© Copyright 2012 - Jo - Used by permission
Storycodes: Solo-F; outdoors; naked; tree; sap; encase; discovered; cons/nc; X
The girl sat, naked, beneath the bows of the enormous tree. The thick, amber sap flowed across her face, dripped from her nose and chin, glued her eyes, sealed her lips. Her golden breasts rose and fell slowly as she slept.
"They're gumming up the works - literally. Production at the mill has dropped ten percent. The guys in the field don't see it. They're too busy cutting, limbing, and skidding 'em."
"But that's our plot, right? All our trees? All cloned to our specifications, right?"
"Yeah, but something's screwy. Maybe an infection or infestation or something is causing the trees to produce excess sap."
"Nothing's showed up in the wood samples. Maybe the roots?"
"Maybe. Here," Jack said pointing at the map. "You take the interstate to Conway, take the state road through town. After about fifteen miles you'll cross the river. Our road is five miles up on the right."
"Get a PC from Lennie. Your cell won't work back there, but the computer has a satellite modem."
Jack pulled open a draw, drew out a topographical map and a small box. The box had a picture of a compass on it. Patti was about to object. The computer would have the map and GPS. But Jack was old school, so she let it pass.
The next morning she headed out, eager, if a bit anxious. She had a freshly minted B.S., this was her first real job, and her first solo field trip. She ran through her mental checklist. She had food and water in a box on the seat next to her, not that she thought she'd need it, this being a day trip. A long day trip, but a day trip none the less. The computer was in her backpack. The power cord snaked out, plugged into the dash. It had read fully charged, but why take chances?
Patti found the logging road easily enough, drove about two miles into the forest. With the tree problem they'd suspended cutting and Patti found herself miles from nowhere and all alone.
Truth be told, she preferred it that way. One of the reasons she got into forestry. She was so not into cubicles.
The morning passed uneventfully. Patti took bark samples, leaf samples, soil samples. At around two her stomach growled. She slipped the pack over her shoulder, turned, and stepped into empty space.
The ravine was deep and Patti tumbled head over heels several times before fetching up against a rock at the bottom.
She woke to find herself on high ground. She didn't remember waking, didn't remember grabbing the pack, didn't remember climbing out, and she didn't know where the hell she was. She popped open the computer. A scarred black screen revealed nothing even though the power light showed green.
Still feeling vaguely befuddled and with a splitting headache, Patti walked, slowly at first, but then with a sense of panic she ran, stumbling through the trees. How long? Who knew. Eventually, overcome with fatigue Patti sunk to the ground.
It got dark. Sunset comes early in the mountains. Patti found a big tree with low, sweeping limbs. She crawled under, but couldn't sleep. Eventually the pain in her head eased and she lay, tired, but comfortable enough listening to the night sounds.
Dawn. Patti crawled out from under the tree, pulled the computer from her pack. Hoping against hope she opened it. Nothing. Nothing but her reflection in the cracked, dark screen. She slid the thing back into the bag, but something blocked it. She reached in and pulled out the map. Patti opened it.
She didn't know where she was. She looked for a landmark and found the river. She hadn't crossed it, so she had to be west of it. She thought of the road, but it wasn't marked on the map and she seemed to recall that it took a sharp left turn. Meaning she could easily miss it, walk parallel to it for miles. But the river ran north to south, a nice straight line. She reached into the bag, pulled out the little box. Patti smiled.
Patti oriented the map, hefted the pack and walked. Morning turned to afternoon then night. Pattie spent another night under a tree. It was another restless night. The next day was the same. She opened the computer, always the optimist. Nothing.
Walk due east. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. No food, no water, and the fatigue was taking its toll. Darkness and another restless night under a tree, but there was no sleep for the weary.
It was late afternoon on the fourth day when Patti crested the hill, saw the river.
She was safe now. Well, technically, no. She still had to get there, then follow it who knew how far to the bridge, then hike back to her car. But, with luck, she'd be home tomorrow. She forced herself not to run. Last thing she needed was to fall and break a leg.
She reached the river at dusk. Now she truly was safe.
Patti began to undo her shirt, got a whiff of herself, and waded into the river. She drank, scooping up handfuls of cold, clear water. She drank until she could drink no more, drank until she felt that her stomach would burst. She lay in the brisk mountain flow until she could bear the cold no longer.
She waded to shore.
Up against a bluff, at the edge of the trees were some rocks. Patti stripped off her sodden clothes, wrung them out, lay them on the warm rocks. She pulled the computer out yet again. Saw the same blank screen. Resisted the urge to smash it. Thanked Jack once again for the map and compass.
There was a large tree nearby, its low, sweeping branches making a kind of natural tent. Patti crawled under, turned and sat back against the trunk. She sat, legs crossed, hands in her lap, and promptly fell asleep.
It was the sleep of the dead.
She didn't hear the woodpecker skittering above. Didn't hear the tap tap tap as it worked its way up the trunk. Didn't feel the drop of sap when it landed on her head, or the next, or the next.
One drop became two, two became four, four became too many to count. Patti sat, dead to the world, with the thick, golden resin puddling on her head, trickling down her face. It collected on her shoulders, oozed down across her chest, dripped off her nipples.
As the minutes turned to hours, the steady rain of sap fell. She was covered now. The golden film sealed her eyes, her mouth, dripped from the tip of her nose. Her arms were pasted to her sides. Her hands and feet shared a puddle in her lap. The only visible skin were her knees. She looked something like a golden Buddha, breasts gently rising and falling as she slept. And still the sap dripped.
"She's at the river."
Lennie pointed at the map.
"About here. What the hell do you think happened? Her machine was on, then off, then on, then off. I texted her, got nothing."
"No clue. But at least we can get to her now. She'll probably head downstream tomorrow. At least I hope she does."
"You still have that canoe."
"Good. Get up there tonight. I want you with her by first light."
"Who's our EMS tech."
"That means Justin is off. Call him. Take him with you."
Patti sat as she had all night, but now she looked barely human, more like a blob, a golden mass sparkling in the dawn light as the sun's rays filtered through the branches.
Lennie saw her clothes on the rock, eased the canoe ashore. The men stepped out. Lennie popped open his computer.
"I think we've found her, Jack. Found her clothes anyway. She must be nearby."
"Good. Keep me posted."
The men separated, searched the shore. Justin found her.
Lennie ran over, stuck his head under a branch.
He opened the computer.
"Great. How is she?"
"You're not going to believe this."
Lennie turned the computer so the camera pointed at the girl.
"Oh my God. Is she alive."
"Okay. I'll make the call, get a helicopter up there. Do what you can, okay?"
"Yeah. Looks like we may get a clue about our sap problem. Have to hand it to her. The girl really puts herself into her work."
"Not funny, Lennie."
"Sorry. My bad."
You can also leave feedback & comments for this story on the Plaza Forum