The forest was ideal today. Jilly wandered the tracks that snaked through the swathe of greenery before her, it was a path of order that cut through nature’s pristine chaos. She hopped from each tree root and swung from each branch with the finesse of an athlete. The girl followed the track for quite a while, listening to the calm quiet of birdsong as she passed under the canopy above. A cold chill would run through her as the wind brushed past; rustling the leaves and bushes caught in its wake. As Jilly was strolling through a bed of tall grass besides the track, a groaning noise echoed through the bush ahead.
“What on earth-”
The track further ahead began to arch left towards a steep decline; which she knew led to the streams that flowed throughout the great forest.
It came again. This time it had come from the dark recesses of the trees which turned off the track and deeper into the bush. The young girl looked cautiously into the darkness of the undergrowth, the noise frightened her, what is it? The sun was beginning to set, rays of light which shone through the canopy betrayed signs of dusk. I shouldn’t be doing this, she stalked off the track and edged closer to the dark clearing where the strange noise had come from.
As Jilly edged closer and closer into the darkness, she noticed a large hulking shadow waiting in the small clearing; the darkness hid the features of the shape and Jilly could hear the beast’s heavy breathing as she crept closer while keeping as quiet as she could, is it hurt? Or is it just waiting for me to fall into its trap? Just as she reached to touch the shape a hand suddenly grabbed her arm, “no! Get your hands off Buttercup!” Jilly screamed in shock, sending the hulking shape into a panic as it turned around and loped off out of the clearing. The hand that had grabbed her let go and Jilly noticed a small shadow stumbling out of the clearing after the beast, and out of a bizarre curiosity the girl followed after them back into the light.
When Jilly burst out of the thicket she was back onto the track she had travelled on beforehand, except this time she saw the mysterious beast in the full light; grazing over the tufts of grass at the side of the track, the small figure was there as well, stroking its head.
“It’s a cow,” she said, dumbfounded.
The boy looked at her cautiously, his pudgy face was covered in beads of sweat from exertion, he was a thickly built little fellow; his chunky frame and rapid panting betrayed signs of a lad who hadn’t spent too much time away from home. Or the pantry.
“Who are you?” Asked the boy as he made his way towards a comfortable looking boulder, Jilly spied another nearby and took a seat.
“Jilly, and who are you?” The boy glanced at the cow - still happily munching on the grass - before he grabbed a nearby stick and began poking the dirt.
“Rolo,” he muttered. She looked at the boy playing with the stick for a while.
“You frightened me back there Rolo,” the lad looked up and frowned; but then his features softened.
“Sorry, I thought you were trying to hurt Buttercup,” he said. Jilly glanced over at the bovine, “you named your cow Buttercup?” She asked smirking.
“Yes, but she isn’t my cow,” Rolo looked away from her as he said that; as if hiding something. Then turned to her again, “look, I just want to get out of this forest, can you help me?” Jilly could see the plea in his eyes as he asked her, she sighed.
“Fine, I don’t really know why you stole this thing and I don’t really care. Just get Buttercup and follow me.” The boy’s face lit up with a smile and he sprung to his feet; practically beaming as he went to fetch Buttercup.
They walked for what seemed ages along the winding tracks, Buttercup surprisingly kept up pace; plodding along without complaint. Jilly made sure the two were keeping up as she wanted to have them close and under control. The forest was endless and all it would take was a moment's hesitation before someone became lost in the great shrouded abyss of bark, vines and leaves. It certainly felt endless as well, Jilly’s feet ached and her clothes felt clammy even though she didn’t complain, unlike Rolo who had not stopped whining since they set off.
The fading light was starting to affect her sight within the forest, but it wasn’t enough to miss the sight of another shadowy figure stalking them through the trees. The shape was hard to focus on; it hid every time she glanced towards it, but when she tried to dismiss the presumed trick it always reappeared at the edge of her vision. Although not directly, she could make out the mirage of a man cloaked in the darkness around him.
“We’re being followed,” she said faintly to Rolo in hopes the figure did not hear them. Rolo suddenly glanced around, his face quivering in fear.
“It’s him, the man I saved Buttercup from, he’s come to take her back.”
They walked faster, but not enough to alert the figure which lingered at the edge of her sights, Rolo tugged the stubborn beast onwards as they sought a way out of the forest.
The light was fading even more now, the forest was so dim it was hard for Jilly to keep an eye on their stalker, the bird’s singing had stopped and only the rustling of the leaves and the chirping of insects filled the eerie silence. Faster and faster they walked; her fears of the figure made her panic as she fought to stop herself from bolting and leaving Rolo with the cow behind her.
“Slow down Jilly, I’m out of breath,” Rolo was falling behind as they came close to the end of the track. Beyond the track the treeline began to end as the remaining light of dusk poured through the ever growing spaces at the end of the forest.
“Come on Rolo!” She snatched Buttercup’s leash and pulled hard as they pounded through the dirt towards the light, inching closer and closer as they ran. Jilly’s lungs were burning for air as the thicket came towards her, Rolo and Buttercup were practically dragged along as they all made their desperate escape out of the dark cover of the forest and away from the sinister stranger; who had vanished from Jilly’s vision.
As the border of the forest came up she pressed harder than ever; steaming towards the end of the brush as the light began to brighten up again. They burst out of the thicket line and tumbled to the sandy ground below them, the heavy fall winded Jilly causing the leash to slip out of her grip as the air slipped from her lungs. The cow plodded off towards the soft sound of the tides a few paces from where Rolo and Jilly lay groaning on the sand. The girl struggled to her feet to take a breath, then looked up; observing the surrounding environment.
“It’s a beach, I never knew the forest ended on a beach,” she mumbled, Rolo grunted as he struggled to own feet and ran over to Buttercup shouting at her to stop drinking seawater. Jilly was about to check the thicket line for the stranger before spying a large wooden boat moored up on the shingle, which Rolo and Buttercup were keenly inspecting. Jilly started after them before spotting a figure moving out from the trees, it was heading towards her. But so was Rolo and the cow.
“Evenin’,” said the stranger with a voice gruff enough to match the shingle they stood on. He strolled through the sand; stopping next to Rolo who looked up at the stranger with a smile. Jilly looked at Rolo and saw his guilty expression when he looked back, her confusion must have been evident too when the stranger turned to Rolo and then back to her. He was a tall man; with a sombre looking face that made him look as if he spent much time alone, as if he wanted to be closed to the world, his dark long trench coat and thick leather pants looked odd as well, but what was strangest was how he wore no shoes, and that his sombre face bore a black eye patch.
“I see yer’ not quite sure what’s going on eh’ lass?” The stranger took the leash out of Rolo’s hand and put an arm around him.
“Sorry Jilly, I never meant to trick you,” said the chubby boy. Jilly stared at them both in disbelief.
“What do... What’s going on?” She gasped, the stranger looked at Buttercup and began patting the dozy beast on the head.
“Me an’ my son are out gatherin’ provisions for our Captain’s ship. He sent us two inland to get some food an’ meet on this beach, where he ‘ad a boat waitin’ for us. Only trouble was, I ‘ad no bloody clue where it was.” His chuckle sounded queer with the gruff voice he had. Jilly glanced at the boat behind them, then back at Rolo’s striped shirt and his father’s eye patch.
“You’re pirates. You stole Buttercup and used me to help find a boat to escape in,” she blustered; still shocked at the sudden truth. Rolo’s father looked at his son and shook his head in pity.
“Now Rolo, you know we’re not supposed to name the animals we find,” the pirate sighed and ruffled Rolo’s hair then turned to Jilly and smiled sadly.
“Thank you for the help Jilly, we won’t forget it,” he turned around and led his son and their prize off towards the moored boat, leaving Jilly standing on the beach as the light of dusk finally began to fade into the dark of night. The soft flow of the tides and the whispering of the wind were the only sounds the young girl heard as she watched the pirates clamber into the boat, lowering a plank for Buttercup to plod up to the deck; without a care for where it may take her. As the tide slowly crept in embracing the boat’s hull with a wash of foam; Jilly turned around and began to make her way towards the thicket line and back home, leaving the strange experience to linger forever on the shore.