Silver-Barked Trees

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Set your story in the woods or on a campground. ... view prompt

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Science Fiction Happy Asian American

    Isabel held herself close as she scanned the grayish trees surrounding them. They shoot into the sky like iron totems, and she imagined them caging her in like an animal. Their red leaves made them all the more unnatural. They looked like splatters of blood on the metal. “I don’t like it here,” Isabel whimpered and rubbed her arms, shivering. “I can’t believe the shuttle dropped us on the wrong side of the planet!”

      “That’s what we get for contracting the cheapest company, I guess.” Himiko said. “On the bright side, we’ll still get to our next job on time since we finished our last mission with time to spare.”

      Isabel retorted, “We took that easy job fixing a bug in their labor robots, rushed through it, and requested to be dropped off on this planet early so we could relax in Huihung City for a couple days, visit the spas and get some good dim sum, not so we’d be stuck traversing this messed-up jungle!”

      In the afternoon a thick fog settled in the area. Himiko took a bit of rope from her duffel bag and tied it around her and Isabel’s waists just in case. She pulled out her navigator. “It’s telling us to go this way.” She pointed ahead of them. “We’ll just need to step carefully.”

      “I’ll let you lead,” Isabel said. Together, they shuffled through the underbrush, trying to be mindful of any logs lying in their path or sharp drops.

When Himiko ran into a boulder, she said, rubbing the red path on her face, “Okay. It’s your turn.”

“Fine.” Isabel stepped in front of Himiko then gulped. It had been fine a minute ago. Yes, she had felt suffocated by the fog, but seeing Himiko ahead of her and tracing her steps, Isabel felt secure. Being the leader made her feel completely mortified.

Isabel asked, “So, are we almost there?” She hoped the answer would comfort her. If the city were only a couple hours off, Isabel could be brave enough to forge onward.

Himiko checked the navigator. “Oh, no,” she mumbled. She bumped the screen a couple times. “It might be broken. The display is all weird.”

“Seriously?” Isabel said. “So this entire time, we might have been heading in the opposite direction of the city!”

“I’m sorry,” Himiko said. “I’m sure it was working before though. Let’s just camp here for tonight. I’m sure the fog will lift by morning, then we’ll check the navigator again.”

      “Ugh, I don’t want to sleep in this place,” Isabel said.

      “Me neither, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Himiko told her. “It’ll be dark soon. Between the fog and the darkness, we’ll surely run into something unsavory if we push ourselves.”

Dropping her duffel bag on the soil, Himiko began unrolling their sleeping bags—which she brought with them on every mission since she’s slept in some seedy places. “Start a fire. We should eat something hot before going to bed.”

      Isabel picked up a silver stick and held it above her lighter as she triggered the flame, but the stick wouldn’t light. She grimaced. “Nothing makes sense on this planet.”

      “Try the leaves, maybe,” Himiko said.

      Sighing, Isabel walked over and picked a leaf up and lit up. It melted into goo, and she wiped it off her hand. “I guess we’ll be eating cold rations today,” Isabel said.

Himiko ripped the wrapper off the ration tray and took out metal chopsticks, handing a pair to Isabel.

      “Isabel.” Himiko reached to place her hand on Isabel’s shoulder. “It’s going to be alright. At least we’re together.”

      “I’d rather be alone in a nice hotel room,” Isabel said.

Himiko withdrew her hand and took a bite. “You know, this isn’t that bad. At least there’s no one chasing us. And there aren’t any weird bugs.”

Isabel smiled. “Remember that time we went to that mining planet to fix their mining bots? There was a centipede in the motel we slept in. It laid eggs in my suitcase.”

“Those eggs sold for quite a bit,” Himiko said. “It allowed us to take that week-long vacation on that fancy space cruise.”

“Oh, I miss being there,” Isabel said. “We had the best view of the nebula from our window.”

Her stomach rumbling, Isabel grudgingly began eating her half of the ration tray. “Surprisingly this isn’t that bad. It tastes just like the instant ramen at home. If only we had some meatballs to add.”

“Once we get to Huihung City I’ll buy you a bowl of noodles,” Himiko said.

“With pork belly?” Isabel asked.

Himiko laughed. “Yes, with whatever you want.”

By the time they finished dinner, the fog cleared just enough to allow moonlight to shine upon the red leaves of the jungle. The red leaves reflected the moonlight onto the silver bark of the trees, and Isabel could imagine that instead of the trees being the steel bars of a cage, they were columns of painted glass.

Himiko pointed at a tree. “The veins of the leaves cast unique lines onto the trees. Look at that one. It’s like a snowflake.”

Isabel followed her gaze. “You know, this jungle isn’t actually that horrendous. I wouldn’t want to be lost in it again, but it’s pretty.”

“I’m sorry. I was the one who wanted to save a bit of money and insisted we go with that cheaper company,” Himiko said.

“No, it’s their fault for being so sloppy,” Isabel said. “I’m sorry for what I said earlier. We’ve gone to some pretty weird places on our missions. Some of them were the good kind of weird, and some of them were hellscapes. But we’ve always made it out alright, and it’s because of you. You always figure things out. I’m sure as annoyed as I am now, we’ll be laughing about it in a couple days.”

“Thank you,” Himiko said. “I’m glad we started working together. Well, I’m exhausted.” Himiko slid into her sleeping bag and zipped up.

Minutes later, Isabel did the same. She fell asleep staring at the patterns on the silver-barked trees. 

April 29, 2022 06:43

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2 comments

Graham Kinross
02:20 May 10, 2022

Great story.

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Lily Lu
19:53 May 04, 2022

Hello, author here! To see more go to: https://twitter.com/jingliluauthor or https://jinglilu-author.com/.

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