He stood at the edge of the forest. Beneath his feet were the soft green blades of grass and above his head skies of blue with a smattering of white fluffy clouds. The forest looked dark in comparison but that was part of its fascination and he had an insatiable desire to explore it. In the field where he stood there was the occasional tree offering up shade on hot days but that was nothing in comparison to what lay in front of him. The forest's trees seemed to absorb all the sunlight into their long and entangled limbs leaving nothing but darkness within, even on the most brilliant of summer days. He took a few unsteady steps towards the darkness, hesitating while he glanced over his shoulder. The others were busy setting out food and picking wild flowers from the field and currently paid him no mind. He took a few more steps and with each one he became a little more confident in his decision to embark on this adventure. He reached the edge of the forest and took one final look over his shoulder to ensure that the others were still busy enough that they would not try to hinder him or ask condescending questions about where he was going, or what he was doing. He was assured by their preoccupation with the picnic and some recently arrived resident butterflies. He looked at the ground that lay directly before him, covered in leaves that had become mulch over time. He bent down to touch some of the exposed dirt he had noticed and it felt slightly cool and moist to the touch. When he scooped up a handful of the dirt it brought with it an earthworm that wriggled in his hand in seeming vexation at having been pulled so abruptly from its home. He replaced the dirt with the residing worm as gently as he could and covered the patch with some of the nearby mulch. He brushed his hands together with a satisfied nod at his own magnanimousness and stepped into the darkness to see what else he might find in the forest.
He had not gone very far when he stopped to allow his eyes to adjust to the darker interior. This took him some time as he made the mistake of turning back to the open field more than once. Its bright sunlight was made harsher by the dimness of where he stood patiently among the trees. The coolness of the forest surrounded him and he felt a tiny thrill at seeing the little hairs of his arm stand to attention at the sudden change in temperature. When his eyes finally adjusted, he began to examine his surroundings. Most of the trees were so tall that he would fall backwards if he tried to see their tops but as he continued deeper into the forest he came across a tree whose branches hung so low that they almost touched the ground. Standing with his hands on his hips in deep consternation, he realised he would have to crawl underneath them to continue on. It wasn't so much the fact that he had been momentarily thwarted, for that was part of the adventure, but he was wearing new trousers.
The leaves were more brown then green on these branches, as if they had not received the same nutrition as its taller cousins due to being so low to the ground and thus the likelihood of their having missed out on essential rain and sun. It took him some time to find a suitable place to crawl under as the branches had grown quite dense and were very stubborn in their refusal to separate wide enough for him to pass through. As he examined the potential crawlspace he considered turning back to the warmth and openness of the field he had left. Surely the picnic would be ready by now and he was beginning to feel rumblings in his tummy. He frowned as he silently remonstrated himself. This was an adventure for goodness sake. He couldn't possibly turn back for something as uneventful as hunger pains. He'd never get anywhere! He told himself that as a reward for his perseverance to continue his started quest, he would reward himself with a hearty slice of chocolate cake at the end of it. That was motivation enough for him to try and squeeze himself through the low hanging branches.
When he made a suitable gap he squeezed himself under the tree deftly, without getting caught by the branches, which he feared would rip his new trousers. Emerging successfully on the other side he looked down at his now rather filthy hands. The dirt under the tree had been much wetter than at the edge of the forest though he was disappointed to find it wasn't quite as squelchy as mud. He hesitated only a moment before wiping his hands on his now dirty trousers, for though they had been spared from the branches, the knees of them were wet and dirty from his crawling, and he accepted, once again so magnanimously, that on such adventures one cannot be expected to keep new trousers in pristine condition.
He had entered a small clearing and as he stood very still he could hear a number of different songs being sung by various birds who had made their home of this forest. As he strained his neck to see if he could get a peek at one of the songbirds, he heard a rustle in a nearby bush. He stood with clasping hands and beating heart as he realised the rustling was located in a bush almost directly across from him. He was considering turning back and hiding within the low hanging branches when a creature emerged. It was about half his size, reaching up to his waist though the ears made it seem much bigger. It was covered with brown fur and had a short stubby tail. He stared at the creature in front of him afraid to move but was soon relieved to find that the creature seemed to be regarding him with a similar wariness. When he didn't move, the creature continued forward slightly into the clearing, pausing often, as it seemed to sniff the air. It was soon clear however that it seemed content to sniff the surrounding ground and nibble at the grass and didn't appear to have any interest in eating him whatsoever. He was somewhat disappointed by this realisation. He wondered what it would have been like inside the belly of such a creature.
He decided that as he was not going to be eaten he would continue his exploration of the little clearing he found himself in. He hadn't noticed before but almost right in the middle of it there was a small patch where the sun had managed to sneak past the tightly clustered branches and as he was feeling a little cold from crawling through wet dirt and leaves, he decided to make for the patch of sunlight in the hopes of it providing him with some warmth. As soon as he moved however, the creature froze and stared at him with such intensity it caused him stop dead in his tracks. Perhaps he had been wrong to assume that the creature wasn't going to eat him. Suddenly he decided he didn't want to know what the inside of it's belly looked like at all. He couldn't spot many teeth on the creature except for a few right in the front but he wasn't reassured. The pair of them embarked in the most intense staring contest he had ever experienced when the creature finally turned and fled from the clearing, bounding into the bushes leaving the leaves vibrating from the sudden activity. The initial sudden movement of the animal had caused him to flinch and he had felt certain that it was going to attack him. When it turned and fled he let out a joyous little yell and raised both arms in the air triumphantly. There had been no reason for him to afraid, he remembered suddenly, he was always very good at staring competitions. The poor creature hadn't stood a chance.
High from the recent victory he strode around the clearing, skipping, laughing and cheering as if he had just conquered a mighty lion and was receiving the applause from his adoring spectators. When he came to stand in the centre, in the little spot of sunlight, which may well have been a spotlight for the victory stance he took, he beamed as he looked round the little clearing. The place that had just recently been the scene of his triumph against the creature from the bushes was suddenly unfamiliar. He could no longer remember which tree he had crawled underneath to come to where he was. As he began to turn in increasingly frantic circles he realised that there were many such trees surrounding him and they all looked the same. The sense of victory was fast fading as panic began to set in. He now remembered that he was hungry, cold and wet and that he had ruined his new trousers and if he couldn't find his way out he was never going to get that chocolate cake after all!
All the confidence he had felt when embarking on his adventure into the forest was gone. All that was left was the certain impression that he had been foolish to attempt such an adventure on his own. He had been prevented from exploring so many other times that the opportunity had seemed too good to pass up. As he squatted in the centre of his little clearing he thought that perhaps there had been a really good reason that he had been stopped before. Though this thought would not be remembered for future such occasions.
He stood and did another turn to see if he could recognise where he had come from. Failing to find anything familiar, he did the only thing that seemed perfectly natural given the circumstance.
He started to cry.
At first the tears came silently, then with little sobs before finally becoming a wail that reverberated off the surrounding trees and back into the clearing, as if the trees were mocking him. Then he heard it: A cry from somewhere beyond those mocking trees. He recognised the voice and his wailing became louder, signalling the voice, beckoning them nearer. Again the voice was heard, closer this time. He thought of sunshine and open fields with flowers and butterflies. He thought of chocolate cake and new trousers and wailed again to the very edge of the vocal spectrum when it becomes a certainty that dogs will also hear. There was a crashing to his left as a figure emerged from the trees and scooped him into her arms fiercely hugging him while plying him with frantic kisses and soothing reassurances as to his well being.
With his little arms wrapped around his mother’s neck, he was carried out of the forest and back into the sunlit fields of flowers and butterflies. He watched over her shoulder as the forest became much smaller than it had seemed only a panicked moment before. He could see the tops of the trees now and some of the earlier heard songbirds flittering here and there amongst their branches were now visible. Even the creature he had stared down stood at the entrance to the forest and gazed out, watching him as he was carried away. It too looked much smaller now than when he stood before it and challenged it to a staring contest. He waved to the now seemingly small creature that stood at the entrance where he had found and returned the small earthworm, and it seemed to him that the creature nodded a farewell before disappearing from sight back into the darkness. He then waved a final goodbye to the trees and turned to see the picnic blanket laid for lunch. His mother chastised him for making such a mess of himself and furiously applied a damp toilette to his hands and face. Then, when he was seated next to her, feeling the warmth of her body and leaning in against the arm that was protectively held around him, he accepted ever so graciously as she presented him with a large slice of chocolate cake, which he promptly ate. The forest was soon forgotten with its darkness, the branches that menaced and strange staring creatures and in its place was the sensation of a belly ache caused by too big a slice of cake.