The first thing Jane Porter noticed about the jungle was that it was hot. And not just a normal dry hot, either, but a humid, muggy type of hot that made her hair stick to the back of her neck and her make up run. As they walked from their small plane to the waiting jeeps, she could feel herself melting into the unpaved road.
Her father walked beside her, but he seemed relatively unfazed by the heat. Beneath his hat his face was alight with joy, eyes wide as he took in every detail of their surroundings. She could practically see the cogs turning in his scientific mind as he catalogued the different types of plants lining either side of the road. When a bright blue bird flew past right in front of them, close enough to touch, he let out a whoop of joy.
"Oh, Janey Jane, isn't this fantastic?!" Professor Archimedes Q. Porter said excitedly, sounding less like a professor and more like a child who'd woken to discover Christmas had come early. "My whole life I've waited for this, and now we're finally here! Isn't it wonderful?"
Here was the African jungle. While her friends were holidaying in France or Spain, Jane was going to be spending her Summer in Africa, studying endangered gorillas and trying to figure out how to stop them from going extinct. It was a noble cause, and of course she was proud to be a part of it – but really, couldn't her father have organised the trip during the school year rather than the break? After a full year of studying hard at university and completing her undergraduate degree, Jane had been looking forward to more of a relaxing summer. At least here, she tried to tell herself, there was a chance for adventure. And adventure was good, right?
Jane flashed her father a smile and wiped the sweat under her eyes. Her hands came away black, smudged with running mascara. "Yeah, it's great."
"Professor Porter!" A deep voice rumbled from ahead of them. It belonged to a tall, well built man who was leaning casually against the nearest jeep, his khaki safari clothes almost blending in with the paint. A gun was holstered on his belt in an alarmingly casual manner, and Jane realised that this must be the guide they'd hired to protect them as they searched for the gorillas. He was British, like her and her father, but had apparently been trekking through South America for the last few years. How that made him qualified to lead them across Africa, Jane had no idea. "Good to see you made it."
"Ah, you must be John Clayton!" Professor Porter said. "Pleasure to meet you."
Clayton shook his hand, and then Jane's. "And this must be Miss Jane," he said with a smile.
She pulled her hand back and wiped it on her skirt. "Nice to meet you, Mr Clayton."
"If you'd like to load your things into that jeep over there," he pointed to the vehicle idling behind his, "and then you can ride in this one with me."
"Alright," Professor Porter said eagerly, lugging his suitcases over to the car.
Jane went to follow, but Clayton grabbed the handle of her suitcase before she could reach it and picked it up easily. "Allow me," he said charmingly, hoisting the case onto his shoulder and carrying it over.
"Thank you," she said, grateful to be relieved of the burden of the luggage.
Clayton didn't seem to hear her, but she decided that her father had made the right choice in hiring him.
The drive to base camp was bumpy at best and dangerous at worst. The suspension in the jeep couldn't compensate for the extreme ditches and hills in the dirt road they were following, and more than once Jane was bounced so high that her head hit the ceiling. Small stones kept flying out from under the tires, and while the top was down and they were going at a considerable pace there still wasn't enough of a breeze to disperse the humidity around them.
"Are we almost there?" Jane asked, leaning forward in her seat.
Professor Porter twisted to the side to face her. "Not far to go now," he said; and then, totally contradicting the confidence of his earlier statement, "How much further would you say, John?"
"Probably another twenty minutes," Clayton informed him, giving Jane a reassuring smile in the rear view mirror.
Another twenty minutes could drag on forever at this rate. They'd already been in the car for over half an hour, travelling deep into the jungle. Jane sunk back and propped her elbow on the door, resting her chin in her hand as she stared out at the jungle around them.
She'd never seen so much green before in one place. The plant life was vibrant almost to the point of being overwhelming; back in England she was used to neatly tended gardens and trimmed lawns, but out here nature flowed over onto the man-made road and ferns jostled with brightly coloured flowers for prime position beneath the canopy above. It was beautiful.
If the car hadn't been so impossibly bumpy, she would have sketched the scene. As it was, she had to settle for snapping a shaky picture on her camera phone for future reference. The phone had a sad no signal image in the top left hand corner, and once she was done taking photos Jane put the mobile back in her pocket. There was no point trying to text anyone to alleviate her boredom – the message would never be sent.
When the jeep stopped twenty two minutes later she clambered out expecting to see their camp set up, with a bed ready and waiting for her to collapse into it. But instead all she saw was more jungle, dense and imposing.
"This isn't camp," she stated blankly, looking from the trees to her father and back again.
"We're almost there!" he promised, squeezing her hand. "Just a short hike away now."
"A hike?" she repeated hopelessly. Jane hadn't dressed for a hike. Unlike her father and Clayton, who were wearing incredibly similar hiking outfits, Jane had dressed for the goodbyes back in London, not for the hellos in Africa. Her dress was ankle length, bright yellow and bound to show up the slightest stain. She didn't really fancy dragging it down the narrow path Clayton was now gesturing to. And her shoes! They were brand new boots, sturdy and perfect for hiking – if only she'd worn them in.
"Just a short one, Jane," her father said. "You'll be right, I'll be behind you."
"Okay," she said, trying to disguise her worry.
She walked behind Clayton, who was slashing at any low hanging branches with a machete, and in front of her father, who stopped every couple of steps to marvel at a plant or a bug or some other aspect of the jungle. Her feet ached but she refused to complain, trying to harness some of Professor Porter's enthusiasm for herself.
"Daddy," she said, deciding that the best way to take her mind off the blisters forming on her heels would be to learn, "Is our camp near where the gorillas live?"
"What?" It took him a moment to look up from a bright red beetle he was looking at through a magnifying glass. "Oh, yes, I hope so. Of course, you can never be sure of these things. And we don't want to be too close, after all."
"Are they really that violent?" She'd read up on gorillas as soon as she'd found out that their research group had been approved, but the internet was full of conflicting sources of information. The most comprehensive research she'd found had focused on monkeys, not apes, and so her knowledge was almost limited to what she could remember her father telling her about.
"Not violent, per se," he said, falling into step beside her. "More protective. And rightfully so, if you ask me. This is their home, after all – we're merely visitors."
Now that she'd got him started, Professor Porter chatted away about gorillas and apes for the rest of the walk. Jane was genuinely interested in sharing his wealth of knowledge, and she made sure to ask any questions as soon as they came to mind. Clayton remained disinterested in front of them, humming a quiet tune to himself as he hacked at the plants blocking their path.
When he pulled his pistol out and fired a shot into the distance, Jane nearly jumped out of her skin. Her hands clapped over her ears and she shrank back, startled and scared.
"Is everything alright, Mr Clayton?" her father asked, inching forward.
"Fine, Professor," he replied, lowering the gun but not holstering it. "You can never be too careful in the jungle, though."
"Did you see an animal?" Jane asked quietly.
Clayton nodded, still tense and alert as he scanned their surroundings. "Whatever it was, I scared it off."
Jane couldn't help but feel a prickle of fear as she followed his gaze, looking all around into the depths of the wild. All she could see were ferns and tree trunks; no wild animals.
"Come on, we want to reach camp by the afternoon. The sooner we start looking for the gorillas, the better." Clayton continued marching on, and the Porters followed after.
Jane stuck close to her father for the rest of the walk, but couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched.
a.n. the last thing I need to do right now is start another story but this plot bunny wouldn't leave me alone: a modern re-telling of Disney's Tarzan, woohoo!
please review and let me know what you think! do you like the idea, do you like the writing, are you curious about anything, etc. etc. reviews are inspiring!