The Stranger in the Forest

A strange deer has come into Bambi's forest. Who is he? What does he want. Why does he not even have a name and just how does he know all about Man? He is big, he is powerful, and he is unlike any deer in the herd. With what this deer knows, he may save or doom all the deer in the herd.

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4. Man Path

CHAPTER FOUR: MAN PATH

 

It was only a few days after his first meeting with Claris that it started. The herd was feeding on the meadow near the rising of the greater light. By now the grass was growing quickly, and would soon reach its peak. It would remain that way until after The Season when the first chill of winter came to the forest. Eating your fill was easy, and all the deer and other animals were putting on weight and muscle to prepare them for the next time of hardship. The heat from the greater light had increased. It was hot in the open when the greater light was overhead. To go into the open, even for a short while, meant your body was covered with sweat. It was best to spend the days in the shade under the trees and come out only in the cool of the night and early light. 

Most of his time with Claris took place in the meadow. They had both come to know each other better over the nights. The more he looked, the more he liked her and he sensed Claris felt the same way. If they wanted to rest during the night, they rested next to each other. While feeding, they kept to the far end of the meadow away from the others who ate by the stream from the hill. Bambi, Faline, little Veron, and Ronno were their only companions. They were still ignored by the rest of the herd who made no attempt to get to know them. After dawn, Claris would go back to her resting place in the forest and he would go to his. Claris still did not feel secure enough around him to stay with him all day. They had just finishing eating and the first traces of the greater light appeared in the distance.

“BOOOMMMMM!!!!’ rang through the forest. Both the ground and air shook. The noise was much louder than the sounds of killing sticks. It was the loudest noise he had ever heard. The shock was so great, it took all his effort to remain standing and steady Claris so she did not fall.

“BOOOMMMMM!!!” came again.

The whole forest shook with the noise. He saw trees in the distance start to fall down. A column of black smoke rose as if from a fire. It was like nothing he had ever seen or heard before. Instantly birds flew off into the sky straining to get away. Squirrels and other tree animals scurried up the branches to the top. Even Friend Owl was shaken from his new sleep and he flew deep in the forest. The second noise almost knocked him off his feet again. He was paralyzed for a moment along with all the other deer. Then he smelled it on the wind: acrid, putrid like spoiled fruit. He knew the scent.

He turned and faced the herd. Some smaller deer were only now getting to their feet. “MAN!” he bellowed out as loud as he could. He turned to Claris. “Run,” he yelled. She took to her heels running like a bear was after her. She was fast and flew past him like a stiff summer wind. He ran after her slowly gaining. She slowed to turn her head.

“Don’t look back,” he yelled out loud enough to be heard across the meadow. She dug in her hoofs and ran even faster. She was first in the trees, he was right behind her. They both ran as fast as they could until they reached the place they had run to the first day he met her. She stopped and fell sprawling onto the ground. He stood standing next to her, head down panting, trying to get air into him. There was soon another huge roar, and another one like the first. The ground, trees, and even the rocks were shaking. He thought it might be the end for all of them. He could see even more smoke in the sky. Then he smelled the scent of burning wood. There was fire in the forest. Claris smelled it too.

“What do we do?” she tried to say through her wheezing.

“If the fire smell gets stronger, we will have to flee deeper into the forest toward the top of the hills,” he panted.

“I have never been that deep in the forest,” she said looking scared.”Are we going to die?”

He was frighten too, but did not want to show it to Claris. “Not now we are not,” he said to reassure her. “What happens later, I do not know. If there are more huge roars the whole forest may end.”

“Then I am glad I am with you,” she said calmly. She looked away toward the far end of the now hidden meadow. “I hope the others are alright.”

“Bambi is wise, he will guide them. For now rest,” he said and lay down beside her. “Try not to sleep, but keep your nose in the air. At the first scent of Man we run into the deep forest as fast and as far as we can. Do not look back after me. I will be alright.”

“No,” she told him.”I stay with you.”

He reached over and nuzzled her again and she did the same. If this was the end, he was in good company.

They lay awake until the greater light was directly overhead. There were no more loud roars. Soon he could hear the birds sing again, and saw the raccoons, squirrels, and possums come down from the trees. Even the insects came back to buzz around their ears. Then there was another noise, not as loud as the roar, but a constant growl like a huge animal moving about looking for food. The noise did not get louder and the scent of Man did not get stronger. Soon even the smoke odor vanished. Both of them spent the time chewing their cud from last evening. She lay fully against him, and again that warm feeling came back to him. After the greater light was overhead, they were both so tired they could not hold their heads up any more and they lay on the ground asleep. They did not awake again until after the setting of the greater light. Near dark, the growling noises stopped. All was quiet once more in the forest.

After they woke, they both emptied themselves. Then they looked around for what to do next. Part of him wanted to go to the edge of the meadow to look, but that was too dangerous. Finally Claris looked into the deep forest.

“We should go see Friend Owl,” she said. “Maybe he saw something.”

That sounded like a good idea to him. He looked at her and nodded his head. “I will follow you.”

 They started back toward the other side of the meadow where they had met the old owl before. The air was still and no scent could he smell other than those familiar to him. The forest had returned to normal. He could hear the sounds of hunters and hunted. A possum mother carrying four babies asked if they knew what was happening. He had to tell her no. Claris made for the big oak tree and the owl. Maybe he would know. Friend Owl was there looking like he was waiting for them.

“Greetings Friend Owl,” Claris said again. “Do you know what is happening?”

“Never in all my days have I seen anything like it. Huge animals are at the edge of the meadow. They seem to be eating rock, dirt, and trees. Men are with them in fact Men look to be in them.

“These creatures are eating Man?” he asked. That made no sense to him. Man only ate, he was never eaten.

“No, no,” the owl said with a hoot. “They seem to be getting in and out of the large animals.”

That struck a memory in him when he lived with Man. “Yes, I have seen that before. Man has some animals that move. Men get in and out of them, but they are not eaten. I saw it, but never understood how.”

He could see the owl and Claris had no idea what he was talking about. The owl listened then spoke out. “Bambi has called for a gathering in the deep thicket. He wants to see you. He even asked me to come.”

“I do not know this place,” he told the owl.

“I do” Claris, cut in. “I will take you, but I do not think they will be happy to see us.”

“Bambi will be happy,” the owl said poignantly, “and so will I. I cannot be expected to know everything that happens.”

“Thank you,” he said to Claris and the owl. “We will go there right now.” Inwardly he had a bad feeling about this.

The trip to the deep thicket took until the lesser light was high in the sky. The thicket was much smaller than the meadow. It lay near the small stream that came down the hill. It was just a larger opening in the forest. It lay beyond the place Claris had shown him his first night with her. As they approach, his nose was filled with the scents of many animals. It was crowded with deer, rabbits, raccoons, possums, and a collection of the other forest creatures. There were so many, he could not pick out individual scents. Most of the herd was crowded together in that small space.

“I brought them,” the owl called out from above. “I brought Stranger and Claris.”

“Come forward,” Bambi called to them. They both walked close together through the herd. He saw the look on their faces of the males and doe that ranged from disapproval to disgust. Despite the crowd, the deer parted away from them like they did not even want to be touched by either Claris or him. He felt anger starting to build up inside of him. They wanted his help and would not even talk to either of them. For a moment he was tempted to turn around and let them suffer on their own.  He took a deep breath and kept reminding himself they were here for Bambi and only for Bambi. Claris walked straight ahead not turning to face any of them. They walked up and both dipped their heads as a show of respect for the herd leader.

 Bambi stepped out into the middle of the group and spoke loudly. “I know what you think of these two. How you feel about them is unimportant right now. We need the advice of Stranger because there is a great question to be answered. That question is can we go back to the meadow?”

“Why is that a concern?” one of the larger males called out. “We have plenty of food in the forest. We can eat that.”

“And what of the snow,” Bambi added. “We eat the meadow grass because it is in great supply in the summer until it is covered by the snow, or dies in the winter. Then we eat the grass in the forest because the snow does not cover it as deep. If we eat that grass now, what do we eat when the snow comes?”

Distant murmuring came from the others. Most deer could not think that far ahead. Those same deer were the ones that thought they were so much better than Claris or himself. Then Bambi added, “We need the meadow grass and we need it soon. We have to know if the meadow is safe.”

“Why not ask the Stanger and his doe” he heard Kragus called from the back. “We can send them out to talk to their friend Man.”

He thought about stomping Kragus’ face again. He was going to say something, but Bambi beat him to it. ”Enough Kragus, if you have nothing useful to say, keep quiet.”

Then he understood what to do. There was a way to know if the meadow was safe. It would be dangerous, but the others would know one way or the other. The problem was he need help in order to do it. Who could he depend on here?

“I must disagree, Bambi,” he said respectfully. “Kragus is right, we might need to ask Man or find out from him the answer.”

All of them, even Claris, looked at him as if he finally lost his head completely. There were gasps, moans and looks of utter astonishment from the others at his words. He tried to explain. ”The only way to know is to go out and look. If these animals are like the others I have seen around Man, if Man is not in them, they do not move. If so, we can use the meadow when Man is not there and that is at night. If the Man animals do not move, then it is safe.”

“And are you just going to walk out there and ask Man?” Kragus’ voice cracked again not even trying to hide his contempt. “Do you want to die, not that I care one bit?”

Claris walked up to him,” NO!” she said simply, her eyes getting cloudy.

“No. I do not want to die,” he said keeping the coldness in his stomach at bay. “Not now at anyway,” he said looking squarely at Claris “However if we eat the forest grass now, then many of us will be dead before next spring.”

The thicket became as quiet as death. Nothing move or tried to speak. He then stood in the center next to Bambi. “I will need help however. Friend Owl I need you to see at night from above to watch for movement of the Man animals. I need you to call out if they move. I will then go out and get close to the Man animals and see if they can move. If I am right, they will not move and we can use the meadow at night. “If I am wrong, it will not matter. I will need someone to come with me and act as a messenger in case something happens to me. What about it Kragus, do you want come with me? You say you are big and brave. Care to prove it?”

Again there was dead silence from everyone. All turned to the brash young male halfway back in the pack. Finally the big deer backed away. “I am going to die some day,” he said trying to put on a brave show. “I see no reason to charge headlong to meet it. I will not go with you.”

“Did not think so,” he muttered. Bambi heard him turned and smiled. Then he looked directly at him and said, “I will go with you.”

A chorus of Nos filled the thicket like the roar this morning. The loudest shout coming from Faline, her normally smooth voice was as shrill as the owl’s.

He looked directly at Bambi. “No, if anything happens to you, who leads the herd? You want Kragus as leader?”

Bambi smiled and shook his head no. “Ronno can lead until my older son Geno is ready. Besides if we can no longer use the meadow, the herd will need to break up to have any chance to live through the snow.”

“I will go with you,” the old owl called down. “I will fly above the end of the meadow. If I see the Man animals move, I will shriek twice.”

That was something he did not expect. Bambi was brave, but this was risking both of them. That could lead to much death for the herd when Man came during The Season. Why he cared about the herd he did not know, but he did. He wanted them and Claris safe and the only way to do that was to go out and see. There was little noise that night; the animals were not moving. He saw the old owl leave for the meadow. He walked quickly past the others, down the stream, and to the edge of the meadow. Bambi was near him and walked in silence. None of the others came with them except Faline and Claris.  Faline left Veron with Calris’s mother, Ate, in the thicket. The two doe were braver than most of the males.

He looked at the open expanse of the meadow. It was dark on the other side. It was hard to see if anything was moving. He could see Friend Owl circle overhead, so far silent. He looked at Bambi. “I think we move around near the tress on the other side of the meadow. If I can get within several lengths of the Man animals and they do not move, then it should be safe to use the meadow.”

“Yes,” Bambi said, but did not look at all convinced of his plan

By now both Faline and Claris were standing there. The fear was evident in their faces. What could he say at this point except, “let us go, the day is coming soon. Then he turned back to the doe. “You two go back.”

At least neither Faline, nor Claris made a fuss despite both knowing what might happen. He was glad of that. Both Bambi and he moved out close to the trees picking their way carefully along the ground. Both of them moved quietly as shadows. They were walking at a normal pace picking carefully along the ground as not to make a sound. It took them some time to move around to the other side of the meadow.

Nothing he heard. The air was filled with scents. A light putrid order of Man filled the meadow. Nothing he could smell had a strong odor of Man. He did not think Man was there. Soon they got so close he could see the large animals. One was half as big as a tree. The tall one had a huge claw that seemed to stick out to grab things. The other was shorter and had some bone or heavy skin in the front that reminded him of a large turtle. These were not the same animals he saw when he lived with Man. The animals at the Man cave he grew up at were smaller and less threatening. They got halfway down the meadow with nothing more to see. Owl was overhead, still quiet. He motioned Bambi to go into the trees with him. Once they gone a few lengths into the woods they stopped.

“I go on alone from here,” he whispered to Bambi. “If you see me fall, stay in the trees and get back to the others. They should not see you here.”

“Very well,” Bambi said. He could tell the herd leader was glad he did not have to go on from here.

With that he moved out into the open. It was quiet. The forest noise was much lower than usual. The loud noise of the Man animals during the day had scared off most of the forest animals. It made the few insect noises stand out. He watched his footing carefully. This far out in the meadow there were no twigs from the forest to break to give him away. He crept in closer to the end of the meadow. The animals had not moved. The only thing he felt was wetness on his feet from the dew.

No scent came to him other than fresh earth and grass. No animal smells. Then he smelled it, a trace of smoke, but he did not see where it came from. He crept in closer. There was a rush of air by his left ear. He froze instinctively.

“Nothing,” squealed the voice from the old owl as he flew past.

The ground in front of him was torn up. He saw an opening in the forest on the far side of the meadow. Someone had pulled up all the trees to leave the ground bear making an open path through the forest that was so wide, the whole herd could travel on it at one time. The torn up earth extended to the edge of the meadow. He knew there was a small spring there that flowed into the stream. It looked like they were piling dirt up around the edge of the meadow near where he had stayed before he met the herd. There were also some tall thin trees without any branches or leaves sticking out of the ground that Man had planted.

Just then he caught the first glimmer of the greater light off in the distance. He saw and heard nothing, all was still. They must see him. The Man animals were either dead or sleeping. It was time for him to go. There was nothing moving around here. It looked safe; they could use the meadow at night. He turned to walk away. An instant later he saw light at his feet. He looked back and saw two large glowing eyes moving through the new path in the trees toward him. This was followed by two shrieks from the owl. They were after him; he ran.

It was not very far to the trees. He ran into them as the glowing eyes came up between the trees toward him. He ran along the side of the meadow just inside the trees. He finally got to where he had left Bambi. It was there he stopped to catch his breath. He looked around. He smelled Bambi, but did not see him. Then he heard leaves move from the nearby branches

“You are alive,” Bambi said with relief “I thought that creature was after you.”

He looked back at the end of the meadow. The two eyes stopped next to the two Man animals. The eyes suddenly dimmed and from the side of the animal out came four Men. They walked over to the animals.

“Like the animals I saw when I lived with Man,” he told Bambi. “They came at the start of day. Before that the animals were cold and not moving. That means they move only with Men in them. They will only work during the light. We can use the meadow at night.”

Almost at once there were glowing eyes from the two Man animals as they began to move. “We need to go,” Bambi said.

“Slow,” he said. “They do not seem to be coming after us.”

It was fully light before they reach the stream and followed it back to the thicket. There were a few others there. As they approached close to the thicket, he heard a cry from Claris/ An instant later  both Faline and Claris rushed out to meet them. Claris came over and kissed him on the muzzle. Faline almost knocked Bambi to the ground she was so happy.

“You are both alive,” Claris squealed in happiness. Faline then yelled out, “We saw the eyes come closer and the Man animals start to move and thought they killed you.”

“They came after Stranger, but he got away,” Bambi explained.

The light was full, the Man-animals were roaring in their work. He was tired and it was a long walk back to his place.

“I am tired. I think I am going to sleep near here for today,” he told the others.

“Down the stream past the pond is a small cave. That is where Faline, Veron, and I sleep. Across the stream there is a small opening in the forest. No one uses it anymore. You can sleep there.”

“Thank you” he said and walked wearily toward the opening with Bambi and Faline. “His heart was still pounding from fright and running. He was soaked with sweat even though it had been at night. It was then he noticed he was not alone. Claris always walked away at early light toward a small grove of trees where she slept alone during the day.

“Are you not going home to sleep?” he asked.

“I am going home to sleep,” she said then added almost as an afterthought, “with you.”

Bambi and Faline said nothing but looked straight ahead suppressing smiles.

This might have been worth it after all.

 

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