A Question Of Propriety


    It was such an odd incident today. And it is funny, but I find it is not the oddness of the event, although it, in itself, was passingly strange. It is my reaction that leaves me to ponder now. What has the time here done to me? The months on the calendar drift by with no notice of the change of week or day. The place and the weather remain the same. The concept of winter's change to summer means nothing.
     I hate this place. I wonder if is that hate is a vaccine for fear. But, rather I suspect, it is only the lethargy of not caring any more.
     No one else has seen a native here. At least not one they have mentioned. I do wonder, who I would be, to say that perhaps they also have seen things they have not spoken of. I said nothing of my encounter, and do not doubt that I will likewise decline to in the future. After all, Mike has told me in no uncertain terms that there are no indigenous people here. I learned already that I am no one to question his word on such things.
     At first I thought the man was on one of those spirit/drug/vision/journey things they do. Although I understand not a word of the language, it was easy to recognize that he was out of what ever mind he might have had, hallucinating wildly.
     I do not think he understood what was happening to him. I don't know why I thought that. I have had very little contact with those kinds of drugs or the people using them. There was something about the way he ranted at me, the frightened/lost look in his eyes. Perhaps everyone on one of these so-called "journeys" is the same. How would I know? Yet, still, I was left with the impression that he wasn't on the tour he signed up for.
     But I digress. My life long habit of succinctness pressing me even in my private journal. And what would I do, were I brief here? Engage in conversation with Jud? (Oh, I am sorry. I do mean the Honorable Senator Justin Farfax.) Now that is a thought to bring up tonight's over-cooked ex-powdered meal.
    But, even while I ponder it, the emotional reaction of a lost native to a (possibly) unexpected altering of the senses is of little concern to me. It is my reactions (or lack of them) that causes me to pause. I should, I would think, have been frightened of him when I saw him ah ..., when I saw him doing - what? Just what I would call what he was doing I am not sure. It could hardly be called walking, yet not quite a stagger. Not graceful by any stretch of the imagination.
     Well, what ever I choose to call what he was doing, he was doing it down the main trail (as if any of these overgrown foot paths could be rightly called "main") and directly toward me. His unexpected arrival resulted in virtually no response from me. I continued to sit on the rotting logI had pressed into service as a chair. I did not cease the constant wiping of the continuous flow of sweat that still runs down the back of my neck even as I write. It occurred to me even at the time that I should have had some sort of reaction to the ranting and gesturing and awkward dancing he did in my face. Right in my face he was too. So close to me I could map the runs and cracks in the paint on his face and begin to choke on the obnoxiously strong sent of oranges (of all things) on his breath. I stared, perhaps mesmerized by my reflection in his dilated eyes.
     I did not even move when he left. I watched him with the detached attitude of a board local watching an angry tourist. Somehow it seemed not worth the energy, either mental or physical.
     Nor did I move from my friendly stump after he was gone. I only pondered the spray of sweat that had come off of him. And that in itself strikes me as odd in retrospect. I have noticed that the other natives here remain dry enough for an anti-perperant commercial even while we white-bellied transplants pour off salt water like an over worked plow horse.
    That odd sent of orange peel had remained, almost like an itch, in my nostrils.


   Originally, I had fully intended to mention my encounter. Why I even cared to, I can not imagine, but somehow it seemed like propriety demanded, so I ventured into Mike's dank tent.
    It didn't surprise me in the slightest, that at first mention of the possibility of seeing some other human here, that he had started his long winded explanation of why it couldn't be so. I didn't even finish the sentence, much less the thought, before he started that "I know what reality is and let me inform you don't you even think of arguing" way of lecturing he has. I think it took him at least four run-on sentences before he noticed I had left the tent.
    I considered mentioning the incident to Jud. I'll admit to considering it only briefly. But that sliver of a thought died when I entered his tent and he handed me another (yet another) boring (equally boring) report (in his debatably readable hand writing) to be typed (all 17 pages) in time for Saturday's mail.
     Would the pilot notice, I wonder, if the mail bag was a bit heavy this trip?


    It's actually raining today. Really raining instead of misty drizzling. Not as if it is much different. It doesn't make it any cooler. Jason says it is cooler. I am not sure I believe him. I am sweating as much as ever, perhaps more, and I feel as hot as ever. I can hardly tell if I've been in the rain or not. My shirt is no less soaked if I stay in my tent. I think Jason has gotten tired of my complaining and is trying to make me think it is cooler.
    Perhaps I am only losing my patience with this place. (When did I have any?) The heat is bothering me more, the color of my tent, the sound of the rain, the drip of the forest.
    I am losing my patience with the "dedicated interest" of congressman Justin Farfax in the "ecological disaster" of this glorified sauna. I sat through half an hour of his ranting at me for the unforgivable sin of three errors in his latest report. You would think I always made errors from his attitude. He should realize that his only problem is that he has gotten so used to me being perfect that he thinks the world ends when I have a couple of typos in a 17 page report. It isn't like he is the one who will have to retype the thing on this antiquated manual typewriter. If he wants perfect all the time, he can get me a computer out here. Some good food, a hot shower, a dry bed and a woman, while he is at it wouldn't be refused.
   I don't know why I didn't just tell him to stuff it!


   JESUS CHRIST! Now Joe is getting on my case for eating. Can't win. He's been feeding me verbal crap for as long as he has been feeding me crap on a plate and all because I've been the only one willing to say what crap it is! So now I start eating it. And how does he respond? By hassling me again. I would like to know what he has been adding to our powdered eggs and canned spam. He claims he has made no change, saying that I, (arrogant, pretentious, whining gourmet that I am) am at last getting used to it.
   I didn't honor our gourmet chef with an explanation, but I am just hungry. I have never been like this, and the awful heat here, combined with the unpalatable nature of our rations, has kept my appetite to a bare minimum. It is starting to worry me. I have never eaten so much, even when I was running. God forbid that I arrive back in D.C. fat! I've always hated fat people.
    I think that I am just using a lot of energy trying to keep cool. I would swear it has never been so hot here. I am getting tired of them telling me to shut up about it. Everyone tells me it is no hotter, as if the sweat weren't pouring off of me in endless torrents. I wake from dreams of sleeping in an oven to find salt water running down my chest and the mattress soaking.
    I hate this place.


   So they found my native. They are not at all sure he is a human. He was hardly recognizable. Mike is so sure a person would not be here that he wont see it. The man (thing) was wild to look at. Some fungus had grown over or (at least it looked to me) out of the body. Fine layers of delicate white threads. Spun sugar covering his body. And pale yellow spore heads, vaguely resembling mushrooms growing out of that fine gauze. The body, like a crisp hollow shell, its insides transformed into angel hair that had been pulled out to cover the remains.
    For some reason when I saw it it struck me as funny. I started to laugh, but then Jud looked at me with such a look.
    I felt embarrassed by my amusement, abruptly stopping. Looking back on it now, I can not imagine why I thought it was so funny. I do not normally find that sort of thing funny.
    Actually, I don't find that sort of thing funny at all.


   All these people who for months have cared not one iota for my well being now think they are collectively my mother. Mike and Joe positively man handled me over to Tom's tent for an exam. They said they were tired of my bitching about the heat. Right now, I don't know why I fought about it. I never have resisted seeing a doctor, in fact my doctor back home seems to think me a hypochondriac. But I surely did. I knew something was wrong.
    So my temperature is elevated. I had always thought you felt cold while running a fever. Tom said that was right. With a fever the body looses track of how warm it is (or something like that). But my body just seems to have the heating system on full blast and trying to cool at the same time. Why my body is heating and trying to cool at the same time is beyond him. But, in this damp heat and the metabolism racing my body can't dump enough heat.
    Seems like as good of a reason as any to get my butt out of here. Jud the Honorable is not ready to leave yet, and Tom's opinion isn't enough for him to think I should either. Determined to finish the project as planned. Frankly, I intend to leave when the helicopter comes back for the next mail pick up. (Eight more hot, sweaty, dreary days.)
    Tom can't tell me why my body is running on power heat. The fever is not (yet) high enough (so he says) to be dangerous. Just uncomfortable.


   Now I am scared. Part of my mind has been thinking about it all along. But, well, you know how it goes. I've not been acknowledging. I've been keeping it far enough back in my head so I never have to actually look at it. Funny how sometimes things shoot past all defenses of denial, so loud in their clarity.
    Justin must know something is happening. That's a frightening thought also. Even as dense as he is he noticed the way I reacted. I will have to be more careful now. For the first time I am glad the man doesn't care about anything except making the news and the next election.
    If he only knew what he said. (God save me if he knew!)
    "Why are you so white Robert?" he had said in all indignity. "I'm sure you have had people tell you worse things then your breath smells orange peels!"

Oh God!


    All these guys talk about is that fuzzy covered native. They know. Every time I am around these guys that's all they can talk about. Joe keeps talking about how creepy it is. (There's a fungus amung-us) I sit here, sweat pouring off of my body. They must know. I can hardly work. I'm afraid to get near them. Afraid the scent will give it away. They look at me so oddly. They keep watching me. They tell me I'm hard to work with. I'm irritable, they tell me.
    I tell them to send me home. They want to keep me here. I know they do. They whisper about the man in the cocoon, they look at me with that "what's the matter with him?" look. As if they don't know. They do. They know. I'm turning into that. Its sucking out my life. Burning me up from the inside. I look at my eyes, they waiver. The sweat drips off of me. I watch it fall. It is alive. It spins into webs and grows. No one else sees it. But I do. I know what it is. I know what its doing. Its burning me up from the inside. It and I are becoming one. OH GOD. OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD.


    Reading over my journal from last night, I am frightened. I realize that my head is clearing only intermittently. And it clears progressively less often. The time is shorter each time. Even as I write I fight for clarity.
    In retrospect I can see that they have been talking about the native ever since they found him. But I refused to hear, refused to notice, to be a part of it. Fearful that I would let slip that I had seen him, that I had smelled his breath, that his sweat had blended with mine.
    The fever is now over 102 f. Tom is suggesting that I be flown out to the hospital. Jud is resisting. So is Mike. They know the project will be canceled early if it becomes known that a member of the "congressional party" is unexplainably and seriously ill. My life does not matter to them. It does not matter to me now. I know I will die. I am dying.
    Strange how it doesn't bother me now. It is better that I die. I know I have infected these men. Just as I was. I know also that I should tell them before they return. Let them know what they are carrying. But I can't. How can I face them and tell them that I knew, that I could have stopped this. How will they look at me then? Better to just die quietly. Oh, but how quiet will I be, I wonder. Let them think I didn't know.
    What kind of monster am I? I will let them die before I will tell them what they have. Its bad. I am bad. Yet, still, I can't. I can't go to them. I can't face them. I can't.
    How long will it take. Not long, not long. It was so soon they found the native dead, yet a living mass of fungus.


    I lost control today. Watching the trees, and they were alive. Writhing and moving. Caterpillars were crawling over them and covering them with web. The piles of silk grew and came to life. They were growing toward the camp.
    I was afraid everyone would know. The fear grew in me, filled me. It was sucked by the hollow vacuum that once was my soul and my heart. I began to scream and dance. I was so hot, so tired of being hot, I tore off my clothes and fought with them as they pulled me to the ground.
    They have locked me in my tent for now. I can get out, a tent makes a poor jail. I have to get out while I can think. Before they take me back for the world to see what I am.
    I can't allow this journal to survive me. Their last thoughts of me cannot be that I destroyed them. They cannot take this knowledge back with them.
    I have coughed up silk. At least I think I have. It is hard to tell what is real, and what is not. I buried it in the floor of the tent lest they see it. I try not to cough now. But I feel it growing in my lungs, I hear it wheezing.
    They have called the helicopter. I know they have. They are breaking down the camp and I am sure they intend to move out as soon as they can.
    But I am not going. I can't. I care nothing for my life now. Nothing for my sanity. It is almost gone. Or all gone, perhaps. The keys of the typewriter writhe and threads of white silk spin off the strikers as they move. The sweat flows and lives. I can hardly make it lay still. I can no longer tell what the wall looks like. It is different as I look at it. The jungle is alive. It breathes, it throbs. I can see it. I can hear it. I can feel it.
    The evil grows within me. It has taken me. From the first it took me. I can see it in my mind. It grows in them. It will grow in the world.
    But it means nothing to me. They will not see me die. I will not see it. I will be gone. I am almost gone now. Silk spins off of my fingers as I type.

    I am gone.



    President Packard offered his condolences for Senator Justin Farfax today following Farfax's address of the joint houses of congress.
    Farfax's aid, Robert Ans, disappeared from the research camp where he and Senator Farfax were observing a federally financed study in the Amazon River Basin.
     Ans, who was suffering from a case of food poisoning, ran into the surrounding forest to escape a fire that had broken out in his tent. Eight days of searching have failed to locate Ans.
     Justin Farfax was removed from the sight over his objection.

 Only three weeks remained in the project.
     In his address to congress, Farfax expressed his concern over the effects of deforestation. He called for congressional action to curtail U.S. activities which encourage or support the cutting of the forests. He also asked for federal aid to the nations who are dependent on the sales of such natural products.
     Farfax's usually calm demeanor seemed strained by the loss of his long time aid. He was short with reporters after the address, obviously sweating despite the unseasonably cool weather.
     Sandra Major, the Senator's press secretary, indicated that Farfax would be returning to his North Carolina estate for several weeks to rest and prepare a more complete report of his observations.



By Suli Marr