The Wild: Unexpected Meeting

The final branch gave a satisfying thump as Carmen Henderson heaved it over top of her rough bonfire. There was paper, dry brush and the heavier tree branches, all roughly set up in a pyramid. Flicking a match alight she dropped it onto the crumpled newspaper, watching it and the dry twigs quickly burst into flames.

The clearing in the woods was mostly clear of undergrowth, other campers having cleared the area to make setting up easier. Her tent was set to one side of the clearing, her jeep sitting not far away, trunk loaded with supplies. Above her the stars glittered in the darkness like gems on velvet, suiting the silent beauty of the dark forest.

Taking a long stick Carmen poked at the crackling fire, her expression oddly mournful. "I just wish I had someone here to share it with me," she murmured. She and her lover had been planning to go out here for weeks, but that was before she had found out that Anne had been cheating on her. After all the drama of kicking her out, Carmen had decided she needed to get away, and since she had already booked this spot, she figured she might as well go.

Going over to the green jeep she got the portable radio out, hooking it to the battery, and then she dug out a package of hot-dogs from the fully stocked cooler. Spitting the dogs on several carefully cleaned twigs she set them over the fire, and then turned the radio on to one of the local stations. Tuning out the droning news reader she perked up as the music started even as she kept an eye on her hot-dogs, turning them over as needed.

The noises of the forest all around were comforting as she pulled the first slightly burnt dog off of its stick, applying some relish and ketchup to it before cautiously taking a small bite. Satisfied that it was cooked right through she munched on it happily, lost in gazing into the hypnotic golden flames in front of her.

"Would you mind some company?" the quiet voice made Carmen jump.

"Who?" whirling around Carmen saw the young woman who was standing at the edge of the firelight, her gaze faintly amused. Long glossy black hair flowed down her back, her face delicate and hazel eyes glowing as she moved forward towards the fire.

"I'm sorry," the young woman apologized to her gently, her white T-shirt shining, "I didn't mean to startle you. My name is Diana."

"Carmen," she introduced herself, frowning up at the other woman. Her good manners finally kicked in as she waved to a nearby log, "Sure, take a seat."

"Thank you," Diana's long, jeans clad legs were graceful as she settled down on one of the logs. "I was out walking when I smelled your cooking," she said, "and I got curious."

"Walking out here on your own?" Carmen felt a flash of concern for the strange young woman, "Isn't that dangerous?"

"I can take care of myself," Diana answered, her lips curling up into a smile.

Carmen met her hazel eyes for a moment then looked away, suddenly wondering how the young woman looked at her. Her red hair was long, pulled back in a ponytail, and her blue eyes were quite striking, she was told. Carmen's body was more average looking, sadly, though none of her lovers had ever complained.

"Are you camping nearby?" Carmen asked, suddenly looking forward to the next few days out here in the woods.

"Not to far," Diana waved towards the forest.

Deciding to be hospitable Carmen pulled a well-done hot-dog off a spit and passed it over to Diana, "Well, I'm glad to have the company."

"Thank you," Diana murmured as she took the dog. Applying condiments she ate eagerly, munching her 'dog with surprising speed, but she still was oddly neat, licking the last crumbs from her fingers then wiping them on her jeans.

Carmen felt moderately surprised at the girl's appetite as she reached for another hot-dog, "Do you want another?"

Gracefully Diana rose, looking down at Carmen with an oddly unreadable expression on her face. "I'd better go," she said as she strode over to the edge of the fire light then turned to look at her, "but could I see you tomorrow?"

"I'd like that," Carmen answered and was rewarded by a flash of Diana's smile.

"See you then," and Diana took a few steps into the deepening darkness before finally disappearing into the night.

Carmen felt oddly bereft when Diana left and finally finished her food then got ready for bed. Rolling out her bedroll a safe distance away from the flames she lay out, the long trip up there finally catching up to her. 'I think this will end up being a nice trip,' she thought as she dozed off.

The bird calls woke her sometime after the dawn, the sun shining down through the trees. Unzipping herself from her sleeping bag Carmen got up and stumbled into the woods to go bathroom, then headed for a nearby stream to wash up. Instant coffee helped wake her up, along with some hot porridge, then she began to plan her day.

Changing into her hiking gear Carmen headed out with her compass and map ready and a backpack with snacks and a drink inside, determined to find the local sights. There was just a bit of crispness to the air as she strode down the path through the woods, a hint in the fall air that winter really wasn't all that far away.

An hour later Carmen puffed slightly as she climbed, the flat forest floor having become a steep hill. 'And I thought I was in good shape,' she thought wryly as she took a curve by a boulder, 'I really need to work out more.'

Something drew Carmen's gaze up the path and she froze, eyes widening in surprise. The wolf stood up the trail not too far away, the sleek animal looking down at her with a powerful gaze. It's fur was a mix of black and gray, hazel eyes shining with intelligence as it nonchalantly turned it's back and with a wag of it's tail it was off. Bounding from boulder to boulder it bounced down the hill, soon disappearing from view.

"Oh my god," Carmen breathed out in awe, heart hammering in her chest. 'I was that close,' she thought as she leaned up against another stone, 'it could have...'

"Are you all right?" the quiet voice asked,

"EEP!" Carmen jumped, heart pounding as she whirled around to see Diana looking at her curiously, a degree of amusement in her hazel eyes. "Don't do that," she blurted.

"Do what?" Diana raised a delicate eyebrow.

Carmen gave her a suspicious look as she felt her heart slowing again, wondering if Diana was joking. "Did you see that wolf?" she asked softly, eyes sparkling.

"I guess I missed it," Diana answered, her expression regretful, "what did it look like?"

"It was beautiful," Carmen murmured, realizing at that moment that she meant every word. Haltingly she tried to describe her meeting with the wolf, the impression it had made on her, but words seemed to fail her.

Still, Diana seemed caught up in her words, the lovely young woman listening with a gentle sort of intensity. "I don't think I have heard someone describe the alpha wolf so well," she said as they walked up the rocky path, the sound of running water growing louder.

"The leader of a wolf pack," Diana explained a bit sheepishly, "I've read a great deal about them over the years."

"Are you studying them?" Carmen blinked.

"Intimately," was Diana's quiet answer.

They ascended slowly as they talked, the sound of running water growing louder as they reached a rise, the stream rushing by. Not far away the land dropped off steeply, creating a waterfall of starling beauty, not to mention making a hot day comfortably cool.

"I was planning to have my lunch here," Carmen said as she eased her backpack off, "would you care to join me?"

"I don't want to impose," Diana, oddly, almost looked like she was going to bolt.

"I have lots," Carmen hastened to reassure her then blushed as she confessed, "I packed a bit extra, hoping I'd run into you."

"Really?" Diana's lips curled up in a tentative smile.

Carmen nodded, "Really."

"Then I'd love to," Diana nodded warmly as she settled down beside Carmen. On top of the warm stone they unpacked the food as she noted, "It does seem a bit unfair that you keep having to feed me, though."

"I don't mind," Carmen laughed.

"Still, I should pay you back," Diana mused, "maybe I'll bring dinner to you one time."

Another blush colored Carmen's cheeks as she said, "I'd like that."

To be continued...