Loss
Chapter 3
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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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“You say she was running?” Summerlee questioned, appearing concerned as he slowly inhaled on his pipe. “Was someone chasing her?”

Malone, sitting near the dining area table, his legs resting on a low stool, nodded. “*Something* was chasing her, Professor. It might have been a raptor.”

Standing behind Ned, arms crossed in front of her bare mid section, Veronica concurred, “The image began to fade but I think, in the end, she had spotted a cave and was running to safety.”

“How was she dressed?” Challenger asked, meditatively lifting fingers to stroke his ginger beard.

Roxton, who had been listening as he paced, suddenly exclaimed: “What does it matter, George?” His frustration had come boiling to the surface as he glanced occasionally at the portrait of the beautiful woman Summerlee had painted. More than ever before he felt a connection with her, even if he did not know who she was or why her essence was suddenly appearing to them. “We know this woman exists and is obviously in trouble. She needs to be rescued not scrutinized.”

“First of all, John, we don’t *know* she is in trouble.” Summerlee commented, although he did understand his younger friend’s distress. He saw how intent Roxton was as he described the lovely lady to him for the painting. He used words, both gentle and doting, that seemed so peculiar coming from the worldly hunter. “From what you have told us of your visions and from what Ned and Veronica have conveyed the woman seems capable of taking care of herself.”

“Then why, after all this time, is she suddenly showing herself to everyone, not just me?” Roxton pressed. “She’s in danger, Summerlee. She's calling out and needs our help. I know it.”

“Roxton…” Veronica hesitated to speak but felt it necessary. He obviously was not thinking beyond his own heart. It both fascinated the jungle beauty and puzzled her. None of them had ever seen Roxton so openly agitated. “You have been on the plateau for nearly four years. With the exception of us, it’s been a rather lonely way of life. How long has it been since you … I mean …” She gulped slightly, uncomfortable. “You’ve been seeing this woman for how long?”

Roxton looked away from his friends, understanding where their thought processes were taking them. He was poor, lonely John Roxton; the wealthy Lord who had never married. He was the man who had loved many women but was never truly in love with any of them. So, what did he do? He made up a phantom; a beautiful, skilled woman who could match him quip for delicious quip. She was the goddess who could quite possibly save him from a life of loneliness. But still, the others saw …

“It *is* possible,” Challenger offered, “considering all the incongruity we’ve experienced on this plateau over the last four years, Roxton, that what you have been dreaming …*experiencing*,” he quickly amended when Roxton shot him a piercing look, “is a phenomenon which is projecting images from your mind that the rest of us are now seeing.”

“Great.” Roxton sighed, “Welcome to my whimsy.” He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head back and forth. “You’re the scientists.” Roxton relented slightly, slowly crossing over to the painting as it rested on its easel. He stared at the woman, examining the curve of her cheeks and chin, her lustrous hair and those stunning eyes. “But if she *is* only the product of an over active imagination … “

“If she is a mere apparition then there is no harm done.” Summerlee said, “If not, we will do our best to free her. That's a promise, John.” and he meant it.

****

They spent most of the day scouting the perimeter but saw nothing.

Just so the venture wouldn’t be a total loss Roxton shot a small dinosaur for dinner and while Veronica and Ned collected fruit for dessert, Summerlee and Challenger attempted to iron out a few problems with the electric fence. They had been having trouble with it for weeks.

They all ate a quiet supper that evening and it was not lost on any of treehouse inhabitance that Lord Roxton did not have his usual hardy appetite. They avoided speaking of the "ghost-woman" for fear it might disturb him further. Roxton was the first to excuse himself from the table. They all then retired for the night.

****

“Dammit Roxton, where are you?!”

He sat straight up in bed, breathing heavily, feeling beads of perspiration rolling down his cheeks, forehead and throat. She sounded close, closer than ever before but this was crazy … It was the middle of the night!

“I mean it! If you don’t show yourself right now I’ll never speak to you again!”

It was coming from the common room.

Throwing the sheet from his body and quickly struggling out of bed and into his trousers, Roxton stumbled quickly from his bedroom. He was simultaneously joined by Challenger, Veronica then the rest of his companions in the middle of the treehouse.

They stared at a luminous object, bouncing in the middle of the room. It appeared three feet wide and approximately six feet tall. The sound of an electrical charge crackled as the light touched the floor of the treehouse.

“What is it?” Malone called, as astounded as any of them.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Summerlee exclaimed, “but if I didn’t know better I’d swear it was a …”

“A portal!” Challenger bellowed, stunned but also delightfully amazed, “Five years ago Professor Ingstout of the University of Attenborough wrote a paper about the possible existents of such things. They called him a madman. If only he were here …”

“*Well, he’s not!*” a peeved female tone announced from the portal. Her voice held echoes. Very slowly they watched as the barely recognizable outline of a human being materialized inside the light. “Help me out of here, will you?”

“Wha … what do we do?” Veronica asked the shadow in the illumination, as well as her friends.

A slender human hand unexpectedly pushed itself from the mass as the glow became more intense. “Hurry!” The figure cried, “I feel it pulling me back … *John*!”

Roxton, hearing his name and making a decision, leapt forward and grasped the protruding hand, noting even through the force of his action how soft the fingers were against his palm. He pulled and as he did the light strengthened to such a degree that he had to look away and the others had to shield their eyes. The sound of the electrical charge was now nearly deafening.

With the crash of what could only be described as thunder, the figure parted from the portal and the light disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared. Roxton fell backward, holding the woman, carrying her to the floor with him.

He opened his eyes and looked at her, the long dark hair falling forward, a few strands tickling his own left cheek. Her eyes, those stormy green-gray pools, just like he imagined them, were wide and staring into his. She was his dream woman, the lady of the painting, the precious phantom that had kept his imagination honed.

“Roxton.” she breathed. The faintest trace of a smile lifted her lips.

“Hi.” He could think of nothing else to say, suddenly presented with his fantasy, having her slight figure resting on his own. He smiled nervously in return.

Unexpected, her expression changed and she pushed herself away from him, “How could you do that to me?!” she barked angrily, attempting to stand but feeling weak and suddenly very light headed, “How could you …?”

A hand grasped her arm to steady her, “My dear, are you all right? Where did you come from?”

She stiffened, recognizing the voice and very slowly turned to look at him. “Summerlee …?” No. This was impossible.

He smiled gently but appeared very concerned. “How do you know my name?”

She backed away, looking at all her companions now as they stared at her.

“I am Professor George Challenger. You are?” Challenger asked, coaxing her.

“Marguerite Krux.” She heard herself speak but the weakness in her limbs and the fog that had entered her head was overwhelming. She felt a rush to her brain and as darkness claimed her, Marguerite gasped, losing a battle to stand upright. She felt strong arms and knew it was Roxton who held her.

Before she lost complete consciousness Marguerite looked up at him and whispered, “You need a haircut, Lord Roxton.” and closed her eyes.

***