Out on a limb
This is the first chapter of The Set’la. After my completed editing phase 1:
The stiffness she felt in her neck woke her up. At first, she thought it was a dream; she seemed to be standing up with her arms stretched out from her body. Her neck was not the only thing that hurt. Every muscle in her body seemed tense, like the day after a marathon. Dani tried to move her arms, but they felt tied down, some type of twine secured her hands against the rough wall. Then, the darkness and noises invaded her thoughts, surrounding her from all sides. The growls and squeals of unfamiliar creatures blended like a bad symphony. As her eyes grew accustomed to the lack of light, she began to make out shapes appearing out of the dark fog. She was in a forest, tied to a tree.
‘My house didn’t have any forests around it.’, she thought. The air, damp, and cold against her skin sent goose bumps across her naked body. The scent of decay and fresh rain mixed to give the forest a sense of rebirth.
A twig snapped in the undergrowth. Something was walking toward her. Whatever it was, it tried to be quiet, but she heard each footfall, each rasping breath. Straining against the material around her wrists, the twine finally broke and she was free. Turning around, she gazed up at the tree, barely making out a few low hanging branches. The closest one was ten feet above her. She hugged the trunk and slowly began the climb. It was easier than she expected. Her bare feet seemed to know just where they should go to get the best footing. Reaching the lowest branch, she curled her body around it and shut her eyes. She then remembered that she hated heights. Her heart pounded in her chest as the creature closed in. She could smell it, a musky wet odor, like a rug left out in the rain all week. The animal sniffed at the spot where she had been, the low snarl that came from its throat sounded like laughter. If she could read its thoughts she would hear, “You really think you can escape that easily?” The moonlight filtering in through the trees reflected off the eyes as it seemed to stare at Dani. The claws dug into the tree as it began the climb, the sound of its body scraping against the bark.
She could barely make out its shape as it closed in on her. Its red eyes shining with an inner light, it snarled. Without thinking, Dani lashed out with her foot, catching the creature in the throat. The force of the blow made it lose its grip on the tree and fall backwards, grasping at the air as it whined like an injured dog. One last cry escaped its throat as she heard it land with a thud. A grateful sigh escaped her parched throat as she closed her eyes, hugging the branch for dear life. Now all she had to do was figure out a way down.
‘I think I’ll stay here for a while.’ she decided, trying to relax.
Try as she might, she couldn’t. She led a simple, easy life on Earth. There never was any money issue; her parents had left her very well off. The week after they passed away, the courts awarded her enough money that she wouldn’t have to work again.
She kept busy, constantly with marathons and other sporting events like archery, rowing, and learning Tae kwon do. She learned the martial art quickly and was soon a black belt. Her Master told her many times, she was the fastest learning pupil he ever taught.
The men were the only thing she had problems with. Most of the ones she met were just searching for an easy one night stand.
‘Why am I here? Wherever here is? Maybe it’s a dream, a nightmare! Maybe if I fall asleep, I will wake – and be home.’ Her eyes closed as her body tensed and she fell asleep.
With a start, her eyes flashed open as she began to slide on the course bark. Light was returning to the forest, chasing away the darkness and letting color return to the landscape. All she could see were the tightly packed trees around her. Some were familiar, others strange and different. Most of the green leaves had a slight blue tint, glistening in the morning dew; others had red and yellow rings.
Scanning the forest floor, she discovered the body of the creature that attacked her the night before. It was in a very uncomfortable position about ten feet from the base of the tree. From the nose to the tip of its long thick tail, it was about six feet long. Its head lay in a very unnatural position atop a twisted neck. A rough coat of fur covered the body, thin and ringed with tan circles; it reminded her of a tiger, but the head was different, the snout was shorter, more like a pug nosed dog. Jaws, muscular and thick were open, revealing a swollen tan tongue resting on sharp jagged teeth.
“How the hell, did I escape that?” she said softly, as if she was afraid of being heard. She sure didn’t want to bring more predators to her roost.
Vertigo forced the fear into her heart and she just wanted to get her feet onto solid ground, but she also needed to know where she was—not to mention how she got here. Gingerly, she unwrapped herself from the branch and got up onto her hands and knees. Crawling backwards until she reached the trunk, she stood up, trying to concentrate on keeping her head up and eyes forward. The branch she was standing on was at least five feet thick; the trunk was three times that. It reminded her of the Redwood Forest she had visited with her parents when she was younger. Straight ahead, she saw nothing but gigantic trees. She could make out little creatures in every one, flying from branch to branch. They reminded her of monkeys, except they had small flaps under their arms that they used for gliding from one limb to another.
“Dani,” she said, “you’re not in Ohio anymore.”
The uppermost branches began to thin out above her, and that is where she needed to go, just to get her bearings. Climbing it with surprising ease, she reached a point where she could see above this odd forest. There was a range of mountains directly in front of her that seemed to be within walking distance. First, she had to find out which direction she was facing. Gazing to either side of her, she located not one, but two suns, one of which was just rising above the treetops, while the other smaller sun was about a hands width above it.
“Where am I?” She whispered, as if she expected to hear someone answering her. Sitting down in a precarious position, her thoughts went back to what happened the night before…
The last thing she remembered was sitting alone in Sam’s Bar, drinking her usual Long Island Ice Tea.
The place was busier than normal for a Tuesday night. When she opened the door, the smoke and noise assaulted her like a punch. Men lined up against the bar, surveying the crowded tables, searching for that one special person they wanted to meet. They watched closely as the women in the sea of tables expressed what they wanted by body language that the men thought they could read.
To the sound of a loud Toby Keith song she walked back to her favorite table in the shadows, and she could feel every eye on her. Even being dressed down as she was, a loose sweatshirt and comfortable fitting jeans, they still watched as her long flowing red hair billowed out behind her.
She only came down to Sam’s between relationships, which lately meant about once a month. She enjoyed watching people; covertly of course, matching up in her mind which woman each man would go after. She made it a rule, never to become one of those women. Occasionally, there was the man that thought he was God’s gift to women, and they never failed to come after her, hoping to prove it. They were the newbies to the bar. The regulars would try to talk them out of approaching her, but some men never learned.
It wasn’t until 10 P.M. that the stranger came in and zeroed in on her the moment the door closed behind him. Sitting down at the thick dark walnut bar, he propped a worn out cowboy boot upon the polished gold foot rail, listening to the regulars warn him about her.
“Don’t bother with the chick in the corner; she’s not in the mood tonight.” He didn’t listen. He didn’t saunter when he walked over, most guys had a specific walk when they tried to hit on her. He just came over and sat down across from her, removing his battered cowboy hat in the process. Dressed only in a faded gray long sleeve cotton shirt and black jeans, flowing over his well-used brown boots, he didn’t say a word as he their eyes met. The silver hair, combed straight back and bunched together to form a ponytail, reached half way down his back. Even in the loose clothing he wore, she could tell he was very muscular.
“I’m sorry. I want to be alone.” She actually thought he was extremely handsome with his strong jaw line and aquiline nose. His most unusual feature, the silver eyes, seemed to bore into hers, and not once since he sat down did his gaze waver from her jade green eyes.
“Hi, the names Kevin, what’s yours?” His voice was smooth and sexy with a touch of an accent that she couldn’t place. His aftershave, or cologne, was sweet and tempting. A fragrance she wasn’t at all familiar with, but it had an intoxicating effect.
“Dani.” She answered, immediately regretting that she opened her mouth – she didn’t want this tonight.
“That’s a pretty name.” He just stared at her with those silver, mesmerizing eyes.
“You’re new in here aren’t you?” ‘Damn,’ she thought. ‘Why did I ask that? I just want to be left alone.’
“Yeah, just flew in.”
“Oh, from where?”
“Oh a little hole in the wall you wouldn’t know it.”
He didn’t blink at all during the conversation. Even the way he lifted his drink to the thin lips seemed to be highly erotic to her.
“What brings you to Chesterville?” she asked.
The rest of the night was like a blur. It was as if she was in a trance, but could feel everything. He asked her to leave with him and she got up, seeing all the disbelieving stares from the few men that she had turned down before, and all the jealous ones from the women that were going to be leaving empty handed. The two of them walked out of the bar, hand in hand, across the street and up to his room in the Hillford Arms.
She felt like she was in a deep trance, maybe hypnotism, or a drug poured into her drink, but she couldn’t control it – whatever it was. He walked her to the bed and kissed her passionately. The cologne she smelled before was more overpowering now than when she first noticed it. It seemed to be emanating from his body and it was having a very desirable effect on her. As he held her tight she could feel his hardness and knew he wanted her. She felt herself begin to give in to the moment, all her resolves vanished as he began to undress her.
She swooned in his arms, never had this happened to her, so quickly. Before she even realized it, their naked bodies merged as one. She felt him inside her – his hardness pressing into her as far as he could go. Her hands held him closer. After the first time she closed her eyes, only to reopen them as he got up and walked to the small bathroom. The light from the outside sign reflected off two perpendicular scars traveling down his back.
When he returned he was hard again, or still hard. It was difficult to tell, but they were soon heating up the room again.
She remembered more sensations after that. A sharp point entered her neck, causing a disembodied feeling until she passed out and woke tied to a tree. She checked herself. She had a few scratches here and there, nothing serious. The insects that owned this tree were already biting her in places that she normally left for lovers, when she had one.
She had to get to water. The best choice were the mountains off in the distance. There had to be water near them, she was sure of it. Taking a deep breath, to steady her nerves, she took one last glance at her destination. That’s when she noticed the flock of birds circling, very far off like specs on the horizon. Even from this distance, she thought them to be larger than eagles from her native Earth.
Turning around, she carefully began her descent from the tree. Occasionally, she fought back the fear and had to glance down, to be sure of her footing. Once she reached the branch she had clung to earlier that morning, she lost her grip. Scrabbling to hold on, her hands found nothing to grab but air.
She was ten feet from the ground and falling. Taking a chance, she braced herself for the impact and let her well-muscled legs take most of the jolt. As she landed, her knees bent and she crouched down.
‘That was close. No pain or broken anything,’ she thought. With a final glance at the creature that tried to have her for dinner last night, she started walking in as much of a straight line as she could toward the range of mountains in the distance. Frequently, she had to maneuver around a large tree that blocked her path. Some of them were larger than redwoods from California.
Dani would be the first to admit, she wasn’t much of a botanist, but she didn’t see any tree, flower, or bush that was familiar. Even the bugs that wanted to chew on her bare skin bore no resemblance to those of her world. Occasionally, small reptiles scattered out from her pathway, some with wings, and more legs than she could count.
After twenty minutes of walking at a good clip, she noticed that she was breathing easily and wasn’t even sweating. At first, she thought it might have something to do with whatever Kevin injected into her, besides his tool, unless that was a dream too. She stopped and checked her pulse, clocking it at fifty beats a minute. That was strange for her, unless she was just waking up. Back home, she walked two miles a day in the morning, and ran two in the evening. Her heart rate should have been twenty beats faster than what is was now.
Continuing on, she heard something behind her, crawling through the underbrush. She stopped as she saw it climb on to a fallen trunk. Dani could feel her heart beating faster as the hair on the back of her neck tingled. It was smaller than the creature that attacked her earlier; it stood on four legs and had a long prehensile tale that was poised above its back. Standing about as tall as a medium sized dog, about two feet high, the fur-less dark splotched skin almost blended in with the undergrowth. She didn’t see any reason to be fearful of this small animal.
The creature must have noticed that it was spotted, for it opened its jaws and showed off the double rows of sharp teeth inside as a flap of skin encircling its head inflated. Probably used to scare off its enemies, she assumed.
As it let out a piercing shriek, Dani no longer thought it was cute, ‘It definitely worked for me!’ She thought as she took off running as fast as she could with the creature in pursuit. Her speed was better than any track meet she had ever run. At one point in the race, she noticed a tree that had recently fallen over, possibly from a lightning strike. The trunk was about four feet wide, and presently blocking her path. She leaped over it, startled again as she seemed to fly through the air. Her head almost hit a branch that was fifteen feet from the ground. Once she landed, she stopped and turned. The jump had taken her about thirty feet from the log.
Suddenly, she didn’t have time to think about what had just occurred. Her pursuer was perched on the log. It didn’t stay there long. With a roar, it jumped. Noticing a branch lying next to her, about five inches thick and three feet long, she grabbed hold of it and took a stance. When the dog was five feet from her it leaped. Dani swung, making solid contact with the creature’s head and killing it instantly.
Now her heart was racing, but not from exhaustion. She leaned on what was left of the branch as she tried to figure out what had just happened.
“Let’s see, I can run and walk faster. Jump higher and am obviously stronger. Two Suns.” She could clearly see that one was not as yellow as her sun. “I think I’m Superwoman. Lighter gravity! And I’m hungry.”
She saw the mangled head of the creature she had just killed, but she didn’t like eating raw meat. She didn’t have anything to make a fire with at all, and she knew the smell of blood would bring more scavengers. Keeping what was left of the branch as a weapon, she continued at a fast trot in the direction she was going before.
Five minutes later, the trees of the forest thinned out and she began descending a slop covered with waist high reddish colored grass. The center of the crater was leveled out with gravel and weeds, marred only by the burned out stump of a tree trunk twenty yards wide and about ten feet high.
Quietly, she moved down the steep slope until she came to the flat ground. Small pools of water spread across the ground, holding the last bit of rain that fell around here. She didn’t stop to think if it was safe to drink, she just knelt down and cupped some muddy water into her hand, her eyes still scanning the area, waiting for something to jump out of the high grass.
The liquid was warm and soothed her throat, her parched mouth soaking it up as fast as it entered.
She smelled them before she heard them, reaching for her makeshift club. It sounded like a wild animal, a large one at that. Her eyes caught some movement above the treetops. The flock of large birds she had seen earlier. Presently, they were too far away to be much of a danger.
Softly, and without making a sound, she stood straight up, slowly turning her head to survey the grassy slope. She noticed it behind her, about ten feet away. Something was slowly making its way through the waist high grass, slithering down the slope. There was also more than one. Five creatures were parting their way through the grass.
Dani tried to slow her heart down, it sounded like it was too loud. It would give her away. As she saw one of the creatures stand up on its hind legs she gasped. It heard. Willing herself to freeze, she stared at it.
The cat, if that’s what it was, stood at least ten feet tall, about as thick as a grizzly and completely hairless. It’s tough sinewy skin showed of the muscular outlines in all the right places. The face was catlike, with thick whiskers, that she thought may be like a cat’s, but they had to be about one inch thick. The ears were pointed and standing straight up. It eyed her, its mouth parting for an instant showing off two-inch fangs that appeared to be purposefully sharpened. Definitely eats meat, she thought.
Something ripped its attention from her and the creature seemed to brace for an attack. Dani was so engrossed in the coming battle; she didn’t notice the birds closing in.
Suddenly, the rest of the cat-like creatures, all five of them, raised their heads collectively over the grass. One, she could handle; she had her doubts about five.
I thought I would have a little fun with this and throw it on “I write like,” and it gave me Rudyard Kipling. Cool, that name I recognize.
Let me know what you think, and anything else you would like to comment on.