© 2017, John "Blackrock" Magruder. All Rights Reserved.
This story contains language that may be unsuitable for younger or more sensitive readers.
The crew of the ship Blackrock were walking together down the main street in Jijun City on the planet of Beaumonde, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling port town. They were less than a kilometer away from the Docks, and watched as other ships were buzzing in and out over their heads like extremely noisy insects. As they were walking past the many different street vendors and shops, they came across a group of people listening to a man dressed in what appeared to be hiking gear. The crew stopped to listen.
“...can’t you feel the stress? The constant hum of your body struggling to find peace in a world that has so very little? Look around you. Everywhere there are lights and sounds and things clamoring for your attention, threatening to overwhelm your system and slowly drive you to madness. But I can take you to a place and show you how to tune out those stressors and find your inner peace once again.”
Whatitiri smiled a small smile, crossing her large and muscular arms over her even more muscular chest. “That sounds kind of nice. I wonder if it’s some sort of meditation thing.”
Murphy huffed. “Sounds like he’s a drug pusher.”
The man continued. “If this is your first experience in forest bathing, I will act as your guide as we explore the park on the outskirts of town, and help bring you to a place where you can let go of your stress.”
Everybody on the crew looked amongst one another with confused looks on their faces. “Forest bathing?” Lucas mouthed.
“You will immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of nature as it was meant to be, and help reconnect your body to your soul once again.”
“Uh, excuse me,” Whatitiri asked, raising her hand.
The man and at least half of the crowd turned towards her and blinked for a second at the sight of her. Then he politely replied, “Yes, ma’am? You have a question?”
“A few, actually. What did you call this again?”
“This is a form of therapy called ‘forest bathing’.”
Lucas shuddered at the name, and Tiri screwed up her face for a second before continuing. “So this is therapy? And you are, what? A counselor or something?”
“Yes,” he nodded, working hard to keep a smile on his face as he could tell feel a shift in the mood. “I help guide people through their journey of rediscovery and self-healing.”
Rawlins raised his hand, sniffing at the thought of rediscovering anything. “An’ how do ‘ya do that exactly?”
The guide/counselor man turned to him and spoke with a relaxed tone. “As I said, my job is to act as a guide. I encourage people to re-acquaint themselves to the nature all around them. The sights and sounds, the smells and textures of nature. And this—”
Lucas snapped his fingers. “Oh yeah! I heard about this when I was on Albion.” He turned to Tiri. “It’s the latest trend in therapy. They hike around in nature and play in the dirt, sniff the flowers, and it supposedly helps people feel better about themselves.”
Whatitiri rubbed her forehead in exasperation. “So people pay you... to take them to the park... for a nature walk?”
The crowd began to mumble as they heard it phrased in such simple terms, and the guide’s smile became even more rigid. “It is so much more than a nature walk. It is designed to immerse the explorer into the wonders of the natural world and re-awaken their personal connection to the divine.”
Murphy snorted. “It’s also designed to separate people from their money!”
The guide’s smile finally broke. “There are a number of scientific studies that have shown that this form of therapy directly reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels in the blood!”
Whatitiri put her hands on her hips in annoyance. “Yeah, and studies have also shown that wiping your ass after you take a shit directly reduces staining your skivvies. But I didn’t need a guide to teach me that!”
Lucas choked back a laugh, but tried to steer it back to serious. “I used to be a terraformer, so I know that getting outside is certainly a good thing. Not sure I see the need for someone like you to take me to the park for it.”
Whatitiri continued to press the guide. “Just how much does this therapy cost?”
At this point the man was just fuming as he saw people starting to look at him with very skeptical expressions on their face. Wringing his walking stick in his hands he turned away from her and gestured to the crowd. “Well as I was telling these nice people before you so rudely interrupted, we are offering an introductory price for the first three sessions, guided by one of our certified counselors, for just three gold coins.”
Tiri’s eyes bugged out and looked like they might catch on fire, causing a few people near her to back away. “You’re charging three gold to take someone to the park outside of town—which is completely free to the public, by the way— so that they can get their hands dirty and sniff the air?” She started laughing at the man, and soon was laughing so hard that she grabbed her belly and started gasping for breath. “Three? Wait-wait-wait.... I...” she bent over silently for a few seconds, and waved a hand in the air. Then she looked up at the man’s livid face and exploded into completely uncontrollable laughter, gulping and guffawing so hard that she had to hang onto Lucas’ shoulder to keep from falling over.
The whole crowd was swept away by her outburst and laughed along with her. Murphy slapped Rawlins on the shoulder as they laughed together. Lucas was smiling so hard his head was starting to hurt, but he also felt sorry for the man who was furious that his sales pitch had been subverted by them so completely, yet could do nothing to stop it.
Whatitiri had tears streaming down her face, but got enough control over herself for a brief moment to look back up at his red-faced expression. “Oh, what’s the matter?” she gulped. “You look so stressed out! Perhaps you... should take a... a bath in the forest!” Then she shrieked and dove headlong into another fit of unbridled laughing, and her voice could be heard echoing throughout the square, so much so that people from all over were looking to see who the howling giant was.
The crowd around the guide began to disperse, all laughing and chuckling, and the man looked like he was about to explode. He stomped towards Whatitiri, his walking stick clutched tightly in his hand like a club. “You jiān jiào nǚwū you ruined everything with your big mouth!”
As he got within range he swung the stick, just as Whatitiri turned towards him and grabbed his descending wrist, halting his attempt to stave her head in. She stopped laughing, crushing his wrist in her grip and giving it a little twist, which caused the man to yelp and drop the stick. She raised her fist and held it just a decimeter from his nose. Then with one swift jab, she popped the man square in the face and he crumpled to the ground.
She looked down at him lying in a heap at her feet, then burst out laughing once again. She covered her mouth and turned to leave, the rest of the crew following along behind her.
“Hoooo,” she gasped, waving her hand in front of her face to fan her tears. “Oh man! That was so therapeutic