“Wait, hold on. Right or left?” Kris sputtered at the pressing question since it came out of the blue. She hadn’t even processed the rest of what Shayla had said yet. “Oh. U-uh. Wait, why do we have to choose? What’s the difference?”
“We need to move first, and move fast,” Shayla said, waving Kris on, an air of urgency underlying her tone for a change despite the fact Kris didn’t hear or see anything out of the ordinary around them. “You can’t always take the time to think - choose, Kris, hurry. Right or left?”
Kris swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. “R-right, then.”
Shayla urged her on, and both cut right, moving through an expanse of much thicker trees with just enough room for both to squeeze between the space between each tree. Kris felt her heart thudding heavily in her ears; she wondered what the hell was going on that they had to move so fast.
But, after a moment of moving, Kris then heard noise - the noise of rather loud footsteps and… something she could only describe as grunting and grumbling.
‘What the hell?’ Kris thought, stopping.
Shayla halted between two trees, and motioned Kris to her. Kris hesitated for a few seconds, then inched closer to the taller woman - Shayla gently moved Kris so she was sandwiched between Shayla’s body and one tree.
Kris’ cheeks burned. She could feel the taller woman’s more muscled body pressed against her back, and Shayla left her right arm curled slightly around Kris’ body. Shayla was tall enough that her chin perfectly met the top of Kris’ head. She bit her lip, yet remained silent and in place.
“Listen,” Shayla murmured. “And don’t say a word.”
Kris did so.
Those noises grew louder, and soon, Kris spotted not one, but four beings trudging along through the woods - and all four were just like Shayla, in that they didn’t look like normal people whatsoever. All four appeared to be wearing (or whatever the case was, Kris noted) costumes that resembled wild boars, maybe, since they all had tusks, though one of the four had smaller tusks.
One had matted, light brown fur, and was tall and fairly bulky in mass, with large tusks. He - it was clearly a he from the body - was shirtless, wearing only baggy shorts, and wraps around his feet. He was followed by a skinny male, a shorter female-looking one - though she was far more muscular than the skinny male, or the male at the rear, who was thicker and rounder in physique.
‘Holy shit,’ Kris thought, gawking at the sight.
The big one in front halted, raising one arm. He glanced about, like he was scanning the area, and for a brief instant, his eyes seemed to flick in the direction where Shayla and Kris were.
Yet it didn’t last, and he continued on, the other three following behind.
They vanished into the forest after a minute or so longer, and once they were out of sight completely, Shayla gently moved Kris away from the tree.
“Phew,” Shayla said, her tone somewhat quiet. She shook her head. “That would’ve gotten ugly if they’d spotted us.” She growled and gave a snort of disgust. “Stinking pigs. God forbid they actually clean themselves, but oh no, they gotta live like actual filthy, nasty wild animals. Gross.”
Kris rubbed her eyes, then turned to Shayla. “What… what did I just…?”
"I’m not the only one like this,” Shayla replied, gesturing to herself. “There are countless others just like me that live in the area. Some are affable enough. Some are… well, they’ve taken a liking to their new abilities to the point where it’s like they forgot they used to be normal people. Even then, most won’t bother you, but, you can never be too careful. Those boars? They’re part of a whole gang - they’re extremely territorial, the lot of ‘em.”
Kris gawked, absorbing this information. “So, you’re telling me… there’s a whole ecosystem of people who, like, have become these animal… hybrids?”
“Pretty much,” Shayla said.
“That is…” Kris wasn’t really sure how to respond to that, mostly because she was still trying to catch up to the reality she’d somehow found herself in. “It’s cool, but, kind of terrifying at the same time, honestly.”
Shayla nodded, then motioned her on. They picked up their walk again, calmer now, though Shayla remained on guard as they went further into the trees, squeezing through the gaps between the thick trunks. It took a few minutes of this before they broke from the heavy trees and came to a more open area, with little splotches of flat ground that made for good markers to move around.
“I don’t get any of this,” Kris said, more to herself than to Shayla. “How many of you are there? How many different animals… and where did they all come from?” Her mind raced with questions. “Surely if there were a mass of people that vanished, there’d be a ton of police reports and whatnot, right…? Or the news would pick up on it…?”
Shayla peered at her over her shoulder. “I don’t know, honestly. I have a gist of this whole thing, but, even then it’s not as much as I wish I could say.” She shrugged, then came to another stop. “Alright. Night is coming, so, we need some shelter. Part of why I’m glad you wanted to find a spot to rest is I know a few decent locations. There’s two in this area we can go to, and both will provide enough coverage in case it gets cold.”
Kris blinked. “What are they?”
“There’s an old, massive tree I’ve used before,” Shayla replied. “It’s bigger than most of these, and might be a bit cramped, but I doubt anyone’s touched it because I left enough markers around to claim it as mine. Or, there’s a cave not far from where we are. Bigger chance we might have company, yet it’ll be more spacious and offer more protection.” She shrugged. “What do you think?”
“Which would be safer?” Kris asked.
“Both are about the same, I’d say,” Shayla replied. She pondered this for a few heartbeats, her lips pursing together. “The tree would have a bit more safety to it overall, I’d say. It’s in a secluded enough spot, and my scent is all over, plus, there’s an underground portion just in case we need to hide. Cave, on the other hand, is pretty frickin’ huge. More places to hide and tuck ourselves away, but there’s always a chance we might run into other people about. It’s a double-edged sword regardless of which you want to pick, though.”
Kris’ lips pursed. This was a bit more difficult to consider then the last handful of choices had been, and she didn’t have much time given how rapidly it was turning to nighttime. Tree or cave. Tree or cave… decisions…
Written by Hollowpages on 01 March 2020