Like all nights, this one was muggy and black. It will rain tonight, he thought as he rubbed his arthritic knee. Maybe. No matter how long he sat in one place, unmoving, still the sweat pooled within his crevices. He was soaked behind the knees and in the folds of skin beneath his jaw. His shirt had soaked through hours ago and gave him little respite from the heat.
Like all nights, he leaned against the largest tree in the area. He could feel the roughness of the bark poking into his back as he stretched his legs out across the dying grass before him. He didn’t groan as he stretched, but his occasional sighs were loud enough to momentarily silence the crickets hidden in the thick, brown grass.
Like all nights, he kept the rifle nearby. Not splayed out across his lap or directly next to his leg, but close. He didn’t trust himself enough to sling it across his shoulder the way other men did: so easily, so casually. In his hands, it felt like too much power for a man to wield. Too much death contained within a single machine. He sighed again and struggled to his feet. He brushed off his pants, both front and back, stretched again in the moonlight, and grabbed the gun from the ground.
Like all nights, he paced around the mass grave, now some forty yards wide and forty yards long. Not quite a perfect square, but a gaping chasm nonetheless. One that kept its hungry mouth open to the sky, always waiting for its next meal. He was careful not to walk too close to the edge; he’d fallen in once early on and had to wait until daybreak for the other to help pull him out.
He would tell himself that the fall was the most terrifying part of the whole ordeal, but that was a lie. The fall was terrifying, but worse still was the landing and broken silence as he lay there entangled with the limbs of the long-dead. His impact scattered hundreds of flies into the air, angered that their exploring of ears and eyes and nostrils had been interrupted. He landed hard and had the wind knocked out of him, so he lay there and tried to calm himself down.
Up close, the smell of rot and decay was so much worse. Lifeless arms and legs lay intertwined with each other. Flies circled and landed on open wounds that no longer bled, crawled into open mouths and unprotected ears, across the surface of those milky, lifeless eyes. Trying to catch a breath and not vomit at the same time felt like his body violently fighting against itself, a feeling he had no interest in replicating again soon. The flies seethed around him and, mistaking him for dead, swarmed over his body before he swatted them away and pulled himself up from the gnarled mess of bodies. Everywhere he stepped, another swarm of flies erupted around him, swirling about in a tornado of black specks.
He’d wandered around looking for the best way out, but none presented themselves. And of course, he’d tried to climb out on his own. He’d found weak roots sticking out from the earth, but they came loose when he grabbed them and tried to pull himself up the dirt wall. Shovel-sized chunks of soil crumbled beneath his fingers and broke apart into smaller pieces as they hit his face before tumbling to the ground below. He kept spitting out bits of dirt and grass and God only knew what else as he tried, unsuccessfully, to scramble up the walls.
He spent the following hour (hours?) stumbling around the hole’s perimeter while pressing his dirty shirt tight across his face to protect him (poorly) from the smell that permeated. The bodies he walked on held dimmed, unblinking eyes that stared into the early morning as if looking for diamonds scattered across the blanketed sky. They seemed to be swallowed up by the hole, completely consumed by its impartial appetite.
At one point, he looked down and realized that he had literally stumbled across one of his cousins. He heard the snapping and breaking of her fingers and wrist bones as he moved along, and that sent him spiraling for several days afterward. Even still, it didn’t affect him as long as he thought it would.
He began to pace around the perimeter of the pit, wondering if perhaps he should try to find some way to tell his uncle what he’d found. In the beginning, he hadn’t realized that he’d never get to see any of them again. So, when his replacement finally showed up, angry, he mumbled an embarrassed thanks (and many apologies) to the man, who came and pulled him up out of the pit around sunrise. Once out, he dusted himself off, nodding in all the right places while the other berated him for nearly half an hour … but also thankfully never told the boss.
So, at least there was that.
And so, like all nights, he walked around the edge of the hole, often speaking to the bodies of those he knew in life — those whose names he knew by heart, the faces he could describe in total darkness and those he remembered after only seeing a few times in his town, and who had found themselves, inevitably and unceremoniously, here at the bottom of the hole dug somewhere deep in the jungle where he and the sweat and the moonlit morning spoke to each other. He thought it odd, early on, that such silence could exist with so many people crammed into a single area. The idea of it made him bark a single laugh into the black night, briefly shattering the silence before it slowly pieced itself back together until dawn.
Childhood friends, old lovers, and distant relatives continued to fall, one by one, into the gaping maw of the mouth that never tired of consuming his countrymen. The truck would come (never regularly) and back up to the pit. The soldiers in the truck bed had either shirts or bandanas wrapped around their faces and wore makeshift uniforms of camouflage and black armbands. Even from the far side of the pit, he could see the anger in their eyes; they burned hot like the plains at midday and were just as unforgiving. They were ready to cut a man’s throat for saying the right thing the wrong way, or at the wrong time, which is why he always stood on the far side of the pit when their engines could be heard motoring through the jungle.
The truck would remain idle as the soldiers in back hastily dumped each body into the pit. The few truckloads he saw when he first started standing guard were small: five to ten bodies at most. But the last month or so had seen a huge increase. Each truck brought with it twenty to thirty limp figures covered in dried blood, vomit, and flies flitting across every surface.
Even from across the pit, even at night, he could see the soldiers splashing around in puddles of blood accumulating in the truck bed. With each lift and shift of the bodies from the truck, little rivers of it came spilling out and pooled in the earth below. How none of this had turned his stomach yet, he didn’t know — not the bodies in the pit, not all the new ones being brought by truck, not the blood. He had been out here for nearly three months now and none of it seemed real — maybe that was the secret.
Then again, maybe it was the reassurance that his wife and newborn son were safe from harm while he watched over this pit until the conflict’s end.
The silent night can weave a quiet lullaby and quickly send a man drifting off into dreams even while the nightmare of life continues on, unabated, in the villages and cities beyond the starlit canopy of the jungle. Sure, the stillness of midnight might get punctured by an explosion several miles out, but it was several miles out and nothing to be overly concerned about. And sure, sometimes he might see the fiery remnants of one of those explosions color the sky orange, but it died down soon enough and he could always rely on the trucks to arrive with a new delivery after the louder nights.
They were usually quiet, the nights, what with skirmishes being much farther out beyond the jungle, beyond the plains that lay beyond it, and beyond the receding river that cut through the land beyond that, all sounding like tiny, rainless thunder happening in another country that he’d never visit. The leafy ceiling of the jungle hung still and monolithic; few breezes made their way through the vegetation. And maybe that was a good thing, given that the smell of the pit would otherwise waft and sneak across the countryside and ruin the appetites of others the way it ruined his. The occasional breeze would sure be nice, though. A little something to keep the night interesting in between deliveries.
He was thankful for his sleep during the day. He and another man, who refused to reveal his name — or participate in any conversation — shared a large tent nearly a hundred yards away from the pit. This was designed (poorly) to be far enough away to avoid the smell, but close enough to arrive in stealth should any intruders come upon them, whether on purpose or by accident. Their makeshift home was intentionally blended into the foliage as an extra layer of defense for just such a contingency.
The tent was more spacious than he’d imagined when it was first described. Two cots were set up on either side of the large front flaps of the entrance and ran along the length of the tent. Footlockers were placed at the foot of each cot and were both supplied with first aid kits, extra radios (only for emergency communications), rations to last until the next allotment delivery (typically every two weeks), a compass, a large hunting knife, matches, a flare gun, and an old handgun with a single box of ammo (again, for emergencies if their rifles somehow became inoperable).
Beneath each cot was an extensive selection of ammo for their rifles and a few changes of clothes. Around their respective cots were bits of their past life, mementos, carvings from the jungle wood, or faded pictures of family who had gone missing during the last few years. Some of the pictures had succumbed more fully to the sweat of the jungle, fading and warping the face of a nearly forgotten uncle, or the image of a sister whose name was also tattooed across one’s heart, into something unrecognizable.
The hot stink of men and the stiff aroma of death creeping through the tent flaps was unimaginable, but one couldn’t sleep too deeply in the jungle; there were too many predators, both large and small, that would gladly feast upon the skin of an absent-minded man. Sometimes, during his shift, he would search the jungle floor for aromatic herbs. He’d gather them up, tie them together with a more pliable piece of ivy, and shove them in his pocket. At sunrise, the other man would relieve him of duty and he would march slowly back to the tent. A single match and a strip of paper set in the middle of the plucked flora was all it took to set the bundle ablaze, and he’d walk around the tent, waving the burning clump as if exorcising the space of every spirit emanating from the pit’s gaping maw. Soon the smell would permeate the area and he would fall into a restless sleep as the sun punished the world outside.
This was how daylight started for him. This is how all his days would end.
Another night of duty, another quiet night in the jungle: there wasn’t much to keep one occupied during the lulls. If no trucks came, no men came. If no men came, then no deliveries came either … neither bodies nor rations. During these times, it was easy for a man to be hypnotized by the sounds of the jungle; the hard rattles, the soft buzzes, the coos and the caws, the whistles, the ribbits. The night sounds were the best sounds, he believed, because they were both life and death personified. The day sounds always shouted down the sunlight while the moon and its ever-changing light allowed the jungle to just be without judgment.
These sounds were dangerous for him, as they put him at ease. The night was an easy spell to fall under, a mesmerizing thing that made his eyes heavy as he listened to the jungle speak its language. He’d sit beneath a favored tree that was within view of the pit, but out of easy view in case anyone arrived. This is where he’d put his gun down on the mossy ground beside him, lean against the soft bark of the tree, and simply listen until the jungle sang him to sleep. And soon, he was sleeping.
He didn’t know how much time had passed, or how long he had been asleep, when the sound of a rumbling engine came barreling through the foliage. A new shipment was arriving. Or maybe it was rations. His sleepy brain fired off several possibilities before he could put any truth to a single one. He rubbed his eyes, yawned, stretched, and slapped his face a couple times to get the blood flowing.
He got up, slung the rifle over his shoulder, and stood at the pit’s opposite edge, waiting for the truck to arrive. He could see the red brake lights through the vegetation as the truck edged closer and closer. The jungle beyond took on an eerie glow from the headlights as the truck backed toward the pit. He raised his hand to greet them, but the two soldiers in the back acknowledged him with only the slightest of nods, disinterested because he was not one of them. Armed though he was, he was no soldier; he was less than.
The truck stopped inches away from the pit’s edge, an act perfected by the drivers from so many deliveries month in and month out. A tarp covering the mound of tangled flesh in the truck bed was whipped off as soon as the engine shifted down and began idling. One couldn’t tell where a leg began and an arm stopped, even from up close. The men started lifting bodies and either throwing them out into the pit or rolling them off the open tailgate where they unceremoniously flipped and tumbled, limp, onto the other bodies.
The unmistakable urge to get up close and watch the process moved him around the pit’s perimeter. As he got closer, he noticed that this shipment was less bloody; the masked soldiers weren’t splashing around in blood like they normally did. He wondered where this particular mass of remains was coming from. Then, he saw them pick up her lifeless body from the back of the truck.
Had he not been paying attention, and had he not known the curvature of her body as well as he did, he never would have realized that she had been caught up in the conflict somehow. Later, he’d wonder if he ever would have discovered her body had he not been there for her arrival. Later, he’d wonder what had happened to everyone else.
He stood there, stunned, looking out across the sea of bodies that filled the pit now. He wondered how many of them he had wished a good morning at some point. He wondered how many of them had bought used parts from his father’s shop. He wondered how many of them had been his teachers when he was younger.
One of the two masked soldiers barked at him to get back to his guard duty, but he barely heard the sound as he stared at the woman’s body below him. Her eyes stared up, unblinking. Something hard struck his ear, breaking him from his reverie, and fell into the pit. A severed hand, he realized, had been thrown by the same soldier who had barked at him. He turned to look at the soldiers and gazed, emotionless, as they laughed at him and pulled the tailgate back up and locked it. They both sat on the ridge of the truck bed; one of them smacked the top of the cab twice. The engine revved and the truck pulled away from the pit as quickly as it had appeared.
Below, his wife continued to stare up into the black night sky. He wondered what her last thought had been. Then he wondered what had become of their newborn son.
He stood at the edge of the pit and cried, silently, for hours. He didn’t comprehend the passing of minutes or hours in those final moments of twilight, so it was no surprise that when his replacement came to relieve him of duty, when the sun had arrived hot and heavy, he was still standing at the edge of the pit in a near catatonic state. When he realized his replacement was there, asking him questions, all he could do was motion toward the pit and mumble more bodies last night, which his replacement nodded at before gently nudging him toward their shared tent.
He tried to sleep, but he couldn’t shut his eyes without her face appearing in the dark behind his eyelids. He tried to shift his body on the cot, hoping he was just too uncomfortable to sleep, but he knew the constant visions of her would keep him up while he was supposed to be resting. He stared at the fabric of the tent’s wall, trying to exhaust himself through intense concentration on its fibers, but every time his eyes fluttered into darkness, she was there waiting. In some moments, her eyes were the deep, lovely brown he remembered fondly; in other moments, they became little more than black holes within which he found himself drowning and flailing, unable to grab hold of anything to put him back upright on solid ground.
Through the afternoon, his exhaustion slowly began to turn into simmering anger, which he then tried to walk off by furiously pacing near the front of the tent for a good hour or two. By the time he was done, his whole body was covered in a sheen of sweat, soaking through the clothes that would have to last him until who knew when. He stumbled into the stuffy tent, fell onto his cot, and laid there as the sun beat through the fabric roof above him.
Soon after, his eyes finally fluttered shut and he slept a deep and exhausted and dreamless sleep.
It had taken his replacement no small amount of time to wake him. He’d been prodded awake with the butt-end of a rifle, a thing he’d only experienced a few times before, and always when he had greatly overslept. He grunted in pain and turned over on the cot; the other was already removing his boots, readying himself for his own deep and lengthy sleep after standing guard during the heat of the day. They stared at each other briefly, an acknowledgement from one to the other, and then proceeded on with their normal machinations of that particular hour.
He rubbed his eyes and dressed quickly before digging out extra rifle ammunition from his footlocker. He made sure his canteen was full and then left the tent and the sound of his replacement, who had already fallen asleep and was snoring loudly.
He emerged from the tent flaps and into the evening sun, which filtered through the tree tops and dappled the ground around him. He could sense a strange kind of calm in the surrounding jungle. The birds weren’t as musical, but they chirped and sang at longer and longer intervals, preparing for sundown. The yellow light spilling through to their little glade began turning a golden orange as he closed the distance between the tent and the pit. He held onto the rifle’s strap as it hung loose across his shoulder and marched through thick, tick-infested grass, passing his hand in front of his face to swat the bugs that swarmed.
He would work tonight — harder than he ever had in the past. He hoped another shipment wouldn’t arrive, as that would complicate things considerably if the soldiers came at the wrong moment. He would have to work quickly.
Two quiet hours passed. The golden orange of sundown became a violent red and then bled into a soft, velvety black that cocooned the jungle into something thick and tangible, like the vegetation was pulling back to protect itself. He liked this time of night; he preferred the night in general, but there was a definitive and obvious shift in the feeling of everything when the world went black.
He stepped around the pit’s edge to the truck drop-off area. If he could maneuver enough bodies up against the wall, he figured he’d be able to climb out just fine. A rumble in the distance meant violence or thunder, both of which would make his work harder if he didn’t start soon.
He scrambled down into the pit, rifle still slung across his right shoulder, and felt the stiff breaking of dead and brittle bones beneath him. For the next hour, he untangled the limbs of other unknown bodies from his wife’s. Gently, he dragged her away from the mass and placed her against the adjacent wall and out of the way.
He tried to ignore the fact that they were (or had been) people as he stacked bodies up against the pit wall. He had to bring more over from other parts of the pit, parts where bodies had been decaying for much longer and where the stench of death was strongest. He tried not to retch but found that what little food was in his stomach came out in bile form regardless. Despite the heat of the day, their bodies retained a weird chill to them that unnerved him more than he wanted to admit. For several moments of paralyzing fear he felt the bodies were about to come to life, feed on him, and drag him down to the very bottom of the pit where he would be lost forever.
Once he had a proper stairwell of bodies leading up to the pit’s ledge, he hoisted his wife’s body upon his shoulder and climbed out. He nearly lost his footing (and his hold on her) a few times, but somehow managed to make it out eventually. He refused to use their fronts or step on their heads or faces as that would’ve been taking things too far, even for this kind of situation.
His legs burned, and he was breathless as he emerged from the pit with her body slung across his shoulders. He would hide her nearby in the jungle, in a place where the other couldn’t possibly find her, and then he would figure out how to steal away with her sooner rather than later. He walked several meters away from the pit and away from the makeshift road and away from anywhere his other might possibly explore. He found the expansive fronds of a large-leafed fern that was a bloom large enough to hide the entirety of her body until he could come back and move her again.
He ran his fingers across her face in the dark. Some part of him ached and hoped that, though she could not feel him on this material plane, she was watching and experiencing the moment all the same from another one. He ran his fingers across both eyelids, closing them, and left her under the looming fronds.
He marked several trees around the area by carving a simple line in the bark. Once satisfied that he could find this place again by memory, he returned to the pit and stood guard the way he did every night. The low rumbling of thunder or violence across the horizon kept him company for much of the remainder of the shift. Rain never came, and neither did another delivery of bodies. At some point, while staring in the general direction of his wife’s hidden body, he fell into an uncomfortable nap, but awoke again hours before his replacement could be seen walking toward the pit to relieve him just after dawn.
The early afternoon sun had him sweating through his shirt sooner than expected. Or maybe his restless dreaming had been more nightmarish than he could recall upon waking.
It would be hours before shift change and before the other would return to the tent. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the shirt he’d worn yesterday, then threw it across the tent. Had he been naïve to think that his family would have any real protection or had his wife’s murder been an honest mistake? The end result was the same, no matter the explanation, but still.
And if his child was not part of the last delivery, where could he have gone off to? Was he safe with family? Had he been collateral damage in whatever final moments his wife had to witness? Asking himself these questions was unlikely to uncover the answers he wanted, but all he had out here was the sun and time, and while the sun would eventually go down, time was endless; there was plenty of it to go ‘round. So, he decided to sneak through the jungle and make his quiet way back to the fern beneath which his wife’s body remained.
The noon-day sun dappled small areas of the jungle floor, illuminating dust and dirt motes that swarmed or fell from disturbed branches. The solitude and the dimly lit darkness under the thick foliage lent the jungle a sacred feeling, the kind one got from being alone in an empty church late at night.
The trek through the jungle took longer than he’d previously thought, but he’d also been moving more slowly and more precisely to avoid detection. Once he could no longer see parts of the pit through the surrounding branches and foliage, he figured he was far enough away to walk normally.
He saw his markings on the trees and followed the signs to the looming fern. He took two fronds in his hands and parted them, finding her there in the same position as the night before, surprisingly unmolested by the surrounding nature. Had he thought about it before, he would’ve found some way to cover her up more, but there was also something about her nakedness that made her seem fragile in ways she never was while alive. It wasn’t that he was aroused by her nakedness, not physically anyway, but there, under the pockmarked sunlight beaming through the treetops, she seemed otherworldly. Ethereal, even — like a jungle spirit locked in a waking dream, and he had been chosen to … to what, exactly? What now was his purpose?
He sat down on the dirt beside her and let the fronds close above them. The shade engulfed them, made a cocoon of their bodies within the leafy space. He could hear the buzzing and click-clacking of the surrounding jungle, but it seemed a million miles away from them. He sighed and felt his hot breath bounce back off the leaves. He turned to look at her; her pale body was speckled with black dirt in places. He took a kerchief from one of his pockets and began lightly dusting her off, ridding her of the dark earth. Once she was clean again, he put the kerchief back into his pocket.
He sat there for a long while, and if you had asked him, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you when exactly it was that he reached down and took her hand in his. But, he could tell you for certain that he didn’t want to let go and he was damn sure he didn’t want to stand guard over that pit for another night.
But he did let go, eventually.
And he did stand guard over that pit for one more night.
Dusk. The other hadn’t said a word to him during their shift change. They’d barely exchanged glances, in fact. Not unusual, by any means, but it felt strange. Perhaps it was because he was entirely focused on her and hoping the jungle wouldn’t take her as its own now that she was out of the pit. Perhaps he was overthinking it.
The deep pinks and purples of sunset came dripping through the foliage, making stark, black outlines of every leaf and tree before them. Night fell slow and syrupy across the canopy of limbs; the moon and starlight were all that were visible, creating a soft hazy glow around the top-most bodies in the pit. They shone ethereal, with their silence and their stillness. He sat on the perimeter of the pit, arms wrapped around his legs that were pulled up to his chest, a huddled mass merely counting down the hours until dawn.
He turned to look behind him and stared off into the jungle where her body lay, as if he could see her through the black, as if the leaves that rustled behind him were her ghostly apparition appearing. But all he saw was the black and, if he tried hard enough, the dark outline of the jungle.
He turned back to the pit and stared at the tangled mess below. If he could look each of them in the face, could he accurately count the number of people down there that he once knew? How many names did he know? How many faces would he actually recognize if their eyes had been open and alive, their mouths voicing a morning greeting or a goodbye?
He looked up into the sky, closed his eyes, and inhaled the evening slowly, trying to ignore the smell curling up from the pit. If he focused, he could hear the sound of tree frogs in the distance and the soft thuds of smaller animals leaping from limb to limb. He imagined the feel of insects across his exposed skin as he listened to them play their nightly symphonies and immediately wondered if all those creatures knew of his little secret hidden out in the underbrush.
He stood up and stretched in the moonlight. The sound of cracking back bones was a tiny joy as he raised his hands to the sky and decided to leave his quiet perch. The trek back into the jungle was a strangely calming one. Had his anger dissipated? Not even a little bit. It coursed through him like slow poison spreading through his arteries, filling him and keeping him motivated.
He was also dangerously calm, though he couldn’t say why. There was no earthly reason that he should find himself so still of mind. Perhaps because there was no one out here to take his anger out on? The other, sure, but he hadn’t done this. Not directly. And if blame for his wife’s death was to be put on the other, then he himself would have to shoulder some of it as well for doing the exact same job for the exact same brutes in charge.
The underbrush cracked and rustled as he made his way through the darkened jungle. Maybe it was because he’d spent so much time around so many bodies, but the dark, and what was hiding in it, no longer spooked him. And if he thought about it, that stuff was all in his head anyway. Strange that imaginary shadows and spirits had once been more terrifying than the hearts of men. Hadn’t history proved, time and time again, that man was the realest horror of them all? He clucked his tongue at the thought, knowing it was true and preferring it wasn’t.
The deeper he went, the darker it got, but he seemed to have committed the path to memory. With each step, the leaves and bugs brushed against his exposed, sweaty skin and he felt more sure, more confident that he knew where he was going. Soon he was there, standing in the brittle, scattered moonlight staring at the oversized fronds that hid her body below. No breeze made its way here, but he could smell her from thirty feet away. She seemed to have saturated the area and turned some of the predators away, though he knew that couldn’t possibly be true. The space felt unnaturally quiet in a way that unsettled him.
He walked gingerly to the fern and thought he could hear something: the slow movement of an earthworm burrowing its way through the earth or the sound of a house gently creaking in the wind. He parted the fronds slowly and was immediately dumbfounded. His wife remained in the same place, but the plant had brought its roots up from the ground and wrapped their thin, wiry lengths around her body over and over. He fell to his knees quickly, pulling a knife from his belt. He began slicing through the tendrils that were tightening themselves around her, but when one cut was made, two more roots appeared and wrapped themselves around her, solidifying the fern’s grasp.
He sliced through several and then several more, but a seemingly endless number of dirt-covered tendrils erupted from the ground to cocoon her in their grasp. He could hear the roots growing and stretching through the jungle dirt, a sound that soon scratched at his brain and seemed to wrap itself tightly around his skull. The sound of rope being pulled taut echoed inside him, as though the vines had penetrated his thoughts and blocked them out. He could hear them snaking and sliding through the cranial canals and along the walls of his skull.
He looked at the length of her, now wrapped up mummy-like in fern root and dirt. The tendrils had, miraculously, grown around her face, leaving it exposed, but had very nearly covered every other bare inch of her. The middle and index fingers of her left hand stuck out and were barely visible in the dark; he took them in his own two-fingered grasp, hoping to hold onto her for as long as he could. Even lifeless and in the dark, she radiated the kind of beauty that had pulled him to her so long ago. Her cold fingers wrapped in his brought back a flood of memories from the days just before he left to stand guard at the pit. His vision went blurry as he teared up and lay down beside her. If the earth was going to take her, then it would have to take him too.
He laid his head on the dirt and stared at her. He could hear the tendrils moving again. He felt the slither and the slink of each one as they came up and curled around his arms and legs and wrapped around his torso slowly, patiently. It was not like suffocation; the tendrils did not tighten around him so much as they created a barrier between him and the jungle.
Soon, he knew that he too would be an empty vessel with dimmed, unblinking eyes staring up into the early morning as if looking for the diamonds scattered across the blanketed sky. The tendrils had wrapped themselves around his fingers holding hers, so they had become indelibly intertwined, a thought he enjoyed as the roots and the dirt continued to surround them and the jungle watched in silence.