Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Here's a smidgen of YEAR OF THE HONEY BADGER:

The next morning Sabra went for a swim, riding the waves like a gull. She was out beyond the breaker line when she noticed a curious thing. A tent-sized kite rose from the beach in lazy circles. She looked down the strand wondering who was flying such a strange-shaped kite. But there was nobody other than a few bathers and some children building a sand castle. A wave broke over her head, filling her eyes and throat with salt water. When she got back up, the “kite” was bouncing back up into the air in a slow twirl.
    “Holey Cheese! That's my tent!” she screeched and beat back to shore. When she got to camp the vagrant tent had climbed about a hundred feet into the air. Stray papers floated lazily down from it. “My research papers!” Sabra yelled. She scampered around trying to gather them up before the wind blew them away.
    That's when she noticed the frowning man standing on a bluff overlooking the beach. He just stood there watching her scramble. “What?” she asked shortly as she ran past him. He probably didn't even speak English the way he simply stood there watching the papers fly around. “Any chance you could give me a hand?”
    The man smiled dryly and clapped.
    “Jerk,” Sabra said under her breath. She jumped for another wayward paper.
    “I was under the impression most people slept in their tents. This is an interesting new sport,” the unhelpful man said. He didn't even try to hide his amusement.
    “Oh, then, you aren't deaf and you speak English,” she said, out of breath from jumping around.
    He snorted. “Among seven other languages.” He reached down and put a pebble on another wayward paper. “There you go.”
    “Don't knock yourself out, Sir Speedy Helpsalot.”
    The tent had blown further along the beach but was now coming down again. Sabra broke away and flew down the sand to grab at the material as it headed back up and now out to sea. She made one last leap for the rain fly bungee. One fingertip caught the cord just as the last clip worked loose. She yanked it down, grabbing at the nylon. Her fingers slipped on the rip-stop, but she managed to catch at a tab and haul the tent and its fly back to earth.
    The man walked over and tossed a stone into the offending tent, anchoring it.
    She glared at him. “Thanks.”
    “What do you mean?” Then she looked down and saw that she was still only wearing a bikini. Yeah, it must have been a dandy show. Jamb your eyeballs back in your head, Dirtball.
    The annoying guy looked out to sea and then back at her face. “You've still got stragglers.”
    “I know. I know.” She tore off after another couple of sheets. That's when she noticed her sleeping bag washing ashore in a tide pool. She swore under her breath and dragged it out of the water. Now to find her clothes and pillow. One shoe lazily turned in another pool, its laces dragging the barnacle-encrusted rocks.
    The man plodded down the beach with a couple of papers clutched in his hand. “Hey, you wouldn't have seen a man around here—kind of geeky, looks like a scientist?”
    She stopped running and turned. “Why do you ask?”
    “I'm supposed to pick up my new research assistant and the guy at the airfield told me he was down here.”
    “You're from Niassa?” She had a sudden boiling feeling in the pit of her stomach.
    “Yeah. Sort of.”
    “I'm it.” She snatched her papers out of his hand and stuffed them into the tent along with the ones in her fist.
    “I'm headed for Niassa.”
    “The heck you are! I'm looking for a man.”
    “Good luck with that. You don't look the type.” She favored him with her own wry grin.
    “Johns Hopkins sent you?”
    “Only the best.”
    He threw out his hands, scowling at her. “Johns Hopkins sent me a bimbo for an assistant? How are you ever going to survive? We live with real wildlife, like right in the middle of it. We are the zoo. There's no way you'd be able to handle it. Go home and send the real assistant. Preferably someone who can handle a gun.”
    “What are we doing out there, shooting and stuffing them or studying them in their habitats?”
    “You won't be doing anything because you won't be there. Go home and send a guy back, fast.”
    Sabra stepped right up to the guy's chest and looked him in the eyes. “Look, mister. I don't care what your preconceived notions are about what women can or cannot do. They don't apply to me. I've been in this line of study since you were in diapers and I'm not about to go crying home again before I've completely finished my studies. I've got a—“ She stopped, not feeling like tossing him any more bones. She wanted him to twist in the wind for a while, hopefully until his air ran out. “Never mind.” She ran after a couple more papers and added them to the mound in the tent. By that time her hair was starting to dry in salty, ropey hanks and there was sand down her trunks.
    “Come on, then.”
    “Pardon. What?”
    “Come on. The jeep's waiting. I've got chores to do. I'm out of here.”
    “But I've got to get all these papers corralled. I need to change. I need to find my other freaking shoe for crying out loud.”
    He looked her up and down. She wanted to smack him but didn't want to wreck her chances for getting to Niassa even though the guy was one of the last men on earth she wanted to spend a bumpy ride with, let alone a year.
    “You've got fifteen minutes. I'll be in the jeep.”
    “Could you at least take my luggage? If I have to rescue the papers, you could at least get the bags.”
    He looked at Mt. St. Luggage and rolled his eyes. “You should have left the cadavers and the blow-up raft at home.”
    Sabra took in the purple and pink paisleys her mother had insisted would make stealing her bags harder. The guy probably thought she was hauling a pink feather boa as well. “Then get the papers. If you're afraid you'll hurt yourself, I'll get the bags in.”
    He gave another snort and stomped over to grab the giant suitcases.
    “Easy there! Don't toss them. I've got delicate instruments in there.”
    “Just so you know,” he growled as he hefted the largest bag onto his shoulder. “We have no plugs for your curling iron and boom box.”
    You have been out here a long time, she thought. They aren't boom boxes anymore. And by the way, I'm not even going to gratify you with an answer. She fixed him with a scowl instead, then turned on her heel and went to finish grabbing the last of the papers. The fifteen minutes were almost up when she dragged on her inundated jeans and a salty t-shirt. Luckily she'd found the other shoe and all but a couple of papers and a sock. The other had gone to a watery grave somewhere. She yanked down the offending tent and thrust it back into its bag along with the poles.
    It didn't take very long to catch up to the man as he labored up the road toward a mud-spattered, ancient jeep. Big dents scored the sides and it sported a huge roll bar. She got there just as the man dumped the biggest bag into the back. She flinched, expecting to hear shattering glass.
    “Thanks,” she said facetiously. “I'm sure I can get along just fine without all that expensive equipment.”
    “You lug it in there then.” He dumped the rest at her feet and strode around to the driver's seat and vaulted in.
    “Excuse me, sir. What is your name?”
    “I'd really like to know the Neanderthal I am addressing.” She carefully added the last of the luggage to the back and secured it with the webbing cargo net, using the time to calm down.
    “Stirling Darrow.”
    “Ah great. That's nice. Yeah I'm Sabra Houghton.”
    His eyes popped. “No! You're really S. Houghton?” He slammed his fist on the steering wheel. “Get in,” he said through gritted teeth. “So it wasn't ever going to be a guy.”

© 2015 H. Linn Murphy

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