Sunday Afternoon Read: Oestridae Janis

Oestridae Janis

By Paul Bahou


“Janis… Janis… Can you hear me?”

The twenty-two-year-old biology student’s vision blurred as she struggled to sit up. 

“Ahh…” she yelped, a sharp pain in her ankle jolting her alert. 

“Oh, thank God. You’re awake.”

Janis groaned as she pulled herself into a slumped position against the wide base of the tree that towered behind her. 

“Shh… Relax… That was a nasty spill you took. I didn’t know if you were going to survive.”

“Karl…What happened?”

“Well, since you’re actually alive, let’s give you some good news.”

“Good news?”

“Some congratulations are in order…” The German graduate student said with a dose of forced optimism through his light accent. He was one of the teacher’s aides on the small student expedition to the Bolivian Amazon. He was wiry and bookish, not the traits most associated with those who typically take field expeditions, but Karl had more experience on these types of trips than anybody else who wasn’t their professor.

“Congratulations?” Janis asked, still woozy but gathering her bearings beneath the scattered shade provided by the leaves above. She adjusted her position with a groan, sweeping some strands of hair that had become stuck to her forehead with sweat. 

“You discovered a new species!” He beamed. 
“I don’t… remember…”

“See up there?” He asked, pointing to a ridge line about fifty feet up a steep hill. “We were at the top of that crossing when you turned and pointed down at one of shrubs and asked ‘Is that a really big botfly?’ Well, it was a really big botfly. Professor Tong said it hadn’t been classified yet. So, yes, that is the good news.”

“If I should be celebrating, what do I feel so terrible?”

 “Yes, well, let’s get to the bad news then. As soon as you turned back after asking about the botfly, the branch your foot was leveraged against snapped and you tumbled all the way down the hill, through the thicket, until you came to a rest, unconscious in this little clearing were in.”

“Is that why my stomach feels like it’s on fire?”

“Yes. I applied some topical ointment and applied the bandages myself. The scrapes weren’t very deep, but there was… how you say… a multitude of them. When you wouldn’t wake up after the fall, Professor Tong took the guide and other students back to base camp to get help.”

“But that’s over a day and a half away.” Janis protested, her ankle throbbing. She reached to grab it as a pulse of pain shot through her body. She yelped in pain. “I think it’s broken.”

“Here, let me see.” Karl said as he kneeled to the ground and pulled her sock towards her foot. “Botfly.” He said nonchalantly with a smile as he pulled a chubby brown and black insect from her skin and tossed it to the side. 
“You should think of what you want to name them.” He said with a subdued chuckle. 
The ankle was swollen and dark; a splash of purple acknowledging Janis’ pain. 

“How bad is it?” She asked, struggling to see, the pain in her abdomen keeping her from leaning forward far enough to see. 

“Nothing a cast and month on crutches won’t fix.” He said, gently rolling the sock back over her foot. 

She wiped a tear, the pain radiating from her foot only somewhat distracting her from the pain she felt in a half dozen other locations. 

“So, we have to wait three days for help?” She asked with concern and a cough. 

“Not quite…”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve been out for three days. The professor should be back at any time.”

“Wait… I’ve been out for three days?”

“Yes. I thought you may have perished. I’m not a religious man, but I prayed.”

“It looks like it worked.” Janis laughed with a wince of pain. “Do you have any water?”

“Yes. Yes. Here.” Karl said, handing her a flask. She managed to spill as much as she consumed as water dripped across the tears in her blouse. 

“Help me up.” Janis asked, holding her hands toward Karl. With a groan Karl pulled her up to a full sitting position. “Man, I’m feeling pretty rough.” 

“We’ll… I suppose it’s better than the alternative.” The TA replied. 

“True, but there’s still time for that…”

In that moment the bushes at the far side of the nearest tree began to rustle. Was it the professor? A rescue-party? Maybe one of the indigenous peoples from a tribe downriver?

“What was that?” Janis asked as she peered behind her, turning to the best of her ability. Her neck wouldn’t turn all the way. “I can’t turn.” She complained. Add the chiropractor to the list of visits she would need to make if she got out of here, she thought to herself. 
            “Umm…” as Karl began to answer, a low purr rolled in through the thicket. 
            The hairs on Janis’ arms stood up. She backed herself up against the tree as close as she could, groaning through the pain. Karl hurried beside her and crouched; a small log in his hands his defense. Karl leaned in close. 
            “I forgot to mention. We’re currently being stalked by a Jaguar.”
            Another purr, followed by the rustling of bushes. 
            “Wait, there’s a Jaguar too?”

            “Since the first night. It’s been circling the edge of this clearing around the tree. For some reason he has yet to make his move.”

“Is that normal? I’m just starting my masters. I’m not an expert on giant jungle cats.”
“No. Especially considering the condition you’re in. He should have attacked by now.”
“So what do you think he’s waiting for?”
“Maybe he’s old, or sick or a juvenile and doesn’t feel confident. Maybe he’s waiting for me to leave so he can scavenge on your remains.”
“What happens when the professor gets back with help?”
“You know… I didn’t even think about that. Must be the low blood sugar. I’ve been rationing the rest of my food in case we were going to be here for a while.”
“Is there a way to warn Professor Tong? He could be in…”
Just then, a rustle at the other side of the clearing. Voices. The professor!
“Over here! Over here!” Karl called. 
The purring turned to a growl. A glottal revving that proceeded a dash through the thicket around the clearing to the other side. The voices screamed. It was a man, then a second man. A gunshot. A second. The fracas occurred entirely out of sight, leaving Janis and Karl to assume the worst as they prayed for the best. The noise got louder. Screams. Growls. The unmistakable tearing of clothing. Then, silence.
Janis and Karl both panted in fear, nestled against the lonely tree in the clearing, the chirping of insects getting louder as the sun began to set in the late afternoon sky. He gripped at his blunt instrument as he swatted at several bot flies that were perched upon his wrist. 
“What do we do?” Janis asked in a panicked need of assurance.
“We wait…. Professor!” He yelled. “Professor!”
The bushes rustled again. Was this the Jaguar, ready to finish the remainder of the expedition? The purr returned; the ominous signal of the victor of the scuffle. More rustling. 
“Ugh!” The professor cried as he crawled out of the bushes. He grunted as he worked his way into the clearing, blood splattered across his clothes, his glasses missing a lens. 
“Professor!” Janis and Karl called out in unison. Karl jumped up and dragged their teacher away from the sounds of the feasting Jaguar. 
He coughed up a bit of blood as Karl planted his maimed instructor at the base of the tree next to Janis. A massive claw induced gash had shredded his shirt, the wound below hidden but significant. 
“Are you ok?” Karl asked the professor. 
“No. It doesn’t seem like it. Are you?”
“I’m fine. Though I think Janis’ ankle is broken.”
“Ahh, Janis. It’s good to see you are still alive.” He said with a pained chuckle as he looked at his student, the eye from beneath the missing lens closed and bleeding. 
“I could say the same about you professor.”
“So what now?”
“Well… I’m fairly certain that my guide didn’t make it.”
“Did you see him?”
“Yes. Both parts.”
A silence pervaded the group, though the sound of the Jaguar feasting on the professor’s guide was audible to all. Professor Tong coughed up another bit of blood. He swatted at the botfly that landed on his cheek. 
“So, what do we do now?” An increasingly scared Karl asked. 
The professor smiled and held out a flare gun. 
“I know a few people in the Bolivian government. They’re going to use the state satellite to look for the flares.”
He smiled through the pain as he held his hand aloft. He coughed as his arm wavered, the gun swinging with every expulsion of his lungs. Karl steered the professor’s hand as he looked his boss in his one working eye. The professor nodded as Karl took control and aimed the gun. 
A flair shot towards the sky with a pop and exploded downward, the cackle and hiss of sparks displaying brightly across the clear summer dusk. Professor Tong coughed and keeled over, wincing in pain as he grabbed at his chest. He rolled to his side, the rough hack of a collapsed lung gurgling within him. With a final hack, he released his inward withdrawal and went limp. 
The loud sounds of chewing continued from the branches of a nearby tree, a bloodied hand falling downward. Janis’ ankle throbbed, her stomach burned and the various scabs from her fall down the hill through the thicket itched all over. 
“A helicopter should be coming soon.” Karl reassured as the sun set behind the peak of the jungle. 
“Do you think the Jaguar is going to come back?” Janis asked, looking into the vacant stare of her deceased teacher. Karl reached down and closed the professor’s one good eye. 
“Yes. But he should be fed long for enough time for the rescue to arrive.”
Another growl, this time from behind them. More Jaguars, two of them, stalking the perimeter, staying concealed within the ringed wall of thicket that encircled the lonely tree at the bottom of the hill. 
“Oh God.” Janis cried as the prowling Jaguars continued with their hungry purr. The chewing continued as well, the snapping of bone punctuating the ambient gurgle of the big cats that lurked within the brush. Janis and Karl waited, but the cats maintained their distance at the perimeter.
“Wait a minute.” Karl said. “These Jaguars aren’t coming over either.”
“Am I supposed to be upset by that?” Janis said with a coughing laugh. She winced from the pain. 
“Just makes me wonder. What are they afraid of?” He said, swatting at another botfly. 
A strong light pierced through the leaves above them, the whirr of a helicopter rotor chopping through the air. 
“Mantèngan la calma.” A voice rang out over a megaphone. “Nosotros estamos bajando.”
Janis covered her eyes. A zipping sound whistled it’s way closer. The thud of boots on leaves landed nearby. It was a soldier from the Bolivian military. He was covered from head to toe in tactical gear. 
He surveyed the clearing and made note of the two survivors. Janis looked ill and in shock. Karl remained crouched next to her, his hand still firmly wielding the log. 
“Dos supervivientes.” he said into his walkie talkie. 
A Jaguar growled in the distance. The soldier pulled his sidearm and fired several shots into the thicket of plant life. He put his gun back and looked up towards the light. A gurney lowered down in the space between the trees. 
Once it was firmly on the ground the solider crouched down to pick up Janis. She groaned in pain as she was lifted up and carried over. 
“Despacio. Despacio.” The soldier said reassuringly. 
Janis’ stomach burned. It wasn’t hunger, though she was increasingly aware of the fact that she hadn’t eaten in three days. 

He laid her on the gurney and strapped her in. A second soldier repelled down and assisted Karl. Once all were secure, they were collectively raised upwards, through the canopy of leaves and into the night sky. It was deliverance from the horror that circled below, waiting, hungry. 
Janis looked out at the endless jungle as the gurney raised towards the idle helicopter, the massive expanse of trees stretched to the horizon in every direction. Her stomach burned. The pain and its incessant itchiness were finally at the front of her attention now that she wasn’t thinking about Jaguars or her dead professor or her own certain death. The gurney reached the helicopter as Janis and her stretcher were lifted aboard. A doctor in military gear quickly put an IV into her arm and spoke to her reassuringly in Spanish. 
“My stomach. Somethings wrong.” She cried, grimacing in agony. 
Karl quickly translated as he yelled over the sound of the helicopter blades. The doctor kneeled down and lifted her shirt, revealing a layer of dirty and bloody bandages that had been wrapped around her abdomen. 
Janis looked down, seeing a clear view of the bandaged area that had be scraped and cut open three days before during her fall. The bandage moved. Slowly. Like the pregnant belly of her older sister. It moved again, in various places. Had something gotten under the bandage? Was this all some never-ending nightmare? The doctor pulled the bandages off and recoiled. The other troops all took a step back. 
“Oh God.” Karl said before he vomited towards the side of the aircraft, a spray of water and field rations erupting from his parched, cracked lips. 
As the last bandage was pulled, Janis saw it: A honeycomb maze of pea sized pods impressed into her flesh, the skin red and raw. The raft of pods stretched from below her bra to slightly above her waistline and from left ribs to right. One of the soldiers pointed a high-powered flashlight onto the network eggs which nested into her body like a woodpecker’s stash of acorns in a tree. 
The eggs began to wiggle in a gyrating motion. Janis made eye contact with the doctor, who made the sign of the cross as he took another step back. The first one hatched as a botfly larvae crawled its way out of the small fleshy crater from which it was burrowed. It walked around the tip of its egg and began lightly chewing on an infected lip of skin that lined the crater. 
One by one, eggs hatched; wobbles and cracks, sending a wave of botflies erupting out of the pockmarks in her abdomen. Some crawled out, others flew, while some still fell to the floor and scurried about. A small few stayed in their nests, chewing on flesh, digging deeper into their host, worming inwards towards organ and bone. Janis screamed in horror, the wails bleeding into the cacophony of voices which come alive at night in the jungle; that and the metronomic chop of helicopter blades as they flew ever further into the distance.


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