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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 32:
The Hunt

As the jaguar started towards Charlie, Charlie log-rolled over onto his stomach, trying to get farther away from the wild cat. Face down in the quicksand, he flipped over again, back onto his back.

Meanwhile, the jaguar had taken a few running steps before pouncing, but the cat was surprised -- it had reached the quicksand. As it began to jump, its hind legs sank into the quicksand, pulling its entire body down. Its front legs and head slapped onto the quicksand, stunning the cat for a moment.

The jaguar gave up on attacking Charlie and concentrated on getting out of the quicksand. It did a strange dog-paddle stroke with its front paws, and, in a few minutes, reached the nearby trees.

As the jaguar slowly pulled itself free of the quicksand, it shook itself many times, trying unsuccessfully to get the sand out if its fur. It turned its head, gave Charlie one last glance and let out a low, angry roar. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the large cat vanished into the forest.

Charlie, Alice, George, and Jane were relieved; the quicksand had trapped them, but it had also saved them. Charlie was the first to reach the trees and slowly pull himself out of the quicksand. He grabbed a long stick and extended it towards Jane, who was the nearest to him. She grabbed the stick and quickly escaped the quicksand. Charlie and Jane then helped George and Alice out of the quicksand.

After brushing off some of the sand and cleaning out their shoes, they quickly went back to the path and left the area. After a few feet, Charlie stopped. He picked up a 3-foot-long stick with his left hand. Then he picked up a large rock and held it in his right hand. Charlie said, "If that cat comes back, we'll need some protection."

George, Alice, and Jane also armed themselves. They knew that they were too exhausted to run away from predators - they really did need protection.

The next few miles were wonderfully uneventful until a small herd of javelinas stampeded across their path. These grayish-black pig-like animals were quite comical as they ran - their tusked heads bobbed up and down, and their stubby legs seemed far too small for their chubby bodies. Under better circumstances, they would have laughed at these strange animals and their awkward, loping run.

But they were too tired to laugh. Instead, they just stared at the odd scene that was unfolding in front of them. It suddenly occurred to Alice that there must be a reason that the javelina were running so excitedly through the forest. Alice said quietly, "Something must be chasing them. We'd better hide, or it'll be chasing us next."

As they began to run behind some nearby trees, Charlie looked around, and said urgently, "George isn't here. Where is he? We've got to find him." But before he could say or do anything else, a group of hunters appeared on the path in front of them.

Five tribesmen carrying bows and long, wooden spears stopped on the path and glared at Jane and the kids, speaking angrily at them. The men were quite upset that their hunt had been ruined and that the tasty javelinas had escaped.

The men were dressed in a manner similar to Ano, so Jane addressed them in Ano's language. She told the men that she and the kids were just passing through this area on their way back home and were sorry that they had interrupted their hunt. Jane explained to the men that one member of their group was missing. The men nodded suspiciously; they were very surprised that Jane knew their language.

Jane continued talking to the men. She told them how she had lived with Ano's people for months, and how they had nursed her back to health from the dreaded yellow fever. And now it was now time for her to go back to her own land and her own people. When she mentioned Ano's name, they smiled -- Ano must be their friend.

Alice said to Jane, "Don't forget George. We have to find him. He could be hurt."

Jane took a big chance, and asked the men to help them find George. The men looked at each other, then nodded. They would help Ano's friend from another land.

The men organized the search. Two men went sent backwards along the path, two went sent forwards along the path. Alice and one of the men went in the direction away from the river, and Charlie and Alice were sent towards the river. Charlie and Alice were not happy about this assignment, remembering their close encounters with hungry crocodiles, but George's life was at stake.

After making their way through dense shrubbery and low-growing vines for about 15 minutes, Charlie and Alice could finally see the river below them. They immediately noticed a set of footprints running parallel to the river bank. They were sneaker prints! They must have been made by George.

Charlie and Alice were ecstatic, and ran down to the prints, following them. As they ran, they realized that the prints were spaced about the same as the prints that they were making themselves. George must have been running when he made the prints. Charlie and Alice hoped that George had been running because he wanted to, and not because something was chasing him. They were each very wary of predators that might be waiting for a nice lunch to run by.

The river curved, and as Charlie and Alice ran around the bend, they noticed the sea and a solitary figure ahead of them.

Within a minute, they could see that it was indeed George. He was fine, and they had finally reached the mouth of the Orinoco River, the Boca del Drago.

Charlie and Alice were relieved and very happy when they reached George. As they caught their breath, George told them what had happened. He said, "A few minutes after escaping from the quicksand, I noticed that my shoe was untied. It took me less than a minute to retie it, but by then, you were out of sight. I just kept going along the path to catch up to you. I thought it would be simple, but then you weren't there. I must have gone down the wrong path - it did seem a bit too overgrown, but I couldn't find any other path. I started running, and I eventually reached the river. Pretty soon, I got here, to the sea. I wasn't sure if I should stay here or go back, but since I didn't know where "back" was, I stayed here.

Charlie said, "We were really worried. I thought a crocodile might have gotten you."

Alice added, "Yes, you missed some javelinas and some hunters. Jane and the hunters are looking for you too. We should go back and let them know that we found you."

Just them, a man came out of the forest and approached them. He said, "You have reached the Boca del Drago. You have done well."

A swirling mist started rising from around their feet. Charlie yelled, "No, stop, we have to wait for Jane. She has to get back too. Stop!"

But it was too late; the man had not heard them. As the mist cleared, Charlie, Alice, and George were in a stark, white corridor.

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A pig-like mammal, also known as the collared peccary, from deserts, chaparrals and rainforests of North and Central America.

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