June 4, 2018 | Posted in WooFPAK Heroes

The forest shouldn’t be anything special, shouldn’t be anything different.

But it is.

It is, and Chase hates it.

Even with Princess trying to make things more light-hearted, there’s something about the air that makes him want to quail away. So, really, Chase isn’t surprised when something large moves through the trees nearby, just slightly to their left.

“Woah!” WooFDriver calls them to a stop, squinting into the darkness. “Did I actually hear something, or am I just losing it?”

“I heard it too,” whines Chase.

“We all heard it,” says Jag. He tilts his head back, jaws parted to get a better whiff of the scent. “I’m not catching anything dangerous though. Just owl.”

Chase opens his mouth and breathes in deep, too. Out of the four of them, he’s considered to be the best at tracking. If something dangerous was out there, he’d be able to smell it. But – Jag’s right. All that Chase can smell is the lake behind them, the lake before them, and the heavy scent of owl stretching out through the trees.

There’s another large rustle of branches. Zarro flicks his ears, unconcerned with the matter. “It’s just a big bird. Come on. If we start moving, WooFDriver will probably realize it’s nothing to be concerned about.”

Chase whines, still not convinced. That unease from before is stronger now, lacing over his spine and settling in his paws. They feel like stone and mud and frozen things. “Are you sure? What if it is something to be concerned about?”

Jag shoots him a blithe, flat look. “It’s a bird, Chase. We see owls all the time on night runs.”

Princess hesitates, just for a moment. “It was large.”

Quickly jumping on the thought of having any support, Chase adds, “and what if there’s something hiding behind the bird?”

Zarro’s ears flick again. “Hiding…behind…the bird?”

“I don’t mean, like, in the branches! But what if there’s something that’s just hiding behind its scent?” Chase whines again, louder, loud enough to get WooFDriver’s attention.

He asks, “what is it, boy? Do you know what’s out there?”

“I don’t know,” admits Chase, even though his human can’t understand the words. “And that’s the problem! The problem is that I don’t know! I know it smells like an owl, but it doesn’t sound like an owl! And I’ve been telling you from the start, there’s something wrong with this place!”

Zarro sighs, rolling his eyes and turning back to the path that stretches through the forest. One might think it would be less daunting, considering the moon and stars can cast a glow into the world. The truth is that it’s worse than utter darkness. Here, the silver leaves strange dapples on the ground and shrubbier, like ethereal eyes peering out at them. Here, the world still seems like it’s half awake, fuelled on by the fact that the Youghiogheny River Lake Forest is neither trapped in darkness or light, and mice skitter through the under brush and something that smells like a rabbit but isn’t moves at the end of the path before them.

Everyone goes still.

It’s too large to be a rabbit. It’s too – twisted isn’t the right word, but there’s something about the shape that isn’t quite right, like it’s crossed between a deer and a rabbit, or maybe a hare, given the size. Chase whines again, stubbornly announcing, “see?”

Zarro whines, too. “What is that?”

“I told you this place wasn’t right,” snaps Chase.

But much to his surprise and growing horror, WooFDriver only seems thrilled by the sight of the strange creature. “Alright, WooFPAK! Track it! Come on, lets go!”

It’s only countless months of training that surges the WooFPAK to their paws. As soon as they’re moving, Chase regrets it. He demands, “what are we even chasing?”

Princess, open mouthed and panting, shakes her head and says, “I honestly don’t know.”


Katelynn E Koontz – Author