Mist slithered over the mossy forest floor and wound through the tangles of thorny brush. Spectral fog tendrils reached onto the narrow path and dissipated. A remnant, yet invisible chill tickled at Rayanna’s legs as she ventured deeper into the woods. With each rustle or twig snap, she stiffened. She recognized the frequent hoots of a lone owl. Wilder cries triggered her heart to a shuddering beat.Furtive glances at the inky shadows offered no clues as to which creatures moved in the night.
A bobcat or panther? Is that the grunt of a boar … or something larger?
She twisted to scan the crooked way back, swallowed by the night. No, she couldn’t return to the road. Rayanna returned her gaze to the thick forest ahead and plunged onward. She picked her steps along the moss and stones to minimize footprints, just in case. Other than peeling aside an occasional low branch, she held her cuffed wrists against her stomach to stifle their tendency to jangle.
Time slurred in the buzz of her strained senses. Had she been hiking for minutes or hours?
Clouds flitted past the moon’s surface, causing gnarled countenances of surrounding trees to morph. The brush fell silent. She slowed her pace. Held her breath. A rivulet of sweat trickled down her spine and prickles raided her neck. The forest was watching her.
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***