The Path of Moonlight: 15

I love it when things come together for me. Times like these I feel like I’m a paleontologist digging up a fossil. I’m brushing away the dirt and sand from around the bones, finding the pattern of the skeleton. The more I brush away, the more I can see of the bigger picture.

It doesn’t always happen like this but so far this story seems to want to be discovered. It feels good.

======== The Path of Moonlight ========

“Excuse me?” I said.  I wondered if I was dealing with yet another crazy person and had to remind myself that the man hadn’t been crazy.

“I expected you sooner but no matter,” the old woman said.  I stared at her long enough for her to wave a hand at me and continue in an exasperated tone.  “Well, come in, child, come in.  No doubt you’re tired after what you’ve been through.”

When she disappeared into the cabin I followed, unsure of what I was doing but having nowhere else to go.  She was right – my body was tired from walking and the water hadn’t kept me full for long.  The inside looked as old as the outside and it was almost as dirty.  There were odd knickknacks everywhere along with plants and books and everything to make a place look lived in.  It was made up of one medium-sized room and a loft that covered half the area.  I noticed three doors, one of which was the front door which the old woman was closing.  She gestured to a sagging chair and, as I sat, my stomach twisted and growled.

“You must be hungry, poor thing,” she said with a tsk.  “I was just going to have some lunch.”

“It’s all right,” I said.  “I’m fine.”  I tried to ignore my shabby surroundings and act like I wasn’t ready to eat my own tongue.

“Lies lies lies,” she said, fussing with a pot – was that a cauldron? – hanging over the fire in an old-fashioned stone fireplace.  “Your belly’s louder than a howling baby.”

As if in agreement, my stomach growled again.  Guilt seeped into me for not being able to control my body better.

“I don’t want to be a bother,” I said.

“It’s no bother.  I’ll just add a little more to the pot and we’ll be able to squeeze out enough for two.  It won’t be my best stew, mind you, but it’ll do.”  She busied herself as she spoke, cutting a few vegetables and dumping them into the pot before adding more water and stirring the contents.

“I was just headed into town,” I said with false confidence and knowledge.  “I was going to stop for lunch there.”

The old woman chuckled and cast her a sly look.  “Of course you were,” she said.  “And where is town?”

“Just down the road,” I said.  “Another hour or so.”  The old woman’s gaze was unnerving but I tried to act like I knew where I was and what I was doing.

“It’s fine to admit ignorance, child.  There is only me here and I may be old but I’m not blind.  You are not from here.”

“No, I’m not,” I admitted but continued to avoid the whole truth.  “I’ve been traveling and was told there was a town in this direction.  I misjudged the distance and ran out of supplies.”

“You must have been carrying a scant load to begin with to have nothing but your clothing now,” the old woman said.

“I wasn’t well prepared,” I agreed.  “I’ve never traveled anywhere before so I wasn’t sure what I needed to take.”

“More like you didn’t have the time or the ability to get supplies.  I understand.”

I kept my face polite and tried to ignore the growing wetness in my mouth as the scent of cooking food drifted over to me.

“Is there a town close by?” I asked.

The old woman nodded.  “There is and you were right – it’s about two hours walking distance from here.  But I don’t recommend you go there.”

“Why not?”

“They’re not a welcoming people,” she said.  “They tolerate strangers for the coin they bring but they’re happiest when those people move on.”

“But surely someone needs help,” I said.  I searched my memories for what might be appropriate words.  Hadn’t I learned something in my literature classes that could help me fit in?  “An…inn perhaps?  Or a…tavern?  I could serve food.”

The old woman chuckled again and I wondered if she was laughing at my attempt to fit in or my attempt at insisting I could be accepted in the town.

“You don’t seem like tavern wench quality,” she said.  “But I have little doubt you’d be able to find some kind of work there.  If you’d like to fling your virtue to the winds and abandon yourself, feel free to inquire.”

“Oh.”

My shoulders slumped.  I understood her meaning and she was right; that wasn’t something I wanted to do.  My mind raced as it tried to come up with a solution.  How would I survive if I couldn’t find work?  How was I going to get food and a place to stay?  I hadn’t been thrilled about going to a town called Louse and even less thrilled at the thought of living in it, but it had been my only option before.  What was I going to do now?

======== End of 15th Installment ========

And so the questions continue to emerge. Who is this old woman and how does she know so much? More important for me: how much longer before I know the size of my dinosaur fossil? I have an idea but I’m not sure about it. I’ve never been good at guessing word length.

paleontology

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The Path of Moonlight: 14

As I thought, the number 13 is neither unlucky nor lucky. It’s still one of my favorite numbers. I have a thing for prime numbers for some odd reason. HA! No pun intended. It says something that I started laughing when I realized what I had written. I’m so stupid. And I love every second of it!

You know what’s sad is that it took me every day since my last post (including that day) to get this segment written. I wasn’t feeling it and I wasn’t sure what should happen. I knew something had to happen to move things along. You can’t write about walking 5 leagues. Something has to happen.

And, yes, I originally wrote the distance as 10 leagues. She covered half the first day.

======== The Path of Moonlight ========

When my belly was full of the blessed liquid, I noticed a small cave created by the cluster of large rocks.  It was a shallow cave, large enough to give me shelter and the comfort that goes with it but not much bigger than that.  Perhaps I should have worried about other animals seeing the same thing.  Perhaps I should have wondered why I could see inside it at all, but I was too tired and I was grateful to have any kind of shelter.

The next morning I awoke to bright sunshine and the quiet gurgle of water falling on rocks.  There were no birds chirping, no animals scuffling around; just myself peeking out of the cave and listening to the absence of everything but the water.  It came from higher up in the rocks and gurgled down into a little stream that fed the pond.  I was curious but not curious enough to look for the source before I had drunk another belly-full of water.

When I had appeased my body as much as I could, I looked at the spring coming from higher up the rocks.  Try as I might, I couldn’t detect the source of the water because it disappeared into the rocks where I couldn’t follow.  It didn’t make sense to me but I didn’t waste time caring about it.  Water was water and this water tasted clean and fresh.  I wasn’t going to question it.

It felt wrong to spoil the pond by washing myself in it so I left still dirty.  When I had finished squeezing out from the boulders, I looked around and was confronted with a new problem – which way was I headed?  As it did the day before, everything looked the same but now I had veered off course and couldn’t be sure in which direction the town lay.

I had no choice but to pick a direction and start walking.  My feet and legs hurt and I was hungry but at least I was no longer thirsty for the time and the night’s sleep along with the water had renewed my energy.  My pace was faster than the day before and I hoped to reach some sign of civilization that day.

I did, but it wasn’t a town.  It was a road.  A dirt road barely more than a track.  The grass had thinned so the path was easy to spot when I drew near it.  I had perhaps been walking another hour when I saw the house.  It was more like a glorified cabin stuck in the middle of an empty field.  There was what looked like a garden next to it and a goat roamed free.  As I approached, it didn’t run but lifted its head to gaze disinterestedly at me before going back to its grazing.  The cabin had a thatched roof and the wood was unpainted.  It looked old and worn but sturdy, as if it had survived harsh storms before and would continue to do so long after its inhabitants were gone.

The road continued on past it but I could see that there was a foot-worn path leading to the front door.  A few paces from the road were short stone pillars marking either side of the path.  Perhaps the remains of a front gate.

I stopped, wondering if I should knock on the door or continue onward.  I thought finding work was the best option for me, but I didn’t know how much longer it would take to reach the town or if I’d be able to find anything there.  Or if I was indeed heading in the right direction.  My stomach rumbled and twisted and, as I stood there debating, the door opened with a very ordinary creak and a very ordinary old woman stepped out.

She was beginning to hunch forward from an excess of years, many of them most likely spent bent over projects and chores.  Her greasy, ratted hair was grey but it didn’t appear to be thinning.  The majority of it was tied back but more than a few thick tangles had freed themselves and hung in lank groups around her face and neck.   Her clothes were, like the man’s, different from mine.  She appeared to be wearing an old-fashioned sort of dress.  If it had had color when it was new, it had long since faded and was now nondescript and stained with age.

“Welcome,” the old woman said.  I had expected a voice that came from a face full of wrinkles to be rough like sandpaper or creaky like the woman’s door, but it wasn’t.  It wasn’t the light voice of a young woman, but it was strong and full and deep.  It held power and knowledge.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.

======== End of 14th Installment ========

I’m not altogether happy with what I have for today, but I’ve thought and thought and can’t see a way to get around it. It feels like filler but stuff like this always feels like filler to me. I mean, you can’t just bounce around from action to action without saying how you got there. I can argue with myself till kingdom come so I’ve left it as is.

I’m getting an idea that maybe when I’m done with this, I may go back and do a rewrite. Edit and rewrite then self-publish if it’s good enough and there’s a large enough following of those who would want it.

We’ll see.

imagine

The Path of Moonlight: 13

Oo! One of my favorite numbers. 13. Unlucky in most cultures, I love this number for some reason and have never felt it to be unlucky. Or lucky for that matter. I don’t think any number is lucky or unlucky. It’s just superstition.

Of course, if this number were lucky, a literary agent would read this post and be so interested that they’d read the previous posts for PM. Then they’d send me a message about wanting to read my unpublished manuscript and they’d love it so much that they’d offer to represent it. It would be history from there.

If 13 was a lucky number.

If you’re interested in reading from the start, you can find the first post here: The Path of Moonlight: 1. Enjoy!

======== The Path of Moonlight ========

My progress was slow but it was progress.  One foot in front of the other.  I wasn’t sure how far I had walked but, when the sun began to set and there was still no sign of people, I knew a league did not equal a mile.  One thing I could be thankful for was that the clear sky hadn’t changed so there was little chance of rain during the night.  Of course, how I would sleep without a pillow or blanket or heat I didn’t know.

I curled up against a boulder and ate my dried meat in miserable silence while the sun sank behind the horizon and left me in darkness.  My body was too exhausted to cry.  There wasn’t even a prickle of tears to sting my eyes.  Or perhaps there wasn’t enough water left in my body to make tears.  I had heard of that sort of thing happening, but I didn’t know if my slow trek in moderate temperatures was enough to dehydrate me to that extreme even if I had been walking and running the whole day.

My mouth was parched, my lips beginning to crack, and my stomach rumbled.  With my body screaming from exhaustion, I thought I’d pass out the moment I closed my eyes but I didn’t.  Despite the night being free of noise, my mind refused to fall into oblivion.  Perhaps I should have tried to make a fire before the sun went down?  I didn’t know how though.  There hadn’t been survival classes at my high school.  Even if there had been, there would’ve been no reason to take one.

The man hadn’t mentioned animals outside the forest.  Perhaps there were none, or no dangerous ones anyway.  There had to have been rabbits and the like.  How else would people get food?  How else would he get food?  He hadn’t been carrying many things with him.  How far could he travel before needing to replenish his food and water?  Water.  Where could I find water?

My thoughts were wandering along lines of survival when my mind slipped away.  But it wasn’t a dreamless sleep.

I dreamt of moonlight and a shimmering path that led across the waves of grass to a small pond.  The landscape was dotted with large boulders, but around the pond they were clustered so as to hide the body of water and the spring that fed it.   It gleamed in the soft light of the moon and smelled fresh and cold.  Everything was quiet and peaceful as I knelt to drink.

I woke, the night still thick around me, my senses confused as to where I was.  It wasn’t the dark of the crawl space nor of my bedroom.  The air was too fresh and cool, too open around me.  Memory came back but something nagged at me.  What had woken me and why could I see?  It was faint, but I could see.  I looked up and saw that the moon had risen.  It was full and bright but it didn’t resemble the one I was used to seeing.  The craters were wrong.  Yet another indication that I was a stranger in a strange land.  But instead of this depressing my spirits, the soft light soothed me.  I closed my eyes and rested my head back against the boulder while I soaked in the peace it gave me.

When I opened my eyes, I noticed a silvery path off to my right, shimmering the way it had in my dream.  Had I fallen asleep again?  I blinked a few times and rubbed my eyes but the path was still there.  In my dream a path exactly like this had showed me where to find water.  I knew it was silly to follow it and I knew I must have been delirious from dehydration and exhaustion, but I pushed myself onto my protesting feet and stumbled along after it.

It wasn’t in quite the same direction as I had been traveling (or hoped I had been), but it wasn’t too far off either.  I walked about ten or fifteen minutes before I saw the cluster of boulders from my dream.  With a gasp of disbelief, I hurried forward, nearly falling at times but I reached the boulders.  Moonlight snaked through a small opening that was large enough for me to squeeze through sideways if I ducked down and sucked in my breath.

The pond shown in the moonlight just as it had in my dream.  I cried out in relief and dropped to my knees beside it, scooping up the cold water with my hands and sucking it down.

======== End of 13th Installment ========

And here we’re finally seeing a further connection to the title! Moonlight. What’s Charlotte’s connection with moonlight? Wait and see!

blue-moon-101119-02

The Path of Moonlight: 12

"First Test" by Tamora Pierce - Book 1 of the Protector of the Small Quartet
“First Test” by Tamora Pierce  (currently reading) through Overdrive app

Well this took me long enough. I’d say I was busy being lazy but actually I was reading a lot. Most days I listen to audiobooks while I play games or do something else that requires little brain power. It appeals to my desire to multi-task. So much so, in fact, that I have found it difficult to stop. I had to force myself not to turn the audiobook on this morning and write instead because it’s ridiculous how long I’ve gone without writing.

Luckily I was able to finish today’s installment before I had to leave for errands. Since I was carpooling, I didn’t have a choice as to when I went. It was all good since it forced me to sit and write rather than stare off into space or turn on the audiobook.

Here’s the 12th installment of PM.

======== The Path of Moonlight ========

“You really have lived a sheltered life,” the man said.

I turned to find him staring at me.  I recognized the look on his face.  It was the same one I had when I first began to wonder about his sanity.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“If names were of any concern, I would have asked yours when we first met,” he said then swept his arms wide as if to encompass our surroundings.  “You are free of the forest.  My part here is done, though why I have helped you I still cannot say.  I congratulate you on your escape from your guardians and hope that you have a plan for your future.”  His look as he spoke said he doubted I had thought that far ahead.  “I must leave you now and so farewell.”

“Wait!” I said as he began to walk away.  “You’re just going to leave me here?”

“Yes.”

“But I don’t know where here is.”

“You should have thought about that before you ran away,” he said, not stopping.  I had to run to catch up to him.  His strides had lengthened since leaving the obstacles of the forest and he was at least a head taller than I was.  I wasn’t considered short in comparison to the other girls my age but neither was I tall.  Standing next to this man, however, and having to crane my neck to look up at him made me feel my lack of height.

“Can you at least tell me where I am and point me in the direction of the nearest city?” I asked.

He pointed ahead across the waves of grass and rocks.

“That way about ten leagues.”

“What’s a league?” I asked.  Desperation welled up in me.  If a league was anything like a mile, I was in for the worst day of my life.

“A league is a league,” he said.  Several steps later, he stopped with a disgruntled sigh.  “You have no food, do you.”  It wasn’t a question.  I shook my head.  He handed me some weathered strips of meat from a pouch I hadn’t previously noticed.  “You won’t get far without food.  Do what you want, go where you want, but don’t forget that the closest town is in that direction.”  He pointed ahead of us again.  “Your best chance of getting more food lay there.  The town is called Louse.  It’s not much, but it’s your best chance of finding food and shelter.”

Despite the despair growing in me, I couldn’t help but wonder at the town’s name.  “Louse?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

A smile crept over his face as if he too saw the ridiculousness in wanting to name your town after a bug infestation.  “Like I said, it’s not much but, come the first storm or the first winter, you’ll be glad of a roof over your head no matter what your bedding is like.  And if you’re hard working you’ll be able to get food and drink.  I don’t suggest drinking the water though.  Not unless you want a belly ache.”

A dismayed sickness was growing in my stomach as I watched him get smaller and smaller until he was too far for me to see.  I looked around me, not wondering what I should do or where I should go.  I knew there was only one thing I could do and only one place I could go.  Louse.  Who would name their town louse?  I shuddered and scratched my head, imagining it itching from hundreds of bug nesting in my hair.

When I sat down I was careful to face the right direction.  Each way looked the same, except for where the forest loomed.  Tears stung my eyes.  There was no one around so I let them course down my cheeks.  When my nose started running, I didn’t care that I had to wipe it on my clothes.  By the time I got to Louse, I should be dirty enough to fit right in with the people there.  If the stranger’s attire was anything like the rest of the area, my clothes would stick out but perhaps if I was dirty enough they wouldn’t notice.

The sun had moved a fist’s width across the sky by the time I got over my regret and self-pity.  I had no water, only a bit of what looked like beef jerky, and a long way to go before I reached any kind of civilization.  There was no point in bemoaning my predicament and wondering where I was.  It didn’t matter where I was.  If I wanted any chance at all of survival, I needed to get moving again.

======== End of 12th Installment ========

You may ask, “What the heck kind of town name is Louse?” Well, my answer to that is this question, “What the heck kind of town name is Zzyzx? Or Nowhere for that matter?” zzyzx-road-sign-400x300-25k-megan-edwardsBy the way, Zzyzx is a real place in California in the middle of nowhere. But not the town Nowhere. That’s in Oklahoma.

wink face tongue

The Path of Moonlight: 11

Video games suck out your soul. If you like rpgs or mmorgs etc and you feel the need to play, resist it! They’re horrible. I didn’t want to write the past few days because I all I wanted to do was watch season 2 of Penny Dreadful and play League of Angels. In defense of Penny Dreadful, as soon as I’m done with the season (borrowed it from the library), that’s it. I’m done. So it doesn’t continue to dominate my life. But the game? No, it dominates.

So bad.

======== The Path of Moonlight ========

I stared at the lunatic, my mouth hanging open.  Questions burned to be asked but I didn’t have the voice to ask them.  I must have looked brain dead…or in shock which was probably about the same.  He wiped his blades off on the large leaves of a plant before coming over to me.

“That was a forest born,” he said.  “I’ll not stay here to be picked off while you regain your senses so get up now or stay here by yourself.  I’m sure your death by that creature would not have been a pretty sight.”

He walked off, leaving me in my numbed state.  My survival instincts kicked in as I heard his footsteps head off behind me though and I scrambled to my feet to scurry after him.  I was glad to leave the lifeless creature behind me, but my coherent thought process still refused to function.

I cast frightened glances around me as I walked, stumbling and tripping it seemed over every root and rock.  Gradually my mind came back to me and I questioned what I witnessed, trying to make sense of it.  I had read that Canadian wolves grew to be quite large, but I had never heard of one having a cat’s retractable claws.  As far as I knew, those were restricted to the feline species.  Its fangs were much like that of the Saber-toothed cat but those were extinct and, again, had been a kind of feline.

“They’re real,” I said.  “The forest born.”  The words felt foreign on my tongue; I thought I would choke on them.  It was impossible.  That animal couldn’t have been real.  Had I eaten or breathed in some kind of hallucinogen?  Had there been something in the water when I had washed my face?  Perhaps it had seeped into my pores and I was hallucinating.  But except for being terrified and confused, I didn’t feel any different.

The man nodded.

I stared at him, clinging to disbelief as if it were a life raft.  That creature had torn a ragged hole in my raft.  “That’s impossible.  I’ve never heard of a creature like that.”

“Impossible or not, it’s real,” he said.  “And if you don’t pick up your feet and stop tripping over everything in your path, we’ll still be here when the moon rises.  The forest born are more active at night.”

That threat sliced through my numb thoughts.  I focused on where to put my feet and was soon jogging through the greenery behind him.  He seemed to have forgotten that he wanted me alongside him in order to keep an eye on me.  Either that or my near-death experience at the hands of a forest born had convinced him that I wasn’t a threat.  For another hour or two, we jogged and walked – mostly walking – till the trees thinned and we were free of the forest.

The sun shone down on us from high above and even I could tell that when the sun is at that angle, it must be around noon.  Relief at being away from the trees and the forest born sapped my strength and I fell to my knees.

“We’ll rest here,” the man said.  I was too busy panting for breath and trying not to throw up to pay him much attention.

When my breathing had quieted, he said, “Be glad that you spent your childhood unaware of this wood and what lurks within it.  Ignorance must have been…peaceful.”

I stared at him, not knowing what to say, thinking that my life had been anything but peaceful.  But he had a point.  An underlying calm in me that I hadn’t paid attention to had cracked knowing that there was such a terror in the world.

The world….

As I thought it I looked out away from the trees and saw open land.  Tall, green grass covered the hills.  Grey boulders broke the green waves like a multitude of small islands in the sea.

“Where are we?” I asked.  This was not my city.  My life raft was sinking fast.

======== End of 11th Installment ========

Yep, it’s official. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

On a completely different topic, did you know that many species of fish, such as sardines, can burp? I just found that out today.

goldfish-bubbles-med

The Path of Moonlight: 10

Woo! We’ve reached double digits! Not exactly hard to do considering the short length of each installment. And then the total word count is only 8,043 words. Pretty easy word length. You can see in my word counts on the right side of the blog that I usually start having difficulties around 15 or 20k.

This endeavor has been pretty casual and enjoyable so far. I’m getting a short vibe from it. Novella, perhaps shorter. I’ll have to look into different book lengths to get the correct term for it. I’m guessing it’ll prove to be less than 40k. We’ll see.

You’ll find that, though I sometimes enjoy reading epic-length novels, I don’t write them. Ever. My mind just isn’t convoluted enough for those kind of drawn out story lines. My brain just doesn’t work that way and I’m happy with that because it’s exhausting reading those kinds of books. I love GoT but, man, I’m totally drained before I’ve even finished a book.

Okay! On to the 10th installment of PM!

======== The Path of Moonlight ========

Adrenaline coursed through my system, quieting my complaining legs and giving my body the strength to sprint behind him.  But I wasn’t used to the terrain or the prolonged exercise and I soon lagged behind.  The farther behind I got, the stronger the hold my panic had over me.  It stole my breath so it felt like I was suffocating.  I couldn’t call out to him and I couldn’t keep running.  When I tripped and fell, I gasped out a strangled cry and then lay sprawled in the moss, panting for breath.

I rolled over on my back and stared around me.  Fear was contagious.  Despite common sense telling me that it had probably just been a squirrel or a large bird, maybe a raccoon, I kept expecting to see a dangerous animal ready to pounce on me and tear me to shreds in some starved frenzy.  A mountain lion perhaps?  Or a wolf?  Did they have wolves in cities?   Maybe something had escaped from the zoo.  That was possible, wasn’t it?

As I stared around me, I heard a low growl.  My breath caught in my throat again and I turned my head to look.  I didn’t see anything at first, but two yellow eyes soon stood out amongst the dense foliage of a bush.  I wasn’t sure what it was about them that stood out to me.  They could have been large bugs or some kind of plant color pattern.  But I knew they weren’t.  A head emerged from the bush.

The muzzle was pointed and the long fangs were bared in a snarl.  To my shock it looked like a wolf but not at the same time.  It resembled a wolf but on a larger, more exaggerated scale.  The head was perhaps twice the size of a normal wolf’s and the upper fangs dipped down past its jaw in the semblance of a saber-toothed cat.  Its paws as it stepped out were the size of my hands and the claws were, again, shaped like a cat’s – wickedly sharp and retractable.  As I watched, they grew longer and dug into the log the creature was climbing over.  Its body slunk forward, slow and wary and I saw its dark fur was matted with mud.

Its upper lip curled away from its teeth in a growl.  I felt my eyes widen and my lungs contracted to scream but fear kept my throat closed and silent.  I was going to die in silence.

A large body hurled itself forward, the creature’s attention turning toward it too late.  It snarled and opened its jaws to protect itself but it never had a chance to attack.  Metal flashed as the figure collided with the creature.  The sudden movement freed me from my paralysis.  I pressed into the log behind me, my legs curled against my chest, my hands over my ears as I tried to block out the sounds of the life-and-death struggle.  The creature growled and struggled but the man, I saw now it was the lunatic who had been helping me, had his blades lodged to the hilt in the creature’s body and was holding it close against him in a way that he’d be safe from the muzzle and claws.  As I watched, he pulled out one of the blades and thrust it through the thing’s neck.  A bloody gurgle replaced the snarls and the creature’s body went limp.

From the time I fell till the creature’s death-moan, the whole thing took less than three minutes.

======== End of 10th Installment ========

For those of you wondering if this is going to turn into a horror story, rest assured it’s not. I do love horror and it was tempting to make it horror, but it’s not. It’s fantasy. Not dark fantasy. Just fantasy. How I do know without plotting it out?

belly

The Path of Moonlight: 9

Don’t let the length fool you – most of this is dialogue and short paragraphs so it’s not actually all that long. What do you think? Do you think this guy is crazy and the forest born are in fact just your typical wild animals? I mean, it’s a park, right? There are probably squirrels and raccoon and birds living there.

======== The Path of Moonlight ========

“I’ve never met anyone who carried long knives on their person,” I said.  “I needed help and you’re helping me.  I was trying to be polite.”

He gave me a strange look before starting on again. “You must have had a very sheltered life,” was all he said.

I spoke without thinking as I followed.  “I did.  I never went outside until a few years ago and most nights I spent locked up under the house.”

He shot a look at me that was simultaneously startled and wary.  “Your evil guardians I presume?”

My silence was his answer.  I was surprised and a bit angry with myself for having blurted that out to a stranger.  A stranger who could go to the police.  I didn’t want questions; I just wanted to disappear.

“Why would they lock you away under the house during nightfall?”

I shrugged and tried to act like it was unimportant.  “Because they did.  Why else would I be running away unless they were horrible?”

I noticed then that his hand was resting lightly on one of his weapons.  It appeared casual, as if he merely wanted a place to rest his hand but it made a cautious fear rise up in me.

“Do you change into some nightly creature that they needed to lock away?”

His words were as casual as his posture.  There was even a hint of mirth in them, but I felt a chill of suspicion that he was on the verge of violence once more.

I chose my words with care.  “It wasn’t every night they locked up under the house, sometimes it was a closet or sometimes not at all.  It was never all night either; several hours sufficed for them.  And, no, I don’t change into anything.  I’m just a girl.”

“Glad to hear it, forest girl.  Now keep moving.  I want to be out of these woods by midday.  The less time spent in them, the better for us both.”

“What do these forest born look like?” I asked.

He shrugged and said, “They can look like anything.  Any creature you meet in these woods could possibly be one of them.”

“Then you could be a forest born,” I said.

His nod was solemn.  “I could be.  For all you know, I am.  Does that change your mind about following me?”

“What makes them so scary?” I asked, ignoring the question.  “You said people come here to die by them.  Why do they kill people?”

“Because that’s what they do.  I haven’t stopped to ask them why.  Perhaps they eat those they kill.  The bodies are never found.”  He looked around as we walked, a crease developing between his eyebrows.

“If the bodies are never found, how do you know it’s the forest born who are killing people?  Maybe they just get lost and die of starvation or something.  This place seems big enough for that.”

He stopped and rounded on me.  The seriousness in his face suspended my doubt while he spoke.  “Because there are some who make it out alive and the tales they tell don’t leave much to the imagination.  The forest born are vicious animals that kill those who stumble into their midst.  These woods are their territory and it’d be best if they didn’t find us here.  Unless you’d like to see one and satisfy your curiosity?”

I shook my head and fought the urge to shiver.  He honestly believed what he was saying.  Looking into his face and hearing him speak, I almost began to believe it too.

Without a watch I didn’t know how many minutes or hours had passed but my feet and legs had been hurting for some time.  I was confused how a park could stretch as far as this one seemed to stretch.  At one time I thought he might be leading me in circles, but nothing looked exactly the same though it was all fairly similar.

Finally I ran out of patience.  “Are we at least getting close?  This place is like a national park!”

At that moment he halted and shushed me.  I was grateful for the rest and wanted to sit down but the intent look on his face stopped me.  He was listening.  Out of curiosity, I did too but heard nothing.  Frowning, I opened my mouth to ask what he was doing and that’s when I heard it.

I held my breath and listened.  There was a rustling of leaves but the air was still.  There was no wind, no breeze.  An animal?  It was larger than a bird.  There was some kind of scrabbling noise, as of an animal trying to find purchase along tree bark.

“What is that?” I asked.  It was quiet enough that my whisper was clearly audible.

“It’s the forest born,” he said, his voice as quiet as mine.

I was about to tell him he couldn’t be serious when he grabbed my arm and pulled me forward.

“Run.  Run!”

======== End of 9th Installment ========

Tune in later this week to get your first glimpse of the forest born! What do you think it will look like?

Really, you know they’re running for no reason. It’s actually going to be this little guy running around stuffing his face.

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