Jungle Secrets by C.J. Stephenson

February 2020 | Utopia Science Fiction Magazine

Utopia Science Fiction Magazine
3 min readSep 21, 2022

The jungle sprawls from coast to coast
Like a living cloak of multifarious green.
Its trees have stood for countless years,
Finger-like roots gripping the soil –
An army of lush and leafy giants
Piercing the heavens with their shaggy tops.
Hung from their branches, snaking round their trunks
Are sinewy vines, bulging with sap –
Streamer decoration for the animals and insects,
Ever-spreading, evergreen, sun-hungry mass.

Paths meander in all directions,
Bordered by ferns, carpeted with mulch.

Some play tricks on hapless explorers,
Twisting, turning, then petering out;
Others lead to abandoned structures,
Crumbling relics of cultures lost –
Cracked altars encrusted with blood,
Carved faces of forgotten gods.
Yet there are places the paths do not pierce,
Where foliage walls repel and conceal.

Somewhere here, a secret is hidden,
Look within, look within…​

In a clearing, chimpanzees frolic,
Wrestling, rolling, chasing and chased.
Grinning, mischievous, like kindergarten kids,
They clamber across a makeshift toy –
A climbing frame of latticed branches
Arcing over something unseen.
It has sides like slides, hollows to hide,
Myriad ways to have a good time.
But there is one who plays a different game –
Plucking a jewel from the alpha’s harem.​

The cuckold’s face turns to granite,
He bellows in rage — motion to war.
The jungle stills in anticipation,
And battle begins, frenetic, ferocious.
Razor-edged shrieks shred the silence –
Attack, attack, adrenaline fueled!
Fight for supremacy, fight for your life,
They fight till the leaves are stained with blood.
The defeated Don Juan scrambles downwards,

Grasping fingers tearing the leaves.

The secret they hide is thus revealed,
Look within, look within…

Glimpse of something between the branches,
Glinting faintly in the dappled light –
Calcareous surface of an armoured plate,
Beetle iridescent, scorched and scarred.
One of a hundred thousand segments
Overlapped, overlapping in orderly ranks –
Rotting shell of a celestial behemoth,
Bioengineered on a far-away world.
An unidentified fallen object,
Answer to a question, a modern obsession.​

Children of earth you are not alone,
Witness the tomb of a kindred race.
Centuries ago, trailing acrid fumes,
It met its fate, its final destination;
Hit the ground in brutal penetration,
Burrowed deep into fertile earth.
Its boosters spluttered, died, grew cold,
Pointing impotent at its starry home.
Plants thrust tendrils through doors and vents,
Lashing it down, taking possession.

Hatches were breached, cracks became holes,
Look within, look within…

A gentle breeze rises, invades,
Gusting down a musty corridor,

Perfumed with a flowery fragrance –
Breathe of life in death’s domain.
Silent, strange skeleton vessel,
Part biological, part technical.
To the left, impromptu cemetery
Of cryo chambers and withered remains;

To the right, the husk of the hub,
Look within, look within…

Curving ribs over metallic floor –
Stark white frame where flesh once hung –
Lights gone dark, silent speakers,
Banks of screens like lifeless eyes.
Ahead a viewport of panoramic design
Blinded now by the jungle’s embrace.
The ship’s dying scream hangs in the air,
Agony, anguish for the death of its crew.
It cradles still the one it loved best
In her hanging bubble chair of command –

Her body is stripped of muscles and skin,
Look within, look within…

The bones of hands, if hands they were,
Are lustrous white, cleansed by time,
Yet stains remain — indelible, red –
Parting gift from those in her care.
For she was the flaw, the cause, the killer,
Cells infected by a fatal disease.
As reason fled before nightmare visions,
Contagion spread through her link to the ship.
Impervious to drugs, impossible to stop,
It lingers still to ambush the chimps.

Death to humanity, virulent vile,
Look out one, look out all!

Originally published in the February 2020 issue of Utopia Science Fiction Magazine

About the Author:
C.J. Carter-Stephenson has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Southampton, has been a Writers of the Future finalist, and has had three books published. Other publication credits include stories and/or poems in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Aesthetica, Dark Horizons (the former journal of the British Fantasy Society), and many others. He is also the narrator of Back of the Bookshelf, a monthly podcast of classic genre fiction. Find out more atwww.carter-stephenson.co.uk/