An Unlikely Companion

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: Write a story involving a friendship with an adorable animal.... view prompt

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Fiction Coming of Age Friendship

It was dark. Darker than she would have ever imagined it to be. Remembering her map, she pulled it out of her backpack and unrolled it. To her great dismay, she could not read a single thing. The forest was far too dark, and what was even more frustrating was the fact that it was early afternoon. At a time of the day where the earth should be the brightest, it was the darkest she had ever experienced. What was she supposed to do now? Added to the darkness was the violent wind. It whipped her hair back and forth constantly—entangling it into nature’s own bird nest of a mess. Even if there had been a great amount of light, she was afraid that the wind itself would have prevented her from seeing her map. Between the wildness of her hair and the corners of the map folding in on themselves every second, she was certain there were multiple factors at play wishing to prevent her from reading the map she had spent so much time pouring over. Her planning, tracing, and memorizing seemed to all have been for nothing now: it was surely no use to her at this point.

Just when she thought she could not be off to a worse start, she heard a peculiar noise in the distance. And this noise was not comforting nor welcoming… no, it was frightening. It was a high-pitched squeal, and it seemed to pierce every ounce of her soul. It was impossible to think with this incessant squealing, and Edith felt that the only possible solution was to curl herself into a ball and give up. She returned her map to her backpack and plugged her ears. She grimaced, closed her eyes, and held her breath, just waiting for there to be an end to it. Suddenly, the squealing went from incoherent, random noises, to actual words and sentences. As time progressed, the sentences and the voices grew clearer and clearer.

You do not belong here, human daughter.

You should turn back, you’ll never make it.

He doesn’t want to see you. Your plans were shattered, remember? He allowed that, didn’t He? Why would He want to see you?

You are not capable of being an explorer.

You are nothing here. You are nothing.

The more intently Edith listened to the words, the louder they grew, to the point where everything else seemed to fade away. It was almost as if she was in some sort of trance. She let go of her ears, and her arms dropped to her sides. Her face, which was grimacing moments ago, was now wet with tears. She fell to the forest floor with her face in the palms of her hands. She was nothing… she did not matter… why did she even bother… she could not do this…

When she hit the forest floor, the words that were being thrown at her were no longer shouts, but whispers. But they were whispering directly into her ears. This direct hit into her ears, quietly, was unbearable. The words seemed to inch themselves from her ears to her brain and directly to her heart.

Suddenly, she heard a mighty roar. It was so loud it drowned out everything else. She heard the swishing of a sword very near to where she lay on the ground, but with her eyes closed, she was uncertain of what was happening. After brief moments of roaring and swishing and slashing, all was calm. The roaring had stopped, and the voices had been silenced. 

She carefully opened her eyes to survey the aftermath. Sitting on her knees and lifting her head from her hands, she glanced straight ahead at the most peculiar sight. There, staring at her with gentle curiosity, was an orange cat. Not a lion, no… an orange house cat. The voices, the roar, the sword, and now… a cat? In that moment, she was as confused as she had ever been. But that confusion was replaced with dumbfoundedness when the orange cat opened his mouth and said, “Hi, I’m Wynton. You must be Edith. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“You can talk?” Edith asked in bewilderment.

“Of course I can talk. Why wouldn’t I be able to?” Wynton asked with an offended tone.

“I’m sorry, it’s just… animals can’t talk.” Edith stated.

“Ah! Yes, not in your world, but in this world, I think you will find many things that contradict yours.” Wynton said with a grin on his face.

Edith needed a moment to take it all in. She had, quite literally, just stepped foot into the forest. She glanced behind her and was taken aback by how very little she had traveled so far. The treeline was right behind her, and it looked as though she had taken only two or three steps. So much had happened in so little steps. And she wondered if perhaps she had fallen down or crashed her bike and had simply dreamed up the voices, the swords, and now this talking cat. 

As if Wynton could read her thoughts, he said, “I promise, you are not dreaming. You have taken your first few steps into the forest, and the enemies of the land have already tried to stop you on your quest for the Great Tree. Your heart is very broken, my dear girl. I could smell the hurt from miles away. No wonder those pesky little rats were able to attack you so quickly.”

“Rats? What rats?” Edith asked.

“Do you not remember the voices? The shouting, and then the whispering? It was the rats. They creep about the forest floor searching for weak souls and broken hearts. And your soul is the most broken I have seen in a long time. As soon as you entered the forest, they were ready to attack. They began to shout their lies at you from the ground. They wanted to be certain you would hear them.”

“And that’s why they began to whisper when I fell to the floor.” Edith said to herself.

“Yes.” Wynton replied. “Their words and their mischievous, evil ways were able to get you to fall down to their level. That is where they do the most damage. I arrived just in time.”

“But I heard a loud roar, and… possibly a sword?” Edith thought out loud.

“Ha, yes, the roar was me. The Great Tree uses the most unlikely looking fellows to do the most extraordinary things. He gifted me with my roar. It is very special to me.”

“Can you roar again and show me?”

“No, Edith, I cannot. My roar is meant to be used for good only, not for boasting. I use it to serve others, and in that moment, you needed my help.” Wynton replied.

“What about the sword?” Edith questioned.

“My claws. I am a cat, afterall.” Wynton remarked.

“I see.”

“I am here to protect you, Edith. The Great Tree sent me to be your companion and your guide as you travel.” Wynton said.

“What is the Great Tree? How did it give you your roar?” Edith asked, her brain spinning with questions.

“Not a what, but a who. He goes by a different name in your world. You will know him when you see him.” Wynton answered with a warm smile.

“Well, I don’t know how a tree is going to help me, so I probably won’t be needing to meet with him anyway. Now, I have my map in here somewhere…” Edith trailed off as she began to search through her backpack for her map. She knelt down, removed it from her back, and began to frantically search through. No matter how many items she threw out, and no matter how far she dug through that old bag, she could not find the map anywhere. Wynton sat staring at her calmly, licking his paw and wiping his face in between glances.

“Oh no.” Edith said, her voice shaking.

“What’s wrong?” Wynton asked, still licking his paw and not the least bit worried.

“I can’t find my map anywhere. And it’s so dark. I will never be able to find my way. But I think I may have memorized the first bit of my journey.” And as Edith said this, she began to turn in circles and side to side as she surveyed the deep forest stretched out in front of her. She pointed and mumbled to herself, occasionally putting her hand to her forehead in frustration. It was true that she did have some of the paths and trails memorized. But the forest was nearly pitch black, and the paths she had spent so much time tracing and memorizing were nonexistent. The forest she was looking at now was not the same forest that had been drawn on her map. She felt hopeless.

“Don’t feel hopeless, Edith.” Wynton said, again reading her thoughts. “I told you the Great Tree sent me here to be your guide, remember? Follow me, I know the way. I live in a cozy little log with a couple of friends I think you should meet.”

“But Wynton, you don’t know what I’m looking for. How can you possibly know the way I need to go?” Edith questioned.

“Trust me, Edith, I know what you’re looking for—even more so than you do.” Wynton commented with a grin. “How do you think I was able to find you so quickly the moment you stepped into the forest? We have been expecting you, Edith. The whole forest has. Just trust me.”

August 12, 2023 21:05

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3 comments

Julie Grenness
02:23 Aug 24, 2023

Magic in the air! Well written, this story presents a great tale, with apt and effective choices of language and imagery. The writer has built an intriguing word picture, appealing in this fantasy genre. I look forward to more stories, keep on writing.

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David Partington
23:21 Aug 23, 2023

Great atmosphere right from the start. I think I'd like to be told what the cat's voice was like. For some reason I imagined it being deep and scary like the Wizard of Oz.

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J. D. Lair
00:54 Aug 17, 2023

Piqued my curiosity with this one Taylor. I too want to know who the Great Tree is. Hopefully, Edith follows and finds the healing she needs. :)

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