The jungle has its own life: dark and steamy, wet and clammy. It clings to me like those haunting images that I will remember for years to come in the warm, dry and safe comfort of my home.
If I survive.
Every now and then a blinding burst sunshine cuts through the canopy above me, but then just as suddenly the wet darkness is back. All over me. Strange sounds hiss and scamper through the undergrowth as I move forward. Countless insects buzz around me as a chorus of strange howls start far away floating around me like some primordial choir.
Other howls suddenly strike up on all sides of me.
And then disappear as quickly and mysteriously as they came.
My hands are wet—perhaps from the dank humid air, perhaps from my nerves. The steel blade in my hand seems almost too hot to hold. Too heavy to carry. Too important to drop.
And my arm goes up.
And my arm goes down.
The vines and twisted vegetation falls—inch by inch—under the blade in my hand allowing my slow advance, almost a proxy for civilisation moving deeper in the wild untamed jungle. I briefly wonder if the first explorers had gone this way? Had ancient man faced this jungle with the same mixture of disgust and fear as wells up in me now? How had he kept on moving forward in the face of this?
And my right foot moves forward.
Then my left foot.
Foot by foot.
Inch by inch.
And so I move forward.
Something slithers over my foot and disappears into the jungle’s cover. An explosion of colour flutters over me as a strange beast shrieks somewhere in the distance.
My breath is sticky and I lick my lips tasting faintly of salt. I take a last small sip of the last of my clean water. This land is still spoilt this far south. Its ground water still tainted by the fallout so many centuries ago, so I cannot drink of its waters nor eat of its fruits. At least I have been able to save my rations this far on from the sacrifices of my companions along the way.
My arms goes up, steel flashes in sudden sunlight and my arm goes down. The vines fall temporarily away and I push forward.
Step by step.
All my technology has failed me. Transport crashed and broken, power sources are all gone, med-packs used up and masked blocked and cast aside. I savour a grim smile, as the first explorers had no more to use than what I carry now.
If they could get here, then so can I.
The rain comes at night. It always does. Not a trickle, but a flood of beating angry water attacking the land and the miserable life that survives here. I take shelter under a large strange leaf of some unidentified plant and try to find warmth in thoughts of home.
Home seems so far away as to be nothing more than a dream. A dry, warm and safe dream.
At least the jungle’s beasts also seem to take shelter from the rain. The strange howls and hisses around me have disappeared. Or drowned out by the roar of the rain on endless miles of jungle foliage?
I try to ignore the last thought, but it is no use. I cannot sleep.
Eventually the rain stops and then there is just darkness. A deathly darkness before the dawn’s moist red eye rears its head through the jungle heights. A welcome light in a fatal wild land still steeped in man’s past folly.
Step by step.
Foot by foot.
Arm up, arm down and inch by inch, I keep moving.
Suddenly, I am no longer in the jungle. I have burst out into a clearing of sorts…
The mud behind me has given way to the strange fading grey rock that ancient man used to build his pathways from. Faint white lines still mark out portion of it, perhaps indicating lanes for those travelling on it? It is cracked where it lies, but leads my eyes to the structures dotted along it.
The old dwellings lie here. Forgotten. Abandoned by mankind, but still unclaimed by all but few jungle vines and errant foliage. It is empty and dark, but I can almost imagine ancient man moving up and down these roads in their ancient land machines running on hydrocarbons and primitive power sources—some of the same primitive power sources that ended that age of man. The land machines filled with ordinary men off to whatever work filled that age’s day, children running laughing along these streets as woman bustled the markets…
Like in a dream I wander down that cracked forgotten road quietly as if they would speak to me of the images they once saw.
I pass by rusted signs and poles written in ancient, square tongue. Some of the land machine’s rusting carcasses lie scattered along the way. I pass a strange domed building on my left where I believe ancient man worshiped his primitive god, represented by a cross with a stretched bottom vertical.
And then I am in the centre of the skeleton of that city: a tall frame of rusting iron spirals upwards. Ancient man ruled from here. He ruled from these great architectures of control as his world connected across ancient machine-based networks.
So I climb it.
Endless crumbling stairs later I am standing on the top of the architectural skeleton and gazing down at the remains of the city below me. My breath is taken away and, finally, the steel blade in my hand clatters to the ground.
But I barely notice it.
The sight before me is so amazing, so unique, so vast… I do not really have any words for it. The crumbling remains of the city spread out beyond my very field of vision. It so huge. So vast. So endless that even the jungle seems to fear its size…
I do not think we realize how large ancient mankind really was. None of the old tales have truly captured quite how vast his control and dominance of this world was. The size of the remains of just this single city implies how thousands, no, millions of ancients must have lived here…
And suddenly it dawns on me exactly how devastating the nuclear bombs must truly have been to wipe out New York.