Whistleby hacked at another piece of jungle liana. They criss-crossed the path ahead of him like a spider's web, while the stems behind him that he'd already cut had began to scab over the white, pulpy wounds.
The heat was intense. Whistleby paused for a moment to wipe his brow and experienced a realistic hallucination, likely brought on by heat stroke.
A vine descended from the canopy. As thick as Whistleby's arm, it ended in an oblong piece of flourescent fungus that grew into the shape of a clam. As Whistleby watched, the fungus split along the seam and began to open and close rhythmically. The inside of the fungus was the same color as a species of frog that inhabited the jungle and whose poison was so vicious that it gave Death the runs and thus granted the victim a heinously long life.
"Stop hacking at me, you hairy idiot," the fungus said.
"Pardon?" Whistleby asked.
"Are you as stupid as you look?" the fungus asked in return.
Whistleby stood up and tried to cut as respectable a figure as he could in his sweaty khaki shirt and shorts and tall socks pulled up to his chin to keep the burrowing jungle beetles away from his skin.
"I demand a duel! Nobody speaks to J. John Whistleby like that and lives!"
And, for once in his life, Whistleby spoke the truth. An arrow whispered through the humid jungle air. It snicked its way through the liana. A small cloud of sawdust piffed from the woody stem. The talking fungus fell to the jungle floor.
"Well," Whistleby said, the winds of outrage leaving his sails, not noticing the arrow and wondering why the fungus had committed suicide. He bent down and prodded it. A fat stone fell out that had been wrapped inside the folds of the fungus. The crystalline, glittering surface made the stone look exactly like an inside-out geode.
He picked it up and dropped it into a pocket.
"You're sweaty and gross," the pocket said. "What's a pair of shorts gotta do to get a wash around here?"
Whistleby took off his hat and sprinkled water from his canteen onto his head. When he put the hat back on, it didn't fit quite right. He reached up and cut his hand on an arrowhead.
"I'll say," he said, sticking his finger in his mouth.
A number of men appeared, all pointing sharp bits of obsidian at him. They all wore necklaces of obsidian shards around their necks. Each man wore elaborate pieces of apparel that were perfectly adapted to displaying social standing without covering an inch of skin.
"Take me off before you get skewered," Whistleby's pants said.
One of the men lowered his bow and arrow. He stepped forward. Whistleby saw that he wore the heaviest necklace.
The man said something that Whistleby couldn't understand.
"He says that you need to come with him," Whistleby's pants said.
"You understood that?" Whistleby asked his pants.
"Sure. You didn't?"
Whistleby followed the men back to a village set in the jungle. A large cookpot sat simmering above a fire in the very center of the village.
"Are these filthy savages going to eat me?" Whistleby asked, not sure if he actually expected his pants to answer.
His pants appeared to listen for a moment.
"No, that's to soften some beans. They only eat salads because it's so hot here," his pants replied. "Let me see if I can talk to them."
Whistleby heard his pants speaking in the same exotic tongue as the men. They responded in kind, and a few moments later his pants spoke to Whistleby.
"They say that you're going to get heat stroke if you stay clothed. They respectfully ask that you disrobe in order to not overheat. They will take you to the nearest stream to cool off."
"I don't know about that," Whistleby said.
His pants fired off another volley of verbiage at the men, and received a reply.
"They insist," his pants said.
"Okay," Whistleby said. He tried to ignore the eyes on him as he removed his clothes and set them in a pile next to him. Whistleby would never admit it, but nudity was way more comfortable. When the men picked up his clothes and led him out of the village and towards the stream for his bath, he felt bizarre for a moment then developed the slightest of struts.
The path became rockier and more vertical. Whistleby wondered if the men were taking him to a mountain spring. His mouth began to water as he thought about the faint mineral tang of cool water slipping down his tacky throat.
Then, somehow, the air got hotter. Whistleby smelled the acrid odor of heavy industry, of foundaries smelting metal, of kilns casting glass, of blast furnaces breathing heat and light into the machinery of civilization. As he followed the men up higher and higher, he saw the primeval heat and light of the Earth itself.
A bowl of lava greeted him as the small party collected on its rim and stared into its fiery red eye.
"Ho boy am I ever glad that I knew how to lie!" his pants yelled.
"Goddammit," Whistleby said, furious with his pants. "How could you do this to me?"
"You never asked me if I wanted to come along onto this journey into the sweaty armpit of the world! You never asked me, hey pants, do you hate being pressed against soft cushions and listening to the soft rustle of taffeta petticoats underneath satin gowns!" his pants yelled.
The men pushed Whistleby closer to the rim of the volcano.
"And that's why when these fine gentleman asked if you were part of the group that came earlier in the week and traded them some fake guns for real diamonds, I said yes."
Whistleby knew that he was about to die in a pool of lava. He hoped it would be fast. But he also hoped that he was fast enough to take the pants with him.
In a flash, he reached out and slapped the pants into the lava.
"Noooooo!" the pants hollered, before burning up as soon as they touched the surface. For a moment, Whistleby watched the geode stand out as a black lump against the bright red lava. Then the lava consumed it.
The men pushed Whistleby closer. He closed his eyes to accept his fate, knowing that he'd sent his murderer into the abyss before him.
"I'm not hungry!" boomed a voice like, well, a volcano erupting.
Whistleby opened an eye. The men had stopped pushing him towards the edge of the rim. They were more concerned about the voice.
"You never ask me if I'm hungry!" the volcano roared. "You just feed me more and more and I'm not hungry! Put him in my gullet and I'll spit him right back out with quite a lot of lava besides, right into your houses!"
The men reluctantly backed away from Whistleby.
Whistleby took up his clothes and left. After several hours of hacking through even more lianas he emerged into the camp that he'd left earlier that day, pantsless but not quite as hot as he'd been when he'd headed into the jungle.
The Moral: gems that give the gift of speech are great until you accidentally drop one into your underwear drawer