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The woman opened her door, looking like she’d just woken from a three-day bender. Her bathrobe haphazardly hugged her disheveled frame and bore fresh stains of a vague nature. Her hair stood on end in wiry twists.
She squinted her eyes as she perceived Jaiden. “Whaddya want?”
“I called about the butterfly you told the university extension office about.”
The woman scratched her cheek and blinked. Her eyelids acted as windshield wipers clearing the mist away. In this case, she suspected the blades might be faulty.
“I’m Jaiden. We talked on the phone. You are Pam, right?”
“Oh right. Come on in.” The woman backed into the doorway and gestured for Jaiden to follow her.
Jaiden stepped into the unlit interior. The living room looked like a wild animal had been released. Chairs were flipped on their sides and an end table teetered precariously on two and a half legs. Papers scattered the rug and the remains of a meal matching the stains on the woman’s bathrobe were upended in front of the television.
“Is everything all right?” The mess worried her. Some of the homes along the state forest had somewhat different standards for cleanliness and Jaiden had learned to accept that. However, this looked as if a struggle had taken place.
The woman surveyed the room, absently picking up one of the overturned chairs and setting it on its legs.
“Heard some strange noises early this morning. It freaked out my German shepherd and she trashed the room.”
“Where is she now?” Jaiden wasn’t a big fan of large, freaked out dogs—not since one had decided to use her thigh as a chew toy as she ran passed its house. She brushed her hand across the scar just below her hip.
“Took off when I opened the back door. Howling like mad. It’ll take me all day to find her.”
“I’m sorry. Maybe I should come back another time.” Jaiden pointed at the door and edged toward it. Endangered butterfly or not, this woman had more important problems.
“No, that’s all right.” The fog seemed to finally clear. “It’s been a strange morning. We can look for Mitz while I show you the place I saw the butterfly.”
“Okay. Would you like any help cleaning up?”
“I’d appreciate it.”
They made short work of resetting the living room and Pam changed her clothes to something more appropriate for trekking through the woods.
Dew still clung to the trees and undergrowth as Pam led her to a narrow deer trail behind the house. There wasn’t much of a yard. The trees and brush went right up to the house. If the dog got out, it would be difficult to find her once she disappeared into the woods. Jaiden hoped, for Pam’s sake, that Mitz was well-trained and would return to familiar surroundings once her freak wore out.
“How long have you had Mitz?” Jaiden pushed aside a damp branch.
“A couple months. She’s a rescue dog, but couldn’t do her job anymore because she has a form of PTSD. Loud noises frighten her. We thought being away from city noises would help her.”
“Don’t you have hunters around here? The state forest is so close.”
“They hunt the forest, but can only come on our property to track a wounded animal. The Willow Hill camp surrounds us on the other sides and there is no hunting there. It gives us a good cushion for gunfire sounds.”
The wind rattled the trees above them and shook water droplets onto their heads. Jaiden heard the buzz of a motor. Some of the roads in the state forest were frequented by two-trackers eager to see what they could drive their all-terrain vehicles through without getting stuck —or what they how badly they could get it mired in mud and what feats it would take to extricate them. One of the narrow roads must come close to Pam’s property.
“What scared her this morning?” They descended a hill where the dirt on the path was soft and loose. Jaiden stepped tentatively on her bad ankle, thankful she had chosen her taller hiking boots which gave more support.
“I’m not sure.” Pam grazed her hand along the bark of an oak tree as she navigated a tangle of roots. “It was just before sunrise. She started prowling around the house and growling, particularly at the back door. I’ve never seen her display this behavior, so I got up to keep an eye on her. I checked the windows thinking an animal was scurrying through the yard. We have bobcats and bear occasionally, but I haven’t seen one since we got Mitz.”
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