“How far did you say this look-out was?” Sam asked, trying not to pant. She had thought to be in better shape than her smaller friend, but their hike through the forest was teaching her something else: Jody might be smaller and seemingly less strong, but that was not the case. The energetic red-head had set the pace and Sam could feel the muscles in her legs burn. She’d love to ask her friend to take a short break, but her pride prevented her from doing so. Instead, she squared her shoulders, re-adjusted the backpack she was carrying and continued to follow the smaller woman in front of her, making sure to avoid tripping over the many tree-roots that littered the path.
“We should almost be there,” Jody answered, casting a look over her shoulder and grinning when she noticed her friend’s flushed face. She had to give Sam credit for stubbornly keeping up with her, but for the time being she had no intention to slow down. The tall blonde had sparked a competitive streak when she had gallantly offered to carry the backpack, telling Jody she was taller and stronger and the pack would be no burden at all. Jody has just smiled at Sam, but at that moment she had quietly decided to show her friend she was made out of tougher material than the blonde was giving her credit for.
“Do you want me to carry the backpack for a while?” Jody asked, trying not to grin when Sam grunted something that sounded like: ‘No way, I’m doing fine.’
“Do you want me to slow down the pace?” Jody asked, stopping in the middle of the path and turning around.
Sam, who was keeping her eyes on the ground, almost plowed into her and would have fallen had Jody not quickly grabbed her arms to steady her.
“Sam?” the red-head asked, sending her friend a questioning look.
“Thanks for catching me,” Sam breathed. “And I’m fine, Jody, really.”
A pair of green eyes locked with hers and Sam noticed the small rise of Jody’s eyebrows, which indicated her friend clearly didn’t believe a word she said.
“You’re panting,” Jody stated.
“It’s the hot, humid air,” Sam immediately responded.
“Your face is flushed.”
“That’s because for the last two hours I’ve been looking at a shapely behind,” Sam quipped with a twinkle in her eyes.
That remark earned her a playful swat across her own backside and she laughed.
“I know what you’re trying to do,” Sam sighed. “You want me to go down on my knees and ask forgiveness for my belief that smaller women, like you, are less strong and do not have the physical prowess us tall women possess.”
Jody tilted her head and took a moment to ponder the eloquent statement.
“That sounds like a good idea,” she nodded after a moment of silence.
“I concur,” the blonde smiled. “There’s just one problem, if I go down on my knees right now, I won’t be able to get back up again.” She smiled when Jody laughed and her eyes danced when she looked down at her smaller friend. “Would you settle for an apology and a kiss?”
“Always,” Jody replied, lifting her head to meet Sam’s soft lips. Unconsciously, she moved closer, pressing her body against Sam’s while their kiss deepened.
“This is so much better than stealing kisses behind the shed,” Sam whispered after a few long moments of intimate exploration.
“I love not having to worry about spying siblings,” Jody admitted. She pushed back some of the unruly, blonde hair that had fallen across Sam’s forehead and smiled up at her friend who was staring at her with such a love-struck expression on her face it made Jody chuckle.
“Don’t look at me like that when my dad is around,” she smiled, kissing the corner of Sam’s mouth before moving to the smooth skin of her face.
“Like what?” Sam breathed, intensely aware of the soft lips that were pressing feather light kisses on her cheeks, chin and lips.
“Like …” Jody was searching for an appropriate analogy, but Sam beat her to it.
“Like I’ve been on a starvation diet and you’re my favorite ice cream,” the blonde grinned.
“I would have put it a little more romantically, but yes, something like that,” Jody laughed. “You’re such a goofball, Sam.”
“But you love me anyway,” Sam replied.
“How could I not?” Jody smiled, standing on her toes to give Sam another kiss.
“Are you ready to continue?” she asked. “Our walk, that is,” she quickly added, seeing the amusement in the blonde’s eyes when a blush crept up her cheeks.
“Are we really almost there?” Sam wanted to know.
“We should be,” Jody nodded. “The path looks a little different than it did the last time I was here, but…”
“Are we lost?” Sam frowned.
“No, we’re not,” Jody replied with confidence. “This is rain forest, Sam. Things grow fast here. The last time I was here was only a few weeks ago.”
“Good. I rely on you for survival,” Sam teased, gently pulling a strand of long red hair.
“There should be a clearing around the next bend; it’s the one I told you about, Sam, the one with the creek and waterfall. It’s a great place to stop and have something to eat.”
“Let’s do that, then, I’m hungry,” Sam said, dropping a kiss on Jody’s head, putting her hands on the red-head’s shoulders, turning her around and giving her an gentle shove.
“You and food,” Jody said shaking her head.
“Hey, I’m a growing girl,” Sam replied in defense. “Besides, I don’t think that…” All of a sudden a high-pitched noise pierced the air and Sam paused in mid-sentence, slowly turning her head. “Did you hear that?”
“I did,” Jody frowned.
“What was it?”
“I don’t know,” the red-head answered in a soft voice. “It didn’t sound like any animal I’ve ever heard before.”
“Then maybe it wasn’t one,” Sam concluded. Her voice was calm, but she had stepped closer to her friend in an unconscious need for comfort. “Could it be one of your brothers or sisters trying to scare us?”
“I doubt it,” Jody answered. “The sound came from ahead and I know there’s only one track here and that’s the one we’re on. It’s a dead end.”
“Are you sure?”
“It ends at a steep cliff, so, yes, I’m pretty sure,” Jody nodded.
They were silent for a few moments, very aware of the sounds that surrounded them, but unable to hear another strange sound.
“Shall we continue?” Jody asked after a while, looking up at the blonde with an expectant look.
“Sure, why not,” Sam drawled, but she didn’t sound entirely convinced.
“It could have been an animal,” Jody tried to reassure her friend.
“One that hasn’t been discovered yet,” Sam replied in a dry voice. “That could be interesting. If we’re able to catch a glimpse of it, maybe they’ll name it after us.”
They slowly continued their hike, following the mostly overgrown path that, at times, was hardly visible. No more unsettling noises were heard anymore and slowly the two friends relaxed again, enjoying the beauty of their surroundings and each other’s company.
In the distance they could hear the sound of running water and Jody cast a look over shoulder, smiling at Sam who sent her a happy grin.
“Feeding time,” the blonde joked and Jody nodded, pushing aside a branch that obscured the view of the clearing she knew was only a few more steps ahead. Sam, who had not expected Jody not to move walked into the red-head’s smaller frame and automatically wrapped her arms around her to keep them both from falling.
“What?” she asked, peering over Jody’s head.
“There’s an old house,” Jody answered in bewilderment.
“Looks more like a shack to me,” Sam said. “But I thought you’d been here before?”
“I have,” Jody replied quietly. “But there’s no house here.”
“We’re looking at it,” Sam frowned. “I hate to ask this, but, are you sure we’re…”
“Sam, I grew up in this area. I have been here more times than I can remember. There’s not supposed to be a house here,” Jody said with so much conviction Sam believed her.
“Well, that’s a little strange then,” Sam drawled, tightening her arms around Jody.
“I say,” Jody whispered. “Let’s go check it out.”
“Are you sure?” Sam wanted to know. “I mean, when all of sudden a house, or shack, grows out of the bush, I can’t help but being a little suspicious. Not to mention…apprehensive,” she added, making a face.
“I’m just curious,” Jody mumbled, grabbing Sam’s hand and stepping forward.
“And curious,” Sam admitted. “Just a little.”
Jody let out a nervous chuckle and pulled Sam with her.
“I need to explore this, Sam. This is just plain weird.”
“Our next outing will be a stroll along the beach,” Sam muttered, increasing her grip on Jody’s hand, not willing to let go. “So, tell me, is there anything else different?”
“The bush looks denser than usual,” Jody observed. “The creek and waterfall are the same, although the current seems stronger, like it has recently rained. Other than that and the house, things look the same.”
“I wonder if there’s anyone in that shack,” Sam wondered and Jody nodded.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
“Somehow I was afraid you’d say that,” Sam mumbled. “It looks like it can collapse at any given moment.”
Slowly, they approached the small building. It was made out of roughly hewn wood and there were two windows that had no panes. A ragged looking curtain slowly moved in the breeze. Even from a distance it was clear to see the fabric, once a bright blue, was covered with dirt and mold. A door, held up only by one rusty hinge, was ajar, not revealing anything that was behind it. The chimney, made out of gray-colored river rocks was precariously leaning toward the left and Sam nervously glanced at it. The rocks were large and being hit by one could cause some serious injuries.
“You think that weird noise came from here?” Sam whispered as they slowly approached the building.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Jody answered in an equally soft voice. Her eyes scanned the windows and door, searching for a sign of life.
“Hello! Is there anyone home?” she shouted, feeling Sam jump behind her.
A few birds flew up, chattering angrily at being disturbed during their foraging on the forest floor. The sound of their flapping wings made Sam jump again and the blonde cast a nervous look over her shoulder.
“Did you have to do that?” she hissed, aware of her racing heart and sweaty palms. “You just made my body produce an unhealthy amount of adrenaline.”
“Sorry,” Jody nervously chuckled. “Come on, Sam, I don’t believe there’s anyone here”
“That’s because ten minutes ago they were murdered by some ghostly appearance that lives in the rain forest and feeds on adrenaline,” Sam mumbled.
“That’s reassuring, Sam,” Jody chuckled. “Besides, I always thought you loved adventure.”
“I do,” Sam nodded. “The less scary kind, though. I admit, I’m a wimp. I hope that doesn’t make you fall out of love with me.”
Jody glanced over her shoulder and smiled at the blonde who didn’t look very happy or relaxed.
“It makes you human, so how could I not like that?” Jody replied with a wink. “Let’s go inside.”
“Isn’t that considered trespassing?”
“It’s okay if you want to stay outside, Sam,” Jody said, trying to free her hand from Sam’s strong grip. “I’ll be right back.”
“I’m coming with you,” Sam answered with a hint of indignation. “I’m not letting you go in by yourself, nor will I stay out here by myself, thank you very much.”
Hand-in-hand they approached the broken door and when Jody reached out a hand to grab the knob and pull it open, Sam held her breath, ready to run and pulling Jody with her as she did so.
The rusty hinge protested loudly when the door was slowly opened, but it remained in place, much to the girls’ relief. When the door was opened far enough they were greeted by darkness and the musty smell of damp earth.
“Look, the floor is just soil,” Jody pointed. “It looks so old, but I know it wasn’t here a few weeks ago.”
“You’d think it would have looked a lot newer if it had been built recently,” Sam observed, feeling a little more relaxed knowing nothing had jumped out at them yet. The shack consisted of one room only, with a door and two windows. There was no furniture except for a rickety table underneath one of the windows.
“It’s not the Hilton,” Sam mumbled, following Jody inside.
“It’s weird, Sam,” Jody said in a hushed voice, glancing around the one-room building. “I’d have thought it would be darker inside, but it isn’t.”
“Hum,” was all Sam replied, searching the ceiling for a skylight, or any other opening in the roof. She didn’t find one. She did feel they were being watched, however, something she was reluctant to share with Jody. Besides, it was probably just her overactive imagination t work.
“It’s a little cool in here,” Sam spoke after a few minutes of silence. “Let’s go back outside, sit in the sun and eat a sandwich,” she suggested as casual as she could.
Jody, feeling the goose bumps all over her skin, nodded and pulled Sam’s hand.
“Let’s go,” she suggested, willing to leave the strange structure. She stepped into the direction of the door, when, all of a sudden, she felt like the ground was moving underneath her feet.
“Did you feel that, Sam?” she breathed, grasping the blonde’s arm with both her hands and hanging on tightly.
“I sure did,” Sam whispered. “Let’s get the heck out of here, I…”
Before Sam could finish her sentence, the door was slammed shut, making both women jump in surprise.
Sam grabbed the doorknob and pushed, but the door remained shut. She tried again, with a little more force this time, but to no avail; the door remained shut.
“If things were a little weird before, they are downright freaky now,” she whispered, nervously raking her fingers through her hair. “Let’s try the window.”
With less than three steps, Sam had reached the window, still firmly holding on to Jody’s hand. She pushed aside the table and was ready to swing one, long leg over the windowsill when all of a sudden her leg bounced back, making her almost lose her balance.
“What are you doing, Sam?” Jody asked with a frown, anxiously looking from the closed door to Sam and back again.
“I…I’m trying to go through the window,” he explained slowly.
“Go for it,” Jody encouraged her friend, gently squeezing her hand.
“I can’t,” was the soft answer.
A pair of green eyes looked up at her with a mixture of frustration and curiosity.
“I wish I knew,” Sam sighed. She reached out a hand toward the window and gasped in surprise when it encountered something flexible, but firm. Whatever it was, it was invisible and keeping them from exiting the building through the window.
“Feel this,” the blonde said, bringing Jody’s hand to the invisible wall.
The red-head drew her hand back as if burnt and took a quick step back.
“What is that?” she breathed.
“Ectoplasm?” Sam tried to joke.
“Sam, there are no ghosts here,” Jody corrected her friend, but she didn’t sound convinced.
“There’s also no building here,” Sam replied with a sigh. “Yet, we’re inside of it and are unable to leave.” The blonde pulled her friend a little closer and wrapped both her arms around the smaller body. “Maybe, just maybe, this is a dream and soon we’ll be waking up and…ouch, that hurt,” Sam hissed when Jody pinched her.
“Nope, no dream,” the red-head stated. “So, what do we do now?”
“I’d like to say we’ll make ourselves comfortable, but there’s not even a chair in this place, so I guess that idea is out of the window,” Sam muttered.
“Maybe we should focus on why we can’t leave,” Jody mused, feeling a lot better now she had Sam’s arms firmly wrapped around her body.
“Well, maybe because the door and windows are blocked,” Sam replied patiently.
“I know that, goofball. But why? Why are we stopped from leaving?”
“To answer that question, my brain needs to go into a direction it doesn’t like,” Sam sighed. “It will need to wonder if this…building…has a mind of its own, which, I may add, is really, really creepy. I’m not in the habit of contributing thoughts and ideas to an inanimate object, turning it into a sentient being.”
“Then don’t,” Joy said reasonably. “Let’s assume this building is a tool. Someone or something is using it. We know how, but we need to figure out why.”
“Well, we’re stuck in here,” Sam sighed. “Does that mean it’s used as a trap?”
“Perhaps, although the word ‘trap’ has a negative sound to it,” Jody replied in a pensive voice.
“And rightly so,” Sam spoke. “Not being able to leave this shack is not a very positive experience to me.” She took a deep breath and dropped a kiss on Jody’s forehead. “Alright, let’s look around and see if we can find any clues as to what’s going on here. Are you afraid?”
Jody took a few moments to ponder that question and slowly shook her head.
“No, not really. I’m more puzzled by the whole thing. Are you?”
“Puzzled? Yes, very much. And no, I’m not scared, just a little worried.” Sam glanced at the aged planks the wall was made out of and briefly wondered if she’d be able to break through them. The fact that even the ‘open window’ was no option made her decide not even to try; she’d only end up hurting herself. She wondered if the wall would actually feel like wood and she tentatively stretched out a hand to touch it. Instead of a slightly rough, grainy texture, her brain registered a smooth, cool substance. It felt more like glass than timber.
“Odd,” Sam whispered, grabbing Jody’s hand and guiding it to the wall.
“Feel this, honey” she encouraged, watching Jody’s eyebrows rise in surprise.
“This is definitely not wood,” Jody concluded, tracing the wall with her fingertips. “So, is it safe to say this is not just a regular shack?” she asked, winking at Sam, who was about to make a cynical remark but chuckled instead.
“Nobel Prize for logic,” she teased, grabbing one of Jody’s hands before it could pinch her. “Okay, let’s think for a minute,” Sam suggested, while her eyes scanned the walls and the floor. “Al of a sudden a small building appears here. It looks like it’s been here for a long time, but can’t have been here more than two weeks. The walls seem to be made out of wood, but feel like they’re made out of glass or ceramics. Oh, and it’s holding us captive,” Sam added with a wry smile. “If only we could figure out why, we might be able to get out of here.” She sighed and slowly shook her head. “If only it would give us a clue.”
“I still think we might be sharing a dream,” Jody mused.
“You pinched me and I felt that,” Sam objected
“Of course you did. If we’d be sharing a dream then, in my dream I would pinch you and you would feel it. Right?”
“You make my brain itch,” Sam answered, making Jody chuckle. “But, yes, I see the logic of that. I think.” She traced a crack in the wall with her finger and took a moment to gather her thoughts. “If we are sharing a dream, then where are we? Did we take a nap during our hike? Am I sleeping in your room? I’d better not be in your bed, because your dad would skin me alive.” The crack Sam’s finger had been tracing stopped and she leaned in closer to look at the area her finger was pressing against. “Look, Jody, a button,” she exclaimed. “How weird is that? I didn’t see it before, did you?”
“No, I didn’t,” Jody shook her head. “Press it, Sam.”
“Press it?” Sam echoed. “I don’t know, love. I might start a nuclear war by pressing an unknown button. I’d hate to be responsible for the annihilation of the human race.”
“If we blow up the planet that would be a moot point, honey. Now, press that button. It might get us out of here.”
“While apologizing to our great-grandchildren I hereby do as you wish,” Sam spoke with a healthy dose of pathos. She gently pressed the area her finger was resting on and slowly felt it move underneath her fingertips.
“It’s doing something,” she whispered, aware of the fast beating of her heart.
Suddenly, with the whooshing sound of rushing air, part of the wall fell away, creating an opening that was double the size of the door on the other side of the shack. Both Sam and Jody stood very still, barely breathing when cool, damp air touched their skin. Hand-in-hand they stepped through the hole in the wall, entering a clearing in the forest that was so beautiful, they could only stare. A small waterfall provided a stream of clear water that playfully tumbled down rocks, pooling into a tiny lake, before making its way down the creek, into the forest. Colorful birds were hopping from branch to branch, chattering and seemingly oblivious to the presence of the two women.
“I’d have to say that pressing that button sure improved the view,” Sam stammered. “Do you recognize this place?”
“I do,” Jody nodded. “It’s the same waterfall in the same clearing we entered when we saw the house. It’s just that….it looks the same, but different.”
“Cleaner, more…pure,” Jody quietly answered. “Maybe the way it was before it was touched by humans.” She looked around and there was a pensive expression in her eyes. “No matter how beautiful this place is, Sam, we humans have left our mark. It’s amazing how destructive we are.”
“I know, it’s sad but true,” Sam sighed. “How is this place called again?”
“It’s known as Booyong mountain,” Jody answered softly. “It has changed owners quite a few times. I wish it could be sold to someone who would leave it the way it is and come up with a way to preserve the area, while still allowing people to enjoy it.”
“Is it a sacred place?”
“I can’t answer that,” Jody replied. “Maybe it is, although not in the sense of Uluru or the area around Lake Narran. There are stories about this area though. It is said that the spirits in this area were chosen by the gods to safeguard it.”
“Hard to keep it safe from stupidity and neglect” Sam sighed. Her eyes scanned the clearing with its waterfall, tall ferns and multitude of flowers and she let out a slow breath.
“I’m not a spirit, but if I had the chance, I’d keep it safe,” she mumbled. “It’s so beautiful.”
Sam had barely finished speaking when a violent tremble made the earth shake. With a muffled cry she grabbed Jody, holding her tight, while fighting to remain upright, which wasn’t easy considering if felt like the ground underneath her feet had become liquid. It only lasted a few seconds, although to Sam and Jody it felt like hours. When the trembling subsided, a loud creaking noise made them turn around and to their utter disbelief; the mysterious shack they had just walked out of was slowly but surely sinking into the ground. They could only stare as it was swallowed by the earth. When it has completely disappeared and the last bits of dirt had settled, Sam turned to Jody with an expression of utter disbelief on her face.
“Pinch me again,” she said in a hoarse voice.
Without uttering a sound, Jody complied and Sam winced when her skin was pinched between a strong thumb and forefinger.
“Still awake,” Sam whispered. “Did you see that?”
“Do you mean the ground swallowing that…shack?” Jody replied. “Um…yes, I think so.”
“I need to sit down and…and…I need to sit down,” Sam muttered.
Silently, they walked to a flat rock next to the creek and slowly sat down, still trying to process what they had just witnessed.
“Do you believe what we just saw?” Jody finally asked after a very long silence.
“Ask me again later,” Sam answered, still staring at the spot where the shack had disappeared. “I guess this explains why you haven’t seen it before,” she continued with a wry chuckle. “Maybe it just comes and goes as it pleases.”
“I don’t think I’m ready to consider that option,” was Jody’s response. The red-head rubbed her eyes and took in their surroundings. The clearing they were in was the way she remembered it and everything seemed very peaceful, just like it normally did.
“Maybe I‘m going crazy,” she thought aloud.
“If that’s the case, I’m right behind you,” Sam replied, turning to look at her friend. “Nobody is going to believe us, are they?”
Jody shook her head and sent her friend a smile.
“Can you blame them?”
“No. I can’t,” Sam admitted. “I can hardly believe all of this myself. I’d ask you to pinch me again, but then I’d have to explain all those bruises later.”
Jody slowly nodded and her eyes traveled from the blonde to the place where the shack had been and back again.
“Sam, after all of this, what is your most prominent thought right now?”
“That this area needs to be protected,” Sam immediately answered. Judging by the look on Jody’s face, the red-head had the same idea.
“Then maybe, some day, we will,” Jody mused and Sam nodded.
“I guess stranger things have happened,” she agreed, eliciting a laugh from her friend. “Right now, though, I could really use a hug, something to eat, something to drink, a nap with you in my arms, something to drink and a hug. Preferably in that order,” she added with a small smile.
“I’m glad you’re not picky,” Jody softly snorted, but there was a smile on her face.
“I’m not,” Sam shook her head “I just need some peace and quiet to process this…real estate vanishing act and come up with a plan to buy this mountain.”
“Buy it?” Jody chuckled.
Sam nodded, wrapped an arm around her friend’s shoulder and pulled her closer so she could plant a kiss on the red-head’s lips.
“After what we’ve gone through just now, I believe everything is possible.”
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