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[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 5: In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle
Characters: Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, Jack Shephard, Kate Austin, James "Sawyer" Ford, Michael Dawson, Bea Klugh, assorted Others
Rating: T
Length: 1866 words
Status: Complete
Notes: Set between Season 2 and 3

Summary: The quest to find Walt has failed. As Hugo makes his lonely way back to the beach camp, he discovers that the Island is stranger than he ever imagined.

Chapter 5: In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

The jungle didn't look the same to Hugo as when he had been forced through it in the opposite direction. Not that that made any difference, as he couldn't track his way out of a paper bag. Kate had told him that more than once, and even her light, laughing tone couldn't quite erase the sting. What in the hell was he supposed to do now? He took another long drink from Bea's canteen, and the water went down like living ice. The sun was behind him, it was late afternoon, and that meant he was going east. Probably.

A large greenish bird cawed at Hugo as it gazed down at him from a spreading, thick-limbed tree branch. That bird again, the one which had called out his name, but hadn't crapped out any gold. Not yet anyway. At least it didn't have a woman's face. In its claws it clutched something small and furry, and with its beak it pulled long red strings from inside the little dead creature, slurping them up like spaghetti.

While the bird's meal looked pretty unappetizing from where he stood, Hugo looked inside his pack anyway, even though it was probably a waste of time. The little food they'd started out with the day before was long gone, and Hugo hadn't had any of it. Now that Hugo wasn't being chased or in immediate fear of his life, his stomach rumbled. Thinking back, he hadn't had anything to eat for almost three days, not since that morning right before Kate and Sawyer had come out of the jungle and told him Libby had been shot.

But his pack felt heavier, bulkier than on the trip up. Hugo took another long draw from Bea's canteen and rummaged in the backpack. Hello, what was this? A shirt that wasn't his, green and brown tie-dye, very seventies, and from the musty smell hadn't been worn in a long time. Big enough, though. How often did that happen?

Then there was some kind of squashy parcel wrapped in beige paper. He peeled a corner back to find three plump fish, freshly gutted. Their pink, blunt bodies were so pale they might have been white. Some kind from the other side of the Island, maybe, as he'd never seen any like them before.

In another parcel, not so squashy, were three tough-skinned, dusty roots like potatoes, each the size of a softball. And funniest of all, there was an old-fashioned wooden matchbox with just three matches in it. Hugo hadn't seen this kind since he was a kid. Not that matches were amusing in and of themselves. They were damned useful, though, unless you wanted to eat sushi and sleep in the dark.

What made him smile was the tiny picture on the box cover: a huge-bellied shirtless guy with four arms and an elephant's head.

The eagle-like bird kept pulling off thin strips of red meat, and occasionally glanced down at Hugo with its piercing dark eye.

Maybe the bird couldn't understand him, but it didn't hurt to try, even if it was a totally crazy thing to do. “Hey, bird,” Hugo called out. “I'm sorry Michael tried to shoot you.” For if Jack had given Michael a loaded gun instead of one with no bullets in it, this beautiful creature would have been lying dead on the path.

The green bird dropped the remnants of its meal onto the jungle floor. Then it ruffled its feathers, rose in a graceful curve, and circled around a few times, only to land on another limb a few hundred feet deeper into the jungle. Once again it cawed, and man, did that caw ever sound like his name, no matter how much Sawyer had scoffed.

It was as obvious as if the bird had spoken to Hugo directly. He was to follow it.

So all through the remaining daylight hours Hugo tried to keep pace with his fluttering green guide. A few times he lost it, but the bird always managed to circle back, leading him further on. When the falling sun left the understory dark in shadow, he called out, "I gotta make camp.” The bird squawked a few times as if it understood, then disappeared into the rapidly approaching dark.

Just his luck, there was dead-fall everywhere. Hugo piled the wood into a tipi shape, just like Kate had showed him. He forgot, though, to put a wad of tinder in the center, so the first match blew out before it caught on anything. Then he smacked his head, called himself an idiot, and looked around.

Hugo didn't often have to make fire. There were always at least two or three fires perpetually burning at the beach, and all you had to do was grab a stick, light it, and carry it to your own wood-pile. Kate or Sawyer had made the fires when they were out trekking.

Again, as luck would have it, right over there stood one of those trees with the dry hairy bark which Kate favored for fire-starting. So, just as Kate would have done, Hugo scraped off a huge handful of tinder and stuffed it into the bottom of his wood pyramid. He struck the second match but it fizzled almost at once.

Hugo stared at the third unlit match for a long time. In the deep twilight, the red ink lines of the fat elephant-figure almost seemed to dance. Eyes scrunched up hard, Hugo thought fiercely, For the love of all that is good and holy, please don't let me screw this up. Taking a deep breath, he held the match very close to the base of the tinder pile and struck.

The burst of flame licked his fingers. He pulled his hand back with a cry, dropping both matchstick and box into the fire. A blossom of blue heat leapt up. For a few seconds the red-ink figure on the burning box cover really did dance with joyful abandon, flinging itself about with belly shaking, arms waving, its elephant trunk swinging wildly. Then the matchbox collapsed into curls of black ash, but the blue flame remained. All at once the rest of the wood ignited, flaring up into a column of bright oranges, blues, and yellows. A few minutes later, the flame collapsed into glowing red and black coals laced with an occasional flicker of flame, the perfect kind for roasting your dinner. The kind which normally took an hour to burn down.

“Dude,” Hugo whispered. Kate was good, but she'd never built a fire like this.

Hugo had planned to save one of the fish for breakfast, but he ended up eating them all anyway. He finished off his meal with long draughts from Bea's canteen, no longer worrying about emptying it, because no matter how much he drank, the water kept coming. He built the fire up again with new dead-fall so that it burned merrily, sending up clouds of shiny sparks.

It was crazy: here he was in the middle of nowhere with no idea where to go, no streams anywhere in the dry highland forest, who knows what lurked out there in the dark, and yet he felt good. Worried about Kate, about Jack and Sawyer, yes. Sad for Libby almost beyond bearing. And he felt sorry for Michael, too, because Hugo had seen the naked fear in Michael's eyes when Henry, or Benjamin had led him to that small boat where Walt waited.

Something about that little boat nagged at Hugo. Of course. Michael could no more take that rusty tub out onto the open ocean than Hugo could run a marathon. So when Michael had turned around and headed back to the dock, that could mean only one thing. Michael wasn't leaving this Island any more than the rest of them. Maybe. Or maybe they had another way to get him off.

Was it actually lying, just to keep silence? At that point Hugo decided that if he had anything to do with it, no one else was going to die for Michael’s sake. Hugo wasn't going to say a word about the boat turning around when he got back to the beach. If he got back. It was bad enough that Jack and the others had been taken. Maybe Michael and Walt had forgotten something and were coming back to get it, before heading out to sea for good. As far as Hugo was concerned, it wouldn't be a lie to say that Michael and Walt had left on a boat. Maybe they would send rescuers after all. It never hurt to have a little hope.

Wherever you're going, Michael, you sorry son of a bitch, I hope you find what you're looking for.

Hugo was suddenly very tired. The fire had plenty of wood; he was full as a tick from the fish, and the dry forest night was cool and breezy, not sodden like the wetter regions below. He pushed the potato-like roots deep into the ashes underneath the glowing coals, where they'd bake overnight and hopefully serve as breakfast. Curling up before the fire, his head pillowed on his backpack, Hugo fell asleep almost at once into a heavy, exhausted sleep without dreams.

The next morning dawned pale and overcast, with thin greyish clouds streaked across the sky. The fire had gone out. Hugo uncovered the roots, roasted to perfection and still warm from their bed of thick ash. They were kind of like baked potatoes, but meatier and not as mealy, with golden brown flesh rich inside tough brown-baked skins.

Little birds chittered on a few branches overhead, but all they spoke was bird-language, not English. His guide of the evening before was nowhere to be seen.

Now here he sat in the middle of a strange part of the jungle, with no choice other than to navigate on his own. After covering the cold fire with dirt, Hugo headed east, where the newly-risen sun sat on the highest part of the tree line like a golf ball perched on its tee. After a few hours of heading east and slowly but steadily downhill, he heard water moving over stone. Kate had told him that if you get lost in the woods, just follow running water downstream, and sooner or later it would get to a beach. If there was a stream, he could fill his canteen if nothing else. Strangely, though, the canteen felt as it always had, about half-full.

The long cool drink revived Hugo a bit. He trudged alongside the stream bed, but after a few hours it trickled away to nothing amidst piles of moss-covered rocks. Down he went, always down, but eventually the dry stream-bed rocks thinned out until none were left. Thick ropy vines hung down in every direction, and he could only see a few feet ahead of himself. Even the noonday sun could barely make it through the thick canopy, although tiny sparkles fell down here and there. Hugo sat down on his haunches on a flat rock, and put his head in his hands.

He was lost.



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