Wednesday, 1 October 1997

creature

This was a bedtime story i made up for my son Rhys in 1997. He pressured me to write it down.

One day I was walking in the forest near my home high in the mountains. I had been walking for quite a long time because I was looking for plants that I could take cuttings from for my garden. It was getting late and a storm was brewing - there were ominous clouds gathering and a brisk wind was stirring through the tree-tops. It was starting to get dark though there were still some hours until sunset.

I decided it was time to go home so I started to walk back along the way I had come. There was much noise from the wind and the first of distant thunder so when I first heard the sound I ignored it because it was small and seemed to be just a part of the approaching storm. I was walking through the thickest part of the forest when I heard it again - this time there was no mistake - it was the rustling of dry leaves on the forest floor. I guessed immediately that it was a small animal and decided to investigate as I had a great interest in wild animals and they were somewhat rare in these parts.

I stepped off the path and crept towards the sound. There it was again, louder this time and there was now no doubt in my mind that I would soon see what it was. The wind picked up in the trees and the clouds were rolling thicker and thicker so in the gloom of the forest I was sure that I would have to get very close if I was going to see this animal.

I wondered what it might be. A rabbit? Sometimes rabbits came into the forest though usually they liked the open grasslands near the river. Anyway, it seemed to be making too large a sound for a rabbit - but in the forest you could not always be sure. Maybe it was a dog - there were some dogs in our town and one of them may have come wandering alone looking for dead birds or rabbits.

The storm was getting closer and I could hear the sound of the first of the raindrops as they fell through the trees to the dry leaves below. I was close now - I knew it. Soon I would see what my companion was. I was creeping right up to the sound now - I reached out to part the bushes that I knew were all that separated me from the creature. I parted them. Boom! A mighty crack of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightening lit up the small clearing before me and there, in the center of the clearing, huddled down with fright was the strangest creature I had ever seen in my life.

The darkness that now descended after the lightening left me almost blinded and as I rubbed my eyes I heard the creature skitter away. I followed for now I really was interested. What was it? It seems to be standing on two legs and had a long tail and small arms with, could my eyes have deceived me? small fingers like those of a child. It's colour was strange too - it seemed to have a natural camouflage of green and ochre and brown. Stripes across its back and legs added to this affect. But what on earth looked like that?

I was following the sound of it running through the forest. I wondered if it had seen me when I had seen it - was that why it was running away or was it that the storm was now so frightening that it was seeking for a safer place? I did not know but I was adamant that I was going to get to the bottom of this if it meant that I had to stay out all night. I thought about the few matches that I had in my pocket and the meager rations of chocolate and broken biscuits that was all I had left from my day of plant gathering.

The edge of the forest was getting near now and I saw the creature flash quickly between two trees on it's way toward the river. Ah - this would be easier - I could keep up much more easily in the open - but the night was getting close and the weather was very quickly worsening for now rain was pelting down and it would not be as easy as I hoped to track this strange thing even in the open.

I reached the edge of the forest just as I saw it's tail disappear over a small rise - I ran to catch up and as I reached the place where I had just seen it another mighty clap of thunder and flash of lightening forced me to try and cover my ears and eyes at the same time (and if you've ever tried to do that you know how hard it is).

By the time I had recovered my composure the creature was gone. I had no idea where it was. I followed what I thought was it's original direction but it was becoming clear that I had lost it and further pursuit was pointless. What's worse, I was now soaked to the skin and the storm was so bad that I was starting to worry about my safety. I needed somewhere to shelter from the storm.

I knew that there were often caves to be found in the steep banks of the river so I headed that way. I had to push my way through some thick bush before I came to the river and when I got there I found I was high above the now torrential stream. I looked about for what I sought and soon found a dark entrance below the roots of a mighty willow tree.

I crawled inside. It was dry, and warm still from the day which had not been cold. I lay back against the side of the small cave with a sigh of relief. What a storm! I started to munch on a broken biscuit and before long I was fast asleep. I had not meant to fall asleep - I just must have been tired from all of the adventure.

I woke to complete darkness. Where was I? In a cave - right. But why was I awake now? Well there seemed to be no answer so I snuggled down into the dry leaves and soft dirt of the cave to go back to sleep - and I was just about there too when i felt a gentle touch on my leg, near my pocket!

Very gently and very quietly I reached inside my coat and took out my matchbox. I took one of the three remaining matches and struck it.

Would you believe what I saw? Another creature - just like the one I had been following was sitting right beside me chewing on one of my biscuits! This one was much smaller though - about the size of a rabbit but there was no doubt in my mind - it was just the same as the other.

When I struck the match it obviously frightened the little creature for it immediately skittered off out of sight around an edge in the cave I had not seen before because of the dark. Just then the match burned down and burnt my fingers and I dropped it - casting the cave back into pitch blackness.

What should I do now? Follow or wait and see what happens? - such were my thoughts as I pondered again the nature of these strange creatures. To follow might mean setting terror in the heart of so small a creature so I waited, and as I waited I sang for it was well known that music could charm even the wildest animal.

I sang soft songs of peace and gentleness, those of my childhood that I had learnt in school. Between verses I stopped and listened and occasionally spoke soft words of enticement and encouragement. As well, I took the last of the broken biscuit pieces from my pocket and, breaking them into nibble sized chunks, threw them towards the dark recess where the creature must now be sitting, listening to me.

The storm outside was abating and the darkness within the cave was ebbing, as I sang and waited for the creature to show itself. Indeed, after a long time, I half imagined that I saw it poke it's head around the corner for ever so brief a look at me. Then again, some time later, and for longer and then our eyes met.

And oh what eyes. They were like soft pools of deepest blue water shot through with dazzling flashes of gold. With these amazing eyes the creature now studied me and as it did so I slowly came to the realisation that it was singing. It was singing back to me.

There were no words but the meaning went straight to my heart and I rejoiced that I was sharing such communion with one of Gods creatures. And my spirit lifted as if on wings and I too began again to sing until before long the creature and I sang a harmony that was like no other and that was like a waking dream.

Then from the mouth of the cave another voice joined ours! Another creature - surely the one I had been following was sitting at the entrance singing a melody that intertwined with our already wonderful song to make such a beautiful harmony that tears came to my eyes and my heart was want to burst with the beauty of it.

And that is all I recall. For the next thing I knew I was waking with a soft beam of light upon my face. The rising sun, peeking over the horizon, was calling me to wake and cast off my dream.

I crawled outside and shook the dirt and dry leaves from my clothes and was about to head back towards home when suddenly I stopped and rushed back into the cave. I looked around the corner that had hidden my marvelous companion but there was nothing there. It had all been a dream. But wait! Where I had thrown the pieces of biscuit the night before now there was bare earth. So had it been a dream or not?

I again left the cave, and walking home full of doubt and awe I heard a noise. A single chirp that caused a tingle to start from the base of my spine and run all the way up to my ears. I sped towards the sound but there was nothing. Nothing except, there, in the middle of the path, a small pile of wild fruit. And small, almost unnoticeable footprints.

I bent down and took the fruit. And as I continued home, I ate what has been until this day the most wonderful breakfast of my life. For It had been gathered by my strange new friends that none had seen before and that none might see again.

And do you know, from that day to this, whenever I feel sleep is hard to find, I sing again that song we sang together and in my mind clear as if it were God's voice, I can hear those little creatures singing too.