tagSci-Fi & FantasyBeauty of the Wood

Beauty of the Wood

byLesLumens©

The honking calls of geese sounded from overhead, a prelude to their splashdown on the lake some distance away. In the circular pool, large, dark shapes cruised just below the shimmering surface of the water. Here and there, a fin or tail appeared, giving further hints of the exceptional size of the fish that dwelled in the secluded pool.

The sun shown down bright and warm, slowly evaporating the dew that clung to the leaves and grass. Dara leaned back, lifting her bare breasts toward the warmth, and let out a sigh as she enjoyed the morning. The breeze, carrying the scent of damp earth, billowed through her sandy blonde hair.

After long years away at medical school, she was finally home. This spot deep in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area fit that description even more than her father's small house outside Ely Minnesota. Her father had brought her and her brother here whenever possible, and they all loved the peaceful wilderness.

It was here that she'd first set foot on the path toward her career. Always empathic, she sought out shy children camping on the lake and invited them to join her and her brother in whatever activity they were engaged in. Her father was the same way, welcoming newcomers to the lake as though they were new neighbors. It had reached the point where all the local outfitters mentioned them and their regular campsite whenever sending customers to the area.

When she was twelve years old, heeding that advice had proven critical to one family. They had arrived at the camp in a panic. Their daughter — whom Dara had befriended — had a bad gash in her leg, wrapped in a blood-soaked towel. While her father treated the wound with first-aid, she'd sat holding the girl's hand, trying to keep her calm. It was a near thing, and only her father's skill had given the girl the time for a sat-phone call to summon a ranger in a float plane to evacuate her for treatment that saved her life. That incident had shocked Dara to the core, and put her on the path to medical school.

Now, she was prepared with the knowledge and supplies necessary to deal with emergencies in the wilderness. She would never have to feel that helpless again.

The sound of footfalls and crunching leaves caused her to open her eyes and turn toward the trail she'd followed to this spot a half hour before. The average woman sunbathing nude would have made a dash for her clothing at the first hint of someone approaching. Dara knew that only one person could possibly be walking down that trail, and she was unconcerned.

"Morning, Dad," she said when she caught the first glimpse of him through the undergrowth.

He stepped into the clearing — a man as big as a bear and almost as hairy. "Morning, La'Dara," he said, using her given name, known only to the family.

He too was naked, having wisely left his clothing hanging from a convenient tree farther back along the trail, just as his daughter had. His mate had a penchant for splashing that called for keeping clothing one wanted to remain dry a good distance away from her pool.

Neither father nor daughter was concerned with each other's nudity, as they had seen each other so for Dara's whole life. His mate's disdain for clothing was but one of the excuses she used for her splashing.

"I haven't seen Mom this morning," Dara remarked as he sat down next to her. Then, she sat up and kissed his dark-bearded cheek.

"Well, you know your mother. She'll be along soon enough, I should imagine."

Dara sighed again. "It's just good to be home."

"It's good to have you home." He smiled. "My daughter, the doctor."

"Finally. Perfect timing, though. Either that, or Doctor Brown was just waiting for the first possible chance to cut back and retire."

Her father laughed. "Thinking the second." He then nodded toward the far end of the pool, where a finger of the lake connected it to that larger body of water beyond.

Dara saw the shadow beneath the surface of the water darting toward them and smiled. As soon as the rapidly moving shape reached the center of the pool, Dara's mother La'isa burst from the water.

The long silvery hair atop her head whipped, slinging droplets in a fan that caught the light and flashed in a rainbow. Her mermaid tail hovered at the surface for a moment before gravity and the blue-skinned naiad's bending back pulled it along to vanish beneath the water with her once again.

In mere seconds, the nymph's powerful tail propelled her to the bank in front of her mate and her daughter. The momentum continued to carry her up and onto the bank, tail transforming into legs faster than the eye could see. After giving a quick, but ardent kiss to her mate, she turned to her daughter and gathered her up in a tight hug.

"Mom, it's only been a few hours while I was asleep," Dara said as she returned the hug, surprised by the strength.

"But you were gone for too long before," La'isa countered.

"So what were you doing this morning? I've been here for a half hour," Dara teased.

The nymph released her daughter from the hug and let out a silvery laugh. "It is a secret. Come swim with me."

"I'll be right in. I need to check on my wine," her father said as they stood to follow her mother into the pool.

Dara watched him walk to the spot where the plastic jugs sat, a wide smile on his face. He had always made homemade wine and brought it out into the wilderness, but a little experimentation while she was off to medical school had allowed his knowledge and the nymph's magic to combine so he could make it here. Fruit, sugar, and yeast were a lot less cumbersome than finished jugs of wine when paddling in, and in the right seasons, fruit growing wild along the shores made for unique vintages.

No longer limited by how much he could carry in, wine flowed freely — but not too freely — every night in camp. Her mother had even developed a taste for the beverage, which is what had encouraged her to use her magic to keep a spot the perfect temperature for it to ferment.

After an hour of splashing, swimming, and seeing what treasures her mother had acquired recently — quite often fishing lures stolen directly from cast lines, with the barbs ground off — two things combined to encourage Dara to head back to camp. First, her stomach was growling like an angry black bear. Second, she knew the look in her parents' eyes. Even a doctor who had seen her parents nude for all her life had her limits.

Swimming over to the couple, she gave them both a kiss on the cheek. "I'm starving. I'm going to head back to camp and make breakfast."

"I'll be along in a bit," her father absently responded. Food was the last thing on his mind with his beautiful naiad mate tempting him.

Dara swam back to the bank and climbed out. An aroused giggle from her mother prompted her to hurry back up the leaf-strewn trail to her clothing. She slicked the water from her skin as best she could, having not brought a towel, then pulled down the shorts and t-shirt she'd left hanging from a young tree.

Trying not to think of the sad state of her own love life — or rather lack thereof — she dressed and returned to camp. The t-shirt clung to her damp skin to the point of indecency, but the rising heat would remedy that soon enough, and the camp wasn't visible from the water if anyone happened by.

It felt good to cook over the camp stove, after so many meals prepared by a quick toss in the microwave. Her chosen course of study hadn't left much time for luxuries such as a decent meal. It was all too ironic that she'd spent so long eating things she'd spend the rest of her life telling people to avoid. Fortunately, she'd brought along a bag of apples, which staved off the growling of her stomach while she prepared something more substantial.

She tried to ignore the silly grin on her father's face when he walked back into camp as she was filling plates. It helped that her mother had chosen to come with him, which was a rarity. La'isa stayed upwind of the bacon and eggs, curiously going through the tents and packs to see what new things were inside since the last time she'd braved the human world.

Breakfast was relatively silent, other than the occasional explanation of some item or another that had sparked La'isa's curiosity. Her father simply liked to listen to the sounds of the wilderness, and Dara was trying to soak in as much of it as she could before she had to return to start her practice. Though she was home, her profession would likely take up nearly as much time as the study to attain it.

Once they finished eating, Dara headed to the packs to retrieve a large pot for dishwater. Her father had cleaned up after supper, so it was her turn. A quick hike down the hill brought her to the lapping edge of the water, but before she could dip her pot, she saw a canoe moving toward her.

The young man laid his paddle across the gunwales, letting the canoe drift, and broke out into a wide smile. He was rather handsome with his light brown hair blowing in the wind, and the smile made him even more so. It was a little difficult not to notice his muscular body as well.

"Dara?" he called out.

The sound of his voice — though deeper than the last time she'd heard it — snapped the hints of familiarity she felt into focus. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she answered, "Chase?"

He nodded. "I knew that was your Dad's canoe, but I wasn't expecting to see you. How long has it been?"

"Eleven years."

She flashed back as she answered, remembering him at thirteen with a huge crush on her. He and his father had paddled back to civilization a day before her family the last time they'd shared the lake. On the way out, Chase had left her a bouquet of wildflowers with her name on them. Having just gone through a bad breakup of her first real long term relationship, those flowers had been a much needed boost of self esteem.

She chuckled at the memory and said, "It may be a little late, but thank you for the flowers."

His face turned bright red and he groaned. "Oh my god — you remembered that?"

Holding back a laugh at his embarrassment, she said, "Mmm hmm." An idea struck her because he'd drifted up close to the shore, and she held up the pot. "Since you're out there, dip me some dishwater?"

He clapped his hands. "Give it a toss."

Both Dara's throw and Chase's catch were perfect. He filled the pot away from the detritus floating near the shore, and then gave a single tug on his paddle to bring him to where he could hand it off.

Dara sat the pot down and said, "Thanks. Out here by yourself?"

"Advance scout. I'm trying to find a good campsite for some friends coming out in a couple days."

"We haven't seen anyone else on the lake since we got here yesterday. The reputation of the terrible fishing is getting around. The campsite across the way is open."

Chase looked somewhat nervous as he shrugged. "I was looking for something a little more secluded."

"Wondered who you were talking to," Dara's father said as he walked down the trail. "Good to see you, Chase."

"You too, Mr. Owen."

"Paul," he suggested. "There's a new site on the far side of the island there."

Dara's eyes lit up. "Oh, yes. The landing is in a little cove, and the campsite is quite a bit back in the trees. We stopped to take a look at it on the way in."

"That sounds perfect," Chase said.

Paul picked up the pot of water, "You'll have to pay attention to find it."

"I've got that, Dad," Dara protested.

He gave a dismissive wave. "Just carrying it up. Your turn to do the washing."

Chase picked up his paddle, "Well, I'll let you get to it then and see if I can find that campsite."

"Come back by if you can't find it and we'll take you over there," Dara said.

"Appreciate it."

"And come by this evening if you're of a mind," Paul added.

"Still serving up homemade wine?" Chase asked.

"And you're old enough not to have to sneak nips of it now," Paul said, then let out a laugh.

"Might just take you up on that." Chase pushed off the shoreline with his paddle. "Off on the hunt, then."

Dara waved as expert strokes of his paddle turned the canoe toward the tree-covered island near the far shore, then she followed her father up the trail to attend to the dishes.

****

Hidden beneath the surface by both her magic and the blue of her skin, La'isa trailed along behind Chase's canoe. When he turned to skirt around the island to the narrow channel of water between it and the far shore, she darted ahead.

One with her environment, she easily outpaced him and reached the cove where a trail meandered to the new campsite before he had even entered the channel. Still beneath the water, she reached out a hand and touched the rocky shore.

Then she settled in to wait.

****

Her father lay in a shady spot with his hat pulled over his eyes, dozing. Dara retrieved a book from her bag and found a spot of her own to sit and read. The novel was racier than her usual fare, and her cheeks warmed a little as she read, though she was thoroughly engrossed.

"Yeah, I can't find it."

Dara gasped and slammed the book shut, turning toward Chase as he climbed the last couple of steps up the hill to the camp. Her cheeks were far more than warm as she hid the book from sight.

"Sorry, I..." His voice dropped as he noticed her father dozing. "Didn't mean to scare you. I can't find that camp for the life of me. Think you can show me where it is?"

"Sure," she said, and then stood up. Keeping the book hidden by her body, she walked over to the tent and tossed the novel inside.

"Do you want to take yours, since mine's a one-seater?"

"Or, I can just sit in the front of yours and let you do all the work."

He chuckled. "Works for me."

Dara gestured for him to follow her down the hill, trying not to disturb her father. "I can't believe you missed it. We didn't have any trouble when we went looking on the way in."

"I've been paddling up and down the far side of the island since I left. I must be blind."

"Well, you were looking for a secluded spot."

"True," he answered, and then chuckled.

Chase steadied the canoe while Dara made her way to the front. Without a seat, she had to sit on the bottom, but the journey wasn't long, so it wouldn't be too uncomfortable. Once she settled in, he boarded and pushed off toward the island.

"So, I take it you're a doctor now?" he asked as he paddled.

"Mmm hmm. I'm going to be taking patients at Dr. Brown's office as soon as we come in off the water. What about you? Following in your father's footsteps?"

"Uhh — no. I'm an artist." His voice had an edge of something that sounded almost like apology.

Surprised, she turned back to look at him. "Really? I never knew you did anything like that. So, do you paint?"

"Draw, paint, computer painting... I'm learning a little about sculpting from one of my friends. Mostly painting, though. Nature scenes, animal studies, and fantasy creatures are what I'm known for."

"Is it hard to get by? I mean, that's the cliche — the starving artist."

He laughed. "I worked on an ambulance to pay the bills at first, and trained as a paramedic. That kept a roof over my head until I got lucky. We responded to a car wreck one day, and I was talking to the patient, trying to keep him calm. It turns out he was a writer. He got in touch with me afterward, and ended up using one of my paintings for a book cover, and referred me to people he knew. I make enough off commission now to concentrate on my art and donate some pieces to benefit auctions for conservation groups."

"It's great that you're doing what you want to do. I'll be old and gray before I pay off all my student loans, but it was worth it."

"Don't think anybody doubted where you were headed. You were bandaging up your brother since you were little."

"All too often," she added, and then let out a laugh of her own. "The only thing that was hard was being away from here so long."

"I haven't been back in years either. I've been in California. It was just supposed to be a trip to see Bigfoot country, but I ended up staying out west because there's such a great art community."

Dara realized that he hadn't fallen quite as far from the tree as his career choice might indicate. Chase's father was a Zoologist and a Cryptozoologist. Few others knew the latter, because he kept it quiet. Her father was an old friend of his, though — and naturally a believer. Hard not to be when your soulmate is a supposedly mythical creature.

The trip to see the reputed stomping grounds of Bigfoot combined with the preferred choice of subject matter in his art demonstrated that Chase's choice wasn't really a rebellion against where he'd come from, but rather a different way to appreciate it.

"So, are the friends who are coming from California?" she asked.

"Yeah. Artists, poets, and writers. They're big nature lovers and environmentalists. I talked so much about this place that they wanted to come."

The pair continued to chat as the canoe moved steadily toward their destination. The wind blew through Dara's long, blonde tresses, forcing her to push her hair out of her face several times. The breeze created small waves that the canoe chased and then broke through, but speeded their progress. Once the cove was in sight, Dara pointed it out. "There it is. The trail to the camp is up in that cove."

Chase headed that way, and then pulled in his paddle to let the canoe drift once they were at the mouth of the cove. "I don't know how I missed that trail. Hey, do you mind if we look at it from the other side of the channel?"

"No, that's fine."

A few strong strokes of his paddle took Chase up the channel, where he turned to look again. "Perfect."

The landing was all but hidden until one was right on top of it, and Chase had obviously been checking that exact thing. "Are you trying to find a place to set up a pirate camp?" she joked, wondering at the apparent desire for secrecy.

"Heh... No." He took a deep breath and then blew it out slowly. "Guess I may as well get this over with."

"What?"

"The reason I wanted a hidden spot is that my friends are all nudists. I wanted to find a place where they could get to the water without accidentally shocking a Scout troop or a family on vacation with kids. This is one of the few places they can celebrate Nude Day outside without a better than average chance of getting arrested."

"I guess that explains it," Dara said, and laughed.

"I knew I was going to have to warn you eventually, but it's not exactly something easy to work into conversation."

"Please. I'm a doctor." Little did he know that her lack of concern for nudity went back much farther than that.

"So, you're okay with that?"

"Perfectly fine. Dad will be too. We'll even help keep an eye out so you don't have anyone stumble across you without warning."

His voice betraying relief, he said. "Okay, then. Let's go check out the camp."

"It's really nice because it's brand new."

Chase paddled the canoe up to shore, slowing and turning it with a single j-stroke at just the right moment. This time it was Dara's turn to steady the boat while he climbed out and tied it off to a hearty little shrub. He took the lead up the trail to the camp, since the path was obvious.

After a brief look around, Chase said, "It's perfect. Nice that the latrine is brand new. My friends are used to camping, but this is the first time they'll truly be roughing it. They've never been more than an hour away from civilization. That's why I suggested we make it just a four night stay once they get here in a couple days."

As he turned back toward her, Dara quickly looked up into the trees overhead, fighting a rising blush. She had been unconsciously admiring the sight of his butt clad in tight shorts, and could still feel the grin that had spread across her face as she did so.

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