The three hour ride took us into a forest so dense, that almost no sunlight could seep right through it. The curving road was the only thing that the forest allowed us to see clearly. For a week we planned to camp in the Congo forest, the largest forest in Africa.
None of us had any idea about where people camped, or whether the government was paid any tip to allow someone or people to use the forest for camping purposes. Planning of the trip had been done hastily. We were at the mercy of fate.
“According to the map, we are fifteen miles away from the closest open-space,” Janice said.
Her face was buried into the newspaper-sized map. Sally and Matt were staring at Janice, with questions glittering from their eyes.
“I’m amazed you are holding the map correctly!” Sally said.
Janice wasn’t the kind of girl who liked studying, researching, or doing anything else seeming intellectual. Wild-partying and drinking the tough stuff was the definition of her world.
It was as though another different spirit had taken over her thoughts. Camping, gorillas, and forest spirits were the only things she kept on talking about. As expected, my eyes were focused on the road as she talked.
“I can also see River Congo close to our camping site!”
We were all excited to hear those words. Botany was glued in our hearts like tattoos. As fourth-year students in Botanical Engineering, we were hunting for a weed which cured cancers and increased human’s longevity. Our professor called it “Theos Floris”, translated as “plants of the gods” in Greek. Professor Greene said it grows naturally on the river bed of the mighty river.
Rumors of its existence date back in the reign of the Pharaohs, thousands of years ago. According to historical documentation, there was one Pharaoh, Ramses III, who sent an expedition of physicians and mystics, to harvest the miraculous weed. None of them returned to Egypt.
There is also a local legend that claims that a forest god sent spirits to the forest, to protect the rare natural jewel from intruders. Several reports of people becoming insane after sighting them have been recorded in journals and written in books. The story-hungry media houses dismiss such reports as hoaxes.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” Sally asked Matt.
“Do you believe in angels?” Matt responded.
There was silence in the jeep for a while, because our minds were focused on the prize from Mother Nature. Dozens of jars were packed behind our jeep. Some weeds were to be harvested, sampled, labeled, and flown to Oxford for study.
“I hope the spirits don’t mind,” I joked in my thoughts.
Suddenly my car came to a sudden halt. My left foot was still stepping on the brakes.
“Did you all see that?” I asked, in the midst of fright.
The rest of my crew reacted to the event as though I was hallucinating. As far as sanity is concerned, I was very certain a black human-like figure had stood right on my path, only ten meters away.
“I think we should call off this expedition,” I told my colleagues. Plead and dread were mixed up on my face.
At that very moment I became a center of focus. They saw me as a new convert, from reality to superstition. I was perceived to be weak, allowing local legends to get on my way to a legendary discovery.
Mockery was turned to screams when a long, dark, human-like arm grabbed Matt by the neck like a snake, dragging him to the forest. You could hear sounds of twigs breaking as evil dragged him away. Sally was terrified to the degree she almost screamed her lungs out.
Janice had forgotten she was holding a map. Her eyes were staring at nothing behind the windscreen. She was traumatized.
We were trapped. I could see shadows slowly crawling out from the forest. The sun was setting. Time was not on our side.
Starting the engine and stepping the gas was the only thing I could think of doing. Dust followed us as we raced for salvation along the road. I couldn’t feel my hands holding the steering wheel.
The last thing I could recall is hitting a log, and veering off towards the trees. I became unconscious. I don’t know what became of Sally and Janice.
As I slowly regained consciousness, I felt a bright light on my face.
“Am I in Heaven?!” I whispered weakly.
My hearing too was slowly recovering. I could hear people talking, and sounds of curtains as they were being opened and closed. Later on I realized that I was in a hospital.
One of the hospital’s doctors told me that I was found in a maize farm, which was thirty seven kilometers away from the scene of the accident! They had heard about it in the news. The jeep was recovered, but not the other two colleagues – they didn’t know I was the one driving the jeep. I had tried to convince them earlier that I was the driver.
The owner of the maize farm was being interrogated by police. As I expected, there was no tracking of how I got into the farm or who brought me. It’s like I just appeared!
I get sleepless nights whenever I think about my friends. They were the closest people I could call family.
Please, detectives don’t let me rot in the asylum – I’m not mad. All I’ve told you is true. Evil shadows lurk in the Congo forest, waiting for their next victims. They never eat, sleep or die….