I tried to get back to my life, put that time behind me. I tried throwing myself back into my work hoping to forget what had happened. But more and more I found my thoughts on Jamie.
As a result, my work suffered, and I was distracted and preoccupied. Friends and colleagues all saw it, but let me be, since I was the sort of person who liked to sort out their own problems. I would often sit staring at the piece of armour thinking about Jamie.
One lunch time I was out with a friend doing just that and he asked me, "What is that?"
Pausing to think for a few seconds, I answered, "I don't know, I found it in the woods."
My friend gave me a 'I don't quite believe that' look, but didn't say anything. He held out his hand, "Mind if I take a look?"
I handed it over. He worked in industrial engineering and did things like stress analysis and material testing. He also had some sort of telesense ability which he could examine things microscopically, which was how he got into that line of work in the first place.
He took a glance at the armour piece and did this focusing of his eyes thing, which I recognised as him using that ability. Then he frowned and brought the plate closer. "You say you found this?"
"Yeah," I replied.
"It's weird! I can make out nano-scale constructions, but it seems to be organic. Mind if I take this back to the lab run some tests?"
Intrigued I answered, "Sure take it. Let me know what you find."
A few days later I saw him again, he was incredibly animated, and within moments he was jabbering away about what he had found. It was largely over my head, something about organic nano tube honeycombing shock absorption, scon heat shunting, and energy dissipation. It seemed the practical upshot was that Jamie was probably armoured better than a tank against pretty much anything you could throw at her. Added to that the fact that she seemed to be a bio elemental, I would guess that meant she was nigh on indestructible, given sufficient time and resources to regenerate.
While my companion continued to talk excitedly, I ruefully reflected that though Jamie might be practically invulnerable to any physical damage, the same could not be said for emotional damage. Someone had hurt her badly and forced her to hide in the woods. She lived out there like an animal afraid to face anyone, yet terribly lonely and almost childlike.
She had saved my life, of that I was sure. I decided that it was up to me to do the same for her. She might not be in any physical danger, for out there she was tougher than anything she was likely to meet, but it was no way to live. I stood up abruptly in the middle of my friend’s excited talk about the possible applications of this material if they could replicate it, and told him I had to leave. Taking the armour piece with me, I rushed off.
Deciding to start straight away, I strode back to the office and informed my boss I had to leave for an indeterminate period of time due to some personal problems I needed to sort out. I expected her to request my resignation or fire me, but she told me to take all the time I needed. The company apparently had a policy on such things, and since I had been a valued employee they were more than willing to let me take some time without having to give up my job. I was a bit surprised by this, but she just smiled told me to go and sort things out and only come back when I was ready.
Leaving work, I headed off to grab some gear, I had no idea how long I would be gone for. I got myself a new set of sleeping equipment and some tools, so if need be I could catch my own food. I knew there was always the option to head back for provisions, but I wanted to be able to stay out with Jamie as long as possible. I suspected it would take a long time for her to trust me, and interrupting that to go and get food would slow things down.
I loaded up and headed back to the countryside.
Arrived fairly late in the day, much too late to set out to Jamie’s cave. I booked myself in at the camp-site and set up the minimum I would need, I wanted to be away quickly in the morning. I headed into the village for a proper meal.
"Back again!" said the barmaid with a smile as I ordered my pint.
"Yes, it such a wonderful place to visit. I didn't think I did it justice last time," I said.
"Well you know what they say, it's the people that make a place," she replied with a wink.
How right she was, one person in particular in my mind. While I waited at the bar for my drink I saw the old fellow Bob, he was with some rough looking chaps talking. I was close enough to hear without attracting too much attention.
"It's out there in the woods," Bob said. “You've seen the pictures I've managed to take of it!”
“Yeah,” said one of the guys, “Real freak show.”
“Hmm,” grunted the other, “looked a little out of focus and distant to me. Could have just been a person carrying something or some trees and shadows.”
“No, you'll see it’s real! With your help we can catch the beast, protect the village and also profit from it!” said Bob.
“Well, there's nothing we like more than a little profit, eh Henry,” said the second guy winking at the first, “So assuming this beast does exist, how do you propose we catch it?”
“Well I have an ingenuous plan!” said Bob, then looked around shiftily, “I'll not speak of it here though, too many ears.”
They drank up and hurried out of the pub. I hated to think what they had in mind for catching Jamie. I didn't want to clue them in to what she really was, so I would just have to keep an eye out. I had a good meal then turned in early.
The next day I set off, knowing it would take me most of the day to reach Jamie's cave. It looked pretty different on the way back, but I managed to find the way. As the sun began to set I came in sight of the cave entrance. I wanted to go straight in there and see her, but I knew there was a good chance I'd wind up with a stinger through my chest if I did that.
I set up camp in a clear area a bit away from the cave so she would be able to come to me in her own time. I set up my tent and my stove and boiled some water for tea while I waited. As I sat perched on an old tree stump I was briefly worried that she might have moved to stop me finding her again, but I figured she probably didn't think I would ever come back.
I sat there as night fell waiting and watching the stars come out. Some time later I heard the clattering that signalled Jamie moving on stone. It stopped quickly as she hit softer ground, I did my best not to look. I heard rustles in the bushes but waited for her to see me and get accustomed to my presence. I made some tea and got out another cup.
“Would you like a cuppa, Jamie?” I asked.
There was a slight rustling but no real response, I made two cups of tea and then set one on the far side of the area I was camped in, then went and sat well away from it.
“Well if you feel like it, help yourself,” I said.
I sat sipping my tea, there were some more quiet movements through the bushes and then the undergrowth on the far side of the camp parted and a familiar face peeked out. She then edged ever so slowly towards the cup and pulled it back into her hiding place.
“There's milk and sugar by the stove if you want it,” I said pointing.
She sat there for a bit glancing between me and where I had gestured. She eventually crept slowly over keeping an eye on me and poured a little milk into her tea, then rapidly retreated back to the edge. She didn't go all the way into the bush this time though. She sipped her tea for a while watching me.
Eventually she put her cup down and said, “Why did you come back?”
I looked at her, “I am worried about you,” I replied.
She looked away, seemingly uncomfortable with my being concerned for her. We sat there together enjoying the evening.
Eventually Jamie stirred, "I need to go hunting."
"OK, see you later then," I replied with a smile.
She stared at me for a bit, then stood up and moved off into the forest. At first I could make her out by the light glinting off her black slightly reflective armour, but I quickly lost sight of her as she got deeper in.
I listening to the sounds of the forest and watching the stars waiting for her to come back.
Sometime later she returned with some fish she had caught. She went to her cave, pausing briefly at the entrance to stare at me then clattered off inside. I didn't follow, not wanting to push her too hard. Soon the smell the aroma of cooking fish wafting from the entrance to her cave set my tummy rumbling. I decided to make a start on my own meal, I retrieved one of the cans of food from my backpack and set up the stove. Pretty soon I had a simmering pot of chicken curry smelling delicious.
I heard a Jamie come clattering out of the cave then a sniffing noise. I turned to see her sitting with her belly flat to the ground staring at my bubbling pot. I guessed that her normal diet lacked variety and the sort of spices I took for granted.
“Would you like some?” I asked her.
She stared at me a looking a little unsure of herself, “No ... I”, she started. I cut her off in mid sentence. “I have more than enough to share.”
She still looked doubtful, so I continued, “If you don't like taking food off me for nothing, perhaps an exchange. Some curry in exchange for some of your fish?”
She looked over at the pot again and subconsciously licked her lips, then without a word spun round and dived back into her cave. At first I wondered if I had upset her somehow but after a short while she returned with a plate with a couple of freshly cooked fish on it.
I reached over to my camping gear and pulled out my collapsible stool. Setting it up on the other side of the stove, I gestured to it. “Take a seat it won't take much longer.”
She hesitantly approached the stool, seeming nervous to be too near me. Her nerves were warring with her fascination with the bubbling pot though, and that seemed to win out. She lowered herself carefully into the small fabric stool which creaked alarmingly but seemed to be up to the job of holding her for now.
While Jamie looked on with rapt attention, I stirred the pot , wondering how long it had been since she had eaten something other than fish, rabbits, and other bits and bobs that could be found in the forest.
Once the curry was done I turned to her and asked, “How much do you want?”
She looked at me for a bit, as if not sure what to say, so I prompted her with, “Do you want to go half and half on my curry and your fish?”
She nodded earnestly, “OK hand me your plate and I'll dish things out,” I said.
When she held the plate out to me, I gently took it from her without getting too near, since she looked very skittish the closer I got. I took out my plate and then split the fish between the two plates then dished out the curry, giving Jamie the slightly larger portion, since she seemed to need it more. When I handed her plate back to her, she looked at the liquid curry quizzically, as if working out how she was going to tackle it.
“Would you like a spoon?” When she nodded, I retrieved a metal spoon from my small set of cutlery and handed it to her. She stared at it for a bit making me wonder how long it had been since she last used a spoon. Just as I was beginning to think she had forgotten how to use it, which seemed unlikely, she began to devour the food. I ate at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the curry with the smoky flavour of the fire cooked fish. She finished very quickly and then licked her plate clean and began eyeing the nearly empty pot.
“Help yourself to any that's left,” I said, turning the handle to face her.
She was soon scraping out the pot to get the last remaining morsels of the curry. I suspected she would have licked it clean, if it weren't for the awkward shape. When we were done I wanted to start questioning Jamie on why she lived out here alone, but I knew it was far too soon. I suppressed my eagerness to get to the bottom of the mystery and just rested, letting her get used to my presence. Hopefully, if I was patient, eventually she would open up and not try and run away whenever I went near her.
Once the food was done, Jamie began to appear increasingly uncomfortable, and eventually leapt to her feet without a word, scrambling off into the undergrowth. I knew I had a long road ahead of me to gain her trust.
I was a little tired from the late hour and the day's exertions when I turned in for the night. I slept a bit restlessly being woken a couple of times by Jamie clattering in and out of the cave. It seemed she was mostly nocturnal judging by the times she woke me. I guess that made sense. At that time of day people wouldn't be likely to see her out and about. In the dark, her armour was fairly good camouflage but in daylight it would stand out like a sore thumb against the green foliage.
I woke in the morning and got up to stretch my legs, I packed up my tent, not wanting to attract unwanted attention by having a camp set up. Besides, the fact that it was illegal it would draw too much attention to the otherwise unremarkable cave. I did a bit of exploring around the cave to see what the rest of the area was like, then went up to the disused road on the ledge some distance above the cave. I could see why it had fallen into disuse. It looked very precarious, with hairpin bends some places and sheer drops into the valley that held the lake in others. In some places it was crumbling away to nothing. I was wary of going anywhere near the edge mindful of not taking another tumble. The section overlooking Jamie's cave was the worst, with a hairpin that was collapsing at the edge and the road surface had totally deteriorated. It was a sheer drop of some 20 feet or so onto a fairly steep slope that formed the roof of Jamie's cave, with a shallower incline thereafter. It looked pretty treacherous.
I left the road and headed back into the valley and the area of the cave. I wandered down to the shores of the lake where I spied a stream and filled one of my water containers it was one of the new ones with a fancy high-tech embedded purifying filter. I still wasn't quite sure I trusted the thing, despite the manufacturers claims so I usually boiled the water as well just in case, it was always better to be safe than sorry. I took most of my liquid intake as tea, anyway, so it wasn't really a problem. I spent the morning sitting by the lake watching the water ripple and reading a book.
When it got towards midday I headed back towards the cave and set up my stove for a cuppa. I sipped my tea and munched on my last remaining sandwich I had brought for lunches then did some more reading. I was really just biding my time till evening, when Jamie would feel comfortable enough to come out. As the sun started to set, I put up my camp again and riffled through my supplies to see if I could find something else new to tempt Jamie, so she would share another meal with me. I found a tin of sausage casserole that might serve. Just as it got dark, I heard voices, I switched off my light and then from the shadow of a tree, had a look. I could see three men blundering through the forest with torches.
I hid and listened it was the old bloke, Bob, and I guessed the two men I had seen. Bob was rambling to his companions, “This way. I'll show you, I have the perfect spot and the beast is quite active in this area!”
I thought about following them, but I wasn't very skilled with moving silently, and I didn't want to alert them to my presence, as it would raise too many questions.
Bob seemed to be walking funny, like he was carrying something heavy and there was a clanking noise. I couldn't tell what it was he had though due to the relative darkness. I watched till their light disappeared into the distance then turned to go back to my sitting place when I came face to face with Jamie crouched in the bushes behind me.
“Are they gone?” she asked.
I let out a gasp of surprise and nearly fell over, I hadn't heard her leave the cave or approach me at all. I guess when she wanted to she could be very stealthy.
“Whoa! You startled me! You're very sneaky,” I said with a smile trying not to show how disturbing it was having a large scorpion girl appear behind you in the night.
I moved back to the camp area and sat down on the stump. She quietly followed me keeping to the edge of the clearing, but sitting mostly in the open, rather than hiding in the bush.
“Tea?” I asked.
She cocked her head to one side and looked at me for a bit. Her gaze could be quite unnerving since it always seemed vaguely predatory. She gave me an almost imperceptible nod, then looked away.
I set up the stove and put the water on to boil.
“You were gone earlier,” she said quietly. I guess she had peeked out in the day.
“I took a walk down to the lake, I didn't leave the tent set up because I didn't want to attract too much attention,” I replied.
This seemed to satisfy her. I made the tea and handed her a mug. She backed up slightly, as if ready to bolt when I approached with the mug, but relaxed when I went back to my tree stump.
We sipped our tea and shot looks at each other for a bit, then, when she was done, she turned and said, “I'm off hunting.”
As she turned to go I called out, “Would you like to share food again? I have sausage casserole tonight.”
She looked back for a second and nodded. I thought I saw a slight smile on her lips, but she had vanished off into the undergrowth before I could really tell. It was the first time she had even remotely smiled in the short time I had known her.
I waited for her to return before starting on the food. As I waited I heard people again, I hid and watched as Bob and cohorts Henry and his as yet unidentified friend, headed back the way they came.
“Well it's set, come the morning we'll see if it's caught anything,” said Bob.
Henry snorted, “If anyone happens to wander into that thing, you better hope no one traces it back to you!”
“There be no one in these woods at this time but that beast!” Bob replied.
“Hmm you better be right, cos if they come looking for you we ain't taking the rap for this,” the other man said.
“Yeah,” said Henry uncomfortably, “I'm with you on that one, Gavin. I ain't going to jail cos some little kid or halfwit hiker looses a limb or some such.”
“No need to get snippy. Now let's head back and have something to eat,” Old Bob chortled. I wondered what they had done and why the two men were worried about someone else finding it. I would have to keep an eye out. I didn't want to end up in some trap they had set.
When they had passed into the distance I went back to my tree stump to wait. It had been a while I wondered what was taking Jamie she was usually swift with these sorts of things, I guess either what ever she was hunting was proving elusive or she had hidden while the three men went past and it had slowed her down.
Suddenly there was a high pitched cry of pain from the forest. It sounded like Jamie!
I grabbed my torch and rushed in the direction of the noise careful to look where I was going in case I tripped and broke an ankle in my haste. I kept running into the forest looking around for her but couldn't see her anywhere.
I called out to her, “Jamie! Are you OK?”
I heard a whimpering sobbing noise and headed towards it, I saw a dark shape in crouched over something.
“Jamie?” I said.
“AH!” she cried and her tail swung out in my direction.
“Whoa! Easy it's me,” I said softly shining the light on my face so she could see me, “What's happened?”
“It hurts!” she sobbed. Her hands were down by one of her legs.
“Easy there sweetheart, I'm going to take a look now.” I cooed gently trying to calm the obviously very scared girl.
I lowered the torch and took a look. she was caught in some horrific metal jawed man trap. it was the sort of thing that had been illegal for centuries. Its metal teeth had dug in around Jamie's knee where she had less protection. Although the armour on her leg had taken the brunt of the impact with no damage, some of the teeth had hit the gaps between her lower leg armour and her thigh armour that allowed her knee to bend. It was tearing into the flesh and causing a lot of bleeding.
“Oh that looks nasty. Try to stay calm. We'll get you out of this,” I said and examined the mechanism to see how to get her out. It looked like it just hinged back and locked into place but I guessed it would take a lot of force to do that. I really needed some sort of pry bar to open it.
“We need to get this open and I'm not sure I can do it on my own I need you to help me. Do you think you can do that?” I asked gently.
She nodded, tears streaming down her face, I felt rage stirring in my heart at the sort of person that would leave something like this lying about for anyone to step into. I hated to think what might have happened if someone without armour on their legs had stepped on this. I reached down and gripped the jaws.
“Ready? On three we push together. The moment your leg is free, pull it out. OK, one ... two ... three,” I said and we heaved against the spring.
Jamie was a lot stronger than she looked, but her awkward position meant she couldn't really get a lot of leverage. Even so, we managed to open the jaws and she pulled her leg free. I used all my body weight to push the jaws back till they locked.
Now she was free, Jamie threw herself against me in a vicious hug, nearly knocking me over, bawling her eyes out like a hurt child. I held her and gently stroked her hair and said calming things. It was very strange being this close. Her body was mostly hard and smooth due to the armour but she was warm, and her body very shapely and athletic. The few bits of her that were not wrapped in armour, the small patch of soft skin around her mouth, the soft slightly tangled blond hair sticking out of her head, were in stark contrast to the rest of her. It was a bit like being hugged by a stone statue of a near naked attractive girl that was at body temperature. I shone the light on her damaged leg and watched amazed as the exposed torn bloody flesh swiftly stopped bleeding, then healed, over, and within seconds any sign of injury was gone.
She stopped crying and looked confused wiping the tears from her eyes. She let me go, sat down, and rubbed her leg, “It doesn't hurt now!” she said.
I wondered if this was the first time she had realised she could heal rapidly, her armour usually deflecting any damage she might otherwise receive. As we both sat there marvelling over her regenerative capabilities the trap's lock gave way again. It was old, rusty, and I guess not in very good condition. I rather foolishly reached to stop it, the jaws snapped shut on two of my fingers the force crushing through them so they were severed above the bottom joint.
I sat there staring at my missing fingers for a bit in a state of shock, it was one of those delayed action things where I didn't feel pain for a short while. Eventually my body caught up and I was in quite a lot of pain. I gritted my teeth and let out a grunt of agony.
Jamie looked at me in a strange thoughtful way then hunched down and grabbed the severed ends of my mangled fingers and firmly took my bleeding hand in hers. She pressed one of the mangled fingers onto the corresponding stump and then gripped it staring at my hand with a look of intense concentration.
“Make the wrong right, like before!” she said quietly to herself
I felt the same skin crawling feeling I had when she fixed my legs the mangled flesh of the end of my severed finger felt like it was twisting stretching. I suddenly felt a searing pain in my finger as if it was part of me again, but being crushed in a vice. This continued with the weird twisting pulling sensations and agonising pain for what seemed like an age. Eventually the pain faded and Jamie opened her hand to reveal a blood covered but reattached finger with no sign that it had ever been damaged.
“Now for the next one,” Jamie said with a slight smile as if pleased with herself.
I braced myself as I went through the agony of feeling my other finger being reattached it was weird, like it being chopped off slowly in reverse. At the end of it I was exhausted I lay on the ground recovering. Jamie might be good at putting people back together, but by goodness, she needed to work on her pain management skills.
“Thank you,” I said weakly as I lay there clutching my still throbbing repaired hand.
She turned and glared at the now closed man trap her pincers deployed and she grabbed the thing and with seemingly little effort smashed it to bits leaving the pile of broken parts and twisted metal for Bob and his gang to find. I wondered what they would make of the mangled pile of bloodstained bits.
Jamie reached over to the bushes and retrieved some rabbits she had caught. then began heading back to the cave. I staggered to my feet and hurried after her. She glanced back briefly to see that I was following then picked up the pace. I struggled to keep up with her but eventually made it back to the cave just as she dived in to deal with the rabbits. I left her to that and started preparing my part of the meal. Her sudden shift from crying scared girl that needed to be held to her usual skittish distant persona surprised me a bit, but I hoped this rather painful event for both of us, had formed some trust between us.
Soon the air was filled with the smell of cooking rabbits and casserole. I set up the stool for Jamie, and when she emerged with her cooked rabbits she sat in it nervously. She seemed slightly less skittish around me, as she barely flinched as I held out my hand to take her plate, I guess my helping her out of the man trap had made her trust me a bit. though I wasn't sure she had really needed my help judging by the way she tore it apart afterwards. I guess she had been more shocked by the pain than anything else.
After we had eaten, I tried to engage her in conversation again with limited success.
“I can't believe some would leave that hideous thing just lying around,” I said.
“I mean, the way it damaged your leg and my hand, what if a kid had stepped into it! It doesn't bear thinking about,” I said shuddering.
“I've never seen one before. Who do you think put it there,” Jamie’s voice was edged with anger.
“Maybe those men. I think they might be looking for you. I overheard one in the pub in the village talking about seeing a shape that sounded like it might be you,” I replied.
At the mention of the village, Jamie pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms round her trying to make herself look small.
“Are you OK?” I asked. When she turned her head and looked away, I changed the subject, “So what did you think of the casserole?”
She looked back at me again, “Nice,” she rested her head in her hands as she looked at me.
“I'm glad you liked it,” I said with a smile and sat back enjoying the evening. “Your rabbit was nice, too, very tender.”
“It's the poison, it dissolves the flesh,” she said. I looked at her in horror and after a moment she giggled, “It's not that sort of poison, at least I don't think so. Besides I used my other non toxic venom just in case you aren't immune, and it doesn't get cooked up.”
“You have non toxic venom?” I asked.
“Yeah, one temporarily paralyses most things, even people,” she said, looking away.
I filed this information away, wondering how she knew that it would paralyse a person.
We sat together for a bit enjoying the evening, but eventually she got bored or nervous at staying out like this and dived back into the cave. I went into the tent and turned in for the night, wanting to be up early, so I would need my rest. I had bad dreams of losing my hand, though this time it was to Jamie. She paralysed me with her sting then snipped off my fingers one by one with her pincers, then a bit like Prometheus with the liver, she reattached them and started all over again. I awoke in a cold sweat, still feeling a tingling in my fingers, I had to look to make sure they were still attached.
I got up remembering my task, packed up my camp and hid my backpack near the cave. I then went over to where the trap was and hiding myself nearby, watching to see who would come to retrieve it. Sure enough some time later Bob and his two friends returned.
“WHAT!” screamed bob on seeing the trashed trap.
“Hmm looks pretty buggered,” mused one of the men.
“That monster! This has been in my family for years, and the beast just destroyed it!” whined Bob.
“How do you know it was the beast,” said the first man.
“Well, what ever it was it bleeds,” said the second man holding one of the parts of the ruined trap, “Come on let's get this lot out of here, it'll do us no good for someone to find the parts.”
“But my beautiful trap, it was an antique!” moaned Bob.
“Cheer up, this goes a way to proving your story. No mere man could do this,” said the second man with a nasty smile.
I wished we had just left the trap seemingly untouched. It might have discouraged the men. As it was, they were more determined to catch Jamie, and now they had some idea of her capabilities. I watched the men leave, hoping that they would give up, but knowing that was unlikely. This sort of obsession was only likely to escalate.
Still, there was not much that could be done about it now. I set about my morning routine of having a walk and filling up my water supplies. By midday I was relaxing by the shores of the lake reading my book, munching on a snack bar for lunch. Sometime later some walkers emerged from the woods and began walking along the shore in my general direction. As they got closer, I resolved them into a man and a woman both middle aged, decked out in standard walking gear. The most startling feature of them was that the woman had bright blue hair. Other than that, they looked pretty normal.
They made their way over to where I was sitting, “Hello there,” said the man.
“Hi.” I smiled as I put my book down.
“Mind if we sit here for a spell?” he asked.
“Not at all.”
The perched themselves on two of the rocks and dropped their backpacks to the ground. Taking out their water bottles, they had a drink.
The man turned to regard me with a smile, “Not often we see people out this far without any equipment. You wouldn't be camping out here would you?”
“No,” I replied a touch defensively.
“Not to worry. If you are we won't report you,” the man said with a grin.
“You'd best be worried about the beast though!” said the woman with a mischievous grin.
“The beast?” I asked.
“Oh now Andrea, no need to go on about that silly tale again,” said the man with a chuckle. He turned to me and added, “She does this to everyone we meet.”
“But Norman, what if he encounters it and isn't prepared? No one would ever see him again!” Andrea made a theatrical gesture at me.
Norman snorted and rolled his eyes as if he had heard this many times, but still smiled good naturedly.
“So what is this terrible beast I must beware of?” I asked amused by these two random strangers.
“Well, a few years back there was a spate of sightings of this dark figure in the woods. No one ever got a good look at it. There were the usual blurry photos, and shaky video. A lot of the reports differed. Some said it seemed to have a large tail, while others said it was furry. Some said it walked like a man, but others said it went along the ground on all fours. The only thing they agreed on was it was black and vaguely humanoid in shape. It was all the rage back then. The locals thought they could cash in with the rumours, make this place the new Loch Ness. They had plans for a visitor centre and some sort of pseudo research post, but the story fell from fashion. Plus, a couple of the locals were caught scamming people when they offered a tour to see the beast's favourite spots. Almost every time they went out, people saw a black man-like figure running through the forest in the distance. A couple of the amateur crypto-zoologists proclaimed it a European Big Foot or some such, even showed their shaky videoed footage all over the net. A couple of the larger news outfits picked it up on what must have been a slow news day.
Turned out it was one of the villagers wearing a gorilla costume running through the forest to trick the tourists. There was much fuss about how it was all a con. The investigators got annoyed and left, the tourist money vanished, and eventually after the fuss had calmed down the place went back to being just a nice scenic place to visit. You still get the odd person claiming a sighting though,” she said.
“Well I'll certainly watch out for the man in the gorilla suit,” I said with a grin. If this was a few years back and it was caused by Jamie, which sounded likely, I wondered how long she had been staying out here.
“Well now that you've primed yet another person with that silly story, we should be moving on,” said Norman, “Nice to meet you.”
“And you,” I replied.
The grabbed their stuff and set off again into the forest, giving me a wave just when they moved into the forest proper. I was always amazed at the attitude of people who did these sorts of pastimes. Often it was as if we were all members of some big club that meant we had to stop say hello and share a joke or two before going our separate ways, never to see each other again. You never got that in the city. You could sit next to the same person in the park at lunch for years and never say anything if you were not a particularly talkative person. I guess this sort of camaraderie was part of why coming out into the country so appealed. I went back to reading my book and then when the light started to go, made my way over to the cave to set myself up for the evening meal.
I set up the camp putting Jamie's chair up and then boiled some water for tea. A short while later I heard her emerge from her cave and move towards my camp. This time she moved straight to the seat I had set up for her after only a little hesitation.
When I offered tea, she quickly accepted, and soon we were sitting there sipping from our mugs.
I looked over to Jamie and decided to tell her what I had discovered this morning, “It was those men I told you about that set that trap,” I said.
She looked back at me saying nothing but her jaw was set and her eyes angry.
“I saw them come back to collect the thing this morning. It sounds like they may try something else, bigger, they are intent on catching you,” I said then added quietly, “Be extra careful out there.”
She looked uncomfortable for a bit but then nodded slightly before returning her attentions to her tea. I decided to turn the conversation in a more pleasant direction.
“So what would you like for dinner tonight? I have Thai green curry with rice, chicken in white sauce with green beans, duck in orange sauce with lentils, and ... spaghetti hoops,” I said ending with slight shrug at the least exciting of my dinners.
Strangely at the mention of spaghetti hoops Jamie's eyes lit up and a big smile appeared on her face.
“Hoops, Hoops!” she said practically jumping up and down.
“Big fan of spaghetti hoops then?” I asked quizzically, it seemed my least exciting meal was the most exciting to her. The transformation from her usual shy quiet scared persona, to her current excited grinning one was amusing. Her enthusiasm for something so mundane was endearing. If I'd known she liked them this much I would have gone with a back pack full of spaghetti hoops and saved myself both money and time.
“My sister and I always got them as a treat when we were good. Our parents made lots of healthy food for us most of the time, so something like that was normally off the menu, but Mum used to give us spaghetti hoops on toast when we had been very good or as a special treat.” She grinned after delivering the longest speech I had heard from her.
“Well I don't have any bread for toast, but hoops I can do,” I said examining the tin for cooking instructions.
“I'll get some fish to have with it and berries for desert.” Jamie excitedly leapt up and was off before I could say another word.
It was odd that something so everyday could make Jamie open up so suddenly. I guess it was a link to her past with happy memories of cheap and cheerful food given as a treat on special occasions. The spaghetti hoops would not take all that long to cook. It was essentially just warming them up, so I waited for Jamie to return so as not to have them burn away to nothing.
Soon she was back with her contribution and was cooking that in her cave while I watched over the bubbling pot of spaghetti hoops. She returned with a plate with two steaming fish and a bowl full of berries and sat in her chair waiting. In her excitement, she even pulled it closer to watch the food cooking, so she was much nearer to me than she would normally tolerate.
I dished up the food and handed Jamie her plate and spoon. Much to my amusement, she spent nearly a full minute staring reverently at the hoops in their gooey tomato sauce on one side of the plate before finally tucking in. She seemed to be savouring each spoonful as if it were the finest food imaginable, which made me chuckle a few times. She looked over at me and smiled a little sheepishly, as if she was aware how ridiculous this was but carried on regardless. She once again scrapped out the pan, taking every last morsel. For my own part, I found it nice enough, but I didn't garner as much pleasure from such simple treats as Jamie did.
This love of such a simple thing was very endearing. It was the first glimpse of her likes and dislikes I had really seen, and it made me smile. It started off a good evening Jamie was riding the spaghetti hoops high and was far more talkative.
“So if you could eat spaghetti hoops on toast every day, would you?” I asked.
She thought for a bit, “No I think that would spoil it after a while. Part of the fun is the novelty. If they were all I had for a while, I think I would soon tire of them.” she replied.
“So variety is the spice of life.”
“Yes and they were always only on special occasions, so seemed more special as a result.”
“I guess I can understand that,” I said with a smile, “I know what to get you for Christmas then, a tin of spaghetti hoops.”
She grinned sheepishly.
“My Granddad on my Dad's side is the same. On his birthday he almost always has corn beef and tattie pie. Drives my Grandma mad. It's something that he could have any day of the week, and for his birthday he could go out for a nice meal, or have some thing special, but no, he knows what he wants.” She grinned, “I've never had corn beef and tattie pie.”
“Well you've never lived,” I exclaimed theatrically, “My grandma taught me the secret family recipe. It's fairly easy to make. If I had the ingredients, I'd give it a bash for you. Not sure how well it would work over a fire, though. It's usually an oven type of thing.”
“I read you can make an oven by digging a pit and lighting a fire in it and heating stones then putting food in and sealing it, but I've never tried it.”
“Sort of earth oven type of thing?”
Jamie shrugged, by way of reply. I vaguely remembered something similar from my history or science lessons or maybe a TV documentary.
I decided while I had her in a talkative mood to try getting the story of why she was living in a cave out of her.
“So why do you live out here? What happened to you?”
Her demeanour changed like a shot. From happy and open, she suddenly went back to cold and distant. She turned away and didn't say a word. I cursed myself for asking, it was obviously too soon, despite our current good progress.
“If you don't want to talk about it that's fine. I won't push you,” I said gently.
She looked back at me with a sad look in her eyes then turned and raced off into the bushes. I wanted to go after her, but I knew there was no way I'd find her in the dark unless she wanted to be found. I tidied up and waited to see if she would return, but even much later she hadn't come back. I turned in for the night, cursing the sudden slip backwards.
The next day she wouldn't join me for dinner, she raced off into the forest to hunt without a word and dived straight back into her cave when she returned. At points during the evening I could feel her watching me and hear her moving around the camp, but she wouldn't come out of the bushes even when I offered her incentives. It took several days to get her to the point where she would sit in the camp area and share food with me again, and several more till she would sit in the stool. She was much more closed up now and barely said anything, communicating in nods and head shakes.
I calmly tried to get her to open up again but it took an outside influence to shift her from this impasse.
It was maybe a week after the spaghetti hoops night when I heard Jamie go off into the forest to hunt as usual. Some time later I heard a commotion deeper into the forest, so I went to investigate. I came across a clearing near where Jamie had hunted rabbits. Jamie was snared in some sort of trap that had grabbed her legs somehow, and was keeping her tied down while three men, Bob and his associates Gavin and Henry, circled her with poles tipped with spikes.
“What the hell is it!?” exclaimed Henry.
“It's the beast! We've caught it, I told you the rabbits were one of its food sources!” exclaimed Old Bob.
“Yeah, but what is it?” Henry asked again.
They had very little light. They had obviously lain in wait nearby, then had rushed over as soon as their trap went off. They had only small head mounted torches to illuminate things, and in that light, with Jamie scrambling around on the ground trying to free herself, a mass of dark reflective armour and shadows, it was hard to see what her shape was.
“Hit it with the stun gun,” said Gavin.
The first man pulled out a battered looking gun thing and pointed it at Jamie. There was a strange futt noise and two tiny darts shot out of it and hit Jamie, bouncing off her armour with no effect. I realised this was one of the old stun guns that used darts with wires to conduct a shock, it was a really ancient version of the technology.
“Damn it didn't work,” said Henry dejectedly.
“I told you that piece of junk was worthless!” shouted Gavin.
“My brother guaranteed me it would work!”
“Shut up and give it here. Maybe you used it wrong,”
Henry tucked the gun in a little bag and threw it to Gavin, who caught it, rummaged in the bag fiddling with the gun and aimed it at Jamie again. The same result happened. the darts could not penetrate her armour, Gavin screamed with rage and tossed the gun and bag behind him in disgust.
“No! I need to give that back,” screamed Henry.
“Never mind that now. We can get it later. First we have to catch our prize. It's almost loose!” cried Gavin. Jamie had been pulling on whatever snare they had caught her in, and her frantic movements were slowly pulling the thing apart. She nearly had one of her feet loose.
I saw Gavin reached into a back pack and pulled out some sort of net. It looked like one of those new nano-tube based nets that were incredibly strong and light, and nigh on impossible to get out of once caught in them. They were mostly banned, since if they were left lying about they didn't degrade, and they were a real hazard to ducks, geese, and swans who would get caught in them and die. They were also a hazard to boats, since if you got one wrapped around a propeller it could be very damaging and almost impossible to remove. There had even been complaints about their commercial use, since they damaged marine life.
He threw it over the struggling Jamie just as she got free. She struggled with the net, which only wrapped it tighter round her, the three men poked at her with the poles causing her to stagger around, wrapping the net more tightly around her body and she tried to fend off their attacks.
“Wiley little beast,” said Gavin with a nasty grin shoving his sharp pike into Jamie's legs knocking her down again.
Jamie's movement were getting more and more panicked, As the net encased her in tangles, she was unable to get up off the ground. Eventually she was flopping about weakly, her body encased in the net trying to escape.
“There, nicely wrapped. Now we just need to take it and put it in a cage,” cackled Bob with a lopsided grin.
I had to do something, but there were three of them and only one of me. I reckoned if I could take out one of the bigger blokes in a surprise attack, I would have a chance with the other two. Old Bob looked like he wouldn't put up much of a fight. While the three of them regarded the packaged Jamie, I moved closer reaching around as I went trying to find a stick or stone to use as a weapon. Then I felt something odd in front of me, it was the bag for the stun gun!
I grabbed it and made a quick survey of its contents. Luckily the gun was still in the bag as well as two of the cartridges it seemed to use for ammunition. I slipped a fresh cartridge in and then, sneaking forward through the bushes took careful aim at Gavin. I had no idea of the things effective range or whether it would actually work.
I squeezed the trigger and the darts hit Gavin dead on, latching on and discharging. He let out a yelp and shuddered for a few seconds before falling limply to the ground.
“Gavin! What happened, are you all right?” shouted Henry forgetting Jamie and running over to his friend.
“Something ... ah ... hit me from behind then ... terrible pain!” panted Gavin from the floor.
I swiftly reloaded the thing with the last remaining cartridge, Henry and Old Bob were looking around the bushes, trying to see where the attack had come from. Gavin was still lying on the ground, panting, but recovering quickly I would need to press my advantage while I still had it. I took aim at Henry who was on my far left and shot him. He let out a girlish scream and collapsed to the ground, shaking. Old Bob let out an even louder scream, and obviously believing he was next on the list of attacks, pelted off into the woods in the opposite direction. I dropped the stun gun and raced out of the bushes, Gavin was just starting to stand up so I shouldered him down again and ran over to Jamie. She was completely immobilised, so I grabbed her as best I could, heaved her up onto my shoulder, grunting at the effort and ran off into the forest away from the clearing. She was very heavy, but I fought back the pain to run all the way back to her cave. I dragged her into the cave and heaved her up onto her bed.
“Be back soon. I need to get my tools to free you, try to stay calm,” I said, her panicking eyes stared out of the mesh of the net at me.
I raced back out and packed up my camp. As soon as they recovered, I suspected the three men would come looking for their assailant who had made off with their prize, and I didn't want them to find my camp, and as a result, Jamie. I hastily put all my stuff in my backpack and tidied the area to obscure any signs of activity, then dragged my stuff into Jamie's Cave. I noticed the stone that obscured the entrance could be pulled in to seal it so I did that not wanting anyone to find us.
I rummaged in my pack for my tool kit, knowing I had in it some cutters designed to cut this sort of thing. This stuff was so unbelievably strong it was a real pain to cut I had some similar stuff that I used as fishing line so I had a special hand tool designed to cut through it. I wasn't precisely sure how it worked, something to do with breaking down the nano-tubes.
I hurried over to Jamie who was sobbing and breathing very fast I stroked her head to calm her and said, “Don’t worry I'm going to cut you out of that thing, you need to keep still because this stuff is pretty nasty, and it tends to tighten and cut into you if you try to move, so keep calm and we'll have you out in a jiffy.”
I began cutting away at some of the fibres of the net, gradually pulling bits of it away and loosening its hold on Jamie. It was a laborious process, I put each section I cut away in a small pile where I could dispose of it properly later. Cut up like this it was even more dangerous, since things could ingest it where it could do a lot of damage.
After several hours of cutting I got one of Jamie's arms free, I gave her hand a squeeze and where possible, held her hand as I cut her loose. She was shaking slightly but doing a very good job of keeping still.
I carefully cut the strands entangling her face and gently peeled it back. In her struggles, the wire like mesh had cut into the soft parts of her face leaving bloody criss-crossing wounds. I gently teased the mesh off those areas and watched as her skin reformed once the sharp mesh was removed. I had some trouble remove the net from her hair, where it had become tangled with some of the strands. I had to give her a makeshift hair cut to get it loose. Soon she was free down one side and I gently rolled her over to free the rest of her.
After an age of snipping away she was completely uncovered and free. I piled up the last of the mesh on some papers so I could handle it then wrapped it up and sealed it in a old plastic box for proper disposal.
Jamie was lying on her bed shaking and crying.
“There, there,” I cooed softly, “It's all over now.”
She wailed and threw herself at me, I held her and stroked her head, trying to comfort the poor girl.
“I couldn't move. They caught me, then wrapped the net around me and I was so scared,” she wailed.
“Shh,” I said, “come on, why don't you have a little nap you must be tired.”
I laid her down in the bed and made to get up to leave her to rest, but she quite forcefully pulled me down.
“Please, I don't want to be alone. Just hold me. I don't want to have nightmares,” she said pleadingly.
I nodded and then lay there with her, she basically rested on top of me, clinging to me for dear life. Eventually she began to drift off to sleep. The frantic struggle, coupled with the hours tied up had taken it's toll on her. Just before she went to sleep she surprised me by lifting her head and kissing me on the cheek. She then snuggled against me and seemed to drift off to sleep, her body relaxing. I was completely pinned by her and couldn't get up without shifting her off me and given what she had been through I didn't want to wake her. I was also pretty tired. It was late, so I put my arm around Jamie and then drifted off myself, thinking about how nice her lips had felt when she kissed me.
I woke up with Jamie still snuggled up against me. For some reason it didn't seem as uncomfortable as before. Maybe it was because I was slowly realising I was becoming infatuated with this strange young woman. I hadn't even realised it, but I had gone from just being concerned for this person who had saved my life in the forest, to wanting to be with her even if it meant moving into this cave in the woods. It felt like a sudden shift, like suddenly all I could think about was her but I realised it had been a gradual thing, with her slowly moving from someone I wanted to rescue from the wilderness, to someone I was in love with.
I realised she was still something of a mystery to me and maybe not ready for that kind of relationship, or maybe even not capable of it. I resolved to put such romantic thoughts to the side, not an easy matter when she was pressed against me, but I tried. She needed my help first and foremost. At the end, if we came out of this as friends or something more, then we would see where it went.
I felt her stirring against me, she opened her eyes and looked deeply into mine and just smiled. She then stood up, gently slipping out of my grasp and went to the entrance of the cave.
I got up, following her out of the cave. It was night already I guess we had been more tired than I thought. Jamie stretched out and then lowered herself to the ground, sitting there for a bit with her belly close to the ground and a look of concentration on her face. After awhile she nodded to herself and stood up.
"What were you doing?" I asked Curious.
She looked at me for a bit then gestured to a tooth like strip on her torso, "This allows me to sense vibrations and also scents. The are called pectines. They are special to scorpions," she said. "I was just checking for people."
"OK. Assuming the coast is clear, would you like to take a walk down to the lake?" I asked.
She nodded hesitantly. "Great, I'll grab my water bottles and fill them up while we are there," I said.
I grabbed my stuff any then we strolled down to the lake. It almost felt like a first date, it was the first time we had been anywhere together like this. I tried my best not to stare at Jamie as she walked beside me the moonlight glinting off her armour. I felt my heart beat faster though and thought I saw a slight smile appear on her lips.
When we reached the lake, Jamie perched herself on a rock as I refilled my bottles. When I was finished, I walked over and sat down next to Jamie who was just watching the lake. She nervously shuffled closer to me and I reached out and very hesitantly put my arm around her, checking to make sure she didn't mind. We looked in each others eyes and then went back to watching the lake glitter in the star light, Jamie resting her head on my shoulder. I guess last night had changed things for both of us.
Jamie said very quietly sounding a little unsure of herself, “I like you, I don't want you to leave.”
“I like you too, Jamie,” I said giving her a squeeze which due to her armour was probably a futile gesture, “I'm not going anywhere.”
After a while we decided to go back and get some tea. Jamie very hesitantly took my hand and we walked back to the cave hand in hand. There, we sat in front of the fire waiting for the water to boil. I decided to try and get Jamie to open up some more if she was falling for me the way I was falling for her. I wanted to get to know her, and the only way I could do that is if I could get her to talk to me.
“Tell me about yourself,” I said. She backed away, frowning slightly. I reached down and held her hand stroking it's smooth surface. “If you don't want to tell me how you got here, that's fine, wait until you are ready for that, but I want to know more about you.”
She stared into the distance for a bit then said, “I don't like the colour pink or roller coasters.” She looked back at me questioningly I suspected that was the most I was going to get for now.
“But you like Pinky bear?” I asked pointing to the slightly bedraggled but still recognisably pink teddy bear she had.
“Well that's different, it's cos of how I got it.” She looked very sad, likely to burst into tears.
“I can't say I'm that fond of pink either. Though roller coasters are something I really like,” I replied, trying to keep her talking.
“I don't like the height, it scares me,” she said looking at her feet.
“It's all part of the fun, a little fright in an exciting ride.”
“But what if it breaks and you fall?”
“That sort of thing hardly ever happens. If it did, a park would never get customers. The whole thing is built around the illusion of danger. We could go on one together I'd hold your hand.”
She smiled a little embarrassed smile and then looked away.
I poured the tea and handed her a mug. “So you don't like pink and roller coasters, what do you like?” .
“Spaghetti hoops,” she said with a grin, “And ... you.”
I smiled back at her and we sipped our tea grinning at each other for a bit, then she prompted. “Your turn now.”
“My likes? well you naturally, other than that I like coming out to the countryside for my holidays. As for dislikes, not too fond of spinach, and spiders scare me. I know it's silly I'm a hundred times their size and here they are completely harmless but they still scare me,” I said.
Jamie made a sort of pout expression I suspect she was wrinkling her nose but her armour hid the gesture, “I don't like spiders either ... too crunchy and the legs get stuck in my teeth.” she said.
I stared at her for a bit not sure if she was serious and she burst into giggles, “You are a right little wind up merchant,” I said with a grin.
We drank our tea with Jamie still giggling away, I didn't mind her jokes at my expense so much it was just nice to hear her laugh. Later we went out to get some stuff for dinner/breakfast/lunch, I wasn't sure what time my body thought it was. We had some fish with some mushrooms and berries, which was nice. After we went for another walk together then retreated to the cave to play cards. Which Jamie was terrifyingly good at, I guessed her bio-elemental senses probably made her able to read all sorts of clues that mere mortals couldn't, if we had been playing for money she would have certainly won everything I owned plus probably me as a sort of slave.
Afterwards we chatted a little and then it began to get early or late I wasn't sure which and Jamie went quiet then looked at me nervously chewing her lip.
“Will you stay?” she asked “like last night?” She stared at me with eyes wide with the fear of rejection.
“Of course,” I replied. I made her turn her back as I put on my sleeping wear, not willing to spend another night sleeping in my clothes. Then we settled into her bed together, she again kissed me goodnight and snuggled up. I pulled the covers over us and then drifted off to sleep with her laying her head on my shoulder.
The next night it was a similar routine, with the two of us going on walks and talking to each other. We were becoming closer with each passing day. This burgeoning relationship distracted me from my goal of getting Jamie back to civilization.
Things had been going so well between us that I feared ruining things by asking her about her past to find out why she was hiding. Eventually I realised I couldn't put it off any longer, I had to find out the truth. I plucked up the courage to talk to her, cooking one of my few remaining tinned meals to hopefully put her in a good mood.
After we were done eating I looked her in the eye and asked, "Jamie, how did you end up out here?"
She stiffened, closing off instantly, I took her hand and stroked it gently.
"Nothing you say will change the way I feel about you. I just have to know what happened that made you hide away out here. I see you a beautiful, funny, intelligent young woman hiding away, just barely existing when you could be out living, and it makes me sad. You could have so much more," I said.
"But I'm a monster! No one would go near me," she said.
"I would and there are others, some MORFS like you, some not like me. You just need to give it a chance. I won't lie to you, it won't be easy, some people will never accept you, but you shouldn't forgo the chance to find friends and a life just because of a few idiots. So tell me, why are you hidden away here?"
She sighed and looked up at me, I almost broke at that she looked so sad and afraid, but I held on, gently stroking her hand to reassure her it would be all right. She took a deep breath and then started to talk.
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/