THE LOST WORLD
- A New Equilibrium
She had been able to do it since she was a little girl – float on her back, almost motionless, using only delicate waves of her fingers to maintain her equilibrium. The noonday sun lay heavy on the jungle, even the lush foliage hung low in the heat – but deep below the canopy the water was cool. Marguerite drifted in the bathing pool, lightly fanning each hand as needed. Lazy crescents rode the water's surface and winked in the shifting sunlight.
With practiced ease, she kept her ears above the waterline. The steady cadence of insects and gentle splashing of water was more soothing than she would have imagined. The heat had driven the larger predators to ground and her housemates were busy with their own affairs. This was a rare moment of tranquility. She lifted an arm and watched the water roll down her tan skin. Gracefully, she began a slow backstroke towards the deeper end of the pool and then she resumed her quiet contemplation.
She had slept in the most luxurious hotels and eaten at the finest restaurants on three continents – she had also stolen bread from curbside merchants in Paris and hidden out in the sewers of London. Her life had always been one of extremes, and she knew very well which she preferred. Lately, the Plateau seemed to be a bit of both. The increasing realization that she had found some happiness here was unsettling. Perhaps life on the edge of this primordial razor left no room for pretense.
An elusive patch of sunshine broke through the high cover and crept across her bare midriff, warming the puddle that had collected at her navel. She arched her back and rolled her head from side to side, letting the mild current take her thick dark hair.
Had her demons given up the chase? Was it finally time to let down her guard? The jungle answered with silence – the insects and birds had gone suddenly quiet. She pulled her legs into her body and swung upright, leaving scarcely a ripple on the surface. Slowly, she submerged herself to eyelevel and began scanning the perimeter for danger.
If the beast hadn't moved, she would have missed it altogether. Its leathery green hide blended perfectly into the shadowed undergrowth. Marguerite held perfectly still, hoping that the raptor was unaware of her. In a glance, she calculated the distance to her rifle. She would be torn apart long before reaching the weapon. Ever so slightly, she tilted her head to take a breath. Instantly, the creature locked onto her movement.
Marguerite sucked in a thin audible breath. The raptor shifted its weight forward, leaning its massive chest close to the ground – tail held high. If it charged, its powerful hind legs would hurdle it through the shallow pool with startling speed. The confrontation would be over in seconds.
Every instinct screamed, Run! Flee! Adrenaline fueled fear thundered in her ears, clouding her reason. She saw herself running through the back alleys of Paris, the gendarmerie in close pursuit. She could feel the noose of Shanghais Xan tightening around her throat. Had she actually considered letting down her guard?
The predator held its attack posture. Take control of your fear. She extended a leg to steady herself against the rocky bottom. If the creature struck, she would dip below the surface and push herself downstream. She began edging toward the shore nearest her rifle. The brute tracked her motion with a few hesitant steps and then stopped. Something was wrong.
Marguerite had expected the worst. She studied the dinosaur more closely. Its eyes were cloudy and many of its scales were broken, or missing altogether. The raptor lowered its mouth to the pool in an attempt to drink, but the water only sprayed from its nostrils in fitful snorts. At length, the beast's legs buckled and it lay down in the high reeds at the water's edge. She had seen sick reptiles before, but this one simply looked old – old and very tired.
Fear released her. But she didn't take her eyes off of the animal. He looked lost and confused; there seemed to be no fight left in him. His eyes turned to hers and the two stared at one another for a time. A twinge of sorrow washed over her and suddenly she was very cold.
She yelled at the dying animal, "You're the lucky one! You're getting off of this damned plateau." But her heart wasn't in it.
She waded to shore and found a bit of sunshine to warm herself. Then she wrung her hair and laid it onto her back. Her skin dried quickly in the jungle heat and then she began to dress. The old raptor watched while she buttoned her blouse, fastened her skirt, and slipped into her boots. As she shouldered her rifle she heard footfalls coming down the path from the direction of the tree house. It was sure to be John checking in on her.
Marguerite felt oddly protective; the hunter would certainly shoot the beast on sight. The fallen reptile sensed the approaching danger, but it didn't have the strength to rise. Marguerite called out John's name and started up the trail to intercept him.
"Am I too late?" Roxton gave her a suggestive wink.
She quickly grabbed his hand and turned him back up the path, but her urgency was transparent.
"What's down there?" Roxton stepped past her, looking towards the water.
The encounter at the pool had struck something deep inside her. She had no heart for deception. She only looked into his eyes, hoping that he would walk away with her.
"What is it?" he asked again, fully aware that she was hiding something.
"It's nothing, John," she said, in a voice so sincere, there was no room for doubt. "Some things are best left to rest."
It was not a refutal or defense; she seemed to be leaving it up to him. He stepped back to her and brushed a stray curl from her cheek. Then he took her hand and started up the trail towards the tree house.
"Someday," he whispered.
She leaned her shoulder into his and smiled. "Today seems as good as any."