Lost In The Woods

by Ellen Doreen Loegering

A WRITERS PEN  PROMPT: FANTASY: A forest’s heart beats audibly, guiding lost travelers to safety.

 He was known to be fussy and a bit stuffy, a stickler for rules and protocol, a bit reserved and never, ever known for flights of fancy.  And,  Scoutmaster Rushmore Finley absolutely knew, he and his three charges for the afternoon, Benjamin 10, Simon 8, and Daniel 6, were totally and profoundly lost in the forest.  He turned in a full circle and stopped.  Daniel, sensing Mr. Finley’s unrest, sidled over to him.  Grabbing his pants leg around the knee, leaning back, and looking up Mr. Finley’s tall, lean body trying to see his face, Danny began to whimper.

“Are we lost?” Danny’s lower lip began to quiver, his large blue eyes growing larger to almost a full saucer stage, followed by, “I’m hungry.”

Mr. Finley cleared his throat.  “Well, yes,” he replied flatly, “I believe we are lost.  There are plenty of snacks back in the van.”

“But we’re here and we don’t know where here is or where the van is.” cried Danny, his now completely saucer sized eyes filling with tears.

Mr. Finley untied the freshly laundered and pressed neckerchief from around his neck and wiped his brow. Folding it neatly he slid it into his pocket. He collected himself disengaging Danny from his leg, “All right everyone let’s gather round, sit down and take stock of our situation.”

“Right,” sneered Benjamin dropping his backpack, sitting and crossing his arms over his chest in disgust. “The situation you created when you dropped everything we needed, acting like Superman jumping across that rocky, fast-moving creek.  Then proceeding to get us lost in the deepest, darkest part of the forest.”

Mr. Finley knew Benjamin was right. Not about thinking he was Superman.  He had stationed himself half way across the quickly moving creek on a large flattish rock.  After helping to make sure all his charges were safely across, sending Benjamin first to help the smaller ones, Mr. Finley attempted to jump the rest of the way across.  He had almost made it too.  But the rock was more moss covered and slippery then he had expected.  He lost his footing on takeoff causing him to slip on landing. Twisting and falling forward to keep from falling back into the fast moving water he had lost everything. Compass, pocketknife, keys, flashlight and yes, even his phone.  All plunging to the bottom or merrily floating down stream to points unknown.  He sighed.  At least he had not broken any bones or ended up soaking wet and cold. 

“Doesn’t matter about your phone though, there’s no cell reception here.” continued Benjamin frowning and pointing to his ear buds. “The forest is so thick we can’t even see the sky.”

Incensed, Mr. Finley sputtered, “You’re not supposed to have any electronics.  That was part of the rules for the survival badge. I was the only one with equipment so you could learn by using your wits to find your way.  

“Right, that’s working well,” added Benjamin sarcastically.

 Simon, who had been watching this exchange leaning against a tree quietly joined the circle.  Finding a spot between Danny and Benjamin facing Mr. Finley, he removed his backpack as he sat down. Placing his backpack in front of himself, he unzipped it.  He proceeded steadily and carefully to remove items.  He produced an extra sweatshirt and socks.  A flashlight, a 16 blade Swiss Army Knife, a fire-starting kit, a reflective survival blanket, wet wipes, and best of all snacks. 

“What no compass?” snapped Mr. Finley.  “You’re not supposed to have all that. That’s breaking the rules.”

Simon pushed his dark framed glasses up his nose and considered Mr. Finley across the circle.  “Firstly, I did order a compass, but it didn’t arrive in time. Secondly, when I saw you were in charge of this hike, I thought some provisions might be necessary.” Even though Benjamin loudly snorted, Simon’s statement was made with no disrespect, just a statement of fact.  “As you must know, Mr. Finley” continued Simon, “I don’t really like this kind of activity.  I much prefer to read or learn new skills by video.  My Mom wanted me to come. To get exercise, be outside and meet new friends.  He glanced at both Danny and Benjamin. So, to please her I signed up.  Now, I think we should have some refreshment and reflect on our current situation.” He loaded Chocolate and Peanut butter protein bars, Cranberry and Almond Bars, small drink cartons, apples and small individually wrapped chocolates on the top of his backpack pushing it into the center of their small circle. 

Danny stared doe eyed at Simon, his new hero.  “Thank you, Simon” he said helping himself to the snacks.

“Yea, thanks Simon,” added Benjamin.

Mr Finley nodded his thanks.  The circle fell silent as they munched and considered their circumstances. 

Simon turned to Danny handing him a lager Ziplock bag.  “Danny, as we finish up, I’m putting you in charge of collecting all the garbage.  Stuff it all into that bag and we’ll put it in my backpack to carry it out. Okay?” 

Danny, aware of an undercurrent of tension was delighted to have something to do.

“Now what?” grumped Benjamin. “Anyone have any great ideas?” He looked pointedly at Mr. Finley.

“Actually,” Simon began “I’ve been thinking about some old folklore I’ve read about.”

“I hope you’re not talking about silly Fairy stories,” Mr. Finley complained.

“If you mean those crazy stories about dropping breadcrumbs as you walk through the forest, or that weird granny with her strange cottage, throwing kids in her oven, or the very odd wolf wearing grandma’s cloths chasing little red cloaked girls around. Nope, not even worth thinking about. Nor am I discussing the Flower Children of the 1960’s or the Tree Huggers of the 1970’s. What I’m talking about is much older than that.”

Removing his now very crumbled, slightly dirty neckerchief from his pocket, Mr. Finley wiped his brow stuffing the kerchief back into his pocket.

 “No,” continued Simon “I think I remember an article about the Druids and their belief that trees were living beings who like to communicate with people.  More recently there has been some scientific information about trees that might be useful to us.”

His three companions stared open mouthed at Simon. Danny giggled.

Now mr. Finley remembered the conversation Simon’s mother and father had with him about Simon’s superior intellect.  Simon, it seemed, has a remarkably high IQ and almost perfect memory recall.  He had been offered a place at the University but his parents wanted him to have a normal childhood, hence, scouting and sports. 

“From what I understand,” Simon began again, “it seems that trees communicate with each other.  They talk through their root systems.  They will try to help heal each other and share food.  It’s quite a close community.  The Druids believed that trees made a sound like a loud heartbeat.  If you asked a tree a yes or no question and then put your ear up against the bark, if the answer was “yes” you can hear a thrumming sound, like a really loud heartbeat.  If the answer is no there was a lighter sound or no sound at all.  I was thinking we could ask the trees how to get home.  Simon pushed his glasses up his nose and looked around at his companions.

Mr. Finley and Benjamin looked sideways at each other.

“That’s it! Great, just great!” sighed Benjamin and Mr. Finley nodded his assent.

“Well,” continued Simon unruffled “the way I see it we have three choices.  We wander around the forest and maybe get more lost, we try listening to the trees for help, or we sit here and do nothing until they send out the search party.”  Mr. Finley’s head snapped up. 

“There will be dogs barking and howling, and volunteers, and mothers crying, and really angry Dads, and News at 6”, finished Simon with a flourish.

Mr. Finley jumped up quickly dusting dirt from the back of his pants and said, “Right then, everyone up and follow Simon’s lead. Off to the trees. Stay close we don’t want to lose sight of each other.”

Benjamin completely dejected and loving the idea of being shed of the whole lot of them slunk over to a very young, willowy tree.  Resting his back against the tree, crossing his legs at the ankle, he tried unsuccessfully to make a cellular connection again.

Mr. Finley, completely out of his depth having absolutely no idea whatsoever he was doing, stood looking at a tree shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

Simon got up stuffing the garbage bag into his backpack. Slinging it back over his shoulders he turned to walk toward a beautiful old tree.  Danny, sensing a subtle change in leadership, took Simon’s hand and went with him.

Simon thanked the tree for helping. Thinking about his question he opened his arms.  Stepping close to the bark he leaned closer, putting his ear against the trunk.  Danny, who was to small to do all that, just crouched down close to the enormous base. Resting his side against the tree he hummed happily to himself some wordless tune.

For a moment time slowed, there was a small movement of leaves as if the trees had let out a collective breath, then all was calm and still.

“Simon,” Danny jumped up, “I can hear it.  I hear the heartbeat. Honest!”

“Of course you can,” reassured Simon. “What did you ask?”

“If it liked me,” grinned Danny.  “Listen.”

Simon bent down to where Danny had been listening.  It was a strong, steady thrumming.  He moved his ear up higher on the tree.  The whole tree was vibrating, making a very loud heartbeat.

“Benjamin, Mr. Finley come here and listen to this,”  Simon called excitedly. 

Rolling their eyes at each other,  Benjamin and Mr. Finley walked over to Simon.  Benjamin went up to the tree first.  Removing his earbuds for the first time that day, shoving them into his pocket, leaning into the tree.  After a few moments his eyes opened wide.  “Wow! Unbelievable!” Benjamin stepped away from the tree to make room for Mr. Finley.  Mr. Finley, placing his arms around the tree put his ear up to the trunk and closed his eyes.  He stood motionless.  A few minutes passed then suddenly he began to giggle.  The boys watching him looked nervously at each other. Then Mr. Finley started to laugh.  Really laugh.  He laughed as a man would laugh whose whole concept of life had been turned upside down in a split second. He laughed until tears rolled down his face.  Grabbing the now completely crumbled, dirty kerchief from his pocket, he wiped his face. 

Then the magic began in earnest.  They all started leap frogging round, running from tree to tree listening for direction. Before they even knew what was happening, they were back across the rushing creek, vistas opened, sky could be seen and the dirt path leading back up the incline to the car park and van was before them. 

Benjamin was first up. Placing his earbuds back into his ears he immediately searched again for a cell signal.  Mr. Finley followed, making a dash to the back of the van to retrieve the hidden set of keys he kept tucked under the bumper.  Danny, walking slower now was humming a wordless tune just really grateful there would be more snacks and a comfy place to sit.  Simon at the back, stopped at the top turning back to the forest.  Pushing his glasses up his nose he looked back at the trees.  Smiling, he raised his hand in farewell, nodding his head in thanks.  Turning, he headed toward the van.  A sound like many people whispering caused him to glance back over his shoulder.  All his new friends were waving back.