He had been told crawling would get him nowhere. The Hovitos guide went on to say that crawling would likely set him back farther from his destination than taking no steps at all. But he would be damned if he stood up and walked across the gnarly log that spanned the canyon hundreds of feet deep.
His time in South America had been as uneventful as one could expect. His mission was to build water purification system, start a school, and preach in such a way that the tribes would fully embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He was well on his way. The water purification system had been finished about a week and they were starting to put the first coat of paint on the school house that would double as a chapel. Then he got the telegram.
He had to get back home. He'd either have to wait a month until the spring storms ran their course and ride out on the river with the tribe or strike out on his own through the jungle for a week. He prayed about it and didn't really get an answer. But that telegram burned a hole through his pocket and he decided to set out.
He wasn't completely without resources. He'd hiked through his fair share of rain forest. He also had GPS, a satellite phone, a first aid kit, and the chief's signet in the form of a highly adorned spear head. This would get him passage through the other tribes' territory. He also counted on God's steady hand at his shoulder.
He passed the first two nights without incident. The trail rations the women of the tribe packed for him were compact and tasty. He was able to start and keep a fire each night. He kept the offices of the church for himself and prayed for safe passage and the wisdom to keep him on the right path.
And then he found himself at the edge of the chasm, paralyzed. When the guide told him he'd meet this log, he had imagined it quite differently. He hadn't realized how far it would stretch. Or how deep the chasm was. In his mind, it would be a short drop and the log would be sturdy and hollow. Certainly clean. He'd dismissed the advice of the guide, thinking that crawling would be the only safe way to go. It would be a way to lower one's center of gravity and reduce the likelihood of falling to one's death.
He was shocked at the black, tarry surface of the log that seemed to shimmer with movement in the afternoon sun. The guide told him that he should make sure everything in his pack was secure, tighten all his straps, and pray to Jesus before marching straight out onto the log, with eyes fixed on the other side, never stopping for a moment. He could now understand why. He had poked the log with the sole of his boot and found it to be just as sticky as he imagined. As he bent down to get a closer look at the surface, he realized that the movement he observed was not a trick of the light, but rather a multitude of hearty ants.
His fears of heights and of ants did battle in his heart while the crinkled telegram in his pocket was a glowing ember of urgency. He fell to his knees.
"Father, help me!" he cried. The echo of his prayer was all he received in answer.
He began a pass through the rosary. The usual peace that alit on his brow after the third prayer was absent. By the end, his hands were shaking and sweat ran down his neck and brow. He thought he ought to turn back and go ahead and wait the month's time. He soon realized he was in no state to do anything at the moment. He began his prayers again.
An hour passed, then two. The skies darkened quickly and the clouds burst with rain. He watched the ants scurry and shimmy down to the underside of the log. He was soaked through. But the log was clear.
God has answered me, he thought. Now I can crawl. He stood up, and wiped the rain off of his face. He decided not to clear his glasses, thinking that the now ever-present fogging of their lenses would protect him from seeing any brave ant who had yet to take cover. He secured his gear and said a final prayer of thanksgiving. He walked up to the end of the log, bent his knees, and began to lean forward. He stretched himself out on the log and hung on.
So far so good, he thought as he tried to inch himself forward. Even with the rain, his clothes stuck fast to the gummy surface. He tried to peel his arms away so that he could free himself. He began to feel his skin start to crawl and small pinches of pain exploded all over him. With all the force he could muster, he yanked his right arm free and screamed as he left some of his skin behind. Bleeding, he pulled at his shirt to get it loose and then worked the other arm free and threw himself backwards.
Defeated and supine, his tears mixed with rain and blood as he panted and gasped. He rolled over and began to crawl back into the forest for some cover. The rain continued to pound as he tried to prop giant leaves up around him. There was no way he could start a fire. He just had to wait.
In his weakened state, he drifted in and out of consciousness. Hours passed and darkeness swallowed him. He had visions of ants that transformed into so many demons, tasked to torment him for his pride. By morning the rain had passed but his grief and loneliness still clung to him, heavier than his wet clothes and gear. He said his morning prayers and begged for mercy. In the light of day, he could see the angry wounds on his forearms and chest. He gingerly removed his pack and found his first aid kit. He applied ointments and bandaged himself up.
He pulled out his bottle of water and took a small sip. He then reached in his pocket and found the telegram. It was stained with rain and blood. It was barely legible, but he didn't need to read it again. He knew what it said.
The guide's advice came back to him and seemed sounder to him now. He gathered his gear and secured it. He thanked the Lord for another day. He walked slowly to the end of the log and fixed his eyes on the far side.
"In pennance I present myself to Thee." He spread his arms wide and took a step out onto the log. Followed by another and another. He remembered to breathe and with each intake of air, he fought back the demons of gravity tempting him to one side or the other. Or the others that tried to convince him that crawling was the safer way. The siren call of the depths of the canyon tried to tempt him to look down.
But at the end of the log was a boulder and it was starting to look like Jesus. He knew his salvation waited for him at the other side. He quickened his pace. Jesus began to gesture to him. Was He beckoning? He must be!
"I'm coming, Lord!" He shouted and forgot his fears at the halfway mark. There was so much he wanted to ask Jesus. He couldn't believe his good fortune. He strode forward as if this were the aisle of his church he was walking down. His head was high and his nostrils tingled with the scent of incense. The trees chanted a psalm and the canyon whistled with the notes of a once-familiar hymn.
He took the last step off of the log and onto the muddy ground at the other side. He had made it and Jesus stood before him, glorious. He fell upon the ground before his Lord and went through every prayer of thanksgiving he could remember including, "Good food, good meat, good God, let's eat!"
The telegram forgotten, he set about worshipping his stone savior. He gathered up offerings of berries and added his trail rations. He poured out his water on the stone and chattered away happily, firing one existential question after another. Days melted into weeks and tribesmen started to pass stories about the man and his boulder. Many of them were spooked and decided it was probably a good idea to take that baptist up on his offer to build a bridge over the canyon, even if it meant testifying their faith to a strange new God.
Submitted for Friday Flash Fiction with a starter sentence in green.