Loss
Chapter 2
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Epilogue
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Finishing with breakfast, drinking the last of his tepid tea, Roxton stood with his cup and crossed to where Arthur Summerlee sat, working at his easel. He looked over the mature man’s shoulder as he placed the finishing touches on his latest creation.

“A mutation of Phlomis tuberosa Amazone.” The professor announced, “Do you think it a good likeness?” he asked the hunter, miming from his painting to the actual flower sitting atop a small table near the balcony.

“You’re a regular treehouse Rembrandt, Arthur.” Roxton complimented. “Between Veronica and yourself I’m not certain who has more artistic talent.”

“Veronica’s comes naturally. Mine is studied.” Summerlee clarified, good-naturedly.

“What do you do with the paintings when they’re finished?” Roxton wondered.

“They are covered in parchment and rolled. One day, when we leave the plateau, I shall take them with me and eventually present them to the zoological society as evidence of the rare plant species found on Challenger’s lost world.”

Roxton understood and he nodded. “Excellent Professor but why not just offer those wise old gentlemen the genuine articles?”

Summerlee nodded, “Some samples will come with us, of course, but we really have no idea how long it will take to get off this God forsaken plateau, Lord Roxton. Then, traveling through the Amazon, with its steamy climate, will certainly destroy most of the plant life found here. The Society will require cataloging and …”

“Stuffy bastards.” A distracted mumble was heard in the direction of the breakfast table. George Challenger, tinkering with some odd unnamable device, let his opinion be known. “The only wise decision The London Zoological Society ever made was to help fund our exploration. And that practically took an act of parliament.”

“It actually took the prodding of The International Herald Tribune.” Roxton quipped with a gentle smile, placing his cup and saucer in the sink of their small kitchen. Initially, The Society had dismissed the proposed exploration as the ramblings of an unstable scientist who had spent far too much time in the hot sun of South America. However, when the prestigious newspaper began to show interest, with Malone’s nudging, wiser and more adventurous heads prevailed.

“Damn fools.”

“Let it rest, George.” Summerlee advised, “When we go home you will be honored with a parade, I’m sure.”

Roxton nearly chuckled when suddenly he heard her …

**”Practicing for your victory parade, George?”**

**… and saw her … sitting in the grass… her head tilting back … smiling … beautiful …**

“Who are you?” Roxton breathed outward in both irritation and longing. When the vision cleared and her voice was only an echo in his mind, Roxton focused once again on Summerlee then Challenger. Both men were staring at him, odd expressions on their intelligent faces.

“Are you all right, John?” Challenger asked, genuinely concerned.

Roxton paused, nervous and unsure what to say. He then asked in an urgent tone: “Did either of you hear that woman?”

“I heard nothing.” answered Summerlee.

Challenger shook his head in the negative, eyeing Roxton warily.

Quietly frustrated, Roxton nearly allowed a gentle cursed but then, spotting Veronica’s drawing easel, he licked his lips as an idea came to him. Roxton looked directly at Summerlee and said: “Arthur, your flower and plant paintings are impressive. Tell me, have you ever tried to paint a portrait?”

Startled, Summerlee looked from Roxton to Challenger, who shrugged.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Below the treehouse, in a small but lush vegetable garden, Veronica weeded and Malone watered.

“Tomatoes are looking good.” Ned commented, standing behind his kneeling companion, a somewhat rusted watering can dangling from his left hand.

From anyone but the fair-haired journalist the comment might have been misconstrued as flirting, a glib comment regarding her scant jungle attire. Veronica knew better. Ned Malone was honest and sincere, no nonsense, and this – initially – was what had attracted her to him; that and good looks, his always searching expression, and certainly that easy smile didn’t hurt. Unfortunately, after his accident, she saw less and less of it, until the smile had left his face entirely then, worse, his eyes loss their inquisitive gleam.

Malone had been so angry and depressed in the early months after the raptor attack, claiming he was less a man than a hindrance. It took many long weeks of persuasion and his own inner strength before he would even step off of the treehouse elevator.

Reminiscing, Veronica pulled. “The squash is ready to pick too,” she said, feeling a comment was needed.

If only one of their group had been quick enough to get a shot off to kill the beast before it tore into Malone’s flesh, severing the foot from his ankle. Veronica turned slightly, thoughtfully glancing at the area of Malone’s leg where there was now a sturdy wooden substitute. It didn’t matter to her. It never had. Even with her gentle assurance Ned could not be consoled. He told her one evening, when they were alone, that he would understand completely if she chose never to look his way again. They argued, Veronica telling Malone she was so disappointed he felt so little for her that he thought a missing foot would change her feelings. She needed to make him understand that she still found him incredibly attractive – so Veronica over-compensated.

Desperate to make Malone feel his worth and acting on impulse, Veronica made explosive, passionate love to him. She gave an as yet untouched part of herself to the handsome reporter -- even though neither was truly ready for such intimacy with one another. It was too soon. They needed to know one another better … Certainly it had been tender as well as ardent, a loving demonstration of affection, and both reveled in their shared excitement, as the young will do. However, it came at a great price.

In the aftermath, Malone had felt terrible guilt because of his promise to Gladys. A day or two later, overcome with shame and anger, he also accused Veronica of being with him simply out of pity. It took awhile but the couple eventually made amends. Unfortunately, nothing would ever be the same between them again. Malone and Veronica remained friends but their bond, a deep trust, was irreparably damaged.

“Did you see that?”

Veronica stood,looking to where Malone directed, past the electric fence, and saw what he was talking about.

It was a ripple; a small, nearly invisible wave in the distance, producing an electrical charge in the atmosphere about them. The flicker might have been a mirage if it weren’t for the vision the anomaly brought to their amazed eyes. They saw the back of a running woman, with a long-dark braid, who eventually took a long tumble own a steep hillside. Once landing on the bottom, her back still to them, they could hear her frustrated groan. Then, vocally distorted, they could just make out the woman’s furious exclamation: “Could this day get any better?!”

She turned and they saw her face …

^^^^

Summerlee sat back in his chair. “Is this her?” he asked, wiping his brush with a cloth.

“That’s bloody incredible, Arthur.” Roxton, standing beside Summerlee, stared at the painting, enthralled by the double image his friend a managed to produce. He had watched the professor paint, describing the woman, giving the artist every little detail he could recall. When he thought Summerlee was going astray he corrected him. It took an hour and a half but the time was not wasted. “That’s her. That’s the woman I’ve been seeing … and *hearing* ever since we started the journey to the plateau.”

“But you say the imagery and her voice have become stronger during the last few months?” Challenger asked, moving to the other side of Summerlee, gazing at the portrait.

“She always came to me in dreams … but now I hear her when I’m awake. I see her, George.”

“Hallucinations.” Summerlee suggested.

“No … she’s not a hallucination.” Roxton corrected, “I don’t know what she is,” he confessed, “but she’s got to be real.” Wanting a closer look, Roxton lifted the painting from its easel, staring at the vision Summerlee had painted. “Either that or I need to be on an analysts couch.”

‘Or you’re a very lonely man.’ Challenger considered and reached up and gently slapped the mesmerized Roxton on his broad shoulder, “As far as visions go, John, you could have worse.”

“She is lovely.” Summerlee agreed.

“Challenger!” Veronica called as she and Malone stepped from the treehouse elevator into the common room, “We just saw something odd …”

Roxton swiveled about at the excitement in her voice, the painting turning slightly for Veronica and Malone to get a good look at the striking woman illustrated.

“What is it?” Challenger asked, noting their stunned expressions. ”What did you see?”

“We saw …” Malone hesitated then lifted an arm to point his finger at what Roxton had in his hands, “… her.”

>>>>>>

Want to see what Summerlee painted?

http://hunterbard.tripod.com/MargueritesPai/Paintingx.html