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Rated: E · Fiction · Folklore · #2267701
Eat your veggies!
The ropes around my wrists and ankles burned. No amount of wriggling could loosen them. I tried to shoot daggers from my eyes at the women that surrounded me but they ignored my gaze and continued dragging me down the well-worn path leading out of the village.

“Naadir! My sister, please!” I grunted as my side hit a rock on the trail. My body was jerked to the left, off the path, and my heart jumped into my throat. The grasses were growing taller, the jungle moving closer.

“It wasn’t a fair drawing!” I gasped. “Kaaliya cheated! I saw -”

“Shh!” the command came with a swift smack of a long stick, adding to my bumps and bruises. “We are to enter the holy place. Do not speak!”

Fear froze my lips. Long tendrils of ivy created a living doorway into the forbidden jungle. I gave one last effort to roll out of the women’s grasp, but they were well trained in this task. Their hands dug into my flesh, preventing any escape.

The ivy was pushed aside, the women’s silence grew deeper as they tiptoed into the shadows. My eyes darted from one woman to another as they silently nodded and gestured with hand motions. Suddenly I was dumped in front of a bush. My breath whooshed out of me as the ladies fled, leaving me to my fate.

I wasn’t about to give up so easily. Shoving the rope that bound my wrists into my mouth, I started chewing at the strands. I didn’t care about duty to the tribe or how my disobedience might affect my people. I was going to live or die trying!

“Well, shoot. Has it been a year already?”

I about choked on a loose piece of rope. A figure followed the voice from the shadows of a great oak tree and my pulse quickened.

“Oh, h-holy one! P-please don’t k-kill me!” I couldn’t stop the stuttering. I had imagined standing tall and fearless when this time came but instead I was trembling like a baby.

“I ain’t about to kill nobody.” A beam of light struck the figure and I frowned, confused. The god of the jungle looked an awful lot like a human man. But, I bit my lip, maybe his form was a disguise. A trick to lull me into a false sense of safety. He removed the large, dusty hat from his head to reveal a mop of blonde hair.

“Ya look about as confused as a goat on astroturf,” his voice sounded tired as he crouched and pulled a knife. I tried to shrink back but the bush at my back blocked any retreat.

“The name’s Jeff,” he sighed, pressed the knife into the rope, and sliced it free in one swift movement. “I’ve lived in this jungle for, well, too long to rightly remember. Folks around here think I’m some kind of god but I’m just a lucky SOB that happened to find…” He paused and used the tip of his knife to scratch the scruff outlining his jaw.

“Well, never mind that part.” He reached forward and cut through the rope at my bare feet.

“Is this the part where...where you eat me?” I whispered, pulling my feet as close to my body as I could. If only I could shrink into myself and disappear from the Jeff-god’s gaze. I expected him to transform into a ferocious beast at any moment.

“Nah,” he stood up and stretched before sheathing the knife. “Ain’t got no appetite for human flesh. At least, not today.” He winked. “That there was a joke.”

Cautiously, wary of any sudden movements from his part, I stood. My legs felt shaky.

“Jeff-god, if you could allow me to return to my village … my being here was a mistake. It was supposed to be another girl who--”

“Can’t let ya go back,” Jeff interrupted with a frown. “Wish I could, but last time I tried that, they ended up tossing the gal off the southern cliff. Gonna hafta do with you as I do with the others. Oh, don’t look so nervous. I delivered them all safe and sound to the tribe across the river. They’re a kind folk who don’t cotton to no notion about sacrificing to gods such as myself.” He laughed and held out a hand. I hesitated, realized I had no other option, placed my palm in his, and allowed him to tug me forward.

“This tribe,” I hesitated. “What are they like?”

“Butterflies,” he grinned. I stumbled and stubbed my toe on a root. “Yup, these folks got’em all ‘round. Believe butterflies are dead relatives saying hi. Just flittin’ here and there, landing on heads and baskets full of fish. Whatever ya do, don’t go squishin’ any. Might end up murdering an auntie or uncle,” he flashed another wink and I started to realize this god had an interesting sense of humor

We walked in silence for some time, moving deeper into the jungle. Mud squished between my toes and the little bits of sunlight that had pierced through the thick canopy overhead disappeared.

“Reckon we should camp for the night,” Jeff suggested. “Be another three or two days until we greet the river.”

I flopped to the ground and rubbed my aching feet. A gray bag flew from Jeff’s hand and landed by my toes. Pulling the string revealed a jumble of green with a smell that made my nose scrunch.

“Broccoli,” he grinned. “Grows by my special...well, never mind that. Ya know, broccoli is just a bunch of small trees,” he held one up, examining it before popping it in his mouth.

“I don’t eat trees,” I sniffed.

He laughed and the sound reverberated around us. That wink came out to play again and I found myself relaxing. “Lemme just say, ya eat these trees and you’ll never hafta worry ‘bout becoming a butterfly.”

I lifted a green morsel and took a bite.

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