The adventures of the night had sapped the living daylights out of him, and he felt a heavy sensation in his head. He collapsed on the surface of the raft and laid on his back, staring blankly at the sky, his teeth still chattering. The moonlit violet sky slowly faded into blackness, as unconsciousness came over him. He was unaware of how much time had passed, but a gentle rocking of the raft stirred him into consciousness. He leaned up and looked about himself, trying to get hold of his bearings. The night was slowly turning a lighter shade of violet, and he noticed from his watch that he had 43 minutes before dawn broke out. Strangely, he felt elated and free, and the chilling sensation had completely vanished from his body; puzzled by the fortunate turn of events, he glanced ahead of him, and noticed that the raft had reached the end of the river, and was now anchored on a soft embankment. The shore led to a clump of palm trees, which seemed to form a sort of pathway between them, leading to a place further into the place. His mind tingled with excitement – he instinctively knew that he had arrived at his destination. He walked onto the shore, holding his faithful machete, squinting his eyes at the path ahead of him. He felt remarkably fresh and alert, and the strain of the past events in the night had vanished completely. However, he wasn’t going to be lulled into a false sense of complacency, and continued to remain alert for any signs of trouble. The ground felt smooth under his feet – seemingly the entire place was man-made. The walk across the pathway between the trees was short, and soon he found himself witnessing an amazing spectacle. He spotted the ruins of an ancient temple, dotted with 4 square shaped structured on the corners of the area, and a huge monolithic statue at the end of the area. The aura around the temple radiated a sense of serenity and warmth, undisturbed for eons by human civilization. The artistry behind the mammoth sculpture was highlighted by the attention to detail paid to every part of the statue, which portrayed a woman with six arms standing atop a pedestal, two hands holding out a huge stone cup in front of it, two hands stretched out towards the sky, and the remaining pair of hands resting on the sides of its hips. The surprising thing about the statue was that it still looked so real and beautiful, unaffected by the sands of time and the corrosive effects of nature’s continually changing face – which led him to believe that the entire thing was carved out of a mineral alien to Earth. Arriving at the site, he looked up at the statue, which towered at least 25 feet high from the ground. There was an assortment of fruits, plants and meat placed in front of it on huge leaves – signs that he was not the only living thing in the area. What if they are cannibals? I don’t see any signs of human sacrifice here though…. He walked around the place, looking for some sign of life. Finding nothing, he walked closer to the statue, aware of some invisible energy radiating from it. The statue’s surface glowed dimly in the fading moonlight, and he stretched his left hand towards it, wishing to know what would happen. He heard a faint sound before he could touch the statue, and an arrow whizzed past him. Startled, he withdrew from the statue and looked in the direction of the shot. He spied a man from atop a tree, naked except for a loin cloth, holding a bow and aiming another arrow around him. At the same time, more men stood up from their hiding places among the trees, all aiming their bows at him. His eyes made out the outlines of small wooden huts nestled in the branches of the trees, as several pairs of eyes were trained on him. So, these natives are actually tree dwellers… they would have watched every move of mine. He walked backwards to the middle of the area, dropped the machete to the ground, and raised his arms above his head, hoping to convey to those locals that he meant no harm. A few minutes later, as he stood rooted to his spot while the archers continued to train their arrows at him, he espied a group of men emerging from behind the statue. There were about six of them, and they were bedecked in masks and fine red cloth – presumably the upper echelons of this civilization. The men came to him, and the man in front, whom he assumed was the chieftain or figurehead, barked out a command. The men withdrew their bows and fell back into their hiding places among the tree. The chief, who was adorning a red and white mask, uttered a word in some strange language, and a second person stepped forward. He let out a gasp of shock, as the second man removed his mask, to reveal Caucasian features and a rough white beard; there was a white man who lived among those locals! The chief conversed with the foreigner in a gruff voice while he listened calmly. Once they were done, the foreigner spoke in clear English to him. “Our respected host here wishes to let you know that Brodinga is the protector of this forest, and her statue is sacred and should never be violated by anyone. I know it was not your intention, but you would have been turned into a statue had you touched it; in fact, the man who shot at you saved your life. Now the chief wants to know what could motivate you to go through a great deal of trouble to come to this place. “ “Yes. A white man like us, whose name is Henry Summers… had said something about finding a place where he finally knew no fear… we got his last radio call seven years back. I came to find what he had found, and am certain Henry was here in this place the last time we heard from him. Do you know where he is, and if he is still alive?” The other man translated his speech for the chieftain, who nodded in response and spoke in that strange language again. It was a surreal feeling for him, as he watched the white man interact with the local chief with consummate ease – surely he must have been living amongst these tree dwellers for several years. The white man turned to him and said “He did come to this place and find us, and yes, you can say he found fearlessness. However, this is a magical place, and only the Mizotecs here..” he gestured to the chieftain and other tribals, “… can live in human form, thanks to a rare gene in their blood. The outsiders like you can remain in human form only as long as the night lasts here, and once day breaks, you will simply vanish with the night. “ “Then how come you are still alive and in this body? You should have been non-existent by now, if that was the case.” “Well. It’s a long story. To cut it short, I came to this forest 43 years ago from Hamburg, looking for some rare plants which could provide a cure to diseases like cancer and diabetes. My team was killed by the dangerous elements in the forest, but I managed to find the river and was carried across by the water to this place, afloat on a single piece of wood. These Mizotecs found me and nursed me; the first night I was here, the chieftain managed to commute through hand signs that I wouldn’t survive the day as I was an outsider. However, if I agreed to stay with them and never return to the outside, I could have a chance. I was forced to drink some horrible liquid, which actually inculcated that rare gene in me. Now, I live with them and have learnt many secrets from them, but I can and will never let the outside world know of these.” The old man continued “However, the subsequent foreigners who came to this place didn’t have noble intentions like me. They believed that this place was like the City of Lost Gold, and plundered the village looking for treasure. They incurred the wrath of the Goddess Brodinga, and were turned into statues. After these incidents, the Mizotecs have decided that any outsider has only two choices – give up your human form and live a life, or go back to where you came from. The second one is a catch – you have to be out of the forest well before the sun rises, else you simply vanish along with the magical parts of the forest.” He couldn’t believe what the old man was saying. “So, you imply that whoever comes to this place will never get out of the forest?” The old man nodded his head in agreement. “Henry Summers was confronted with the same thing as you. He chose to remain here. Before he traded his body for a life without fear, he spoke into the radio handset, which he had hidden in his shirt pocket all the time, without our knowledge. Fear is a basic element of human emotion, and it is fear that makes the human side of you visible. Without fear, you are not a human. Even the bravest men fear something. So, my son, the dawn is approaching; time is running out for you. You can choose to either vanish into oblivion, or join your predecessors in the forest. “ He closed his eyes, pondering over the old man’s words. There was clearly only one path for him.He had found what he sought for, but the world would never know of his greatest achievement. Did it matter in the end anyway? He gestured at the chieftain with a slight nod of his head, and the latter replied with a curt nod, beckoning him to follow the group. He was made to lie down on a flat stone slab in front of the statue, while the masked natives formed a circle around him. The old man stood a few feet ahead, watching the proceedings; their eyes met, and he smiled weakly. The natives began chanting prayers to the Goddess Brodinga in a chorus, the loud voice resonating in his eardrums. As he watched, he noticed sparks emanating from the statue, and soon a bright ball of unbridled energy formed in front of the statue; it remained suspended in the air for some time, as the chieftain and the priests continued their rhythmic chant. Suddenly the chants stopped, and the bright ball of energy hurdled towards his body, before he knew it. He felt a sudden shock course through his body, and blacked out instantly. A few seconds later, he opened his eyes. He found himself facing the statue, the huge eyes of the Goddess looking at him at eye level. He looked down and saw his body on the slab slowly withering away into the air, like sand being blown away by the wind. However, he felt no grief at losing his body; on the contrary, he had never felt so free and elated before, and there was nothing to be afraid of anymore. As the first rays of the sun broke through the clouds, his spirit sped away towards the midst of the forest, which was now his new home.