The shifting breeze swept occasional drafts of smoke into Rayanna’s eyes. She squinted against the soot, but did not back away. With her bent legs hugged to her chest, she propped her chin on her knees and stared across the flame tips into the imperceptible wilds of the dark forest. The campfire’s crackle mimicked the snap of twigs in the forest, and she could no longer tell the sounds apart.
The firelight blurred into a haze under drooping lashes. Her chin slid off its perch on her knees.
She shook her head. Must stay alert. To watch for the beast lurking somewhere in the night.
But warmth crept up her limbs, caressed her cheeks, and blanketed her in drowsiness. The ebb of adrenaline dragged her into a mire of black. Howls rose at her back. Heavy paws thudded in pursuit, hounding her. She fled blindly. Thin branches whipped at her arm. Thorns bit her skin. Prickles raced up her limbs as a branch cracked all too close. Just as she turned, the hulking beast pounced. In so little light, she could only see a massive, bear-sized form as it tackled her to the earth. Claws stabbed her arms. Open jaws roared into her face with acrid, hot breath. Too hot.
She coughed, gagged. Her eyes fluttered in thickening smoke. Intense pain shot up her arms. Flames climbed her sleeves.
I’m on fire!
Amid hoarse screams, she flailed on the dirt. Ripped the blouse from her body. Stomped out the fire. Cursed.
Smoldering and tattered, her shirt lay crumpled at her feet. A couple of yards away, the fire hissed. One ember-blazoned branch extended from the edge, where it had likely toppled to cause her rude awakening from sleep. A brisk wind grazed her dewy, bare skin into gooseflesh. With a scowl she pinched the collar and lifted the partially charred remains.
Her. Only. Shirt.
She’d either head into town shivering in her bra, or she’d have to make do with this somehow.
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***