The Great Outdoors Ch. 03byandy_charles©
It took around an hour for the four campers to walk through the lush forest towards their base. Throughout the walk they chatted between them good naturedly, enjoying the cool shade of the trees from the brilliant sunlight shining all around them.
They arrived at a large semi-circle which had obviously been used countless times. A small charcoal stained ring in the heart of it suggested where they could build a safe small fire. From here the path divided into three.
"That way will take us to the top of one of the smaller hills, though the views are still pretty amazing," explained Paul as they took off their backpacks and put down their gear. "The middle path will take us further on towards the Waterfalls Walk, and that last one goes right round the first peak and starts a two day trek to Peak Two."
"You know your way round here well," said Artie, impressed.
"Like the back of my hand," grinned Paul. "It was beaten into me on the first day."
"I did the beating," giggled Inga, making Liz blush slightly and Artie roll his eyes.
They began to set up their tents. Paul and Inga's was brand new, state-of-the-art equipment, easy to put up within half an hour. Artie and Liz's, being Liz's parents that had been used for decades, took a lot longer and was a tad more complicated. When their dull orange tent was fully and safely up next to the big new green one, it was like comparing the White House to a mud hut.
"I reckon we've got time for the short hill walk if we keep up the pace," suggested Paul as they were gulping down a much needed cup of coffee from a flask Liz had prepared earlier in the morning.
Both Artie and Liz were enthusiastic, but Inga looked slightly downbeat. "How steep is it going to be?" she asked. "And just how much of a pace do you intend on keeping up?"
Paul grinned and hugged her tightly. "As quick or as slow as you want, baby," he assured her in a way just innocent enough not to be taken as a double entendre. "And if your cute little feet get tired I'll carry you on my back."
"Yay!" replied Inga, kissing him on the lips.
Again a flash of guilt flooded through Liz's body. If she felt like this, how on earth must Inga be feeling? How could she be so normal around Paul when she was going to dump him a few days later?
They set off after stretching quickly. At first the walk was easy; the path was relatively flat, and the cool shade of the trees above them protected them from the harsh but appreciated sunshine that was beaming down on seemingly the whole world, let alone the forest.
But soon the climb began to get steeper sharply; there were fewer and fewer trees surrounding them, and the path was rockier and rockier. Within five minutes they were out of the forest and right into the heat of the afternoon sun, on a grey, tough route that seemingly had no end.
Liz and Artie took great steps, sometimes helping each other across the uneven stones and up the worn rocky steps that had been formed by so many pairs of feet before them. Paul kept up with them for a while, but he became more and more conscious of Inga lagging behind them. Finally his girlfriend stopped, bent over, resting her hands on her knees before looking back up at the retreating figures in front if her.
"You guys," she called breathlessly. "You guys...wait up. I think I've got...a mountain in my shoe or something..."
The other three stopped, secretly grateful for the chance to catch their own breaths too. Paul headed back towards her, resting a strong hand on her shoulder as they talked quietly. Liz watched this, her mind going into fantasies about what would happen when Inga eventually sat him down and said those dreaded four words: "We need to talk."
Artie was staring out into the open beyond them; there was a look of frustration on his face. He looked back at Paul and Inga and shook his head slowly.
"Artie? What's up?" Liz asked, putting her own hand on his hard shoulder.
"I knew she'd do something like this," he muttered. "Holding us up. At this rate we might not get back to the campsite by nightfall..."
"Of course we will. Do you have to be so hard on Inga all the time? I know you're not all that fond of her, but she's my best friend. Besides you and Paul she's also probably the only real friend I've got."
Artie looked at her, an eyebrow raised in good humour. "Oh, I'm your friend now, am I?"
Liz playfully slapped his arm. "You know what I mean. Just try to get on. For me?"
Artie sighed and gazed into her eyes. "I'd do anything for you, my darling," he said seriously. "Would you do anything for me?"
There was something about the way he asked her this question that made Liz do an inward double take. It wasn't your usual playful banter between a couple; it seemed more serious, more important.
Before she could answer, there was a loud, "Coming through!" from behind them and Paul, with Inga on his back, her slender legs wrapped round his stomach, her arms around his neck, made his way purposefully forward at a very fast pace. Inga waved, grinning from ear to ear as they passed the startled Seymours.
Liz laughed out loud, and even Artie couldn't help but grin at the comical sight.
"Come on," he said, grabbing his wife's hand. "Otherwise we'll never catch up with them."
Soon they were standing at the top of the hill. The climb had been so steep that all of them besides Paul were surprised at how low the top actually was compared to the first peak towering behind them in the distance. The view was still pretty astounding despite this, however. The forest stretched out beneath them like a green carpet. And somewhere to the right in the distance, silhouetted in the sun that was gradually starting to set, was the outline of the buildings of Sechs City.
Paul had removed a big thick pair of black binoculars from his bag and handed them to Inga, pointing down towards the trees.
"Look there," he said, the excitement obvious in his voice. "That nest has been there for a few weeks now."
"Where? I don't see it."
"There, sweets, can you see it now? It is a little hidden, but..."
"No, wait! Yeah, I see it!"
Paul beamed as he looked up at Liz and Artie. "These are really rare birds at work here," he explained. "Scarlet Eagles. We never thought we'd see them in this area again, but wouldn't you know it, suddenly they just turned up."
Suddenly Inga gasped. "I see one, I see one," she whispered hoarsely, afraid that if she made too much noise even from this distance she would scare it off. "Oh my god, oh my god, it's beautiful! Liz, Liz, come look at this!"
Liz stood beside her and Inga, the binoculars still round her neck, passed them over to her friend, doing her best not to let them wander from the sight. Liz breathed slowly as she saw the magnificent creature sitting just by the large nest; it's sharp beak, it's proud stature. It looked incredible.
Taking the binoculars completely from Inga, Liz passed them on to Artie, who whistled softly. "That is one gorgeous looking creature," he said.
Paul was placing his bag back over his shoulders. "We're going to have to make a move now," he told the others. "Especially if we want to get back with enough light to be able to get some firewood in. Guess I should have thought about that first; sorry."
Liz shook her head. "Stop it, it's fine. This was
a lovely walk and it was all totally worth it."
Inga raised an eyebrow. "My feet may have to disagree with you there," she joked. "But yeah, I guess seeing those birds was pretty cool."
"Good," replied Paul, happier. "Art? You ready?"
Artie was still standing looking through the binoculars, but his focus had changed to somewhere lower down, deeper in the forest. He was frowning. "I thought..." he muttered.
"Artie? What's up?" asked Liz, crossing over to him.
Artie leant a little further, then stood up straight and shook his head. Handing the binoculars back to Paul he said, "It's okay. I just thought I saw something, that's all. Something moving through the forest."
"Ooh, scary," said Inga sarcastically.
"Ah, it was probably an animal or something. There wouldn't be any walkers around this deep into the park at this time of day – they'd all be heading in the opposite direction."
Artie nodded, but he was still a little unsure. Maybe he hadn't seen anything at all? He'd like to think it was the breeze rustling the leaves that had caught the corner of his eye, but there didn't seem to be much of a wind even up here. Maybe his mind was just playing tricks on him. He was worrying about so much the last couple of days it was probably natural for this to happen.
He smiled and took Liz's outstretched hand, and the four friends set off back along the trek down the slope towards camp.
Down below the hill, standing still in amongst the trees, the black haired woman stared up curiously. She was sure she had seen something glinting in the sun, as if light was been reflected off of something up there. It couldn't have been water; the stream didn't start until the first proper peak.
It had vanished now, whatever it was. What could it have been? Her heart had leapt into her mouth when she had first caught sight of it. It had a beauty all of its own. She loved the shine of things in the sunshine; it could make something cold and steel seem warm and beautiful. What could it have been?
She shook herself. She was wasting time – this was not helping her purpose at all. She was close, very close, to that secret place, where she could finally rest, where she could finally stop walking, finally sit down and close her eyes and dream of what tomorrow would bring, what happiness would come her way.
She set off again, the adrenaline rushing through her beautiful body, her goal so close, so very close.
As the evening drew on, the new light of the campfire reminded the four campers, seated round it in collapsible chairs, holding bottles of beer and empty plates that had previously contained some of the best hot dogs Liz thought she had ever tasted, of the amazing luck they had had with the glorious sunshine so far.
"Gotta hand it to your woman, Arthur," Inga sighed happily, raising her half-empty bottle up in a mock toast, "she knows when to book a holiday."
"Thank you, Miss Jennings," replied Liz, giggling. "And thank you for finding the grub. Delicious."
"Ah, that was all Mister Paul's responsibility," Inga corrected her.
"To Mister Paul then," said Liz, raising her bottle. "Good grub."
Paul grinned. "It was nothing," he said modestly. "Really, you just need to know these kinds of things when you're training to be a ranger."
"It's obvious you're gonna be a great ranger," said Liz. "You'll pass the exams with flying colours."
"Here, here," agreed Artie.
They had got back to the campsite with plenty of time to relax and find firewood, mainly Paul explained because they had naturally travelled quicker down the slope than they had up it, as it was so steep. As they had prepared for their first evening meal out in the forest, Liz noticed Paul taking a large black box out of his bag as he was roaming around for utensils. She picked it up off the ground and examined it closely; it was a radio.
"Yeah," said Paul when she had questioned him about it, "well, we need one with us at all time. Forest regulations. In case of any problems, you know."
"Sure," she had replied. "I just hope no one else can get through on it, like someone calling Artie from work."
"Nope, just the guys back at the centre," laughed Paul. "Nothing else can really get a signal here. Definitely not any cell phone I've seen, anyway."
That made Liz feel a little better. Though she had made Artie leave his own phone behind, out of courtesy to her parents she had brought hers along with them. But now she was confident that their holiday wouldn't be interrupted by anything from outside the forest, and maybe Artie would be able to relax a little and enjoy himself more. He still seemed quite tense; was it because of Inga still? How would he feel if Liz told him what she knew of Inga's plans for her and Paul's relationship?
Inga stood up and stretched. "I'm beat. All this fresh air does wonders for a girl but it wears you out no end."
Liz grinned. "Yeah, I'm actually pretty tired too. Think I'll call it a night."
"Honestly, no stamina," said Paul cheekily. "Oh, well. Guess we'll see you both in the morning."
Artie turned to look at his wife. "You sure you don't want to stay up a little bit longer? It's such a gorgeous evening."
"Yeah, I know, but...well, after last night I'm suffering the after effects of little sleep," Liz said, giggling a little.
Artie smiled back at her. "Okay, but tomorrow night I intend to stay up as long as possible. I mean, look at this sky. Just look at it."
He was right; it was achingly beautiful. The stars – so many of them – twinkling away like fairy dust, with the moon almost fully round in its splendour. It was tempting, Liz agreed, to stay out here longer just to bask in the wonder of it all, but a large yawn triggered an overwhelming desire for sleep.
"Promise we'll do that tomorrow, babes," she said. "I'm sorry I have to miss it."
They were interrupted by Paul who had come back out of his tent, a little sheepishly, and was rooting around the ground where he and Inga had been sitting on their chairs. "Sorry, guys," he said, his hands roaming about. "Inga thinks she dropped her phone here. You haven't seen it, have you?"
"Sorry," said Liz, a little annoyed that Inga had brought her phone as well.
"Is it really that important?" said Artie. "You said yourself we'll have no signal here."
"You know Inga – her phone is like a security blanket to her." He sighed, got up and wiped the dry soil off of his trousers. "Never mind, I'll look for it in the morning when we've got more light. Night, guys. Don't let the various bugs bite, okay?"
"Okay, Paul. Night."
Artie shook his head as his best friend went back to his tent. "Honestly, the way she treats him sometimes..." he murmured quietly.
Another moment of unsettling nerves washed over Liz. "Don't worry," she said, more to herself than to her husband. "Come on, put out the fire and we'll go to bed."
Despite Artie speaking as low as possible, Paul had heard his friend's comments. He tried to ignore them. He knew how Artie felt about Inga; there had been many a time over a cold bottle of beer that he had been warned about her, that she wasn't a girl that Artie really thought was right for Paul. Well, what did he know? Despite being a thoroughly brilliant person, and an obviously wonderful wife to Artie, there were times when Paul thought that Liz was a little...well, controlling. He didn't have it perfect, that was for sure.
He stepped into his tent and zipped the door flap closed. There was a rustle from the large double sleeping bag behind him while his back was turned; when he looked over his shoulder he saw Inga standing there, naked apart from a pair of black frilly briefs with pink polka dots and tiny pink bows. On anyone else, Paul reckoned they would have looked slightly comical; on her they looked amazing.
She stood there, confident and assured, so beautiful and sexy; her small breasts, perfect in their roundness, the nipples already erect with anticipation.
"Fooled you," she said huskily. "Now come over here."
Willingly, Paul did as he was told, already stiffening at the sight of her. She took his head in her hands and kissed him, a kiss that started slow and sweet but which quickly turned hungry, passionate, longing. Breaking apart, and grinning wickedly, Inga got down onto her knees and unzipped his jeans, freeing his wonderful large member. After licking all around the edge and tip with her famished tongue, she took it in her mouth as deeply as she knew she could go, an expert at pleasuring her man this way.
If this is to be our last weekend together, she thought, I'm gonna make it a weekend he'll never forget.
Paul stroked her soft hair as he felt an immense rush all over his body. He stripped off his shirt as Inga sucked and licked, his own nipples hardened on his impressive chest, a result of many sessions in the gym and out here in the wild. He'd had a lot of women go down on him, but Inga was the only one who really knew exactly what to do.
"Oh, baby," he croaked. "That feels amazing! Mmm. I love that, ha ha. Mmm."
Liz was sitting up in the fold out bed, reading a dog-eared paperback novel that she was more than three-fifths of the way through. It was one of her favourites: a rather tacky romance about a nineteenth-century lady in love with a dashing stable boy. At least, that's what Artie thought it was about. She had a rather large collection of these books and they all seemed to be more or less about the same thing.
"Thought you were tired," he said to her, taking off his shirt.
"I am," she said, not breaking her gaze from the words on the page. "But I just wanna finish this chapter."
Artie grinned, and continued to take off his clothes. Soon he was standing naked in front of her, his semi-erection feeling amazing in the warm fresh air. Liz glanced causally over at him before doing a double-take, her eyes widening.
"You're going to sleep naked?" she asked him disbelievingly.
Artie shrugged. "Figured it was too hot for PJs," he said. "Aren't you going to be uncomfortable in yours?"
Liz was dressed in a simple nightshirt and girl's boxer shorts, all white. She shook her head. "I'll be fine. These are designed to not heat up the body much."
I'll say, thought Artie. He hopped into the bed next to her and lay on his side, his arm resting his head as he looked at her closely. His erection became harder as he revelled in how her large breasts stretched against the material of her shirt. Memories of the previous night – of their passionate lovemaking back home – came flooding back to him; he wanted her now.
He leaned over and began to nuzzle her neck. At first she grinned, then she started to squirm a little.
"Artie," she said, laughing. "Come on, stop it. I'm trying to read."
"Yeah?" he said innocently, kissing her arm all the way down to her hand. "And I'm trying to turn you on."
She looked at him with a slight hint of disapproving in her eyes. "Well, don't. It's not gonna happen so you can put this back where he came from." She took his hard flesh away from her leg where it had been teasingly poking and moved it away slightly, forcing Artie to roll over.
He looked at her, his lust slowly beginning to fade. Here we go again, he thought.
She saw his obvious frustration. "What's the matter? You look pissed off."
"It's just...you're too tired to sleep with me but you're awake enough to read."
"It's not just that and you know it," she said, trying to be as understanding as she could be. "I'm just not comfortable with doing anything like that out here, especially with our best friends so close to us in the other tent."
"Like they're not fucking their brains out right now?"
"Come on, Artie. You know me..."
"Yeah, I know you," he said moodily, sitting up and reaching for his underwear, his erection now gone.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked him, a little hurt.
He looked over at her. "I'm just...nothing. It's nothing."
"Artie, talk to me. What's wrong? You've been weird all day. This is supposed to be our anniversary holiday."
"Yeah, with two other people along for the ride."
Liz gaped. "You were fine with Inga and Paul coming along. You said so. We wouldn't have got here if it wasn't for Paul."
"Why do I get the feeling that the only reason you wanted them along was to stop me from convincing you to do something new, something you've never done before?"