CHAPTER 3 – LUCY

.

.

.

It was only after I finished the water bottle that I remembered my current predicament. The water was…wonderful. It made me forget everything. It even made me forget that after being on the run from the Center, I had accepted without hesitation and drank an entire bottle of water from a stranger. Why am I suddenly forgetting everything? Never underestimate the Center. What if he was an undercover operative for them? Just following me for now, recording my behavior like usual? He had even touched me, and the shock I went through must have been palpable. It was only a feather-light touch out of concern, I assumed, but it was so foreign to me that I felt threatened by any human contact. I bit back a cry of despair at this thought and then quickly placed the empty bottle down between us on the seat.

Although I now felt like a wild animal, I knew what manners were, and that my theories about him being from the Center may be paranoia talking. So to show him my thanks, I briefly nodded at him and struggled to make eye contact for a mere second. As I turned away, I realized my memory had captured more than I thought. Being at the Center for so long with such limited contact with new people, my brain had acted like a sponge and memorized in an instant many things about the stranger that sat beside me. For starters, he had olive skin, brown eyes and heavy set dark eyebrows which gave him an intense manner. And had he not directed a small, tentative smile in my direction, his physical appearance alone might have come across as an almost-brooding look, which I would probably have jumped off the boat from. Great, I realized. Now I cant get my mind off him.

I glared at the river as it passed by, anxious to reclaim my focus. This was probably life and death. But, even with the water, I felt terribly weak from throwing up food I didn't know I had in me. So my brain did not obey me, and continued to mull over with fascination the man beside me. For all intents and purposes, I just couldn't see him as a tourist. Even though he had all the gear, the guide books, the backpack, the casual clothing…he just seemed…too prepared. However, my brain couldn't handle the ramifications of this new theory and so I gave up and let myself relax a little. I sighed and slowly lent over the side of the boat, letting my hand trail in the water, enjoying the cool sensation. I jerked upright as the boat's guide suddenly spurted to life, rattling off some pert sentences in a foreign language, seemingly directed at me. The man beside me leaned over slightly and said in a hushed voice: "I think he's trying to discourage you from putting your hand in the water. There's probably piranha in there this time of year."

I just stared at him blankly, unsure of what to make of his suggestion. Was he joking around or did he actually speak 'Amazonian River Guide' language? Either way, I took my hand out of the water, and slowly but purposefully turned away from him. Why was my mind now analyzing his voice? He had a slight British accent, but the tone of his voice was quite deep and gravelly. It was clear he was making an effort to be more muted with me, probably because he could see fear in my eyes. Which is why I shouldn't look at him again. Just get off at the next stop and figure out where to go from there.

I stretched my legs out in an effort to once again try and relax a little. I knew my body couldn't go on forever with this level of high alertness. As I did so, I noticed a couple of big black marks on each leg. Leeches. For some unknown reason, they terrified me more than the python. I began kicking my legs around wildly in a vain attempt to get them off. The man beside became quickly aware of my actions but initially struggled to realize what was going on. I hiccuped and shrieked in continued horror just staring at my legs, not wanting to touch the leeches, and having no idea what to do. The man finally saw the leeches, and then began trying to speak in a quiet tone to me as he reached for his backpack. Then he grabbed me around my waist, I assumed to calm me down. The effect was the opposite. He was still speaking to me as he pulled out a lighter bringing it closer towards my leg, which meant I wasn't focusing at all on what he was saying. Was he part of the Center? Was this a new test? Was he going to sear my flesh with fire from the lighter? Clearly the leeches were the last straw and launched my paranoid imagination into overdrive. All I could do was let out a cry of terror, and his unfamiliar grip loosened completely. I found myself backing away from him but once again looking up into his brown eyes, which were now drawn together with alarm. Then everything went black.