September Runner-Up

Congratulations to our second prize for the Rainforest theme Kay Inckle!

Rainforests Pamper Day by Kay Inckle

“Welcome to rainforests,” the usher greets me as the doors slide open. She is wearing a charcoal grey tunic with matching pants and each wrist is adorned with a yellow and blue beadwork bracelet that match a larger piece around her neck. I notice similar items displayed in a cabinet of indigenous craftworks for sale.  

“Are you here for a treatment?” she smiles broadly revealing unnaturally even, white teeth.  

“Yes,” I nod with a thin smile to hide my own imperfect teeth. That’s definitely next on my to-do list, after I’ve got rid of some of the crow’s feet and bags around my eyes. I tell her my name and add, “I’m here for the rainforest immersion cleansing.” I want to be sure I get what I have paid for. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks; it symbolises a new beginning, having faith in the future, my future.  

She checks a screen and nods, “That’s right, follow me please.” 

She leads me through a short corridor and into a wide changing room and lifts a green hessian bag from a shelf.  

“Pop all your clothes and valuables in here and we’ll secure it whilst you are in your immersion.” She hands me the bag, “You’re guide will come and collect you in five minutes.” 

The bag contains a dark green robe made of silky soft fabric that feels cool against my skin. I reluctantly bury my phone and purse underneath my clothes. I wonder briefly if I should keep my underwear on, but I’m determined to get the most out of this experience and I’m hardly going to be able to immerse myself in nature if I’m too uptight to take my knickers off. The guide arrives before I can change my mind anyway. She is a small woman with dark hair and dark skin wearing a simple grey dress. Her legs, arms and feet are bare aside from the same beadwork bracelets that the usher wears. Her skin looks smudgy in places and I can’t help wondering if it, and her hair, have been artificially darkened. Somehow, she doesn’t wear her rainforest authenticity easily. I push the thoughts away, I’m here to cleanse my mind and body and I’m not going to be able to do that if I keep judging everything.  

She nods and gestures with her hand for me to follow, “Please come,” she says in an accent that I don’t recognise and which makes me wonder again if she is feigning her foreignness.  

She leads me down another corridor that looks like a dead end, but just as we approach the far wall it splits apart and reveals the silver insides of a lift. We enter and descend at least two floors before the doors slide open again. 

“Follow,” She beckons and leads me to another door. She rests her palm on the handle. “Inside this chamber is the sacred rainforest.” Her accent wobbles, “The forest has healed and balanced the mind, body and soul for generations. Inside you will find a bed of genuine rainforest earth. Remove your robe and lie down and let the plants work their healing.” 

 She looks at me, her eyes are grey-blue.  

I nod, “Thank you,” I’m working hard to stay with gratitude rather than judgement.  

She opens the door, there is the sound of gently running water, birdsong, and the rustling of leaves. Straight ahead of me, surrounded by lush vegetation and lit from underneath is a raised plinth of earth. I move towards it.  

“I will come for you in an hour, may the spirits of the forest be with you.” 

I hear the door close softly behind me and I inhale deeply, I’m alone in the rainforest chamber and I can smell the damp earth and the pure, fresh foliage. I reach out and slip a broad leaf between my fingers. I recoil in disgust; it’s plastic! That can’t be right. I touch another and although it’s not plastic it’s definitely not a living plant either, it’s some kind of fabric. I’m outraged. But then, I wonder, did I really expect living plants in a basement room with no windows? Rainforests were dark for sure, but not total darkness, even the forest floor would have got a sprinkling of sunlight now and then. I reach froward and take a handful of the earth from the plinth and crumble it between my fingers. I try and console myself at least that seems genuine. I lie down, resigning myself to having paid a small fortune to lie in a darkened room full of fake plants and simulated rainforest sounds for an hour. I don’t bother taking the robe off, the magic is ruined now, but at least the earth feels warm under my back and the soundtrack is soothing. I sigh and practice my breathing, trying to clear my mind and at least enjoy the peace and quiet.  

Work has been frantic over the last few weeks, there have been a million information campaigns to get out. Public anxiety is high, and as soon as we manage to assuage one set of concerns, another springs up – often abetted by a disruptive organisation or crackpot conspiracy theorist. I wish everyone would just have a little more faith. The flood barrier programme has been a massive success, a huge feat of human engineering. It means that even if the chemical refreeze isn’t fully successful and some of the glacier does collapse, we will be well protected from the sea surge. Instead of criticising and fearmongering, people ought to be grateful that they live in an advanced economy where technological solutions are possible. I bet even the original inhabitants of the rainforests would have gladly traded their habitat to be where we are now – not that it was ever actually a choice, or there is anything left to trade.  

I realise my chest is tight. I take a deep breath and try and clear my mind, I’m here for some peace, some me-time, not to worry about the outside world and most definitely not today. Being here isn’t just an act of faith in my own future, it’s an act of faith in everything I’ve worked for. Let the nutters and hysterics flee inland and up the mountains, I know we will succeed, and by this time tomorrow we will be proven right.  

Something cold drips on my forehead jarring me awake. Before I can move, another hard splash of cold water lands on my chest where the robe has slipped open. I sit up. It doesn’t have the rainforest vibe about it. In the distance I can hear a strange grinding sound and feint echoes of shouting. I realise the rainforest soundtrack is off and high on the walls behind the fake foliage the emergency exit signs are lit up. Another large drop of water lands on me, followed by three more in quick succession. I look up, the ceiling seems to be bowing inwards. I’m sure it wasn’t like that when I came in, although I can’t be certain because I didn’t pay it much attention. I wonder how long I have been down here. The bitter dry taste in my mouth tells me I have probably been asleep for at least an hour. I wish I had kept my pone with me; I was stupid to hand it over like that. After all, given how fake all of this actually is, they could hardly have objected on the grounds of it being unnatural. I shiver, it’s decidedly chilly in here now and the warmth has gone from the bed of earth that I have been lying on. I hear a brief ricochet of water from the other side of the room and I get up and make my way over in the half-light to investigate. There is a crack in the ceiling and a row of drips are beginning to form a curtain of water. The emergency lights flicker and go out leaving me in pitch darkness with only the sound of water descending from above. There’s another flicker and the lights are back on again. I realise have to get out of here, now. I move over to the door and take the handle in my fingers. It’s impossible to budge. I push harder, it’s as if there is a ten-tonne weight pressing against the door.  

Of course there is.  

It’s water.  

I’m in the basement, so if water coming through the ceiling above me, then I am completely surrounded; submerged. My heart is accelerating, but part of me is sure that this is only a burst pipe or something mundane and easily fixed. It’s a small localised, coincidental, incident and help will soon be on the way. That must be the noises I heard when I woke up – the help arriving.  

Because, otherwise… well, we couldn’t really have got it so devastatingly wrong, could we? 

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