Return to the Library

LOST IN THE WILDERNESS

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 1
Abandoned Pets

 

The instructional session on transterrestrial botany the next afternoon was quieter than usual. Jean Dessau usually enjoyed having the mountain lions from the Felis Wing in her class, since both of them tended to ask the right questions, but this time Kristen was absent and Jon was brooding without participating any more than necessary. The dark-skinned woman worried that something had happened in the week since her last class, but since there were eight others attending, she didn't have the time to focus on her concerns.

“When you set out to your new world,” she told her group, “you will be taking a supply of food and seeds enough to last up to a local year, but your starter colony will be there no less than five years. Almost as soon as you get your camp set up, you will either have to attempt growing Earth-type food plants in the alien soil, or you will need to discover which vegetation among the native plant life can be edible to you before you've used up your reserve.”

There was a light summer breeze blowing at the edge of the backwoods where Jean had taken her class for the day. She led them from the lawn-mowed grounds a short distance into the wilderness portion of the forest, through light underbrush to a small clearing.

“Although it is impossible to plan for a specific planet's ecosystem this far in advance,” she continued, “we've been fortunate on the other worlds where we have sent groups thus far. Despite that those distant worlds are light-years away, the Earth-type planets we've discovered have had flora similar to what we have right here on mother Terra.”

The instructor squatted down to look at a bit of green at her feet. She didn't pull any of it loose, but she put her fingers beneath the slender blades and said, “Grass can be identifiable as grass, whether you're on Earth, Javan or Monarch. The characteristics and chemical makeup may be obviously different, but if you saw a field of something similar to this on Monarch, your first thought would be that it looks like grass, no matter if the plant is green, blue, red or purple. It's the same with trees, flowers, reeds, bushes, ferns and so on. They aren't physically related, but the ecosystems are so similar that it's often been speculated that frozen spores traveling through space may have seeded numerous worlds despite interstellar distances.”

“Are you saying that there will be oak and maple trees on every world we find?” Dahlia Fleur asked.

Jean smiled but shook her head. “No, you will only find oak and maple trees on Earth, and then only in certain regions. However, you may find trees out there that are similar even if they aren't actually related.  There is a flying creature on Diamanta with a plumage we identify with feathers that has four wings, a long tail and hollow bones. It can't be compared to anything identical with anything we have on Earth, but for all practical purposes, the colonists there call them birds.  Is it a bird? It's not from our homeworld, but it's identifiable to us as a bird. The same goes with the plants we've found. Grass is grass, trees are trees, and flowers are flowers, no matter their origin.”

The woman stood up and gestured to several bushes surrounding the small group. “To our great relief, our distant colonies have discovered that not only have they found things that look similar to what we have here, many of the plants and animals are compatible with our physiologies.”

“What do you mean by compatible?” Gerard asked curiously, swatting at gnats that had discovered his small round ears.

Jean smiled. “Compatible, meaning that your digestive system can handle them as a food source. As it is right here, you won't be able to eat just anything you find, so you'll need to learn how to determine if the berries you find are edible. It may turn out that you can't eat the berries, but you can the flowers, the leaves or even the stalk, so you'll want to check out everything before you arbitrarily pick something and put it in your mouth.”

“That includes picking a blade of grass and chewing on it,” Carl remarked, slapping the short fennec fox beside him on the shoulder.  Kevin looked down at the slender stalk of grass he had plucked from the ground that was currently stuck between his teeth. It was a habit he'd picked up at home, and he hadn't even realized that he'd done it. With everyone now looking at him, he tossed the partially chewed grass to the ground amidst a few chuckles and snickers.

Jean nodded in agreement. “That's exactly right. The grass you find could be poisonous to ingest, so you may want start paying attention to such things now.” She gave Kevin a smile to let him know she wasn't just singling him out, and then looked around the small clearing.

“Now, a chemical analysis is the best way to know for sure, but you may not always have a chemkit with you at all times. Using your senses and the selection we have here locally, let's look at what you can do with similar type vegetation to identify what may or may not be healthy for you. In your new hybrid form, you'll be surprised to know what you can discover with just your nose when it comes to edible plants.”  

*** 

Kristen stood in front of the new fur dryer in the Felis Wing restroom, holding up a large towel with both hands to catch the blowing air around her, as well as for use as a barrier against other eyes that might wander into the room. Instead of attending instructional classes throughout the day, she had chosen to stay in the Wing and do a hard cleanup to work off the frustrated energy she'd built up inside due to her last conversation with Jon. It didn't matter that the Wing had received a good cleaning only recently, but it was the only thing she could think of. Now at the end of the day, all of the common areas of the building were spotless, including the exercise and laundry rooms, and having just stepped out of the shower, she was clean too.

She had cried herself to sleep after Jon had flamed her, and even though Jenni had tried to console her, she had wanted nothing more than to be left alone. Jon had shocked her with his revelation and she was heartbroken, even if she finally realized just how rash her decision had been to take on the form of a mountain lion – something that would now be with her the rest of her life.

Just as Jon had done several days earlier, Kristen had begged Dr. Renwick to change her back, even at the risk of death by a process that had never seen success. The physician had listened to her patiently, but her request fell on deaf ears. Her health was not in danger and she was bound by her contract with the AHCP to see it through, especially since she was now in her seventh month of a nine month transformation process.

Just as Jon would have to live with the result of his actions for the rest of his life, she was locked into the same fate. Both were now wearing faces of a creature neither of them wanted to be.

When she had awakened the next morning, Kristen had gotten out of bed and prepared for her day just like any other, except that she refused to look in a mirror. She had only her shoulder length, human-style scalp hair to style and she could do that with her eyes shut as simple as she wore it these days. The rest of her fur was short enough that grooming was a simple act of washing and drying it, as she had just done. Fortunately, due to her new eyes only the irises showed, but she was sure the hidden whites were likely bloodshot that morning.

She finished up with the fur dryer undisturbed and then wrapped the large towel around her middle. The botanist had grown so accustomed to her new body that she was generally unconcerned if someone saw her without her robe top, but she was now self-conscious about her appearance again that she preferred the towel today.

When she eased out the door of the restroom, she peered across the saloon, but Jon was not in sight. Dante was watching a show on the large video screen and Jenni was in the pit tapping away at her PBJ. She glanced over at the simple pendulum clock over the fireplace mantle and noted that it was almost midnight. The other mountain lion would be in the exercise room, and now that the thought had occurred to her, she could hear motion behind the closed door to that room. Grateful she didn't have to face him, Kristen padded quietly across the large room and then disappeared into her room without bothering her other housemates.

She shed the towel once behind her closed door and tossed it into a laundry hamper. She sat down on the edge of the bed and used a large brush to groom her fur merely for the peaceful feeling the action gave her. When she was done some time later, she slipped into a lightweight sleeping gown and then crawled beneath the covers of her bed. The feline woman contemplated sitting up to read for a while, but when she yawned, her ears flat against her head, she decided to call it a night.  She turned off the lamp beside her bed and then settled in against her pillow.

Two minutes later, someone knocked on her door. She heaved a frustrated sigh, but didn't open her eyes in the darkness. “I've already gone to bed,” she called out toward the door.

Someone turned the knob and opened the panel a few inches. “Kristen,” said Marcy's voice, “the Director needs everyone fully dressed and outside in ten minutes.”

“What's going on?” the cougar groaned.

“I don't know,” replied the nurse, “but he's doing this with all the Furs on the compound, not just your class.”

“Okay, I'll be out in five.”

Her Felis Wing housemates were already dressed and outside by the time she strode down the hall toward the exit. She stepped out into a warm night and saw the director watching for her impatiently from the front seat of a six passenger electric cart. He gestured her toward the small group surrounding him and she completely ignored the other mountain lion to stand beside Jenni.

Marcelo wrung his hands together and looked agitated. “Okay, folks, I need all of you to climb in so I can take you to the main gate. Once we get there, you will board a bus that's waiting for you.”

“Where are we going?” Dante asked curiously.

“On a field trip,” the director replied.

“At midnight?” Jon remarked.

“There's no time for further questions. Please get in the cart now.”

“You're scaring me, Marcelo,” Jenni remarked as she and Kristen climbed upon a sideways-facing bench seat.  The director didn't respond, and once the Furs were on board, he drove off across the grass in the darkness toward the large wrought iron gate at the perimeter of the complex. Marcy and Dr. Renwick both watched them go for a moment before going back inside the Wing.

Aside from the weekly delivery of supplies, the main gates were rarely opened otherwise, so it seemed odd to the Furs that they were wide open. The Institute's old hydrogen-powered bus was parked right between the gates, mostly filled with other Furs from the complex. Marcelo pulled up near the vehicle's door and shut off the electric cart.

“All right, get on the bus. We'll be leaving in just a few minutes.”

“Where are we going?” Dante tried again.  The director simply ignored him this time, leaving the felines by the cart to talk to someone standing in the headlights of the bus.

“This is too peculiar,” Jon mumbled. “Is there a danger in the Institute?”

“If that was the case, Marcy and the doctor would have come with us,” Jenni suggested. “They didn't even look bothered.”

Kristen walked deliberately to the bus and mounted the steps. Once at the top, she looked around and saw Furs from both Classes Fifteen and Sixteen. Cheryl waved and beckoned her toward the back where she had an empty spot beside her. Despite the late hour, the Border Collie had grabbed her cowgirl hat and was wearing it on top of her head. Due to her higher floppy ears, it didn't fit as well as it had when she was a human, but she had refused to part with it. Kristen side stepped past others, but halted when Travis looked up at her from the seat in front of Cheryl's. He too had an empty seat beside him; he patted it suggestively when she noticed.

“You can sit here, Kristen,” he said with a tired smile. The day had been long for everyone, and it appeared she wasn't the only one who had been roused out of bed. After the way that Jon had treated her the night before, she briefly considered giving the canine a chance, but then he waggled his eyebrows and made a groping motion with his hand resting on the seat beside him.

She shook her head with a sigh and then took the empty spot beside the Border Collie behind him.  “Thanks,” she told him, “but I think I'll be better off back here.”  The German Shepherd merely shrugged his shoulders and put his hands in his lap, staring out the side window.

Jenni took a seat beside Gerard and Dante looked disappointed, but there were no more fully vacant seats for them to sit together. Nearby was an empty spot beside a cute fennec fox from the previous class. He had seen her around, but had never actually talked to her before, so once he had his tail situated and out of danger from getting stepped on in the aisle, he turned to her to introduce himself.

“Hello,” he said quietly. “I'm Dante Capanari.”

The woman held out a small hand with a smile. “Hi, Dante. I'm Erin Sealock. I'm pleased to share my seat with such a gorgeous striped cat.”

The white tiger smiled. He liked her instantly. “You're pretty cute, yourself,” he told her. He glanced up at her enormous ears and then back down at her smiling face. “If you don't mind me asking, why aren't you and Kevin sitting together, both being desert foxes?”

Erin laughed and her voice reminded Dante of a popular cartoon pixie. “I'm sure others have wondered the same,” she replied in amusement, “but he already has a vixen that occupies his attention.”

Dante looked up toward the front of the charter bus and spied the young male fennec with his arm around Rose Fleur, who had her sleepy head upon his shoulder.  “Ah yes,” he said. “They're both close in age so they probably have a lot in common.”

“No doubt,” she said in polite conversation. “I understand he's studying to become a furman meteorologist. That's a good career choice. What are you planning for your colony?”

The tiger put a hand up to his chest and gave her an abbreviated bow from his seat. “Nothing special, just a humble cook.”

“There's nothing wrong with cooking for others,” Erin told him, placing a light hand on his arm. “Everybody needs to eat!”

“It also helps that I enjoy cooking. What about you?”

Erin laughed again. “I have several talents, but my primary function will be a counselor,” she said grabbing both of her ears. “Who better to listen to you than someone with big ears, eh?”

Dante chuckled. “I can't argue with that.”

Up near the front of the bus, Jon sat down beside a drowsy Sissy in the seat behind Kevin and Rose, striking up a low conversation with Hiamovi Avonaco.

“Any idea what's going on?” he asked the grizzly. Avon barely fit in the seat across the aisle by himself, but he didn't seem to mind.

“No clue whatsoever,” the bear replied. “Neither Ray nor Holly would answer my questions, and no one else seems to know either. It's a mystery to me what we're doing out here on a bus in the middle of the night.”

“Ray?  Holly?” Jon mused. “I don't know those names.”

“That's the medical staff of the Ursis Wing, Dr. Raymond Lacross and his nurse, Holly Spiro.”

“Ah.”

A moment later, Marcelo stepped inside and closed the door. Thirty-one furry faces looked up at him, but instead of giving them any kind of explanation, he sat down in the driver's seat and buckled himself in. He made a hand signal to someone standing outside in the darkness and then started the engine.

The short, swarthy director put the bus into gear, guided the vehicle out of the gates, and then out along the winding road through the Adirondack forest.  Voices mumbled and grumbled, and then over the din came Dante's plaintive query.

“Hey, where are we going?”

As with before, the director remained quiet, though the instrument panel lights reflected his eyes looking back at his living cargo in the internal mirror.  Others piped up with similar questions, but Marcelo remained tight-lipped about their destination. Low-voiced conversations conjectured as to their destination, but after a solid half hour of driving along twisting and winding roads through the darkness with a charter bus full of Furs typically up later than they were used to, the discussions died down until most of them had eventually drifted off to sleep in their seats.

Despite the full day they'd had, both of the lupine Amaranths were oddly alert and kept a watch on Marcelo in the driver's seat. The density of the forest canopy above them and the absence of street lights made the night so black that even starlight had trouble filtering to the road below. No one on the bus had an inkling of an idea on what was going on; even Sissy, who seemed to know as much or more about the goings-on of the Institute grounds as the director hadn't even heard a rumor on what they were doing.

Marcelo drove on into the night, taking the winding roads carefully with some specific destination in mind. Then, when they had been on the road for an hour, the bus slowed and turned off of the main road onto an unmarked, gravel-covered avenue cut through the trees. The director drove slowly and the uneven ground beneath the tires rocked the vehicle enough to wake some of the sleeping Furs. As before, there were queries to their destination, but Marcelo was just as silent as he had been earlier.

On and on he drove through the woods, sometimes having to slow almost to a stop to ease the large bus through overhanging branches. Twice the trail branched off where Marcelo would have to think for a moment as if trying to remember his way.

Most of the Furs drifted back off to sleep again despite the unpaved road that was now little more than worn ruts through forest grass. Although not quite asleep, even Ellie Amaranth had put her head on her husband's shoulder. For a time, Carl was the only passenger still awake and somewhat alert.

The wooded lane then opened up into a large elliptical clearing and Marcelo guided the bus around the perimeter of the glade until he was finally facing back the way they had come.  At last, he pulled to a stop and set the parking brake, though he did not shut off the engine.

“Okay, everyone, wake up,” he announced in a loud voice accompanied by a rapid pounding on the dash of the vehicle. “I need everyone outside right now.” 

A few at a time roused groggily and got to their feet, ambling along the aisle to the steps to exit the bus as directed.  It took some minutes to get everyone awake and off the bus, standing in a dark clearing somewhere in the middle of the night. Moths and other insects began to gather around the headlights, and when Marcelo was certain that the bus was empty, he reached down beside the driver seat and picked up a small package.

Down the stairs and outside the vehicle, he looked around in the dim light for the tallest silhouette and then approached Avon.  He quietly handed something to the puzzled bear and then turned back to the bus.

Everyone watched mutely as Marcelo climbed the steps up into the vehicle and then closed the door behind him. He buckled himself into the driver seat and then put the bus into gear.

Astonished, the unbelieving crowd of Furs watched as the bus ambled back up the wooded trail it had driven in on, leaving them behind in the darkness without explanation or even so much as a flashlight.

“Hey!” Aaron yelled after the bus.  “Come back!”  The red tail lights continued to recede, and although the bear and several others ran after it, they had all waited too long in stunned disbelief before taking out after it.  Within moments, even the sound of the bus was gone.

Omigosh, he just left us behind!” Dahlia exclaimed unnecessarily. “He left us!”

“What does this mean?” Jenni asked from somewhere in the crowd. “Is he coming back or did he just abandon us like unwanted pets?”

“He gave something to Avon before he left. What was it?” asked someone else's voice. Jon's ears swiveled and he tilted his head before it registered who had spoken. It was Wendy Miller, a Golden Retriever from Class Fifteen. Sudden remembrance of the item caused numerous questions to pop up all at once, until the grizzle bear himself called for quiet. 

There were several approaching footsteps in the darkness and the group turned en masse toward the sound of heavy breathing. Sissy took hold of someone's arm beside her in sudden trepidation, without even caring who it was she had grabbed. Whoever it was, the furman's scent smelled just as frightened as she was.

“We... couldn't catch... him...” gasped Aaron's voice from the darkness.

“How'd you find your way back to us?” asked Dante. “It's nearly pitch black!”

“All your panicked voices,” Aaron replied dryly. “You guys are loud.”

“Yeah, we couldn't hear anything else in the forest,” Travis added. “Just a noisy bunch of idiots.”

“That was real helpful, Tyndall,” someone else shot back.

“Once your eyes adjust to the darkness,” Aaron added, “there's enough light to see to get around.”

“What are we going to do?” Sissy asked, her feline voice almost breaking.

For several heartbeats, the entire crowd fell silent. Night sounds from the forest began to pick up again after their momentary silence due to the frightened intruders to the dark wooded domain. Insects resumed their nightly clicks, chitters and chirps, and then something large could be heard moving through the trees a short distance away. Unconsciously, most of the Furs crowded in together for protection.  Several resumed talking again, but this time in low whispers as if to keep from disturbing whatever was out there.

“What did Marcelo give to Avon?” Wendy finally asked again. Discussions began to quiet down again as everyone gathered near the canine's voice. No one had been prepared for a nighttime excursion, so there were no flashlights, matches or even a cyalume light stick among them.

“It's a small vinyl case,” Avon said to the crowd, running his fingers over the item in his hands.

“What's in it?” asked Norman.

“Give me a moment, I'm opening it.”  There a pregnant pause when the grizzly mumbled something that no one else caught. Norman was just about to repeat himself when there was a small click in the darkness and then a greenish glow emitted from his large hand.

“C'mon, man, what is it?” Norman complained.

“It's a GPS receiver,” answered the grizzly.

“What's that do?” asked Sissy.

“It picks up signals from geosynchronous satellites orbiting the earth and uses them to triangulate your position to tell you where you are,” Gerard explained.

“So you can tell us where we are?” Jasmine wanted to know.

“Yes and no,” said Avon.  “Right now, the overhead tree limbs are too thick to get a reading from the satellite signals for a good fix. It's picked up a couple because we're in a clearing, but it's having difficulty getting a lock on others to give a true location.”

“Can you give us any idea where we are?” someone asked.

Avon thumbed through the menus on the handheld device for a moment as others tried to crowd around to see the screen. It had been a few years since he had used one during a summer of Geocaching with a friend, but the menu selections were simple.

“There's only a single waymark recorded on it that I'm assuming is the Institute. We're still only getting partial satellite signals, but if the location arrow is anywhere near where we're at, I'd say we're about twelve miles to the northeast of the Institute.”

“Are we supposed to find our way back, or abandon all hope and scatter?” Jenni asked. “What happened back at the Institute that made them drop us all off like this?”

“Maybe they heard there's going to be a raid on the place and they wanted to get us out of there beforehand,” Dante suggested.

“Why would they raid us?” asked Aaron. “The AHCP is a legal operation.”

“I don't know,” Dante grumbled. “I'm just guessing like everyone else is.”

“Avon, did Marcelo tell you what we're supposed to do?” Jon asked amidst other questions and conversations building up.

“Nothing,” answered the bear. “He didn't say a bloody word.” He turned off the GPS receiver to conserve the batteries and put it back inside its case.  “Listen, did anyone bring a PBJ with them?”

“I have mine,” replied Sissy. “I take it everywhere, but until now I forgot I had it!”  The domestic feline scrambled for the pocket of her furman robe and pulled out her clamshell device.  She popped it open and tapped the power button. The device's double screens came to life and she giggled when the smiling face of a cartoon kitty filled up one screen in greeting. There were several snickers over her shoulder. Rather than risk losing the PBJ's stylus in the dark, Sissy used a claw tip on the screen to maneuver through her personal message center. After a moment, she sighed.

“I can't get a lock on the network,” she complained.

“Are we too far from the Institute?” Kevin wanted to know.

“That wouldn't matter,” Manny replied from nearby. “The PBJs get their signals from satellites rather than a broadcast tower.”

“Like the GPS?” Erin asked.

“The trees have never kept my PBJ from connecting before back at the Institute,” Sissy complained.

“Maybe it's being blocked by the Director,” suggested Carl. It was the first time he had spoken since they had been unceremoniously dropped off in the woods.

“What do you mean, blocked?” asked Yuki Tanaka, an Akita from Class Fifteen. She and her lynx sister Kim had been holding onto one another in the darkness, simply listening to the discussion in hopes someone knew what was going on.

Carl cleared his lupine throat. “We're pulled out of bed in the middle of the night, put on a bus and then dropped off out in the middle of the forest without provision or instruction with only a GPS and a single waymark to point our way back to the Institute, if that's actually the Institute. It's possible this might be part of our survival training, to put to use what they've been trying to teach all of us since we got here.”

“So why would they block my PBJ?” Sissy asked.

“To force us to use our wits instead of technology,” Jasmine supplied. “They didn't even give us flashlights.”

“I don't like this,” Rose muttered.

“We won't have much technology to rely on whenever we're stranded on a distant planet,” Jon reminded her. “We'll be better off learning to get around in unfamiliar territory now before we get shipped out. There's only so much you can learn in a classroom environment.”

“Have you done this before, Jon?” Dante asked.

“Not this exactly, but my dad was a hunter and he often took my brother and I out with him on weekend excursions.”

“I've done some cross-country hikes myself,” Avon admitted in the soft glow of Sissy's PBJ, “but I've always had necessary supplies with me.”

“That's the same with Ellie and me,” said Carl.

“And me,” added Alicia from the fringes of the crowd.

“Some of us have never been dropped off out in the woods at night before,” said the scratchy voice of Ivan Dimitri, a red fox tod from Class Fifteen.

“They didn't do this when your class was in training?” Dahlia asked. “I assumed this might have been something they did with each new group.”

“Nope, they didn't,” Ivan replied. “We went on a few field trips, but nothing like this.”

“So what do we do now?” Aaron asked. “Are we going to find our way back blind in the dark?

“No,” Avon said with authority. “We don't know the topography of the terrain and it would be too dangerous trying to find our way without stumbling over fallen trees or into ravines, especially since with both classes combined there's thirty-one of us to keep track of. One or two of us should keep watch in two hour shifts while the rest sleeps. From what I saw in the bus headlights, we're in a large clearing of grass and wildflowers. We don't have any bedding, but it should be warm enough, so it's best if everyone just finds a patch of ground and gets some rest. I suspect we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“What about food and water?” Kevin asked.

“We'll search the area once we have daylight, but for now, get some rest and try not to worry over our situation. Does anyone have a watch on them?”

“It's a quarter after two o'clock,” Carl supplied.

“Sunrise yesterday was around a quarter of six,” Avon remarked, “so that will give us about four hours until we have enough daylight to do anything.”

“Who's going to stand watch over us?” Jenni asked.

“I'll take the first shift,” Avon answered. “I need a volunteer to stand with me.”

“I'll do it.”

“Thanks, Jon.”

“Wake me when you need a relief,” Gerard added.

“I'll take a watch, too,” Norman volunteered.

“Thanks, guys. Okay, folks, pull up a patch of grass and get some rest. We'll decide the best course of action once we can see where we are.”

There were mumbles and grumbles as the large group of Furs tried to settle down on the ground. No one really wanted to be separated far from the others, so bodies were only a foot or two apart when everyone started to lie down in the grassy clearing.

When Kristen got down on her hands and knees on the ground, she sighed to herself. She and Jon were still not talking, but at the moment she was really wishing that she could snuggle up to him for comfort. On impulse she stretched out a hand to the nearest body and felt a furry elbow.

“Excuse me,” she whispered. “May I sleep next to you?  I don't want to be alone tonight.”

“Why sure, darlin'. Snuggle on up to me and let me keep you safe during the night.”

Kristen paused with a shiver down her spine. Out of thirty other Furs in the group, she had to have chosen the one person she had absolutely no desire to sleep beside. Before she could say anything, Travis slipped an arm around her waist and drew her down into the grass beside him. She turned away from him, but then he spooned up behind her with his arm across her middle. The German Shepherd put his nose up onto her neck and then snuggled up close.

The mountain lioness lay on her side stiffly for several long moments, but when Travis did nothing more than lay up next to her, she began to relax; she appreciated the fact that Travis was behaving himself. She was tired and frightened, but she had to admit that it felt nice to have a warm body beside her so she closed her eyes to get some rest.

Just as she was drifting off to sleep, something else began drifting. Travis moved his arm ever so gently that Kristen almost didn't notice it, but when his hand slid over onto her chest, her eyes snapped open.

“If you don't move your hand off my breast,” she whispered, “I'm going to sink my teeth into it all the way to the bone.”

He pulled his hand away immediately, but then moved it to the base of her tail, which was right between them. A growl began in her throat, so he moved his arm to his side, puffing up the fur of her neck with a snort of annoyance.

“Listen,” Kristen whispered quietly, “you can put your arm around me if you want, but only if you can respect my wishes. I'm not giving you permission to fool around, only to sleep beside me.”

“Hey, sweetness, you're the one who wanted to sleep with me,” he whispered back.

“The operative word is sleep, Travis. If you can't honor that, I'll sleep alone after all.”

The canine was silent for a moment, but then he put his arm around her again, resting his hand lightly on her stomach.

“There, that wasn't so hard now, was it?” she asked.

“Harder than you think,” he replied. Kristen caught the double entendre, suddenly very aware of certain parts of his anatomy up next to hers.

“Just behave and get some rest, please.” 

The German Shepherd sighed and relaxed against her.  Suspicion kept Kristen awake for a while longer, but when his breathing deepened in slumber, she finally relaxed.

What would happen to them? she wondered. Was the mark on the GPS home or some other destination? Without supplies or provisions of any kind, they would have to rely upon one another on the hike to that location. Sufficient food and water might not be so easy to find, but as a botanist, she knew she would do her duty as part of the team.

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.