As he went deeper into the forest, he noticed a lot of strange things around – plants with giant leaves, bigger than plantain leaves; trees with smooth maroon barks, with white liquid oozing out of them in some places; huge spiders of an arm’s length and of varying shades of red and black; a weird species of monkeys with almost no fur and very short tails, but were as nimble as their ordinary cousins; and a plethora of hitherto unseen fauna, concealed in Mother Nature’s own private paradise. They caused him no trouble, but he was careful not to get any closer to them. He came across a huge sturdy tree, and climbed up to the second branch, intent on saving his energy and scouting for anything interesting in the vicinity.
He could see nothing amiss. The moon glistened with a tinge of yellow, as purple clouds coasted in front of it. He felt dryness in his throat, and the urge to take a swig from the cognac flask in his backpack was too strong to resist. He fished it out from the bag, and turned the lid open. The lid, however, was slightly dented from the impact of his encounter with the beast, and refused to budge despite his best efforts. He swore softly to himself; the thirst was now stinging him, and this darned thing only added fuel to his restless mind. He gritted his teeth as he wrapped the front of his shirt around the lid, and turned it with maximum effort. The lid came off finally, but not before it made a loud ‘pop’ sound, which in the silent night reverberated like a mini-explosion. He was startled by the noise for an instant, but the next moment he forgot about it, greedily taking some sips of the alcohol.
Suddenly, the branch under him shook, and sticks and leaves began to fall on him. He nearly fell off his perch, but managed to wrap his hands and legs around the branch in time. He realized that the entire tree was shaking; he sat up and threw a glance up the tree. His eyes widened in surprise and shock as he saw a huge nest atop the highest branch on the tree, which was about as big as the bedroom in his mansion; and now one of its inhabitants was flying out of it, looking for the intruder on its tree!
He hurriedly grabbed his backpack and slung it over his shoulders, placing the machete on his right side and the SIG Sauer straddled to his belt, and gingerly walked across the branch towards the bark, his eyes still fixed on the huge flying thing bound for him. As the thing drew closer to his branch, and he was still a few feet away from the tree’s body, he identified it as a sparrow. But it wasn’t the small cute bird you would find in your garden; rather, it was bigger than him, and the big beads on its heads were fixed on him.
The sparrow is docile by nature, like most birds. But a mother sparrow, like every mother on Earth, will defend its own children at all costs, even death.He understood that the sparrow was going to kill him because it considered him a threat to its fledglings safely ensconced in its nest. The bird opened up its beak, and nearly took off his hand as he leapt in time onto the tree’s body and slid down it, not caring about the cuts and scratches from the impact of moving down on the tree’s rough exterior. He reached the ground, and espied the sparrow making a turn for him again; spotting a clump of trees with narrow spaces between them, he made a dash for them, not looking back to see if the sparrow was gaining on him. As he ran, he failed to notice a rock, hidden in the darkness, and tripped over it. He braced himself for the collision, placing his hands ahead of his head, so that he fell on his palms and elbows with maximum impact. He turned around in alarm as he saw the huge bird closing in on him, and knew it was over; his eyes shone with the realization of imminent death.
A white blur appeared in front of him, and the apparition uttered a loud neigh, causing the sparrow to steer clear of it. It uttered a loud squawk and flew back to its abode. He blinked at the thing which had just saved his life, and he saw a very beautiful horse looking at him with benevolence, its tail swishing from side to side. The horn between his eyes informed him that he was actually looking at an unicorn; he was at a loss for words, and blinked his eyes again to convince himself that the creature of kids’ fantasies was actually in flesh and blood. He stood up from his place, and dusted off the dirt from his shirts and khaki pants. Gently, he walked towards the unicorn and placed a hand on its snout; the softness of its skin sent a shiver of pleasure down him.
He was unsure if the unicorn would understand him, but he spoke to it “Thanks for saving my life. But why did you do it?”
The unicorn nodded its head in unison, possibly to convey to him that it understood his words. It edged closer to him, beckoning to him to touch its snout again, which he did without hesitation. Instantly he felt another voice in his head.
Yes. I understood your words, kind human. It was I who was running away from that predator which you just killed. Because of me, you almost lost your life; I followed you to make sure you were safe, and when that bird came for you for no fault of yours, I intervened and conveyed to it that you meant no harm. You are safe as long as you are with me, human.
He was astonished to hear, or rather think, the animal speak. What more mysteries does this forest hold??he wondered.
The unicorn appeared to read his mind as well. The forest hides many things you are not aware of, human. But what brings you here to this place?? Many men before you have come here, and I have not seen them return. Are you going the same path these men have travelled?
“Yes, o magnificent one. I seek the place where we don’t feel fear anymore after going there. Do you know of it?”
The unicorn lowered its eyelids, as it gazed intently at him. Some areas in the forest are forbidden to its inhabitants, and this place is one of these. I can see you are a man of a good heart, and I would advise you not to go there, and return to where you came from. Because once you go there, there’s no going back at all.
“So that means you know where it is?” he said excitedly. “I have travelled to strange places far and wide and have seen things. But I really feel I have accomplished what I want, only if I see this very place. I thank you for your concern, but I have only one road to travel, and that is this way.” He pointed towards the middle of the forest.
You have made your choice, human. I will guide you towards the place, but till the lake only. After that, you are on your own. Come, let us go.
The odd pair disappeared into the thickets; two seconds later, their shadows, cast by the brilliant moonlight, followed them into the depths of the forest.