Chapter 4: Seriously, a Tree?
Written by: Whitney Emeigh
“Did you hear that?” Adette panted and pressed her hands to her aching head.
“No, but I think I might know where it’s happening. Come on. I guess the bacon has to wait until later.” Admitting this cost Karl greatly. Adette nodded. The throbbing in her head had abated slightly but she had no way of knowing if it would happen again or not.
Karl rose and trotted out the front door. Adette, still a bit wobbly because of her head, followed after him.
“How do you know where we need to go?” The headache was making Adette more than a little grumpy.
“I can smell the magic. Can’t you?” Sure enough, Karl’s nose was lowered to the ground and he was following a trail of some kind.
“Of course you can smell magic,” Adette muttered.
“What did you expect? I am a magical dog after all.”
“I guess smelling magic would be in your job description then.”
Karl’s nose led them off the main path into the old forest near Adette’s cottage. The trees grew further apart here than in other places. Slowly, the headache lifted and Adette began to suspect that getting closer to whoever screamed was what was making it go away. Beneath the thick canopy, the sun grew more distant and the shade grew cooler.
Karl padded through the soft layer of leaves and pine needles. Adette tried to be as soundless as he was but couldn’t quite manage it. Their path wound through the trees until it began to brighten. Ahead, a thick wall of low bushes crowded around the edge of the forest. Karl stopped and stared straight ahead. Silence hung like a blanket across the forest. Not even the animals moved or made a sound.
With eyes wide, Adette watched Karl’s slow progression. Her eyes darted to the other side of the bushes as a dark form moved. The branches jostled and shook with its motion. At first it looked human, then it looked strangely oblong and tall. Leaves rustled and branches creaked. The bushes themselves seemed to complain.
A head rose above the bushes. It was attached to a long green and brown body. Its outer covering was more bark than skin. From behind, Adette could tell that it was holding something. Slowly, it turned toward the forest where Adette and Karl were waiting.
Karl stared with single-minded doggy determination. His body was stiff and his lips were pulled back from his teeth. A low growl rumbled in his belly. Air whooshed from his lungs in a low woof.
The creature whirled around. A young girl hung limply across its branch-like arms. Her brown hair had fallen across her thin face, but Adette could still tell that she was unconscious. She couldn’t immediately tell where the creature’s eyes were. Then it blinked.
Barky eyelids slid down over two knots sticking out from its forehead. At the center, two shiny, hard clumps of brown sap followed Adette and Karl.
“Put the girl down,” Adette demanded. She smoothed the hairs that had escaped from her bun back from her face and stood taller and straighter. The creature narrowed its knotty eyes but didn’t move. The hair on the back of Karl’s neck stood straight up. He watched silently but didn’t move a muscle.
The creature crackled. Its joints rolled and popped in knobby shoulders. With a heavy thump, the girl landed in an unceremonious heap on the forest floor. Adette eyed her cautiously. She still seemed to be out cold.
The tree creature reared tall. A gaping mouth split its face with a loud crack. Inside was nothing but blackness. Other than the cracking and creaking of its joints and skin, it made no sound. Long legs crackled as they bent and straightened with growing speed.
“Uh, Karl, any ideas here?” Adette threw a glance toward the still unmoving dog. “Karl, a little help here.”
The creature was now bearing down on her. It flew through the bushes in a shower of torn leaves and bits of branches. Wiggling roots reached for the next patch of ground like separate living things.
“Fire!” Karl barked, “It’s not going to be reasoned with.”
“How do I use fire on just that? I can’t catch the whole forest on fire!”
“Think. You’re the magician.” Karl launched himself at the twisting roots of its feet. His teeth sank into the thick bark. The moving tree stopped and considered him. It lifted one long, branch leg and began to shake it violently in an attempt to dislodge the small, but determined, dog.
Adette watched on in horror and begged her sluggish brain to work.