“Wait for me!” he shouted, cringing at the desperate tone.The girl was faster than him and was now scrambling up a jagged piece of rock, the sunlight behind framing her wild curly hair. Turning to look back, she grinned cheekily and beckoned him with a backwards jerk of her head, before leaping off the rock, onwards down the mountain.
Jack stopped, puffing to catch his breath. Why was he following her anyway? He was about to give up, sit down and think of another plan, when he heard a shout.
He looked up just in time to see a purple thing the size of a tennis ball hurtling towards him.
He held his hands up defensively and luckily managed to catch whatever it was, the force of it sending him faltering back a couple of steps. The purple thing was perfectly round and so smooth it was almost shiny.
“Aren’t you gonna eat it then?” called the girl, now about five metres up in a tree, hanging casually upside down, her hair cascading below her.
Jack looked again at what he was holding. Was it a fruit? Was it poisonous? He looked back up at the tree but the girl had gone. Then she was next to him, biting into a purple thing of her own, juice running down her chin.
“They’re really good,” she mumbled through a mouthful.
Jack turned the purple thing round in his hand. It did look good. And if she was eating it…
He took a bite.
It was the best thing he had ever tasted. Sweet without being sickly, soft but not squashy, it tasted vaguely of honey mixed with something he couldn’t put his finger on.
“Mmmm,” the sound escaped his mouth before he could stop it. The girl smiled.
Jack wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “What’s your name?” he asked, taking another bite to hide the sudden embarrassment he felt.
The girl grinned, purple juice dripping from her chin. “Hurry up!” She threw the remains of the fruit and started to run again, darting fast like a rabbit.
Still unsure of what he was doing or why, Jack made a decision not to bother questioning. It’s not like he had any other options right now anyway.
Throwing the stone of the fruit as the girl had done, he hurtled after her down the slope, feeling clumsy as he tried not to trip on the uneven rock and wild grass.
Down, down they went, Jack with a stitch in his side, willing himself to try and keep up as he madly dodged the sharp boulders sticking out of the ground.
Jack turned a corner and saw the edge of a huge forest looming over him, getting taller as he got closer. Even though the girl had frequently stopped to turn round and grin at him on the way down, she arrived at the bottom long before him and disappeared into the trees. When Jack finally got to the bottom of the mountain he stopped and doubled over, clutching his side.
The trees of the forest were tall and thin, each rounded to a perfect tip at the top. Looking around for the girl, he hoped she hadn’t just abandoned him after he’d run all that way. Able to breathe a little easier now, he walked slowly towards the trees. The forest was dark, the trunks close together making it impossible to see what was inside. There were no branches that Jack could see, only the thick trunks with smooth green encasing them.
Then he saw something. Deep inside the black were two ovals, not quite lights, but glowing. They went away, then came back quick, getting closer.
Before Jack even had time to register what was happening, something jumped and landed on him, pinning him with a thud to the ground.
Jack couldn’t see, couldn’t move, so he just lay there trapped. Then the blur in his eyes faded. Expecting to see a huge man eating beast on top of him, Jack could hardly believe what he saw.
A cat. A regular sized ginger cat with a stripey tail, paws on his shoulders, face close to his.
“Oh Freddie,” came the voice of the girl, amused. “Put him down.”
Then the weight lifted as the cat moved away, allowing Jack to sit up. He rubbed the back of his head, where he had hit the ground.
The ginger cat was very pretty. It had flawless fur with a white fluffy belly and white paws. It sat purring innocently a few feet away, looking at the girl.
“He’s only messin’” said the girl, coming over to Jack. “I’m Carla and this is Freddie.”
“I know his name,” said Jack moodily.
Freddie padded over and started rubbing up against Carla’s legs, purring so loud the ground seemed to vibrate.
“And your name is?” Carla asked, holding out her hand to him.
“Jack,” he took her hand and with an effortless sweep she pulled him to his feet.
“Thanks,” said Jack awkwardly, brushing the dust of the back of his trousers and straightening his t-shirt. He looked again at the cat, suspiciously watching the stripey tail move slowly back and forward.
“He’s so small,” he said.
The cat turned to look at him, with a sharp ‘meow’ as if insulted.
Carla laughed. “He says you’re smaller.”
“I’m not,” bristled Jack, before really realising what had just happened. Either Carla was joking with him again or she could understand what the cat said. “He said that?”
There was another meow, sharper this time. Then he could’ve sworn that the cat sighed.
“You’re not giving a very good first impression,” Carla said playfully, grinning at Jack.
“He pounced on me!” retorted Jack, annoyed.
Carla tutted dismissively as if what he’d said was completely stupid. “That’s how he greets people. They all do it. It’s really quite a polite greeting.”
“Oh,” said Jack, not sure whether to believe her or not.
“In cat world Freddie’s almost full size, which makes him bigger than you.”
Carla bent down to the cat, stroking him between the ears. “Won’t you try again?”
Freddie grunted, his tail wagging more ferociously.
“For me?” she added, still stroking him.
“I…I didn’t mean to offend you,” said Jack, all too aware that this had gone beyond weird. Not only was he talking to a cat, he was actually apologising to it.
Freddie meowed than and walked to where Jack was standing.
“Meow, meow, meow,” he said, his face full of expression. Then, more bizarrely than anything else yet, he offered up a white, fluffy paw.
“He wants to shake your hand,” said Carla.
“I got that,” said Jack, giving her a look. He stooped down, trying not to be condescending and gently took the paw in his hand.
“Nice to meet you Freddie.”
Freddie nodded with a short meow, then turned and ran up the nearest tree.
“Where’s he going?” asked Jack.
“Probably heard a bird or a mouse or something. He’ll stay near though, he’s always near.”
Feeling finally like it was the right time to ask, Jack said, “So where are we going?”
“We need to go to Chimney Town,” said Carla with certainty.
Figuring she wasn’t going to give an explanation on her own, Jack asked “Why?”
Carla sighed then in much the same way that Freddie had done before. “I need to see Lord Puff.”
“Lord Puff!” Jack snorted, then quickly covered his mouth when he saw the look on Carla’s face.
“He’s very wise you know,” Carla said.
“What do you want from him?” asked Jack, trying to keep a straight face.
But Carla gave him another dark look. “Why are you here?”
Jack shuffled a bit at this, looking at his shoes. He wasn’t ready to talk about it.
After way longer than was comfortable, Carla broke the silence. “We’ll go that way.” She pointed towards into the thick of the forest.
“Let’s go then,” said Jack, beginning to walk.
Together they entered the forest, the air around getting considerably darker once they were surrounded by trees. It was cold too. Jack took his jacket out of his bag and did it up, pulling the hood over his head. The trees were so dense it was impossible to walk in a straight line, instead having to dodge this way and that. Each and every tree looked exactly the same: the towering trunk, the lack of branches, then the neat green that started halfway up and went straight up to the rounded top, way above.
“They’re so strange,” said Jack, looking up as he walked.
“Just watch out for the bullets,” said Carla casually.
Jack stopped dead. “What on earth are you on about?”
“Well they don’t call it Bullet Fur Forest for nothing,” Carla answered, as if she was getting a bit tired of his obvious questions.
Unfortunately I don't have a scanner here so this picture is a bit dark, but anyway, hope you like it!