medicines to the mission compound deep in the inner jungle, and he was not going to let anything stop him. There was an epidemic of sickness raging in the village near the mission, and they were depending on his delivery of the antidote. He knew this area better than anyone else, and he wasn’t afraid of its lurking dangers.
A twig snapped softly behind him, and he stopped still on the path to listen again. “Who’s there? Come out where I can see you!”
No one answered, so he moved cautiously on, glancing from side to side every few moments. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with a ragged bit of cloth and licked his parched lips. Man! Even though it’s still early morning, the jungle is already steaming. Maybe I should stop for a drink. Nick took a long, satisfying gulp from the canteen slung over his shoulder.
At that moment, a slight movement in the shadowy underbrush a few yards from the path caught his eye. He was being stalked, and he was tired of waiting to see who or what it was. He lifted his rifle, cocked it, sighted, and fired to the side of where he saw the leaves rustling. There was a frightened snarl, and the glimpse of a large, striped cat’s lithe body, as it bounded away into the deeper forest.
Nick grinned with pride as he lowered his gun. “That sure scared him! I bet he won’t be back for a while!”
A spotted snake, tongue flicking in and out rapidly, wriggled across the path directly in front of him, but he paid little notice of it. Instead, he tuned his ear to the increasing roar of the nearby falls and the roiling river at its base. “I’ll find a way across. I’m going to get this medicine to the doctor before night,” he said aloud with confidence.
Approaching the river, Nick sized up the situation before him. The waters slapped forcefully against jagged, submerged rocks in their headlong rush down the rather steep incline. There was no bridge, and a raft could not be managed here. Nick glanced appraisingly around the riverbank and spied a long, sturdy vine hanging from an overhanging tree limb. He jerked on it to test its strength, and then backed up, stretching it taut, before launching himself over the edge. He landed firmly on the other side of the waters and then let the vine swing back. Nick felt for the precious package he carried and smiled to find it was still secure.
The burning sun-ball rose higher in the sky and golden rays filtered down through the leafy trees. Curious monkeys climbed and swung on branches overhead, staring at him and scolding rapidly in their native tongue. The sharp cries of multi-hued birds calling back and forth filled the air as Nick hurried on, intent upon his life-saving task.
Sometime later, he heard the welcome shout of a human voice. Ah-ha! Someone has spotted me coming down the path, and they are calling the villagers to gather at the mission house. The shout came again, and he was sure this time that he heard his own name. Through the bushes he saw a woman’s figure framed in the dark doorway of one of the larger huts, peering in his direction.
“Nicholas! I see you back there behind the lilac bush! You come in right now! Your lunch is ready, and it’ll be getting cold!”
When Mama spoke in that decided tone, Nick knew she meant business and he’d better hurry in and wash his hands. He took one more quick swing on the old tire hanging from a rope on their backyard maple tree as he ran toward the kitchen door. His playful striped kitten Tiger bounced at his heels.
“After lunch, I think I might explore the North Pole. Tiger, you can be my sled dog!” he promised.
Just before entering the house, Nick glanced back at the large shady backyard where he’d had so much fun all morning.
Is that a polar bear peeking out around the shed…uh, I mean around the IGLOO over there?
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