The Beast of the Forest... The Final Stretch
It's time for Part 24 in The Beast of the Forest...
Slight change of plans. With the grand finale fast-approaching, the next few weeks of stories leading up to Christmas will all be coming from The Beast of the Forest! I feel like it will work better this way as we lead up to the end of the story. No more big waits in between chapters!
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Now, it’s time for Part 24: The Beast of the Forest!
It was Leo’s own little secret: everything was about to kick off.
There were new people stalking about in the forest and they were on an imminent collision course with the bandits.
As Leo walked with Henry through the forest towards the stream, part of him considered telling Henry about the people he had seen moving among the trees. Leo liked Henry. Henry had been kind and had always looked out for him. Leo had to stop himself though. Henry was still a bandit. He was still one of the people holding him captive.
That was when Leo finally let the thought in: what if they’re here for me? A rescue mission by Jimmy? He was a loyal kid. That was what had worried Leo about him. This very possibility. That he would come back.
Suddenly, everything was different. But Leo had an idea, even if it only had a slim chance of working.
They were almost at the water now. Walking ahead of Henry, Leo pursed his lips and sounded out a very specific bird song.
It was a song that Leo had taught Jimmy about way back under the Red Tree. It felt like such a long time ago… It was the sound of a storm bird, usually only heard in the early hours of the morning. Maybe, just maybe, Jimmy would recognise it.
Instantly, straight after the bird song, Henry had his hand on Leo’s shoulder.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Just saying hello to the birds,” said Leo.
“Well keep it shut,” said Henry. “For all we know, the beasts like birds for dinner.”
Leo sealed his lips. The message was already sent.
As Leo continued the journey to the stream, he now made sure to twist his heels into the ground as he walked, leaving a trail.
Jimmy was sitting down with the other kids when he heard the familiar sound come echoing through the forest. It caught his ear immediately, like the sound of your own name being called out.
His ears perked up like a suspicious rabbit. He knew what it was, the sound of a storm bird. Except it was late in the afternoon – not dawn when you would expect them. His mind instantly went back to the Red Tree, sitting with Leo as he told him about the subtleties of life in the forest. That was when it clicked.
Jimmy looked towards the source of the sound. It hadn’t seemed like it was coming from inland. It sounded like it was coming from upstream, near the water, not all that far away.
Jimmy knew what he had to do.
He zoned back into his current surroundings. The two elderly pumpkin farmers on babysitting duty were having a quiet chat amongst themselves in front of the sitting kids. Slipping off would be easy.
Jimmy then turned his attention to Cal and Frank. They were each lost in their own trails of thought. Part of him wanted to tell them his knew plan; another part of him was sick of pulling other people into danger.
Looking closer, he saw the actual fear that was on their young faces. They were scared. He felt a sudden squeeze of guilt in his belly. It was suddenly hitting him in a whole new light. He had brought everyone he loved into horrible danger. That’s what this whole thing was. Jimmy had been the one who dragged everyone into this mess. It was all his fault.
He decided he wasn’t going to tell them anything. He wasn’t going to drag anyone into any more danger.
He looked back towards the chatting pumpkin farmers. Jimmy was in a good spot. He was at the back of the group of kids, his back against a tree. He just had to slip around the tree and then keep moving.
Now was as good of a time as any. The pumpkin farmers were easy. It was Cal and Frank that he kept an eye on as he shuffled backwards around the tree. Once behind cover, he got to his feet and looked back one final time. From the looks of it, he was in the clear.
Jimmy immediately started scuttling through the forest, moving parallel to the stream, charging towards the sound of the storm bird.
He was getting close to where he thought he had heard the bird song. He followed Leo’s guidance and kept his eyes peeled, searching for signs of movement or clues to follow. He then reached a point in the forest where the leaves on the ground seemed slightly scattered. He focused in and saw a trail of footprints in the soil – big footprints, Leo-sized footprints.
The fresh steps were going in the direction of the water. To Jimmy’s eye, he could only see two sets of footsteps. Straight away, he started following them.
Jimmy was hurrying along the vague path that had been set out in front of him, trying to catch up. He could hear the water getting louder. The edge of the trees was just ahead of him. He slowed and moved from trunk to trunk, sneaking up.
Finally, Jimmy was in position and looked out from behind one of the tree trunks. There he saw an image that made his heart skip a beat.
It was Leo and Henry standing on one side of the stream, Leo by the shore, crouched down with a water skin in hand. They were both frozen still, staring ahead of them. Across the other side of the stream was one of the young beasts of the forest. They were perfectly still as well, in a prowling stance, staring right back at Leo and Henry, ready to pounce.
No one – neither human nor beast – dared to move a muscle. That was when the parent of the young beast arose behind them from the forest…
Its movements were slow and smooth as it walked out of the forest and down to the shore. Everyone was completely still. Leo and Henry on one side of the stream; the parent beast and one of its children on the other. But where was the other young one from earlier?
Jimmy then heard the crack of a twig just behind him.
He turned around and found the final missing piece of the puzzle…
Thanks so much for reading!
Next week: Part 25!