CHAPTER V

THE JUNGLE FLOOR

by Warren Scott Foster

illustrated by Adrienne Potter 

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            Bo could never be bored in this mysterious and fascinating place. Gradually he learned much about the trees, plants, and wildlife surrounding him, but he continued to wonder what the ground was like far below. Bo's next adventure, he decided, would be to descend to the jungle floor.

            He soon found that climbing down was much faster than climbing to the top had been. He gradually grew more daring with his leaps and jumps as he learned what he could and could not do. In an area thick with vines, he fell through the air in breathtaking, hundred foot leaps, catching himself in a vine net below but rarely coming to a full stop. He would catch one vine, swing to the next, let go and fall a ways, grab the next vine, then the next, and so on. It was fantastic! Bo soon found himself screeching and squealing like the monkeys, flying through the air as if he had been born to fly. I WAS born to fly, Bo decided, quite full of himself, to be sure! He stopped to catch his breath for a few minutes before taking off again. He was thrilled as he realized he must have traveled a good Schmoe mile in...what? Just over a minute?

            Suddenly he realized that the lower he climbed (or swung and fell, that is), the darker it became. It was becoming rather difficult to see, and the jungle growth was gradually becoming less thick. The vines here were thicker, more woody and stiff, instead of green and flexible as they were above. Now Bo returned to climbing hand over hand down the vines. It was still much easier than climbing up, but painfully slower than leaping and flying through the air. Sometimes he would see a great tree branch below, and he would swing down to it, then resume climbing.

            Eventually Bo found one an enormous branch growing upward and away from the trunk, instead of sprawling straight outward. He swung down to it. Schmoe had taught Bo to "guesstimate" heights and widths just as he had taught him to figure distances in miles. Bo guessed now that the branch was about thirty Schmoe feet in diameter, plenty wide to walk down toward the tree trunk. And so he did. It was more like walking down a narrow path along the crest of a mountain ridge...with sheer drop off on both sides! The jungle growth was more sparse here, but still offered good footings and hand holds. He found he could trot down the trail, holding on to one bush after another as he went. Before long the giant hulk of the tree trunk loomed in the shadows ahead, and he knew he would soon have to find some other way to climb down. He stopped to think.

            It was not simply curiosity that motivated him to climb down to the ground. He wanted to get to the floor of the forest jungle so that he could return to the great cliff. There he would...he would...do what? Climb it? Well, why not? He would climb it and return home! As simple as that.

            Bo continued down the branch path as he approached the shadowy tree trunk, searching for a way down. He was tired now, and it was so dark that it was difficult to see. It got progressively darker the lower he went, and he had to walk slowly to keep from tripping. The layers of leaves and branches higher up where Bo had been were shady but still had plenty of light.

            Bo thought about the sunlight. He knew that there was never direct sunlight even at the top of the forest. The ever hazy skies of his village and river--and of the whole planet Schmoe had said--made it impossible to see the sun. Still, the skies always glowed with the brilliant sunlight except under the very blackest clouds. This diffused sunlight, which seemed to come from all directions at once, reflected and filtered deep down into the thick jungle growth, but Bo realized there was no way for it to reach clear down to the jungle floor. He was exhausted from the swinging and climbing, and stopped to rest long enough for his eyes to focus in the darkness. He peered around uneasily in the darkness.

            Suddenly Bo was startled out of his thoughts with a movement among the leaves. He froze, straining to see in the darkness. There it was, not fifty feet away on the branch in front of him, near the trunk of the great tree! Two pale green eyes glowed in the darkness, watching him, unblinking, deathly still. The narrow slits of vertical pupils grew more narrow as the eyes stared ominously at Bo, as if contemplating its prey. Bo didn't dare breathe, and strained his eyes harder still, desperately trying to see the creature. Then he heard it! A low throaty growl vibrated eerily through the darkness. Suddenly it exploded into a hideous, cat-like shriek, and the creature leapt toward him! In one enormous bound it covered half the distance, then paused crouching again. What is this strange looking thing? its eyes seemed to ask while it studied Bohideus once again.

            Bo's heart stopped. With another bound the creature would be upon him! He could see it plainly now. An enormous cat! A black panther, big as a horse, with claws and fangs as long as Bo's fingers! There was no time to run, no time to fight or grab a weapon, no time to scream. He would never survive an attack by this gigantic cat. Suddenly the beast sprang into the air toward Bohideus. Bo's blood exploded with adrenaline and his legs shot out with a burst of energy. He threw himself off the branch in a giant leap, out of the panther's way into the air! Bo felt a brush of air as the great cat's claws raked mere inches from his face.

The gigantic cat shrieked and growled, angrily missing its quarry as it thrashed and fell through the leaves. Soon it caught its claws on the branches while Bo continued to fall, safe from the cat, but once again doomed.

            Perhaps it had been his fate to fall to his death all along, Bo thought. He had cheated death once to often, hadn't he? Bo knew Schmoe would never tolerate such thoughts. He didn't believe in fate. But Schmoe wasn't falling to certain death for the third time, was he? Like Bo?

            There were no great leaves to cushion the fall, no soft springy vines to grab hold of, and so Bo fell, fell, and fell some more. Soon he began to sense something nearby, and grew curious. It was off to the right. What is it? he wondered. The trunk of the tree? He remembered he had only been a short distance from the trunk when he fell. Of course! The tree trunk would gradually grow wider the lower he fell. Bo began to contemplate a different death. He would fall until he met the tree trunk, then be scraped to pieces against the bark of the tree! Oh, well. Better than being eaten alive by that cat! Still Bo fell, now waiting for the final, life shattering thud.

            Bo began to feel water droplets splattering against his skin. He felt it again, then again! The droplets increased to a spray, then a downpour, and soon he was drenched. Still he fell, his body cutting rapidly through falling water.

            What in the world? he wondered. Was it rain? A waterfall? Then Bo remembered the great ridges of bark that ran up and down the sides of the giant tree trunks, forming cavernous ravines between them. Was he falling in one of those? Of course! This ravine was running with water just as others did above, but it was much deeper down here and held far more water than higher up the tree. The water ran at an angle ever so slightly as it followed the slope of the tree trunk. The slope was so gradual that soon Bo found himself eased into a breathtaking spillway, like a gigantic water-slide, dropping almost straight down. Smooth slippery moss covered the bark ravine, protecting Bo's skin.

            Bo struggled for air, wondering when it would end. Was he now to drown? Or would he crash into still waters, which he knew would kill him just as certainly as the jungle floor? Bo was falling faster than the water now, as his feet knifed his body through the moss and water, sometimes bouncing out into the air. He barely had time to catch his breath before he was sucked back into the falling water, submerged in the downward funnel of water.     

            Bo wondered how much more his body could withstand. He realized numbly that the base of the tree was growing wider, and that as the ravine curved outward, it acted as a trough through which the water ran. Was he slowing down? Might he once again be spared a certain death?

            He forced himself up for air. The water fell in a steep river now, no longer a waterfall, gradually slowing him down but surrounding him with pitch blackness. Was the water that dark? So dark Bo could barely tell whether his eyes were open or closed?            Down, down, down he plunged. Swish to the left, swish to the right. Over a bump...ouch! Up for air, swish, down again.

            Bo held his breath, hardly daring to think. This would actually be fun if he weren't so scared, he thought. In fact, it was the ride of his life. If only he could see! There was no way to know what doom might lie ahead. Now he was sliding feet first down the great water slide, paddling (rather frantically) with his hands to stay upright. Other times he swished down on his back. He could almost enjoy it but not quite, for he never forgot that any moment it would end in...what? A sudden splat?

            Soon Bo became aware of soft lights whizzing by. Or rather, he whizzed by THEM amidst the tumult and confusion of rushing water. Soon there were more and more, so many that they were lighting things up a bit. He saw below a dancing mirror image of what was above being rippled by waves. Too late! Suddenly he shot deep into a silent, watery grave. Not enough warning to draw in air! He held his breath, kicking frantically, pulling his way upward through the water. Still he struggled, with each stroke more and more desperate for air. Would it never end?

            Suddenly it did. Bo shot through the surface, sinking deep into the water, then pulled and kicked his way to the surface. He splashed back down, gasping for breath, slapping the water with his hands joyfully. Once again he was alive! He who should be dead was ALIVE! Bo's surprise was even greater than as his glee!

            Gradually Bo calmed himself, breathing deeply, floating in the soft rippling waves and bubbles where the tree river ran into the lake. The water was comfortable, about the same temperature as the humid jungle air. Bo was a good swimmer, and he swam with ease to a ridge of the tree trunk. A great tree root stretched out like a mountain of wood...or a giant tentacle, depending upon how you looked at it. It sloped gently downward, reflecting in the black water. He climbed up onto the bark with some difficulty, for it was overgrown with moss.

            Bo rested, breathing deeply and looking around. He was puzzled by the soft light. Not long before he had passed through total darkness, but now he could see quite clearly. All around the tree root grew great flowers, ferns, and other plants, and huge mushrooms grew out of the wood at the base of the tree. Then he realized that each mushroom glowed with its own light! There were all different colors of mushrooms, each glowing softly, each reflecting off the mirror-like water to form a dazzling display of color and light. Bo grew more and more amazed as he realized what was happening. Schmoe had taught him something about energy, how it was converted to one form or another. Now he realized that the tree must be soaking up enough energy up above where light was plentiful, so that the plants down below were able to tap into the tree sap and convert the energy back into light again!

            A hundred or so Schmoe yards away (Bo always measured in terms of Schmoe yards, Schmoe inches, Schmoe miles, and so on) another great tree trunk rose out of the water like a giant wooden mountain. Tree trunks and roots grew all around, some close, some far, so that even in broad daylight he wouldn't have been able to see very far in any direction. There were too many tree trunks in the way.

            Most of the trees had great ridges in their sides with deep ravines in between. Streams, large and small, ran down those ravines. Bo guessed that by the time any water dripped down this far, it would eventually run down the trunk of a tree. The trees grew right out of the water, and were actually quite far apart, if you measured from their centers at least. They were so wide at the base, however, that the bark of one tree wasn't very far from the next. The tree trunks were so enormous that if you were to measure the surface area of the lake, there would be more wood than water!

            As Bo was resting on the soft moss of the great tree root, considering this amazing place, he suddenly became aware of something soft and slimy creeping up the side of his leg. He jerked his leg upward, but it was stuck! A long, slimy tentacle reaching from the water tightened its grip and pulled him downward. The more he tried to pull away from it, the harder it pulled. He grabbed his knife from its sheath and frantically cut at the tentacle. The tentacle instantly let go of his leg and sprang upward toward his right arm, trapping the hand holding the knife, yanking him off balance.

            The creature's tentacle bled heavily from the wound. Bo's left hand managed to grasp the knife from his right, and he frantically stabbed and gouged into the already open wound as he was dragged toward in the water. Too late! Down Bo went! He dug his feet into the submerged tree bark and forced his head back up, gasping for breath just in time to...be pulled down again! Bo struggled fiercely, stabbing about, tearing at the tentacle with all his might. Just when he knew he would drown, the creature who owned the tentacle decided Bo wasn't worth the effort, and let go. The tentacle was yanked swiftly into the water and out of sight. Bo thrashed his way out of the water and clawed his way up the side of the wooden slope. These waters weren't safe for swimming!

            Bo scrambled over the tree trunk, nervously pondering his ever present problems. There was no jungle floor to walk upon. So much for walking to the cliff. He quickly decided that he preferred the upper part of the jungle where there was food, light, and clean water. And where the worst things he had to worry about were monkeys throwing bananas. Bo knew he couldn't swim out of this place, for he'd be eaten alive. His canoe was around here somewhere, but who knows where? Even if he had a boat, he wouldn't dare go out on these waters. His small canoe would be no protection whatever from that creature which had nearly devoured him. And he'd only been here a few minutes! Who knows what worse things might be lurking in these dark and gloomy depths?

            It took quite a while for Bo to make his way around the base of the tree. It was more like an island than a tree, an island of immeasurable height which he could neither walk across nor climb its sides. At least he could get around it! He had to wade or jump across the streams in the ravines. And he had to climb up over the bark covered ridges between the ravines.

            Once he saw a very large snake as fat as Bo's waist, and many times longer than Bo was tall. He made a wide berth around it, not wanting another fight. He saw another snake crawling through the flowers and mushrooms, above him in the tree. He saw several more snakes and other creatures he'd never seen before, all swimming in the water. They were either very big or in a great hurry, fleeing from...What? The creature which nearly devoured him?

            Bo was stuck. What in the name of Schmeeky am I going to do now? he worried.

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