Part Ten: The Beast of the Forest
Jimmy, Leo, and the bandits are in the Beast's territory now. The Beast could be anywhere...
Today’s story is part ten in The Beast of the Forest series.
Here is a link to the previous part:
And if you are new to the series, then here is a link to part one:
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Leo sat and watched the sleeping boy for a moment as the bandits packed up camp. Poor child, he thought. What have you gotten yourself into, little one? What is a poor foolish kid like you doing in this wretched forest? You should be at home with your parents or at school with your friends. Not here. Anywhere but here. This is a place of punishment, a place for the hopeless and the wicked — not an innocent child.
The bandit Henry then made his way over to Leo.
“Time to wake him up,” Henry said quietly.
Leo ignored the bandit. Once Henry left, Leo walked over to the boy and crouched down. He put his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder.
“Come on, boy,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Jimmy squinted. He looked like a baby.
Leo felt a whole new wave of sorrow.
He turned away and stood up.
“Come on,” he said, sterner. “Get up. We’re leaving.”
There was a very different atmosphere in the air as they set off that morning. For a long while, no one spoke. There was a looming tension that they each felt. They were in the Beast’s territory now. The Beast could be anywhere.
Jimmy couldn’t help thinking again of the stories he had heard about the Beast’s ability to hear every sound within the forest — every twig snapped and leaf crunched. No one spoke of it, but it was apparent that Leo and the bandits had heard the same stories, for each and everyone of them walked with a sense of caution, like mice trying not to wake a sleeping cat.
They were all constantly scanning the area for movement. At one point the flight of a nearby robin caused them all to instantly stop in their tracks and turn their heads. The moment of surprise was followed by the realisation of just how nervous and scared they all were, from the giant Leo to the tough-guy leader of the bandits, Arthur. It was clear that no one was immune to the fear.
They trekked on throughout the cold and foggy morning. It gradually grew warmer as the day went on. Little slices of golden morning light slipped through the dense canopy of the forest, bringing little havens of heat.
Noon eventually approaching, Jimmy stumbled over a tree root and hit the ground. Leo went to him and helped him up.
“Are you ok?” he said.
“I’m fine,” said Jimmy, a youthful stubbornness in his voice.
“Are you sure?” said Leo with a tone of polar opposite parental concern.
Jimmy brushed him away. “I said I’m fine.”
He got back to his feet and started walking.
As the group continued on, Leo made his way to Arthur.
“We need a break and we need water,” he said. “There’s a creek near here that we can stop at.”
“We’ve barely started,” said Arthur. “We need to use the light while we have it.”
“We have a kid with us,” said Leo. “He can’t walk all day.”
Arthur looked back at Jimmy who had his head down and was focused on his next steps.
“He seems fine to me,” said Arthur.
Arthur gave the boy a thumbs up. Jimmy looked up and saw him and gave a thumbs up back.
“See?” said Arthur to Leo. “The boy’s doing great.”
Leo gave up on Arthur and dropped back in the group to Henry.
“You need to talk with your leader,” said Leo to Henry, then looking at Jimmy. “He’s a boy. He needs a break. You need to do something.”
“I’ll talk with Arthur,” said Henry.
Leo watched on as Henry and Arthur spoke. After some discussion, Henry then returned to Leo.
“Lead the way to the water,” said Henry. “Just make it quick.”
Leo went to the front of the group and guided them to the water. It was only a short walk and then they could hear the trickle of running water. The trees parted and they arrived at a creek.
Jimmy was grateful to stop, although he didn’t show it.
They all sat around on the rocks by the water.
Jimmy crouched down to drink from the creek; the water was so cold it stung. As Jimmy was drinking, he heard a rustling noise further up the stream. He looked over and saw the faint fizz of white water in the distance, as if a fish were jumping through the air or a child was splashing around. He tried to spot was going on but it was hard to make anything out.
And then he caught a clear glimpse — the flash of a tail whipping through the air.
Jimmy leapt back from the water and fell to the ground.
“What?” said Leo.
“Upstream!” said Jimmy. “A tail! I saw a tail.”
They all looked up towards the white splashing water. There wasn’t just one tail — there were two.
“What are they?” asked Jimmy.
It was hard to see what they were exactly. Jimmy, Leo, and the bandits all watched on as the two figures in the water wrestled with each other and splashed around. It seemed like they were just playing.
They weren’t creek fish or snakes, that was for sure. They were bigger than that. Much bigger. They were the size of children. Their skin was shiny and they each had four little limbs, like lizards.
“We need to get out of here,” said Leo, a look of terror on his face.
“What we need to do is capture one of them,” said Arthur. “King Ted would pay handsomely for a specimen like that.”
“You don’t understand,” said Leo. “We all need to get away from the water.”
There was a sudden scratching sound coming from somewhere nearby. It was like a saw being driven back and forth through a tree trunk.
They looked upstream. The two figures in the water had stopped playing and were now looking off into the woods upstream. They seemed scared, but what were they looking at?
Across the creek and beyond the façade of the forest, a shadow could be seen.
Leo raised a finger to his lips for silence.
Here’s a link to the next part in The Beast of the Forest:
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