Forest

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2006

Rachael Goddard Rebstein

It was the afternoon in the forest. It was a hot and muggy afternoon too, when the air hung heavily between the gnarled and ancient tree trunks, their rough bark creased and lined through the passage of years. The early morning mist had long since disappeared. Spider webs now hung aimlessly between the brownish-green undergrowth, illuminated by the blazing summer sun peering in through the thick canopy of trees. There was a soft crunching and crackling sound of dead leaves and small insects scrambled as quickly as they could to get away as a small patch of bristling ferns parted, and out of it emerged the boy.

He pushed his way ruthlessly through the thick undergrowth that covered the forest floor, snapping the sharp, dry branches that stuck out to bar his path, but he did so expertly, making sure to create as little noise as possible. He paused for a moment, panting softly, before turning around to look cautiously over his shoulder. No one. No one but the seemingly endless canopy of tall, majestic trees, surrounded by ferns and bushes, their knotted trunks reaching up to touch the brilliant blue sky that occasionally became visible but was usually too bright for him to look at on days like this. No one but the small brown squirrel that immediately spotted him as he looked, and then scooted off to the other side of the tree it clung to.

Forest looking at the forest

He sensed a vague lingering hint of danger in this area of the forest

Well, it almost scooted. On sweltering, stifling days like these, all creatures in the forest were more sluggish than usual, and as for the boy, he became tired and sweaty more easily. Today in particular. The boy sat down slowly on a nearby burnt and jagged tree stump, only after checking for ants’ nests of course. He sensed a vague lingering hint of danger in this area of the forest, and he knew he would be slower to react to it now, his senses dulled by heat, thirst, and pure exhaustion. Still, he could not go on for much longer without rest. The boy sniffed the air expertly, he had years of experience, but today all he smelt was the pine needles that covered the forest floor, the dark brown soil, and the muggy, stifling, humid air. Seeing as the air would reveal nothing, the boy pricked up his ears and listened. No luck. Only the distant sound of birds chirruping in the canopy and the low, infuriating hum of mosquitoes.

The boy wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead and fanned himself unsuccessfully with his hand. His throat was dry and parched, and it would be a long walk to get to any clean liquid to drink. He spotted a nearby almost bare berry bush and grabbed the only visible berry he could see off it. He put it slowly into his mouth. The sour flavor erupted into his tastebuds. He ate it as slowly as possible, trying to savor the moisture. But it was small, and did not last long, doing nothing to satisfy his burning throat. A rustling in the leaves made him jump to his feet. He spun around to see another brown squirrel dashing away through the undergrowth. The boy turned away, and, checking over his shoulder one last time, set off again, walking rapidly through the thick and seemingly impenetrable undergrowth. He had to keep going. This was no time to give up.

Suddenly another rustling made him spin around. This one seemed more distant and farther away. The boy eyed it suspiciously and began to slowly back away. The rustling was becoming steadily clearer and sharper as it came closer. From its sound, and years of experience, the boy was able to decipher that it was a much bigger animal that was now coming towards him. The crunching of the leaves from its footsteps seemed to indicate a sort of lumbering, awkward gait. Almost instantly the boy knew what it probably was. A bear. Slowly, his heart thumping against his ribcage, the boy backed away even further. Luckily, he knew how to deal with this sort of problem. Now, all he needed was a tree to climb. The boy scanned the trees, looking for a suitable branch he could pull himself up onto. The rustling, meanwhile, was getting louder.

The boy realized in an instant that the bear was too close by for him to have enough time to get onto the higher branches out of its reach. Any minute now, it would enter the patch of forest with the boy. Why oh why hadn’t he heard it coming earlier?! The boy backed away even farther, his mind racing furiously. The bear, judging by its gait and size, was probably a grizzly. There was no escape for him now. The bear had left the boy with no choice.

Forest hiding in the forest

Roger!!! What on earth is this?!!

His hands quivering slightly, the boy reached down and pulled out one of his most treasured possessions, his spear. Made from the perfect strong tree branch, with a skillfully sharpened stone arrowhead tied to the top, he regarded it with pride. Slowly, the boy lowered his spear so it pointed to the exact direction of the rustling and, with a pounding heart, waited. Meanwhile, the bear, judging again by the sudden increased speed of its footsteps on the leaves, had broken into a charge and now opened its mouth into a terrible, vicious bloodthirsty roar. A roar that shook the canopy and made the boy cringe with fear.

“Roger!!! What on earth is this?!! You’re supposed to be doing your math homework!! Are you hiding in the forest again?!! You had better not be or there will be trouble!!”

*          *          *

The boy quickly turned and dashed away through the undergrowth, clutching his spear in one hand, before disappearing, silent as a shadow, away into the muggy depths of the forest.

Forest Rachael Goddard Rebstein

Rachael Goddard Rebstein, 12
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada

Forest Ben Wisniewski

Ben Wisniewski,13
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania

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