SYNOPSIS: Stranded on a distant rain forest planet, a young girl struggles to survive.
It still seemed like a nightmare. Last night, as the night before, Shawnee hoped that once she went to sleep, she could awaken and discover herself in her own dry bed in her own quarters, surrounded by the sisters and array of stuffed animals she loved. She wouldn’t even mind if 15-year-old Nina hogged the bathroom, or if her older sister Robin, a lady in her own mind, gave her orders. For all the grief they usually gave her, at least she would be with them, not stranded on some remote planet, far from anything she would call “civilization.”
In contrast, the air felt dank and reeked constantly of the scent of moisture. The grass and leaves were perpetually wet, endowing her with their clamminess every time she brushed by one. Her flowing dark hair and loose blue blouse now cloyed to her like plastic wrap. Though Shawnee found a relatively dry cave, the chilly air made sleep a multi-part story without plot, without a climax, but with lots of action. Shifting position. Looking for the most comfortable rock to lay her soggy head on. Getting up and finding a new place. Hoping the indeterminable night would soon end.
But when the cool night ended, the muggy daytime began, which carried problems of its own. The perpetually moist air quickly stifled her in its warmth. She had to fend for her own food, entertain herself, and be alert for wild animals. Whereas the constant drip of bowing leaves charmed her at first, now it only magnified her loneliness. Would the rain ever stop? Grass and trees greener than any she saw before surrounded her, as did animals of various descriptions, both wild and tame.
With many of the tame varieties she became fast friends. Monkeys swung out of the trees, one with tufts of fur around its face like a lion’s mane. Large mice or small rabbits—Shawnee wasn’t sure what they were—approached her handful of their favorite seeds and nibbled contentedly. Medium sized sloths with their lethargic movements would keep their distance, but they did not seem to mind her watching them forage for food in the trees like diminutive bears.
She still remembered yesterday’s encounter with a leopard. Its fur boasted an odd shade of green, camouflaging it in the forest, with fewer darker spots than the leopards she knew on Earth. It stalked her like prey until she rushed it, flailing her arms. For a moment it maintained its stand, determined to carry through its plans to have her for its meal, but finally it turned and galloped into the forest.
Now, as the suns peeked through the few holes in the foliage canopy, Shawnee reflected how different was life on the mother ship. She wished her family never took a pleasure trip through this solar system in the family runabout, leaving the spaceship Virgo and hopping from one planet to another, to see what, if any, life existed there. And she regretted being eagerly in favor of the trip when her father suggested it.
Most of the worlds they encountered they could never land on, only admire from afar. Colorful swirls of gases. Misty atmospheres impossible to breathe. Rocky worlds devoid of air. So it was with great delight that they found this one, a world presenting a wealth of arboreal and animal life. It seemed so inviting, so terrestrial, that Shawnee’s father decided to venture in and make a day of exploring.
How were they to know other men were exiled here? Surface scans failed to show them. How was anyone to know they would be so desperate to escape, they would ambush innocent people and force them to take off with them? Shawnee escaped, barely dodging their fire, but now she wished even for the risk of her life. Were there more around? Would she encounter them, as out-weaponed and helpless as she was? She’d rather wrestle the green leopard than meet one of them.
Maybe there were only four, as they said. Maybe all the rest really had died off. But the nagging fear they lied plagued her solitary life. She listened to the constant dripping, the primate calls, the frog concerts, and various insect clicks and chirrups. Nothing in those everyday sounds seemed remotely human, but on an alien planet, how could she be sure?
Seeing her runabout take off without her made Shawnee’s heart sink. She couldn’t blame her family; they’d been forced to abandon her. What would those men to do them? Would Derek overpower them? Would he and Mike find a way to subdue them? She knew her brothers could hold their own in most conflicts, but against rifles and pistols, how could she be sure they would survive? Nina was probably cowering in Robin or her mother’s arms. She could still hear her father’s voice, trying to keep his family calm.
“It’s all right,” he said. “They won’t do anything if we do as they say.”
But Shawnee escaped and wound up alone. Would she be here the rest of her life? Would they ever come back for her? Could they? Only if they could shake the pirates first, she was sure. What if the captain and crew were left wondering what happened? Surely they would begin a search pattern. Could surface scans see her while she was in her cave?
The uncertainty made her cry, wailing and sobbing from a broken heart. Usually any sorrow would find comfort in family and friends, offering words of encouragement, but not this time. And that made the sobs all the more lung-wrenching. She mourned nonstop for perhaps an hour before she was cried out.
Then came the prayers, accusatory at first. “O God, how could You let this happen to me? What did I ever do to deserve this? Why did You abandon me to die?”
But as she continued along those lines, the prayers gradually changed. “God, please protect my family. Help them survive the pirates who kidnapped them, and perhaps bring them to You. And please be with me in this world, help me survive. Guide me to do the right things in this environment until help comes. And please, please! Send someone to look for me. Rescue me from this dreadful place.”
That’s when the survival skills she had learned as a young girl had kicked in. Using the food analyzer she kept with her, she searched for plants she could eat. Her taste buds endured one bitter and sour ordeal after another before she found edible plants. One perpetually wet bush yielded berries, ranging from white to purple; only the purple ones smelled and tasted sweet enough to be ripe. She tried the seeds and nuts she fed her little friends, and adopted them into her diet.
She wanted to eat meat, too, but for that she needed a shelter in which to build a fire. Eventually she found this cave, using sturdy sticks lashed with lianas to build a wooden lean-to at its entrance. But building the fire was the real trick. Finally she had to give up the prospect of cooked meat and forced herself to find edible insects, ignoring the repulsion which originally entered her mind. Eventually some of them didn’t taste so bad.
Those were her activities her first night here. Even today, three days later, her mind searched for a way, any way, she could build a fire. Protected in her cave with the lean-to canopy, she was sure the rain could not douse one already burning, but all the wood was perpetually damp. She had a weapon for self-defense, but using it to dry and ignite wet wood would drain its energy bank, leaving her defenseless.
Shawnee checked the branches and leaves she brought into the cave, setting them in the very back to let dry. Broader green leaves covered them to protect them from the endless mists that reached even here. Moving the leaves aside, she examined the drying sticks and leaves, but her shoulders sagged. The sticks were still green, and though the bark had dried some, the wood remained wet. The leaves, though turning brown, were not brittle enough to make good tinder. Even if they were dry enough, she still had the problem of lighting them under her canopy on wet grass.
Shawnee sneezed, and moaned. “Oh great, now I’m catching cold. I was afraid this would happen … and me without medicine.”
In a sense, her survival so far made her feel empowered. After three days, she was pleased to find sufficient food to avoid starvation, if not to completely fill her. But she felt tired from her continued lack of sleep. Her sneezing and sniffling made her worry about catching pneumonia with no way to ward it off, or to fight it once it gripped her lungs. After the sickness weakened her, she would no longer have the energy to defend herself against the leopard, nor any other predator to eye her for lunch.
“Dear God, You have protected me so far. But Lord, I fear it’s a losing battle. I want Mom’s home-cooked meals again. I want my family. Please let them find me, get me out of this world. I trust in You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Already the misty air felt warmer. The clingy mugginess was starting again. Now would come seemingly eternal hours of wiping sweat, trying to rest, trying to cool off without wind or even a breeze. Would this torture ever end?
“Lord, if I must die here, let me die peacefully. Don’t let pneumonia or anything else make me suffer before You take me. You are my Savior, my Rock, my Redeemer. I trust you implicitly. Give me peace.”
What happened next, Shawnee could not explain. An unusual warmth filled her soul, far different from the increasing forest heat. Her heart glowed with the assurance that not only would God protect her, but He would be with her even in death. And she would certainly be with Him in eternal life. Though her circumstances continued to be hopeless, her hunger real, and the dampness made her hair and clothes cling, these no longer mattered.
“This must be Your peace, Lord,” she whispered, closing her eyes and leaning back. “I’ve never felt Your personal peace before. I’ve never prayed for it before. Lord, forgive me for my attitude toward my sisters. I’d give anything to be back with them, with my entire family, with my entire crew. If I must live here another day or two before I die, so be it. I know You are here with me, no matter what.”
Finally at ease, Shawnee stood and ambled out of the cave, hugging the post of her lean-to as though it were an old friend. She sneezed, and chuckled a little as she wiped her nose. The drooping trees were the same. The hanging lianas. The glimpses of monkeys in the trees, of the rabbit-mice on the ground, of the colorful plumage of birds that flapped low enough for her to see. And suddenly it was her forest. Her vines, her trees, her pets. This was her home.
“I’m not alone. God is here. Alone but never lonely. That’s what He promised.”
A beam shone through the foliage, a light that gradually increased in brightness. Somehow it seemed brighter than normal. Curious, Shawnee wandered toward the light and stood under it. The ever-present rain fell directly on her now. She lifted her face to feel its coolness, if even for a moment. And the beam continued to brighten.
Her mind became aware of a low rumble overhead, the familiar engine rumble of a runabout. It seemed to be a sound from ages ago, as though she were in a deep sleep for a change and dreaming. But the sound continued, and in the light she recognized a familiar shape.
“They’re back!” she squealed. “They’ve finally come back for me. Oh, thank you, Lord! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Backing away, she let the boxy runabout descend in her place, and land in the soggy grass. Monkeys screeched and scampered away; birds cawed and chattered as they fled. Leaves released by their frenzied departure showered Shawnee as surely as the rain. She watched as the familiar hatch lowered before her, anxiously waiting for it to open. Whom would she meet? Her parents? Her brothers? Or someone else from the Virgo crew, here to tell her her family had been killed? This thought she quickly sent on its way.
And it stayed away when the hatch slid aside and she ran straight into her father’s arms—crying, laughing and jabbering, all at the same time. She was passed to her mother, then to her brothers and sisters. They didn’t seem to mind that she was grimy and damp, they all greeted her with tears and kisses and welcome-homes.
“Oh, I’m so glad to be back,” she cried. “I won’t ever be ungrateful for my family again.”
In the next instant, she invited them to see where she lived, how she survived. She showed them her cave, her lean-to, her food supply. Astonishment and pride in her perseverance dominated their remarks.
“In a way, I’m going to miss this,” she said at last, sneezing again. “But Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home with my family.”