From the River

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Chapter Two

Without another word, Fen turned his back to her and marched towards the hotel. The muscles stretching across his bare shoulder-blades seemed beastly in comparison to other men. His build was overpowering with the depth of the divot of his spine making a canyon within the mountains the surrounded it on either side. The tanned skin made it clear he was rarely ever in his home country, assumed Norway from his accent. Dirty blonde hair was spiked and cut short on top of his head, but the amber color of his eyes made him surreal. After his actions at the dock, perhaps his only fault was not realizing how strong he was His inability to govern his grip made him aggressive on a physical level, but his words were a cry for friendship.

Leaning against the door frame of the clinic, her finger throbbed within Fen’s shirt. This cut was far deeper than the one that had magically disappeared this morning. Closing her eyes, the heat and humidity pressed down on her in agonizing swells. Sweat tickled her skin as it crept down her neck and across her collarbone. A breeze would slide over her, but it only brought warmth from the ground and buildings. The jungle atmosphere was far crueler than the hottest days in California. Strange calls from birds came from all around and she heard various shouts in Portuguese from the docks and market. There was at least a hospital deeper into the city if the clinic could not help her, but Dr. Rossi handled most of the immediate injuries from fishermen.

Looking on a map, one would see Santarem on the edge of a kaleidoscope of river veins and the largest city of its kind for miles. Sure, there were little towns with their own tiny airports scattered throughout the jungle in all directions from where it sat, but none had enough civil services to be considered complete. Santarem was the closest thing to a city by USA hometown or California standards. Swallowing, she fought back the homesick sensation nipping at her. No roaring highways, no sirens whipping by, and lastly, it lacked the night time glow of the endless streetlights she had grown numb to acknowledging back in Pacifica, California. She missed the welcoming roar of the Pacific Ocean waves against the steep rocky shores. Here she watched the murky swirls of the Amazon River, below the surface there was a long known list of dangerous creatures. Caiman, piranha, freshwater stingrays, and even tiny fish were all listed as aquatic life to beware of when in or around the river.

The jungles around the city and the river were just as dangerous. Stories of jaguars stalking and hunting people sent chills across her skin. There were primates of all shapes and sizes from the tiny capuchin to the echoes of howler monkey clans competing verbally over the sounds of the bustling city. To make matters more unnerving, the insects were also included tarantulas and scorpions were a hundred times more deadly than the pets she had seen time and time again. Though she hadn’t been anywhere to see them herself, the poison dart frogs weren’t safe to touch in the native environment where they ate the insects that fueled the deadly touch they were named after. On top of the real life hazards, there were the superstitions whispered about in the shadows. Women, both old and young, performing Hail Mary’s at the very mention of a supernatural entity. Deep down, she was growing more curious exactly whom these boogie men were and what threat they held. Why were they feared in such depths in this place and its culture?

“You got a cigarette?” A woman’s voice startled her and she opened her eyes, the sunlight blinding.

“E-excuse me?” Blinking a moment, her eyes found the short, dark-haired woman standing at the far corner of the building. “A cigarette?”

“Yes. You got one?” She had a Portuguese accent, her voice demanding and her dark eyes felt cold.

She was about the same build as Katie, petite and athletic at about five foot six. Perhaps even taller by an inch or two depending on how much the heels of her black leather boots gave her compared to Katie’s flip-flops. The black hair on her head was short and roughly cut with highlights of red, purple and green sparkling in the sunlight. She was an older woman, perhaps pushing thirty, but she was breathtakingly beautiful. The deep dark brown of her irises were like swirling black holes, sucking in everything they fell upon. Her black tank top and blue jeans was simple, basic even but complimented her looks. No signs of sweat could be seen on her rich earth brown skin. On her right shoulder she had an archaic tattoo; the image of a bird’s skull with black wings stretching out from around it. Strange writing circled around the macabre imagery, neither Portuguese nor a recognizable language. Katie tore herself from it and was ensnared by the woman’s sharp stare.

“No,” Katie’s skin pimpled at the scowl the answer caused, the woman’s red lips folding in a deep frown. “I, I don’t smoke, I’m sorry.”

The woman crossed her arms, her eyes digging deep into Katie as if there was something wrong with her reply. “Are you sure that’s your answer?”

“Katie?” Dr. Rossi touched her shoulder, making her twist to face him from within the door of the clinic. “You cut yourself again?”

Looking back behind her, the dark-haired woman she had been conversing with was gone, “Y-yes. Did you see someone there?”

The doctor leaned out the doorway to have a look, “Sometimes people stand at the corner and smoke…”

“R-right,” She allowed the peppered haired doctor to lead her into the clinic where a table and chair greeted her again. “She did ask for a cigarette, but I don’t smoke.”

“Ah.” He motioned for her to stand at the table as he placed gauze and alcohol swabs between them. “They probably looked at you like you were crazy. Everyone at least carries a cigarette here, whether they smoke or not. You never know when Matinta Perera will ask for one. It’s best to give her the cigarette than one’s soul.”

“Matinta Pah-rah-what?” Dr. Rossi wasted no time to unwrap the shirt, making her flinch as he pulled away the last piece glued to the cut; the air sent her finger stinging. “Wow, that’s deeper than I thought…”

“You got yourself good today. Just so you know, Matinta is an urban legend around here, I’ll tell you about her another time…” Blood tip-tapped against the metal table and hissing escaped her as the alcohol flowed cold and burning across the gaping slice. “This one needs stitches, Hollywood.”

“I thought so…” Her voice heightened with tears dancing on her eyelids as the throbbing gave way to aching pain. “If I hadn’t looked away…”

“This is going to sting just as bad, but it will go numb.” He was filling a syringe with a clear liquid. “Why on earth did you look away? After yesterday, I would think you’d be more careful with that knife of yours.”

“I, eeeeek!” Squealing, the clear liquid in the syringe stung like a million bees as it landed across the open cut. “Holy hell does that hurt!”

Tears were crawling down her cheeks. Squeezing her eyes tight, she turned away from the work being performed. Dr. Rossi’s grip was tight around her hand, keeping her reflexes from interrupting. It was numb, but she could still feel the unnerving push and tug of the needle and stitches going in and out of her flesh. Her stomach twisted at the sensation, urging more tears to fall down her face. With each pass she whimpered, desperate to remember to breathe while she grew more lightheaded. Shuffling her feet did nothing to distract from the needle’s poke. She counted each set of motions as she felt the final tug and cut of each stitch. There was easily five or six going down the length of her index finger. Her work at the docks would be impossible at this rate.

“It’s right over both creases in your finger, so we’re going to wrap this with a tongue depressor to make this easier on you. Try not to bend it. I’ll talk to Dr. Fernandez and let him know you need to take a week off.” Sighing, he wrapped gauze around the finger and impromptu splint, taping it all in place. “No more knives for you. Perhaps he can find something else for you to do on the river. Now, let me see the cut from yesterday.”

Cheeks turning red, she reluctantly handed over her other hand, the fingers unfolding slowly revealed nothing more than a bare palm. Dr. Rossi paused, his forehead creasing as he looked back to the hand he had just stitched and then back to the one she offered again. Rubbing his jaw, he looked up to her blushing face at a complete loss. She felt embarrassed and just as confused as to what happened to the injury. Certainly yesterday’s cut hadn’t been so shallow to just wash away in the sink?

“You did cut your palm yesterday?” he questioned.

“Yea,” she raised the palm it had been located within, “But when I woke up this morning it, it was gone.”

Taking a closer look, he rubbed his thumb across her skin, pushing and stretching it a moment as if testing if it was indeed real. “You must be a fast healer?”

He was searching for an answer too. Looking to one another, neither knew what to say. Swallowing back unease, she pulled her hand away, grasping the blood soaked shirt from the metal table. Taking in a deep breath, she looked Dr. Rossi in the eyes, both of their foreheads creasing.

“I think the jungle heat is taking its toll on me, Dr. Rossi.” She watched him clean off the table, her blood droplets bursting like fireworks as it joined the bleach mixture sprayed across it. “Perhaps taking it easy this next week might be a good idea?”

“I think so…” Nodding, he finished placing everything back in its proper place and began to walk her out of the clinic. “Go lay down, rest up. I’ll see if there isn’t a less dangerous task for you to do in the meantime, Hollywood. I know how important this internship is to you.”

Sighing, she mustered a smile, “Thank you.”

The clinic faded far behind her as she made her way back to the docks. She had left everything there scattered across the docks after she cut herself from Fen distracting her. Those eardrums she had collected were rare and would at least make slicing her finger open worthwhile. Focusing her mind, she picked up pace, walking the main path back until she arrived at the docks. Much to her relief the old fisherman Pedro was still cleaning his bounty. Next to her bucket of equipment was a pile of fish-heads of what she hadn’t been able to get eardrums from during her time at the clinic. Staring down at the gruesome pile, she couldn’t help but laugh at the old man’s excitement for wanting to know more about his day’s catch.

“I’m so sorry, Pedro.” Catching his attention, she held up her splinted finger. “It seems I cannot finish my work today. In fact, Dr. Rossi said no more knives for at least a week.”

“Oh no, Hollywood!” He made a clicking sound as he shook his head shamefully. “And I wanted to hear more about my fish.”

Looking about the dock, she grabbed up an old produce crate, “Can I have this?”

Isso é lixo, trash,” he replied.

With her good hand, she started to drop the heads into the crate. At worse, she could make Fen help her finish her work tomorrow, though she missed out on her chance to weigh and measure Pedro’s catch. Flies were swarming the carcass scarps, bussing about her and even crashing themselves against her. The heat was encouraging the smell of dead fish into the open air. It never took long here in the Amazon for things to rot away.

Old rusty lockers along the wall of a building close to the river’s shore stored equipment for the researchers. Dragging the crate to the lockers, she marched back to her bucket of equipment. In her head she did her routine checklist of items; microscope, baggies, samples for the lab, and lastly her clipboard. Reaching over, her good hand found nothing but the splintering wood of the dock’s planks. Looking all around, there were no signs of her clipboard. She paced to the end of the dock and then back to the lockers. Her eyes jumped from the dock, to the pylons, to any crates and things it could have been misplaced on or in.

Flustered, she came back to her bucket near Pedro, “Did you see where my clipboard went?”

“Cleep-bard?” Pedro used his forearm to wipe sweat from his brow, his hands covered in fish scales and blood. “I don’t understand.”

She motioned like she was holding it and writing information down, “My papers?”

Shaking his head excitedly, he pointed back to the dock master’s office, “Guilherme, office.”

Picking up the bucket, she paused at the lockers and placed her smelly crate and bucket into them. Tomorrow she would be greeted by a gruesome smell, but that’s the price she was willing to pay in hopes of getting the rest of the rare specimens. Slamming it shut, she marched to the office. She was curious as to who Guilherme was and why out of all the items she left on the dock he chose the clipboard. The door to the dock master’s office was propped open. The fan squeaked with its wilted blades dropping almost a full ninety-degree bend turning slowly above her head. The humidity in the jungle destroyed everything due to the choking amount of moisture it held in the air. Looking around, the locals had given up keeping up with most of the items it devoured from fan blades to crackling club speakers.

At the counter was the charter boat captain from before. He was speaking to the old dock manager in their native tongue, laughing and making excited hand motions. Pausing just shy of the boat captain, she waited for their conversation to end. The old man behind the counter made eye contact with her and immediately waved her over to join them.

“Um, is my clipboard here?” The old man looked at her baffled and looked to the captain for translation.

“Oh!” He reached over the counter and produced her clipboard. “I’m so sorry, Hollywood. Here you go. I brought it inside so it wouldn’t get ruined.”

“So you’re Gull-hurrmmm…” her face was reddening as she murdered his name.

Laughing he retorted, “Call me Gill. Or even Captain Cardoso. You’re not the first to struggle with my name.”

“I’m so sorry, I am terrible with Portuguese.” She covered her face with the clipboard, but pulled it away when she realized it was filled out further than she had left it. “Wait, who wrote this in here?”

“I did.” He turned and waved good bye to the old man as he walked her out of the office. “I felt bad, this was the second day in a row you sliced a hand open. That, and Pedro really wanted to know about his catch. After some arguing he convinced me to do your job, ha!”

Laughing, she looked over the information, “Well, it helps, but I’m not sure if I can match these to the right ear drums.”

“Oh,” Reaching over he flipped the top page up to show there was more written on the backside. “I wrote their head circumferences down in hopes that might do the trick.”

“Y-yea, that definitely will help, thank you.” Relief washed over her, perhaps today wasn’t a complete loss in regards to her research. “Thank you! Though, I’ve got orders from Dr. Rossi to take it easy for the next week.”

“Good. Take care, Hollywood.” He left her in front of the research center, waving to her before heading back to the docks.

Holding her clipboard, she stared at the doors for quite some time, trying to decide how she would explain a second injury to Dr. Fernandez. Her heart pattered faster as she wondered if she would be sent home before she could complete her internship hours. She needed to complete them in order to enroll into the fall semester courses. Shuddering, she pushed through the doors and headed for his lab. Peeking into the laboratory, she was relieved to see he wasn’t there working on anything important. Looking down at her splinted finger, she knew there was no way to work around this second injury. Taking in a deep breath, she held it in a moment before huffing it out. She continued a little further down the hallway where she stopped in front of a door with a plastic plaque reading Dr. Fernandez. Knocking she waited. Muffled sounds of his voice were coming through and then the clunking sound of an old phone hanging up.

“Katie?” His voice boomed through in English and she cracked the door. “Ah! Dr. Rossi was just explaining your incident to me on the phone.”

Wincing, she gave him a half-hearted smile as she closed the door behind her, “I got distracted and it slipped…”

He stopped her with a wave of his hand, “Dr. Rossi said that some tourist had startled you at the docks today, is that true?”

“Well, y-yes.” Sighing, news travelled horribly fast, but there was no telling what sort of scene had been explained. “I ran into him at the club the night before, and he was drunk, and scary, so seeing him at the docks…”

Another raise of his hand stopped her words as he addressed the matter, “I see. How about we change up what you are doing?”

Nodding, she was relieved to not hear him say let’s send you home.

“There have been reports of the river dolphins swimming close to the docks, is this true?” His glare was giving her the sensation of being labelled incompetent. “I was shocked that I hadn’t heard anything from you about this.”

“I didn’t see them yesterday, but after I cut my hand one appeared close to the docks, between some boats. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen a boto since I’ve been here.” She watched as he scratched his black and grey goatee, peering through his glasses at her completely emotionless. “Is it uncommon to see them here?”

“They go where they please, if you ask me.” The statuesque stone-faced expression broke into a smile. “I would be interested in seeing what notes and observations you could make about them. An outside view this time may prove beneficial to my own notes since the last time they travelled through Santarem.”

Grinning, the last of her nervous tension fell away, “I would be happy to oblige.”

“If you can, see if one of the fishermen will take you out on the water.” He paused, his eyes dropping to the brightly wrapped middle finger. “Though you may want to be mindful that you have limited use of one of your hands, so try the bigger tourist boats then move on to the local fishermen and their long boats.”

“Yes sir.” Looking down at her clipboard she remembered there was more to discuss. “Oh! Dr. Fernandez, I will at least finish what I started tomorrow. By the way, I noticed something today about the fish Pedro brought in.”

“Oh?” Dr. Fernandez straightened himself, leaning forward as he propped his elbows on his desk. “What was it?”

“Besides being abnormally large in comparison to the prior months, they were well over the age I was familiar with.” Eagerly she handed over the clipboard so he could see for himself. “Does that tend to happen during season shifts?”

“Oddly, yes.” Again, his fingers combed through his goatee as he hummed to himself for a minute. “I think the last time I saw numbers like this was when the dolphins came through about three or so years ago.”

“Huh, so observing the dolphins may indicate what’s happening then?” Dr. Fernandez stood up, handing her clipboard back. “Get some rest, Katie. You’ve lost a lot of blood today and it’s only getting hotter outside.”

“I don’t think I lost that much…” Her words trailed away as her eyes followed his stare where she had failed to shove Fen’s blood-soaked shirt all the way into her pocket. “I guess I’m being irrational on that note.”

Nodding, he smiled warmly, turning her around and encouraging her out the office door, “Get some rest, Katie.”

“Y-yes sir.” His door clicked shut behind her.

Pushing back out the double doors, the humidity sucked the air from her lungs. She stumbled to a stop, wincing up at the searing sun. A wave of dizzy nausea hit her in an instant. Indeed, the blood loss was starting to eat away at her. Hugging her clipboard, she took her time walking back, despite the aggravation the heat brought. Each passing minute only made the sunlight brighter to her eyes, her body feeling weaker with each step. The hotel was in sight, but she had to stop and lean on the building, desperate for some shade. Looking down at her wounded hand, it shook. Cursing herself, she had forgotten to eat on top of everything else. Two more steps and she realized she might need to sit.

Glaring at the hotel, she caved to her body’s want to rest. She closed her eyes tight in frustration. Reluctantly, she slid down to the ground. Sitting there, she banged her head against the wall. Clenching her teeth, she fought the urge to pass out. She had been fine until the heat had hit her, much like Dr. Fernandez had figured would happen. The world felt as if it was spinning or at least tilting to one side more so than the other. If she had stopped at any point before now and ate something she could have made it to her room. A cold sweat was gathering across her and her complexion paling. There was a shift in the tilting sensation. Peeking out of one eye, she was still sitting up, her back pressing ever harder against the wall behind her. Again, she squeezed her eyes tight fighting the lightheaded sensation.

Cool droplets of water were starting to fall across her bare legs. Whimpering, her thoughts flew angrily, of course it would start raining! Cold wet fingers gripped her shoulders, shaking her until her eyes opened. Goosebumps rippled across her skin as she looked wide-eyed at the waterlogged man from last night. Shuddering, she realized she had indeed fallen over after closing her eyes again. Her ears were struggling to focus on his words, his voice jumbled. Staring at his moving lips, she seemed helpless to do anything for herself.

“I cut myself,” she shook her head, but she was still feeling dizzy.

“I know,” his words pushed through, “but you need to rest some place safer than out in the open, Miss Hollywood.”

“I was feeling dizzy…” With his help she stumbled back onto her feet, but she world spun harshly. “I’m, I’m still dizzy.”

“I can see that.” He smirked, his patience with her valiant. “Come one, I’ll help you home.”

“Ha, home’s in California, but the hotel will work for now.” His arm wrapped behind her back and before she could finish her first step, the other wet arm had swooped down and pulled her knees up. “You don’t have to carry me!”

“Come now, it does you no good to make yourself faint.” His smile was big as he eyed her from the corner of his eyes.

A chill sent her shivering, her clothes growing wet from where they touched. “Did, did you come from the river?”

Eyebrows wide, he chortled, “Yes.”

In the daylight she could see he was pale in complexion compared to the rest of the natives in the area. He still had the Portuguese accent, but his English was surprisingly crisp. Again, his long black hair was drenched, framing the sides of his square face as it made a slapping sound against his back. He was wearing a black long sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up halfway on his forearms and the front buttoned up only half way. His chest was smooth and muscular, his collarbone rippling up before soaring upward into his thick neck. Her eyes fell into his, blushing to be caught staring at him so deeply. His grin was soft and playful as she marveled over his irises with the brown and its red flecks.

They came to a stop in front of the hotel entrance. Gentle, he allowed her to stand on her own two feet again. Her heart pounded against her chest, leaning against him for balance. Frozen, panicking she pulled away. Her heel locked with the up-step of the doorway. Like most places, the door was propped open, leaving her to fall backwards. Reaching out his hand grabbed her flailing arm and he yanked her back to him. Her cheek smacked against his slippery chest. His arms wrapped around her tight, the bulge of his biceps and forearms warm. Despite his inviting body heat, it was awkward to be held to intimately by someone waterlogged.

“I’m so sorry…” she squeaked from within the wet cocoon of flesh.

He snorted, “You have a habit of falling. This makes at least four times since I met you last night.”

“Four?” His arms fell away and he encouraged her to enter the hotel.

“Yes,” He was staying outside and she stopped a few steps inside the hotel lobby to hear his response. “Twice just now, once last night and earlier at the docks.”

Her cheeks flushed, “You saw what happened at the docks?”

“I did.” Crossing his arms, he raised an eyebrow. “You should be careful around the lobisomem.

“Lobisomem?” She echoed the word, her forehead creasing. ”What does that mean?”

“It’s a bedtime story.” The girl behind the hotel counter made her twist to see her. “It’s Brazil’s version of a werewolf.”

“Werewolf?” Spinning back around, the water-soaked gentleman had disappeared. “Who, who was that man?”

“Huh?” The receptionist leaned over the counter, peering out the door to see no one. “What man, ma’am?”

Rubbing her forehead, the dizzy sensation was creeping back. “Nevermind…”

“Oh wow, did you fall in the river today?” Exclaimed the girl as she made her way past her.

Looking down at herself, she realized she was dripping wet. Laughing, she shook her head, dismissing the girl’s concern. At least she had some physical proof that he had come to her rescue yet again.

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