The preceding night was quiet and the Huntingtons were grateful to have a peaceful rest compared to last night’s. When morning came, however, Hunter had a surprise in store during breakfast.
“What do you mean you’re coming with us?” the food in his mouth started to taste like ash the moment Travis’ wife informed him and Agatha. This was the last thing he wanted to deal with, the sexual tension on a scouting trip. Plus, wouldn’t it make Agatha suspicious?
“Are you sure you can get around in the forest okay in your clothing?” Agatha spoke up as if confirming his thoughts. The strange wave of amusement washed over them as Travis’ wife took several moments to answer.
“Yes, I am quite sure I can get around in my getup. Thank you for your concern, Agatha,” she replied politely with a hint of amusement in her dreamy voice. Agatha didn’t seem to buy it.
“Well, if you say so…” she trailed off with a very dubious expression. “And I suppose I’ll be here all by my lonesome,” she added with a disappointed look.
“Don’t worry, babe, we’ll be back in a jiffy. Should be no more than thirty minutes given the size of the forest, right?” Travis looked to Hunter.
“Actually, it’s pretty big; it’d take all day to traverse it all. So ‘thirty minutes’ of scouting for deer trails will not get us very far,” Hunter said with a smirk and Travis raised an eyebrow. He wondered if all the talk they had during supper was just hot air on Travis’ side.
“Okay, so a couple of hours, then?” his reply confirmed Hunter’s doubts.
“Something like that,” Hunter replied vaguely with a shrug and looked to Agatha, feeling a bit sorry for her having to be alone for that long.
“You’re gonna be all right without us, Aggie?”
“Yes, dear. I can manage on my own,” she smiled at him. He smiled back and gave her a reassuring squeeze around the shoulders. He looked to Travis’ wife with furrowed brows.
“Are you sure you want to come with us?”
“Yes, Hunter. You can blame Travis for making me want to explore the forest with you and him. You see, he has regaled me with his tales of exploration when he was but a youth,” she replied with growing amusement coming from her. Travis grinned and shrugged apologetically.
“What can I say? I had a pretty exciting life as a kid, how I miss those days…” he sighed reminiscently. Hunter merely nodded in resignation and focused on wolfing down the rest of his breakfast with a stoic determination. He just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible, knowing it was bad luck to bring a woman on a man’s trip.
The next surprise in store for Hunter came in the form of Travis and his wife’s ability to get around the thick underbrush relatively easy in spite of their clothing. He was amazed at how she was able to navigate among the plants with the careful movements she always used. At this point, his misgivings started to fade, but slowly.
“No deer trails so far, Hunter. We should be able to find them if we split up to cover more ground,” Travis suggested as they paused after fifteen minutes of fruitless searching.
“It’s easy to get lost in here, Travis,” Hunter cautioned, not trusting in Travis’ self-proclaimed woodcraft.
“No shit, Hunter. Only newbies get lost, not us. This is actually an impressive forest; notice how firm the ground is. Even the plants are thick enough to keep us from leaving footprints behind. As thick as this undergrowth is, they don’t stay parted long enough to leave a reliable trail for us to backtrack through. There’s no saplings or low branches for us to break to mark where we went either, so the most we can do, however, is cut some plants down and gouge some bark at set intervals,” he explained, pointing at the various mentioned features. Hunter noticed he had a blade in his hand, a black serrated folding knife.
“Don’t forget landmarks too, love,” Travis’ wife spoke up, gesturing to a large burly oak tree nearby that seemed to be a living buttressed column holding up the dark green canopy among many others.
“Ah yes, landmarks too. If you can remember those too, then you’re pretty much impossible to get yourself lost in these kinds of woods. Thanks, babe,” he added with a kiss upon her forehead.
“All right, point well-taken. We’ll split up from here and meet again at that tree in two hours,” Hunter relented, but with relief. Perhaps he’d enjoy some solitude…
“Sweet, I gotta take a leak, though. You guys go ahead,” Travis remarked as he made his way towards the burly oak, his back to them as he parted his trench coat open at the same time.
“Lovely…” Hunter replied with a grimace and looked to Travis’ wife, meeting her downcast eyes and felt her amusement at this flutter within him. His heart did a small leap at this contact and he willed himself to break it and take his own way through the forest.
Approximately ten minutes later, Hunter was finished marking where he went by ripping up leaves of cocklebur. He didn’t need a knife or a machete as his Eagle Scout training taught him how to rely on his own two hands, something he took pride in ever since. He had come across a particularly bare patch of ground and he noticed something on them that looked like prints.
Kneeling down to inspect closer, he saw they were indeed paw prints. Placing his fingers into the indentations in the soil, he could tell they were rear paw prints as there were no sign of front paw prints that accompanied them. His brows furrowed as he registered the spacing and the pacing of the prints. The spacing was a little spread out than normal, and the pacing…
He got up and walked along the prints slowly, measuring the pacing against his own. The prints’ paces were half as long as his own and he suddenly realized the size of them. Kneeling down again, he placed a hand next to one of the prints and noted they were approximately fist-sized as he made a fist and held it over for comparison.
“Damn, that’s a massive animal…” he muttered to himself as he stood up again. He focused on one other thing that had been bugging him in the back of his mind since he noticed it: where are its front paws? As if in reply at the heels of that question, the memory of walking alongside the prints seemed to answer it with a disturbing clarity.
“What the hell?” he said a bit louder than before as if in disbelief, refusing to accept it and yet the sheer clarity compelled him to accept it at the same time. A walking animal? Bullshit. He looked around the prints to see if there were signs of something else to suggest it was a hoax. After walking around the patch of bare ground for five minutes, he couldn’t see anything that lent support to the suggestion.
So he was left with but one choice: find the animal in question. Using the claw marks in front of the prints as a guide, he followed along them past the bare patch of ground, being forced to stay on his current bearing as the thick underbrush beyond prevented any more signs to help guide him. Hunter soon came into a clearing with a fallen log to the side, and he sat on it, wiping the sweat off his brow.
“Tired, Hunter?” a dreamy voice sounded, startling him.
“Who’s—“ he stopped once he realized who and as if to confirm this, he saw Travis’ wife materialize through the underbrush. His heart did several flip-flops, the impending situation becoming all too clear in a split second.
“Calm down, silly,” she murmured softly as she made her way across the clearing to sit next to Hunter on the log, sitting down demurely and seemingly chaste due to the all-concealing garment.
“H-have you been following me?” Hunter stammered slightly despite the slight amusement coming from her. The amusement grew a little more at that.
“I think we merely ran into each other,” she said smoothly, giving him a tiny shrug of indifference.
“Uh, I found some strange paw prints back there. They seem to lead to here,” he said, trying to keep it casual, though he had the impression it wasn’t going to stay that way long enough for his liking.
“Strange paw prints? Do tell.”
“Well, I think it’s best if I showed you them…” Hunter faltered as the impression grew stronger in his mind. Even he felt more inclined to spend more time with her like this and hopefully then some. His mouth went dry and he licked his lips, briefly deciding whether to make good on this opportunity or not. He made the choice by reaching for her face covering, but she shrank back from it. This made Hunter pause in mid-reach. Did he jump the gun?
“Do you truly desire me, Hunter?” It took Hunter a moment to process what she asked. Wasn’t it obvious from the start? From the moment they met?
“Yes, I do,” he replied, letting his hand rest upon the log between them. His eyes searched hers, as if looking for an affirmation. But they seemed to bore into his own as if examining his soul despite her bowed-down head. Even Hunter had to wonder whether she was brought up to keep such a posture for long periods of time or not.
“No matter what I look like?” she spoke again and Hunter blinked at the question. For a fleeting moment, he imagined that Travis’ wife was either a goddess of beauty or as ugly as sin.
“Er, you’re talking to an old man with fifty years experience of love under his belt. I think by now, appearances have little meaning,” he replied with a small smile. He couldn’t help but find at least two things in what he said happened to become untrue in a matter of weeks. Travis’ wife regarded him with a careful and calculating look in her eyes, and then the wave of amusement slowly grew in intensity until it was cut off seconds later.
“Is that so? I wonder about that, truly,” she spoke softly with barely contained mirth in her voice. Hunter found himself feeling affronted by what she said. Before he could say anything, she continued.
“Be that as it may, my husband fell in love with me regardless of what I looked like and he is decades younger than you, so to speak,” she inclined with a small tilt of her head, as if those last three words were an afterthought. Hunter could only blink in reply. Silence rolled in between them, stretching out into seconds, then a minute.
“Well, good for him, if he can fall in love with you no matter what you look like, then I should be able to,” he said at long last, fidgeting a little in his seat. He resisted the urge to glance around, instead keeping eye contact with her, which she returned in cool silence for several more moments.
Then she broke the eye contact by looking away, murmuring something under her breath Hunter couldn’t hear.
“What’s that?” his prompting made her look back at him, which he felt slight amusement mixed with sadness and a hopeful longing at the same time. Her golden eyes seemed to punctuate this feeling by capitalizing on the longing aspect.
“I said I don’t think you are ready to see what I look like.”
“And I said that appearances have little meaning, didn’t I?” Hunter retorted with a touch of vehemence in his voice, causing Travis’ wife to look up just slightly. He grasped her by the shoulders when she didn’t say anything immediately, causing her to tense up for a moment.
“Travis’ wife, whoever your real name is; I don’t care what you might look like underneath that clothing. I just want you for who and what you are. Hell, maybe even more than your husband does,” he said with conviction, having a small surge of adrenaline when he dared to say the last sentence in her face. It was a risky move, all right.
What happened next surprised him: instead of an expected slap to the face, he felt growing amusement and admiration coming from her, her eyes meeting his that seemed to echo these feelings.
“Thank you, Hunter. Give me some time to consider and I will let you know,” she spoke softly and Hunter let his hands slide down from her shoulders in relief. She carefully put a hand upon his cheek to caress it gently along his jaw line.
“In the meantime, I think we can continue to enjoy each other’s company in other ways. Don’t you agree, Hunter?” she asked, leaning her face in towards his, so that only an inch remained between them. His heart quickened at the possibilities she presented to him, it was as if these dreams with her were going to be true…
As if making up his mind for him, she took one of his hands in hers slowly and carefully. In that same manner, she brought it up to her chest and pressed it against one of her breasts. He blinked at this and slowly squeezed it as if wanting to confirm it was really real.
“Mm,” she purred and arched her back against this, pressing herself against his hand at the same time. She closed her eyes as well, and then opened them moments later, letting her hand off his own.
“Now do you understand?” she said softly. Hunter merely nodded and reluctantly let go of her breast. As his hand went back down to his side, he was seized with the temptation to stroke her thigh, but that passed just as it happened. She got up slowly and carefully, and Hunter joined her, looking around a bit nervously as if Travis or anyone walked in on them.
Thankfully, there was no one and the two walked together out of the clearing back into the dense underbrush. When they eventually reached the patch of bare ground, Hunter neglected to point out the anomalous paw prints as he was feeling daring. After a quick glance around to ensure they were alone in this part of woods, he slapped Travis’ wife’s butt. This elicited a gasp and then a giggle from her before she walked ahead of him in a slightly faster pace as if to avoid being slapped in the rear again from Hunter.
Grinning, he made to grab at her butt but paused as he noticed fresher paw prints in her wake. He slowed down to a stop and inspected them closer as she went onward and then out of sight once the underbrush swallowed her. He frowned at this new development and looked up to see that he was alone.
“Travis’ wife?” he called out a bit nervously and looked around some more. “Travis?” he called out again and mentally cursed the lack of ambient sound in the forest. Not one bird or cricket in vicinity. Not even the wind breezed through, since the Dark Forest was so dense.
He shook his head and decided that the animal must’ve doubled back and Travis’ wife merely walked over them coincidentally. He looked back to the prints and he could see his own footprints at the edge of the bare ground. But he couldn’t see any women’s footprints along his own. He was quite sure she didn’t walk on the covered ground around the bare patch, since it was large enough for three people to walk through it side-by-side comfortably. If Agatha and he were right on Travis’ wife wearing high heels, he should’ve seen proof of that by now through the form of small holes into the ground caused by the heels. But there were none.
Unable to come up with any rational explanation, Hunter grumbled to himself and then moved on to get back to his own path. He was losing interest in looking for deer trails as he kept thinking about these paw prints. He just couldn’t shake off the possibility that Travis’ wife created them.
He came to a stop the moment his mind wandered towards the fearful rumors of the children suggesting that Travis and his wife were werewolves. He laughed uneasily, wanting to push it out of his mind. But the connection between the rumors and the paw prints proved impossible to be pushed out of his head. Anxiety tinged with fear slowly crept over Hunter in the form of hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Brushing them down, he pushed onward with a renewed determination to ignore the ominous signs, mentally telling himself that it was some kind of an elaborate hoax over and over in a mantra.
“Over here, Hunter!” Travis’ voice startled him out of his single-minded reverie, looking around. He found himself past the burly oak and noticed Travis waving him over.
“What’s the matter, dude? Get lost or something?” Travis grinned as Hunter made his way back to the tree.
“No, I was… preoccupied,” he replied as he suppressed the renewed stab of uncertainty and fear towards Travis.
“What happened?” Travis became curious.
“I’ll tell you all when we’re back at the campsite,” Hunter said dismissively and glanced around. “Where’s your wife? She, uh, should be back here by now.”
“We’re kind of early, Hunter, chill,” he said with a small chuckle, gesturing for Hunter to cool down. “She’ll be here,” he said with a certainty, nodding his head once and then leaned against the tree to cross his arms. Silence enveloped the both of them for a few moments until Travis broke it.
“Find any deer trails?”
“No… what about you?”
“Not really,” Travis said with a shrug. “Beautiful place, though.”
“Yes, it is.”
They lapsed into silence for several minutes until Travis’ wife came into sight, wending her way around some bushy plants towards them. She seemed to make no indication about the encounter between her and Hunter earlier, walking over to Travis and embraced him tightly. They exchanged soft murmurs until he looked up to Hunter.
“Ready to go?” Hunter replied with a nod and they made their way back to the campsite.
“Find anything?” Agatha greeted them once they arrived, putting down a novel onto her lap. She was reclining in one of the four lounge chairs she set out earlier around the campfire.
“I found something,” Hunter said as he sat down at the picnic table, taking off his hiking boots. Travis and his wife settled upon a chair close to the campfire with her sitting upon his lap. Hunter could see she was shifting around in his lap, noting this with wry amusement.
“What is it, then?” Agatha asked him, looking at him the whole time, obviously missing the event between Travis and his wife. Hunter saw Travis caress his wife’s lower stomach and waist, almost threatening to stroke her thighs the whole time. Even she was into it, reaching back to stroke along the side of his head with a hand. Her eyes met Hunter’s and he could feel merriment washing over him, coupled with a forming passion. He was certain that she was teasing him with this display they were doing to each other.
“Hunter?” Agatha snapped him out of his reverie, causing him to look back at her.
“Oh, sorry,” he muttered and straightened himself in his seat before clearing his throat significantly. Agatha remained looking at him, missing the cue to look at Travis and his wife.
“Well, I saw a set of strange footprints,” he explained his find, purposefully using the word “footprints” instead of “paw prints” to see if this got any reaction from Travis and his wife. When neither one of them made any indication as they kept petting each other, he went on.
“They looked like the animal was walking on its hind legs the whole time…” still no reaction from the amorous couple, even Travis was now stroking along her thighs. “… and I think it’s some kind of a wolf or something from the looks of them,” Hunter finished. To his approval, they slowly ceased their petting to look at him expectantly. Travis rested his hands on his wife’s hips, almost grasping them.
“A walking wolf?” Agatha said doubtfully, “are you sure you read them right?”
“Yes, Agatha, I’m sure I read them right. I had to inspect them over and over!” he retorted, affronted. To his surprise, Agatha laughed and even Travis and his wife joined in a second later.
“A walking wolf, yeah right!” Travis remarked, shaking his head with a grin. “Good one, Hunter. I’ll be sure to remember this for years to come!” Agatha laughed some more and finally glanced over to them, which Hunter noted smugly, to become a bit surprised at seeing them like this. She blinked and looked back to Hunter who merely raised an eyebrow in response. The jovial atmosphere slowly changed into awkwardness, mostly on Agatha’s part as she couldn’t get over her surprise until Hunter broke the ice.
“Did you enjoy your book?” she looked at him blankly until she recovered her train of thought.
“Oh…! Yes, yes I did. I was only a quarter through when you guys came in.”
“Good,” Hunter replied with a smile and soon, the awkward atmosphere melted into an amicable one for the rest of the day.
As Hunter and Agatha listened to the passionate sounds coming from the other tent while they lay in their own tent at night time, Hunter was finding himself embroiled in two emotions that seemed to fight for dominance: wanting to go over there and take Travis’ wife as his own, and go over there and scream at them to keep it down. Jealousy and annoyance.
“They certainly love to go at it with each other, don’t they?” Agatha remarked with a small smile.
“Mm-hmm,” Hunter replied, her remark seeming to make up which prevailing emotion for him: annoyance. He was about to make good on his desire when Agatha stroked his chest, making him look at her, seeing that she had a suggestive look on her face.
“I’m sure two can play at that game, don’t you think?” she smiled at him, her eyes searching his. What she had in mind seemed to remedy his annoyance, and the longer he considered it, it made sense. So for a reply, he grinned and took her in his arms to kiss her. She returned the kiss, building it up slowly into a passionate one.
They took their time with each other, taking it slow and gentle. When it was in full swing, Hunter found himself imagining Agatha to be Travis’ wife and this prompted him to be a bit more passionate towards climax, truly wishing that he had her in his arms instead of his own wife.