Three months, at most, before she died. Harris might have been insulated against the pandemic, but his daughter hadn’t been. If the package made it down river and was shipped in time, she was likely cured. The last sample, after testing of the rats had proven the cure’s effectiveness, was going directly to her address with instructions, not the company.
It should go to the company, but by the time they did testing on the sample, his daughter would be dead. It might not work anyway. Harris had no way to know how long it would remain viable. Even if the company wasn’t going to want a pure sample of the main ingredient, he had to make sure to gather a living plant for her sake.
Harris had grown close to the local shaman, all but being adopted. The old man seemed to consider him a kindred spirit and was fascinated by the modern methods Harris brought. He had even gone so far as to give him a special pouch Necklace given only to those of great mystic power.
The old shaman had mentioned the location of the plant, but would only supply the finished product. For some reason, there was no give on this matter and the only reason given was that it was not a place fit for outsiders. Harris needed a living specimen. He spoke with the natives, but none would do more than walk half of the distance to the sacred collection site.
“Why not?” Harris waited for the translated exchange.
“Only a shaman may go there. All others perish.”
“Perish? Please, explain.”
“Sheewa: the Cat-Skin Spirits.” The translator made a point of using the native term as well, apologizing for a difficult translation. Further prodding indicated that they had a legend of some sort relating to evil spirits that wore the skins of great cats.
Desperate, he went anyway with the aid of a single native guide. When the man turned back, Harris pressed onward. The terrain grew steadily steeper and more treacherous. There were very few stable paths and most of the plants growing here were thorny and hard to cut even with a well sharpened machete. The land was practically a maze and if not for knowing his target, he wouldn’t have ever chosen this path.
Cresting the hill, Harris found himself on lush jungle plateau. All thorny growth ended, replaced with more forgiving growth. Rushing forward and stumbling through the underbrush until he came to a large basin of water. Eyes darted around the circle, landed on a cluster of pale blue-gray flowers.
His daughter! To hell with being a hero, any doubt of saving his little girl disappeared! He lunged, almost missing the guttural sound from the bushes beyond it. He was already on his knees before it registered. Slitted eyes with the look of a pounce in them bore down before they fell on the small pouch around his neck. Gone, leaving him alone with his victory and terror alike.