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Out of Place

The Jungle

By Dennis HumphreysPublished about a year ago 18 min read

by: D.R. Humphreys (theDreamWriter)

It was mid-morning by the time they dropped the paratroopers at their destination. Nineteen other Douglas C-47's delivered the same cargo to engage the enemy below, in the active field. The copilot and pilot watched, as one parachute after another, disappeared out the door to their designated spot. Twenty-eight men jumped from each of twenty planes, totaling five hundred sixty men, floating to the ground with most to their deaths. They were under intense fire from the enemy and several other planes were hit. Plumes of dark smoke filled the air as explosions sounded around them in a maddening exhibit that could only be described as hell.

“We're getting low on fuel, but we should be able to get over the range,” the Pilot Officer, Dave Manning, informed him. Somewhat of a pessimist, he was good at his job. They had already lost their Squadron leader, and being under such heavy fire, it was pretty much up to those left to get their tails back to base.

Getting back meant getting over the Hump, which was at the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. With everything going on, and what appeared to be the threat of snow coming, that might be easier said than done.

“If you say so. I don't like what I see with the weather,” he told Manning. “Looks like we just lost another plane back there.”

As Flight Lieutenant, Frank Howard hated seeing that. Yeah, he was responsible for his craft, and the Squadron leader was responsible for the twenty planes on this mission, but he was gone now, and it was each on his own.

“Lieutenant... those clouds don't look good. We'll be flying blind going over Kamet and at this height, it makes me nervous,” Manning relayed.

“Nervous? I'm already pissing myself,” the Flight Lieutenant told his partner. There were just three soldiers left on the plane, like the others still in the air, so they were lighter but conditions like this were difficult. “It might help to say a prayer or two.”

Riley Patches was the radio operator on board and had flown quite a few missions with Howard. Manning was newer and had only flown six but he was well liked and inherent to the crew.

“Sir... I've lost radio contact,” Patches informed his two fellow soldiers.

“Great that's all we need now...” Howard began but was interrupted as a .50 caliber shell from an anti-aircraft gun on the ground went through their plane,” ... is to be hit.”

But he didn't need to finish because the shell passed through Patches and made a mess of him on its way through the plane.

“Shit, Lieutenant!” Manning expressed fear, not surprise.

“Damn. Every mission I've flown in the fucking war was with Patches,” Howard told his Pilot Officer. “Well, it looks like we're going to be running on even less fuel.”

Looking at the fuel gauge, the needle was shaking and dropping. The tank had been hit. The likelihood of landing at the field was not good. They were more likely to go down in the Himalayas, if they got over Kamet, which was on a straight line with the landing field. That was the shortest route.

The plane disappeared, engulfed in a large snow cloud surrounding the tip of the mountain. Visibility was non-existent, so it was very likely the two men would run the plane into the side of the mountain, rather than crash from lack of fuel.

“We couldn't even use the radio now if we could make contact,” Manning complained as he tried looking out the window but saw nothing. “Sir... we're in deep shit.”

“I need to get some more height,” Howard warned his copilot, as he looked at his altimeter and flicked his index finger at it to make sure it wasn't stuck.

The plane was beginning to shake. Before it was from exploding shells all around them as they delivered their cargo but now it was from strong winds. The windows were becoming covered with snow and ice. Overall, there wasn't much hope.

“I'd sure like to see my wife one more time before I die,” Howard shared with Manning. “You'd better pray to whatever you believe in kid, and I'd do it fairly fast.”

Suddenly a bright light shone through the window and there was a sudden warmth to it as well. Almost immediately the ice and snow on the window began melting.

“What the hell?” the pilot exclaimed.

“It's the sun. I guess we broke through the clouds,” Manning told the pilot as he tried getting a clearer view of what was below, looking for a possible place to set down, but that was unlikely in these mountains.

There was a large dark area below the plane as Howard attempted to look too. As the windows cleared and both men began to focus, but what they saw was impossible. Neither said anything to the other at first for fear that it wasn't what they thought they were seeing. They continued studying the area below them. Finally, Howard spoke.

“Is that what I think I see out there? I could be losing my mind,” Howard expressed.

“I think I see what you see, so I must be losing my mind too,” Manning answered, but there was some hope in their situation now. “There's a fucking jungle underneath of us. What the hell is a jungle doing in the Himalayas?

“So, you do see it! Maybe it's a mirage. All kinds of strange things happen in these mountains, so I'm told. Listen we're about out of fuel. I'm going down and looking for a place to land,” Howard told Manning and crossed himself, as he pushed on the yoke to begin to descend quickly, almost in a seeming attempt to capture some viable ground.

Quickly they were flying over the canopy of the jungle. It was real, but the jungle was thick, without openings in which to land. Then there appeared a wide, shallow river, the only place likely to put down, the pilot thought. Then the decision was made for him when the engines began to sputter. Lowering the wheels Howard didn't really expect to land the plane, only minimize the crash. It was possible to land it in the river. It was pretty flat and there were no trees close to the edge that might take a wing.

It was rougher than it first appeared, and Howard struggled with the yoke to keep it under control as he looked ahead downstream. Then as fast as the jungle came into sight their flight was over. The C-47 sat idly in the shallow river under a shinning sun.

“How could this be lieutenant? We're in the mountains under snow clouds, but we're sitting here in a river in a jungle under clear, sunny skies,” Manning observed.

“You're seeing what I'm seeing officer. Maybe we both died back there, and this is the afterlife. I'm checking this out,” announced Howard.

With that, the pilot threw a ladder out the open forward door which had been removed to drop the paratroopers. Howard climbed down into the one-foot-deep river water and looked around while Manning descended behind him.

“It's hot!” Manning complained.

“It's muggy, it's the jungle,” Howard clarified.

“I...,” Manning began.

“Don't say you don't get it because I can't give you any answers,” the pilot insisted.

They flew enough missions and had been around each other enough that the flight lieutenant knew that his copilot constantly repeated 'I don't get it' with anything slightly beyond his understanding. After a while the phrase got on your nerves. The officer began walking to the pebbled ground to follow the river downstream. Manning followed, stumbling along the way on submerged rocks invisible to him. Neither airman knew where they were going, because they had no idea where they were. The only logical avenue was to travel downstream and to stay away from the more dangerous jungle. Sounds, some mammalian,some reptilian, came from the jungle. Some were predators while others sounded like they were in danger. Howard didn't want to go too far in their exploration. He wanted to be in a position to get back to the plane by nightfall, where both men could safely sleep. There was a week's supply of rations and water there, so they weren't in danger for now of starving or dying of thirst. Still they needed a better idea of this place to plan a reasonable way to leave.

They walked a couple of miles. At any time, Howard expected to awaken from a dream. It had to be one. The incongruity of the past few hours was too strange to be otherwise. Then he thought about the possibility of some kind of drug being sent in the projectile that hit the plane, causing them to hallucinate. No... even that was too remote a possibility. Just as remote, was the possibility of one of them dreaming this whole scenario.

“Do you hear that?” Manning asked, putting his left arm out to signal his superior to stop and try to hear better without the sound of their footsteps on the pebbled stones lining the beach. Howard hadn't heard it until they stopped.

“It sounds like laughter up ahead around the bend in the river,” he surmised to his partner.

“Yeah... women's laughter,” Manning responded, taking off his air force hat to wipe his forehead of the constant sweat pouring down and stinging his eyes.

“Go slow and pay attention to the edge of the jungle on the other side. I'll keep an eye out here. It certainly won't be Eskimo women,” Howard joked, but he was intrigued as to whom they might find living in a jungle, in the middle of the Himalayas, in the middle of a snowstorm.

A little further downstream and his question was partially answered. As they rounded the curve in the river from a geologic diversion, probably thousands of years ago, by several huge boulders standing together in the water's path, they saw from where the laughter and yelling was coming. There were three naked, young women, bathing and playing in the water.

“Will you look at that!” Manning cried. “Three young beauties just waiting for us.”

“Like they expected us, Dave. Don't get a hard on, so far nothing we' ve experienced is quite right. This may not be as well. It could be a trap,” the superior officer warned.

“What... some cannibals looking for their next meal?” Manning asked sarcastically. At his young age, all he wanted to do was was jump into the middle of these three.

“Could be... besides we're not close enough yet, to judge them beautiful. They might not have a tooth in their heads,” the lieutenant commented.

“Go ahead and bust my bubble!” Manning responded, but then he thought more about what his superior said. “We are going to talk to them?”

“I don't see why not, if we want any answers, "the pilot conjectured.

“Or a bath!” Manning laughed.

“Just watch yourself. You don't want to unwarily step on any local customs or rules,” he told his copilot attempting to point out the risk.

As they got closer to the women they stayed along the edge of the shoreline, trying to keep the water between them on purpose. The women were too busy splashing and playing in the water, just past their knees, to pay attention, until one of them noticed their company. She signaled the others while watching the two men. Now the three women faced them, but didn't say anything, Frank Howard smiled and spoke. He figured they wouldn't understand a word he said, but he wanted them to realize they were friendly, and that could be understood by the tone of his voice and his body language.

“Good day, ladies. I was hoping you could tell us where we are exactly? Do you have a radio or some way of communicating with a large city?” the pilot asked very smoothly, in a non-intimidating way.

The three women, who he could see now were all quite beautiful displaying a fine set of teeth, stared at each other and mumbled unintelligible words. Then, as they laughed, they ran to the two men and began trying to undress them and pointing at the river. It was an invite to join them in the water. Manning was more than ready to join them, Lieutenant Howard was less than enthused, at least externally, and against his natural inclinations, considering the odds.

“Ladies, please!” the pilot spoke strongly as he pulled their hands off him. Manning, on the other hand, had been stripped clean in seconds without any objections. Howard repeatedly said 'no' and shoved them away.

Finally, they understood and settled on dragging the elated copilot into the water, to a spot where it was deeper. There they frolicked and played while the lieutenant took a seat on the beach and watched. He thought it might be better to let his copilot go with the insistent women and make friends. He wouldn't openly ignore their customs with strangers, so looking the other way and not acting like a senior officer, might work better with the initial contact.

After a half hour or so, the women indicated bath fun time was over, and it was time to get dressed.

Howard listened to his associate complain then, as he came to the shoreline to get his clothes.

“I hate getting dressed when I'm still wet!” he voiced, struggling to pull his pants up over his wet legs. He lost his balance a few times, almost plunging head first into the shallows.

The women came back to the men, and took their hands, indicating they wanted them to accompany them. They took them back across the river, through a shallow area and across a bank talking the entire time. Neither man understood a word they said but smiled. Just inside the edge of the jungle was another clearing where primitively constructed huts stood. In the middle of the campground was a large campfire where a few women stood cooking. Young children were running around playing games and chasing each other. A couple of dogs were doing the same, while one was gnawing on a bone. When the three women and the two men entered the clearing, the dog gnawing his bone was the first to notice the strangers. He hesitated momentarily in his feast to look, and then he stood to start voicing his concern with a series of short growls and higher pitched barks. That caused everyone to look and those in their huts, came out to see what was happening.

All the people, the forty or so of them, were attractive. You'd expect, because of where the two men crash landed, they would look Asian, but they seemed more Polynesian, which added further to the confusion Frank Howard felt. An older man, carrying a walking stick, approached with some degree of authority. Howard assumed he was the chief, or leader. He was followed by everyone else in the small village including the dogs, making welcome sounds and voicing their joys.

“I don't think they get many visitors, Frank,” Manning commented quietly to his superior officer. Frank Howard took a second take at his partner.

He noticed the note of familiarity, calling him by first name a little while ago, and rather than correct him, decided it was fine. They may be stuck in this place a long time and maybe forever. Adhering to military protocol was not foremost on his mind.

“Well...Dave, they certainly seem friendly enough. I guess this is their leader coming, Hello... I am Flight Lieutenant Frank Howard from the United States Air force. This is my Pilot Officer... Dave Manning,” he introduced, knowing full well this skinny, old man didn't understand him.

The old man just smiled and shook his head in as friendly a manner as you could hope for. He spoke some fast gibberish, while everyone calmly listened. When he finished, he raised his walking stick, and everyone began cheering and jumping, up and down, spinning in circles, in the opposite directions of their choice. Frank Howard and Dave Manning just stood and watched the friendly bedlam unfold. Even the dogs spun in circles, barking happily. Then as the leader raised his walking stick, the antics promptly came to a stop. It almost appeared to be a coordinated effort.

His efforts to communicate with the two strangers seemed to indicate his desire for some kind of a big party to welcome them. The sudden movement of all the people present, to begin conducting various functions, seemed to support the idea, as men ran to gather firewood and stack it near some kind of pit that appeared constructed for cooking. Women went into the jungle, probably looking for more food, while the younger children went about grabbing large skins for water. Then an older woman came to them, wanting the two men to follow her. She led them to a hut and invited them in, smiling and cackling the whole time. Maybe this was their new home, at least for a while. Other women within minutes, entered the hut, carrying large natural containers of water and rags. The pilot realized, when they began to try to undress him and his partner, the purpose was to bathe them. Frank Howard realized it was futile at this point to try and stop them. There were too many bent on what might be a ritual of welcoming and acceptance to the tribe. So, he gave in. Dave Manning, on the other hand, relented already. Two stools were positioned in the middle of the room, and they were made to sit naked on them. Six women had stripped naked to wash them, scrubbing their skin until it was red. When they finished the ordeal, containers of water were dumped over their heads, amid the laughter and foolery of the six. They were then dried, and voluminous amounts of thickened coconut oil were rubbed over their bodies, as well as through their hair.

Before the two men were escorted from the hut, they were wrapped in some sort of sarong, resembling how the natives were dressed. The clothing was much more comfortable than the uniforms they were wearing upon their arrival in the village.

“I smell like a coconut cake,” Howard complained.

“That was the best bath I've ever had. I 'd be washing morning, noon and night if I could have that kind of bath,” Manning swore.

Frank wondered if they were going to stay in that hut, as wet as the ground had become, and was relieved when they were ushered to another empty hut. There were two places to sleep, with two woven mats on the floor, and what looked like natural pillows, made of leather and stuffed with something unknown. More women entered with baskets of fruit and nuts and placed them by the mats, smiling and cackling the entire time. As the place emptied of the women that attended them, two of the young women they first met at the river, came into the hut with woven reed mats rolled under their arms. The men watched as the two girls unrolled their mats, each, by one of the mats meant for the men.

“I suppose these are our honeys for the night,” Manning expressed joyfully.

“They might be our guards as well,” the pilot interjected.

“Ah, Frank... what would these people need to guard us for?” Manning questioned, detecting nothing but friendliness among them.

“I wouldn't get all too comfortable here. Who knows what they have up their sleeves. We don't understand a word they say?” Howard told his partner.

“Frank, none of them have sleeves,” Manning joked in an attempt to make his superior's worries seem unfounded.

Both men emerged sometime later from the hut, completely relaxed for the party. Frank finally gave up fighting the advances of the one young girl in the hut attending him, while his partner gave in willingly right away. Both girls were there apparently to take care of their needs. In some older cultures that's the way it was, and to refuse their offer or advances, could be construed as an insult. Not knowing how long they might be staying, Frank Howard relented, falling asleep afterwards until the four of them were called to the celebration.

Outside, there were long mats rolled out on the ground to sit. More mats, covered with large leaves, where bowls of fruit and food were placed, served as tables. The smell of fresh cooked meat billowed with the smoke from the pit where it was cooked. Dancers gyrated to the drumming of drums, made of gourds and larger objects like hollowed logs. There were more people here than what the pilot estimated when they first walked into the small village. Maybe there was another village invited to the festivities. Some of these cultures used any excuse for a party.

There was a young native that motioned for the two men and their two ladies, to follow him. He sat them next to the leader and his wife, where they were sitting. Both the old man and his young wife pleasantly welcomed them to sit. Other young men brought what appeared to be little things, like horderves, before the meal, and poured fermented libations that looked like some milk derivative.

“This stuff is strong but really good,” Manning commented after taking a swig of the drink and then downing the entire coconut cup. He indicated his liking to the leader who just smiled and nodded his head. "I wonder what it's made of?”

“It's good you don't understand them. You may not want to know,” the pilot responded. “Some of these island women make some pretty strong stuff by chewing up fruits and nuts and spitting them into a container. They piss in it then, cover it and let it ferment for several days in the sun,” Howard explained.

“Why the hell did you tell me that?” Manning answered, looking into his cup and wincing.

“Hey, it obviously hasn't killed anyone, and you like the taste of it. Just go with the flow,” the pilot told him, as he took another swig from his cup and smacked his lips in Manning's face. A young boy was there pouring more drink into their cups.

It was strong and you could feel it after just a cup. The drumming seemed louder as the dancing intensified. Both men and women danced, and their dancing became more vulgar as time passed. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, especially Manning who briefly attempted to dance with a few women who enticed him to try. Howard had been invited to try but declined. Manning didn't last long in his condition. Soon their was a shout and things came to a halt as the main course was lifted from the pit. The leader sat bobbing forward and backward, smiling his half toothless grin, and getting more excited by the second. There was a tremendous commotion around the pit as dinner was about to be served. Young girls and boys bent over with woven trays, waiting for the food to be placed on them, so they could serve it. The leader, wife and guests of honor would be served first, as was the custom of most of these cultures. This one seemed more island-like than mountain... more Polynesian than Asian.

Manning's head was swimming from the drink. He could barely focus on anything. Howard had been a little more conservative in his drinking, but then he was older and larger than his copilot, and while he felt slightly inebriated, he wasn't as far along as his partner. The leader was beyond himself waiting for the food to arrive. As one young girl came towards them, the leader poked the pilot, relaying to him as best he could, this was their dinner coming. It was probably the best of the meat and other cooked things, which was normally reserved for honored guests and the leader. The girl was out of place wearing a jacket of some sort and caught the attention of Manning but Howard noticed it as well.

“Frank! Isn't that Riley's flight jacket?” Manning asked his superior. Frank had already recognized it. “They've been to the plane.”

“Yeah. It certainly is...” he began but was interrupted as the young girl uncovered the mat she served in front of the leader and his guests, of the meat wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. As the two men focused in the flickering light of the surrounding torches, it became obvious what was being served.

“Sir, it's Riley... it's his head!” Manning slurred.


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Comments (1)

  • Mack Devlinabout a year ago

    This is excellent. I love the realism, especially in the dialogue. Very natural and compelling. I didn’t even want to touch this prompt because of the limitations. You proved they don’t actually exist. Bravo.

Dennis HumphreysWritten by Dennis Humphreys

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