Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Chameleon Jungle

Clue Restacks hadn’t seen Mr. Mouse since the crash.
He’d set up camp somewhere in her backpack and refused to come out.
He blamed her, she supposed, for their situation.
It had started out just fine. After the Rio job had sorted itself out in a hurry, Clue had heard about the legend of the Chameleon Jungle.
“The Jungle will become what you want,” she muttered to herself grimly, remembering.
Of course, she had rushed to investigate.
Then the crash. Then the decision. Now here she was. Alone, and with her best friend and fuzzy partner mad at her.
And she was pretty sure she was being hunted by something.
She used her powers to light the trail behind her. The darkness seemed to overwhelm her attempts to see anything beyond a few feet. She scanned slowly for her suspected pursuers.
It didn’t help that since the crash her ability to manipulate air, water, electricity, and light seemed to be steadily weakening.
Seeing nothing, she relaxed and the light went out. Even using it for a few seconds had exhausted her.
She reached back into her pack for a flashlight and received a sharp bite on the finger.
“Keep that up and I’m going to make sure you get rabies shots when we get back!” she told the belligerent rodent. “If we get back,” she didn’t say.
The steep canyon walls they had been hiking towards were no closer now than they had been six days ago. Mr. Mouse knew it, and he didn’t like it.
With a choice between the flashlight and a chewed up hand or darkness and being able to grip things between her thumb and forefinger, Clue chose the latter.
Later, as Clue set up camp for the night she thought about the choice she’d made to leave the crash site. It hadn’t been like her at all, but she’d been so sure of it. Why was she so eager to find the source of this legend that allegedly gave you anything you wanted that she would do something like that? It can’t have been greed. After all, she’d turned down a massive treasure in Rome without a second thought. She wasn’t greedy. Had it been something else, then?
She wasn’t angry with Mr. Mouse. She’d pull the same stunt if it had gone the other way.
Sleep did not come easily.
The noises started at sun up. A sort of scratching, shuffling sound. A shadow moved past the tent. Clue got out and looked towards the shadow.
There was nothing there.
She heard the shuffling again from somewhere down the trail she had come from the night before.
“I’ve got to get moving again,” she said aloud. Mostly just to hear the sound of a human voice.
She gathered her gear and began once again to walk towards the cliffs ahead, still several days away at her current pace.
By mid-morning she found a stream and was picking her way up it. Jumping from rock to rock, she was making good time. She allowed herself to pause for a break.
Mr. Mouse felt the pack drop and poked his head out to monitor the situation. He ignored Clue as he crawled out and had a drink.
Suddenly he raised his head and ran into the underbrush.
“Wait!” called Clue, scrambling to follow. She picked up her bag on the run and followed in the direction Mr. Mouse had disappeared.
Thorns and vines clutched at her and in seconds she was deep enough that the light was filtered out by the canopy. She knew she had no hope of actually finding him if he was trying to lose her, so she took a gamble and continued in a straight line.
Right into a wall.
“What is this?” she gasped in surprise.
Whatever it was stretched out on either side of her. She couldn’t see exactly how far it went. It had been completely overgrown by the jungle.
“Mr. Mouse!” she called. She tried to spot any flash of white amongst the green. She wasn’t even sure he had come this way, but she didn’t feel right investigating the mysterious metal ruin without him.
Something dropped on her shoulder. Mr. Mouse looked her in the eye, then stalked back under the flap of her pack.
Clue was happy he was back, but whatever was going on, he was still choked at her. Maybe he was sick, too. His eyes didn’t seem quite as beady as usual.
He’d come from above, though. Clue looked up. She couldn’t see the top of the wall but there looked like a way to climb the branches and roots to get a better view.
Sweating from the effort, she hauled herself up. It was a tough climb and usually she’d have help from Mr. Mouse scurrying ahead pointing out hand-holds.
At last she found an edge and rolled up on to a flat bit. She caught her breath for a minute before she sat up and took stock of the situation. Now that she was a good ways off the forest floor she could see the outlines of the structure better.
On one side of her the wall continued on but rose no higher than the part she was standing on. On the other it terraced up several stories above her.
She looked harder. She began to see patterns in the shapes. A fallen tree that was too straight. A line of shadows that was a little too regular.
“Mr. Mouse, how did you find this?” she whispered at her backpack.
Clue was standing on the deck of a ship.
A ship in the middle of the jungle, covered in trees and foliage.
She looked at her map. Tracing her path from the crash site, Clue determined that she was at the exact center of the island. “Just a little bit creepy,” she said to no one in particular.
Now she could make out the lines of the ship. It was a freighter, an old one, judging from the style. She started half-walking, half-climbing over the fallen cranes towards the bridge, located in the middle of the ship.
Once she gained entrance there was a stark difference in the mystery vessel’s appearance. The jungle had not penetrated inside, despite open or missing windows and doors. Everything on the bridge was spotless and tidy. Clue shivered. This was not normal.
She felt Mr. Mouse moving inside her bag. She also heard him chewing at something. “Quiet!” she hissed at him. “This is freaky enough without you making horror-movie noises.”
Clue went deeper into the ship. There was no power, so the only illumination filtered through the portholes or open hatches. Clue tried to amplify the remaining light but couldn’t manage even a flicker.
“I’m just going to have to do this like I used to,” she said, frustrated that her powers should fail her now.
The crew’s quarters and mess were all empty. No signs of struggle or distress. Unlike ghost ships Clue had heard about, there were no signs anyone had left in a hurry. Or had even left at all. Nothing was out of place, nothing seemed to be missing. All the bunks were made and tools stowed.  
Mr. Mouse started chewing again.
“Seriously! You’re not helping!” Clue told him.
Clue had been looking for papers or any signs of where the ship had come from, but even after going through the contents of the bridge and several cabins she had found nothing. In fact, she hadn’t found anything with writing on it at all.
She figured there might be something in the cargo holds to give her some insight.
They were empty, too, a vast black space looming in front of her. She strained to see the far bulkhead in the gloom. She did note, however, large piles of chain coiled neatly along the sides of the hull. 
With nothing else to discover, Clue realized she was still trapped on a deserted island and that she was still limited by the supplies in her pack. Having found nothing of value on the ship, she had to press on. Maybe once she got home she could do some more to solve this particular mystery. The ship wasn’t going anywhere.
She emerged from the ship into darkness. She recognized the night-time sounds of the jungle. She’d been in the ship for hours, not noticing the passage of time.
“What do you say, Mr. Mouse, should we set up camp for the evening?”
With no reply, Clue prepared for another night. She set up her tent on the highest part of the ship she could reach. She hoped to avoid whatever critters would be sneaking around in the morning.
Clue jolted awake. Something was out there. Something big. She could feel the deck of the ship ringing beneath her as the thing moved.
She scrambled out of the tent. The night was pitch dark. Mr. Mouse had a similar idea and was by her feet. She could feel his whiskers trembling against her ankle.
It came out of nowhere. Clue could just make out a flash of huge claws as they barely missed her.
She ducked behind a railing, briefly, before it was torn away in a shower of sparks.
In the flash of light Clue could see the beast. Large. Gray. Shaped like a man but not quite. She thought back to the chains in the cargo hold.
She was distracted, unprepared for the next swipe of the talons. She rolled away at the last second. She felt a sharp burn on her leg as the claws found her.
She fought the pain. Mr. Mouse had been separated from her. She looked frantically for him.
She saw the monster turn towards something on the deck. It was Mr. Mouse, running towards her. The beast had seen him first and brought its arm down to smash the mouse.
But it was stopped mid-swing. Stayed by a powerful wind. Clue fought back, her powers suddenly working again. The wind pushed back at the creature. It strained to bring its fist down on Mr. Mouse.
Clue blasted it with lightning. It screamed. The sound was terrifying. Not natural.
Clue hit it again. The electric light illuminated the entire horror.
She saw its hairless head and oversized oval black eyes. An enormous pale body, rippling with muscle. Huge mouth and fangs. The thing was at least five times Clue’s size.
“So much for little gray men,” Clue told Mr. Mouse, who had resumed his place on her shoulder.
She gathered her strength for the final blow. Suddenly Mr. Mouse turned on her. He went for her eyes, clawing at them, biting at her face.
Clue’s powers stopped abruptly as she tried to fight off her crazed friend.
She swatted at him and rolled face down. She could hear the monster growling behind her. “Get off of me! What’s going on?” she yelled. He kept up his frenzied attack.
Then the monster moved in for the kill, taking advantage of Mr. Mouse’s attack.
Just as quickly as he’d turned on her, Mr. Mouse stopped and leapt on top of Clue. He bared his most ferocious squeak at the monster. He swatted at it with his tiny paws.
Clue spun around, hoping to at least have a chance against the monster before it finished her off, but it was gone. It did not seem to want to challenge something so small and yet so determined.
Clue scratched Mr. Mouse on the head. “Glad to have you back,” she told him.
He looked up at her, and for a moment Clue thought she saw the dullness in eyes she’d noticed before. Then he jumped down and ran into the night.
“No! Wait!” she called. Then she collapsed, exhausted from the fight. She lay on the cold deck trying to catch her breath. She had to go after Mr. Mouse, despite the bizarre attack. He might be mad at her but her oldest friend had defended her before something had taken him over.
Clue pulled herself up and went back to the tent. She gathered up the most critical supplies and stuffed them into her pack before leaving the rest and starting into the obsidian jungle. She had a feeling she wouldn’t need to survive for very long, one way or another.
She didn’t make it far, stumbling away from the ship in the inky black. She heard that … thing … thrashing through the forest. She was about to make a blind break for it when something else grabbed her and pulled her down.
She was too surprised to make a noise as she fell through the earth into a pit.
Her eyes adjusted to the faint light. They focused on a kindly face.
“I see you’ve met Bitey,” said the face.
“Bitey?” asked Clue.
“You know, big guy. Grayish. Teeth. Claws.”
“Right.” Clue hunched over and relaxed slightly. “What was that? And, uh, who are you?”
“It’s a bit of a long story,” said the man. He paused, noise from above cutting him off. It sounded like the monster, Bitey, was stomping around directly above them. “But I suppose we’ve got some time until he wanders off.
“My name is Sean Marlow. I came to this island on that hulk out there,” he nodded in the direction of the derelict ship.
“And Bitey?” interrupted Clue.
“I’m getting there, girlie. Settle down,” he laughed.
Clue noticed for the first time he was much older than she’d thought. The dim light in the tunnel was playing tricks on her.
“In 1947 there was an incident near a little town called Roswell, New Mexico. There was a craft. The army recovered it,” continued the old man.
“Area 51,” said Clue.
“I don’t know what that is,” he said. “It must have come after. Anyway, the craft had a pilot. Ugly, vicious thing, but smart, too. They couldn’t control it so they chained it up and set it to sea. I was on the crew.”
“So Bitey was the pilot? The alien pilot?” Clue pressed.
“Well, you see, there were… complications. Initially the plan was to hold it long enough for them to arrange a facility to contain it, but they didn’t figure on it changing. It would go into hibernation and come out meaner and stronger. Finished off a good portion of us the first time. It was decided that it would never be safe to keep it on land and we were ordered to stay with it and never come close to port or shipping lanes.”
“So…” Clue began to understand.
“This island was the first land I’d seen in a long, long time.”
They were both quiet for awhile.
“But you’ve been on this island for a long time, too,” Clue said. She motioned at the elaborate tunnels they were in. “And so has that ship up there. Why are you still here?”
Marlow was silent. He pursed his lips, and shifted uncomfortably.
“Get to the South coast, if you can, and soon. As soon as possible,” he warned.
“I can’t,” she said. “I need to find two things.”
“So you already know why I’m still here,” said Marlow.
“The Chameleon Jungle,” said Clue.
“Will become what you want,” he finished.
Clue leaned forward. “So you know it?” she said.
“It seems even though we had a valuable specimen on board, someone had forgotten about us. Despite trying to avoid civilization, every so often we’d meet other ships. The Captain would always make sure no chance to gather intelligence went to waste.
“Many years ago we ran across a ship, drifting, only a few crew still left aboard. They spoke of the Chameleon Jungle. An island they’d stopped at. An island their tradition had warned them never to visit. In a storm they’d sought shelter there. That night colored lights from the legends came down to the jungle from the sky, and they realized the stories were true.
“Our captain was very interested in this particular information. After all, we had evidence of their legend down in the hold.
“The unfortunate crew of the other ship also told of the second half of the legend. Despite dire warnings to stay away, they still believed that the island granted riches. New knowledge, fantastic things given to those who survived their encounters.”
“You say ‘unfortunate,’” said Clue.
“It had been whispered that the true purpose of our voyage was a much to rid the world of Bitey as it was to rid the world of our captain. He figured out the connection between their legend and ours. He became consumed with an obsession to find this island. And he didn’t want to share it. He fed those men to the reason behind the lights and sailed for here at once.
“No good can come from this jungle, nothing worth staying for,” he concluded.
“Then I need to find my friend and go,” declared Clue.
“Your friend?” asked Marlow. “I haven’t seen anyone with you.”
“My friend is a mouse,” said Clue.
The light in the tunnel brightened as she said it. Marlow noticed in horror.
“You have powers,” he whispered. “Like him.”
Sean Marlow stood and backed away from Clue.
“Captain Jackson Fortune, the madman we sailed under.”
Clue could see the terror in his eyes. Then she watched an abrupt change. They went blank, as if the person behind them ceased to exist. It was the most frightening thing she had ever seen.
“Hello Clue Restacks,” said the empty shell of Sean Marlow. “Welcome to my island.”
“Jackson Fortune,” Clue responded with contempt.
“You’ve been paying attention to good Sean’s stories,” he said. “He always was the most useful of the crew. They were all criminals, you know. Why else would you imagine they were assigned to a voyage with no end? Don’t feel too bad for him, he serves his purpose.”
“And the purpose is?” demanded Clue.
“To be my vessel. To introduce you to me,” replied the grotesque marionette.
“I have no intention of meeting you. I’m getting off this island and you can stay here by yourself doing whatever it is you do, alone.”
“But you do want to see your little friend again. You know, little white thing with whiskers?”
The air around Clue started to sizzle and pop as her anger rose. “What have you done to Mr. Mouse?” she hissed.
“He’s mine, for now. I thought maybe we could work together, me and you. I have a project I’d like to complete. Join me. You can meet me at my camp at the North Beach.”
“Then I’ll come for you, and I’ll find him,” said Clue.
“Oh, don’t worry about finding him, he’s right here!”
Mr. Mouse scurried out from the shadows. Clue rushed for him.
“Mr. Mouse!” she shouted with relief. She reached for him.
The mouse ignored her and climbed to Marlow’s shoulder. The husk looked at him and then to Clue.
“You will work for me,” demanded Fortune to Clue.
“I won’t. You’ve got nothing to offer me.”
The old man’s body shrugged. It reached for the mouse on its shoulder. Mr. Mouse sat still, his small eyes fixed on Clue. She saw the same deadness in them as Marlow’s.
She couldn’t move even as the hand enclosed her little friend and contracted with a sickening crunch.
It opened and Clue saw her partner. Dead.
“I will kill you. I promise I’ll kill you a hundred ways.”
Sean Marlow shook his head and looked up at Clue with clear eyes. “Kill me?” he asked, puzzled.
Clue leapt for him, her arms blazing with electric fire, but before she crossed the space between them tendrils and roots from the tunnel walls sprung out and enveloped the old man. They tightened and retreated before Clue could get to him, leaving another corpse beside the mouse.
She knelt beside her friend, she patted his small head. She knew there was nothing she could do for him now but she could do something for herself.
“I’m not leaving you here,” she told him quietly. Tenderly, she wrapped the small body and placed it gently in her pack.
She stood and looked for a way out, using her powers to light the tunnel, brighter than daylight.
“Jackson Fortune, you are going to die,” she promised.
She found her way out of the tunnel system, exiting from behind a waterfall. She could see the coast down the hill, still a good ways off. She assumed the canyon with the landlocked ship was behind her. She headed north.
The sky above her darkened as she amped herself up. Until now she never actually tried to see how powerful she really was. Now she didn’t care about hurting herself or anyone in her path. She would use everything she had on her mission to avenge Mr. Mouse.
She thought of the vines that killed Marlow.
All the vegetation on either side of her disappeared in a blue flash. The wind picked up the debris and flung it into the forest.
Clue began moving in a straight line for the coast, wind carrying her faster than she could run, jungle withering away from her as she pushed ahead.
At the edge of a cliff she used a tornado-like gust to lower herself over the edge, hardly breaking stride.
She’d gone most of the way to the coast before the counter-attack started.
Animals started pouncing on her from out of the jungle, ignoring the lighting strikes still burning down the trees.
Clue had no interest in killing them and waved her hand in their direction. Great sheets of water engulfed them, drawn from the river now miles away. Anything with paws was swept back.
Plants, too, rose out of the ground. Thorn bushes and creepers trying to catch her up and drag her down.
She parted the clouds and intensified the sunlight. Everything around her began smoking, then burst into flames.
The wind and heat and water scoured the dirt around her. She blasted everything until she was standing on bare rocks.
Nothing Fortune could control was able to get close to her.
Nothing except for Bitey, the last line of defence. It stood between her and the sea.
Where they stood had been a pristine beach. Now the waves broke on bare rocks and the ocean was foaming with wreckage from Clue’s tempest.
Her lighting cracked across the sky. The waves stopped, then flowed up and formed walls around her and the alien, trapping them together in a cage only one was going to leave.
Easily five times Clue’s size, it regarded her without blinking or moving. Then she saw a slight tilt of the head and Clue realized she didn’t sense anger, or hunger, or fear. She saw it felt pain.
“He’s controlling you, too, isn’t he,” she asked it.
It didn’t speak back to her, but again she sensed it did not want to be there.
“I’m going to kill him,” Clue told the giant being.
“Then perhaps you should start by facing the right direction,” came a malevolent voice from behind her.
Fortune’s voice.
She turned, the waters dropped away. She saw her nemesis for the first time.
He was suspended on a wooden tower, lording over the remains of the ruined beach, having grown trees up from even the bare rocks.
She started to burn them with the sun, but having disregarded the alien, it grabbed her from behind and held her, claws at her throat.
“Now, now, enough of this,” Fortune goaded. “Are you sure we can’t work together? I’ve been trying to coax you since your unexpected arrival on my island.”
Clue was silent, rage building inside her.
“You don’t think you made that decision on your own, did you? I thought I’d try to influence you first but you proved stronger than I anticipated. Your rodent was far easier to control.”
Wind bursts assaulted him from both sides. They would have crushed him except for the branches that shot up absorbing the energy as they tore to shreds.
Clue felt her power draining. She struggled to be herself.
“I didn’t say I couldn’t control you at all,” he wagged his finger at her.
“What do you need me for?” she snarled.
“I thought that with our powers combined we might be able to do something I’ve thought about since the first day I saw the beautiful creature behind you. Of course, at first he wasn’t much to look at after we’d pried him out of his wrecked craft. But I saw the potential even then. The ability to harness his kind and his technology to advance our civilization to great things, as the natives who once spoke of the Chameleon Jungle built their society.”
“The jungle will become what you want,” said Clue.
“No!” Fortune cut her off. “The jungle will give me what I want.”
“You want the world,” realized Clue. “You plan to capture a craft, a crew of monsters!”
“Then you agree? If only you could have been this reasonable before I wouldn’t have had to make an example of your rat,” said Fortune with smile.
Clue remembered Mr. Mouse’s stand on this ship, doing everything he could to protect her, standing boldly between her and danger. Something clicked in her mind and she realized the key to breaking Fortune’s hold.
“He wasn’t a rat. He was a mouse.”
She charged an electric field around herself, breaking the alien’s grip, then turned to full force on to Fortune. She hit him with absolutely everything she had. Hail stripped leaves and bark off the trees faster than Fortune could re-grow them. She brought two waves together that could have crushed a ship between them.
Fortune cocooned himself with the jungle, using layer upon layer to shelter from the blows. But he was weakening.
Clue focused the sun’s energy like a laser. It ripped into Fortune’s bunker. Within seconds he would be dead.
A sound rose above even the maelstrom Clue was creating. She looked up and her attack faltered for a split second.
The abandoned freighter from the jungle was sailing towards her at a blinding pace, surfing on the tops of the trees, the canopy breaking over the bow like water. She had time to notice the superstructure was remarkably free of growth before something threw her across the beach.
She turned back to see the ship smash into Bitey, where she had been standing not a moment ago.
Fortune, too, had made a move, leaving his soon-to-be-burnt-out timber shell for the bridge of the ship.
“So long, Restacks,” he called to her. He’d managed to cover her with jungle during the distraction, and she struggled to move. She did notice with grim satisfaction that she’d been able to hurt him. Most of his torso was covered in burns.
Then the ship was gone along with the killer of her best friend.
Even with her powers back it took a long time to free herself. She didn’t want to end up burnt like Fortune.
She went to the creature that saved her life, evidently a slave just as much as Mr. Mouse or Sean had been. It, too, had worked out how to break free – it cared about something else more than itself.
She found it at the edge of the water. It wasn’t breathing, but then, she didn’t know if it did to begin with. She pulled it up onto the last bit of sand on the beach, but having left most of her supplies back on the ship Fortune had now escaped on, she could do little else for it.
She built a fire as night fell, swearing to herself an oath of revenge against Jackson Fortune should she ever leave the island.
It was almost three AM when she woke.
The fire had gone out. She used her own light to illuminate the camp.
Bitey was gone.
Then another light snapped on, far brighter than hers, and from above.
She looked up.
A craft, hovering above her, bright lights flashing along the edges.
“The legends…” she murmured.
Just as suddenly the lights went out. The craft disappeared and everything was quiet again.
Clue looked around and almost fell over.
She was in her living room. In her house. Thousands of miles away from the Island.
They’d taken her home.
She looked around, trying to discover some kind of trick, but everything was as she left it before she’d left for Rome almost two months before.
She saw her pack leaning against the couch and remembered Mr. Mouse. She rushed to it, starting to cry.
It moved.
She stopped in her tracks, not believing.
There was a scratching, then a tiny squeak.
She tore it open and looked down at a scruffy white and gray mouse, his bright eyes looking up at her.
“Mr. Mouse! They… You were…”
He squeaked at her again happily and rushed up her arm.
He had something in his teeth, Clue grabbed for it.
“Oh come on, we weren’t going to talk about that ever again!”
She snatched away a Polaroid of her in the ridiculously skimpy bikini from the Rio Job.
She picked him off her shoulder and held him in her hands. “It’s good to have you back.”
Mr. Mouse cocked his head and huffed at her.
“You remember, don’t you?” she asked him.
He flashed his teeth angrily.
“Yeah, he’s still out there. And this doesn’t change anything. We’ll find him.”
Clue sat down in her chair with a tumbler of whiskey and her best friend and watched the sky outside her window.  “To the Chameleon Jungle – for giving me what I wanted,” she toasted.
Mr. Mouse put his head down on her shoulder and went to sleep.
Clue smiled.
The End.
Clue Restacks and Mr. Mouse will return in “The Golden Masks”