A double flash of lightning sets an eerie glow from behind the trees, at the edge of the marshland and Janet feels alarm at the sudden change in the day's temperament.
A scant half-hour earlier, the day had been hot and sunny with a light breeze. Then it became hazy and muggy. Now, as thunder grumbles in the distance, she decides that paddling her canoe to shore may be the wisest option. Although the grasses grow very tall on the bog, trees are scarce and this tends to make a person feel like a lightning target.
The canoe glides effortlessly down the narrow waterway that threads through Fifty-Acre Marsh and Janet focuses upon the daypack at her feet. She voices a sigh of resignation. Inside the pack are camera, a camcorder, a small audio recorder and a snack cake. An afternoon that she had hoped to record the sights and sounds of wildlife was being canceled because of weather.
An orphan gust of wind urges Janet's shoulder-length ebony curls to caress her cheeks as the oncoming tempest approaches from behind. She scans the shoreline, almost eighty yards distant, for a place to moor her small craft. Janet's dark chocolate eyes reflect her worry and her lower lip quivers the broadcast of her agitation. Janet moans a near silent sigh as she realizes that the nearby coast is densely wooded and without a sign of human occupation.
As Janet urges the canoe forward, through the thickening reeds, she decides to beach the dugout into the first suitable niche and hike her way to the nearest roadway. Janet is, after all, in Connecticut. She reasons that you can't go in a straight line for more than four miles anywhere in this little state without hitting a road.
Janet's thoughts momentarily return to yesterday. The seashore was toasty and her two girlfriends were always splendid company. She had garnered a bit of a tan, however, Janet had remained in her cut-off jeans all day. That is the price a shy girl might pay for wearing a thong bathing suit, then chickening out.
Her two girlfriends had met a couple of fellows at the beach yesterday and today they were on a double date with them. As good friends do, they expressed their concern that she would be spending a lonely day today. Janet set their worries to rest by telling them that she would return to the ocean today, and that she would wear her promiscuous thong as she strutted her stuff on the sandy shore. They giggled and instructed her to get photographs as proof of her exploit. Thus it came to pass, that she presently has on the thong bottom of her suit under her denim slacks.
The present regains Janet's attention. A large raindrop hits her pack with a thwapping sound. Ten more drops hit the canoe and the surrounding water, drawing streaks on the canoe and ripples in the water. A flash, a roar and the skies pour down.
Driving in torrents, the rain has agitated the surface of the stream to a boiling appearance and Janet is almost instantly drenched to the skin. Her T-shirt is pasted to her, and the jeans she is wearing are less tight, but heavier. Janet's long dark hair is slicked to her scalp and she momentarily stops paddling to brush a soggy tress from her face. Placing the paddle in the bottom of the canoe, Janet huddles over in her seat and tucks her head between her knees. She feels the wind buffet the slender boat and is relieved to see that it is pushing it over the reeds and toward land. The driving rain is lashing along her back as Janet shrinks further into a fetal huddle and clenches her eyes closed.
A brilliant flash penetrates the sanctuary of her hooded lids and it is followed immediately with an air-rending roar as something nearby falls victim to the squall's wrath. Janet's eyes flutter open and she is surprised by what she sees. It has been raining hard for less than five minutes there is already an inch of water in the bottom of the canoe.
Raising her head slowly and glancing to her left, Janet sees a large patch of darkness. It is trees, or rather an opening in trees. She must have been closer to shore than she had estimated. The darkness is a hollow in the woods, much like a mouth of a fifteen-foot high by thirty-foot wide cavern. To what depths it reached, Janet could only guess. It is not where she put in to the slough with her canoe. Yet, it offers a promise of shelter.
Janet retrieves the paddle, and guides the bow of the canoe towards gravel beached shoreline. A flash of lightning hits something nearby and the almost instantaneous crash of thunder causes her to cringe as the canoe sidles up to the beach. She steps out into mid-calf deep water and going to the bow of the canoe, proceeds to try to tug it up, onto shore.
An inch of water in a fifteen-foot canoe weighs a lot, yet she drags almost eight feet of the craft onto shore. The water in the canoe has settled in the stern and so has her pack. Sure that her equipment is being ruined, Janet rushes to rescue her gear.
A distant rumble shakes the ground. Janet, with pack in hand glances back at the canoe and the continuing cascade of rain as she walks hastily into the canopy of the forest. Witch Grass carpets the ground in the clearing and it undulates with the short gusts of wind as waves would on the ocean. The rain seems diminished in its onslaught beneath the canopy of the trees and Janet's eyes slowly adjust to the darkness of the forest. She stops and kneels to check her pack out. As she lifts the flap Janet notices a plastic liner she had forgotten about and a quick check shows the pack's cargo to be dry and secure.
Standing up again, Janet surveys the fringes of the covered clearing and shoulders the pack. Adjusting the thick straps of the daypack, Janet observes the hard nipples protruding from her pert breasts. They pull taut against the fabric of her thin T-shirt. The temperature has gone down a few degrees and the storm still rages across the swamps without relent. Janet knows that a better shelter, soon, may become a necessity and she clasps her upper arms as she shivers.
Peering into the shadowy edges of the clearing, she sees several voids in the shrub growth. The second one proves to be a path leading uphill through fairly open woods. A quick glance at her watch tells Janet it is already four o'clock in the afternoon.
She starts down the path, seeing that the open woods are better lit than the dense cover of the shoreline canopy. This benefit is balanced out by her increased exposure to the storm, which buffets bushes and pelts her once more with the large raindrops. The frequent flashes of lightning filtering through the treetops causes a strobe-like effect on the swaying underbrush, and it appears as if shadow-goblins are weaving through the forest about her.
The path ushers her to the base of a steep grade. Erosion has left the lane as a muddy gully, accented by exposed roots. Going up this section of trail may be closer to climbing than to hiking uphill.
Janet leans forward, grasping a thick root and finding a foothold for her raised boot, drawing herself upward. She progresses in this manner for about eight feet. The wind suddenly gusts, pasting a large fallen leaf to her face. Janet rears back from the hillside in fright and claws at the leaf, which is covering her eyes and nose. Her other hand slips off of the roots she had been gripping and she starts a slide, downhill, on her stomach.
Reaching out in desperation to purchase a handhold, Janet feels her T-shirt peeled up towards her armpits and the abrasive sting of her vulnerable flesh being scratched by soil. She yelps in dismay as she rides the hillside back to the bottom.
Clambering to her feet, she looks down to inspect the damages of her ride and sees a blushing patch of skin with a few light scratch marks. Janet's shirt is packed with muck. Muddy water runs down her tummy in rich brown rivulets.
Tears of frustration well up in Janet's eyes. She repels them and their accompanying thoughts of self-pity by embracing the concept that she is on an adventure. This is not a bland undertaking, like a day on a quiet marsh stalking wildlife with cameras. Janet realizes that she can remain the sniveling victim of this storm, or she can make her way through it like a goddess of the forest. Get going, get tough girl, she thinks with conviction. At least, Janet muses, if I relax and go with it, my judgment won't be clouded by panic.
She saunters up to a rain-drenched bush at the side of the path and gently brushes the chafed area of her sternum. Cool rainwater soothes her stinging flesh making her pleased with her new audacity. Then, sliding off her daypack, Janet eases her head and one arm out of her T-shirt. It slides down her other arm to her waiting grasp. Using another bush, she rolls and twists against it to effect a crude bathing. Janet pulls the thin, rain-soaked branches against her naked torso in a gentle scrubbing motion. The resourceful young lady uses several neck-high shrubs in this manner until she is satisfied that the small, brown rivulets of soil are washed away from her soft skin.
Gathering up her T-shirt, she thrusts it into the shrubbery to soak it and shakes it smartly to discard the loosened pieces of soil. Standing in the forest, with the storm surging around her and her exposure to it is exciting to a deep part of her. A facet she would always conceal with shyness. Janet stares down at her hardened nipples and watches with a detached fascination as a drop of rain-water rolls off one of them only to strike her belly and continue its journey towards her waist. The sensation of the thought makes her writhe saucily as she checks the damp shirt once more.
Janet dons the shirt again, aware that the dirty garment against her scratches is inviting infection. She pulls her long, dark locks back from her face feeling tighter curls that have set in, as they do every time her thick, ebony hair gets wet.
Shouldering the pack once more, Janet stops to reassess the hillside before her and notes a diagonal course of travel may allow a more stable climb to the hilltop. It will mean bushwhacking through Mountain Laurel, but it should be safer than trying to engage the washed out pathway.
Slowly and carefully Janet climbs through the thickets. Often the tenacious branches of the laurel snatch at her pack and clothing. Finally, she gains the summit and cuts her way back over to regain the path.
Looking ahead on the path, Janet espies two white buildings. They are approximately fifty yards distant. As she approaches them, she gets a sinking feeling as both buildings appear to be darkened and in disrepair. Janet enters the clearing surrounding the buildings and notes a crude road or driveway, which is overgrown with grass exiting the other side of the open area.
The buildings consist of a small house and a two-bay garage. The garage strangely appears to be disproportionately tall, and dwarfs the small house. The white paint on both structures is riddled with flaking. Janet approaches the house and knocks on the doorframe. There was no answer. She opens the screen door and raps sharply on the inner door. Still no reply comes from within.
Janet backs away from the house and studies the garage. She sees thick power-lines threaded down the driveway that are linked both to the house and to the garage. She also notes fresh tire ruts to the garage's front doors and that there is a side entrance to the ominous structure.
Turning her back on the house, Janet walks quickly to the side door of the garage and tries to peer through the small panes, and into the darkness within. She tests the door handle and finds it unlocked. Janet ponders, entering a garage is not as bad as breaking into a house. Besides, she rationalizes, perhaps a work shirt she can borrow is hanging on the wall inside. With a fresh shirt, it should be a short walk down the driveway to a nearby road and she could return the shirt in better weather when she comes back for her canoe.
Opening the door, Janet feels along the garage wall for a switch and encounters a metallic tendril that leads her to a switch. She flicks on the toggle and is rewarded with blinding light that promises warmth and safety. Before her eyes have adjusted to the radiance, Janet enters the structure and turns to draw the door closed behind her. As she pivots around to face the enclosure, Janet lets out a gasp. Nothing could have prepared her for what stood before her eyes at that moment.
Banks of overhead florescent lighting reveal a very strange interior. An above ground swimming pool dominates most of the garage. On the far wall, as she had hoped, hangs a flannel shirt next to several gardening implements. Also, on the far side of the garage, stands an open shower with clothing hooks on the wall. These items were not the cause of her concern, though.
Janet walks very slowly to the wall of the swimming pool. She sees that it was almost to her waist in height and that it was filled to nearly two thirds of its depth with moist humus. The true draw of her attention was at the center of the thirty-foot diameter pool. Rearing up out of the soil, to an altitude of ten feet above the mud's surface, was the largest flower Janet had ever seen. In fact, she could not even recall seeing a picture anywhere of a flower of this proportions outside of science fiction applications. The flower's bloom was structured much akin to a Lady Slipper and was a full six feet in length. Its weight caused the stem, fully as big in girth as Janet's upper leg, to bend back towards the thick, dark earth.
About the base of the large bloom, is a patch of smaller plants that spanned in a cluster to a distance of four feet away from the monumental blossom. These looked much like Hens and Chicks plants, except for a white spot in the center of each one and the fact that they were as large as heads of lettuce.
Outside, the storm now rages, and the mighty winds cause the building to tremble. Who lived here? What were they doing with these magnificent and unusual plants? Janet returns to the side door and gazed at the house again. It remains dark and silent.
Turning on her heel, Janet saunters back across the well-lit interior of the garage, to stand before the shower. Inside she sees two spigots, hopefully one for hot water.
Shrugging off her pack, she gently lowers it to the cement floor. Arguments were running through Janet's mind. This place was spooky and she was sure that the owners of the buildings and the plants would not be pleased at her intrusion. But, the promise of a warm shower and a fresh shirt to protect her from the storm could not be such an imposition on anyone with the intellect to allow for the nurturing of such astounding botanical specimens. She reaches in and turns the left spigot. Warm water turning hot, spews from the showerhead. First, a warm shower, she decides.
Peeling off her T-shirt, Janet lets it ceremoniously drop to the floor. She then bends over and unlaces her hiking boots. Kicking them off, she bends over once more to roll off her socks. The concrete floor is not cold, as she would have imagined. Standing erect again, Janet engages the snap and zipper of her jeans and wriggles out of them as quickly as possible.
Janet sees a full length mirror to the left of the shower and slowly walks over to stand before it. Her sparkling brown eyes see a figure reflected before her of a young lady. She is five feet and five inches in height and she is approaching thirty-five years of age. The lady is slim of figure with a little bit of a flare at the hips. Although not buxom, Janet's pert breasts are a 34-C size and no lover she has ever known has seemed disappointed. Her long and raven black hair is set in small ringlets. This is a reaction to its exposure to the day's humidity. It frames the fine lines of her jawbones and at that point she looks at the scraped spot on her upper stomach. Janet touches it gingerly, and winces, knowing it will be tender for a few days. The overhead lights play shadows on her well-muscled legs that gracefully blend into her firm buttocks.
Finally, she notes the thong bathing suit bottom she is wearing. Janet smiles, knowing that she has paid the dues of shaving the body hair from that part of her anatomy, but didn't have the courage to wear it publicly at the beach yesterday. Framed in the background of the striking pose, is the tremendous flower that shares this space with her.
She returns to her clothes and arranges them in a neat pile placing her watch on top of them. Janet walks to where the flannel shirt hangs on the wall and checks it out. It is an extra large size and has only three buttons, but it will certainly do.
As Janet climbs into the shower, she adjusts the water to a warm flow. Looking down the length of her body as the water cascades off, she sees traces of brown lines where dirt from her earlier fall have eluded her efforts to clean herself. The pleasantly warm water lulls her almost to trance. Her recent difficulties fade into a dark hole of memories as Janet finds herself soothed by the simple pleasure of the shower. All the time, her gaze is repeatedly lured back to the large plant at the center of the pool.
With resolution, Janet turns off both spigots. There is no towel, so an air- drying might be in order. Although the weather outside is very wet, the air inside the garage seems dry, with the pungent scent of nitrogenated fertilizer and a sweetness that must be emanating from the blossom.
Janet views the immense plant again. What a tremendous adventure she has to relate to her girlfriends! What a magnificent creature the flower seems. She thinks she should at least take pictures of it to prove to her friends the authenticity of her escapades.
Opening the daypack, Janet removes her camera and checks the settings and general condition. She is pleased to find it in order on all accounts.
Janet bellies up against the pool wall and looks through the viewfinder at the blossom. She snaps three quick pictures. Then a thought occurs to her. Sure enough, her friends would contend that this was merely a regular twelve-inch flower that she had photographed up close, or with a zoom lens. Janet lightly bites down on her lower lip, wrestling for a solution. Her story would be dismissed as hype unless she could present a credible reference to size in a picture. Then an idea strikes her. I'll use myself she decides. The mud in this pool is only a few inches above my knees and I can film myself wading in on my camcorder. Then I could return to the shower, one more time to leave clean.
Within a minute Janet is standing at the edge of the pool, clamping the camcorder to the tubular rim and adjusting the field of view to accommodate the perspective she desired of the huge blossom. She is wearing her thong again, and now has on the flannel shirt. She muses that her friends may enjoy her in a show, but not too much of her in the show.