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Chapter Two

The Forager

Story by Alanna Rossi, Illustrations by Jaclyn Simon

The sound of rain woke Lucy up the following morning. A cool breeze found its way in through the open window. Lucy checked her phone and groaned at how early it was. It was seven and Lucy had only gone to bed five hours earlier. Unable to fall back to sleep, she brought the duvet back up around herself and checked her phone. She had long since deleted her social media accounts and refused to check the news first thing in the morning, but she went through her email and checked the weather for the day. Rain was forecasted for the entire day. Lucy sighed and put her phone back on the nightstand. She sat up against the headboard and looked out the rain-streaked window. It was peaceful and it reminded her of lazy mornings in the city where she would indulge herself with coffee and a book in bed on a rainy morning. Lucy wasn’t deterred by the weather and intended on heading out later that day to check out a wooded area nearby. She wanted to stretch her legs and start familiarizing herself with the island. 

 

She thought about Max’s grandad, who’s name she discovered was Ben Walton, and his love of the island. She realized his journal was a love letter to Salt Spring. Everyday he would go for a walk, some longer than others, and write about what he saw. It was an intimate nature diary and when Lucy read through it she felt like she was getting to know this man who she will sadly never meet. When she stumbled across his name, scribbled inside the back cover, she smiled. 

 

“Pleased to meet you, Ben,” she had said out loud to herself. 

 

Lucy had stayed up late reading the journal, unable to put it down. She had hoped to read more about the mysterious Ms. Wileman, but unfortunately there was no further mention of her. She would have to ask Max about it when she saw her next. 

 

Lucy finally dragged herself out of bed and threw on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt and headed downstairs to make coffee. Regardless of the weather, she had a busy day ahead of her. While she was in the kitchen, adding water to the coffee machine, she heard a car on the driveway. She flipped the switch on the machine and walked to the front door. Opening it, she saw Max waving at her from the driver’s seat of her Honda Civic. Lucy waved back. 

 

“Sorry to drop in unannounced, but I wanted to catch you before you headed out today!” Max said, running up the drive towards Lucy, covering her head with her bag which had no effect against the heavy rain. 

 

 “There’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” she said as she walked up the porch steps. 

 

“Come on in! I just put on some coffee,” Lucy said, curious to what Max had to say. 

 

“God, it’s a wet one today. Are you going to be heading out later?” Max asked Lucy. 

 

“Yep, the rain doesn’t bother me. I actually like it,” said Lucy, grabbing a couple of mugs from the cupboard. 

 

“Cream?”

 

“Please!” said Max, taking the steaming cup Lucy handed to her. 

 

The two women brought their coffees to the kitchen table and sipped while they watched the rain outside the window for a few quiet moments. Finally, Max spoke up. 

 

“After you left yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandad. Our conversation jogged my memory and I remembered something he told me about the flower you’re looking for.” 

 

“Oh, that’s great! I’d love to hear it – any information is useful,” said Lucy. 

 

“Well, it’s not quite … scientific,” Max said with a laugh. “It’s actually a folk story, but I thought it was really interesting and who knows, maybe there’s some truth to it.” 

 

“Okay, lay it on me,” said Lucy. 

 

Max shared the story with Lucy, about the old woman and the orchid. She told her about how after the woman died, people reported seeing a ghost of a woman in parts of the forest. When Max was finished, she looked over at Lucy who had a skeptical look on her face. 

 

“So, the forest is … haunted?” Lucy asked incredulously. “Do people believe it?” 

 

Max laughed. “I honestly have no idea. I didn’t remember it until yesterday so who knows, but I wouldn’t be surprised. People around here love that sort of thing. If anything it makes a fun ghost story. I know it won’t help you out, but I thought it was fun to share.” 

 

Lucy smiled. 

 

“I enjoyed hearing it. It actually makes me think about something I saw in your grandad’s journal. Let me go grab it.” 

 

Lucy got up from the table and ran upstairs to grab the journal from her nightstand. 

When she returned to the kitchen she handed Max the journal, which was opened to the page about the orchid.

 

“There’s a name written on that page and it’s underlined, which makes me think it’s important somehow. Does it sound familiar? Is it someone you’ve heard of?” Lucy asked Max hopefully. 

 

Max shook her head “No, I’m sorry it doesn’t. I’ve never heard of a Gwendolyn Wileman before and my grandad never mentioned her. Did you try Googling it?” 

 

“I did,” Lucy said, disappointedly. “No luck.” Lucy had been so sure that Max would know the name, and felt a little deflated. 

 

“Wait,” said Max. “What if this Gwendolyn Wileman is the old woman who died?” 

 

“Huh. Maybe? I assumed that she was someone your grandad met, but maybe it’s someone he heard about? She could be the old woman. It sort of makes sense. Did the woman in your grandad’s story have a name?” asked Lucy.

 

“No, he never told me her name,” said Max. “Wow, what a mystery! Now I really need to know who she was.” 

 

“You and me both!” exclaimed Lucy. 

 

Lucy offered Max more coffee and they talked a bit more before Max had to leave to go open the store. 

 

“Thanks for the coffee! Next time it’s a beer at the pub, my treat,” Max said as she grabbed her bag from the front hall.  

 

“Deal!” Lucy said with a laugh. She felt a wave of gratitude for her new friend. 

 

 Later that morning, Lucy had her gear packed up in her car and was on her way to a trail she had read about. The rain was starting to ease up, but it could start again at any time. It would be a wet day, but luckily Lucy was prepared. Growing up in Vancouver prepared you for inclement weather and rain was just part of the deal. She pulled over to the side of the road near the trail. There were a couple of other cars already parked along the shoulder. She put on her hood and reached into the back seat for her bag. Stepping out of the car, she ran across the road and made her way onto the trail. 

 

The forest was dense, its canopy stretching high into the sky. Cedars and pine grew among moss covered boulders that littered the ground. Big, leafy ferns were everywhere. It was a quintessential west coast forest. It was so beautiful, and Lucy felt right at home. The trail was clearly marked and she only ran into a couple of people out walking their dogs in the drizzle. Bird song filled the air and Lucy could see an eagle circling above the trees. The forest was alive.

 

She followed the trail, which eventually opened up to a small meadow. She paused to check the map she brought with her to confirm she was still heading in the right direction. She walked through the meadow, which was full of wildflowers and clover, and found the entrance to another small trail, which was marked by a wooden sign that said “Cedar Grove Trail.” Onwards she went. 

 

A little while later, the trail stopped. Lucy looked around and realized she was standing in a grove full of old cedars. She could tell that she was in a more secluded part of the forest. The rain had stopped but it wouldn’t have made a difference. Thanks to the trees, the grove was relatively sheltered from the elements. She double checked her phone to make sure she still had cell service. Fortunately she did. 

 

She found a fallen log and took a seat, resting her feet which were starting to hurt a bit in her new boots. She wished she had broken them in a bit more before today. She put her bag on the ground and rolled her shoulders a couple of times to work out some of the stiffness. It had been a while since she had done any sort of hiking and she was already feeling it. Taking a drink of water from her bottle, she looked around the grove. The sun broke through some of the clouds and was casting its rays through the trees. It was quiet except for the odd bird or two chirping away. A squirrel watched her from a nearby rock, wary of her invading his secluded spot.

 

“Don’t worry little guy, I won’t steal your food,” she said with a laugh. 

 

Lucy grabbed her notebook and her pen from her bag, and began to walk around. She spent an hour looking under what felt like every cedar in the area, but there was no sign of the orchid. She was currently sitting on the ground, back up against one of the old trees and couldn’t help but think of the story that Max had told her earlier that morning about the old woman who had died. 

 

Lucy didn’t believe in ghost stories, she was a woman of science, but there was something about being in the forest alone that made her feel nervous.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she said, standing up and brushing dirt off the back of her pants. Suddenly, she heard what sounded like a branch snapping nearby. It was loud and close and it startled her. She froze and looked around. 

 

“… Hello?” she said, hoping that no one would answer. Suddenly a deer popped out of a bush nearby. Lucy screamed, scaring herself and the deer which quickly ran off. Lucy clutched her heart and laughed, feeling ridiculous. 

 

She began walking back towards her bag, when she heard another noise nearby.  She assumed it was the same deer from before, but it sounded like something heavier was moving towards her. She froze again, and tried to remember if she had read anything about bears or mountain lions living on the island.

 

“Oh would you just come out already!” she yelled at the deer, but to her surprise, it wasn’t a deer that emerged into the clearing. It was a man. A tall, bearded man who looked just as surprised to see her. 

 

“Um, hello,” the man said. “Were you talking to me?”  

 

“You scared the crap out of me!” Lucy shouted at the man. “Who are you and why are you sneaking around in the woods?” 

 

“My name’s Jake and I’m not sneaking around. I’m a forager, and you happen to be in my spot,” Jake said, putting his bag down on the ground and taking a seat on Lucy’s log. 

 

“Oh. Well, how was I supposed to know that? I’m here all alone and then a strange man appears out of nowhere, how was I supposed to react?”

 

“Fair enough. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I heard someone talking so I assumed you weren’t alone. Do you have a name?” He asked. 

 

She hesitated momentarily before giving him her name.

 

“Lucy.” 

 

“Do you always go wandering around in the woods alone, Lucy?” Jake asked, finishing a long drink of water from a metal canteen. “I know it’s a small island, but you should still be careful.” 

 

“It’s a public trail and I’m not really worried about murderers finding me alone in the woods. At least I wasn’t until now,” Lucy quipped. She suddenly felt tired and just wanted to grab her stuff and go home. 

 

Jake smiled and Lucy noticed how his eyes crinkled in the corners when he did. He had dark blue eyes and a head of curly dark brown hair. She admitted to herself, begrudgingly, that he was good looking. 

 

“Well, this has been a great chat, but I think I’m going to grab my stuff and get out of your way now,” Lucy said as she walked towards the log to grab her bag. 

 

“Were you looking for something in particular?” Jake asked. “Are you a forager as well? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.” 

 

“Um, no, I’m not a forager, I’m a botanist, and I’m here looking for a very rare, important plant.” 

 

“That’s awfully scientific.” Jake said with a smirk. 

 

Lucy rolled her eyes. 

 

“It’s called a Phantom Orchid, and it used to be quite common on Salt Spring until it wasn’t. I’m here to find it and study it,” Lucy said. 

 

“For fun?” Jake asked seriously. 

 

“Yes, for fun,” Lucy replied. “I’ve always wanted to see one in person.” 

 

“I see. Well, seeing that you’re new to town, if you ever need a tour guide I would be happy to show you around. I know the forest and could maybe help you find what you’re looking for,” Jake said. 

 

Lucy was a little surprised by his offer. 

 

“You would? But you don’t know me.”

 

“You seem determined and you have me curious now. I assume you’re not from here?” 

 

“No, I’m from Vancouver.” 

 

“Ah, a city girl.” 

 

“Oh, please. People don’t talk like that anymore. I’m just as qualified to be out here as you are,” Lucy said. 

 

Jake smiled at her again and this time Lucy felt herself blush. 

 

God dammit, she thought to herself.  

 

“You’re absolutely right,” he said. 

 

“Okay … Well, it was lovely to meet you, Jake. I’m going to go.” 

 

“How about I meet you this weekend? I’ll show you a couple of places. Here, I’ll give you my number,” he said, grabbing her notebook from her. He wrote his number in the top right corner of the open page. 

 

“Call me.” 

 

Lucy wasn’t sure what to say. She wasn’t used to men being so forward with her, so she mumbled something about being sure to call him and grabbed her bag and headed towards the trail again. 

 

Back at the car, Lucy caught her breath. She had walked so fast trying to get over the weird interaction she had. Were people just that friendly here? She couldn’t imagine anyone back in Vancouver offering to help someone after just meeting them, let alone giving out their number like that. She was suspicious. She looked at the number on the page and knew she wouldn’t call. She couldn’t just call some strange guy she met in the woods. 

 

Back at the house, she had a long hot shower and then made some lunch. The rain had picked up again, but the house was cozy and dry. She spent the afternoon sitting in the living room reading through her notes and checking her map to plan out her next outing. After a couple more hours, she started feeling distracted and needed to talk to someone. She decided to call Max. 

 

Max picked up after the first ring.

 

“Hey! How did it go today?”answered Max.

 

Lucy told her all about her day and how she struck out in finding the orchid. She then told her about meeting Jake. 

 

“Was he tall, bearded … devilishly handsome?” Max asked. 

 

“I wouldn’t say devilishly handsome …” said Lucy, feeling herself blush again. Damn! 

 

Max laughed. “Well, you’re crazy then. He’s gorgeous. He’s actually a really nice guy. He’s a forager and sells his stuff to local restaurants. Jake’s the best on the island.” 

 

“Oh, that’s pretty cool. Apparently I was in his spot.” 

 

Max laughed again. “Foragers get pretty territorial. Did you guys talk?”

 

“We did, after I accused him of being a creep. He offered to show me around the island. He thinks he can help me find what I’m looking for,” said Lucy. 

 

“I bet he can,” Max said, her comment ripe with innuendo. 

 

“Oh, stop! I’m being serious. What do you think? Should I take him up on his offer? It might actually help me out.” 

 

“I think you would be crazy not to. He really does know the island intimately. You should call him.” 

 

“Okay, fine. Maybe I will,” Lucy sighed. 

 

“Hey, tomorrow is Friday. Why don’t you meet me at the pub for a drink?” 

 

Lucy happily accepted Max’s offer. After her call, Lucy was back in the kitchen standing at the counter staring at the phone number in her notebook. Against her better judgement, she picked up her phone again. 

 

“Jake? Hi, it’s Lucy.”