Caden’s reel screamed as the fish ran with his line.
“Dang it,” he said.
He had forgotten to tighten the drag on the reel his wife had bought him just before he left. He missed her. It had been five days since he had seen her, which is the longest they had ever been a part since they got married. He knew it might seem childish to be homesick after just a week, but this was all new territory for him. He had never been out of the country before, and here he is: alone in the heart of the Amazon.
Caden cranked the drag down, snapped his wrists back, and started the long, tedious process of reeling in the fish. He could tell this was a monster, so he reloosened the drag just a little so the fish wouldn’t snap his line. He was using an ultra lite rod, and only had a ten pound line on his reel, so he had to let the fish wear itself out.
About ten minutes later, he had pulled the fish all the way to his kayak, and discovered it was a peacock bass, and a big one too. He got his net out and lifted the fish into the kayak. Upon weighing it, he found that it was ten pounds, eleven ounces - less than two pounds away from he record!
“Caden,” he said to himself triumphantly, “you’ll be eating good tonight.”
He also knew some would find it silly to talk to oneself, but those people haven’t spent a week by themselves in the middle of no where.
He stayed on the water for another mile, until he found a place to stay for the night. Then he ended his day by filleting, cooking, and eating his near-record peacock bass.
Caden awoke to the sounds and smells of the rain forest which seemed to never get old: the birds singing their beautiful songs, the rushing water, the dew that had built upon the leaves falling, the smell of smoke from leftover embers of the fire he built the night previous, and the scent he was most looking forward to — instant coffee.
He threw some wood on the embers to get the fire burning again. While the fire slowly grew, Caden packed up his tent and sleeping bag and got out some leftover pieces of the fillets for breakfast.
After eating the leftovers and drinking his coffee, Caden got his kayak back in the water and continued on his journey.
The next couple days were pretty mundane. He made his way down the river taking pictures and making notes of things he wanted to add to his article; that’s why he was out there. He was a journalist, and he decided to write an article on the Amazon. He didn’t want to be like his colleagues, though, sitting in their offices all day. He wanted to be hands on in the nitty gritty. That’s why he became a journalist in the first place.
He was to be picked up at a certain location at the end of the week. If he didn’t reach his destination by then, he might be left to die alone in the Amazon, which meant he kept himself to a tight schedule.
It was now four days until his trip would come to an end, and he was ahead of schedule, but there was a fierce storm brewing that would all but kill his chances of making progress that day. He decided to take a (major) risk and get on the water anyway.
He couldn’t tell the time by the sun because grey clouds swallowed the sky. He still went on.
The rain started to die down a bit, but the wind picked up. Caden still pressed on, which would prove catastrophic. He didn’t realize until it was too late that he was headed straight for a waterfall.
“I must’ve got lost in the storm,” he said to himself.
Caden rowed and rowed away from the waterfall, but it didn’t matter. He was too close to the waterfall, and the current was too strong. In his panic, he jumped out of his kayak. This thoughtless actor actually saved his life. Just as he jumped, a tree gave in to the force of the wind, and it fell on his kayak, breaking it into hundreds of little pieces. The tree was then pulled by the current of the water until it got wedged between the two banks at the mouth of the waterfall.
Caden cried out in relief. The water continued to pull him towards the tree, and he was sure he was in the clear. That all changed when he felt a set of teeth sink into his hand. Then another and another until all he felt was the flesh on his left arm being ripped to pieces. He screamed in agony as he swam with the current. He got to the tree where he pulled himself up with only his right arm. He looked down to discover his arm had been shredded by piranhas. There was virtually no skin left on his arm from his elbow and down. He could even see bone in a few spots. His adrenaline was high enough that he wouldn’t feel the pain yet, so he walked to the bank on the tree. He knew once the pain kicked in he would be hurting too bad to move.
Caden hunkered down he was for the night after wrapping his arm with his shirt. He no longer knew which direction his rendezvous was, and didn’t want to continue a wrong direction.
The next morning he unwrapped his arm to discover it had become swollen. He knew what this meant, but he didn’t want to accept it so he just rewrapped his arm, and went on about his day. Not much happened seeing as he couldn’t go anywhere, all the wood was too wet to start a fire, and he no longer had a camera or notebook to make notes of his observations with. He decided to just lay down, maybe if he got enough rest his body would be able to fight off his infection.
When Caden awoke again the next morning his arm was even more swollen, and itched worse than any bug bite he had ever gotten before. He had finally come to terms with the fact that his wounds had been infected by flesh eating bacteria while he was still in the water. He read about these bacteria before he left home, and he had all the symptoms; swelling, horrible itching, decaying tissue, and pus oozing from the wounds. He also knew that a quarter of all people infected by the bacteria died, so he’d have to act fast.
Caden took his machete that had been attached to his belt out of its sheath. Then he took his cargo pants off and cut them in half. One half he laid to the side, and the other he folded up a few times and bit down them. With a groan of pain he placed his arm on a flat rock, and lifted his machete in the air. In one purposeful swing he chopped his own arm off at the elbow.
After a few moments of screaming and writhing in agony he wrapped his arm with the half of his pant leg he laid aside. It hurt worse than any pain he had ever experienced, but it also came as a relief that was twofold. Not only had he saved himself from the infect, but he had also proved to himself that he had what it takes to survive. Caden then passed out after the adrenaline wore off.
When Caden came to the next morning, the storm had passed. There was still two days until he was supposed to be picked up. He decided to try to start a fire for a smoke signal. The only issues were that it had just rained and now he only had one and a half arms.
He found two dryer pieces of wood. One was flat and board-like, and the other was just a normal stick. He used his machete to cut a grove through the flat piece of wood, then he sharpened the stick to fit in that groove. With his legs, he held the flat piece still, and with his right arm, he repeatedly ran the sharpened stick back and forth through the groove.
Thirty minutes or so later, Caden could barely feel his arm, but he was seeing progress so he persevered. He wanted to quit, but he knew he couldn’t if he wanted to survive.
“You’ve made it this far,” he told himself. “Don’t stop now.”
When he would lose motivation, he would think of his wife and how happy he’ll be when reunited with her.
The arduous process finally paid off. He saw an ember. Caden rushed over to the half of his pants that he had bitten while cutting his arm off, and lit it on fire. He had collected some leaves and small sticks that weren’t as wet as the others to really get the fire going. He finally got a good flame, so he started to throw wet wood on the fire since it wouldn’t put it out. There was so much smoke. Caden had hope.
After thirty-six straight hours of tending to this fire, it was finally time for him to be picked up. Caden’s fire had produced more smoke then had ever seen before. He heard a helicopter in the distance. He knew it could see the smoke. He knew life would be complicated when he got home, but he didn’t care. He was just happy to be alive.
Caden slept like a baby in the helicopter on the way to the airport. Part of this can be credited to the pain killers he was given, but it was mostly because he knew he was finally safe.