Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chapter Twenty-Four

At first, it wasn’t so bad. He and Junior had kept to the forests throughout the entire mess. There weren’t many of the dead back then, and the corpses that entered the forest were easy to avoid – their stink always gave them away.

The pickings were lush in those days, as well. With the hopeless battles waged throughout the countryside, some people thought the woods, dark and deep, might be a safe haven. They were wrong. Poorly guarded travelers, unused to the mysteries of the forest, made for many an easy meal. But as the seasons changed, the swell of people dried up, shepherded to the safety of Sherwood Forest.

Even the animals were disappearing. Most had fled into the heart of the Great Woods, over the seven jeweled hills, beyond the seven waterfalls, to a place of safety. Though he wanted to follow after them, nastier things than him lurked in the Great Woods - ogres, witches, black magicks. Perhaps it was because of his dark heart that he couldn’t hear the call of Snow White’s resting place, and like all wicked things, he instinctively shunned her hallowed glade.

And still he needed to eat. Moss and lichen, abandoned beehives, even the occasional frog came too few and far between for his and Junior’s appetites.

It happened one night, when he awoke from a particularly delicious dream about a banquet table to realize the dead had finally gotten the drop on them.

In the old days, he would have heard them, would have smelled them, would have snapped out of that delightful dream, but he was so weak and hungry!

Though he could still huff and puff and blow them away, that would leave him breathless for minutes, unable to run or flee. If even one got ahold of him, that would be the end of his tale. So huffing and puffing was not an option, not for a survivor like him.

He tried to wake his son, who only started crying and mewling. Junior refused to uncurl from his ball, too exhausted, too tired to run anymore.

He thought, briefly, about carrying the small cub, but he didn't know how long he might have to run, or how many of the dead would follow, or even where he'd go, and so he decided that Junior was old enough to take care of himself.

And ever since Junior had been taken, he’d traveled alone.

Until now, finally, he’s laid eyes and nose and ears on living, breathing meat.

He creeps along beside the road, under the cover of the trees, skulking through the high-growing grasses. Neither of them have any idea that he is close by, and little wonder – they’re more concerned with the dead. They don’t expect to be hunted by someone who remembers how to hunt.

Finally, when he can hear what they’re talking about, the Big Bad Wolf decides he’s close enough to break from his hiding place and attack.