José wasn’t ignorant: these men had Venezuelan accents and enough ink on their hulking, scarred arms that he was positive they were connected to a cartel. Additionally, anyone who could flee Venezuela was pouring across the nearest border, and he’d abandoned all chitchat after learning none of them had any rafting experience. What they did have were those juice boxes. They looked like something for a kid, but the first time he reached for one, José got the distinction impression he was going to lose his arm. Literally.
Now though he had to speak up. To warn everyone. Clearing his throat he began, “Today we’re gonna hit a series of class five rapids and there will be a four meter drop over a waterfall. Even with experienced rafters, someone always falls out. That is unless you clip yourself to the raft, which I don’t recommend. If the raft flips, then you’ll get dragged down the river with no control. That means I highly suggest wearing your life jacket today. Also we’re going to need to work together to get through this water. So please listen to my instructions and do what I say when I say.”
Nobody responded, so, in silence, José got the raft started downriver. Three hours later they emerged from their first set of major rapids without any noticeable incidents, and for a moment José thought he was going to be alright. Then he heard “Where’d the juice box bag go!?”
Instantly the raft became a swarm of limbs and frantic shouting until one of the men looked at José and demanded in a voice from the crypt, “Where is our bag, cabrón.”
José felt his blood freeze, despite being in a rainforest. “I don’t know. It could’ve been thrown out and gotten stuck upstream or washed down with the rest of the water.”
“So what you’re saying, is that it could be anywhere,” the man José thought of as the leader of the group growled out while reaching for a bag at his feet. José saw the slight guy with a jagged scar that started on his left cheek and dipped past his collar bone pull a pistol, and the million retorts on his lips died as his body lurched over the side of the raft, the “flight” part of his survival instinct being the clear victor in his current situation.
His head breached the frothing water just long enough to hear the crack of a pistol, so José dove again and started swimming as fast as he could, hoping that a school of piranha or an electric eel or green anaconda or dart frog wasn’t around. Qué mierda! Why was every animal in the Amazon either poisonous, ravenous, or just a dick?
José swam for the left bank of the river. He knew the current was much swifter on that side, and he hoped the pendejos would be idiotic enough to follow him and flip the raft. However, he was soon frowning; he never took the left bank as he knew it was dangerous— a relative term — as the right went through a large set of rapids that led to the falls he’d warned about. But apparently the left was a shortcut to the falls through a gauntlet of razor sharp rocks and what looked like prime real estate for golden dart frogs. In short, José decided, he’d have been better off with people shooting at him. However, fate seemed determined to bestow him with cojones. He miraculously passed through that death trap, only to find himself three meters from the falls with his “clients” 150 meters behind his fleeing, exposed back.
As soon as the four noticed him, the pistol cracked again. If José was honest, he probably would’ve died if he didn’t plummet over the falls at the same time they shot at him. As it was the rampaging water pummeled him long enough that the raft fell on his head when he finally breached the surface and took a gasping breath. After that José’s world went dark.
José awoke as a vicious slap rattled his teeth. “I’ll give you this: you’re not as much of a cabrón as I initially thought,” the leader of the “juice box cartel” said as he awoke to the sight of a pistol barrel a few centimeters from his head. “Unfortunately you’re a liability, and before you die, I need to know who else knows you took us out on the river?”
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe that. But don’t worry. They,” the man forced José to look at a swarm of nearby bullet ants, “will motivate you. Consider this a courtesy; you see I listened to your advice about not tethering myself to the raft. My associates didn’t, and like you said they were dragged away. I’ll have to see if they’re alive after this. Oh, and before you say you know nothing, those juice boxes held a liquefied and more powerful version of ecstasy, which we’re nicknaming ‘Mollycoddle.’ Not the best name, I grant, but now you know and must therefore die.”
The golden dart frog landed under the leader and then hopped away, brushing against his bare shin. The man abruptly seized, just missing José’s head as he fired, then collapsed. He wasn’t dead. Yet.
It took José a moment to worm free, retrieve the pistol, and roll the leader’s body towards the ants. Turning, he noticed the bag of juice boxes wash up on shore. He hesitated, but then picked it up. After all he knew a few people...