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The Beast of the Forest... The Story Continues
It's time to get serious as the townsfolk get a reality check during their journey...
Welcome back for Part 21 in The Beast of the Forest!
It's time to get serious as the townsfolk get a reality check during their journey.
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The exuberance from the group of townsfolk mellowed as they ventured deeper into the forest. The little songs stopped, chatter ceased, and all the smiles fell away.
Many of the townsfolk had never stepped foot in the forest before. The myth of the Beast was something that had been around for generations. All of the adults had been told the same stories that the young ones had been told. It made some of the adults feel suddenly like little kids again, scared and expecting the Beast to jump out at any moment.
Jimmy was at the front of the group with his dad, leading the way forward. He didn’t want to try and take a shortcut through the forest to where the bandits had set up their trap near the mountains. It was too risky. He was going to just go back to the Red Tree and follow the river upstream.
Jimmy looked back and thought about how much slower they were as such a big pack. It made him uneasy. He knew they had to hurry. The clash between the Beasts and the bandits was inevitable in Jimmy’s mind now. Maybe it was paranoia. Maybe it was nerves. Something made him feel like time wasn’t on his side. Maybe he was right.
They got to the Red Tree around noon and stopped to eat and rest. The group started a fire and started a big pot of porridge.
The kids all stood together by the edge of the water, looking out, wondering what might be out there in the lake. There was tension in the air. Standing on the shore, no one’s toes quite touched the water. They didn’t dare.
“Do you think the Beast is in there right now?” asked Cal.
“No, the Beast will still be upstream near the mountains where they hibernate,” said Jimmy. “That’s what Leo said.”
“How does he know?” Frank asked.
“He just does,” said Jimmy. “He’s lived in this forest for a long time. He knows everything about this place. The Beasts are like his neighbours.”
“You have a lot of faith in him,” said Frank.
Jimmy could sense the scepticism in Frank’s voice. It made him want to jump to Leo’s defence.
Jimmy suddenly marched out into the water until it was up to his knees.
“This is how much faith I have in him,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy turned and walked deeper into the lake. Standing there and looking out over the water ahead of him, he couldn’t help but feel a moment of hesitation. What if Leo was wrong? He had to snap himself out of the doubt he was feeling and remind himself how much he trusted him. It’s Leo, Jimmy told himself. You can trust him.
Immediately, Jimmy jumped forward into the water, diving fully under, then leaping back up with a big splash.
It took a moment and then Cal ran forward into the water and dove in as well. Once Cal was in, others quickly followed. The kids went stomping and leaping and diving into the lake, punching water at each other and splashing at each other… except for Frank.
Frank was still on the shore, unmoving. Jimmy splashed water at him and then it didn’t take long for Frank to buckle and run into the lake after him, splashing water straight back at him. Jimmy scrambled away through the water and Frank chased him, both of them now laughing and cackling away.
Back by the Red Tree, the adults were standing around the fire they had made and were talking.
“They will have better weapons than us,” said one of the adults.
“We have numbers,” said Jimmy’s dad. “That’s enough. They’ll hand him over.”
“We need to keep the kids away from the fighting,” said a parent.
“We will keep them shielded away as we get closer to the mountains,” said Jimmy’s dad. “When we find the bandits, we’ll be the frontline. We’ll keep the little ones as far away as possible. We just need them to take this seriously.”
“I think that might be difficult,” said Jimmy’s mum.
She was looking over towards the kids as they were frolicking in the water. The adults all turned their attention to where she was looking and then jumped into action and charged over to the water’s edge.
“Get out of the water!”
“Get over here!”
It took a second for the kids to register just how serious the adults were in that moment.
The kids quickly all got out of the water, hurrying out as fast as they could. They all stood together on the shore, shivering, looking like dogs that knew they were about to be disciplined.
Jimmy’s dad took the lead, his voice booming.
“Are you serious? What are you all doing?”
“The Beast isn’t here,” said Jimmy meekly, and instantly regretted it.
“This isn’t a trip for fun,” said Jimmy’s dad, not just to Jimmy but to all of the kids. “You all need to massively reassess how you are behaving. We are a team. You need to match the seriousness of this situation. If not, you need to go home right now.”
The kids were silent…
The group put out their fire and started the march upstream. The speech from Jimmy’s dad had permanently changed the atmosphere of the group. No more chatting, no more playing. The kids were being herded like sheep in the middle of the adults, shielded away from flanking threats.
The group moved with determination. They marched for hours along the river.
Before it got dark, they turned inland away from the stream and walked until they came across an opening big enough for making camp for the night. They then got to work clearing away branches and sweeping up some clear space.
That night, they went to sleep early. Or at least they tried to…
Thanks for reading and have a fantastic weekend!