Part Three: The Beast of the Forest
The story of The Beast of the Forest continues... What new dangers lie among the trees?
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Jimmy watched the pearl-like reflection of the full moon on the centre of the lake. It made the lake look like a giant eye. Jimmy could feel it watching him.
Leo had stuck a fish at the end of a stick and was rotating it above the fire. The skin was just beginning to char. The smell made Jimmy’s mouth water.
Leo handed Jimmy the stick. “Eat.”
Jimmy didn’t hesitate for a second. He immediately started feasting on the fish, chomping it down like a starved animal.
Once he finished he let out a big sigh.
“Thank you,” he said.
Leo was busy setting up a second fish and didn’t respond.
Jimmy watched Leo’s face as he rotated the new fish over the fire. Leo was looking deeply into the fire as Jimmy tried to read his expression. There was something about Leo’s eyes – a certain vacancy in them. Leo’s eyes reminded Jimmy of a specific memory.
The memory was from when he was a very little kid. It was when a local wheat farm caught fire. Everyone in town came out to try and help put the fire out, but the fire was too out of control. It consumed the whole farm. The entire town was then left to watch on helplessly from the road. The owner of the farm was a man named George. He lived on his own and was the oldest person in the town. As Jimmy watched Leo looking into the fire, he was reminded of when he had watched George looking at his farm as it burned.
“What happened to you?” asked Jimmy suddenly.
Leo looked up from the flames.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Something happened. I can tell. That’s why you’re here. You lost something.”
Leo smiled. “You are one nosey kid, aren’t you?”
“Am I wrong?” asked Jimmy.
“Someone,” said Leo. “Not something.”
“Someone I loved very much,” he said.
“So you came into the forest to start a new life?” asked Jimmy.
Leo’s eyes returned to the fire.
“Sometimes starting a new life isn’t an option,” he said.
“I disagree,” said Jimmy.
“You’ll see one day,” said Leo.
Jimmy gave a big smile. “Or maybe you’ll be the one who sees one day.”
“Whatever you say,” said Leo, smiling too.
The night went on and the fire quietly crackled away. Leo fell asleep first and snored exactly how Jimmy’s dad snored. Lying by the fire on the shore, Jimmy felt surprisingly relaxed and cheerful. The critters of the forest could be heard softly in the distance, like a distant town festival.
Jimmy looked up at the stars and drew out the shapes of dragons and swords. He decided that he would venture one day into new lands for a true adventure. Yes, he thought to himself, that is how I will spend my life! Exploring. Adventuring. He could see himself on his horse galloping into the unknown.
And then he heard a noise that instantly shook him out of it. A snap. He looked around, finding nothing. He jumped to his feet and scanned the forest more closely. Something changed in his belly, like all of his insides started floating. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
He shook Leo’s shoulder.
“Leo,” said Jimmy. “Leo, wake up.”
Leo gave a gruff mumble.
“Someone’s out there,” said Jimmy.
Leo opened his big brown eyes.
Jimmy’s voice was quiet but urgent. “There’s someone out there in the forest.”
Leo mumbled some more as he climbed sluggishly to his feet.
“Where?” he said.
“I don’t know,” said Jimmy. “But someone’s there. I just know it.”
Leo very slowly turned his head as he searched the dark of the forest. There was another sound. The sound of a bird’s call, soft and brief.
Leo’s eyes opened wide and his whole face changed. He instantly grabbed Jimmy’s arm and dragged him along as he marched away from the fire towards the Red Tree.
“What?” said Jimmy frantically. “What is it?”
Leo ignored Jimmy and took him over to the Red Tree. At the foot of the tree, Leo immediately picked Jimmy up.
Jimmy squirmed. “What are you doing?”
“Be quiet and climb,” said Leo.
Annoyed but sensing the severity in Leo’s voice, Jimmy did as he was told and climbed up the tree until he got to a branch where he could steady himself.
Leo looked up from the bottom of the tree. “Don’t move. Don’t say a word. No matter what.”
He then stepped back from the bottom of the tree.
Jimmy watched on as Leo rushed over to the dwindling fire and stomped it out. Jimmy then heard the sound of a stepped-on twig. His eyes whipped over to the source of the sound from nearby within the forest.
About twenty yards into the forest, Jimmy saw a set of eyes in the moonlight. Human eyes. A bandit. Before Jimmy could even react, he spotted another one too. He wanted to scream out to warn Leo. He had to cover his mouth with his hand to trap his words.
The two bandits walked slowly into the opening below the Red Tree, joined by two more as well from the other side, the four of them closing in like a fishing net around Leo, blocking every escape.
“Surrender, Beast,” said one of the bandits.
Leo stood alone at the centre of the opening, surrounded, with the bandits standing around him waiting for his response.
He raised his hands above his head. “I surrender.”
A moment passed and then one of the bandits leapt forward and struck Leo with the handle of his sword. Leo let out a massive echoing shout of pain and fell to his knees. Immediately, the other bandits leapt forward, too, and they all started beating Leo.
Jimmy felt like his head was on fire from the rage he felt. He clenched his mouth with both hands.
The bandits eventually left Leo alone, leaving him on the ground in a mess.
“Tie him up and get him to his feet,” said the lead bandit.
The bandits did as instructed. Leo could barely stand.
The bandits then started pushing Leo along, leading him into the forest.
Jimmy waited a moment and then climbed out of the tree, having to jump down and hit the ground with a foul slap.
But he got quickly back to his feet.
The night was just beginning.
Check out Part Four!
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