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Heartwood

Richard Quarry

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2013 by Richard Quarry

Heartwood

Lace heard Butler’s gasps for breath turn into broken sobs as the climb up the jungle hillside broke his will.

Softie, she thought, trying to use the contempt to drive her own legs, burning beneath their hundred–pound load of stolen cocobolo, up and over the crest. The mat of brown vegetation rotting underfoot smelled like a pile of especially ripe compost, with tough little creepers embedded like tripwires amid the decaying leaves. The surface sagged at every step, forcing her to pull her legs almost straight up to clear them. She couldn’t even see what roots or vines might hook her boots because a wavy green blanket of broad, sharp–edged waxy leaves sprouted at waist height, hiding her own feet from her.

And that’s when she wasn’t trying to clamber up and over another of these damn fallen trunks covered in moss, patches of sickly–white fungus, and a coating slimy as a thousand–years’ accumulation of slug trails.

How far to the crest? With all these lousy trees and vines and nasty stinking whore’s–perfume spiked red flowers choking up the scenery, the only thing Lace knew for sure was that they were still going up. Her legs and lungs sure weren’t lying about that. Though she prided herself on her fitness, her throat scraped itself raw gasping in air thick and moist as a steam bath.

Finally Butler’s will snapped. He pitched forward through the waist–high green sea as some creeper tripped him up, then rolled around crackling the twigs scattered among the decaying leaves. Struggling to his knees he fumbled at his harness but by now even his fingers had gone spastic with lactic acid. So with one last strangled “fuck!” he pitched face down in the mulch, sobbing for breath, sobbing for fear, utterly heedless of spiders and scorpions and leeches or whatever the hell else might be crawling around down there.

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