The night breeze sighed as it pursued Rayanna like a specter through the dark forest. Its breath needled through her damp blouse and prickled her skin. She hugged her arms and rubbed the stubborn chills.
But, more than the misty air triggered her shivers. She whipped her head in the direction of each snapped twig. Cringed at the echo of her own footsteps.
Teeth chattering, she glanced back at the thick foliage blocking her view of the stream. How far had she ventured from the water? The road must be several miles away.
Far enough to risk a fire. At least, it has to be.
She snatched up every dry branch she could find, while casting wary gazes into the trees. The fire might serve a purpose more life saving than warmth.
Her sodden boots slipped easily on the mossy slope, so she wedged her steps against tree roots and sedge clumps. A boulder formation loomed ahead. As she neared the overgrown ledge, her arms ached under the awkward load of firewood.
She dumped the sticks and branches at the shallow cave’s edge and winced at the clatter. Now, to make a spark. Kneeling beside the pile, she gathered the kindling. It took several minutes to strike a glow, but she soon breathed the fire to life.
As she coaxed the flames to light the pile of dead wood, smoke curled out to clash with the forest fog. Fiery tongues rose to consume the offcast limbs and embrace her with warmth. Rayanna sat with the boulder walls at her back. She hugged her knees and the reflection of flames danced on her arms.
The dark, tangled brush lay silent beyond the crackle of light. As embers floated to hiss at the damp breeze, strange thoughts crept into Rayanna’s mind.
All this way, I’ve shivered in terror over the beast which might lurk in the shadows. What if the greatest thing to fear in this forest is … me?
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***