Ambrosia stood in the clearing and listened for any sign of movement within the forest around her. Stepping as gently as she could in the hiking boots, she turned clockwise carefully and scanned the tree line.
No snapping branches or nocturnal animal noises or glowing eyes.
Just nothingness, and that put her on guard even more. At the very least she should have been able to hear crickets or peepers from the creek to the south.
She took a cautious step to the east and that’s when movement caught her eye to the north. She stopped and held her breath. Eyes scanning just above the trees, the movement continued for a couple feet and stopped. With the moon at its fullest, she was able to make out a vaguely human shape.
“Shit,” she whispered, and slowly turned back towards the western edge of the forest and kept a visual on the shape to her left. As she moved, the shape mimicked her movements with only a second or two delay.
At the slow pace Ambrosia kept, it took nearly an hour to cover the three acres of field at the edge of her parents’ property. It was another quarter mile through the woods before she would reach the house itself.
Her father had taken her into this part of the property as a child, teaching her to hunt and trap all manner of animal all within the state’s laws and regulations. Those methods kicked in now, as she skirted the field towards the shape against her better judgment. Her father hadn’t taught her much about tracking humans.
But then again, she didn’t think this creature was human. At least not in the traditional sense.
Weaving quietly between the trees, she picked up a foul scent and gagged. What the hell is that? As she gained control and took shallow breaths through her mouth, she was able to hear light crunching noises coming from ahead. The tree canopy prevented light for her to see, but the years of training kicked her vision into overdrive and a silhouette shifted behind a large oak a bit deeper in the trees to the west.
She tilted her head and focused above the shape, hoping to make out some features. It was smaller than she initially thought when she first saw it across the field. Maintaining her position, Ambrosia allowed her breathing to deepen slowly as she watched the creature move from behind the oak and into a small patch of pine needed-covered ground.
Its legs were thick and short, and if it was human it was either malformed or wearing a backpack. It slid softly behind another tree and peeked out from around the trunk, directly at Ambrosia.
The skin on her arms rippled and she had to plant the staff she was carrying to prevent her from falling on the hard earth. Hair stood all over her body and she felt electrified. The ground seemed to shift beneath her and she struggled to remain upright. For several seconds, she felt what could only be described later as the bed spins after a night of heavy partying before hitting the ground.
Ambrosia saw the woods around her, and herself on the ground. She was seeing the world through a different set of eyes, and later determined they were the eyes of whatever it was she had been tracking. She was sprawled on the ground, face in the leaves and staff at her side. Taking several steps she stopped next to herself and crouched down. A hand covered in what appeared to be a furry glove touched her back. She both saw and felt it happen.
A piercing howl filled the air and she sniffed. Coyotes. The property was known to have them.
She stood and turned to see a large female staring at her to the east, just at the edge of the trees. It seemed to smile and nod, and she was calmed by it. She watched the coyote pad over and lay beside herself and lay its head on her back. Was it claiming her? Keeping her safe from something more sinister?
She could hear words in her head, or the creature’s head, and they were not all full of peace and love.
Be not afraid, young one. You will not be held accountable for your actions.
“But I didn’t do anything to her.”
We saw from across the opening between the trees. You made eye contact. Even we of the forest know that is not allowed by your kind.
She hung her head. “I am sorry, old one.”
We also know you’ve linked with her in some way. This must stop and you must be on your way.
“Yes, old one. I will do as you ask.”
The coyote stood and nodded. It gave a last look at her on the ground, nudged her with its nose and padded off deeper into the woods towards the south.
She took a deep breath and released it slowly, the vapor escaping her nose and circling her head. Turning toward the north, she strode towards the wagon she had left just beside the road. As she got closer to the wagon, she felt the connection between bodies grow weaker until it was barely tangible, and then gone.
When Ambrosia woke it was nearly dawn and she was shivering from the cold. A deep ache had set in her bones and a headache etched its way along the right side of her head just over her ear. A migraine seemed to be taking hold.
She sat slowly and propped her back against a small birch. Waves of nausea overcame her and she heaved bile and fluid onto the ground beside her. Wiping her mouth and taking a breath, Ambrosia was struck with a gut punch of the memories of the night before.
Getting on her knees, she crawled to her staff and grasped it weakly before moving to a nearby tree. Using the tree and staff, she managed to get to her feet and get a bearing on the surroundings. They didn’t look any different but they certainly didn’t feel like they had before the encounter with the creature. She took a steadying breath and carefully made her way in the direction of her parent’s house.
It took two days, and three more encounters before she was found by search and rescue members.