Rayanna stiffened. Her breath froze.
The lantern swung from the approaching stranger’s outstretched hand, his face still obscured by the misty darkness. “I get a name or my Colt. Right. Now.”
Her lips fumbled. A gun barrel gleamed in the sickly green light. She stammered, “I-I’m lost. I-”
“Name.” A howl rose beyond him and paws thudded toward them.
She muttered, “Is that an–?”
A thunderous crack erupted from the circle of light. A bullet whizzed past her arm. Just behind her, leaves burst from the shot’s impact on a clump of brush.
“Speak up quick.”
“I said, ‘Anna.'” Her chest pounded and heaved.
He shambled nearer, and she glimpsed a leathery, pale face stubbled with salty whiskers. But he then thrust the light so close she had to squint away. The sinewy old man gripped a massive handgun in his mit-sized hand and aimed it over each of her shoulders. “Hmm.” He darted his gaze between her face and the forest behind her. “Anna, you say?”
She jerked her chin in a slight nod. “Yesssir.”
“Sir?” He narrowed his eyes. After a moment’s glare, a wet, coughing sort of chuckle burst from his lips. “You are in a sorry state.” With the gun still aimed in her direction, he beckoned her with it and backed away.
Rayanna cleared her throat and sidled toward the far edge of the path. “I apologize if I trespassed. I’ll just be on my way.”
“No, you won’t neither.” He held the lamp even with his chapped lips and the wavering light accentuated the unnevenness of his teeth. “You’ll come with me if you want to live through the night. Anna.”
Rustling stirred, somewhere in the distance to her left. She cast a furtive glance from the wild darkness to the gun barrel. Rayanna swallowed the knot twisting in her throat. And followed the sinewy figure into the trees.
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***