From the Cutting Room Floor
Early reviews on the "The Storm Drain Chronicles: Enter the Storm Drain" indicated that the below excerpt was too much of a tangent from the story line and interrupted the reader's flow, so I omitted it from the work-in-progress manuscript. And, no, this has not had any of my preferred reviews or editing, so it is rough. In fact, feel free to offer observations and criticisms that you see as a reader with a fresh perspective. And, whether or not you comment, I hope you enjoy it! If you do, share it with your friends!
Jungle base camp was a flurry of activity. Barely controlled chaos reigned as everyone darted about getting ready to start the first day of the three-toed sloth study. Nine-year-old Scout sat in the eye of the storm, sitting calmly by the small fire in the middle of the camp clearing, enjoying her breakfast. She watched the hustle and bustle swirl around her while eating thick slices of juicy mango and handfuls of tangy açai berries. In-between bites of fruit, she crunched on crispy tostadinhas smeared with spoonfuls of pitanga jam. To wash it down, she sipped from a large bowl of thick hot cocoa that smelled like a wedding reception chocolate fountain, overflowing with gooey sweet goodness.
No one paid much attention to little Scout beyond a quick and friendly greeting as they hurried about. And she was okay with that. She had a friendly hi, or olá as she had learned, for everyone as she munched contentedly on her breakfast. Not far away, her father paced back and forth, one hand holding the satellite phone to his ear, the other gesticulating wildly in the air as he tried to explain to the University why it wasn’t practical to expect hourly updates on a three-day study from deep within the Brazilian rainforest. She waved enthusiastically at him, but he didn’t notice her. Around him, a dozen indigenous porters were busy checking and loading gear for the day’s tasks and Scout’s mother was busy, too—keeping the porters busy!
While she sat there, Yara, her mom’s assistant for the trip (really Scout’s babysitter, thought Scout) came by. “Stay,” Yara said. “I’m going to get you some more jam.” And she left in the direction of the kitchen tent, leaving Scout by herself. “Woof,” said Scout quietly. I’m not a dog, for heaven’s sake, she thought to herself.
A Blue Morpho butterfly, one of the largest butterflies Scout had ever seen, drifted into sight over the edge of her hot chocolate bowl as she took sips of the steaming beverage. Scout froze, completely mesmerized by the shimmery blue wings, each as large as one of Scout’s hands. Awestruck, she watched it dance effortlessly in the warm jungle air until it settled gently on a small bush at the edge of camp, waiting for her it seemed. Scout slowly put down the chipped orange ceramic bowl and stood up. Weaving her way in and out of the busy porters, Scout tiptoed towards the edge of camp and then followed the fluttering butterfly deeper and deeper into the dense rainforest.
Tired of flitting about the cramped confines of the jungle floor, the butterfly eventually floated up towards the open freedom of the tree-lined canopy, becoming smaller and smaller before it turned into an indistinguishable small blue dot and then disappeared altogether.
Disentranced, Scout blinked and looked around, quickly realizing that she had wandered far and might be lost. The jungle loomed about on all sides, hiding any indications of where the camp might be. At first she wasn’t too worried, but after listening carefully for the voices of the porters or the clanking of tools and equipment, she only heard the cacophony of the jungle serenading her with the sounds of insects, animals and rustling leaves. Her anxiety mounting, she yelled for help, but heard no response. So, she yelled some more and again listened, but still heard nothing.
Straining her hearing, willing it to be as sensitive as a barn owl’s, Scout still heard nothing but the sounds of the jungle. No responding calls, no reassuring voices. She got a sick feeling in her stomach as she realized she was alone and truly lost deep in the Brazilian rainforest. But Scout took several deep breaths, trying to calm down, muttering to herself, “chill, chill, chill.” Her dad had taught her to keep her head and stay put if she ever got lost, so after mostly regaining her composure, she looked around for a good spot in which to follow his advice. Spying a large banyan tree, she nestled into the relative safety of the gnarled aerial roots and waited.
“Mooooom, Daaaaad,” Scout yelled from time to time, but she was soon too hoarse to yell anymore. A warm misty rain fell in the early afternoon, but Scout remained mostly dry, nestling farther back into the large roots for protection. From underneath the tree, she watched the active jungle that enveloped her. Scout had thought the camp was busy, but it was nothing compared to the jungle. Brightly colored birds were everywhere above her and small furry animals scampered on the ground while several toucans in a nearby tree squabbled over berries and not far away a funny looking tamarin pounced on an unsuspecting spider. Everything seemed to be moving—except Scout. The cacophony of chattering, squeaks and rustling plants was occasionally punctuated by the sharp snap of breaking branches, sounding like something large lurking about. Scout couldn’t help but flinch each time she heard such a noise. She drew her legs to her chest and clutched her arms tightly around them, trying to be invisible to whatever might be out there. She reluctantly recalled that several carnivores, including jaguars, made their home in the jungle and hoped it was something else breaking branches. Something smaller and perhaps with fewer teeth and claws.
As dusk settled in, her stomach growled, rudely reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since earlier that morning. She contemplated eating a fat, thumb-sized gray grub squirming nearby in some decaying leaves, but looking at it up close, pinched gently between her thumb and forefinger, Scout realized she wasn’t that hungry—not yet.
Darkness finally descended and Scout began to worry even more, but resisted the temptation to search for camp. She wished she had her flashlight, but she didn’t. Nor did she have a blanket, or whistle or anything else that might help. Fortunately, she almost felt safe nestled in the roots of the banyan tree. Nevertheless, she scrunched back further as it got darker and darker, her confidence fleeing with the light of the setting sun. Scared, tired and hungry, Scout pulled armfuls of leaves around her and curled into a tight ball, soon falling into a fitful sleep.
Late the next morning Scout was found by one of the local trackers working for her dad. Seeing her tucked under the banyan tree, he touched her lightly on the shoulder, calling her softly by the alcunha, nickname, the porters had given her—Pulginha, flea, because she incessantly hopped from one side of the camp to the other trying to see what everyone was doing. “Pulginha, are you okay?” he whispered gently, surreptitiously brushing a large red and yellow centipede off of her shoulder.
Startled at first, she recognized him, jumped to her feet up and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing hard. Surprised, he awkwardly returned her embrace. “This way, Pulginha. You have been missed,” he stated simply as he started walking down the nearly invisible trail towards camp.
Scout followed him back to camp, which took much longer than she expected. Walking into camp, the team and her parents all cheered her arrival. Her parents were so happy that she was back, in fact, that they omitted the don’t-wander-away-from-camp lecture that Scout had expected. She was safe, but damp, tired and ravenous, too. On top of all that, she was a bit frazzled from a day and a night alone in the Brazilian jungle.
After getting cleaned up, eating a hot meal and taking a long siesta under the watchful eye of her mother, Scout felt much better. She got up and worked hard around camp that afternoon, apparently having suffered no ill effects aside from those easily cured by a hot shower, a stomach full of savory rice and beans and a good nap. Everyone thought she was fine, including Scout.
But she wasn’t fine.
That night, the nightmares started.
at 7:49 AM