Part 14: The Beast of the Forest
Jimmy and Leo finally have a plan to escape from the bandits. But can they pull it off?
Jimmy and Leo have been held captive by the bandits for days now. Their next clash with the Beast could come at any moment. The time to escape is now!
If you’re new to The Beast of the Forest, here’s a link to part one:
And here’s a link to the previous part in the series:
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Jimmy didn’t sleep a single wink that night among the winding tree roots. His mind was like an untamed horse that refused to stay still.
It wasn’t just Jimmy. No one slept well that night. They were all reeling from the day that had just passed, and fearful of the days to come.
At dawn they all packed their things and got going without breakfast.
They set off into the forest in silence. Now that they had seen the Beasts in the flesh, everything was different. There was an alertness in the air. They were suspicious of every shadow and every chirping bird.
Arthur led the way, keeping Leo nearby for guidance. They were keeping their distance from the creek this time, only just staying within earshot of the water as they followed it upstream towards the mountains.
The bandits were all on edge. No one said a word. They were hungry and grouchy.
Jimmy was fatigued from sleeplessness – too tired to think. Leo looked back at him and could see the kid’s face was drained of all liveliness.
After about an hour, Arthur reached a small opening in the forest and stopped. He was looking up ahead towards the sky. Through a gap in the canopy he could see the black shadow of a cave on the side of a rising mountain just ahead of them.
Arthur turned to Leo. “That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” said Leo.
Arthur dropped his bag.
“Let’s take a break,” he said.
Everyone put down their things and sat down in the nearest shade they could find. Arthur and Henry walked around the opening and looked the area over, trying to come up with a plan.
Jimmy and Leo were sitting together a little bit away from the others.
“Do you remember what I said last night?” Leo asked.
Jimmy nodded. The seeming hopelessness on the poor kid’s face didn’t even flinch.
“Follow the river and you’ll be ok,” said Leo. “You’re sure you know your way back to town from the Red Tree?”
“I’m sure,” said Jimmy.
Leo kept talking anyway. “You go west. That’s the way the sun sets. A straight line west from the Red Tree will get you back home.”
“I know,” said Jimmy. “I told you, I know how to get back.”
Leo couldn’t hide the worry on his face.
“No more messing around, ok?” said Leo. “We need to get you out of here.”
Another voice then interrupted the conversation.
“Leo, come here,” said Henry from across the opening.
Leo put his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder.
“At least you’ll win that bet with your friends,” Leo said quietly with a smile.
He then got up and walked across the opening to join Henry and Arthur.
“I’m guessing you’ve done a lot of hunting if you’ve managed to make it in this forest all these years,” said Henry.
“That’s right,” said Leo.
“What do you think of this spot?” asked Henry.
“Near the cave, near the water,” he said. “It works. You still have to be ready for a long wait.”
“If the Beasts are already out and about like yesterday, aren’t they going to be migrating soon?” said Arthur.
“There’s a few weeks left of winter,” said Leo. “They won’t be going anywhere just yet. They’ll be just starting to go out a bit more, like yesterday, but they won’t go far.”
“How would you do it?” Henry asked. “How would you catch one of them?”
Leo looked around the area. He stomped the ground once briefly to get a feel for how tough the dirt was. He then scanned the trees around the edge of the opening, sizing them up.
“Dig up as much dirt as you can and cover it with branches and shrubs,” said Leo. “Put some bait out if you have it. You could set yourselves up in the trees while you wait. It’s going to take a lot of work. The bigger the game, the bigger the trap.”
“What do you think?” Henry asked Arthur.
“I think we need to start digging,” said Arthur.
There was no protection from the sun as they started digging in the middle of the opening. They had a few small shovels, but Jimmy and Leo weren’t allowed to use them and had to dig with their hands instead.
Jimmy’s face was smeared with sweat. He was covered in dirt. It was all over his clothes and under his fingernails and in his ears.
As Jimmy dug his hands into the earth for another scoop, he spotted Leo trying to catch his attention. Leo’s eyes were wide and full of energy. He nodded at Jimmy and Jimmy knew exactly what he meant.
There was no waiting. There was no countdown. Leo just went for it.
The giant of a man charged straight for Arthur and bowled him over. A moment of shock came and went and then it was all action.
The other four bands leapt at Leo to try and pull him off of Arthur. Not that they were getting anywhere with it. Leo knocked them away like they were pesky little bugs trying to get a nibble of his meal.
Jimmy didn’t react right away. For a moment he just watched, stuck in place.
Amid the tussle, Leo glanced back towards Jimmy and shot him a furious look when he saw that the kid hadn’t got going.
Finally, Jimmy snapped out of it and sprinted off into the forest.
As he ran, the whole rest of the world disappeared. All that mattered was his next step. He didn’t look back. A new level of concentration had been unlocked and unleashed — the same unstoppable drive the Beast probably had when chasing prey.
Jimmy fell into a determined trance. He ran for hours, until his legs were on the verge of crumbling to nothing right beneath him. There was no chance that any of the bandits were still after him, but he just wouldn’t stop.
At last, his legs finally gave out and he fell to the ground. He could barely hold his head up. He had never been so drained in his entire life.
Panting, he looked back at an empty forest.
He was free.
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