This month’s short story is a fun adventure type story. The writing prompt was a song title of Bob Marley’s Legend album. The title Concrete Jungle struck a chord with me getting my brain to tick over. I had a couple of ideas (that I have filed away for possible future stories) and choose this one. I hope you enjoy, let me know in the comments.
As ever if you prefer to read offline you can download a PDF version – Welcome to the Jungle – Paul Blake
Welcome to the Jungle
Johnson entered the bar to cheers from his colleagues already there. They got to their feet and crowded him. Clapping him on the back. Making sure he knew they were there, making sure he noticed. Johnson was guided to the best seat at the best table. A beer waiting for him. He stood and raised the beer.
“To my team. Without whom this deal would never have been done,” he announced.
Very generously. Johnson and his colleagues thought. He was the mastermind, the architect, and the driving force. The others were there merely to make up the numbers, to present as a show of force. It worked. Johnson’s deal was the deal of a lifetime. He’d made the company, himself, and them a great deal richer. Their association had made their reputations rise, but they all knew that it was down to Johnson.
Johnson downed the beer with little spillage to the delight of everyone at the table. “More!” he called. “tonight we’re celebrating.”
The evening progressed, and Johnson excused himself from the table. He headed for the restroom. Standing at the urinal in front of him was a poster advertising the Bronx Zoo. On the poster was, according to the caption, a Nile crocodile. Mouth open wide, jaw stretched, snaggly teeth aimed at the poster viewer’s lower region.
Johnson laughed aloud, “In this jungle, we sharks are the apex predator. We eat old, slow crocodiles like you for breakfast.” He thought of the deal he’d completed earlier. A giant electronics company. Massive but slow to evolve. Late to the digital era. Prime for acquisition and asset stripping. Yes, these old crocodiles are no match for us sharks. Johnson finished his restroom business and returned to the party.
“So, Johnson, how are you getting home? A couple of us are going to get an Uber Black, do you want to join us?” someone asked.
“Thank you, but no. I’m going get the subway, slum it one last time,” Johnson said, laughing. “After today’s deal, I’ll be driven around the city in stretch limos while being sucked dry by interns.”
Johnson left the bar at closing, however, too many beers had turned into too many whiskeys. His head was spinning like a record. Right round. Round, round. Like a record, baby. The neon lights in the street assaulted his eyes. The head and tail lights of the passing vehicles mugged his brain. He raised his arm to his face to block the beating. His other hand grasped the railing beside him to hold himself straight. Echoes and muffled sounds enveloped his head like a fog. He felt someone near him, leaning close. A pink blur. “You be safe now…weekend… Monday.” Laughter. Johnson joined in. “If I make it,” he said. Not sure what he was going to make but it felt right to say it. More laughter. “Alright… ya.” A hand clapped his shoulder, and the blur moved off. Johnson wobbled and leaned against the railing. “See ya,” he called into the night.
Using the railing for a crutch, Johnson shuffled along the street. Small steps forward. Small correcting steps sideward. His arm preventing him staggering off course. Gaps in the railing to allow for steps leading up to the residences that towered over him were navigated with care. Johnson would lean and touch the highest step and then hand walk across, feet following, until he made it to the next railing. In this fashion, he made it to the end of the block. At the intersection, he looked at the street sign to see where he was and where he needed to get to. Five of them danced around his eyes. Rocking out to a beat only they could hear. He closed one eye to focus. Two more signs joined the chorus line. He shook his head. No, don’t do that again. His brain felt like a frozen pea in a cup, rattling around. He opened his eye and shut the other. Better. Now he only had two signs to deal with. ‘West 73th’ and ‘Columbus’. There’s a subway station on West 72nd. Which way to go? Johnson looked in both directions. His head switching between the two and back so fast everything was a blur. He reached into his pocket, pushed his wallet aside, and pulled out a coin. “Heads I go left.” He flipped the coin in the air and held out his hand to catch it. He heard the tinkle of a coin on the sidewalk. Someone else is lost. “Are you lost, mate? I’m waiting for my coin to come down then you can follow me,” he called out, friendly style. A buzzing silence. “Suit yourself.” Johnson forgot about the coin and reeled to the right. Crossing the road without looking. An angry horn sounded behind him, as the car passed in his wake. Johnson waved a fist the other way and continued on his journey. The buildings here on Columbus were mainly storefronts with thick glass-paned windows. Johnson’s forehead left a greasy smear on them as he walked with his head to the glass for support.
At 72nd he stopped at the crosswalk. It’s red hand sign blazing in the night. Imprinting in his brain. He closed his eyes and could still see it before him. With his eyes closed, it felt like he was falling forwards. He reached out his arms to protect himself and feeling silly he mimed diving into the tarmacked road. The shock of cold water made him open his mouth. He swallowed some of the water. It tasted of mud, dirt, and an absence of salt. The river current took his feet away, and he was swept along. Tumbling and turning. Twisting and stumbling. He felt like he couldn’t breathe, then his face broke out of the water, and he gasped for the thick air. He went back under. His arms grasped either side for anything to stop him. Reeds and mangroves slipped between his outstretched fingers. Rushing past before he could tell his hands to snatch them. When he opened his eyes, everything was black. When he closed them, the same. He decided to keep them closed. Something struck his right forearm. Solid. Hard. He reached with his left arm and wrapped it around the object. His fingers felt rough bark underneath them, so he did the same with his other arm. He held on to the tree trunk as it kept him upright. His head out of the water. He spat into the river. A residue of bracken taste remained. Using the trunk as a float, he let the river decide his course as he went with the flow. Normally a thousand questions would be assaulting him at once. Perhaps they were. All Johnson could think in his drink addled state was a single word. He repeated it over and over. A litany of fucks. Short bursts of fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Longer inside screams of fuuuucccccckkkk. How long he stayed like that attached to the trunk, arms aching, fingers numb from the cold water, mind ‘fuck’ing away, he couldn’t tell.
Johnson felt his legs and shoes starting to drag along the bottom. Hitting branches and godknowswhat as they dangled below him. Each time he felt it, he tried kicking himself sideways against the sunken objects to try and reach the shore or the bank on either side. Eventually, he found he could put his feet on the bottom and walk, the rush of the water still pulled him along, but he was definitely making diagonal progress. He still held the trunk in case he slipped by he relaxed his grip a little giving his arms a bit of a rest. One shoe became stuck in the mud below him and wouldn’t give. The current cajoled him into continuing. His shoe declined all offers. The water pulled him, stretched him, jostled him, and battered him. The force and pressure popped his foot out of the shoe and propelled him forward. One arm lost grip of the trunk. Johnson grabbed harder with the other. The rough texture rubbed against his cheek. Soon his momentum slowed, and he managed to regain his hold on the log. His knees touched the mud as he floated. He slowed. Gravity beat force, and his belly sunk. Arms extended. He stopped. Face down in the shallow water he crawled on his belly pushing the trunk before him. It stopped, and so did he. Feet still in the lapping water. Body and head on solid mud. Johnson turned his face to the side and breathed deeply. The night and fight had sapped his energy, and he closed his eyes. Allowing the all-compassing blackness to overwhelm him.
A throaty growl made Johnson open his eyes. The sunlight entered and made him cry out. The growl got deeper and louder. Johnson shut his eyes as fast as he had opened them and stayed still. He could feel the trunk from the night before at his fingertips. What? He asked himself, and then it all came flooding back. The drinks, the whiskey, the blackness, oh God the whiskey. He felt the urge to vomit. His mouth started to water, and his stomach churned. His head was dizzy, Like a whirlpool, it never ends. And it’s you, girl, making it spin. You’re making me dizzy. It felt like his brain was folding in on itself. Johnson pushed himself up on to his knees and elbows. He couldn’t put it off any longer. Out came the excesses of the night before. Bits of nachos and chicken wings from the bar, beer, bile, bugs. All splattered on the mud beside him. His head felt lighter as he kept going. His stomach growled at him. So did something else. Johnson lifted his head. In front of him, at the edge of the mud bank, about twenty— twenty-five-foot away was a large cat. Powerful muscles showed beneath its patterned golden coat. A guttural roar and the massive feline leaped forward. Johnson scrambled backwards into the water, his hands sinking into the wet mud below the surface. The jaguar landed on what Johnson had thought of as a tree trunk and sunk its teeth into the skull. Johnson watched dumbfounded as the jaguar pulled the tree trunk—dead caiman into the jungle overgrowth. My savior last night was a dead crocodile? How is that even possible? The caiman had to be six foot long from nose to tail, at least. Its dragged belly left a foot wide trail in the soft mud.
Johnson stayed in the water for what felt like an age. Barely breathing. Definitely not moving. Watching the gap between the trees and the grasses. His fingers were buried in the mud; arms were backward, holding his head barely above the water level. Johnson’s eyes were drawn to movement in front of him. The snout and eyes of a snake crossed between him and the shore. Johnson tensed and watched the snake pass. Its body followed the head, its movements the same ‘S’ style as on land. In the water, though, it looked even more graceful. Not that Johnson appreciated the fact as seventeen-foot of green anaconda swam before him. He tracked the snake, barely moving his head as it eventually disappeared under the mangrove roots beside the mud bank. Johnson decided he’d rather face down a jaguar than be drowned and eaten by a snake. He got to his feet with care. Trying not to disturb the water too much. He stepped onto the mud bank and moved away from the water’s edge. The bank was thirty feet wide and oval in shape, the widest part of the diameter about twenty-foot. The jaguar had taken the caiman to the left-hand side of the oval; the snake had gone that way too, albeit in the brown water. Johnson chose to head to the right.
He crept through the undergrowth, pushing aside large palm tree fronds that hung down to the ground. He saw several bug creatures, including spiders and large ant-like things. He tried to avoid them where possible. Not knowing which were venomous or fancied a sweaty human dinner. There were mosquitos everywhere. Please don’t give me malaria, he begged. They seemed put off by the malodorous stench coming from his pores and left Johnson alone. Don’t fancy getting alcohol poisoning, I bet. Johnson didn’t know where he was heading or if he’d ever get there. The beams of light coming through the canopy overhead shifted as he walked as the sun moved in the sky. Shadow and light patches danced around him as he walked. He saw brightly colored frogs climbing trees, just as bright birds on the branches overhead. Green lizards skittered away as he passed. Sweat poured off him in buckets. He had removed his suit jacket and carried wrapped around his right forearm and used it as a shield when pushing fronds and thick grass out of his way. His head was killing him. His mouth was dry. His legs were heavy and tired. He was much worse than usual after a heavy night’s drinking, that’s for sure. The light started to fade, the beams no longer reaching the grounds. He started looking for a place to rest for the night. A nice looking tree with no frogs, lizards, bugs. An open patch of jungle with a freshwater stream and waterfall would be lovely. His eyelids started to droop as tiredness overtook him. He stumbled on tree roots and rotten fallen limbs. A sound from behind made his eyes open in a flash.
It was hissing sound. It came from just next to his left ear. Johnson’s balls shot inside his body in fright, and he spun around and raised his right arm in defense. In front of him, dangling from a tree was a bright green snake, coiled, hissing, and angry. It loosened its coils and sprung towards Johnson, mouth open wide. Fangs exposed. Johnson stepped back and swung his suit covered arm to knock the snake away like a major leaguer does to a baseball. His foot slipped on something, and he toppled backward. His body twisted as his swinging arms momentum carried him around. His eyes followed the snake as it flew over his head and land in the undergrowth. He placed his other arm to protect his fall and closed his eyes. He fell for much longer than he thought he would and opened his eyes to see stacks of newspapers speeding towards him, rain-wet concrete surrounding them. He fell into the papers scattering them around. He laid there breathing heavy not daring to close his eyes, as he listened to the sound of rain hitting the sidewalk and cars rushing through puddles and watched the morning sunrise creep down the building beside him. He smiled for what felt like the first time in a year.
“What the fuck d’ya think you’re doing, you asshole?” A man’s voice.
Johnson startled and rolled off the papers on to the wet sidewalk. He got to his feet in time for the man to push him back down.
“How the fuck am I gonna sell these now?”
A kick to the stomach made Johnson retch. He doubled up, his arms wrapped around his head. Another kick. Another.
“Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop,” he screamed. “I’ll pay! I’ll pay! Please.”
“With what? You filthy bastard.” Another kick. This one to Johnson’s elbow. He heard a crack and felt a dull, sharp, numb, fiery pain.
“Stop!” With his good hand, Johnson reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out his wallet. Using his fingers, he pulled out six, seven, eight hundred dollar bills and held them up to the man. “Here. Money.” Tears ran down his face.
The man snatched the cash and snarled, “Get out of here.”
Johnson didn’t need telling twice. He got to his knees and scrambled back, away from the man. The man stepped towards Johnson and laughed as Johnson fell onto the window of the shop behind him. The glass did not shatter, but it did bang the back of Johnson’s head. “I’m going. I’m going,” Johnson pled. You fucking psycho.
He stumbled backward, using the window for support, watching the man. When he was about thirty foot away, he finally turned and walked away. His left foot dragged along the ground, he didn’t have the energy to help it. He kept turning his head in case the man decided he wanted more. But the man had returned to the scattered papers and started tidying them up. Johnson looked at his watch to see the time, but the mud-caked dial was cracked, and the hands were no longer moving. He reached the end of the block and saw across the intersection the 86th Street subway entrance. I’m on the other side of Central Park? He waited at the crosswalk lights. ‘Don’t Walk’ in bright red. He stared at the sign. Not daring to close his eyes. It changed to ‘Walk’ and Johnson crossed and descended the subway steps. He opened his wallet and took out his MetroCard and pressed it against the turnstile. He didn’t see the early commuters avoiding him. Their noses wrinkling in disgust. He didn’t see the transit cops eyeing him warily. He headed towards the platform and when there slumped on a bench and waited for the train. He heard the train approach. Stood and shuffled forward. The train stopped, and Johnson saw himself reflected in the window. His face was caked in mud. There was a large gouge from his left ear to his jaw. His usually immaculate hair was sticking up at all angles. In his eyes, he thought he could see fear for the first time. The doors opened, and he stepped aboard.
I hope you enjoyed this story. Twenty-seven other short stories can be found in my short story collection A Few Hours After This on Amazon – A Few Hours After This – Amazon Link.