Part Two: The Beast of the Forest
Deep in the heart of the forest, Jimmy has finally found the Beast...
So there it was, the Beast of the Forest…
It was hard to see it from all the way across the lake where Jimmy was. The Beast was just a silhouette – an enormous hunched silhouette – walking along the shore, dragging a giant tree branch along behind it.
Jimmy quickly ducked behind a tree to hide.
There was a massive kaleidoscope of butterflies in his stomach, all of them trashing their wings and bouncing off the walls. His back was against the tree as he stared blankly ahead into the forest at nothing. He asked the same question to himself over and over again, “What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?”
Part of him wanted to run away right then and there, just bolt all the way home. But then he thought about the next time he would be in the town square with all of the others. What would he tell them? Yes, I was wrong. Yes, the Beast is real. Yes, I was terrified and ran away. He would never hear the end of it. Maybe, at least, if he brought back a leaf from the Red Tree…
Very slowly, he settled a bit. He braced himself and then peered out around the tree where he was hiding. He looked across the lake and searched the shore for the Beast but it was nowhere to be seen. He half-expected the Beast to suddenly appear behind him and chomp his head off.
Jimmy tried to snap himself out of it. Come on, he told himself. Get a grip. His imagination was getting away from him. He needed to stay calm.
It was going to get dark soon. If he was going to go for it, he needed to go for it now.
Jimmy took a few big deep breaths and then started the walk along the edge of the treeline towards the Red Tree, trying his best to stay hidden. He took each step with care, dodging every branch and twig on the ground. He couldn’t help thinking of what the others had said about the Beast being able to hear any noise in the forest. He told himself that it was all childish silliness but, nevertheless, he still stayed as quiet as possible.
He eventually made it around the lake and was close enough to see the Red Tree ahead of him between the trees. He creeped up and stopped at the final normal tree before the Red Tree. He looked around – a last check for the Beast – and then he went for it.
Jimmy hurried over to the Red Tree and started searching the ground for a fallen leaf. With each passing moment he became more desperate. There wasn’t a single red leaf anywhere on the forest floor.
He looked up at the Red Tree. None of the branches or leaves were within reach. Maybe he could climb it. The trunk of the tree was enormously wide, but there were a few stubs sticking out of it that he thought he could try to use as foot and hand holds. And so he started climbing.
He tried to climb up using the stubs but he kept slipping and falling. Over and over. He was slowly reaching new heights though, starting to work out a good route. He made it up to a point where there was a leaf only just out of his reach. He stuck out his hand as far as he could but still couldn’t make it. His foot then slipped off the hold and he fell down, hitting the ground hard.
“Can I help?”
The voice was as deep as a grizzly bear’s growl, although it did not hold any anger or aggression.
Jimmy felt a towering shadow hanging over him. He looked up and saw the Beast.
Jimmy immediately scrambled backwards until his back was against the trunk of the Red Tree. He had never felt such fear. He could feel his whole body trembling.
“It’s ok,” said the Beast. “I won’t hurt you.”
It took a moment for him to take everything in, but Jimmy could see the Beast clearly now. He was… a man. He was just a man. A giant man with long rough hair and a beard that covered most of his face.
“I thought…” said Jimmy.
“I know,” said the man.
He held out his hand to help lift Jimmy to his feet. The man’s hand was the size of Jimmy’s face.
“I told you, I won’t hurt you,” he said.
Jimmy cautiously took the man’s hand and got back up to his feet.
“Who are you?” asked Jimmy.
“My name is Leo,” said the man. “Who are you?”
“Jimmy. I’m from the town over there.”
Leo picked up a stack of wood that was at his feet that he must have been carrying before he helped Jimmy up.
“What are you doing here?” Leo asked, walking over to a small hole on the lake shore.
“I was…” Jimmy didn’t know what to say.
Leo was placing some of the wood into the shore pit to set up a fire.
“You came to find me, didn’t you?” said Leo.
Jimmy didn’t answer.
“It was a dare, wasn’t it?” said Leo.
Jimmy still remained silent.
“You shouldn’t risk your life for a stupid dare,” said the man.
“I thought you said you weren’t going to hurt me,” said Jimmy.
“I won’t. But what if I did want to hurt you? Or what if you got bitten by a snake on your way here? Or attacked by thugs? Or what if you simply got lost and could never get home?”
“I’m the best navigator my age,” said Jimmy defiantly. “I never get lost.”
“Everyone can get lost,” said Leo.
He was clapping two stones together to light some kindling. It quickly caught and then he tucked it under the wood at the bottom of the shore pit.
Leo then stood up and walked over to the Red Tree. He reached up and grabbed a red leaf and gave it to Jimmy.
“Your proof of coming here, right?” said Leo. “Tell them what you want.”
Jimmy stood holding the leaf as Leo went back to his fire and took a seat.
“You won’t get back to town before dark,” said Leo. “You can spend the night here if you like. Or not. I don’t care.”
Jimmy walked out onto the shore and looked up at the sky. The man was right. It was going to be dark sooner than Jimmy had thought.
“How can I trust you not to kill me in my sleep?” asked Jimmy.
“Because I could kill you while you’re awake just as easily,” said Leo.
“So there isn’t a Beast of the Forest?” said Jimmy.
“You’re looking at him.”
“You’re no Beast,” said Jimmy.
“Sure, I am,” said Leo.
Jimmy sat down by the fire and looked at Leo. The man was staring deeply into the fire. His eyes were big and brown and his face was covered with dirt.
“How long have you been out here?” asked Jimmy.
“A long time.”
“Long enough for fairytales to be made about you,” said Jimmy.
“I suppose so,” he said.
“But why are you here?” asked Jimmy.
“I needed a break from people.”
They sat in silence for a moment and enjoyed the crackling of the fire. Jimmy felt strangely relaxed. He looked at Leo and sensed a quiet kindness that he could not explain.
But they were not alone in the forest that night…
Check out Part Three!
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