Ash carried London on his back again as her legs gave way to the long walk. Despite the added weight on his back he was much more comfortable knowing exactly where his sister was. Through London he could gain an understanding of what it meant to be a father and relive some lost family moments of his own.
‘Let’s go home everyone,’ said Jumo suddenly.
‘You’ve changed your tune,’ added Bradley.
‘When we were dancing back then it reminded me of my mother and I dancing at home. Even if earth were to end I want to spend those last few precious moments with my family, rather than die here. I’ve finally realised what’s most important to me.’
‘Jumo’s right, we’ve been lucky to get this far,’ said Aruna, ‘maybe we should find a way out before it’s too late.’
‘London and you almost died Ash, let’s return.’
‘You may be right, but we can’t go back the way we came,’ added Ash. He held London tightly. ‘The thought of anything happening to London again….’
‘Ash,’ said Kurumi softly.
‘Fine, then let’s continue forward and when the tree spirit returns we’ll tell it we want to return,’ added Jumo.
‘Sounds good to me.’
They entered into a secluded field where a few of the trees were strangely pale in colour, as if the very life of them had been sucked right out. Enormous roots broke through the moist ground and sprawled high up and out in every direction forming arbours and resting platforms. Ash noticed that one of the roots had appeared to be eaten to some degree. It had smooth large holes, almost like a razor-sharp spinning top had been used to carve into it. Surrounding the roots were small pitcher plants of yellow, maroon, violet, and even cream colour. Several of which had bugs and insects trapped inside attempting in vein to break free.
Aruna kept looking around anxiously. She caught a shadow of something lurking beyond the trees. Her facial expression had confirmed to the group that the shadow was not one of the wandering spirits mentioned earlier by the tree spirit. A cold fog settled in the air revealing spider webs, which were wrapped around all the trees like transparent packaging you find wrapped around a delicate parcel. The webs had a sticky silk glow with spiral, diamond and star shapes interwoven.
‘This place is spooky. Let’s keep moving!’ said Aruna.
‘It’s getting cold just like it did in the tsingy.’
‘Wait, what is that over there,’ said Jumo. He moved closer, looking at what appeared to be a round headless spider with an orange slit on its back latched on to one of the trees with four charcoal tubes extended from its body. He inspected it carefully only to realise that the orange slit was getting bigger. As it grew larger the tree’s colour became more faded. It was sucking the life energy out from the tree.
‘Jumo, let’s go now!’ said Bradley.
‘It’s too late!’ screamed Kurumi. Large anaconda snakes had now blocked every escapable route. They made no hiss or slithering sound and how they got there without anybody noticing was even more alarming. Each pair of snake eyes was tinted with a blue glow and their scales rough-looking with blonde and brunette streaks. They did not advance, but just sat with their heads cocked up with dark intent. London climbed onto one of the tree roots shaking in fear. Stay there Ash whispered to her, the glint in his eyes showed that he was deadly serious.
The tree-sucking creature was now larger than the trunk of the tree itself. Its four tubes retracted into its body and out slid ten curvy strands of thick leg-like hair.
‘Everybody climb up onto the roots, very slowly,’ said Jumo, ‘those snakes should not be able to reach up there. Bang on the roots to scare the snakes.’
‘What about that thing?’ said Aruna.
Kurumi climbed up first and held London close to her side, Aruna followed, then Bradley. Jumo looked back at the creature, but it was no longer there.
‘Jumo!’ screamed Ash. The creature made way for Jumo whizzing in the air with its hairs extending at an incredible speed ahead of its own body. Its hairs latched onto Jumo and catapulted the rest of its body forward towards him. Ash leaped into the air and struck the creature millimetres before it crashed in his friend. Jumo stumbled backwards dazed and Ash tumbled across the ground. One of the pitcher plants near Jumo quadrupled in size and opened up like the mouth of a shark-toothed pelican. Into the abyss of the plants trap Jumo fell.
London began to climb higher after seeing this, but the creature took hold of her and latched itself onto her back. Her feet collapsed, but creature supported London’s weight effortlessly, as her body hung in mid-air. Her skin grew pale.
‘Cold,’ wheezed London.
Seeing that the snakes made no advancing movement, Aruna leaped off from the tree picked up a log and slashed it down the back of the creature. It dropped London and turned its attention to her instead. She ran, leaping over the snakes, darting in and out of the trees. The creature followed clinging onto the trees and catapulting itself after her. London got back up gingerly and climbed back up on the tree with help from Kurumi.
Ash got up slightly dazed and rushed over to the pitcher plant. ‘Help,’ he shouted. Bradley and Ash managed to tear apart the thick petals and pull Jumo out. He was covered in a wet substance with a sweet aroma and dead spiders clinging to his outfit. Meanwhile Aruna continued to run round in circles with both the creature and snakes in chase. Ash noticed that she was beginning to tire.
‘Aruna bring it this way! We need to get rid of this first!’ he screamed out. She did so without a second thought.
‘What you doing mate?’ asked Bradley.
‘Brads, Kurumi, get hold of a stick or something and just get ready.’ They both nodded and proceeded to look around them. As Aruna approached with the creature close behind, she purposely dropped to the ground when Ash nodded. At the same time he aimed a stick and struck the creature dead on. The creature now turned its attention to Ash. He then led it on a parkour free running session in and out of the trees, but as swift as he could move it eventually caught up to him. Knowing he could not keep up this pace any longer Ash sidestepped and summersaulted off a tree changing his path back in the direction of the group. Jumo having finally got to his feet was not comforted by seeing Ash running towards him at full speed. In his panic he dropped to his knees and held his head in arms. Ash ran up to him and sidestepped at the last moment. Kurumi saw this as her signal and launched rapid attacks on the creature with Bradley in support. Whilst Bradley’s strikes were laboured and over swung, Kurumi’s blows were swift and powerful. She hit and blocked the attacks of the thick hairs with subtle movements. This all happened above Jumo, but thankfully for him after a few moments she delivered a fatal blow to the orange slit on the creature’s back. Its hair strands stopped moving and it fell to the ground and turned to water seeping into the earth, as did the watching snakes.
‘Where did you learn to hit like that?’ asked Bradley.
‘Kendo club,’ replied Kurumi.
Behind them there was a loud thud. ‘Help,’ shouted Aruna. London had fallen and lay motionless on the ground.
‘Is she okay?’ asked Bradley.
London opened her eyes. ‘Cold,’ she said in a slow shaky voice.
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with her, but she doesn’t look okay.’
‘That thing latched itself onto her earlier.’
‘Are you okay London?’
‘Ice cream,’ she replied.
The group was relieved, but London understandably was not her usual self and as such was unable to stand without support. I’ll have to carry her out of here, but we must keep moving instructed Ash.
‘Fear eats at the mind of all. I need to conquer my fear. What was that… I don’t know and I don’t care,’ said Jumo muttering to himself in a shaken state of mind. Despite Jumo attempting to speak quietly to himself, Bradley overheard him.
‘Alright then, let’s call it the hairy black thing Jumo, not scary at all,’ said Bradley.
‘Under all circumstances your humour never wavers Bradley, nor does your bravery or your calmness and protection over London and Ash. Kurumi, Aruna, each of you are finding your strength as this journey continues. As for me, I am proving helpless, a burden. Leave me and go on ahead,’ said Jumo.
‘Don’t be foolish Jumo,’ without your knowledge and understanding, we would have already died or starved to death, and most importantly… our journey if we ever do make it, would only become a foggy memory without your writing,’ replied Ash.
‘We see you writing all the time. It’s kind of cool. Not at all geeky,’ added Bradley.
‘Thank you. All of you! Thank you!’ replied Jumo.
London let out a scream and grabbed her head with both arms. She kicked herself off Ash’s and fell to the ground.
‘What’s wrong London?’
The group tried to comfort her, but she did not react to anything they said or the gestures to make her calm.
‘It’s coming,’ uttered London, ‘run!’ At that very moment the creature came out from the ground knocking them all off their feet and once again latched itself on to London. Within an instant she fell to the ground devoid of life. Each of them rose to their feet to attack the creature, but it simply rose up out of reach.
Kurumi touched the side of London’s face. Jumo tentatively checked for a pulse.
‘There is still a slight pulse, but it’s fading.’
‘We were tricked!’
‘She’s no longer breathing!’
In their concern for London they did not form a defensive shape to resist another attack, at seeing this the creature latched onto London again and swiftly pulled her up into the air and outreach. It grew in size and enveloped London within its body before disappearing. The group could only watch as the life and joy of London had been ripped away from them leaving nothing behind except for emptiness and anger.
‘Let’s keep moving,’ said Ash in a calm voice. The group was stunned that he could be so rational in such a situation. It was as if he had been preparing for this moment ever since their encounter with the ouroboros.
‘Don’t. I’ll save my tears for when we get her back! You should all do the same.’
Nobody dared say anything else in response. His friends did not understand what he meant, but they could understand that each of them had cried enough on this journey already and that crying would not change a thing. London was gone and telling Ash otherwise was not going to comfort him or change the situation. Crying would only make it worse for Ash. So, in quiet and bitter confusion they walked behind him as he paced ahead.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp