Deborah Jackson

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Furies Bog - Excerpt 2

Continuing from the first excerpt, in Chapter 1. See The Furies Bog - 1 to begin reading. I will be adding excerpts now that I am 2/3rds of the way through the initial revision. In order for you to get a clear sense of the story, I'm posting the first chapter in its entirety. It all begins with a mystery in the bog . . .

“There,” shouted Wilson, completely oblivious—or at least he seemed that way—to the buffeting wind and the looping path of the helicopter. A bare speck of white loped across the tundra, not nearly as intimidating from this height.

The helicopter swung around and angled downward. The speck grew substantially, like a snowball accumulating mass as it hurtled down a slope. Longer, wider, heftier. Gorilla-size and bigger, but without the gorilla’s shy aspect. It looked up, watched the copter’s approach with borderline disdain, a curl to its lips that exposed teeth. DeLuca hovered above, but tilted to the left, to the Baruti Mbeki side, of course, and Wilson leaned over and shoved open the door.

Wind thrust through the opening—biting, snarling wind that threatened to flash-freeze Baruti’s eyeballs—while DeLuca tipped the copter toward the bear.

“Are you trying to send me into the beast’s jaws?” asked Baruti. Cowardly statement, he knew, but surely the pilot could hold the craft level.

“The closer, the better shot,” said Tony. “You’re strapped in, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he replied, eying the thin strip of dubious threads that held him above the now growling specimen merely a few feet below.

Wilson fumbled with the tranquilizer gun, trying to aim at the creature’s back in the jittering vehicle with the gun slung across Baruti’s legs.

“Hold still,” he muttered. “I’ve almost got him.” 

Hold still? 

DeLuca tipped; Baruti slid; Wilson fired.

The bear growled, groaned, and then collapsed. His long glistening snout of sleek cream-colored fur tipped with a black knob of a nose crashed to the arctic tundra. His massive girth, weighing likely 1000 pounds—beginning to thin through the summer but still notably rotund—sprayed jets of water from the spongy earth. His monstrous paws with equally monstrous claws fell limply to the side.

Wilson retracted the gun and slapped Baruti on the back. “Now we just have to tag him, my friend. The bears are adapting to global warming, their numbers growing steadily, according to the Inuit. We just need to substantiate their claim. Amazing how animals adapt.”

“Does that mean I will adjust to this cold?” he shivered out.

“Only if you accumulate more blubber,” said Tony, jiggling his broad cheeks and smacking a hand on the inner tube that encircled his belly as he gently set the copter on the ground. The ground slurped greedily at the skids, insisting it settle a foot deeper than the ground appeared to be.

“Is this location stable enough?” asked Baruti, picturing the bog gobbling up the helicopter just like Skywalker’s unfortunate fighter in the classic film, The Empire Strikes Back.

“As stable as it’s going to get here,” said DeLuca. “This is a shelf—a raised gravel beach that provides a path through the bog. It’s narrow, but I can see its outline delineated by the scrub of black spruce. It’s solid enough, or we’d be sinking right now. But be careful of the surrounding mire. A few shelves, many sinks.”

“Well, tranquilizer’s awastin’,” said Wilson. “Let’s measure, tag, and skedaddle before the brute wakes up.”

He kept a firm grasp on his tranquilizer gun as he gingerly stepped from the copter. DeLuca snatched a revolver from his backpack and hopped out the other side. He took two steps, rotated on his heel, and beckoned Baruti with a slight jerk of his head.

Time to get leswe. 

Baruti fumbled with the buckle, overly long, perhaps, which drew a hooked eyebrow from Wilson. Undone, feet first, he swung toward the gaping exit, the cold drilling into his exposed face, threatening to expose even more of his inadequacy to the task at hand, or the greater task.

“Wait,” Wilson warned before he could jump down. “Watch where you walk. There are certain pathways through the bog with thick enough moss to support your weight. The rest is, well, bog. Follow my footsteps.”

Baruti nodded, jumped from the craft—an inch to the right of where the Canadian biologist had landed—and sank, deeply and firmly, into the mud.

“Are you serious?” he asked no one in particular, since Wilson was already trotting down the path and DeLuca was circling the copter several feet away. When Wilson had said “Follow my footsteps,” Baruti had assumed this meant “basically,” as in “as close as possible,” not “in the very cradle of each print” as if they were entering a minefield.

Luckily, the skids of the copter were still within reach. Baruti clutched the metal appendage and yanked himself loose.

“Hurry,” yelled Wilson from beside the mound of polar bear. “If you want to lay a hand on the gorgeous creature before he bites your hand off.”

“Fell in the mud,” Baruti tried to explain, then thought better of it, since it would make him look even more incompetent, and strode forward on the definitive path of footprints, not deviating a fraction.

The sun shot pale beams through the clouds, tracing the outline of the stout geologist and the tall biologist as mere hills beside what could only be described as the Everest of bears. Baruti trudged toward them as they threw their measuring tapes around his girth, tackled his massive paws to get a scraping from his claws, and Wilson drew blood in ample vials.

“Here. Tag his ear,” said Wilson, tossing the glue-on satellite tag over to him.

Baruti spent an extra minute admiring, one more stroking the pearl-white fur as the bear lazily drew breath, then another minute to set the tag and tack it to the beast’s fuzzy ear.

“Magnificent, isn’t he?” said Wilson, no longer scornful or teasing. Baruti gazed over the expanding and retracting rib cage to meet the biologist’s eyes. The man’s mossy irises had taken on a gleam, a sparkle that only a biologist could summon as he gazed at the king of species.

“I would not like to encounter his teeth or his claws on any occasion when he wasn’t dosed with adequate tranquilizer but, yes, what a remarkable creature. The lion is also remarkable, and one to be wary of, but certainly not capable of thriving in this climate.”

Wilson met his eyes. “I once had occasion to visit your wealthy domain of diverse species, my friend, before the widespread extinction event. I prefer my field of study, but I certainly appreciate yours.”

A strange yearning crept into the biologist’s eyes that Baruti couldn’t fathom. Or perhaps he understood it all too well.

A soft moan trickled from the bear’s mouth, enough to give Baruti a start, especially leaning against his foreleg next to the massive snout.

“Tranq’s wearing off,” said Wilson, snapping out of his own spell.

“Just a few more things . . .” He rustled out tweezers and a swab from his sample case, plucked assorted hairs from the bear’s chest, then forced open his lax jaw and stroked the interior of his cheek with the swab. He collected these samples in standard specimen jars and tucked them securely in a sealed plastic bag.

“Do you suspect him of a crime?” Baruti remarked.

“Only the crime of not surviving into the next century. I know the species is rebounding, but it’s still endangered, and it wouldn’t take much to tip it near the brink again. I’d like to keep DNA on file, in case we need to reconstruct.”

“Fair enough,” he replied. “Although cloning the species won’t restore its habitat.”

Wilson’s gaze clashed with Baruti’s again, maintaining eye contact for an uncomfortably long time; too long considering the bear was snorting in air, reviving.

“Too true,” he finally muttered. “Well, I think that about covers it, anyway. Give him a kiss and we’re out of here.”

Baruti frowned.

“Kidding,” Wilson clarified.

Would he ever adapt to this man’s bizarre sense of humor?

“A hug will suffice.”

That said, he wrapped his rather lengthy arms around a quarter of the bear’s belly and squeezed it tenderly.

“I think I’ll skip the hug,” said DeLuca, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and striding toward the path. Wilson shrugged and motioned for Baruti to walk in front of him, since he’d probably noticed Baruti’s embarrassing exit from the aircraft.


“Keep in DeLuca’s tracks. I know.”

The plush carpet of lichen and moss squelched beneath his boots as he tramped behind the geologist, rapidly catching up to him and hugging his shadow, each footstep conforming to the leading man’s print. He felt immeasurable sadness and immeasurable relief to be leaving the bear behind. He appreciated close encounters with such magnificent creatures, but he also respected their instinctual and sometimes unpredictable nature, and bore the scars of too cavalier an attitude toward leopards, hippos, and even an annoyed ostrich. Lions, not so much. Lions respected him.

The bear grunted and sputtered, gradually regaining consciousness. Perhaps DeLuca should pick up the pace. Wilson, the seemingly calm, collected bear specialist was spurring Baruti on by occasionally clipping his heels.

Another snort and a canyon-deep growl sprang from the bench of moss and gravel where the bear lay slumped. Wilson rotated on his heel, spurring Baruti and DeLuca to turn in unison. The bear was no longer stretched across the tundra completely doped, but was half-sprawled, half-struggling-to-get-up, aiming his bobbing, disoriented head in their direction.

DeLuca pivoted back toward the helicopter and proceeded to hop/sprint down the spongy path. Baruti followed in his tracks, or close to his tracks, but his tracks were becoming increasingly haphazard. Then his tracks ended as he sank into a deep morass. Baruti skidded to a stop, but not quick enough. His feet slipped over the edge of the flimsy moss path and into the swamp and thick mud that surrounded it.

“No,” he yelped as he struggled and sank. He clawed at the moss, a thick overlay that might have offered a lifeline, but the spongy quilt tore and fragmented in his hands. He sank through a cushion of peat until his boots crunched on something solid. The bottom of the quagmire had an odd brittle quality. It felt as if his boot were clutched in an actual claw.

“Give me your hand,” said Wilson, extending his arm, a look of urgency in his eyes. “It’s not very deep, just disgusting and muddy. But our friend is definitely awake and we need to haul ass.”

Baruti reached for and clutched Wilson’s hand, and pulled with equal urgency, but his feet were still clamped in the jaws of some persistent swamp beast.

“I’m caught in something at the bottom,” he tried to explain, as his wrenching, tugging effort merely moved him a fraction. Wilson dug his boots into the gravel, only venturing as near to the fragile boundary as he dared, and gave a ferocious yank. Baruti pulled free, or the snag pulled with him, and he tumbled onto the shelf.

“Oh crap!” said Wilson, blinking at Baruti’s feet.

Baruti twisted around and found the most odd attachment to his boots. A horribly crumpled, mangled, human-shaped mud-creature. He’d broken through what was apparently the rib cage. He could distinguish no features in the misshapen face, but reddish mud-caked hair was clinging to a typical human skull. Obviously not the remains of a polar bear.

“Oh,” said DeLuca, from his slogging approach in the bog. “That’s interesting.”

He advanced toward the path, but stumbled before he reached it. Fishing in the molasses-like water, he discovered another limb, which was attached to another rib cage, and another skull.

“More than one, too.”

“Cree?” asked Wilson, casting a backward glance.

“Possibly. But I don’t think this is Cree.” He tugged a chain with a circle-shaped pendant from the grip of tissue and gristle near the creature’s skull. He polished it on the least mud-offended sliver of his shirt and unveiled a grayish tint.

“Silver, I believe,” he said.

Wilson grew pale and a soul-clutching shiver engulfed his entire body. But he dismissed their discovery in an anxious tone as he helped DeLuca from the bog and practically pushed him toward the helicopter.

“Whoever they were and whatever that is, it can wait. We have a polar bear to consider.”

A thunderous roar punctuated his remark. They carefully dashed along the path, angling for the copter, but DeLuca still held the chain up to the light in fascination.

It didn’t fascinate Baruti, though. Now if the body had possessed distinctive African features and the chain had glittered with diamonds, he’d have trouble disguising his joy.

Copyright © 2015 Deborah Jackson

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