“Welcome to Aventuras! Please keep your helmets on at all times, hold onto the hand rails, and smile when you see the camera signs. You may collect all your photos after your day of adventures.”
“Ooh! Mommy!” Brooklynn squealed, “They have dolphins!” The child squeezed Lana’s hand, creating a tactile link to the vibrating energy swelling up in her small body.
“And, more importantly, jaguars.” As Tom grinned and clapped his hands together, Lana remembered his child-like fascination with predators. She was struck with a realization that, despite all the talk of sunshine and family bonding, he’d probably arranged this trip around some kind of jaguar encounter.
At the moment she couldn’t care less. Still, semi-swooning, brow dripping, stomach churning, Lana could care less about jaguars, her family, or anything beyond the location of the next set of banyos.
“Tom, take her please.” She shoved Brooklynn abruptly toward Tom. “I need a minute.”
The bathroom was clean, cool and damp. Small Mexican women passed in and out of the stalls, mopping, sanitizing. The smell of bleach and citronella bug spray.
Lana rushed for a stall, resenting her helmet and safety vest and all the clothing that gathered and tugged at her moist skin.
Enduring another wave of cramping, she focused on a line of sugar ants streaming toward the ceiling. Everything in the tropics was damp. Nature, in all its creeping forms, overtook the edges of every man-made thing, each tree and vine vying for light.
Brooklynn’s voice called beyond the door, “Mommy! Daddy says to ask if you’re okay!”
Lana’s stomach convulsed. “Go see the dolphins. I’ll meet you at the reunion center.”
Emerging several minutes later, she stumbled dizzy across the tile, splashed water on her face and gesticulated with wet hands, trying to reassure the dark-eyed woman with the mop. “Estoy good. Si, si, todo bien!”
When she’d wandered some distance down the dark passageway, away from the toilets, the turmoil in her stomach faded away, and she realized that the watery whooshes and cicada-like sounds of the zip lines had also faded into the distance, leaving only echos and the drip of water rolling off the stalactites.
She turned back, mistakenly tunneling deeper into the facility, past waste disposal, manure piles, spare parts for amphibious jeeps to a well-marked door, heavy and covered in Spanish she couldn’t read, although it seemed to be an outlet to the animal sector.
Lana pushed through the first and second doors and out into the jungle landscape, where she met the sea green eyes of the panther, glittering jewels on a dark velvet shadow.
She gasped, terrified and aroused. All in a moment, her uncomfortable human skin fell away, and Lana leapt into rebirth, paws and claws, teeth and long, sleek muscles.
She shook off her old life easily, yawning and stretching beneath the palms, padding quickly, quietly past ancient stones. A cry in the distance, she turned and vaguely recognized a man, a girl, huddled beyond thick glass. Inconsequential.
She settled onto a flat rock, licked her lips, reclined and yawned, satisfied.