They walked in silence, the soft clanging sound of the unicorn’s hooves syncing with the hoarse breathing of his in the cold night. A million thoughts were running through his mind. Are there other animals which can talk like the unicorn? How is it possible for everything to be gigantic in this area and not elsewhere? What further dangers lurk ahead? And most of all, how much further to go before he reached the place where Henry Summers’ radio signal was last received? His watch informed him that he had only 2 hours before dawn broke.
In case you are wondering why he was concerned about reaching the place before sunlight – here it goes. Rumors circulated among the adventure seekers and the bounty hunters about how certain parts of the Furchtloser Wald were sort of camouflaged and invisible in sunlight, and would come into view as darkness approached, as chronicled by an old timer who had claimed to be inside the mysterious place for 2 days and witnessed this phenomenon. Many people laughed off this theory, claiming it was nigh impossible to hide a sheep in broad daylight, let alone an entire patch of land. But there were a few people who felt that it was possible, and he was one of them. If sunlight dawned, he would probably never find his target, and the prospect of this happening caused him to walk faster.
“Tell me, kind one. Is it true that this strange jungle contains some areas which are hidden in the day? “
He stroked its mane, as the unicorn replied Yes, human. They do exist. They are magical places, and my brethren tell me these places came up thousands of years before this forest. In fact, if certain things are to be believed, the story goes that the forest was grown by the inhabitants of these places to conceal them from sight. I don’t know how much substance is there in this, because we know better to stay within our limits in the forest.
“Hmmm… interesting.” He continued to scour about the place, catching sight of other strange species – a disgusting brown giant caterpillar with several rows of teeth in its round mouth finishing off a hole filled pinkish leaf; a weird rodent with red circles round angled eyes and a short torso with a long red tail nearly 4 times the entire length of its head and body darting a few metres across them; and many other species which he didn’t bother to look at, fearing his brain would be stupefied by the wealth of new fauna in the jungle.
They walked for a few more miles, before the sound of running water reached his ears. They waded through a clump of bushes, and he found himself in a small clearing on the shore of a rather wide river drifting downstream. The water was crimson in color, as though it had been mixed with blood; the moonlight’s reflection caused it to sparkle an eerie red color, and he observed fish swimming about in it. A few of them jumped above the surface of the river, giving him a clear look – they looked like harmless goldfishes, albeit slightly bigger than the ones you would keep in a fish bowl.
He heard the unicorn snort softly through its nostrils, and touched its snout again.
This is where we part ways, human. The river shall take you to the place you seek; these trees here have hollow branches and make for good flotation. I have seen the man who came here before you built something with these branches to carry him across the water. Farewell to thee, and thanks again for saving my life.
“Thanks, o kind unicorn, for saving my life and guiding me across the right path. I will now take leave of you; hope to find you again when I return after having got what I came for.” He saluted to the creature with a big smile, and his sharp eyes did not fail to detect the hint of sadness in its big black eyes, as it withdrew backwards into the comforting darkness of the forest.
He shrugged, placed his backpack on the ground, and went about looking for wood good enough to make a raft. He collected a handful of green colored sturdy tree branches, which were hollow as the unicorn had said. Fishing out a length of kernmantle rope, the kind used for climbing, he set about assembling the raft, using the rope to bind together the logs of branches. In twenty minutes, he had made a strong and sturdy raft, good enough to carry him down the entire length of the river.
He pushed the raft onto the river, and climbed atop it. Using a long wooden stick as an oar, he steered the raft carefully towards the middle of the huge river, and stayed on course from there, stirring with a little more urgency. The fishes he had seen earlier swam lazily around the raft, but he paid no heed to them, his eyes looking for something distinctive- a kind of marker which would lead him to the place of fearlessness. There was no sign of it, and after nearly 40 minutes of rowing continuously, his arms were beginning to feel heavy, and he felt some numbness creeping over his tired body.
Soon, he felt fatigue crawling all over his mind. He stopped rowing for a while, and allowed the motion of the river to carry the boat along. Mustering his last reserves of energy, he directed his brain to keep him awake; to do this, he began looking at the foliage that lined up on either side of the river. He noticed the absence of gigantic plants and trees as the raft travelled further – was he going deeper into the forest or away from it? Confused, he continued to look ahead, and spotted a line of trees, the silhouette of their branches reaching out above the surface of the river visible in the dim glow of the moon.
The raft came closer to these branches, and he thought he saw one of the branches move ; his eyes were semi closed, and he felt he was seeing things again. He rubbed his eyes vigorously with the palm of his hands, and blinked them to clear his vision.
Holy crap! The branch was moving, and it was headed straight for him! A second later, he realized it wasn’t a branch but a huge snake, evident from its wide open mouth, revealing its pink interior, waiting to swallow its meal.
He fell back, ducking out of the reptile’s grasp, and scrambled for the backpack, the machete strung to its side. His hand pulled out the machete from its place, and at the same time, the raft rocked wildly, nearly tipping to one side, the other side rising up from the water. The snake had come to give him company on the raft.
He spun around, and brought the machete down hard on the snake, as it slithered with lightning speed across the raft towards him. The weapon made a tiny cut in the tough hide, and the snake wavered from its original course; however, its powerful tail whiplashed across his calves, the unexpected impact swept him off his feet, and he fell on his back into the water with a loud splash. The water was freezing and the chillness stung his skin; he gasped in shock, struggling to hold his breath. Miraculously, he had managed to keep hold of the machete, and brandished it in front of him, looking about wildly for the snake. He espied the huge reptile coasting towards him with alarming alacrity, the red blood trailing from its skin making the red water redder. Finding no quick escape route, he hunched himself in preparation for the inevitable, goose bumps forming on the nape of his neck.
It all happened in a blur; he couldn’t register immediately what had happened, as the mammoth reptile was suddenly attacked by something else in the water. It took him a few minutes to register the fact that the new found adversary was actually a massive horde of the goldfishes, which had launched itself into the snake, probably attracted to the blood seeping out from the cut he had inflicted on it. The scene in front of him was bizarre, as he watched the snake swivel and turn frantically, trying to escape from the razor sharp teeth that these fishes possessed. Who would have known that these goldfishes were actually piranhas in goldfish guise?! The water in front of him turned a darker shade of rest, and he realized that the snake was losing the battle to these fishes. He thanked his stars for the timely intervention, and with sheer willpower forced his limbs to take him up to the water, where the raft lay afloat.
His head broke through the surface, and he gasped in relief, taking in the oxygen from the air. He spotted the raft to his left, and swam slowly to it; after a tiring lap, he hoisted himself onto the wooden floatation, dripping wet from head to toe. His teeth chattered from the adrenaline rush and the coldness of the water, and he clenched his palms to stifle the shivering sensation which had coursed through his body. He slunk out of his soaked shirt, and dumped it on the floor of the raft. The arrival of the unwelcome visitor on his raft had caused the backpack to be dumped into the water, and he had nothing except the machete in his hand. With the piranha goldfishes lurking in the waters, going after the backpack would be an exercise in futility. As if to reinforce this conclusion, the bubbles in the water vanished slowly, and a minute later, whatever was left of the snake came up to the surface, a tattered black snakeskin with large red blots on it.