Lost in the dark of forest night how could hope lay ahead?
|1280 word entry created for July "The Bard's Hall Contest" prompt: You are hiking and realize you're lost! How do you find your way back -- or do you? How does this adventure end?
Running away from one nightmare had turned into a worse one. Silly Gore had followed the streambed behind his backyard fence to this forest path.
Leaving home had been no problem at all. He had been raising himself most of the time. Being out alone on his own felt natural until the forest shadows closed in. The path had trailed off into a meadow rich with Stinging Nettle and Russian Thistle whose thorns bit at his skin worse than the buzz of mosquitoes hunting blood.
He slapped at the latest enemy attack and kept going. Being lost wasn’t the worst part of being here. He couldn’t go back even if he knew how. Teedie Gore wasn’t his real mom. She had never tried acting like one even when Silly’s father was alive.
“I have my wild animal friends. This isn’t so bad.” He kidded himself. The swollen bites on his face itched maddeningly. There were bloody scratches where he’d tried to kill the tiny monsters. Now there were bigger ones following Silly.
He could hear them panting they were so close. Silly’s best friend was Crow. The bird cawed a warning, waving its wings and fluttering down from the winking sky to settle on a pine tree branch. “Got it. Thanks.” Silly’s voice sounded worn out as it escaped to his ears. It was time to do some escaping of his own.
He felt the bite of pine needles dig into his hands as he began to climb. Sap made his fingers sticky, easier to easier to grab hold. The sound of the pack of wild dogs grew more urgent. They snapped and bit air below Silly and Crow.
Both bird and boy hurled down taunts at the dozen stray breeds gathered below. The dogs were returning to their wild origins, hunting and ready to feast if Silly made a single slip. Crow might fly away on the wind but Silly was stuck to the pine tree. They ruled the forest below. Their barking let him know it.
“Hello, you Devil.” Silly recognized the leader of the pack. He had even named the beast. The animals sometimes risked the city streets where Silly lived, hunting for easy pickings the forest could not offer.
“I’d give you a third eye if I could with my slingshot.” It dangled precariously from Silly’s back pocket. The small bag of smooth river stones hung by its strings. There weren’t enough strong branches to rest on to free his hands. HIs boast was an empty promise.
Devil seemed to know it was Silly up above. Maybe the smell of his fear sweat kept his enemy waiting now in the gathering night’s silence. The moon winked from up above as the evening wind began rocking the tree Silly hugged.
Crow pecked at the bark, gathering a bug in its beak before soaring up to study the scene below. “I’m not moving. You’d best be off to hunt easier game.” His words perked up two or three of the mongrel dog’s ears but no other activity.
Silly knew there were other wild hunters in the forest. The dead deer’s head with its antlers praying up into the sky had been one victim he had stumbled across back when the path he followed led somewhere.
The deer’s bloated, torn open body seethed with fly larva. Something with fangs and claws larger than any a pack of dogs could offer had ended the deer’s life. Silly had hastened on, not wanting to see what that might be.
The dogs seemed to be settling in for the night. Silly closed his eyes, almost falling asleep and loosening his grip at once. With a jerk, he forced himself awake. Teedie Gore probably wouldn’t think to check on him until after her weekend away with friends. Evil friends Silly disliked almost as much as he did his stepmom.
“You can’t torture or tease me now.” But he knew she was still doing that. She was a witch and loved proving it. In growing recognition, Silly realized the woman had probably sent Devil and his hounds searching after him.
Sure enough, one wide searching look below counted one less of the four-footed canines. One had been sent to bring Teedie or her wicked friends out to get him back and punish him for leaving.
Silly was so tired. Crow might be good at scouting out and warning about danger but when it came face to face with Silly he was pretty much on his own. His wild creature friends might be good eyes and ears but were poor substitutes for getting him out of this kind of trap.
His weariness began taking an even bigger toll. Silly could feel a silly grand mal seizure coming on. His muscles seized and relaxed his grip. Any moment now and he’d be fallen prey with his guts torn open beneath the snarling teeth of the dogs.
He gasped, jerking, twisting, unable to control his sudden superhuman strength. His arms swung, dancing to some inner music humming in Silly’s head. Branches broke their arms off as his swung among them.
Pine cones rained down upon the dog's heads, raising them up in alarm. Heads turned warily as they slunk their tails between their legs, moving out of reach of the tiny bombs bouncing off their hides.
Silly felt himself slip, stomach caving in against the next lower branch. It held. His river rocks and slingshot tumbled down among the fallen pine cones. He let go of consciousness, his last thought wondering if his body would be next to hit the earth.
Sparkling lights burst before Silly’s eyes. He hung, gasping for breath, balancing like a human teeter-totter rocking back and forth on the branch bobbing up and down with him on it.
“Is that you, Silly Boy?” A flashlight shown up, searching for his red-rimmed eyes. Silly’s tongue caught at the saliva dripping out of his mouth. He couldn’t answer. He could barely breathe. He hung there in his silence, his aches and pains reminding him where and who he was.
A yelp announced the kick the returning dog was given by one of Teedie’s friends. “Don’t even think of it.” A club smacked the head of another beast. Silly heard the pack whisper back through the shadows cast by the stand of trees.
The two or three men remained standing in place, looking around them. They’d begun following and lost their own way until the wild hound had come back to meet them along the way. “Sent us out here instead of coming herself. Just like her.”
The howl of a wolf called back from the forest depths. “Geez. Might be a werewolf. Who knows, knowing her. Too dark to find the boy now, no matter what kind of magic that witch of a woman says she has. We’ll come back come dawn if she makes us.”
Silly gathered enough weak strength to pull himself closer to the trunk. It’s rough bark scratched at the itches the mosquitoes had left behind. Crow called out as the men began hunting their way back the way they had come. The pack of dogs followed loosely, sniffing out anything scared by the men’s loud talk. A rabbit jumped too late out of one’s open jaws.
Silly listened to the crunch of bones as he climbed down to search for his stones and slingshot, finding them in a moonbeam cast from opening clouds. He began walking, following the north star. Hope lay ahead. Fear lay behind.