The vine completely obscured my view out the window. It covered the kitchen table. It hid away my toaster and left a ransom note in its place. I started to think about trimming it back, but I was curious to see just how much it could grow. Besides, that was right around the time the tree frog moved in, and I couldn't very well ruin its new home, could I? As for how the frog got in, I think the window sill had buckled, creating a handy entry point. Or maybe the little feller stowed away on my backpack from one of my daily trips down to the river to collect more water. (Tap water had almost killed the vine at first. In desperation I went back to the source and brought a jug of that pollution home. Surprisingly, the vine loved it.) However it happened, I now had a cute little croaking critter hanging around and I was happy for the company. At any rate there had been a lot of fruit flies in the place as of late, and having an amphibious predator in the house seemed like a welcome addition to the family. I named him Eater.
Well, you can imagine where things went from there. The vine continued to grow. The humidity rose. At some point I decided I was really into loincloths. The only thing left to do was to set the mood. I switched out all the normal halogens for low-intensity red and blue bulbs. Jeff Buckley was on the stereo at all times. I became fascinated in the decorative properties of mold. Yep. The jungle had moved in. “But it's not like I'm living over there!” I would say to myself, pointing in the vague direction of the window and, by extension, the island across the way. “This is nothing compared to that. Nah. Nothing to worry about.”
Eater couldn't have been happier. In fact a whole quorum of croakers had joined him. I never bothered to name the rest of them. They all looked like Eater anyhow, so that's how I thought of them. A big gang of Eater. And boy could they make a racket. The neighbors complained once or twice, and I had to answer a few angry letters from the landlord. All in all, though, I went to work on time, payed my bills, and kept larger pools of water from standing on any surfaces which lacked immediate drainage. No one bothered me too much. And I felt comfortable. Natural. I don't know, liberal.
But then the coughing fit started. A fever came on. My eyes swelled up and my bowels ran down. I felt terrible, and it wouldn't go away. It started to affect my job. I'd show up to work most days, but I wasn't totally there. My eyes would start tearing up for no reason and I'd loose the ability to focus on what I was doing. I felt nauseous constantly. Pretty soon I could no longer properly feed myself. I was often too weak for the task. Furthermore, the microwave had become Eaters' favorite hangout. They had quite a pad in there. Things were good for the frogs, but they were bad looking worse for me.
By this point the vine had long since taken over every surface of my home. I had never seen a thing with such a will to live. It was as if any second it would spontaneously evolve into a sentient being and ask for directions to the nearest Mexican place. I couldn't step anywhere without breaking off a handful of leaves or a sinuous branch. It didn't make no never mind to the creeper, though. The thing grew too quickly to even notice. Like a Greek monster of myth, one severed head would just sprout 3 to replace it.
Then one day a friend came to see me. I'd like to say it was Ryan, because that would wrap this story up in a neat little package. But since I've told the absolute truth about everything so far I might as well keep on that way. So no, it wasn't Ryan. This friend's name is David. He's a gentle and soft-spoken sort who's always got a good ear and plenty of insights. He was just the guy I needed. (Might be I take advice better from those with my own name. No surprise, really.) David found a relatively dry place to sit and asked me about my life. Well I paraded out all my aches and complaints, and he listened dutifully. “I'm sick, David,” I started. “But more than that—I'm in a real funk, man. I mean, I'm lonely and I can't find anyone. I'm tired and I can't sleep. I'm angry and I can't catch my breath. I'm hungry and I can't feed myself. Mostly though, I'm afraid. What if it never gets better, man?”
“Those sound like serious problems, David,” he said to me. “I won't argue that you are sick. But there's one thing I see that you haven't mentioned. What's going on here in your apartment? Is this just one vine, or a collection of several all joined into one mass? Everywhere I look I see mushrooms and small animals and a heavy mist. You've got your own ecosystem in here. Have you stopped to consider that it might be what you've let happen here which is causing your symptoms? I don't just mean physically. You might be less lonely, for example, if a person could sit in a semblance of comfort without worrying over snake bites. You've got to admit that some of those troubles might solve themselves if you just got rid of this plant.”
Well in retrospect I suppose David's assessment was obvious. But I was in perfect denial at the time. As he spoke, however, I found myself nodding to his wisdom. Maybe he was right. Maybe I hadn't left the island at all...you know, metaphorically speaking. It was possible that I never really had gotten that party out of my system. Maybe in some sick way I was in love with the cause of my disease. There was no getting around it. So I squared up, looked David straight in the eye, and shrugged. I'm stubborn, you see. I don't like to appear too ready to jump to the right conclusion. I thanked David for his time and showed him to the door. That's not just a turn of phrase in this case. Such guidance really was necessary.
As soon as I was alone I lit up the tiki torches, climbed into my hammock and tried to get a nap. But I couldn't sleep. I just swung there in the vine and looked around at my place. I really looked.
“Oh what the hell. I might as well give it a shot.”
A week after cleaning all traces of jungle out of my apartment I was already feeling better. The cough was gone. The inflammation was down. The rash had disappeared (though the itch remained for a whole year). Things got back to normal and I had to admit that David had been right. I took Eater and Associates down to the riverbank and let them go, which seemed to suit them all just fine. Wasn't much food left for them after I'd gotten rid of all the rotten organics.
Of course a vine like that doesn't just completely go away. It never works that way with this sort of botany. Every few days a new shoot would make an appearance out of the carpet, or from the back edge of the counter top, or lord knows right out the toilet bowl. Occasionally I'd even let the things grow for a few days. But then I'd start feeling ill again and so I would break out the plant killer.
As I kept on with this regimen things got to be even better than normal. I got a better job. I moved into a nicer place. I got a girlfriend and my band signed a big record deal. Well, ok. That last part isn't true at all. I just couldn't go all this way without trying to tell one little fib. I get carried away sometimes. Nope. Truth is the band broke up. Turns out that we all worked best in vegetative environs. The Rock just wasn't as fun anymore once the practice space was dry.
And that pretty much brings us up to the present tense. Of course Ryan eventually comes back into the picture. He looks good and sounds healthy. I don't ask about the details, but at some point he got himself off the island as well. He does tell me that they ripped up the old bridge. Not long after my accident, it turns out. But then they turned around and put in a massive rope swing which goes from one side to the other. Occasionally the rope snaps and someone goes down, but for the most part people get from here to there without too much trouble. The trip back and forth is a lot more fun, too, one imagines. Ryan hasn't been on it, though. He says he just doesn't have the heart for that much excitement any more. “Neither do I,” I told him.
The next day I found myself at the hardware store looking at heavy duty bolts, some nice sturdy gloves, and a length of strong rope...