Rasmus treaded lightly, tart outstretched before him. As he ambled through the thicket, tripping and dancing to balance the pie on one palm, his face went hot. Guilt morphed to rage and his legs turned stiff jolting him forward.
He stopped himself mid-fly, a gasp and a groan sending him into a whirl, looking about the treetops for the creature who said he would come to receive his reward.
Limited time pinched at Rasmus’s chest, impatience riling his anger. Several times he fantasized about tossing the thing to the ground just to see the way it splattered.
Raising a foot over a branch, he slowly planted it on the other side. He uncomfortably straddled it when he gazed over his shoulder at the distance he’d made. The light trickled down in front of the trees lining the edge of the wood. Rasmus stopped hard, his mouth tight and disgusted. He thought, eyes flicking from one corner to the other before finally he glanced up and said, “Hello?”
“You got the merchandise?”
Rasmus jumped. His balance thrown, stride long, branch threatening, he flailed. His hand went up, and so did the pie. But as the tart went skyward, it kept going whereas he went right down.
Landing flat on his back, his skin ripped. He cracked down into the plant, a thousand little needles sliding through his flesh.
Like a flash, a tiny creature, a tan naked thing, smudged through his vision before it popped back up into the trees.
Rasmus moaned a bit, more out of irritation than pain, rolling to his feet. Gripping his head, he scowled up at the treetops and searched in a disgruntled manner.
The leaves rustled through the silence while he surveyed the shadows. There was the sound of munching.
The man frowned. “So, you’re welcome, I guess.”
He paused. The thing continued eating. Rasmus didn’t gaped up like a lost child.
“I gave you your answers,” it said finally.
He still didn’t budge.
“What do you mean, ‘thing’?”
“You’re quiet for a man who wants to talk.”
He stared evenly at the empty trees with nothing more than a pleasant smile.
“You didn’t just come here for this, I imagine,” said the voice. “Don’t leave before you asked me what you wanted.”
“I’m just tying up loose ends,” he said. “How did you know I was here?”
“The trees told me of your coming,” the voice said, a smirk tainting it. “And good for you. I never imagined a man of your stature would stoop to being my tart bringer.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve always had bad posture.”
“Why the long face?” said the voice, bouncing through the darkness, alighting himself somewhere above the man’s head.
Rasmus lost his smile. He turned back towards the thick of the woods.
“I’m sorry, but I’m in a rush,” he said.
“Where are you going? I can’t imagine you have anything important to do, not about the girl anyway.”
The skin on the back of Rasmus’s neck tightened. Heat rushed up to the hinge of his jaw.
“She’s long gone. Dead by now. I’m leaving. I have to go find my sister.”
“Wrong again, my little friend.”
Rasmus ignored him, continuing to stomp through the grass and crush the brush.
The voice continued to bounce overhead, following him through the tree lines.
“Don’t you want to know why?” it said.
Rasmus finally stopped.
“Why you’re wrong?” the voice continued. “Why you are so very, very wrong?”
“We’ve had sightings.”
He paused. “Sightings of what?”
“Of your victim.”
Now the chill went to his back. “The victim? The little girl?”
“I got word. She’s in the woods! Do you want to see?”
He grasped for understanding but seized it quickly. “Yes!”
The voice was bounding away before he could even think.
“Well, then, follow me! But you’ll have to be quick.”
Rasmus started to run before his instincts could tell him otherwise. He ignored the threat of bait, or the time-old moral of never following a fae into a dark wood. Many people got lost in the way that Rasmus chanced now, but with the sight of sudden hope and the ego of his age, he doubted that anything could happen to him now.
Rasmus felt his lungs about to burst. He kept moving, envisioning himself as incapable of pain. Though his legs began to cramp, it was nothing worse than the dry freezing that gripped his throat as he attempted to heave in a breath.
He thought about the danger in what he was doing. Relief from hope was dampened by his doubts. He tried to think of nothing but continuing. He stumbled over branches and roots, keeping on his feet with a magical speed. The voice above kept calling to him.
“She appeared just recently. I really didn’t know anything about it before. I would have told if I had. To be fair, I never thought you would be able to find her anyway. I barely even made a point to listen. So when the birds and the mushrooms started talking about the young human lost in the forest, I almost didn’t notice.”
Rasmus swallowed, trying to keep his breaths short.
“And then I didn’t know what to do. I was not going to leave the trees. That always ends badly. And then I remembered that you had made me a promise. Of course, I hadn’t thought that you’d ever fulfill your end of the bargain. No one ever does. Especially not humans. So then I thought, that jerk! Why should he get anything? And then I waited for you to come.”
The stamina finally had it. Rasmus slowed a bit and then finally just stopped. Doubled over, he held onto his knees and chased his breath. The little creature remained silent, but he could sense him leering from above.
“Man is odd,” the thing said finally.
Rubbing his eyes, Rasmus stood up, leaning back and sucking in air.
“I always forget how much you depend on consumption. For me it’s mere fun! Energy is a strange thing, is it not?”
The man started to walk again, this time slowly. “Are you sure this is the girl that I’m looking for?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Where did she come from?”
“I haven’t been told. She just appeared.”
“Could she have been from any other town?”
“What is a town?”
Rasmus continued, grabbing his side around the cramp. He took a few more breaths and then said, “Just keep going. I’ll follow.”
“That’s very obnoxious that you won’t just answer me. Keep up.”
In the darkness from the top foliage, the thing remained invisible. Rasmus watched several boughs bounced by themselves. Leaves exploded off like confetti. The man chased after them.
The deeper he went, the heavier gravity dug at him. His stomach dropped and twisted. He felt sick. He ignored it.
“You wouldn’t be… by any chance… leading me into a trap?” he asked.
A branch bowed down, but never bounced up; the creature had stopped moving.
“I’m not a meat eater,” it replied. It paused. “I’m also not really sure where I am.”
Rasmus halted, straightening. “Are you kidding me?”
“Well… No. Maybe not.”
And then he bounced off.
Rasmus swallowed a deep breath and bolted after.
Through the trees and over the bush, leaping over the roots, smacking his face on the hanging branches without intention or care, he chased after the bouncing blob of dark. With pain and impediments, he hardly could keep up with the shadowy figure, barely able to even keep an eye on him.
And then, something peculiar happened. With all the mixtures of the thousand sorts of emotions that had plopped into the pit, it swirled together and turned to an irrational form of conscience. Reassurance relieved him, and he found himself washed away in almost religious faith.
Then the creature stopped.
“Alright. Now, I’m certain I’m lost.”
Rasmus skid to a stop. He doubled over. There was a moment in which he almost allowed himself to roll over head first and just plop onto the ground with a liberating thud. But he didn’t.
He glared up at the darkness, his brown eyes showing faintly under the spray of blonde hair. “What?”
“I imagine there must be a reason. I mean, there isn’t a year that goes by in which every human interloping keeps me awake at night. I can’t help it. I try to ignore them, but, still, just the knowledge, the sense of them trampling everything in their path…”
Rasmus put his hands on his face.
“And it’s not usually in the droves they came with yesterday. Anyone would be kept awake by the destruction of those thousand blowhards, but even when it’s just the usual three, there I am, listening to the trees complain about their inconsiderateness.”
A knot tightening in his throat, Rasmus looked over his shoulder, back to where he thought the beginning was.
If he had been correct, it definitely was not there anymore.
“But… you know, come to think of it, I always suppose that one little body is always prone to disappearing in these parts.”
Rasmus stopped, eyeing the dark from his profile. The thing was egging him on.
you talking about?” he said obediently.
“I know something you don’t know,” he sang.
“Clearly. What is it?”
“I didn’t tell you at once, so why would I sing at twice?”
Out of habit, Rasmus gripped at his dagger, squeezing out his frustration on the hard metal.
“Do you know where this girl is or not?” he demanded.
“No. As I told, I’ve never seen a little girl before.”
The man’s knuckles turned white.
“But?” he spat, knowing the game.
“But I’ve heard them many times before.”
His grip loosened. He paused. “What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” the voice said. “But you might want to consider following the lichen.”
Eyes on the wobbling branch, the Rasmus slowly turned into a broken run.
He frowned at a tree in front of him, then at a tree behind him, before finally staring at the ground.
The plants had gotten greener. The shadows smothered the light better. The man stared at the bramble before him, slightly amused. Tightly woven and sporting the worst kind of thorns, long and black behind the glow of the leaves.
A bluish gleam illuminated his face, turning his pale skin to a corpse’s tint. He tried to walk one way, and then another, changing the angle to see if he had missed something. Rocks surrounding him, trees entwined together with thousands of little needles sticking out in fierce areas.
“What is this?”
The voice was silent. Or just gone.
The unearthly glow and complete domination of itself with a thick, impenetrable weave read supernatural all over. Tenderly reaching out, he half-heartedly tugged on a vine. It shriveled up on his touch, hissing. It spat at him.
He took out his knife. He had a second thought. After a moment, he nudged it forward and poked.
Branches whipped out. Grappling brown hands enveloped the blade into itself. They would have gotten his hand too if he hadn’t jerked back allowing the thing to be swallowed.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Hey! Give it back!”
He growled in frustration before turning back to the branches above and demanding, “What now? What is this?”
“I believe it is a bush,” the voice said.
“Well, what should I do with it?”
“That thing? Nothing. You’re not going to be able to get through it, if that’s what you mean.”
Rasmus whirled on where the voice was coming from. “Why did you lead me here then?”
“There is a child in those bushes.”
Face white, he stared at the plants, watching as they seemed to slither like serpents. They could either be of a trick of a light or the power of the hateful branches.
“How do you know?” he asked. “I thought you saw nothing outside of your tree.”
“I’ve been asking for you. They say she is here.”
“How do I get to her? Is she living?”
“She is healthy and well. If you wait, she will come to you.”
He did. Then he thought. “What do you mean?”
The ground started shaking. He ducked, alarmed. His legs buckled and pulled wide. He balanced and braced, grabbing at the empty sheath where dagger used to be. Rumbling rocks tremored. He faced the bush. He prepared to jump.
The plant burst open. Tusks ripped through them. Rasmus froze.
The beast burrowed right through him; his stomach shoved up into his lung. Hot air rushed right out. Ricocheting on the rocks, bouncing to the side as the beast shucked him away. The ground smacked him. With each slam, a branch in the shoulder, a rock gashing on the face, blood gushed. He stopped on his face. Hands out, he shoved himself up. He whirled. The boar crashed through the trees at top speed.
Rasmus immediately started to follow.
Suddenly the voice stopped him. “I don’t think that’s what you have to worry about.”
He slowed and turned to look back where it came from.
The club clocked him right in the jaw.
His face gushed with blood. Rasmus stumbled back, shocked. The ogre smiled.
Towering seven feet tall, leering down from a great belly and a terrible, crooked grin, the beast allowed him a moment to breathe. Then it swung again.
This time Rasmus was prepared. He leapt backwards from the barreling club. A whoosh of air sprayed his face. He landed in a bush. His ankle twisted, but he still managed to keep on his feet.
Out of habit he reached for his dagger before grasping air where it was supposed to be. The beast lumbered towards him.
He jumped again, wishing he had brought his sword, diving to the ground as the monster threw a punch.
The man rolled to his feet, his eyes on his target. He jerked as it threatened to clip his face, the club swinging with two arms of force beside it, the clumsy nature of the creature’s step making crude patterns and even more dangerous swings.
“Oh, help us! Help us!” cried the voice from above.
Rasmus tried something desperate. The ogre raised his blunt weapon high above his head. The man attempted to tackle him.
Running headfirst, he leaped right into the center of the creature’s stomach. He stopped immediately, the attempt to butt the ogre over landed him right in its arms without even winding him. The club did fly off into the bushes.
The man suddenly found himself being squeezed. Air, organs, blood, and bone tried to flee from the crushing. He felt his insides move. He gasped for air. He took to biting.
At the clawing, scratching, gnawing, the beast kicked off the panicked human. Once free, Rasmus spit, getting the taste out of his mouth. He then prepared himself.
Skin still bleeding, face still stinging, the air felt cool as each punch missed. Rasmus dodged easily, watching the hands foreshadow their own actions, trying to understand the perfect time to strike.
He rolled under a longer punch, a hit that would have gone right through his skull and out the other side. Rasmus ran to the trunk of a tree behind him. One foot landed on a taller rock and he jumped. The branch hanging down did not break as planned, even as all his weight struck.
The ogre whirled.
A fist landed in the tree. Rasmus knocked the wrist aside with a stomp, and the ogre flared back to punch again. The man caught a branch as he jumped. He clambered up as the ogre leapt.
Rasmus threw himself from the tree.
Foot right in the jaw, he kicked the creature as he plummeted, sending a crack to the knee and the creature to the ground.
The fall lasted longer than predicted. His heart stayed in its spot as he kept going. They both landed with the worst thud.
Blood squirted from the beast’s mouth, and it cried out. Grabbing at him, it reached, claws digging right through his skin. Ten thick needles split him. With the banging leg, he slammed a boot into the thing’s jaw. It clenched tighter. He kept kicking.
Each bash to the teeth added rage. The ogre choked Rasmus’s waist, squeezing until something cracked. Rasmus kicked like a cat on his back, flailing at the monster’s face.
He was thrown.
Flying through the air, fear of landing paralyzed his stomach. He crashed. A thousand little spines splintered across his face. He tore through the bush, scratches slicing into his cheeks. Before he could stop, he was grabbed.
He’d flown right into the man-eating bush. Branches lashed his arms, they gripped his legs. Thorns and splinters sliced right through his pants. He was caught. Rasmus leapt up; the vines attempted to grab. He slipped through before they could securely take hold. His coat ripped. He turned to see the plantlife swallow up his pocket.
A roar came from behind him. The ogre charged.
Rasmus threw himself to the side, rolling right up to his feet. An agile turn and the monster followed, attempting to swing in his direction. The man dodged, getting dizzy as he went. The wet on his skin washed cold air into his senses. It was all he could do was stay on his feet.
“Here!” the voice squeaked.
Out from the bushes the club rolled. It stopped in the grass right behind the ogre. The beast hesitated, glancing up to the trees.
Rasmus head butted him.
Charging with full speed, he slammed his skull into the gut of the ogre. This time it did move it. Only a step, but a step backwards. The monster tripped onto the rolling club. He flailed. He fell.
The ogre landed right on the bush. The human wasted no time to see if it would eat him too. Swooping up the club, Rasmus turned to the monster and began to bash.
Little vines climbed over the belly. Skin crawled with leaves. The branches began to eat it. Rasmus stopped it from standing, bashing with the club as hard as he could until it was immersed in the bramble.
Thrown backwards, Rasmus watched the devouring. The ogre threw himself about, roaring and wailing, the brown working fast. It screamed. It grunted. It roared. It tore up out the branches. It threw up his hands. They gripped and grabbed until the hole where the beast had fallen completely disappeared, the club with it.
Rasmus watched, sick, blood trickling down his face.
He turned, looking into the brightly lit opening of where the boar had stampeded through.
A little girl stood there, tears in her eyes. The sunlight trickled down into the forest, giving her an aura of gold along her blonde hair. She shook in her white dress, staring at him with large eyes.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Are you from the village?”
“I’ve come to take you home.”
He reached out a cut up hand.
She tiptoed forward. By the grace and the paleness of her face, he was afraid for a moment she was only an illusion, or bait luring in the helpful wanderer. But when her chubby little hand took his, the salt from her sweat biting right into his open wounds, he was only reminded of his sister.
He limped back towards home, leading the girl slowly.
All rights reserved. ©2017 Charley Daveler.