Wildflower

Novella - Under Contract!

     Lily Andrews is only seven years old when she boards a small aircraft with her mother, destined for the beautiful gulf coast of Texas. When tragedy strikes mid-flight and the plane goes down deep in the wild Ozarks, Lily must survive in the unforgiving forest. With the help of a gruff mountain man and his dog, the intense little girl’s grit and determination helps her thrive in her private oasis until a simple mistake forces Lily to make a life-altering decision, ripping her away from her mountain paradise and thrusting her into civilization once more. Can the presence of a familiar stranger heal the wounds of their intertwining childhoods, or will chaos of the past be too much for them to overcome?

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Chapter One

     I remembered my mother in fleeting wisps that reminded me of the clouds. Her pale blonde hair, laughing green eyes, and tender smile still shift in and out of my mind, sand in the wind. Those were the memories of a child. True or false, they were all I had left. Most everything else in my past was long gone. At the time, I didn’t know how long, but in this new world, I knew it was twelve years since the tragedy that left me abandoned in the Arkansas wilderness. I was an orphan. No. Not just an orphan, but a lost soul in the truest sense of the words. The plane crash was the beginning of my real memories. How I survived that, no one knew, not even me. It wasn’t long until I was alone in the thick underbrush next to a creaking metal shell and precious little else.

     During the crash, my young mind clamped shut to the chaos around me, protecting me from the worst of the event. Because of that most of the initial explosion, the wild spiraling and the impact were locked away, and still to this day irretrievable. Some of what remained were the screams that assaulted my small ears – the screams of my mother as we careened toward the earth, the screams of the other four passengers, the screams that leaped from my own mouth. Flames were crackling outside the cabin as we plunged from the sky and when we finally plowed into the forest floor, there was little to be heard.

     Almost everyone around me was silent. Even the flames died in the first few minutes, covered in wet foliage and soil. The nose of the plane was gone, leaving the gaping hole where the front burrowed into the earth, wrapped in tree trunks and briars. We were tipped forward and leaning heavily to the left, branches and leaves obstructing the view from my window. I sat still in my seat, buckled tight and unmarred save for sore muscles and a few scratches. My mother breathed shallowly next to me, ignoring my pleas for her to wake up. I tried my hardest not to panic, to be a good girl and keep still. The smells were strange, acrid, and overwhelming, so I pinched my nose and breathed through my mouth the way my mother taught me when I had to eat Brussel sprouts. It helped a little. After a long time, it got even quieter, just a soft cough from the seat near the back of the small plane. It was getting dark outside and even darker inside when I could stand it no longer.

     “Mommy, I have to go pee. Can I? I mean, may I?”

     I had been asking her questions for hours with no response, but I wasn’t used to doing anything without the permission of an adult, especially not in such strange circumstances. She remained still, eyes closed, and head draped forward on her chest. The low, rumbling voice of the coughing man startled me.

     “Come on over here, honey. Come unbuckle this belt for me, okay?” He wheezed out those words with enormous effort, pressing one hand to his chest as he spoke. The other hand dangled in the aisle way, purple and angry looking.

     “Okay,” I replied in a voice smaller than normal because I wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers. This man was frightening, bloody faced and unsmiling, but I knew he could not harm me as he struggled just to keep from wincing. I unbuckled myself, climbed across my mother’s cold lap and picked my way down the dark, messy aisle over suitcases, clothes, and electronics. When I neared him, I noticed he smelled sour and metallic. I reached out my tiny hand, releasing the clip for him, watching him sag forward with the sudden freedom. He sighed and leaned his forehead on the seat in front of him.

     “Thanks, kiddo. What’s… your name?” His speech was slow and labored, sweat dripping off him in streams.

     “Lily.” I was more afraid now that he was free, unsure how much to say or even if I should be talking to him at all.

     “Hi Lily... That’s a beautiful… name. My… name is Jack. How old… are you sweetheart?” He grunted with the effort of holding a conversation and I looked back toward my mother, hoping she would stir.

     “S-seven. Almost eight.”

     “Seven? You’re nearly… as old… as my daughter. She turns… ten next month. Her name is… Jessica. What’s your favorite… color, Lily?”

     “Blue.”

     “That’s… a good color. Honey… I need you… to do something else… for me, okay? Take ahold of… my arm there,” he tipped his head toward the swollen, purple limb hanging, nearly touching the floor as he leaned. “I need… you to pull it... forward.” I tentatively touched the gross thing, then recoiled. He smiled thinly and nodded. “It’s okay, Lily… You don’t… have to… if you don’t… want to.”

I could tell he was in pain, it was etched in the lines of his brow and laced into the hissing edges of his voice. I swallowed hard, reaching forward to take his arm into both of my hands.

     “Like this?”

     “Yes, Lily, just… like that. I’m going to… move, now. You hold tight… I… might make some… noise. Don’t you worry…” I took a deep breath and widened my stance, awaiting his instruction. When he gave the nod and jerked back, I yanked his arm forward with all my strength and I heard a loud pop. Jack groaned loudly and passed out.