"You are not stuck." Olsson's no-nonsense tone told her she would have to get herself out of this predicament. "Reach up from the waist, Dr. Pace, and catch the rope with your fingers."
She closed her eyes. Olsson spoke with the confidence of an athletic man who could still run and jump and bend without pain. He had never lived inside the body of a thirty-something-year-old woman for whom regular exercise consisted of frequent trips to the coffeemaker.
And he had no idea her central nervous system had begun to short-circuit.
Drawing in a breath, she lifted her head, then urged her arms and fingers to reach toward her toes.
She couldn't do it.
She fell back, squinching her eyes into knots while her brain railed against her situation. This was the result of a simple slip, perhaps one more related to exhaustion than to her condition. And though panic attacks were one of the symptoms of her illness, she would not panic here, not now, not today . . .
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star." She sang the old nursery rhyme under her breath. She'd loved the song as a child, and in medical school she'd discovered that singing it brought peace to her jittery nerves. The reason probably had something to do with the security of childhood and the resilience of embedded memories, but psychology had never particularly interested her.
Struggling against tears, she was calmly whispering the rest of the song when Valerik Baklanov, her research partner for this expedition, stepped up to the rope. "Momentum will help you counteract the gravity," he called, compassion streaming through his Russian accent. "Swing, Alex, like a child. Then you can reach the rope."
She nodded, not trusting her voice, and began to rock from side to side. While Deborah Simons squealed overhead, Alex swung herself forward, finally building enough momentum to reach upward, catch the rope, and pull herself upright.
Thank the stars, this time her fingers had obeyed. She clung to the guideline, closing her eyes as the walls of the jungle swayed around her, then forced herself to look up.
"Sorry," she called to Deborah, who had vanished into the canopy.
"Dr. Pace," Olsson called again. "We are waiting for you to ascend."
Of course they were. And while they waited, they were probably thinking she was the most uncoordinated American woman ever to step foot in the jungle, but that was okay. She'd rather they think her uncoordinated than know that her body had begun to weaken.
Determined to make up for lost time, Alex drew a deep breath and stood in the prusik, then slipped the ascender upward.
The Canopy by Angela Hunt, copyright 2003.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.