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Ujung Kulon - from The Fever


The Fever

Mitchell wiped the sweat from his forehead and tried to clear his mind for the next stage of his plan. It had taken longer than heíd thought. He should have been there by now. Instead he had wandered through the jungle for two days, hallucinating, lost, attacked on all sides by that horrid green light as if trapped by an army of triffids. Whenever he lay down and looked up at the immense trees with their buttressed trunks crawling with aerial roots and the forks of their branches dotted with epiphytes, he sensed he had stumbled into a kind of overgrown prison complex, a new experiment in penal reform, monstrously landscaped by some demented designer. He would lay there for hours, sinking deeper and deeper into the lush green carpet of moss, convinced of the injustice of his incarceration, trying to determine his bearings from the lengthening shadows. He had heard about these institutions, located on islands or in dense jungle, a tyrantís answer to political activists and dissidents. Too tired to move, he came to the conclusion that by some typical bureaucratic confusion he had been mistakenly consigned to the psychiatric wing, thrown into solitary confinement for subversion when his only crime was love. Those chortling men with their pressed camouflage uniforms and dangerous machetes had somehow tricked him. But he was innocent. He was the last surviving inmate in a long-forgotten work-camp, the victim of an insidious totalitarian response to his lone dissenting voice.

Mitchell tossed another branch onto the fire and huddled a little closer to the spluttering flames. The damp wood burnt slowly, giving little comfort to his shivering limbs. He had woken up yesterday morning with that familiar malarial sweat covering his face and could tell by the way every muscle ached that it was going to be a bad bout. But he had known worse times. This was nothing to those months he had spent crashing through the forest when she had first disappeared. He gazed into the flames, intent on gathering all the available heat from the pale fire.

He was keeping a sharp eye on those lianas and epiphytic ferns. He would keep them under observation for as long as it took. They irked him. They seemed to creep towards him. He had realised at last, that the foliage was sprouting from his mind, but as he looked at the bizarre large-leaved shapes he was unsure how much comfort he could draw from this discovery. Yet he was beginning to favour the heightened states he experienced in this reoccurring sickness. They seemed in some way more real than what usually passed for normality. And they brought with them an unmistakable lucidity; a way of seeing, a kind of pictorial language that could probe the darkest corner, uncovering new connections, constructing a series of windows from a seemingly haphazard assortment of events, creating an improbable synthesis from the unlikeliest material. More than anything, he enjoyed the fluid, rather random access it gave to those parts of his memory that he didnít normally explore.


Ujung Kulon, John Edmiston


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