John and the Jaguar

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By EZavin64   |   
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Swirling rain, the kind of peaceful downpour that marks a lax day, caressed Eliza’s face as she came to on the beach.

I remember…the helicopter started to turn over.  The explosion…

She pushed herself up onto her elbows and forearms, looking blurredly into the crashing grey waves at her feet.

I never saw John and Gregor fall out with me.  Oh, God no….

Frantic, sad wheezing leaked out of Eliza’s mouth.  She was in shock, could barely breathe as she struggled onto her exposed feet, shoes having been torn off from the whiplash, making erratic prints in the dark brown sand as she struggled to stay upright.  The sheets of rain and wind grew into a torrent, knocking Eliza to the ground.

Her breathing became more rapid.  Flashes of the crash in her mind were violent red blurs and screeching cries of metal ripping at the destruction from the storm.  Remembering bodies of her friends ablaze in the chopper before she had seen it go down, Eliza realized how truly alone she was on this island.

She had the task of surviving, but all she could think in the fleeting moments of shock and panic was the loss of good friends.

I’ve got to get ahold of myself.  Come on, Eliza!

A few minutes later, she began to calm down, although all felt stagnant in the shade of grey the storm was happy to give her.  Fears of dying, and more egregiously, letting survivalists John and Gregor down by doing just that, rocked her out of her grieving.

All right, John taught you this before.  And you’ve seen Tom Hanks and Wilson.  I can do this: morale, water, rescue, shelter, and food.  IN THAT ORDER.  God, thank you, John.

Through sheer force of will powered by a respect for John’s memory, Eliza sprang to her feet without faltering this time, acting peppy in short hops to trick her mind with her body that she was cheerful.  A physical placebo, a brief run up and down the beach was actually doing the trick.

Okay.  Water next.  I’m on an island; the guys would kill me if I even thought about drinking from the ocean.  I could go inland and see if there’s something fresh there.  That’d be quicker than purifying the salt out of it.

Eliza went hurdling into the jungle in search of nature’s elixir to keep her alive and lively.  She was focusing on how John and Gregor were going to help her through it.

A jaguar stalked off into the jungle depths again, having been unsatisfied with the two burnt carcasses only he had found miles down the ruined white beach, home to the rest of the crash.  The animal had been startled by the explosion in the sky and subsequent quake on the shore, and he was severely displeased his curiosities had not earned him any prey challenging to catch or at least deliciously submissive to his hunger.  As his discontent grew stronger, the cat attended to his instincts and explored the jungle.

Eliza counted herself incredibly lucky.  After trudging through the masses of wide verdant palms and grotesquely large insects and amphibians littering the jungle floor, Eliza found not just water, but what looked like an impressively wide spring of the fresh variety.  She scooped liters of it into her shaking hands, taking gulps as fast as her hands would move.  She was terribly parched.

Yes, there’s plenty of it!  And no worries; there’s no salt!

She continuously turned these happy facts over in her mind.  With water saturating her spirit with more positive vibes, her thoughts turned to how she got here: John and Gregor, for the first time since she had started exploring the rain forest.

But, that lack of vigilance for the human was when the jaguar found her.  His peerless green eyes stared deeply into her from across the spring, just out of her peripheral sight.  She was still blissfully sucking the elixir, unaware she was about to be shaken from it completely.

The beast pounced and roared from the adjacent edge of the spring.

Eliza jumped and yelped with the predator’s cry of attack.  As the spotted feline swiped at her leg, drawing blood, he made to bite and only tasted air.  Eliza leaped into the spring and paddled away from the jaguar.  He zealously followed.

He…he can’t swim as fast…

Thankfully, the jaguar was lagging behind, not able to catch up to the girl’s pace.  It seemed the chaser kept afloat quite easily, but was also lost in the commotion of the splash.  The cat thrashed wildly; he appeared much less intimidating in the water, but Eliza still knew he would strike if able.  She propelled herself through the former stillness of the spring, always paddling backstroke in order to see the threat.

I would’ve been dead…

Without the spring, Eliza would not have known what to do.  The guys had never taught her to fend off a jaguar…or any cat larger than a loaf of bread.  They faded from her thoughts again as her hand grazed the black rocks at the other edge of the spring behind her.  Knowing the cat was far enough away, Eliza struggled to her feet.  She was dripping with the chilling water of her rescue.

The jaguar was still making its way toward her.  She was not ready to face the cat in a treading-water contest of sudden death, so she hurried further into the throes of the jungle, hoping the predator would not be able to track her.

Just weeks before, the trio had been preparing for this very trip.
“Okay, Eliza, now reach for the third rock to your left.”

“You kidding?!  That one’s way too far, John!”

“You can do it,” said the trainer with gusto.  “Now come on!”

Eliza struggled to reach the green bit of plastic sticking off the end of the rock wall in John’s private gym.  Exasperated yet determined, she blew long brown hair away from her face.  Her fingertips barely touching the plastic handhold, she reached out an extra amount by jumping from the props at her feet and trusting in her grip.  John was impressed.

“Nice!” he said as she hung with both hands now perilously scrambling for the best hold on the plastic, green protrusion.  “Remember, three points of contact always.”

“I’m getting there again, okay!  Just let me do it!”

“Fine, all right.”

Eliza established her normal steady pace along the wall again, and climbing up this more difficult route John had outlined specifically for her, she reached the top in little time.

Gregor strode up to John as Eliza jumped down from her successful attempt at the wall.

“You going to rappel like that in Brazil?” Gregor asked incredulously.  He was not entirely she should go with him and John on such risky high adventure.

“Tfh, noo,” she said forcefully.  “I think I’m FINALLY ready to go on one of your adventures.”

“That’s what you think,” said John almost warningly.  “It actually is dangerous.”

“Well, if I’m not ready, then I guess that’s your fault, isn’t it?” asked Eliza with a broad smirk on her face.

Gregor laughed at John, turned back and prepared himself to climb at the adjacent rock wall.  He started ascending with bare hands and feet, no chalk.

Taking their attention away from him, John and Eliza resumed their playfully heated conversation.

“I just want you to know training and preparedness can only get you so far,” he said.  “You have to be in the moment too.  Like that climb you had right now.  I might not be in earshot to tell you you’ll be able to make it.  You’ll just have to trust in yourself.”

“Fine, I get it,” she sighed exasperatedly.  “Everything will be great.  If you don’t let me go with you, I won’t be able to be in that moment at all.”

John grinned a wide, toothy smile, it wrinkling the remainder of his freckled mug spectacularly, and the pair resumed their training, rarely sharing in smiles toying with notions beyond friendship and mentorship.

Having wrapped her gash in tatters of her mud-soaked shirt, Eliza dozed off watching the roaring fire she had been able to conjure with the memories of John and Gregor’s survival training.  They were as fresh as her memories of them affectionately joking together, the kind that served as a welcome distraction from her plight.

A rock popping out of the blaze snapped her fully back to reality, and knowing she was in a spot of real comfort for the first time since the crash, she let her thoughts wander to her comrades and cried.

The dream of John pushing her totaled into a rolling tumble of emotions in Eliza’s brain; she remembered first meeting them at the gym, signing up for the survival class they had offered and falling into countless memorable sessions of learning to climb, swim and hike.

They had molded her into the scene of high adventure, but this lonely campfire for her was not what they had had in mind.  She wept some more, knowing she was lying to herself if she thought she had not planned on growing significantly closer with both of them, especially John, during their trip.

Now, she thought of them in a more reverent light as her eyes continued to water into the fire; their teachings and very memory would be the reason for her survival and escape if, indeed, she had the strength.

Something snapped that sounded far from the popping rock in the fire.  Coming to and wiping her eyes clean of tears, Eliza’s gaze swooped over the tips of blaring yellow.  She found only blurred darkness, so she ventured further from the safe warmth.

In the inky blackness, she discovered a pair of peering green eyes, sharp as crude knives.

The jaguar assaulted again, erupting in a high-pitched growl and reaching for Eliza’s midsection to strike.  He convulsed in attacking spasms, appearing erratic but always landing securely on his spotted paws as he moved threateningly toward her.

Saved by chance again, and briefly shoving away the thought that ill coincidence was what brought her jungle adversary back to haunt her, Eliza scrambled back to her fire.  It was shielding her with its blinding heat from the jaguar’s vision.

Reaching for the small pile of firewood she had built, Eliza grabbed the largest stick she could find and let it ablaze.  Swinging her fiery sword aloft in the jaguar’s face, the primal nemesis only roared angrier.  It saw only blaring yellow and white in the face of such strikes.

“GET BACK!  GO!  BACK!” Eliza roared as loudly in return.

She knew not if it was true for all animals, especially exotic ones, but John had always spoken of how terrified most creatures were of things larger, louder and brighter than they were.

And so, she made herself bigger.  Jumping up and down in series of screeching cries, animal-like, Eliza danced around the fire to urge the beast away.  The cat resisted as long as he was able but could stand the light and noise no longer.  He retreated, snarling back as if promising to fulfill his grudge and desire for flesh against the girl eventually.

Not stopping her onslaught of screams and leaps until she was sure the jaguar had left her sight completely, Eliza staggered back into standing.  She slumped to the thick vegetation at the fire again with an exhausted exhale mixed with a sorrowful sigh.  Her body was still ridden with adrenaline; understandingly, she was very worried at when the jaguar would turn up again.

“Damnit, guys…” she murmured as she laid her head upon a particularly pillow-like vine below, cursing them for having to go and leave her like this.  “You can only be so prepared, John.”

After minutes, she forced herself from her stupor but remained motionless on the ground, still tired from the attack and her defense.  John and Gregor, of course, had not meant to leave her, not like this.

“Actually, John…you saved me…” she muttered to the fresh dirt creeping into her mouth as she sank deeper into a feverish state of half-sleep, half-emotional delirium.  “Just for you two…I’ll keep going…make you proud…”

And Eliza lapsed into a dimension of nightmares where she kept reliving quality times spent with the two men, only to realize once more they were gone forever when she awoke.

Thanks to her determination and John and Gregor’s teachings, Eliza was proving quite the survivalist.  All over the island, she had climbed to vantage points of treeless outcroppings to set signal fires in the wake of anything that might fly overhead.  Nothing had come, but yet, she forced herself to keep making fires, using them to purify her drinking water and raise her spirits as well.

“John, I’m lying if I’m saying my morale isn’t going down,” Eliza said to herself loudly one blistering day as she scrambled her way up a familiar cliff, rock trickling down an overhang as her right hand reached closer to the site of a signal fire.

“Gregor, don’t lie to me,” she continued in her delirium among the crags.  “You know John and I always hated it when you said how good I was at climbing…just to make me feel better.”

Eliza nearly fell; more than pebbles dropped from where she had placed her left foot near hip level for a hefty push up.  This time, it had been too much for the rock wall.

“See, man?!” she pleaded at the open air to get his attention as she barely held on with three other points of contact.

“I told you I’m going to die out here….”

Another step, this time more secure.


Her hand reached the ledge.


She pulled herself up to the fire pit.  Mouthing breathlessly as she fully appeared alongside the crumbling pile of past dead wood, she whispered, “Only so many…”

Eliza knew not how many signal fires she had left in her.

And then, now weeks after their last encounter, Eliza saw him.  The jaguar had returned, and as if prophesized, the sneering cat hunched down with barred fangs, perched on the very peak.

Relishing in the opportunity he had struggled for and the fear struck in Eliza’s eyes, the jaguar met his opponent’s stare for eternal seconds before leaping in to strike.

Eliza moved first, jumping to her right with the beast barreling at her.  In his enthusiastic ferocity, the cat almost exerted himself past the point of no return.  The jaguar had nearly launched clear off the cliff.

Instead, he clung to the flaking blackness of the rocks, desperately wanting to sink teeth into the elusive prey now standing shocked to see luck side with her for a third time, and in his desperateness, the jaguar made his case more bleak.  His frantic scrambling was causing the precipice to shed rocks and his strained claws.

Something between a whimper and a roar drew Eliza back to the jaguar.  Picking up one of the charred, burned limbs of a past unsuccessful signal, she moved to knock the creature into the drop below.

It was the safety and morale she needed – to be safe from the stalking beast.

But as Eliza reeled back to swipe, the jaguar proved his tenacity and sank his claws into Eliza’s forearm when she struck downward.  Howling in unexpected pain, Eliza flung onto her back, bringing her enemy with her.  Strips of flesh whipped off as the jaguar was flung off his tether to land on solid ground again.

The monster wasted no time in gouging out Eliza’s midsection.  From the shock of it, the girl was numb to the vicious onslaught, mind focused squarely on the failure to survive.  She could not let the jaguar win too.

Losing strength with every second of dripping blood and being consumed, Eliza was somehow still conscious.  Faded images of her family, friends, John and Gregor rushed into her mind as she prepared one final push.  Suddenly, it was almost over.

Screaming out of adversarial fury and the frustration of letting her mentors down, Eliza reared her legs back and under the feasting jaguar and kicked.

She could see, through a blurred focal point of blood and tears, the cat fly from her body, and he did not come back.  Falling into the abyss beyond the cliff, the jaguar met his death before Eliza did.

As the skies began to color themselves a melancholy mixture of pink and gold, Eliza forced herself to think happily.  She recalled something John had said to her once after a survival class.

“Sometimes, maybe most times out there in the wild, if you’re prepared and driven…things that’ll take you will be the ones out of your control.  The victory is seeing how far you can go in spite of those.”

Eliza showed a flicker of a smile to the sunset around her; numb to the pain at death’s merciful verge, she thought of what had driven her to survive for so long.

Night began to fall, and Gregor, John, and Eliza were gone, having lived their lives.
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