‘I hate airports,’ the thought kept running through my head. I kept trying to push it out of my mind, knowing it would make the whole process even worse. The line through security was long, same as any previous time I had gone thorough it. One of the TSA agents, looking more like a bouncer at a bar, kept looking my way. In turn, I could feel my mind trying to make my body move like natural, though it seems that somewhere between offering up my passport and taking off my shoes I had forgotten how.
Going through the metal detector, I attempted to hide my bandaged hand the best I could from the discriminating eyes of the agents. I breathed a sigh of relief as I made it through the point without triggering any alarms, but my solace ended there. The big bouncer looking fellow trotted my way, asking for my identification, looking me up and down before I could even have a chance to pull my passport back out of my coat pocket.
“Travelling internationally today, I see.” He grumbled, looking at my boarding pass stuck in the pages of my booklet.
“That looks like a pretty nasty wound on your hand, being bandaged up like that.” He looked down at the hand I had been holding part way behind my back.
“I got bit.”
“Bit by what?” The big man continued to hold onto my Passport.
“A big, rare, type of lizard.”
“A Karaqual.” I rolled my eyes just quick enough so that he wouldn’t notice. “I’m heading down to the Amazon to try and find another.”
“So you’re a poacher? Or trader?”
“A zookeeper.” I held out my good hand to hopefully trick him into giving my passport back.
“You know you have to clear animals before they come back past the border… especially on an exotic thing like your… quarrel.”
“Karaqual.” I shoved my hand out more forcibly this time. “If we get one… it’ll get shipped back on a boat back to our zoo. Me on the other hand… well, perhaps we’ll meet again.”
“Be careful of any jungle fever down there.” The big guy seemed to joke, still stone-faced, before shoving the passport back at me. Before I could respond, he turned back to the checkpoint, most likely to harass another person. I quickly checked the watch that I had shoved into my pocket, before collecting my stuff and waddling off to the gate in my socks.
The flight was calm and unexpectedly quiet, but my stomach felt like it hurt the entire time. I managed to sleep through a good part of the 12 hour flight, and by the time we landed, my stomach had settled.
At the baggage claim, I ran into a man holding a signboard with my name sloppily scribbled on it. The man introduced himself at Cézar, working with our sister zoo there in Rio, who would be working with me to head into the Jungle. The second we stepped out of the terminal, it was muggy, the air heavy. The same uneasy sickness I had felt on the plane returned, and I immediately regretted having my deodorant and a change of lighter clothing packed deep in my suitcase under all my research notes and equipment.
Cèzar and I rode in his little beat-up jeep down the tiny, packed roads just outside of the airport which I discovered was much smaller than it seemed from up in the air. The rough streets jostled my stomach, but I was much relieved to see what looked like a motel. Sadly, I learned that it was more like a dorm for the zookeepers there, and that we would not be staying there for more than an hour or two. My body had yet to even remember what time it should have been at, but the day was still young here, and I knew there would be no rest for a while.
I popped a malaria pill, following it up with a nice caffeine pill just to make sure I would be able to make it at least until we made it out to the site in the jungle. After taking a quick shower, changing, and applying a gratuitous layer of deodorant, we set out. I managed to knock myself out sitting in the back seat, trying to go over the packet of information my boss had given me. All the information about the thing’s preferred food sources and sleep cycle wouldn’t mean much if the thing hadn’t even been seen for quite some time in this area.
The indigenous people say they see them, but they’ve also been recorded killing Karaquals on site as well. Even though the thing isn’t dangerous really to humans on their own, they are definitely big enough to kill livestock like the goats some of the peoples keep out here. Unfortunate, but for the people living out here in the bush, they do what they must.
Cèzar finally awoke me when we arrived at the camp. Some of the other guys had been there for a day or two, having set up tents and a campfire, roasting some tubers and an assortment of strange looking meats on a spit. I saw a few cloudy plastic containers holding several strange looking species of spider, happily spinning webs among the twigs they had thrown in. I kept my distance, content myself with reptiles rather than arachnids.
The heat of the day crept up on us quickly, and some of the men went and hid in their tents for a siesta. Cèzar stuck around with me for a bit, explaining how they had staked out the area around the camp with several cage traps to possibly catch any smallish animal if they might happen to pass by. So far, though, they had only succeeded in pissing off a raccoon mom and her cubs. When the men got up, I managed to wander around with them for a bit to check said traps, but empty they remained.
I had Cèzar ask them if they had seen any signs of big reptiles; shredded skin, black and white scat, or burrows. Nothing, it seems. Exhausted from my day of travel, I quickly collapsed again after a quick dinner. The following day produced similar findings of nothing. My stomach continued to bother me, and I kept chugging water to counteract all the sweat I was producing. A headache slowly grew, and when midday came by, I decided to simply call it a day with the others for their siesta.
I awoke with a shooting pain in my stomach, rumbling downwards towards my posterior. The only light outside was the fire burning down in the embers. I quickly grabbed my torch and a roll of bog paper and ran out into the darkness to find an appropriate tree. I finished with the foul-smelling business and felt much better. As I was finishing cleaning myself off, I heard a crinkling among the foliage. Quickly shining my light upwards, I saw the scales glisten. Eyes fixated on it, I quickly shoved the torch under my arm and pulled up my trousers. The thing’s tongue flickered in the air, smelling my refuse, strangely enough. It was, without a doubt, what I had come to find. The air was cold this time of night, and I could see it moving slowly, tentatively. I took my change to quickly jump upon it, torch still grasped awkwardly in my armpit.
Holding it behind it’s stubby flailing front legs, tail flapping back at me furiously, I ran back to the camp, trousers wanting to fall down the whole way. I must have caused enough confusion, as a few of the men came out of their tents, sleepily eyed. The creature still furious, we shoved it into one of the larger crates, narrowly avoiding another bite.