Arthur Spindleman urinated peacefully in his porta-potty, eyes closed, humming a nondescript tune in a valiant attempt to keep out the constant chatter and buzzing of the insects. Of course, it wasn’t an actual porta-potty - that would have been silly. This was the middle of the Amazon, for crying out loud, and the man was many hundreds of miles from anything even the heartiest soul would deem civilization, let alone portable sanitation devices. It was more along the lines of a mental-potty, an imaginary construct of thin yellow plastic walls and lemony scent – the perfect cure for a painfully shy bladder and even shyer penis. And had just started going over some of his latest measurements in his head when --
“Problem, Tomas?” Arthur watched his guide vanish into the trees behind him. In retrospect, he probably should have followed the man’s suggestion immediately and run, but at the time that had seemed a little rash, and if there was one thing Arthur Spindleman had learned during his last couple months, was that while rashness in the city could get you a speeding ticket, rashness in the jungle – that could get you killed.
But then Arthur saw them, crashing through the bushes, eyes wide and full of crazy. He took cover just as an arrow skidded off the edge of the tree, shattering off a chunk of bark. Then three more – Thwop! Thwop! Thwop! – Arthur feeling the vibration of each impact through the wood. He knew he should run, make a mad dash, at least go out like a man with a spear through back, tumbling through the air, arms raised to the heavens at the waste of such a marginally promising life, but his legs were having none of it. They were all jelly and shakes, and the only reply he received back was something akin to - Hey buddy, if you really wanted any mad dashes today you probably should have gotten us on the treadmill a few more times, and a few less ice cream sandwiches probably wouldn’t have hurt either.
But then they were past him – hurtling through the understory. No, not his attackers - his porters, free of packs and gear, flying by so fast that Arthur barely had a chance to notice their looks of sheer terror, the very same individuals that only hours before had giggled like schoolchildren while corralling a twenty foot anaconda as thick as a truck tire so their employer could safely cross a flooded section of the trail.
Now, if truth be told, Arthur Spindleman had always fancied going out a bit of a hero. Maybe not the throwing himself on a live grenade kind, but more like saving a child from a burning building or, better yet, from the jaws of a small to moderately sized great white shark - you know, something where at least the hero would have some time to hear the shouts from the worried onlookers, perhaps a promise from the hapless victim to keep his name alive forever with the birth of his first child or with some type of a charitable fund in his honor.
Oh - and how hadn’t he thought of this one before, considering his present location – throwing himself between a beautiful woman and a charging jungle beast, commanding her to back away just as the huge cat lunged at his throat, leaving just enough time to say something incredibly romantic, something like…like…BUG!
Arthur pushed away from the trunk just as the whip-like antennae of the large black insect grazed his arm. It looked a lot like a cockroach but bigger, somewhere between really gross and totally disgusting, and was sporadically unfolding and refolding its wings. That was a close one, he thought, just as something long and hard whizzed by his ear and struck the bark with a thud, impaling the unfortunate insect dead center.
“Tomas!” Arthur ran for his life, stumbling over bushes, launching his chubby body through green ferns wide enough to cover him whole. Where the hell is he? Surely his guide wouldn’t leave him here alone. He had to be close – or dead. Or both. But no, Arthur didn’t think so. The man knew the jungle too well – its plants, its animals, its magic.
“Tomas!” His lungs ached, his plea for help now little more than a hollow rasp.
He fell against a large ceiba and caressed its smooth bark with his sweat drenched face. If only he had thought to bring some type of weapon – a pocketknife, a combination flame thrower slash rocket launcher. Anything. Then he remembered. The shovel attached to his pack was small, just big enough for its sole purpose – to dig a hole for the deposit of Arthur’s hesitant poops, but maybe, just maybe. He ran his fingers along the edge of the blade. The metal wasn’t particularly sharp but it was plenty hard, and if he could just sneak upon each attacker from behind and somehow trick the individual into positioning his head just so, exposing his neck long enough to – Ding!
Arthur sank to his knees, eyes fixed blurrily on the shattered remains of yet another arrow. “Tomas.”
Then he heard it. At first the sound was so faint it could have been nothing more than his imagination, or the rush of oxygen-depleted blood pounding through his ears. But, no – it was water. And where there was water, there was life. He knew the river was close – they had come upon its angry rapids only a short time ago and had turned away to find a safer crossing. But where? Arthur wiped the stinging sweat from his eyes and peered through the dense foliage. At first nothing, only green, but then - a puddle of light directly ahead. It could have been anything, of course. The river, a clearing, the glare off a large boiling pot with Arthur’s name written in blood, but it didn’t matter. Arthur struggled back to his feet and staggered towards the light.
Arthur knew that if he lost the weight of his backpack he’d be able to move much faster but he also knew this was out of the question. The water was closer now, the clearing just ahead, and Arthur thought he just might make it, just might have a chance to drown in the river instead of - Ouch! Something struck the meaty part of his thigh with enough force to buckle his knees, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Arthur had read that in moments of extreme terror that the body is so pumped with adrenaline that the pain response is almost nonexistent. This, the man now discovered, was bullshit. Lying prone on his stomach, Arthur yanked the foot long arrow from his leg. It had been only seconds but already the aching subsided, giving way to a disconcerting numbness, spreading and deepening rapidly. His heart, which had been practically pounding its way out of his chest only moments before, now slowed - its beats erratic, confused. Obviously a poison dart frog. The tip of the arrow carefully rubbed on the amphibian’s moist deadly skin. Genus Dendrobates or maybe even Phyllobates. It wouldn’t be long now.
Arthur pushed back to his feet in a daze, stumbling forward through the last couple bushes and into the clearing. He could see it now, the river, its white water pounding against boulders stupid enough to be in its path. Through diminishing senses, Arthur heard footsteps. Strange, excited conversation. He lurched forward, determined at the very least to deny his killers their prize, to hurl his dying body into the river’s angry waters to be swept away forever. Just a few more heavy steps, just…
“Eewww!” The web was so fine Arthur almost didn’t seen it until it was too late, stretching like a net between two saplings and covered with hundreds of wriggling black…
“Bugs.” Arthur fell backwards. Even with his poison addled brain, he knew that the spiders weren’t bugs, of course. Technically they were arachnids. But let’s be real – they were just bugs with more legs. “Yeah, like bugs need more freaking legs. Whose crazy ass idea was that?”
The doomed man’s knees gave way one last time, his body slumping to the bare earth. Arthur fumbled open the buckle of his pack and pushed it off his shoulders but his fingers were too weak to yank the zipper so he just fell onto his back, hand rubbing over the moldy fabric until he found the object for which he was searching and squeezed it one last time. Arthur was afraid of many things in life but surprisingly death wasn’t one of them. Dying, well that was another story altogether, but not death. He had given up believing in an afterlife many years ago, coincidently or not coinciding with the cancellation of Knight Rider when he was eight years old, and had not a shred of doubt that his death would be complete, total nothingness, inconceivable nothingness to be sure, but nothingness nonetheless. No tunnel of light. No heavenly or hellish eternity. No welcoming to the afterlife in the arms of some beautiful, winged angel--.
Then there she was. Standing, floating above him. Gliding ever closer. A porcelain beauty framed by waves upon waves of flowing golden hair encircled by a soft halo of white light. Eyes at once soothing, kind, all knowing. Yes, an angel, there could be no doubt. And not just any angel, mind you, but an angel with amazing, I mean truly enormous breasts.
And then came the darkness.