Wild Rain

By: Christine Feehan


The wind whipped the feathery canopy in all directions, showering Rachael with leaves and twigs and a multitude of flowers. In spite of the wind, the dense canopy helped to shield her from the rain, breaking up the solid wall of water so that it fell with a dull thudding rhythm. She hurried as fast as she dared, determined to put as much distance between the river and her destination. She was certain she could build or find one of the old native dwellings. A hut with three walls of leaves and bark and a sloping roof. She had studied the design and it seemed simple enough to follow.

In spite of continually shivering, Rachael moved with confidence and hope. For the first time in months the terrible weight pressing down on her shoulders lifted. She had a chance. A real chance at living. She might have to live alone, but she could choose how she would live.

Something crashed in the brush off to her left but she hardly glanced in that direction, trusting her warning system to alert her should there be a real threat. Water squished in her boots, but she didn’t dare take the time to change into dry clothes. It wouldn’t do any good; she had to cross several waist-deep streams, some with strong currents. She was forced to use creepers to drag herself up a steep slope to hold her course. Rachael Lospostos was gone forever, tragically drowned when she tried to take medical supplies to a remote village. In her place, a new, independent woman was born. Her hands ached from the many times she dragged herself up the steep rocks to push deeper into the forest.

Night began to fall. The interior was already dim and without the occasional ray of sunlight pushing through the clouds, the world around her changed radically. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck rose. She stopped walking and took time to look up into the network of branches running over her head. It was the first time she really looked at her surroundings.

The world was a lush riot of colors, every shade of green vying with vivid brilliant colors erupting up and down the trunks of trees. High overhead and on the forest floor, flowers, fauna and fungi vied for space in the secret, hidden world. Even in the rain, she could see evidence of wildlife, shadows flitting from branch to branch, lizards scrambling into foliage. Once she spotted an elusive orangutan high up in the trees, tucked in a nest of leaves. She stopped and stared at the creature, amazed at the wonder she felt.

Rachael found a very dim path, barely discernable in the wealth of thick vegetation covering the forest floor. She dropped down on one knee, peering intently at the trail. Humans had used the path, not just animals. It led away from the river, deeper into the interior. Exactly what she was looking for. Following the faint route slowed her down, but she stayed on it, her step lighter as she moved toward the heart of the forest.

Something in her was coming alive. She felt it moving inside of her. Awareness. Heat. Joy. A mixture of every emotion. Maybe it was the first time she felt she had a chance at life. Rachael didn’t know the reason. She was exhausted. Every muscle ached. She was tired and sore and soaked to the skin, but she felt happy. She should have been afraid, or at the very least, nervous, but she wanted to sing.

As darkness blanketed the forest, she should have been blind, but her eyes seemed to adjust quickly to a different kind of vision. She could make out things, not just the tall tree trunks with the multitude of fauna climbing up them, but tiny details. Frogs, lizards, even small cocoons. Her muscles hummed and vibrated in tune with nature around her. A fallen log was no obstacle but a chance to leap, feeling the steel in her muscles, an awareness of how smoothly they worked beneath her skin. She almost felt as if she could hear the very sap running in the trees.

The forest was alive with insects, great spiders and fireflies. Beetles busily moved along the earth and over trees and leaves. A world within a world, and all of it surprising, yet familiar. The rush of wings overhead was audible as night birds flitted from tree to tree and owls went on the hunt. A noisy chorus of frogs began, loud calls as males searched for females. She caught sight of a gliding snake, zigzagging from one branch to another.

Smiling, Rachael continued, knowing she was on the right path. Knowing she was finally home. Far off, she heard the sound of gunfire, muffled and faint, dimmed by the steady rhythm of the rain and the distance she was from the river. The sound seemed intrusive in her paradise. It brought with it a strange ominous warning. With each step her joy diminished and dread began to grow. She was no longer alone. She was being watched. Stalked. Hunted.

Rachael looked carefully around her, paying particular attention to the network of branches above her head, looking for shadows. Leopards were rare, even here in the rain forest. Surely, one hadn’t found her and padded silently after her. The idea was frightening. Leopards were deadly hunters, swift and merciless and able to bring down very large prey. Her skin prickled with unease and she used far more caution as she moved along the path toward whatever destination fate had decreed for her.

———

THE rain fell steadily, not a slow drizzle, but sheets of pounding rain so dense visibility was nearly nil. Thunder shook the trees, reverberating through the high canopy of the forest treetops, all the way down to deep canyons and gorges cut into the Earth by an overabundance of water. Lightning lit the forest floor, revealing huge ferns, dense foliage and a thick carpet of needles, leaves and countless decaying matter from hundreds of species of plants.