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“I really don’t think you should be doing that,” muttered
Nervous Tim, rubbing his hands together helplessly as he
watched Guillaume and Josette gather up brushwood.
“Maybe if you hadn’t slowed us down so much we wouldn’t
have had to spend the night in this oh-so-lovely forest in the
middle of gods know where,” Josette returned testily, shaking a
branch at Tim’s quivering frame. “I for one am freezing, and
I’ll be damned if I go without fire tonight.”
I decided it wasn’t worth taking sides, although if truth be told
I shared Tim’s concerns. The wood felt decidedly unfriendly. I
didn’t like how some of the trees seemed to glower at me.
As our companions built up the kindling, we settled down
with our backs to an impenetrable thicket of thorns and vines
– our first mistake. The second and greater error began when
Guillaume withdrew a tinderbox, preparing to light a fire.
“Wait!” cried Tim.
“Oh what now?” snapped Josette.
“The trees…” whimpered the boy. “Look at them. They hate us.
They hate fire.”
Guillaume snorted with laughter. “You want me to ask them
I was certainly tense, but Tim was on the point of tears. He bit
his lip and said nothing. It was at this moment that – shaking
his head in disbelief – Guillaume struck the flint. As soon as
the faint flame appeared, there was an immediate stirring of
the forest, like a distant roaring, growing rapidly louder. Even
Guillaume and Josette looked worried now.
The lit tinder fell from his fingers to the fire below. Light sprang up
around us as the flames began to grow. But instead of illumination,
it only provided deeper shadows… shadows that were shifting,
gathering. Terrified, we turned slowly to face the thicket behind.
It was no longer a jumbled collection of wood. The branches
had formed into a ghastly ...beast. At least twice the size of a
man, it had ogreish limbs of bulging, sinuous lumber. And it
emanated a pure, primal fury that I shall never forget.
It was all over in an instant. We were too petrified to move.
Tim seemed to be in the throes of some terrible illness.
Guillaume let out a hideous shriek of dismay, cut short as
the creature took two swift steps, carrying it across the entire
clearing. The first crushed the poor man’s skull like an eggshell.
The second obliterated the small fire.
After that, it was impossible to see clearly. From her painful
gurgling, it sounded like Josette was the next to receive a mortal
wound. But what became of Nervous Tim I never discovered.
I was already running for open ground.
From the True and Marvellous Tales of Samuel Le Pepin,
professional pilgrim and storyteller
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