Lost In The Woods
Jane wandered down the path, trying her best not to panic.
She cursed the fact that she could navigate the endless void of space but could never manage to get anywhere on foot without having to use a GPS of some sort. Looking at her watch, she saw that it had been an hour since she apparently took a wrong turn and went down a little-used trail.
The fence that once bordered the path was rotting in a lot of places, if not fallen over, ivy and weeds growing over and around it. There weren’t any helpful signs showing where she was going, let alone interesting facts about the flora or fauna.
Peering up, she signed when she saw that the forest’s canopy was blocking the sky. She couldn’t see where the sun was, and while the stars would be infinitely better, she did not want to be stuck in the middle of a forest late at night. Sure, everyone said that it was a safe place to explore and visit, but that was within the safety of a group and in the daylight.
“Stupid forest,” she muttered to herself, crossing her arms as a cold breeze came through the trees and sent a shiver down her spine. “Stupid sense of direction, stupid signs.”
Jane was starting to wonder if she would ever get out of the forest.
She shook her head before thoughts of people getting lost and dying in the woods could invade her thoughts too much. This was not like one of those campfire ghost stories that frightened her so much when she was little. This was a completely different situation.
Unlike those unsuspecting, fictional victims, she was not going to die, and if she was fated to, then she was gonna drag her attacker down with her.
Plus, running. She could run to keep warm and not get frostbite.
“Quit it,” she told herself. Frostbite, when it was nowhere near the freezing point. Come on.
“Well,” someone said from behind her. “You look hopelessly lost.”
Jane jumped with a yelp of surprise. With wide eyes, she saw an impossibly tall man smiling down at her, though it was more of a smug smirk. He seemed completely out of place: too well-groomed and wearing a suit and jacket with shoes that probably were worth half a year’s rent. The scarf about his neck was probably double that, given the smooth sheen of the material.
He also looked completely at ease, as if the cold wind whipping up didn’t bother him.
“Um,” she said, brushing some hair out of her face. It was not a nervous gesture. He only caught her off guard. She was being silly, listening to her gut. “A little? I know, I know, I should have brought a map with me, but they said there were markers on the trails here.”
“I see,” he said slowly, his voice crisp with some sort of accent. “Perhaps I could be of assistance then.”
He didn’t phrase it like a question, she observed.
“You know the way back to the visitor center? Or what direction I need to go to get back onto a main trail?” she asked, relief outweighing suspicion. Take that illogical fears and memories of ghost stories. Hot cocoa and toasty air conditioning was in her future. “Thank you!”
His smirk became wider.
“I said ‘perhaps’, my lady. Good thing you are correct in your assumption.”
She bit her lip.
Looked like she spoke too soon.
His green eyes twinkled, though she wasn’t sure with what.
“Quite alright. I do happen to know the way back to the visitor center.”
The wind died down once they turned around and headed back the way Jane came, and she started to think of those horrifying situations again. Didn’t someone say that the devil wouldn’t appear as a monster, but in a well-made suit? This guy could play the part just from the goosebumps he gave her. He seemed to give off an aura of mystery: dangerous mystery.
Jane was sure she would get burned if she tried to pick it apart.
“So what brings someone like you out here to these woods?” the man asked.
“Someone like me?” Jane repeated, jarred out of her musings.
“You do not seem to be experienced with the outdoors.”
She frowned. She was more suitably dressed for a hike in the woods than she was. At least she was wearing shoes with a thick, sturdy heel.
“I thought it might be nice to get out and enjoy some fresh air,” she replied. “One of my coworkers said this was a good place to do just that.”
She was never going to listen to Darcy’s advice—she should have known, when her suggestion had come from some sort of ‘top ten things to do’ list.
“Hmm. It is not a horrible idea, but it is not always a good idea to hike in the latter part of the year here.”
“Oh, I won’t be making that mis—”
Jane gave a cry as she suddenly slipped on some wet leaves. She could feel gravity temporarily lose its hold on her, only to snatch her back and have her fall back down again. She would have landed painfully, if they man had not deftly caught her and helped her back onto her feet.
“For this reason exactly,” he said, smirking. “This mountain is steep, and with falling leaves and multiple days of rain, the park cannot maintain the trails as well as they can in the spring or summer. Are you alright?”
“Y-Yeah,” she replied, flushing and wiping her boots off from the decaying leaves.
The rest of the walk was quiet with occasional chatter about when would be a better time to hike (or what might be less dangerous) with birds calling in the distance and wind howling even further away. The man seemed content with watching her intently, not even trying to hide that he was observing her as much as she was him.
Tall was not enough of a word. He towered over her, lean and lithe, with sharp features and pale skin that made his hair seem as dark as an endless expanse of space.
The visitor’s center came into view before she could decide what shade of green his eyes were. She realized that she was obsessing over him like some sort of love-crazed teenager. She should have never come out here in the first place. She could have been warm and pouring over her new star charts or getting to learn the layout of her new labs in the observatory.
“Civilization!” Jane cried happily. “Thank you so—”
The man who had helped her back was nowhere to be seen.
“What?” she gasped, a chill running down her spine. He couldn’t have disappeared, but in the wet leaves, she didn’t see another set of footprints by hers. There weren’t even many places to hide, and she would have heard him suddenly run off for the trees again.
A chuckle echoed, but she still couldn’t see the source.
“It wasn’t a ghost, it wasn’t a ghost, it wasn’t a ghost,” she kept telling herself for the rest of the day.