At least they had started to see and hear animals. Lizards and frogs appeared in the trees, some brightly colored, which meant that they were probably poisonous. some almost impossible to see, their bark-like skin blending into the surroundings. Bright singing birds, parrot-like, swooped overhead. Their feathers glowed like glittering gemstones: ruby and emerald and sapphire. At one point, Miguel silently pointed out a small herd of deer, a few yards across a clearing, and they stood still, holding their breath, until the deer silently slipped away.
It felt peaceful, now that they were away from the carnivorous vines. Riya's mouth fell open in a 'o' of delight when a flock of peacocks and peahens wandered across their paths; the edges of the males' feathers glinting turquoise, teal and gold. Even when Miguel spotted a leopard, curled high above them in a sunlit tree, Riya wasn't afraid -- they just turned and quietly walked in another direction. It felt like they could walk endlessly through the dark jungle, and as long as they didn't disturb its creatures, they would be left alone in turn.
Eventually they came to a riverbank, where a group of monkeys were playing, their fur a dark brown, and their faces masked in white. Some had baby monkeys clinging to their backs, tiny handfuls of fur.
Miguel said, "Hey, look! I wish I had something to feed them. Do you think they're magic monkeys?" Riya was tempted to try talking to them. There were talking creatures in so many fairy tales, and her grandfather's stories of the monkey king, Hanuman, kept running through her head. This jungle they were in -- it reminded her of her grandfather, half-remembered tales he'd told her when she was very small. If it weren't for the strangely luminescent quality to the landscape here, the way even their skin glowed, Riya could almost believe that they were still in her own world -- simply transported across the ocean to the jungles of Sri Lanka. When she thought about that possibility, she felt oddly disappointed. It would take magic to bring them to Sri Lanka in a single night, but it wasn't the same as being in a magical land. There wouldn�t be the sense that anything could happen.
Maybe they had landed in a national park. Civilization might be right around the corner, with coffee shops and internet connections. Riya said slowly, not wanting to believe it, but trying to be reasonable, "They're probably regular old monkeys. Those deer we saw -- they could have been sambar deer, the kind they have in the national parks in Sri Lanka. And they have peacocks there too, and lizards, and leopards. Maybe we're not in a magic land at all; maybe the vines were like Venus flytraps." "Maybe," Miguel agreed. He didn't seem to mind the idea. He took a few more steps toward the monkeys, and Riya grabbed his arm, pulling him back.
"No, wait! Remember, Appapa said that monkeys can be mean�"
As if on cue, one of the monkeys leaped towards them, and hurled a handful of small nuts at them, shrieking furiously. They stepped back hastily, and that only seemed to enrage it further. It threw back its head and howled, then leaped forward towards them. Its eyes glowed an unnatural crimson, and its teeth and claws grew ferociously long and sharp.
Riya shouted, "Miguel, run!" but Miguel was ahead of her, already dashing away through the trees. They fled through the jungle, running away from the riverbank as fast as they could, their bare feet pounding into the jungle floor. Riya could feel her feet stepping, stumbling on sharp rocks and twigs, but she didn't dare to slow down. They ran and ran, until the shrieking was out of earshot. They didn't even slow down until silence had fallen again; when Riya finally dared to look back, there was no sign of the monkeys. Only then did they stop running, gasping for breath.
Miguel gulped down air, and asked, "Are there howling demon monkeys in Sri Lanka?"
Riya shook her head, shaking with adrenaline and exhaustion. "Not that my grandfather ever told me�" She felt her stomach heaving itself up. Though she tried to fight it, in the end she couldn't stop herself. Riya bent over, retching the poor remains of her breakfast, from so many hours ago.
Miguel gently patted her on the back until Riya had finished heaving. "I don't think we're in Sri Lanka."
Riya shook her head, swallowing the bitterness in her mouth. She felt simultaneously terrified and exhilarated. "No, I guess not. Wherever we are, we're pretty far from home."