By Brandon Beck
Alone, he hiked all day and into the night through the dense, wet jungles of the Colombian Amazon, each step kicking up the earthy scent of rotting leaves and mushroom spores. He walked faster whenever he felt mosquitoes bite his arms and neck, instinctively thinking that an increased pace might lessen their attack. No matter, he reminded himself, I’ll already be dead long before malaria gets its turn. “Goddammit,” he said aloud with a sigh, realizing the truth of his situation.
At sundown, he set up camp atop a tree’s exposed root system, hoping that excess moisture would drain below his sleeping bag. But his bag was still soaked through when he awoke at sunrise, just as it had been each morning for the past two weeks. He masked his despair, even from himself—there was no other choice. Each step was a step forward. All the pain from yesterday was behind him. The sores, the parasites, his throbbing joints—everything. He hiked all day and made camp again that night, still wet.
The next morning he began to see markings on trees that signaled the plants were near. He had been told that natives cut triangular shapes into the bark of rubber trees in a perimeter around the plants as some sort of magical protection. The rubber sap would bleed down, leaving a distinctive pattern on the tree. This is where the natives had discovered and protected ‘Ak-rin-ah,’ which, they say, translates literally to ‘mindflower.’
He had been told that there were no longer any natives in the area. He didn’t ask any questions—knowing they wouldn’t be answered anyway—but he knew that something horrible must have happened. ‘Eliminated by means of necessary force’—that’s probably what they would have called it. ‘Genocide’ would have been a better term, he thought.
Believing he was close, he kept hiking through sundown and into the night. He walked toward what seemed to be a faint light ahead, but it never quite seemed within reach. Around midnight, he was traversing a narrow ravine when he emerged from the brush and stepped into a clearing. That’s when he saw Ak-rin-ah for the first time.
It was the most incredible sight he’d ever seen. Under the light of the full moon, enveloped in the wet warmth of the surrounding jungle, an entire field—perhaps ten acres carved out of the rainforest—was glowing phosphorescent blue, pulsing like a heartbeat, in synchronicity. The light reflected off the bottom of thousands of mosquitoes that danced precariously above the field, painting a strange but structured pattern across the canvas of thick air.
And it was so quiet. The sounds of jungle life dissipated, leaving utter silence. Ordinarily, the Colombian rainforests are deafeningly loud. But that night, in that place, with the mindflowers glowing, it was quiet. Unnerving in a way. Even the insects knew that they were in the presence of something magical. He walked to the edge of the field, picked a single flower, and placed it in his vest pocket.
He set his pack on the ground and withdrew a large canteen. Unscrewing the cap, he was struck with the noxious stench of diesel gasoline. Standing at one corner of the field, he poured out the gasoline, soaking a few of the plants.
When his lit match touched the gas-soaked plants, the entire field went up in unison. They were all connected somehow; one would think they all were drenched in gasoline. The blue glow of the mindflower field turned to orange, yellow, and red, burning hot and bright. Awestruck, he stared at the flames and reflected on his situation. He retrieved a small, hard case from his pack. Opening it, he took out a capsule. ‘Take capsule when mission complete’ was printed on the inside of the case. He gave a slight smile and swallowed the capsule, throwing the empty case into the burning field.
The field continued to burn. He reached into his vest pocket and withdrew the small blue flower, perhaps the last of its kind. Its blue glow was mesmerizing. He lifted it to his lips and forcefully inhaled through his mouth and nose. He felt the plant’s pollen rush through his nostrils and into his lungs. His head grew light as he felt a warmth rush through his body. It was the greatest feeling he’d ever felt; secure, like in a womb. He suddenly knew the essence of existence and the secrets of the universe. He felt the presence of God as he lay down in the wet earth, basking in the warmth of the burning field. As he closed his eyes, never to open them again, he felt the soft touch of his ancestors as they reached out to hold his hands and wipe the tears from his face.