Maribelle gasped, flinched. It—he—drew his hand away. Strange how soft his hand felt. She had been lying with her feet out from beneath the covers, her leg that she hadn’t bothered shaving in several days, that still hadn’t gotten tan despite all the time she’d been spending in the sun. And the creature had touched it.
Maribelle sat up. She could see his eyes, shining. Just a few inches away from her. Her heart pounded but she didn’t scream.
“Hey, there,” Maribelle said, her throat gone so dry she could scarce get the words out.
An instant of complete darkness as the large form blocked the doorway, then the creature had gone. Maribelle shook the lump beneath the covers next to her.
“Judi!” She kept her voice low. “Wake up!”
“Mm? What is it, darling?”
“He was here! Blackmane!”
“Here? Inside the hut, you mean?”
“I mean inside the freakin’ mosquito net with us!” Maribelle said.
Judith scrambled over on all fours and clicked on her electric lantern.
“Goodness, look at all these tracks!”
“He touched my leg!” Maribelle said.
“Did he scratch you?”
“No, just a little pat,” the younger woman said. “Holy shit!”
“He’s never even come close to the village before,” Judith said. “This is a remarkable change in behavior.”
“What do you think he wanted?” Maribelle asked.
“Your laptop,” Judith said. “It appears to have been borrowed. See?”
“He took my laptop?!”
“Rummaged through our clothes as well,” Judith said. “We should check to see if anything else is missing.”
Maribelle was already doing that, down on her knees on the dirt floor of the hut, surrounded by hers and Judith’s scattered clothing, their bags turned upside down or over on the sides. One pack of food rations had been torn open. Salisbury steak. Maribelle could read the white lettering by the glare of the lantern.
“I don’t think we should raise a ruckus,” Judith said. “The last thing we want is every hunter in the village charging off after the creature.”
“Why do you think I’m not screaming my fool head off?” Maribelle said. “Aw, shit!”
“What is it?”
“My shirt’s gone. The one I wore yesterday? Did he take that, too?”
“Is anything else missing?” Judith asked.
Maribelle sat back on her calves. “Oh,” she muttered, “my God.”
“What is it? Why are you making that face?”
“Eww!” Maribelle said.
“My shirt isn’t the only thing he stole,” Maribelle said. “Eww.”
“Your underwear, you mean?”
“Yes!” Maribelle put her face in her hands.
“It’s not funny!”
“I’m sorry, dear,” Judith said, still chuckling.
“Let him steal a pair of your dirty panties!” Maribelle said. “See how you like it!”
“Oh, my,” Judith said. “I think our friend has taken a liking to you, dear.”
“You think?” Maribelle said in mock exasperation.
“We are going to have to tread with care, you and I,” Judith said. “Even more than we knew.”
“Oh, man,” Maribelle said, picking her clothes up from the floor.
“We were dealing with a most unpredictable specimen to begin with,” Judith said. “But he will be so much more so now, if he’s developed more than a passing curiosity in you, my dear.”
“Well you can tread with care if you want,” Maribelle said. “But the next time I see him I’m gonna make it clear, and in no uncertain terms, that he’d better learn to keep his paws to himself!”