“What do you mean, you dared Barrie to go in the South Woods?” I was trying to keep my anger out of my voice. The little boy in front of me was digging his foot into the dirt. “Tell me what happened. Right now, Burton!”
“I didn’t think he’d actually do it.” Burton’s grey eyes were wide. “He was bragging about how brave his is and how he could do anything! He was calling me a scardy cat because I wouldn’t go climb trees with him! So, I told him that he still wasn’t brave enough to go into the South Woods!”
I sighed, “And so my headstrong little brother ran into the woods?”
Barton nodded, tears rolling down his face, “Don’t be angry, Lexine! Don’t tell my mama!”
"That depends on if Barrie is hurt." I told him "Now get out of here!" and he ran off, tears still running down his cheeks.
What to do, what to do? I can't go to the elders. There are horrible consequences for going into the South Forest. A couple of years ago, a few kids had snuck into the Woods. The survivor that made it out was forbidden from ever marrying or having children.
Should I tell our parents? No, Father would go straight to the elders out of fear. He wouldn't care about the fines. He would only want the help of the Warriors in retrieving his only son. There was only one thing to do. It was obvious that it was up to me to go in after him. Bloody hell. I am going to beat some sense into that boy once I get my hands on him.
I would need a weapon, without thinking it over more, I ran to the blacksmith’s smithy.
"Zachery!" I called out as I approached, "I need a weapon!"
The blacksmith's apprentice, Zachery looked at me wide eyed "But...but 'Lex Why? I can get in major trouble for giving you one!"
“It’s Barrie, he has gone into the South Woods! I need to go in and get him! Just a knife, please! I am begging you!"
Zachery paused and then nodded "I can only give you a knife." He said as he pulled out a small dagger, studded with blue gems. "This was one of my projects. I can't promise it will last very long but it will be good for a good blow or two,"
I gave him a bear hug and then ran off without another word.
Well at last I was armed now. What was Barrie thinking going into the South Woods? Damn, that boy. Shortly enough I was at the border of the village and the South Woods. I paused there, pacing back and forth. The fear was running through me. How many stories have I been told of these woods? The monsters? Can I really go in there and find my pesky little brother?
I took a deep breath. I needed to do this, I dove into the forest before I could think any more about the danger or anything else.
I started through the wood, the first few feet were a tangled mess of branches and briars.
Looking for signs of Barrie's passing through the underbrush, I started down a path that was twisty and lined with giant mushrooms. The mushrooms were huge, almost reaching my waist.
It was getting dark, as I went down the path. I was praying I would find Barrie before it got too dark to see. The sun was low on the horizon when I finally found fresh signs that Barrie had passed through. It looked like he had been running, there were broken branches and smooshed mushrooms showing his frantic run down the path. Something must have spooked him.
“Barrie!” I called, but, the overgrowth was so thick my voice barely carried. Before I could try calling again there was a massive roar from behind me. I spun around, behind me hidden in the dark forest was a shadow, easily two or three times my size.
A scream froze in my throat, and I took off in the other direction of the giant shadow. The ground was shaking as the shadow followed me in my panicked run. The path twisted around a large tree, and up ahead there was rock wall. I desperately scanned the wall, hoping against hope that there was some escape. Under one of the boulders, I saw a small dark cave. I had no time to think about it, whatever was in that cave could not be as bad as whatever was shaking the ground behind me.
The cave entrance was very tight, I had to get down on my hands and knees to squeeze into the dark. The rocks were tearing at my clothes as I passed. Once I was clear of the entrance, I entered into a cramped cave. In one of the corners of the cave, I saw a small bundle. Muffled sobs were coming from it.
With my heart in my throat, I called out “Barrie?”
Before I could even react, the bundle was up and rocketing into me. Barrie’s blonde hair was a mess and his face was dirty. He wrapped his arms around me and shoved his face into my shoulder. I pulled him close and let him cry, trying to comfort him. After a little while, he pulled himself away from me.
“I am sorry ‘Lex. Don’t be mad at me, don’t tell mama.” His blue eyes were large, and his tears had cleaned streaks down his dirty cheeks.
I smiled down at him, relived he was ok. “There is no reason to tell, you are ok.”
There was another roar from outside, shaking the cave. Some rocks fell from the ceiling, I leaned over Barrie to protect him from the falling stones. Barrie started to cry again.
How many times had we been warned to stay out of the South Woods? By how many people? Why didn’t we listen? Maybe I should have told the elders? What could I do? I don’t even have any idea how to use the knife I borrowed. How could I bring myself and my little brother back to the village safely?
Barrie was shaking in my arms, with every noise of the forest he let out a whimper.
“‘Lex, is the monster coming back?” His little voice was shaking.
I pulled him closer, “I don’t know.” I was trying and failing to keep my own fear out of my voice. What the monster was, let alone find a weak point to take it down with my puny knife. It was way too dark to tell anything about it. Staying still in the cave seemed like the only possible option at this point. It was almost pitch black in the cave by the time the noises from outside the cave started to fade.
I crept to the opening of the cave and listened closely. The moon was full, thank god, it gave us some light to see by. Other than the faint noises from the nighttime insects, everything was quiet. I took a deep breath and made a decision.
“Barrie, we are going home.”
He backed up shaking his head, “The monster is out there!”
I pulled the knife from my pocket, the moon light shined off the blue jewels. “I will keep us save. I just need you to be your brave self.”
He sniffled “I am not brave. I thought I was. But I’m not.”
I knelt in front of him, “True bravery is doing something even though you are scared. You must have been scared to come into the South Woods, but you did it. I just need you to be brave a little longer.”
He nodded, rubbing his tears away. “I will try ‘Lex.”
I hugged him tight and turned to the entrance. I squeezed myself back out of the cave and listened again. I still heard nothing.
“Come on, Barrie.” I whispered back into the cave.
He came out of the cave, the moon light showing the terrified look on his face. I grabbed his hand and clutched my knife in the other. We slowly made our way down to the path, the dark was making it hard to keep up a quick pace. We both kept tripping over roots and loose rocks. When we got back to the mushroom lined path, to my amazement, the giant mushrooms were starting to have a bright blue light coming from them. The glow was illuminating the path, and making our travel so much easier. In the blue glow, we hurried along. We were so close to the edge of the forest when the ground started shaking again. I could hear a loud growl, coming from behind the mushrooms. The blue light was glinting off a pair of large eyes that were deep in the wood.
The monster let loose a massive roar and Barrie screamed, and pulled away from me, in an attempt to dart into the forest on the other side.
Suddenly, the mushroom’s glowing light grew, I could see the eyes retreating further from the path, as the glow spread. Then a small green glowing creature came out of the nearest mushroom.
“Stay calm children.” It said.
Barrie hid behind me, scared. He let out another small whimper.
“The creature will not dare enter my path in the night.” It continued. “Stay in my light and all will be well.”
“Who…who are you?” I stammered
It chuckled “I am many things. Most call me the Spirit of the Forest. Now go, the creature is cunning and there is a gap between my forest path and the edge of the woods. Now hurry!”
Barrie and I fled down the way. Before I knew it, we were at the end of the mushroom path. The green glowing creature was still right beside us.
“Hurry, children.” It said. “The creature is coming.”
I had no clue how to thank the spirit, so I just picked up Barrie and ran. I could feel the change in the air as I left the path. The air felt evil. Another terrifying howl shook the woods. It was right behind us. I ran faster, hoping to get to the edge of the forest. I felt something swipe by my leg. An agonizing flash of pain through me, I stumbled and dropped Barrie. I could see the forest edge.
“Run!” I screamed at Barrie, “Just run!”
He backed up with a uncertain look on his face, but finally turned and ran out of the woods.
Relived that my brother was safe, I dragged myself up against a tree and drew my knife.
The moon glinted off the blue stones. I sat there, breathing hard, listening for the creature. My leg was in agony, it would give out before I could excape. This is it, I am going to die here.
Suddenly, Barrie was back at my side.
“Lean on me, sister.” He whimpered, putting my arm over his shoulder. “We both need to be brave now. I can’t leave you.”
He wasn’t going to give me a choice here. I was leaning on him heavily as we made our way out of the wood. I could hear the creature breathing, but for some reason, it was not approaching. It felt like forever, but soon we were out of the forest. Barrie set me down on the village side of the fence. We sat there, breathing hard, when the green glow appeared again.
“Good job children.” It said. “Little boy, your bravery saved your sister and kept the creature at bay. It feeds on, and is attracted to fear. While bravery chases it away.”
I gave Barrie a hug. “See, I told you that you were brave.”
He gave me a small smile.
The creature glowed, and the pain in my leg faded.
“I have healed your wounds.” It continued. “Please do not come back to these woods. The here danger is all too real.”
We both nodded, “Thank you, Spirit of the Wood.” I said gravely. The spirit faded, without responding.
I stood up and took Barrie’s hand “Let’s go home.”
He looked up at me, “What are we going to tell mama and father, as to why we are out so late?”
After what we had been through, that was a fear, I could totally manage.