Author's Note: The usual disclaimers to be taken as read. I was distressed at the fate of the most vulnerable Villager, and decided to do something about it. (My great-granduncle used to rescue injured wild birds from the woods near his house, and nurse them back to health. I feel the same about various fragile characters...) Thanks to Embeth for several points about the medical training of Rangers, and for the talk of LARPS!

OUT OF THE WOODS

1: Ranger Lupinski follows a trail

Kevin Lupinski waited in the car until he was sure that the girl was out of earshot; then he climbed over the fence after her. He took his radio, his torch, his basic First Aid kit. If someone was injured, as she and her note had indicated, then she should have let him accompany her. After all, he had EMT Wilderness certification - not up to Jay's level of paramedic training, but still -

The imprint of the girl's boots in the soft mud led him on. A gravelled track, much overgrown but still discernible, heading off into the trees. It was nonsense that she could live in here. He knew from an old map in Jay's office that there had been a settlement in the area over a hundred years ago - a small township called Covington - but it had been abandoned back in the Depression. Probably a few ruins remained hidden in the depths of the forest, but none of the Rangers had ever seen them.

'Ivy Elizabeth Walker': probably that was not her real name. She must have seized upon 'Walker' from a park signboard or the side of his car, on the spur of the moment.

And why dress like something from a Laura Ingalls Wilder theme-party? She had carried an old pocket watch, too, but he could not read the worn inscription. He knew of no Amish or Mennonites in these parts. LARPs, he thought: Live-Action Role-Players. He had encountered some at the previous park where he had worked: crazy costumes and 'swords' made of padded plastic tubes, chasing around yelling "Have at thee, varlet" It looked kind of fun, but not for the nesting birds he was supposed to be protecting, so he had told them to go to - well, Gondor, Ruritania, Graustark, Transylvania, wherever. Anywhere but Pennsylvania.

Strange, though, the way she seemed to look right through him. There had been something odd in her manner of speech, too...

Stoned, he thought. He was beginning to regret having given her prescription-drugs. But if someone was ill, or had had an accident, as she had claimed - and whoever had written the instructions on the note had seemed to know what he or she was talking about... As a Ranger, he had a duty.

He trudged on, pondering the enigmatic 'Ivy Walker' all the while.

He would have been wiser to watch his footing. The light was beginning to fade, and the ground was soft from the heavy rain. He stumbled forward, feeling the soil begin to give way beneath his weight. He gasped, and seized hold of a tree-stump to stop himself falling. An old hunter's trap: the woods were probably full of them. No wonder the park was fenced off and guarded: health and safety regulations. They could be sued into oblivion if anyone -

He drew a deep breath, relieved to have saved himself.

Then he heard it: a faint sound, the feeble whimpering of an injured animal. He shone his torch down into the pit.

"What the...?"

"- Jay! It's Kevin! Yeah, I've crossed the fence - sure, I know, I know, the animals! But there's been an accident. That girl - she told me... There's a kid fallen in a trap - it looks bad! He's, erm, wearing a monster suit..."

To be continued: Is Kevin in time to save Noah?