It was the strangest holiday I've ever taken. It was supposed to be a chance to get away. To give me a chance to get out in nature and recharge my batteries. A change of pace from my usual life in the hustle and bustle of the city. Allowing me to go back refreshed to face new challenges.
I had never really done a lot of outdoor pursuits as a child. I had never been a scout, or in one of the religious outfits like boys' brigade. The only place I had camped had been the back garden of my parents house with my sister in our small tent.
One year I decided, out of the blue, to go camping for a week instead of my normal city breaks. It was not very comfortable and lacked the luxuries of staying in a hotel. Still I found it wonderfully refreshing. Soon I began taking all my holidays that way. I'd pick a spot and go there to camp, for a week or longer. Camp sites can be noisy places and I soon began seeking out places that were more remote and going wild camping, a practice that was usually illegal. This reduced the facilities and my potential holiday destinations even more, but the freedom and peace that came with it was magnificent.
I taught myself to fish and catch game, but I found I didn't have the stomach for catching my own food. The whole macho "I'll eat what I killed with my own hands" thing didn't really interest me. Killing animals in order to eat seemed contrary to enjoying the holiday notion of getting some peace and enjoying nature. So I lived off dehydrated camp food and tins for a week, not that different from what I ate in the city I'll admit.
That time I had been especially in need of a break. My job at a test house was very stressful leading up to a release date. I had spent long hours working on seeing that the team rigorously tested the current product. Testing is a bit of a funny game, not many people want to do it because it can be soul-destroyingly boring, but it is desperately needed so there is good money in it. It is the realm of two types of people: young kids earning a bit of cash on the side during the holidays and the hardened veteran. I guess I fall into the later category. I got into it after a friend recommended me for the job. I had been having trouble finding work. My mix of qualifications were somewhat esoteric and as a result most of the firms I approached for IT work turned me down. Once I got my foot in the door and got stuck in, it was a whole different story. A tester with a proven track record was much more employable. I soon moved up from lowly test grunt to now at the age of twenty six the post of team manager, writing the test specs and overseeing the work. It could be boring work but it was also rewarding. We made sure that when the customers got their hands on the final widget they would not suffer too many annoyances with it.
The last job I had worked on had been a real nightmare and after months of long days and weekends working I needed a break. So when the final version was out the door and didn't show any signs of coming back, I booked off a week, grabbed my tent and headed into the country side.
It was one of the advantages of that sort of holiday. It required very little prep time just throw your stuff in the car and away you go. I grabbed my provisions, my tent, sleeping bag and tools, then set off up north. I had in mind one of the larger forests, perhaps near one of the lakes. They were wonderful places to camp, offering glorious scenery.
As I got out into the country away from the city, I felt the tensions inside me start to unwind. I was sure this was going to be an excellent holiday. I could feel it working already.
I found a camp site for the first night and paid for the week. This would give me a backup place to stay if I needed it, as well as somewhere to park my car without it getting towed. I pitched my tent and then took a stroll.
The area was lovely, the forest was green and lush stretching into the distance wrapped around a lake that glittered in the evening sun. There was a small village nearby a sort of rustic place with drystone walls and old slate or thatched roofs. Once I was set up I headed in to the local pub for a beer.
It was an old school pub, not one of the newer chain places that had become the norm in cities. It was a real slice of old England with a thatched roof, exposed beams and a traditional interior. They offered meals so I took the opportunity of a proper hot meal. I enjoyed a very decent shepherds pie with my pint of bitter. I was returning to the bar for another when I overheard an old boy at the bar talking.
“I saw it! I tell you, the black beast!” he said to a few of the other regulars, “Tall as a man, black as pitch, with claws, dark eyes, and horrific tail!”
“Oh yeah, how much had you had Bob? We all know you like to take a little refreshment on your little trips,” laughed one of the men at the bar.
“It's true I tell you! Not a word of lie! I saw the monster that stalks these hills! We've all heard the stories. I didn't believe them either! Not till I saw the monsters dark form with my own eyes!” said Bob. He looked as if he was telling the truth, as if he were genuinely afraid of this mythical beast. He was either a very good actor or had been seeing things as the other locals suggested.
The other patrons just laughed and rolled their eyes going back to their pints.
I was intrigued. I had often heard such stories of beasts lurking in the hills or forests on my travels. Pretty much all of them were made up to snare the tourists. Still I liked to hear them they gave colour to the area made the places more mysterious.
I approached the man and asked, “What beast do speak of?”
He swung round, eyeing me suspiciously, “What's it to you stranger?”
“Just curious,” I said.
“Well take your curiosity else where! I've no time to be story teller to the likes of you!” he said turning back to his nearly empty pint.
This intrigued me even more, usually you had to fight the locals off with a stick to stop them plying you with tales of the local monsters, “Well perhaps I could offer you a refill in exchange for the story,” I said gesturing to his nearly empty pint glass.
The man glance at his drink and unconsciously licked his lips then turned back to me, “Alright stranger get me another and I'll tell you of the horror that stalks these hills. Though I'll warn ye it will stalk your dreams as it stalks mine!”
He was really selling it. He almost had me believing him. I ordered him another drink and one for myself. The barmaid chuckled at the city boy taken in by the village drunks stories. I smiled back and gave her a wink which caused her to giggle and smile.
Soon the old man turned to me and after staring into his pint he took a swig to fortify himself. He looked at me with deadly serious haunted eyes for a moment and began his tale.
“There is a legend in these hills of a monster born of darkness! A twisted creature that hides in the forest and preys on the unwary. Some say it as a dear or some other creature twisted by the dreaded infection, others say it is a man who was cursed by some evil demon to stalk the forests for the blood of the innocent. I don't know what it truly is; except it is a hideous monster of dark appetites and terrible fury,” he paused to knock back most of his beer in a single swallow and gestured for me to get him another one. I was beginning to suspect the other men of the bar were right that this man's visions of monsters had more to do with his prodigious consumption of beer than anything he had seen.
I ordered him another and waited while he stared into the distance shaking slightly. When his new drink arrived he held it in front of him staring into the dark liquid as if he could see answers in there. He haltingly continued, “The stories go back a good few years. People seeing this dark shape, like a man but twisted and evil. I paid them no mind at the time. Thought it was just stories made up to impress the tourists. That's probably what you think now. Last night I was out in the forest late sleeping out under the stars as is my custom.”
“Ha custom he says,” chipped in the barmaid, “His wife kicked him out for coming home drunk again no doubt!”
Most of the bar roared with laughter and the old man glared at the barmaid angrily but said nothing. He took another swig now halfway through his third pint that I'd seen. It was no wonder he was seeing things at the rate he was quaffing down the booze.
“I was out sheltering under some rocks when I saw the beast. A dark shape moving through the forest, not making a sound. I thought I was dreaming this thing was as tall as a man with claws for hands and a terrible curved tail. I saw it kill I'm not sure what, it sat there in the dusk not moving its body only visible as a dark shape. Without warning it pounced grabbed something with its nightmare claws. That's when it heard me, I must have made a sound when it killed. It swung in my direction its nightmare shape gleaming as if made of some polished black stone. I saw its claws,” he said and held his hands out in front of him demonstrating his hands were shaking, “They were dripping blood, I scrambled back against the rock as it took a step in my direction. I could see its black eyes staring at me boring into my very soul. I just knew I would be the next victim of its blood-lust. My mangled corpse would be found in pieces after it satisfied its dark hungers. Then there was a noise that startled the beast. It leapt to an incredible height and disappeared into the night. I ran as fast as I could in case the beast got hungry for human flesh and came back. I made it out but the horror of that night haunts me still.”
“Oh come on you old fool you probably saw a dear and were so drunk you thought it was some monster,” laughed one of the locals.
“NO! IT'S A MONSTER! I'VE SEEN IT AND IT WILL COME FOR US ALL! NO ONE IS SAFE!” the man shouted staring wild eyed around the room, then ran at breakneck speed out the door screaming.
I stared at the still swinging door that the man had just leapt through. It was an interesting performance and well worth the two beers I had paid for it.
“Don't mind old Bob he drinks too much and gets excitable,” said the bar maid.
“Well it was certainly an interesting story. Is it a widely held local legend or something?” I asked.
“Tell the truth love, it's not one I've heard before and I've lived in the village my whole life,” said the bar maid, “Though there's always a few rumours of wild beast flying about to scare the kids. It keeps em from straying into the forest.”
I smiled and ordered another drink then spent the rest of the evening flirting with the bar maid, come last orders I was fairly merry and decided I'd best be on my way while I was still able to find the camp site. I waved goodbye to the bar maid and headed off staggering back to my tent.
Come morning I was a little the worse for wear, but I started bright and early. Packing my stuff up and headed off for a hike in the forest. The landscape was beautiful and the fresh country air did wonders for my hangover. I walked down to the lake and the along its shores, then deeper into the forest. The sunlight filtered through the leaves in a dappled spray of light illuminating the leaf covered floor. The fresh breeze causing the leaves to rustle and trees sway in a wonderfully calming manner. I felt all my troubles wash away. I took the opportunity to stop for a cup of tea boiling the water on a little stove. I sat on a log mug in hand just taking in the scenery.
I saw relatively few people the entire day. The few I did see offered a cheery wave as they passed. I didn't speak to a single person all day. As dusk began to set I decided to find somewhere to pitch my tent for the night. Strictly speaking I wasn't allowed to camp in the forest, but so long as I was unobtrusive and didn't go messing the place up most of the time I could get away with it. Some places allowed wild camping but this wasn't one of them. In England where every piece of land was owned you technically needed permission from the land owner to camp on it. Most of the time that was hard to obtain so you either stayed in established camp sites or risked it. The worst that happened was a few stern words and having to move on so long as you didn't make a mess.
I set up my tent and then got out the little stove and cooked myself some sort of curry. I sat on a rock eating my meal as the stars came out. I heard a rustling somewhere behind me I spun and had a look. I thought I saw a human like shape in the distance! I grabbed my torch to take a look but when I aimed it in the direction the noise had come from I saw nothing there. It was probably a small animal or something. Still it took me a while to shake the feeling that I was being watched. I spent a time jumping at every shadow or noise and aiming my torch trying to see what it was. Eventually my heart stopped pounding and I relaxed. It was probably that old man's tales the other night making me jumpy, putting ideas in my head. It could be a little spooky at the best of times out here alone I shrugged off the worries and relaxed enjoying the sounds of the forest. Soon I settled in for the night snug in my sleeping bag.
During the night it rained pretty heavily, I woke in the morning to find everything glistening and smelling fresh as it was after a good rain shower. The greenery looked even better after a bit of rain. I tidied up my camp and stowed my stuff then set off. The rain had left the area a bit slippery under foot. I was glad I was wearing some fairly good walking boots, the extra grip they offered saved me quite a few times from going all my length in the mud. I trekked up to some rocky hills I had seen to get a better view of the forest. It was a hard slog up the steep incline but the view was worth it. I could see the lake and a lot of the forest from that lookout.
I walked along the ridge for the rest of the day marvelling at the views. The forest stretched out below like a green carpet with the lake a dark blue rippling in the wind. As it got towards the evening I was thinking about finding somewhere to camp for the night. I was idly surveying the area and not really paying attention to my footing when I slipped on some loose gravel. I went tumbling down a slope end over end, the wet ground not offering much resistance to the slide. I rolled over to try and dig my hands in and slow myself it seemed to help a bit but I was still moving quite fast. In the process of trying to slow myself my back pack was torn from my shoulder and tumbled along in front of me. I saw it disappear over a lip ahead of me there was a loud crunch shortly there after. I realised I was heading for the edge of the ledge with a shear drop down to the forest below! I scrambled and tried to stop myself knowing that it was a fairly long way down from where I was to the floor below. Just as I got to the edge I managed to hook a trailing branch and stop as my legs fell over the edge of the cliff. I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to find a footing to climb back up. I found some sturdy rocks in the wall and tried to use them and the branch to pull myself up onto the ledge again. I got most of the way up before one of my footings gave way, probably loosened by the rain. I fell back a bit and this extra strain on the branch caused it to snap. I fell down the drop, bouncing off the wall painfully to impact the ground, loosing consciousness almost immediately.
I woke up sometime later in a lot of pain and barely able to move. Most of it seemed to be in my legs, I guess I broke them on landing. I lay there in agony trying to take stock of my situation. With my mind a bit befuddled by the pain it took me some time to realise that I was not outside at the bottom of the cliff. Indeed I seemed to be in some sort of cave. Dim light coming from a small fire in one corner. I looked around, worried by this turn of events. The cave was relatively small but showed signs of occupancy: there were rabbit furs and various nicknack's about the place, a small stack of firewood in one corner. I seemed to be on a makeshift bed made of sticks and an old sleeping bag. I tried to sit up and groaned in pain. I had probably broken a few ribs as well as my legs. One of my arm also hurt a lot I guess I had broken it as well. I painfully levered myself into a more upright position and saw that there were some shelf like dents in the rock to the left of me where who ever lived here kept things. There was a small battered drinking bottle, a disposable lighter, a survival knife, a very worn fire steel, a few candles, and then the strangest item of all: a small very dirty and threadbare teddy bear. It looked like it had been pink at some stage and was missing an eye and the little bow on it's head hanging by a thread.
I noticed some movement in the dark of the cave.
“Hello is anyone there?” I asked.
I turned to look at it straining my eyes to make out what was there in the dim flickering light of the fire. I realised a figure sat crouched in the shadows watching me. I could barely make out it's shape and what I could work out made little sense. The figure moved slightly and the I caught glimpse of it's body in the fire light. It seemed to gleam in like it was slightly reflective. Now that I knew it was there I could see it's eyes clearly, reflective black orbs set in the darkness, visible only by their gleam. As it moved it made the strangest noise, not like the sound a person makes on stone when wearing shoes or barefoot, it made a skittering sound like the figure was wearing metal on their feet.
“Who are you?” I tried a little afraid, even though it was clear this thing had taken me from where I fell and brought me to its shelter, I was still a little unclear on its motives.
It turned and moved off into the dark rapidly with a clattering sound as it moved. As it spun I saw new aspects of it's shape that confused me even more. It was like it had something sticking out of it's back but I couldn't make it out in the darkness. It returned a moment later with the same odd clattering sound. It paused at the edge of the light then inched slowly forward. I could gradually see more of it, its hand came first it was holding a water bottle which looked like the one from my pack. It was covered in shiny black plates like armour covering it's skin. It's fingers had no nails but seemed slightly pointed at the end almost like claws. Its arm was similarly covered, but there was some strange protrusion on the forearm that I couldn't work out. The figure edged closer holding the water bottle out to me. I reached out with my undamaged arm and took it. The creature never got quite into the light so apart from the arm I saw only glimpses. It seemed to be covered in the same armour plates it had on its arm. As soon as I took the bottle it clattered away hiding deeper in the shadows where I couldn't see it.
I took a drink of the water washing the taste of blood out of my mouth. It seemed the creature was a little scared of me or just very shy of the light.
“Thank you,” I said. The creature didn't reply merely watching me from the shadows.
It was like that most of the day the figure sat just out of view watching me. I dozed with my body in a huge amount of pain. I really needed some medical care but was in no position to go and get it and my rescuer seemed content just to sit and watch me.
I dozed off and came to some time later to the smell of cooking meat. I tried to move but was too exhausted. I managed to turn a little to see what was going on. I could see what looked like rabbits cooking on a spit over the fire. I took a drink of water and lay there fighting back the pain. I heard the clattering noise as owner of the cave moved around. A moment later one of the rabbits was sitting next to my water bottle on a slightly buckled small plastic plate. I reached down, wincing a little as I moved, and ate the food. Once again thanking my shy rescuer, again there was no response from the figure crouched off in the dark.
After my meal I lapsed into a disturbed sleep waking frequently through the night due to the pain, the slightest shift in position sent pain shooting through me. As a result I didn't get much good quality sleep.
The next day I woke to see water heating in an old can over the fire. My rescuer was crouched just off to the side watching the thing. I could see a little more of the figure: both it's arms were the same covered in black slightly reflective plates with some strange features on the forearm just above the wrist running to above the elbow. I could just about make out the creatures face. Though it was strange like the other parts of the creature I had glimpsed, it was an obviously human face. It was also covered in plating with a small area around the mouth where it was normal flesh though still of a dark colour, the eyes peeking out were black orbs set in black plating. The top of the head had a long shock of what looked like blonde hair sticking out, though it was a bit bedraggled with bits of leaf and twig sticking out. From the face it looked like my rescuer was relatively young and female, but it was hard to tell. I tentatively started calling her a she rather than the pronoun it I had been previously using. Whoever she was she looked very odd. I wondered what had happened to her? Some sort of accident, or a mutant maybe, or maybe she was a MORFS survivor.
“They say a watched pot never boils,” I said trying to engage her in conversation.
She started at my voice and scrambled back into the shadows away from me.
“Hey, Hey,” I called, “I'm sorry I didn't mean to scare you.”
I heard her slowly move back towards the light again, her eyes pointed towards me. Eventually she went back to watching the water though she did so from deeper in the shadows where I couldn't see her. When the water began to boil she edged closer to the fire, her eyes glancing between me and the water. Eventually she turned and reached for the water. Then something strange happened: her black armoured hand reached out and with a sort of snick sound the strange features I noticed on her forearm hinged forwards over the top and bottom of her hand. Snapped into place these sections of armour became a fairly lethal looking pincer. She clicked it a few times experimentally then deftly reached over the fire, grabbed the hot can in her claw and took it off to cool. Once she released the can the pincer snapped back onto her forearm revealing vaguely normal looking hands once more.
I was a bit surprised by this, “That's a neat trick,” I said.
Once again she startled a bit at my words and scrambled back a bit out of the light.
“Look there's no need to be afraid, I'm not going to hurt you,” I tried feeling vaguely silly. Barely able to move I was no threat to anyone in my present condition.
She edged a bit closer and I could see her eyes watching me.
“Look why don't we start easy,” I said trying to sound as friendly as possible. This person was my only hope of survival, I needed to be able to talk to her without her running off each time. “My name is Thomas, what's yours?”
I was rather assuming that she could speak, given her somewhat rough living conditions I guessed she didn't do this for fun. Still, she was obviously reasonably skilled at surviving: she had caught rabbits, cooked them and known to boil water rather than just drinking it as it was. There was silence for a long time, I was beginning to think she wasn't going to talk to me either because she couldn't or was too afraid to.
“J ... J ... Jamie,” she said in a soft high voice. She sounded rusty like she hadn't spoken to anyone in a long time, I guess it was possible she hadn't.
“Pleased to meet you Jamie. Thank you for rescuing me,” I said. She didn't respond but she had told me her name which was probably a big step for her.
I was feeling exhausted and in some more pain, I would have done anything for some pain killers. A thought occurred to me, “Jamie, do you have my bag?” I asked. I saw her nod, “Do you think you can find me some painkillers from it, there were some in the side pocket.”
She went clattering off through an opening deeper into the cave. I could hear her rummaging around out in the dark somewhere. I hoped the side pockets on my bag hadn't been torn open by the slide and the fall. A short while later I heard Jamie come clattering back towards me. She again hesitated on the edge of the firelight.
“It's alright,” I said trying to reassure her. She waited there indecisively for a bit then slowly edged further into the light. More of her came into view than I had seen before. All of her body was covered by similar chitinous plating. She was shaped like a fairly attractive girl. She was essentially topless but almost every inch of skin was covered in black gleaming plating even her breasts were covered. Her only clothing a small pair of tattered shorts over her womanly hips. She looked like she was wearing some futuristic body armour or space suit and gave the impression of being fully clothed even though she was in reality almost naked. Her legs were similarly encased in armour, it went all the way down to her feet. I guess that was why she made a clattering sound as she moved, her chitinous exoskeleton clicking against the stone. Her figure was curvy and very athletic looking, I suspected she would have been quite pretty without the armour covering her. She looked fairly young maybe early twenties, though it was hard to tell.
With a small packet of painkillers in her hands she gradually edged towards me, still a little fearful that I would leap up and attack her or something. I wondered what horrors she had experienced that made her so fearful of others. I had some guess as to why she lived here, her powerful armoured body scared me probably as much as I scared her though I tried my damnedest not to show it. She had after all rescued me and given me food and shelter. If she had wanted to hurt me she could have easily done so, but I didn't think she had any intention in that regard.
As she came closer I got another surprise: there was something behind her, it took a while to resolve in the half light of the cave and it was black and plated like the rest of her. It was a tail, a huge armoured tail that curved up behind her. At its tip was a vicious looking spike. Finally it all made sense, the armour plating, the pincers, and the tail. The poor woman was a scorpion hybrid, had to be. Scorpions were pretty scary at the best of times to have a human sized one was frankly terrifying. I found myself wondering if her sting carried lethal venoms. If a small scorpion could kill a person what horror could she manage given she was many times the size.
Still she was terrified of me even though I was obviously no match for her. I suspected even at my peak with the wicked sting she could easily dispatch me. I wondered what had happened to the poor girl that a normal human scared her so. She eventually got close and held out the painkillers. She stretched out as far as she could holding the painkiller box by its edge so she was as far away from me as possible. Her whole body was tense and ready to run if I tried to grab her. As I reached out with my hand slowly, the movement caused her to twitch backwards. Eventually she calmed and nervously held out the painkillers again. When she was close she tossed the packet into my hand then bolted like a startled rabbit clattering off to the shadows again. I noticed she was slightly closer than before, sitting slightly in the aura of the light so she was partly visible.
I realised belatedly that this scared girl must be the monster the old man had spoken of.
I thanked her again and took one of the pills. I wanted to take more but I only had a single pack and didn't know how long they might last.
I lay back and rested while I waited for the pain killers to kick in. After a while Jamie busied herself with taking the water she had boiled and topping up various containers she had. She then added a little more wood to the fire just to keep it going. I watched, her movements were all smooth and precise, she would also tend to sit perfectly still for long periods of time moving only when necessary. She came off as careful deliberate, patient, and detached, like a hunter waiting for prey. At other times she was skittish and would move suddenly into the shadows like a startled animal. It was an odd juxtaposition of behaviours, sort of hunter and prey.
She was still nervous around me and kept to the shadows, but not quite so much as earlier.
After a while of laying there and waiting for the painkillers to kick in I realised I had another problem: I desperately needed a toilet.
“Er, Jamie,” I asked a bit embarrassed, “I need to get up.”
She turned and looked at me for a bit, then said haltingly, “y ... you can't g ... get up. Your legs are broken.”
“Well I er ... well I ... I need to use the toilet,” I said.
She sat there for a bit just staring at me, then suddenly clattered off into the darkness again. I wondered if I had upset her somehow, but she returned fairly quickly holding an empty can. Which she offered to me, well I guess it was better than nothing. She gave me some privacy and I took care of that problem. She retrieved the can later and disposed of it somewhere, returning the empty can so I could use it again.
As the pain faded back a bit I lay there wondering what to do, since I didn't have anything better to do I watched my strange host as she went about her day. I noticed that she had a habit of walking on all fours. Partly that seemed to be due to the low ceiling in the cave, but even so she seemed more comfortable on the ground than standing. This odd gait seemed to be to do with balancing her large tail, which offset her centre of gravity. On all fours she could move at quite a rate of knots far faster than you would expect and it was quite disturbing to watch. It seemed her hips hinged differently so she could run along with her legs bent up and her belly almost flat to the ground. Alternatively she could stand or move like a normal human.
I could see why catching a glimpse of her would lead to people assuming there was a monster in the woods. She could look totally alien at times. Some time later in what my body told me was early evening she ran off out of the cave for quite a while. She came back with fish, some berries, and sort of mushrooms. She cooked the fish and then offered me one on the plate like before. Rather than running off into the shadows as before she sat next to the fire to eat her meal. Obviously getting more comfortable with my presence. I ate my food worrying a little that the berries or the mushrooms might be poisonous. I knew that unless you were an expert it was rarely wise to pick wild mushrooms, identifying the ones that were safe to eat was tricky. However Jamie tucked in with delight chomping them down so I assumed they were OK to eat. I did occur to me after I had eaten them that she might be immune to their poisons because of her scorpion nature.
After dinner and not dying from poison, I tried to engage her in conversation. She was very quiet and said nothing, so hating the silence I just blabbered away about nothing in particular. I told her about my job about the sort of things I liked to do. I had got on to my family and so forth before she said anything at all.
I was just talking about my sisters when she said out of the blue, “I had a sister.”
“Really what was her name?” I prompted.
“Francesca, I used to call her Frankie,” she said, sounding sad. She reached up and stroked the battered teddy bear on the shelf, “she gave me Pinky Bear.”
She sat there for a bit stroking the bear then suddenly clattered off into the dark I heard her sobbing in the distance. Eventually she came back and sat by the fire, wiping off her tears. I wanted to ask her what had upset her so but I felt she might very well run off again if I did. Perhaps given time she would tell me her story.
I tried to examine the damage to see how badly I was injured. Now I was somewhat numbed from the painkillers to make such an examination a less excruciating event. I gently felt my left arm, it had a lot of nasty bruising and possibly a break in the forearm. I had various cuts and bruising on my ribs, maybe a break; it was hard to tell. My legs were the worst. I was pretty sure both had breaks in them, several judging by their condition. I guess they had taken the brunt of the fall.
I turned to see Jamie watching me. She seemed to look right through me, she suddenly said, “You have broken your arm, one rib, your left ankle and shin and your right leg in three places.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“I see it,” she said with a sort of shrug she went back to poking the fire.
I wondered if she had some sort of x-ray vision or something, “I need to get to a hospital Jamie, the breaks need setting and disinfecting,” I said.
She looked at me and sadly shook her head, “I'm sorry, you are in no state to move and I cannot go near people.”
I hung my head a little, needed help. Just lying here waiting to heal without proper medical care was a bad idea. I could get an infection, my bone probably wouldn't heal right, there were a whole host of problems to deal with. I needed to gain the girls trust a bit then maybe she would be able to get me help.
I tried a few more times to engage her in conversation but she wasn't up for it, what ever bad memory's I had stirred earlier had made her even more reticent.
I tried to get some sleep, she curled up in front of the fire shifting a bit uncomfortably on the hard ground. I guess even though she was armoured all over she liked some comfort when sleeping.
“Jamie,” I called, she turned to look at me, “There should be a sleeping bag and sleeping mat in my bag assuming they didn't fall out. You're welcome to use them since I've taken your bed.”
She clattered off and came back with the mat and the bag. Before sleeping she grabbed the bear from her shelf and curled up with the bear clutched tight to her chest. She looked like a little girl by her posture rubbing the soft part of her face against the worn fabric of the bear.
She turned slightly towards me, “Thank you,” she said then went to sleep holding her bear tightly as if she expected someone might try and steal it from her in the night.
I fell into a listless sleep. Gradually the painkillers wore off during the night and my rest got more and more fitful.
When I woke in the morning the bear was back on the shelf and the sleeping mat and bag were neatly stowed in another of the little nooks in the wall. Jamie was nowhere to be seen. I examined my injuries a bit and debated whether to take another pain killer or save it for when I really needed it. I decided being in less pain was preferable.
Some time later I heard the tell tale clattering of Jamie returning. She had water to boil and went about the business of purifying it. I got to see her retractable pincers in action again as she removed the water from the fire, the two sections seeming to fold up from either side of her forearm around her hand to form her pincers. At first I had thought they were a bit like gloves wrapping around her hand and using that for movement, but on closer inspection it seemed to completely contain her fist inside the body of the claw using it's own musculature to move.
It was an ingenious arrangement, she caught me staring and then dodged into the shadows again suddenly shy.
“I'm sorry,” I said, “It's rude of me to stare at you like that.”
She regarded me from the shadows for a while and eventually re-emerged into the light continuing with her tasks. Eyeing me every know and again to see if I was watching which for the most part I tried not to do since it seemed to upset her.
“I've been thinking,” I said. “I need to get to proper medical care, I'm very grateful for all you've done but I need proper help and since you can't get it perhaps you can help me make my way back there.”
She looked at me suspiciously for a bit, “What do you mean?” she asked.
“If we could splint my legs and you could find me something I could use for crutches with your assistance I might be able to get some medical help. You could help me till other people come near, then you could leave me without anyone having to know you were there,” I said.
She seemed to consider this for a bit, “OK what do I have to do?” she said.
“Well I need some sturdy sticks to bind to my legs so I can move without further damaging them too much. Ideally I would have to set the bone before doing that but I'm not that versed in first aid. So I guess strapping it up will have to do. I need some nice strong straight long sticks and something to tie them with, there are some straps on my backpack that will do. Then I need something to act as a crutch to support my weight so I can move.”
She looked at me for a bit then raced off without saying a word. I took another pain killer, hoping it would make what came next easier, then I sat waiting for her. I eventually dozed off waiting and was awakened when she dumped a large pile of fairly large straight sticks, some seemed to have been cut off the tree directly. I guess she used her pincers. The sharpness of the cut and the thickness of the wood made me wonder just how strong those things were.
“OK that looks just the ticket, can you bring me the straps from my backpack?” I asked.
She clattered off and returned with a set of straps I had for attaching things and generally tying things up.
'OK here goes the hard part,' I thought
I pealed back the sleeping bag that covered me and took one of the sticks that looked about the right length and then held it down beside my leg.
“Now I need you to tie it to my leg to hold it straight, make it nice and tight,” I said. I grabbed a smaller twig and put it in my mouth. This was going to hurt a lot but it was necessary I could loose my legs or die if I didn't get help.
I gritted my teeth and the scorpion girl moved carefully closer to me. Her jet black plated body looked almost like a sculpture. She slipped the ties around my leg seemingly knowing exactly where the breaks were and where it needed support. She tied the top of the stick to my leg and then moved her hand further down my leg feeling her way along. The strapping shifted my leg causing me to cry out in agony. I bit down on the stick and rode out the pain, breathing deeply to recover.
Suddenly she stopped and frowned, at least I think she did her expressions were quite hard to read her face being somewhat of a mask.
“I feel funny,” she said, “like I can reach inside.”
I puzzled at her words but then began feeling something odd too. My leg was tingling where her hands were.
“Ah!” she said and cocked her head to one side. There was a crack, a burst of intense pain and it was as if my leg bone snapped back together. I could feel the whole fabric of my leg tingling and shifting as if it was reshaping itself. I cried out in agony as the unnatural kink in my leg straightened out with a sickening crack. A gouge in my flesh that I could see through a hole in my trousers sealed up before my eyes. The angry swollen and bruised flesh gradually healed. Somehow Jamie was healing me, it was an immensely painful process as my body reformed in violent unnatural shifts. She moved her hands along my leg and soon it was whole again and pain free. She turned her attention to my other leg, taking her hands away seemingly not needing contact for whatever she was doing. Once again the bones snapped back together and the leg straightened out. I nearly swallowed the stick from the pain of it, but when she was done I had two healed legs. I stared at her in wonder, her gaze swept up my body and pain and discomfort surged through my body, but bit by bit all the injuries I had healed up.
By the time she was done I was completely healed and worn out from the strain of it. She looked at me for a while seemingly a bit in shock herself then staggered backwards unsteady on her feet.
“I feel ...” she started then crashed to the floor unconscious.
I carefully tried to stand up. I found my legs a bit like rubber and my whole body weak, but I was whole again. I stood up hunched over due to the low ceiling and moved over to Jamie's prostate form. I tried to feel for a pulse to see if she was OK but I couldn't feel anything through her armour. I thought about listening to her chest for a heart beat but I wasn't sure how she would take that if she were to wake up in the middle. I might end up healed but impaled on her poison barb.
I tried to see if she was breathing, I could just about make out her chest rising and falling though it was tough to do. I decide to lift her into bed but she was far heavier than I would have imagined. Instead I got out the sleeping mat and bag and rolled her onto them wrapping her up to keep her warm.
I decided to have a look around, most of the main room was as I had seen it before. I noted that the fire had a small opening above it that acted as a chimney, I could see some sort of stone over it to stop the rain getting in. I decided to explore the bits I hadn't seen before and I made my way out towards the cave exit. The cave curved round through a small passageway then opening out into a large area just beyond the main room where Jamie obviously stored things. There was quite a collection of bric-a-brac, a pile of empty tins, a load of firewood, old scavenged plates and such. I saw my back pack tucked in a corner. It looked a little damaged from its tumble but mostly intact. I retrieved my small flash light and continued up out. From the store area it got dramatically smaller as you got outside narrowing to a small passageway. I crawled carefully through and came out in a small cave entrance. The hole to get into Jamie's cave was concealed by a large rock that could be moved into place. Seeing daylight for the first time in a few days was interesting, I breathed in the fresh air and stretched my newly healed limbs tentatively. The sun was setting though and I decided I better head back inside to get shelter. I had no idea where I was and moving about in the dark was a good way to break an ankle. Plus I wasn't sure if Jamie was OK.
I scrambled back into the cave to find a somewhat confused looking Jamie sitting up.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
She jumped backwards, her tail swinging up as if ready to strike her pincers deploying.
“Easy easy,” I said, “It's just me Thomas. You passed out or something after repairing my injuries.”
She looked at me fearfully eyeing the exit. I realised I stood between her and her escape route. I backed away and off to the side so she wouldn't feel penned in. She looked ready to bolt for a while but calmed down once I was out of the way her pincers retracting and her tail curling back. She still kept her eyes on me wary.
"I don't understand it," she said.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Your bones are all better," she said.
"Yes, what did you do fix them?" I asked, "Not that I'm not thankful, I'm just curious."
"I fixed them?" she said incredulously.
It seemed she had no idea she had this ability, “It wasn't me that did it and you are the only one who is here. I would guess you are maybe a bio-elemental, you probably passed out from overdoing it.”
She stared at me for a bit then tried to move towards the exit but stumbled and nearly fell. I managed to catch her before she fell, her weight nearly took me down too. I found her armour was very hard and smooth, but warm to the touch.
“Whoa there you should probably rest a bit, take a sip of water or something. Come on let me help you onto the bed and you have a lie down,” I said.
It was a bit odd being this close to her, she was very nervous of me but eventually she gingerly put her arm around me so I could help her. I very very carefully put my arm around her middle keeping well clear of her vicious looking tail. Once again I was struck by how heavy she was, discounting the tail she was a bit shorter than I was --- maybe 5 foot 8, but I could barely lift her. I wondered if it was the weight of her exoskeleton that did it or the additional weight of her tail.
I helped her onto the bed and pulled the sleeping bag over her. I grabbed the water bottle and offered her some water to sip. She took a drink then lay down for while just dozing. I did some more poking around, in one corner I found something strange. At first glance I thought it was some sort of article of clothing but on closer inspection it seemed to be a much smaller version of Jamie's armour. It took me a while to realise she must have moulted, shedding her skin at some point. I had heard that scorpions did that as they grew and stopped when they were fully grown. I held up the old skin and realised it was a good deal smaller than she currently was. It almost looked like a little girl sized version of her current armour, its colour was also a lot lighter. I wondered how long she had been here. One of the pieces of the armour broke off so I slipped it into my pocket. I moved back to the main room and sat by the fire. Some time later I heard Jamie stir again. I turned to see her staring at me.
“I thought you'd be gone,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“No one who could would choose to be near me,” she said unhappily.
“Why do you say that?”
She shook her head and looked away. She sat there for a moment more then crawled out and made her way outside. I followed her wondering where she was going. It was nearly night outside when I got out I saw Jamie standing upright by one of the trees staring out into the dusk.
“Where are you going,” I asked.
“To get some food,” she said. She lowered herself down on the ground and deployed her pincers. She then sat with her belly and pincers on the ground. She sat there with her eyes closed for a bit then sat up. “Rabbits that way!”
With that she jumped with quite astounding speed and height flying through the air landing a large distance away. She dropped to all fours and then scuttled off into the undergrowth I climbed up onto a bolder to try and get a view of what she was up to. Some distance off there was an open grassy area where several rabbits were frolicking. I saw the dark shape of Jamie flow through the undergrowth swift and silent. She sat under a bush at the edge of the clearing waiting. Some time went by but eventually one of the rabbits moved near the place where Jamie was concealed. For a moment nothing happened then Jamie exploded out of the bushes pincers flying. She clamped on to the little animal and then lifting her tail sent her stinger slamming into the rabbit. She then spun and vanished back into the bushes.
It all took only a few seconds for her to leap out, grab and kill the animal and then disappear into the bushes again. Most of the animals companions barely even saw it disappear. They scattered a bit from the noise but after some waiting returned again as if nothing had happened. Once again I watched the dark shape hide at the edges and wait for one of the animals to get close. Soon she had caught another bunny. She then abandoned her stealth and with several huge leaps landed back near the cave. She carried the two dead bunnies with her pincers back into the cave without saying a word to me. The power and speed with which she could move was frankly terrifying, even though those bunny's were small and weak, the way she had dispatched them left me to wonder what would happen to people on the receiving end of those pincers and stinger.
I headed back into the cave where I found her gutting then skinning her kills with her pincers. The practised precision and skill with which she quickly and cleanly prepared the rabbits was a touch disturbing to watch.
“How did you learn to hunt like that?” I asked.
“Practice ... and instinct,” she said.
She deftly skewered the rabbits and began cooking them on the fire. I sat down in the corner away from her, I would have sat closer but I wasn't sure she would like it. After her performance earlier I was not keen to anger her in case I ended up skewered and roasting on her fire.
We sat in silence while she cooked the rabbits when they were done she handed me a one on a plate, and after I thanked her she retreated to the fire side to eat hers. It was only after I had taken the first few mouthfuls that it occurred to me that she had killed this with her venom which was probably still in the meat and though it had been cooked I had no idea if the toxins would still be active after the heat. Then I remembered that this wasn't the first time she had given me rabbit to eat and judging by the skilled way she had caught these I would suspect she had used the same method. Since I hadn't gotten sick last time I would guess I was OK. I pushed my concerns to the back of my mind and ate the food.
Being without pain and pleasantly full was a nice feeling, I tried to engage Jamie in conversation again but she wasn't talking. I continued to try but most of the time she was locked up tight not saying a word. I rambled on for a while having no luck getting a word out of Jamie. Eventually it got late and we turned in for the night. Jamie took her bed and I took the floor, once again she curled up with her bear.
In the night I heard her crying again and sob something, “Why must I always be alone, why does everyone abandon me!”
Eventually she calmed and I saw she was lying with her thumb in her mouth bear held tight like a scared little girl. Perhaps that was what she was, goodness knows how long she had been living alone here.
Come morning she was more distant than normal I found she had taken my back pack and moved it outside.
“Go now, you are healed and it is daylight again. The village is that way,” she said.
“Jamie, why don't you come with me you don't have to live out here on your own,” I replied, "You saved me, let me try and return the favour."
“No, I cannot live with people. I'm a monster, I bring only pain,” she said. Then leapt into the air and vanished off into the forest.
I looked briefly but then shrugged my head in defeat, Jamie was skilled at eluding detection. I could have stayed where I was and waited for her to return but I knew she would just wait me out and I didn't want to deprive her of what little comforts she had. I rummaged in my bag and took out the sleeping bag and mat I placed them in the entrance to her cave knowing that hers were a little the worse for wear. I also stacked a couple of food items for her, some packets of cookies and a few other things I hoped she would like. It was the least I could do.
“Goodbye Jamie, thank you for helping me. I hope our paths cross again some day,” I said to the seemingly empty forest with no doubt she had heard me.
I picked up my pack and then headed off, my limbs were a little stiff but fully functional. I strode out into the forest, taking careful note of my path as I went in case I ever wanted to find Jamie's cave again. It seemed to be in the deepest part of the forest away from most of the paths. There was what looked like an old road running above the cave across one of the cliffs but it looked to be in a poor state of repair, even falling apart in some places. I walked and gradually came to areas where there were people, I was deep into my own thoughts and barely noticed their waves or hello's, they probably thought me quite rude.
When late afternoon approached I reached the camp-site, I thought about pitching my tent but I decided to see if the local hotel had a room. I took out a change of clothes and threw the rest of my stuff in the back of my car, then headed over to the village. I wander into the local hotel and asked for a room.
The receptionist looked me up and down and then said, “Blimey love you're in a bit of state you look like you've been savaged by the black beast of the woods!”
I stared at her for a moment startled, then she laughed and after a moment I forced myself to join in, “Ah savaged by the beast, that's a good one,” I said. “I had some old fellow tell me about the beast he saw in the woods at the pub over the road a few days back.”
“Ah that'll be Bob he's a funny one means no harm,” said the chortling receptionist, “So if it weren't the beast what did happen to ya?”
“Took a tumble on some slippery ground, went all my length into a bush. Tore my trousers pretty good and got a bit muddy,” I said with as genuine a smile as I could manage.
“Oh dear, are you alright, not too badly hurt I hope?”
“Fine just a few cuts and bruises, a nice hot shower, a change of clothes, and I'll be right as rain.”
“Well let me get you a key then, room six. That's up the stairs on the left, can't miss it,” she said with a wink.
I smiled and gave her a wave keeping my face locked happy till I got out of sight. I then trudged up to my room and got cleaned up. I headed over to the same pub I had been in the first night and had a meal. I barely tasted it, I was completely preoccupied. I took the piece of Jamie's old armour out of my pocket and stared at it.
I was startled out of my thoughts by a woman's voice, “Can I get you anything else love?”
I looked up to see the bar maid from the other night, “Hey I know you! You were here a few nights ago. How's the holiday going?” she said cheerfully.
“Oh it's been ... interesting,” I said feeling the smooth armour piece.
I got myself another drink and sat in the pub thinking about Jamie, I wondered what she was doing. I drank up and headed to bed. Come the morning I checked out and headed back to the city, cutting my holiday short, for once not able to find peace out there in the countryside knowing she was out there.
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