“This is what you get for listening to your hormones,” she growled to herself. Rolling her eyes, she loudly proclaimed in a mocking falsetto, “Oh, Astrid! It will be so romantic! Just follow that gorgeous, complete stranger to some god-forsaken jungle teeming with all manner of dangerous creatures, and I’m sure all of your most depraved sexual fantasies will come true. Take a chance for once in your boring, little life!”
She let out a strangled sob. What could have possessed her? On impulse, she had followed the excruciatingly sexy man who would have looked equally at home at a surf competition or behind the wheel of a Maserati. He was polished, but with a dangerous, wild aura, as if he were not only up for anything, but prepared to lead the way straight to Orgasm City. If he had introduced himself as “Bond, James Bond” she wouldn’t have been surprised at all. In fact, she probably would have responded with a heartfelt, panty-soaked, plea to be allowed to stroke his 9mm semi-automatic.
But none of those things came to pass. Instead, she had boarded the bus–bound for Hell for all she knew–in some sort of trance and settled into the uncomfortable, ratty seat directly behind him. As she stared like an idiot, the sandy-blonde, blue-eyed god had begun speaking–in Portuguese?– with the man next to him. The conversation grew soft and heated until it was silenced with the kind of kiss only lovers shared.
Red-faced, Astrid stayed on the bus long after she should have gotten off, finally shuffling down the stairs in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the clothes on her back, her clutch containing her passport and some local currency, and her trampled pride. Although she was obviously a tourist, the driver must have assumed Astrid knew where she was going. He didn’t even watch her traipse off into the rainforest before spewing dirt and rocks from the spinning tires in his haste to be done with his day.
Initially, she traveled with some confidence through the impossibly green vegetation, certain there would be a village where she could spend the night and pick up a bus ride back to the capitol. But it wasn’t long before the seriousness of her situation began to dawn on her. She was lost in the South American rainforest, and not another soul knew she was missing in the first place.
Astrid initially tamped down the panic crawling up her throat by reminding herself that she had experience camping in the woods. Unfortunately, the woods of Northern Illinois were nothing like this. There, the trees were farther apart, and the flat, even ground was covered in a soft layer of leaves, pine needles, and moss. Here, the flora fought for resources by coating every surface imaginable, creating a living maze of trees, ferns, moss, fungi, and vines. The feel of the oppressive humidity, the screams of monkeys and tropical birds, even the cloying scent of the jungle blooms hammered the differences home for her. If she didn’t know better, she would think this was another planet entirely.
It was the vines, though, that finally got to her. The thick, emerald ropes hung from branches like serpents slithering out of the canopy. Each time the wind swept through, a sound–dry and sinuous–brushed against her ears, making her cringe as if slapped and ball her hands into fists. Her mind tormented her, imagining the vines as a single creature slowly surrounding her, intent on wrapping her in its tight coils. Binding her. Squeezing until there was nothing left.
They were everywhere. Coiled on the ground, entangling her ankles. Wound around trunks, snatching at her wrists. Swinging malevolently from above, grasping for her throat. She began to feel trapped, weighed down by her now overwhelming terror. The hope of adventure and passion that had filled her with a reckless abandon only a few hours before now crystallized into a frozen dread.
Crushing helplessness drove her to her knees, sobbing. Her only goal now was to escape the vines, but they had somehow encircled her with a writhing curtain of ropes. The circle tightened, sliding ever closer, weaving in and around as it snaked toward her, around her, over her. A breeze swept through the jungle, whipping the vines into a frenzy as they constricted around her limbs, binding her so tightly that she could no longer breathe.
“No…,” she exhaled as the jungle swallowed her whole.