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Part 15: The Beast of the Forest
Jimmy is finally free! Now he just has to make it home...
Jimmy has finally gotten away from the bandits, but he still has to make it home.
Here’s a link to the very first part in The Beast of the Forest:
Here’s a link to the previous part in The Beast of the Forest:
Jimmy gulped for air like a fish out of water. His feet and calves ached from his escape and he had a painful stitch that refused to soften. His whole body was scalding hot; he was a melting figure made of wax.
Around him the forest was silent. The ancient trees watched on nonjudgmentally and with kindness.
Jimmy had the image stuck in his head of the bandits swarming Leo. Somewhere back there in the forest Leo was hurting, but Jimmy knew there was no going back, not right now anyway. He couldn’t do that to Leo. Leo would never forgive him. And anyway, Jimmy had to get home. He just had to.
Jimmy followed the water downstream. The creek offered a direct route back to the Red Tree, but it was still going to be a long journey. He walked along the rock slabs of the shore.
He stopped every now and then and drank from the creek. He was too determined to get home to be worried about the Beasts.
He couldn’t help but feel relieved. He had his life back. He had his arms and his legs back. He could stop walking and wouldn't be barked at to keep moving. He wasn't restricted to the footsteps of the person in front of him.
In the late afternoon, Jimmy walked into the forest and tucked himself into a pocket of shrubs. He could still see the creek through a gap between the trees. He sat and watched the water as the afternoon drifted into evening. The creek slowly transitioned from a honey hue to mulberry jam shade of purple. What Jimmy would have done for a piece of bread and a butter knife to scoop it all up...
The forest went dark. Barely any moonlight could make it through the canopy.
His stomach was torn between sharp hunger and butterfly anxiety. It was going to be a long night.
The next day, Jimmy woke up at dawn and got moving.
Around noon, the creek opened up into a lake. Jimmy had made it. He could see the Red Tree in the distance along the shore.
He got there and found charcoal remnants on the ground from the campfire that he and Leo had sat by.
Jimmy turned West and set off into the forest. He was on the home stretch now. After all of his walking, that last bit of forest felt so short.
Suddenly, there were no more trees around him. The unobstructed sun poured down on him like rain. The forest had ended and the farmlands had begun.
Standing at the edge of the forest, he looked across the field and saw the familiar silhouette of the rooftops of town -- of home.
He cut through the field of wheat and got onto the dirt road that led into town. The world was starting to feel familiar again, like he was going back home after a day of playing in the fields with his friends.
He followed the road for a few minutes, the sun cooking him alive, until he saw a figure up ahead. He couldn't make out who it was because of the glare of the sun.
Suddenly, the silhouette was moving towards Jimmy. It was rushing right at him, and in that moment he was ready to turn and run.
"Jimmy!" said the approaching figure.
As they got closer, Jimmy saw it was one of his friends from school, Cal.
Cal put down the bucket of apples he was carrying and gave Jimmy a big hug.
"Everyone's been looking for you," said Cal.
Jimmy didn't know what to do with himself as Cal hugged him tight. His arms didn't leave his side.
As Cal let go of Jimmy, Cal then stepped back and got a better look of what a mess Jimmy was. There was dirt on Jimmy's face and his shoulders drooped down like he might collapse at any moment.
Cal turned and hurried back to his bucket.
He went back to Jimmy and gave him a shiny red apple. "Here," said Cal.
Jimmy took the apple and bit into it. Every taste bud in his mouth cheered with relief.
"We need to get you to your mum and dad," said Cal as Jimmy ate.
The two of them carried on along the road towards town.
"We've all been looking for you, Jimmy," said Cal. "Everyone in town has been searching the forest."
Jimmy finished his apple and grabbed another.
"So are they real?" asked Cal finally after a long silence. "Is the Beast real?"
As they walked into town, more people joined them. By the time they were passing through the town square, there was a small crowd hanging around Jimmy and trying to talk to him. Jimmy wasn't stopping for anyone though. He just followed Cal and ate apple after apple.
Once they reached Jimmy’s house, Cal stepped forwards and gave a big knock on the door and then stepped aside.
A moment passed and then it opened.
Jimmy’s mum was stunned for one brief second and then reached out and pulled Jimmy in for the biggest hug of his life. He had never been held so tightly. He could hardly breathe. His mum was sobbing as she held him, crying into his shoulder. Jimmy could feel her tears soaking through his shirt.
He finally felt safe again. It had been so long since he had truly felt safe.
"Where's dad?" asked Jimmy.
"Looking for you in the forest," said his mum.
She then lifted her head up to look at Cal.
“Cal, would you please go ring the town bell,” she said.
Immediately, he set off.
Jimmy’s mum pulled Jimmy inside and closed the door. She paused for a moment and just looked at him. She hugged him again.
“I’m so sorry, mum,” said Jimmy.
“It’s ok,” she said. “Everything’s ok.”
Jimmy cried into his mum’s shoulder.
For a long time, they both just sobbed.
Eventually, they settled.
“What can I get you?” asked Jimmy’s mum.
“I want to lie down,” he said.
She nodded and gave a teary smile.
“You rest,” she said, “and there will be tomato soup for you when you wake up. Your favourite.”
They walked towards Jimmy’s room.
“I made your bed for you,” said Jimmy’s mum. “Everything’s fresh.”
Jimmy took off his shoes and got into bed.
His mum tucked him in and kissed his forehead.
“Love you,” she said.
There was no need for a bedtime story. He was already fast asleep...
Here is a link to the next part in The Beast of the Forest:
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