The Indonesian tour guide called Johnny -- not quite his name I'd already figured out, but I kept that little bit quiet -- stood firm with his right hand stuck out and rain pooling rapidly in his cupped palm. A fast, wet, wind flew across the tops of the large trees that lined the village, whipping them back and forth while more clouds appeared to fully cover the visible mountain tops, all the while drumming down a steady warm rain. The oldest of the three cameramen was in charge; he hadn't been even filming until the last bit, when the local woman had begun her approach. He tended to only pull out his camera when there was something of interest, while the younger two had theirs constantly running. The woman's reaction to me coupled with the footage of the insane Californian's denial of malaria and disease had created an irresistible montage of drama.
Swearing, the older man yanked open the side of his camera and tore out the film inside the camcorder -- he'd figured out he wasn't getting it back. He quickly exposed the film deliberately. Johnny didn't seem to care but was happy to have the celluloid in his fists. Tapes and discs were handed over reluctantly to Johnny. He turned to the younger man who'd scored the shots of the stupid teacher and her over-the-top reaction and demanded, "The other two, if you please."
A look of complete outrage chased across his features as he pulled two more sets of film out from his backpack. And at Johnny's unwavering glare he quickly added the small disc from inside his cell phone. Johnny looked mildly uncomfortable at having truthfully missed that bit of media, but was apparently relieved to possess all the potential problems. He hadn't realized that the man had a disc in his phone but his stiff demeanor and anger had freed up the bit of media -- leastways those he knew about at the moment. I wasn't so sure that they hadn't stashed another bit of digital media on them but I wasn't going to risk making any more of a scene than the tour guide already was -- not an ideal situation, but damned if I didn't seem to get myself into these sorts of messes far too easily even when I wasn't liberating anything.
"My father's company will make special arrangements for private tour for you three. We pay all costs -- hotel upgrade and very special tours." Johnny's terms weren't negotiable, but from the huge wet smiles on the three men's face they were perfectly acceptable. Their artistic morality and rights were quickly shoved aside by the outright bribe. Once they'd given up their film, Johnny nodded to them and they ran for the bus. Another crack of thunder made their mad dash a tad faster than normal. I didn't blame them -- it sounded like the heavens were opening up and ready to smite a few bad boys and girls.
Johnny and I stood in the pouring rain regarding each other uneasily.
I could see Johnny warring with his initial perceptions of me and whatever it was that the old woman had told him. I watched the offering that she'd tossed at my feet rapidly filling up with raindrops and some of the bits and pieces of flowers, food and herbs that floated out of the curl of greenery and join the small stream now running down to the road. Johnny's eyes went huge as he looked to the offering turn into little more than useless flotsam. As his cultural mythology fought with his youthful certainty of immortality and somewhat worldly knowledge, his face grew pale and he was now visibly worried.
"Perhaps I should find my own way back?" I offered softly.
Professionalism waged a further battle with fear and it was completely written on his face. He drew himself up and said, "No, you are part of our tour. Please come join the rest now." He gestured backwards to the huddled mass of wet humanity watching our exchange through rapidly fogging windows. I bet the inside of the van smelt like old gym socks and rancid medicine.
Shaking my head slowly, I met the young man's gaze and said, "I think it's best that I find my own way home." Having my backpack over my right shoulder, and since I didn't have any other possessions in the van it was an easy decision for me to make. I turned on my heel and slowly walked through the mud, slipping into the forest on the edge of the village.
Once I wandered off into the dense tropical rainforest, I heard the 'bus' start up. Johnny didn't waste any time in creating distance between his wretched hodgepodge group of tourists and me. I wondered what he planned on doing with the film he'd collected from the camcorders. I was positive they didn't have any footage of me, but I was well aware that they definitely recorded whatever it was Johnny and the old woman had been saying. For the right price, there were plenty of local college students who'd translate the conversation. Johnny probably had done me a huge favor -- if that woman's rants went viral with a nicely boxed subtext in English beneath the scene, I'd be dead in a week -- there wouldn't even be a need to see my face; they'd know who I was.
From the woman's reactions I was pretty sure she'd mentioned to the guide that I was evil, and certainly not to be trusted near humans. I mean that was pretty harsh, even though I wasn't quite human, but I hadn't expected to be noticed in the middle of a rural village in Indonesia on one of the smaller inhabited islands, much less that my picture had been shown around making me worth a few million American dollars. Thinking back to the woman's betel stained lips and gums, maybe she hadn't seen my picture but was truly a magical creature. Sighing, I pushed my dripping hair off my face and hoisted my bag properly on my back instead of hanging over one shoulder like most travelers and wandering students. I didn't have many things at the hotel, so I could take my time and figure out what I wanted to do. If I never made it to the hotel I wouldn't miss anything -- there definitely weren't any of my pretties or treasures in the room. I headed into the forest instead of back down the hill towards the main towns. It was all I could do to stay in place and not pop out and over to Uncle Harry's side.
His voice ran through my thoughts, "Emma, are you okay?"
It struck me hard that on the other side of Uncle Harry's world I was hearing him. He was really talking to me. He was being serious, but I smiled slightly at his voice inside my thoughts. It was middle of the day in Indonesia, the middle of the night on the flip side of the world. I wasn't imagining his voice; he was actually reaching out over the globe and talking into my mind.
I thought back carefully, blocking all my agitated thoughts: "I'm fine, Uncle Harry. Thanks." With that I felt him slowly pull back from me and return to his world. I ached for the loss but didn't try to sustain the connection. Hollowed out, I focused back on the landscape surrounding me.
The trees acted as a living umbrella, and the further I made my way into the vegetation, less and less rain found me. The birds overhead in the canopy screamed and squawked, as was their nature. The monkeys who'd made the ruckus at the substitute teacher's shouts had vanished to wherever it was they went. The sky was full with angry-looking clouds and the winds blew the rains at times sideways across the treetops. I felt safer than I had in days simply walking through the Indonesian forest. I well knew that besides monkeys and birds the rainforest had a variety of insects and animals. Most of the larger sized predators had long been captured or killed for a variety of reasons. Not that there weren't plenty of flora and fauna in the forest that could easily kill. Birds flapped and flew overhead with a brilliant display of richly-jeweled plumage.
Rhinos and tigers once ranged freely in the extensive forest but now zoos and private reserves had more of the creatures alive than in nature. It saddened me to know that those predators had been roaming in one form or another since the Pleistocene Epoch over seventy millions years ago and in the space of a few centuries of man's intrusion nearly obliterated them completely. The humidity was nearly one hundred percent and I could feel the sweat rolling from the nape of my neck at the hairline all the way down my spine between my shoulder blades in a constant salty flow. My hair was clipped up but soaking wet. The few strands that I'd kept tossing out of my face continued to slip back into my eyes.
My backpack made wet sucking noises against my vertebrae as I made my way up a hill of ancient forest. Debris flowed in a steady river off to the edge of the hard-packed path I was using in the churning running stream of rainfall. Leaves twirled along side twigs and a brightly colored flower that must have fallen from higher up in the rainforest canopy. I couldn't see any sort of flowers at my eye level, but then the rain had started to come down hard enough to soak me and the ground in spite of the trees, and visibility wasn't much more than past the end of my nose. The monsoon season must have begun in earnest. The upside was I noticed that bugs had dropped off visually, and hopefully for a while.
There was limited available light as I went deeper into the trees and brush. The humidity was making the air heavier, and I was beginning to get lightheaded. I slowed down and found a huge, thick tree where the leaves gave me shelter as I slipped my backpack off my shoulder and unzipped a corner pocket to pull out a sealed bottle of water. Unlike the substitute teacher, I knew better than drinking from unsealed containers. Shaking my head at her stupidity, I reluctantly put the now empty plastic bottle back inside my bag and continued on my trek. I'd really wanted to savor my time on the various Indonesian islands. The archipelago had so many different sights and experiences to offer. The original reason I'd actually bothered to take a plane from Australia to the country was that I was trying my luck at being a normal human. I used a passport that Uncle Harry had provided. It had a colorful array of entry and exit stamps from all over the world. Not popping in and out of phase was hard, especially after the old woman began her staring and plopping offerings to ward off evil spirits smack dab at my feet! I mean like it had been all I could do to keep myself focused and physically in front of her. Had the cameras not been rolling, I would have easily succumbed to my fears and definitely gone poof in front of witnesses.
I shook my head at my foolishness. I was made of stronger stuff than fears and half-whispered worries. I'd let the situation control me rather than what I was trained to do. I had succumbed to being human. I wouldn't let it happen again any time soon, but I sure as hell had to watch myself.
Now I was stranded in the middle of a freaking monsoon in a rainforest wondering why I'd even bothered to try to appear normal. Normal seemed to be highly overrated. Trudging on up the dwindling trail, I contemplated my choices. I didn't want to disappoint Uncle Harry again if I disappeared from Indonesia without using my passport much less my return plane ticket -- the passport would probably be flagged and the last thing I needed was international attention.