My skin prickles, my muscles twitch, my bones ache. Every breath I take brings the aroma of pine resin into my lungs, and risks numbing them with cold. The breeze ruffles my hair and rustles the leaves of the thicket about six meters to my left. I’m having trouble discerning details in the undulating mesh of bone-thick branches and knee-high undergrowth, but I distinguish the pale silver tresses of moss that hang from upcurved branches, and that the bark of a few slender trunks has been clawed to reveal the rose gold tree flesh beneath. What abominations of nature may be lurking past the treeline?
I will keep my feet firmly planted on the rounded pebbles that are pressing into the soles of my feet. I will become a human statue frozen in time. Remain still: that was the lesson I learned back as I child when I got lost while my parents and I were strolling around Hondarribia. A plush monkey, dressed in a candy-red T-shirt and slutty shorts, was huddled inside the rusted cage of a vending machine. I was transfixed by his slack-jawed smile and the gleaming sadness in his oil-black eyes as he peered out at me from his gloomy lair, but I also admired that beast for having endured the life-long duty of dropping plastic balls in exchange for money, a drudgery that turned his fur dull and patchy. When I attempted to point the monkey out to my parents, they had vanished into the crowd.
For hours or days I sobbed as I tottered aimlessly past towering strangers. None of the passersby recognized my plight; I was just another unwashed urchin whose rags reeked of urine and vomit. Not even a dog offered its tongue to lick my wounds. How did that nightmare end up resolving itself? Maybe I never found my parents. Maybe that damnable monkey was the ringleader of a gang of human traffickers, and I have spent my life ever since chained to a bed in a pitch black basement.
Why was I thinking about that time I got lost in Hondarribia? Wait, why the hell am I in a forest?! My breath is steaming, the soles of my feet are throbbing. My fingers are curled into white-knuckled fists. The ripples of the brook to my right distort the rounded stones and twigs that its waters churn over.
I rub my eyes as if I were trying to claw out some filth.
“This isn’t happening,” I mutter to myself.
Jacqueline hammered into my head that hallucinations don’t open doors, so instead I must be experiencing a bout of psychosis. I shut my eyes tight and I retread in my mind the steps that brought me here. I entered the bathroom to take a shower; I must have opened the door of the shower cabin and stepped inside. I turn on the water, and from the showerhead a jet of ink-black, searing-hot liquid rushes out with a foaming whoosh to soak my hair and stream off my face. The liquid flows down the curvature of my breasts, the contours of my buttocks, the crooks of my knees; it trickles into the pink crevasse between my legs. I scrub shampoo into my scalp, then I pour gel on a sponge and wash away the stench of sweat, fear and guilt clinging to my skin. My mouth is full of lather that tastes of exotic herbs and berries, of tropical fruits and sugary nectar. When I finish showering, I have become as clean as the surface of the moon.
A prickly sensation is flitting across my fingers and toes as a numbness seeps into my muscles. The shivers are creeping into my spine, making my teeth chatter. Soon enough my pale skin will turn a glistening dark blue.
Am I waiting for whoever abducted me to appear? What else could it be but an unholy abomination?
A panicked mass of survival instinct kicks in.
“Wh-why the hell did you teleport me to a random forest, you otherworldly shitstains?! I would prefer that you showed up as I took a piss!”
From deep within the thicket comes a rumbling growl. My body goes rigid, my heart starts thumping like a war drum. I keep my eyes focused on the greenery, refusing to give in to the desire to blink.
Some branches rustle and a twig crunches in the treeline. A flicker of motion catches my eye. Through some breeze-stirred leaves I discern that a child is peeking out from behind a tree trunk. She must be about ten years old. Her disheveled hair is chestnut brown and reaches the shoulders of a crude, ash-colored leather tunic. She’s wearing a tooth necklace, bracelets made of twisted animal hair, and thick boots with fur collars. Her peach-orange skin is stained with dirt, and her slanted, monolid eyes are staring at me in surprise, maybe because she has never seen anyone like me, or because I’m naked in a forest. Is she another spirit who will ask me to sacrifice my blood to make up for the blighted land?
My legs are trembling, my nipples are hard as stone. I’m not sure how long this stand-off lasts while the branches sway in the breeze, the brook burbles and the birds chirp.
“H-hello,” I say in the warmest voice I can muster, “do I have the pleasure of addressing someone with an incredible command of the Spanish language? You can also speak in English if you want.”
The child’s jaw drops slightly, but she remains silent as she looks me up and down with wide-eyed wonderment.
“D-do you understand that I’ve been dumped into the wilderness,” I insist, “that I’m unclothed and freezing my tits off, that I’m mentally unbalanced, and that I’m in desperate need of help?”
From within the thicket comes a crackling noise as if sticks were snapping under the weight of a bear-sized creature. The child’s eyes dart between me and the thicket, then her lips move to say in a high-pitched voice a sentence that sounds like gibberish. She crouches and scuttles along the treeline until she hides behind a thicker tree trunk mottled with eggshell-white spots.
Dead leaves are crunching as they get crushed underfoot. I squint to peer through the web of greenery, and I discern that a looming shape is stirring the shadows and bending branches; some monster is lumbering towards us.
The cold has spread inward, and now it seems to radiate from my bones. My fingers and toes have gone numb, my thoughts are slowing down and my vision narrowing, but I control my ragged breathing. I beckoned this feral child over by shouting into the void, and if the monster that is about to emerge from the thicket devours her, I’ll endure the flashbacks for the rest of my possibly short life.
“H-hey, girl, over here,” I call her through my chattering teeth, and when we hold each other’s gaze, I gesture anxiously for her to approach me.
She hesitates; would I run towards a wild-eyed thirty-year-old woman who’s hanging out naked in the wilderness? The girl pushes herself off the tree she was hiding behind, then she scuttles on the pebbled riverbed over to me. A pungent odor wafts from her leather tunic, as if she had rolled around in grime and filth. She clutches my left hand. When I feel her warm, chapped palm, a dizzy spell threatens to overwhelm me. I have been snatched from Jacqueline’s apartment and dropped into a remote forest. What otherworldly horror will I encounter now?
The undergrowth behind the treeline shudders and jerks, a branch snaps, and from between two trees emerges a hulking, woody-brown quadruped. As its beefy right foreleg flattens a fern, beneath the shaggy fur, which is caked with mud, the muscles along its leg tremble, and the subcutaneous fat shakes up to the beast’s rounded back. Under its furry hands, the pebbles of the riverbed grind and clack together. I discern that the beast’s curved claws are the size of hacksaw blades; they could peel open my ribcage like pulling back the lid of a can of sardines.
As it heads to the rippling waters of the brook, the beast swings its elongated head towards us. The coarse fur of its face is swan-white except for the smoky-black patches that surround the sunken eyes. Its nostrils flare as it sniffs our scent, then it snorts and blows like a bull. The beast stops beside the brook and dips its chin in the stream to drink.
My brain is wrapped in barbed wire. What is this jarring cackling that is punishing my eardrums? Oh, it’s bursting forth from my throat. But why am I laughing?
The beast raises its head and looks straight at me as water drips from its drenched chin, then it turns around to face us. The feral child squeezes my left hand; even through my shrieks of laughter I realize that she’s trying to communicate with me, but I can’t decipher her jabber. That monster’s claws are churning up the pebbles as it stomps towards us. I catch a whiff of its musk, that smells of earth, loam and moss.
My throat closes up; the surge of laughter pushes against it, then desists and dissipates. I need to gallop away, but I must remain rooted to this spot or I will be lost forever.
The beast’s honey-colored eyes are aglow with bloody malice. As it bellows a thunderous burp, a plume of white-hot steam spirals out and a spray of hot spittle splatters onto my face. The nearby birds have scattered away in a panic.
The girl is tugging on my arm, my knees are buckling. This noble monster is waiting for me to kneel in worship; I’m a bug crawling around its feet. I should try my best to seem cool and aloof, like a woman with regular sexual appetites instead of like an insane shut-in who has been abducted.
“G-greetings, brave soldier of the forest,” I say in a quavering, hysterical voice. “I-I salute your service in the field of battle and I promise that if I live through this experience, I-I will surrender the best cut of my meat to you.”
The beast pushes itself off the ground to rear up on its hind legs, then it throws its head back to tower even further over me; a fearsome god looming over my puny body. Its mouth yawns cavernously. The muscles in the monster’s girthy torso, which is matted with clots of mud and leaf litter, bulge under the shaggy fur like taut, industrial-sized leather belts.
At the final moment of my dismal existence, I have an intense craving to make love.
The girl yanks at my arm hard enough that I tumble backwards, but before I land on the pebbles, a crackle of energy fills me, and my back hits a flat surface. I got the wind knocked out of me. As I prop myself up and take a big gulp of air, I realize that I’m at room temperature and that I’m staring at a pastel grey ceiling that I recognize.
Someone kneels beside me. The smooth touch of silk caresses the skin of my shoulder, then the person seizes me, turns me around and buries my face in a pillowy pair of breasts.
“You’re back,” Jacqueline says in a strained voice racked with worry. When she wraps her warm arms around my trembling back, she recoils, then starts rubbing my skin vigorously. “Baby, you are freezing!”
I’m shaking from the cold and the adrenaline surge, but now that Jacqueline’s breasts have enveloped my face, I will heal quickly.
“D-don’t worry,” I mumble through her cleavage.
A childish utterance of confusion behind me causes Jacqueline to stiffen up.
“Leire,” she whispers, “who the hell is this girl?”
I unstick my mouth from the silky skin of her breast to glance over my shoulder. The feral child is sitting on her knees and squinting at the bright light in the hallway as she checks her surroundings with bewilderment.
From all the chapters that remained to write of this novel, this one I looked forward to the least; I suspect that I didn’t believe I could pull it off. But it came out good enough for me, so the ride should be smoother from now on.
That story about Leire getting lost in Hondarribia as a child because a monkey distracted her happened to me. They eventually found my bloated corpse washed up on a beach.
In case you missed it, I exploited the services of a neural network that runs on a supercomputer to generate images that depict moments of this scene. Here is the link.
I usually get 8-10 visits a day on my site. Less than 24 hours ago, someone from the US racked up about 170 hits. That person even went through entries of the fanfiction of ‘Re:Zero’ I wrote a couple of years ago. I never liked ‘Re:Zero’ that much; I preferred my darker, crazier spin on that story. I worked on it during a turning point in what passes for my career as a writer; I had ceased to read anything in Spanish, my own native language, and I didn’t want to write in Spanish anymore even though I had self-published two books in that language, but I felt like I could never become proficient enough at writing in English. Working through those sixty or so chapters of fanfiction changed my mind, and I had a blast throughout.
Anyway, thank you for checking out so many pages of my site, whoever you are. I hope you were entertained.