To live is to grow,
To grow is to live,
Let go and Stand tall.
“Hold on and don’t let go” The sure voice of the little boy shouted through gritted teeth. His right hand dangled, extended over a cliff edge grasping at the hand of a boy much older and much heavier. Across the landscape, a well built man galloped on horseback whispering to himself “I am coming Aiden, hold on.”
A few moments ago…
Aiden’s POV : Scene I
We were walking. Step by step. Walking. Aimless too. The morning sun’s searing gaze pierces our backs. My watch reads ten in the morning, but it felt later in the day. There are seven of us. Seven kids lost in the middle of nowhere. The forest twisted at odd angles, each step took away signs of civilization. We had been walking for over an hour. We walked a straight path behind John.
“You pipsqueaks are making this worse.” The city boy complained. Named John, he was the oldest, early twenties, and suited to life in the busy metropolis.
“Oh ya? Wanna go again? I promise to whack the lights out this time you big dummy.” Jill piped in. She was a real country girl and fourteen of age.
“As a matter of fact, you are both wrong. Who appointed either of you leader? We should be heading North, there’s a town there.” Joanna said. She was twelve but had the mouth of a scholar, a very pompous one too.
“Shut up you girlies, before I whack the both of ya.” Jerry said. Thirteen but built like a seventeen year old. Typical class bully, prying on the physically inferior.
“I want my mommy. My feet hurt.” Jessica said. A little girl of seven and treated as a princess by her folks which gave her an unhealthy attitude.
Jones, the last boy in our group, moved behind just as I. He seemed two years my junior. I suspect his dark skin tone was the cause of his silence. Or maybe just shy. Although we walked at the same pace, we didn’t exchange much of a conversation.
Eldr, my German Shephard of a dozen years, walked by my side. He was old and quiet as well. We shared the same birthday, dad said he will teach me things about life. So far, he taught me how to grow up, mom always said I was wiser than kids my age. I am a farm boy who was home educated by brilliant parents. I spent more time doing physical training and studying than playing.
These were my group of misfits. Although it was obvious to me that we were indeed going the wrong direction, as Joanna had pointed, I didn’t feel the need to speak up. These were a bunch of strangers after all and I, a mere boy of barely twelve, most likely wouldn’t be heard much less respected. From my calculation, since the sunlight shone from the south then tree moss grew on the north side of plants and rocks. Therefore, we were heading south. The wrong direction.
If only dad were here, we would have already been out by now. Whenever he returned from the war zone, we spent time boxing or wrestling. He told me that “growth comes wanted or not”, then proceeded to toss me into a mud pit for our evening brawl.
I followed, observing our environment as we transgressed deeper into the woods. Mud grounds and slippery rocks, it had rained lately. The reason we began this strange adventure in the first place was because of the rain. Seven random children stood on an old wooden bridge in need of repairs. I blame myself for not containing my excitement at the raging river below. The rapids surged and the air smelt of mist, it was beautiful. But the bridge couldn’t support the weight of many people while battling the rapids below, which had increased due to the previous rain.
I snapped back to reality as the little girl yelped in pain. Jessica had stabbed her toe on a slippery stone as she dragged her feet across the mud. We focused our gaze on the little girl who howled in agony.
Aiden’s Father’s POV : Scene II
That scream… couldn’t be… thought I had lost them. I gallop in the direction of the scream. Praying. Hoping that it isn’t too late. As a soldier, I learned timing is everything.
This is all my fault, I let him out of my sight for a brief moment and the bridge collapsed. My heart beat harder than I ever thought possible. But, I am glad Eldr was close by. He chased after Aiden as the bridge collapsed, loyalty as such is rare in this chaotic world.
The wind rustles my hair as my trusty stead brings me ever closer to my son. Hooves pound into the wet forest ground, weary of rocks. Trees reduce my visibility tremendously but I can still track their prints. The air smells of wet green leaves and the sun beats down my back. Reminds me of the war zone before chaos erupts. All around, the forest is alive with strange noises.
*GROWL* No, it can’t be. Not here, not now. That sound belonged to a grizzly bear. My heart clenches as my mind runs through several worse case scenarios. The mutilated body of my son. No. I urge the horse to go faster and ever faster. I must get to my boy and fast. My battlefield anxieties start kicking in. Hold on Aiden.
Aiden’s POV : Scene III
Eldr’s ears tingle, he hears better than I do. So I listen.
That sound… “Quiet. Listen.” I urged, fingers to lips hushing.
“What now turd?” Jerry asked.
“That growl…” I say, glancing over everyone’s reaction.
“Mere figment of your imagination.” Joanna said in a matter of fact tone.
*GROWL* Everyone heard that.
“I’m outta here lassies!” John said as he took off running. Everyone scrambled in haste after him. Jill carried little Jessica. No no no, stupid mistake. Jones stared at me.
“What do you think?” Jones asked.
“You’ll listen to me?” I asked, puzzled.
“I am in the boy scouts and I know we are going the wrong way.” He responded. “But you seem fairly confident.”
“I see. We better catch up to the others and work a plan.”
Something about him just clicks with me in a strange way.
We both race through the terrain, sailing past the trees.
*HELP!* Someone shouts. The voice belongs to John, that idiot ran without looking. I dashed faster than Jones, it helped that I was more naturally fit than kids my age. My father told me my natural strength and speed are great gifts, a miracle of genetics.
Eldr and I approach a small opening in the woods where the others congregate. A cliff, dead end.
“What happened?” I ask as I approach the group.
“The moron ran straight to the edge and now he won’t grab on.” Jill said. She held a stick over the edge to the petrified John.
“I think my leg is broken! Send a medic!” John whined.
I peered over the edge, he had fallen on a log surface that stuck outwards. He had limited leg room to navigate. Doesn’t seem urgent.
“Stay still, we will get you soon.” I said. I bent stretched my hands to reach him.
*GROWL* sound escaped behind us. Fear suddenly froze the air. I turned slowly and faced the brown beast. It was large and menacing, slowly walking towards us with teeth glaring. She walked on all fours, towering above us still.
Jessica released a gut-wrenching scream. The bear responded with an ear-ringing growl. I have to think and fast. What would dad do if he were here?
My mind jumps through time to one of our many adventures in the great outdoors as he taught me survival skills and sparring techniques. He said “remember, when facing any opponent who is physically imposing you must stand firm. Do not waiver, do not falter. Show no weaknesses. Take charge.” Then he hit my legs with his bo (stick), knocking me down. I responded by barrel rolling from his next attack then striking at his legs.
Back to the current moment.
“Hold on and don’t let go” I shouted to John.
“Are you crazy kid? I ain’t coming back up there.” He retorted.
“I will leave you here for the bear to play with. How long do you think that log can hold you?”
John then looked solemnly at the log and noticed cracks forming.
“Grab on and trust me.”
“What about the bear? Which is literally a few feet away!” Joanna asked.
Time slowed, my head started formulating a plan. A crazy one too. Priorities, we needed a distraction. We needed a way out. John needed to be rescued. Being on the low ground wasn’t safe. I glanced around swiftly and noticed a small side trail. Might work. Two injured though… hmm…
“Here’s the plan. I am gonna pull John up. Jill and Jerry, stand on each side of the bear and make loud sounds to confuse her while I pull him up. Jones, scout ahead. There’s a path that leads out of here, follow it and come back if it’s safe. Joanna, give me a hand. Jessica, stay by my side.”
“Why should I listen to you?” Jerry asked.
“So you can live.” I responded, glaring him straight in the eyes. “Now move.” The plan sprung into action.
Jill and Jerry waved their hands above their heads and shouted loudly. Eldr seemed to understand the plan as well, smart as always. He ran around the great bear, teasing her. The grizzly was distracted. With the combined effort of Joanna, I was able to tug John out of there just as the log gave way.
“The path is clear, lets go!” Jones said as he ran back.
*GROWL* the bear shouted once more. Distraction over. It lunged for Jill suddenly. She docked out of the way. It swiped at her again… but I was already up, running straight towards the bear. Like a pro-footballer, I rammed into her side. The combined momentum of Eldr and my force was enough to overcome her half-ton mass, pushing her on side and smashing her into a tree.
“Jones, lead them out.” I shouted.
“What about you?” He asked.
Eldr barked and followed Jones.
Aiden’s Father’s POV : Scene IV
I heard a large growl. I was running on my feet, the woods were too thick for a horse to get through. I followed the huge paw prints left by the grizzly. She was running too. I heard a large thud, something had crashed into a tree as many trees shook in front of me. What was happening I wonder…
Hastily, I leaped up a tree. Swinging from a branch, I stared ahead. Six little heads were fleeing a large brown figure. Needed more visual. I unpacked my compact binoculars quickly. Looking through in the direction of the commotion. I swallowed my heart as it raced up my throat. What I saw scared me beyond my wildest terrors in the battlefield. Just like my first battle zone, I froze in utter horror.
Aiden’s POV : Scene V
I needed to keep her busy and lead her away from the others. I picked up some stones and tossed them in her direction. She growled and rose from the ground, I was staring down the barrel of beast with large muscles. She ran after me and I fled deeper into the woods.
I wondered why she had attacked or felt threatened. Then, as I sprinted down the path I noticed something. Most of the trees had been marked. The grizzly had been rubbing her back on the trees, marking her territory. She was threatened, I had to lure her away and get the others out of her land.
Why hasn’t dad acted yet? He is usually everywhere… No, I can’t think about him now. I have to man up and take charge. I scan around for tools, weapons, anything. Trees. More trees. Bee. Bees! Bees make honey.
Honey! Bears like honey. I remember a book dad gave me detailing surviving encounters with wild animals, bears like food. I just have to get her less interested in me. I quickly climb a tree close by. Soon, the bear is scraping at the tree bark below me. She stands on her two legs and swings at me. I’m on the highest stable tree branch. I focus on a branch on the next tree. The distance isn’t much… but it’s far. My heart clenches for a second. Then, I tense my muscles and jump.
My father told me, he named me Aiden because it means little fire in Irish. I laughed before but now I know why. I rise when challenged, just as flames rise when blown by strong winds.
I landed on the branch securely. The bear followed below. She spotted the honey. I pushed it downwards, right in front of her face. She grabbed at it. Then, I ran. Swinging from branch to branch, I fled the scene.
Aiden’s Father’s POV : Scene VI
I can’t believe he did it. All on his own. He escaped death’s grips with his ingenuity alone. He has grown up… Truly, there is no greater honor than seeing a boy become a man. I know he is special. Stronger, faster and smarter than boys his age. I have been gifted a truly wonderful boy.
My heart stops racing, my head clears and I smile greatly. I trust him more… He will find his way out of here. I just need to watch.
I whistle, signalling my horse to come forth. He arrives and we ride to the end of the journey. It was past two in the afternoon and the sun was relentless. However I am joyed, I know where Aiden will lead his group to, I just need to wait and let him grow.
Aiden’s POV : Scene VII
I can’t believe I did it. I finally cleared the trees and followed the trail after the others. Soon enough I caught up. Everyone was astounded and beaming with energy. Eldr ran towards me and I greeted his kisses with my face. I looked at the group, they seemed to have bonded over the traumatic experience. Albeit it was a shaky bond, but it was needed right now.
“You actually pulled it off you little thud. Thanks for back there.” John said. He was supported by Jill.
“Of course he did, I knew he was a tough kid.” Jill said. She was smiling.
“How?” Joanna asked. Her face was priceless.
“Honey.” I responded. She looked clueless but her face was quickly flushed with comprehension.
“Well done short stuff. I could have handled it though, just saying.” Jerry said.
“Thank you.” Jessica said with a large grin. She was being carried by Jerry.
“What now, lion?” Jones asked. He was beaming with an unusual energy.
“Lion?” I asked, perplexed.
“Well, you became a roaring lion when we needed you.” Jones retorted.
I laughed for a bit then said “Sure, snake.”
He looked confused then laughed even more.
“I’ll take point, we head north and should strike a town soon enough. Any questions?”
The group simply lined up behind me and smiled. I walked ahead. We walked for a bit, I noticed something on the ground. The mark of fresh horse hooves on the muddy ground. I recognized the markings and simply smiled.
We crossed a shallow point in the river into a small town. The journey was over.
A few hours later…
Aiden’s POV : Scene VIII
He was smiling, riding his horse. Good old dad. The other kids were safe, rejoined with their folks. It was already evening, the sun dipped into the sky painting it with a red glow.
“You were there.” I told him.
He smiled, saying “Yes.” He allowed me onto the horse.
“But you did nothing…” I asked, perplexed.
“Because you could handle it.”
“Jonathan Aiden Donald, know this.” He turned and faced me, eye to eye. “I will always be watching, always.”
I was bewildered, but smiled profoundly. “Thanks dad.” I never felt prouder than in that single moment.
We rode off, Eldr running by our side.
“Don’t tell your mother.” He said. We both laughed...
Dedicated to a dear old and long gone friend.
This short story is set in a storyverse based in the series “Legend of the Seven”. The first book in the series is available freely on the web, titled “Skull Reich” and readable on Wattpad.com (http://goo.gl/ADj5hS).
This short story, along with many other works of the writer, can also be found online at http://goo.gl/sdUXLc
Published in hardcover journal - Outside the Margins : Creative Writers Society Journal Volume 1 based in Red Deer College, Canada.