Eyes of the Jungle: Fantasy Novel
Eyes of the Jungle
Moody green eyes make their way into my cloudy consciousness, the starkness of them stunning. They hold me in a trance until all I can do is stare into the shifting irises. The peace, the bliss they offer. I hold still, embracing it, until a numb sensation of pain starts to trickle into my mind. Like needles digging their razor points into my arms, the ends causing a prickling torture unlike any I can name. Except for one thing.
“Nemo, stop that!” In a blur, I’m jolted awake by the impatience of the black fur-ball to which the mysterious eyes belong. “Nemo, what did I say about waking me up? I swear your feeding time gets earlier and earlier every morning.” I turn my head to read the alarm on my nightstand and, sure enough, it reads 5:55 in the morning. Normally Nemo at least has the decency to wait until six, but, apparently, he is dying of hunger. I flop on my back and stare up at the painted birds flying across my ceiling. Maybe one day I can migrate away from this cat.
“Fine,” I groan to him as I sit up again and step from my bed onto the cold tile floor, shivering. I pause just to procrastinate the long trip down the hallway to the kitchen, and decide to absorb the dim sliver of dawn that is coming through my one window. Despite the darkness in the room, I can make out my crisp white bedspread and beige walls through the shadows, along with the bright ocean paintings adorning them. Simple. I like it. When you live in a small hut in Deerfield Beach, you almost learn to live off the water alone. I finally gain the courage to trudge my way into the kitchen, constantly reminded of how I am not doing it fast enough.
“If you want food so bad, learn to do it yourself,” I snap at him, receiving an equally threatening glare in return. “How did I get stuck with you?”
“Yes, I know that I already know the answer!” What kind of life am I living if I have conversations with my cat? Oh well. Finally making it to the cramped kitchen, I reach into the wooden pantry and pull out Nemo’s gourmet, dry breakfast. After pouring the food in the bowl, I turn from the grainy wood counter to set Nemo’s red plastic bowl onto the tile where he always waits to devour it.
“Meow,” he yowls at me as I twist back around.
“You’re welcome.” He wastes no time in chowing down on his food. Now that the prince is taken care of, I can finally get some sort of delicacy for myself. I choose oatmeal. I grab my bowl and walk through the doorway next to the pantry to get into the equally cramped dining room next door. A little wooden table with three chairs sits in the middle of the room, with the only other decorations being aged family photos on the tan walls and a lone chair in the far corner. I sit as far as possible from the forsaken chair, trying not to come within range. Despite my best efforts, though, my eyes stay fixed on the piece as they always do, moisture threatening my eyelashes. I blink. Let’s not this morning, I tell myself repeatedly. Not wanting to lose myself, I get back up and finish my meal in the sanctity of the kitchen with Nemo. Once I’m satisfied, I make my way back to my room. By now the light has grown into a steady stream, making the paintings glisten as if there were real oceans contained, Across the room the reclaimed wood of my dresser glows with expectancy. Rummaging through the old chest of drawers for an outfit, I settle on my standard black tank top and jean shorts. They’ve never given me any issues, so why stop now? I walk over to the one mirror in the house, hanging on the wall, to finish dressing and throw my hair into a ponytail so that it drapes down my back a little less. Happy with the result, I stand back and take in my appearance. No accessories, no makeup. Just honey eyes and espresso hair. Just like Mama.
“Oh. Hey, Nemo,” I hop out of my thoughts, realizing I had been gazing for longer than I meant to, and see him scurry into my room and leap onto my bed, ready to take his post-breakfast nap. His form blurs slightly and I look back at the mirror to see teardrops waiting patiently. So much for avoiding this. I guess it’s no surprise that a daughter with the same hair, eyes, and slender frame as her mother would think about her. About her and I; Bare feet and ice cream on the warm beach. About the way her light brown eyes lit up with unspeakable interest when she would begin her rants about historical landmarks and the majesty of nature. About the way she would toss her long locks over her shoulder, not a care in the world. And especially about the way she had hovered by the front door, one hand tentative on the door knob. How her mouth had twisted down into a grimace when she saw me, pulled by some imaginary hand carrying the weight of her guilt. How her eyes had lit up again, this time with terror, frustration, and anger, when she met my own fragile, curious ones. Right then, I could have sworn that her smooth brown eyes had been glowing a cruel, nauseating green.
“Meow,” Nemo voices in a long, loud yowl.
“Okay, okay.” Snapping me out of my shock I turn to look at Nemo, a plain face of annoyance covering my usually unadorned one. He gazes up at me from his spot on the white bedspread, not a speck of remorse present, before shutting his eyes and laying his head back on the mattress. “Such a cat,” I remark, extravagantly rolling my eyes.
“Indeed he is,” quietly comments a voice I know all too well, coming from the narrow doorway to my room.
“Dad! You’re home… Wow, really early.” I am unable to hide the confusion from my voice, and I turn from the mirror to see my father’s eyes looking down at me with a mischievous twinkle.
“I wanted to surprise you,” he says with a chuckle, “It’s not every day you get to leave the house.” That was definitely true. Our family has been low on funds since Mom walked out when I was nine, almost twelve years ago, taking her salary as a real estate attorney with her. My dad, now with the one meager source of income being a desk job at a pharmacy, picked my little sister and I up and moved us to this cramped three bedroom home in the middle of muted, inconsequential Deerfield Beach, Florida. I have long since graduated high school, now finding work where I can in the various shops within biking distance because our run-down Ford can, unfortunately, only go one place at a time. In the peak of summer, though, Florida’s available jobs for high school grads have been slimmer and slimmer, meaning I have been spending most of my days at home tending to Nemo.
“Wait, where are we going? To a park?”
“Ummm… Kind of…”
“We’re going to the Amazon!” An ecstatic little girl with Dad’s wild, brown curls and hazel eyes leaps out from behind him.“We’re gonna see ten foot pythons, and scary jaguars, and big trees, and lots of vines, and cool crocodiles, and… and…” She cuts off, gasping for breath from overdosing on her own excitement.
“Whoa, Lyla. Calm down there,” Dad calmly chides her before turning back to me, “But, yeah, she’s right. We’re going to Brazil! A city called Manaus to be precise.” A small smile begins to form on my face as he looks at me expectantly, probably waiting for me to jump for joy. But the smile disappears. It doesn’t add up.
“Wait, how? When did you get the money for this? Brazil? That’s got to be expensive,” I interrogate him, knowing that as of last week, we barely had enough money to put dinner on the table.
“Well… It was. It is. I got an offer from some people, though, and they’re covering the whole trip except the food. Plane tickets, hotel rooms, everything. I’ll just have to do a little research while I’m there.”
“Well… alright. But what company offered this? It seems a little too good to be true.” It doesn’t make sense. What could he be researching? Sure, he works at a pharmacy, so maybe some sort of medicine, but it’s not like he makes the medicine, he sells it.
“I’m not entirely sure. They just reached out to me this past week and gave me enough time to gather our savings and put in leave at work. Besides, they plan to pay me for my work if it’s effective, so…” My face begins to scrunch up in its usual defiant expression as I’m about to argue until my eyes shift to Lyla. Her eyebrows beginning to crease behind Dad, my questions are starting to unnerve her. Looking back at Dad, I can see his clear hazel eyes pleading with me silently to just trust that something good is happening. I decide to let up. What I don’t know won’t kill me.
“Okay, fine. I guess it couldn’t hurt to get away for awhile. Besides, you could use a vacation, Dad. Your eyebags could carry both of us all the way to Brazil!”
“What? I didn’t know they were that bad!” I break open a fresh grin at his response, the casual banter easing my curiosity. Dad starts his slow chuckle, while Lyla behind him doubles over in a fit of giggles. Obviously, our jokes are just too much handle. Dad and I sit and watch her for a moment, me still by the mirror and him still in the doorway, until we can’t take it. Soon, we’re all collapsed on the floor, panting and trying to regain our breath. This is what I miss, I sound out in my head, realizing just how tense I have been for twelve years. This makes me happy.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s move it!” Lyla yells at the top of her lungs, causing Dad and I to both hop off the floor if only to spare our eardrums. Before long, I find myself dragging out my dusty, blue duffle bag, stuffing more tank tops and shorts into it, and rummaging through the pantry in the kitchen to find a few containers to leave for Nemo. I go through and fix up Nemo’s litter box, then fill up the couple containers with enough food and water for about a week. I don’t know exactly how long we will be gone, but I figure a few days is about right. Nemo comes up behind me and lets out a curious (I assume) yowl as I finish up his provisions.
“We’re just going away for a couple days. We’ll be back soon. I promise.”
“Meow.” He gazes up at me with those big green eyes, the same ones that looked down at me this morning.
“Awww. I’ll miss you too, bud.” I scoop him up in my arms and hold him against my chest for a minute. A flash of the little runt with forest eyes that Mom set on the doorstep a few years ago dances in my mind.
I’m sorry I had to leave. I love you.
No “I’m coming back”. No “I regret leaving”. Just a little kitten to take her place. The note she had left with Nemo was the only indication that she was even alive. She could be dead now for all I know. In my arms, Nemo grows tired of my love and tries to claw his way from my grip. I hastily place him on the tile, letting my hand glide over his back once more before returning to my side. I watch him as he walks out the kitchen and down the hallway containing our bedrooms, presumably to go lay on my bed. I finish setting out his dry food and water dish, and make my way to the dining room, duffel bag in tow. Lyla and Dad have already taken their bags out to the old Ford and are chatting at the table in the center of the room.
“Hey, honey, you ready?” Dad asks as he notices me coming into the room. I nod and walk toward the door opposite from the kitchen. Reaching out with my right hand, I turn the knob of the front door and walk out into the humid heat of this Florida afternoon. The sun is bright overhead, and the only clouds in sight are big storm clouds in the distance, coming from the coast across the street. Our little home is one in a line of dozens facing the ocean, one of the biggest perks of moving to Deerfield. I hurriedly throw my bag into the trunk of the car, trying to avoid blistering in the sweltering heat, and I climb in just as Lyla and Dad come out of the house.
We all take our seats: Dad driving, me in shotgun, and Lyla in the back. There’s a palpable excitement in the air, now that we are finally leaving. We haven’t done anything like this since… And, even then, Lyla was too young to remember. Dad turns the key in the ignition, starting up the car and our anticipation.
“Lyla, Amira… To adventure!”
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© 2018 Kayleigh Anne