By Gray Winsler
Art by Moon_Patrol
Published Issue 104, August 2022
You wake up on a jungle floor, swallowed by a canopy of leaves. Vines constrict like a boa around you as you push yourself to your feet. Your heart thuds as you tear the vines from your skin, hands slick with sweat. You look down, groping at your body as if felt for the first time, feeling at the torn threads of a checkered gown that clings to your skin. Red marks pock your arms. You can’t remember how they got there.
You can’t remember anything. Your mind races trying to understand where you are, why you’re here. But it’s lost in an abyss, no memories to draw upon except for the image of a tube TV flickering through static in a black room. You wince at the pain of trying to orient yourself with nothing to cling to. But then a feeling … A prickle of fear … And a word, a whisper …
But where? You spin, eyes hunting through the trees, searching for somewhere to go. But it’s all the same, the jungle around you seething with life. Mosquitos buzz, birds chitter, monkeys howl — deafening screams of life, indifferent to your presence. The canopy above clots the sun like an eclipse. Your chest tightens with claustrophobia, the jungle pressing in on you.
That prickle of fear grows. You sense you’re not alone. There’s something out there, creeping toward you. You stumble backward, breath trembling. Your eyes fixate on the fear, as if it can be seen before you, studying every twitch of the jungle. All of your body tensed as a branch bent too far, ready to —
Snap! A twig cracks, startling your limbs into action. You turn away from the fear and dash through the trees ahead. Thorns slice across your bare feet as you sprint. Your throat burns from the heat of the air, humidity stinging your nostrils. Shards of sunlight stab through the canopy, speckles of light flowing across your face as you run, run, run …
Sprinting madly, until a vine claws at your toes, sends you crashing into the undergrowth. You looks back and see it’s not a vine at all. It’s a cord. You scramble to it, lifting the cord into your hands. You notice then the jungle is quiet. Still. No sounds except your own ragged breath. Goosebumps crawl across your arms in the silence.
Silence broken by a scream twisted into a moan, shrieking out from where you came. You push yourself to your feet and run onward, the cord your guide, sliding through your hands. The moans carry on behind you, pressing in on you just as the jungle. You dare not look back, sprinting onward, praying this cord leads somewhere, anywhere safe.
But at the end of it all you find is a small, rectangular console fitted with two buttons — one red, one green. Moans fill your ears, growing louder, the darkness creeping in. Something tells you your life depends on which button you press.
As your hand hovers over the red button all you can see are flames. And within the flames, flashes of human skin drooping like Dali clocks over melted bone. Lips burned away, only a gaping mouth of porcelain horror — then ash, all ash, all life burned away to gray.
As your hand hovers over the green button, you see a blue sky, dotted with cotton clouds. A face appears amidst the blue, a face you adore, smiling with radiant warmth back at you. The warmth of the sun and of love intermingle on your skin. You can’t help but smile.
Which button do you press?
The ground begins to tremble, dirt shifting as a metal door slides open, revealing a staircase descending down into the earth. You run down the stairs, taking the button console with you. As you reach the landing you press the red button again, the door shutting above you, closing off the moans from your ears. Moments later there’s a clamor, a banging against the metal above, but the door holds. You are safe. For now.
Barbs prick your thumb from inside the button. You recoil, seeing a droplet of blood drip from your thumb. It’s only a moment later that your vision hazes, the world tilting to the side. The moans are replaced by voices, shouting in a language you cannot understand. You stumble, the ground swaying, until your balance gives and you collapse to the ground. As you look up, you see people in white coats hovering over you, yelling angrily at each other. One of them bends down and jabs a syringe into your arm. You’ve been recaptured.
Gray Winsler is the first ginger to be published in Birdy Magazine, Issue 091. He loved living in Denver despite his allergy to the sun and is now based in Ithaca, NY. He spends his mornings with his dog Indy by his side, writing as much as possible before his 9-to-5. If you’re curious about Normal, IL or why TacoBell is bomb, you can find more on his site.
Moon Patrol is a Northern California-based artist. Taking themes including ’80s cartoons and video games, classic pulp illustrations, and comic book narratives, Moon Patrol remixes these many and varied cues using a collage technique he compares to “Kid Koala’s turntable albums, and in part by William Burroughs’ cut-up technique.” See more of his work on Instagram and snag prints at Outré Gallery.