Dear Reader: Thanks for waiting. Here comes the conclusion (so go read Parts 1 & 2 if you’re just stumbling across this story now…)
RELATIVITY, A MATTER OF PERCEPTION
‘There’s obviously more to it than I thought.” Hunt and Laurel were still at breakfast. Heather had stepped out early, saying she wanted to greet her “forest friends.” It had been a restless night for them all, and Heather had come and snuggled close in spite of her age, but awakened in a good mood. The parents were happy to have some time to discuss things as adults. “I want to get up there and take a closer look by daylight, but from what we saw, I can’t believe she faked those little prints,” Hunt said.
“Do you think we should call in an expert of some sort, some outside help? I don’t much like having things like that out there in our woods.” Laurel looked toward the upper ridge. “They could be watching us this very moment.”
“Look, honey, whatever they are, they’ve probably been here as long or longer than we have, and if they’d meant to harm us, they could have done it by now. And before I ask for outside help I’m going to be damned sure of what I think I saw. They’ll be calling us more than just “recluses” if we start spreading rumors of ‘little green men” up here.”
“But what can they be?” Laurel pulled nervously at a stray lock of hair. “And what are they doing here?”
“Well, you’ve got me there.” Hunt was now deep in thought. “Maybe they are forest creatures of some sort. Maybe they live in some parallel world and just stumble into ours on occasion. That would explain why Heather says they just ‘come into view’ from nowhere. Speaking of Heather, where’s she off to now?”
Laurel glanced to the meadow, concern shadowing her face. “You don’t suppose she headed back up there by herself?”
At that very moment they caught sight of the little girl emerging from the upper woodline and recognized fear in her movements. She stumbled twice, turning her head as she ran, glancing back toward the deep woods behind her. She’s being chased!
Hunt and Laurel were on their feet in a second and ran out to meet her, and she fell into her father’s arms, unable to get words past her straining breath. Tears dampened her cheeks, and Hunt carried the exhausted child inside and laid her down. They comforted her for several minutes, giving her time to catch her breath and stop crying, until she was finally able to speak.
She had returned to the upper meadow before breakfast, intent on finding more clues to the “little people.” “I looked for the footprints and they were still there. Then I turned around to leave and one of the green men appeared. He was staring straight at me from the top of the deer trail, so I stood still like always. But then he started pointing at me and shouting something, and three others came out of the trees, and they chased after me, and I thought they were going to get me with their sticks!” She broke down again in sobs.
“That does it!” Hunt was furious. “Don’t let her go into the woods again today. I’m going to find out once and for all what these puny creatures are up to, and they’re not about to chase after me like they did a defenseless girl!”
“Honey, please be careful, and take your weapon.”
“You bet your sweet life I will.” He was gone before the girl could control her sobbing.
“Daddy’s not going to kill them, is he?”
“Your father knows best what he has to do, darling. He’ll probably just scare them off so they won’t chase you anymore.
“But Mommy, that’s just it, you don’t understand. They’re forest creatures, too, just like us. They scared me, so I ran and they chased after me, but many of the wild animals do that. It’s not their fault–maybe they’re as afraid of me as I was of them!”
“I know, honey, but we can’t have such strange things chasing us out of our own woods. This is our home now, you know.”
“Maybe so, but it’s just as much theirs. Daddy will try to kill them, I just know it…” She leapt up and ran out, looking up toward the forest. “I’ve got to warn them, Mommy.”
“No, Heather, stop, wait!”
She was already gone, racing across the meadow and up into the trees before her mother could catch her. “Heather!” No response came from the woods. “Heather, no! Come back!”
The little girl took her shortcut up to the bluffs, breaking a path through the underbrush without her normal stealth, intent on reaching the upper meadow ahead of her father. Anxiety on behalf of those little beings overcame her own fear of being chased by them. She envisioned little green men roasting over the charcoals for her father’s dinner.
She burst upon them so suddenly that she was momentarily stunned. The chattering of the creatures was ear-splitting and terrifying. Two stood only a couple of strides away, raising their odd clubs. Howling sounds pierced the air all around. She dropped to her knees to appear less frightening, then shook her head from side to side and spread her empty palms to show she had no wish to harm them. “It’s okay, it’s all right, I’m your friend! I want to help you, you mustn’t…”
The net dropped over her head so abruptly from behind that she let out a horrifying scream, flailing right and left to break away. The mesh was lightweight but strong, and the girl thrashed about wildly in panic as the little creatures jumped up on her back to bring her down. Now she fought desperately, managing to rise to her feet and break one arm free of the webbing. Wrenching away one of their tiny clubs she swung it about her, jerking herself loose in the process. She brought the club down fiercely over the head of the nearest being and he collapsed at her feet. Then she threw back her head and screamed at the top of her lungs: “Daddy!”
The other little men panicked at the sight of their fallen comrade and scattered into the woods in total confusion.
With torn net still clinging to one arm and shoulder, Heather stooped down in the muddied clearing, her body racked by sobs, and picked up the tiny man. His breath came in gasps. Her blow had opened his fragile skull.
“Why?” she cried out in anguish. “Why did you have to attack me like that?” Great tears coursed down her cheeks. “I would have loved you, too, just like my other brothers and sisters.”
The dying little man opened his eyes halfway to stare up at her in wonder. “You do exist, you do!” he said in that high-pitched squeal, although she understood not a word. She realized that he wasn’t green after all, just the dappled matting encasing his body. Reaching up to her cheek, he drew his fingers through the rough fur, feeling the dampness of her tears, then expired in her hairy arms.
Grieving for what she had done, she set the broken body back on the ground, letting his lifeless head rest gently in the muddy depression left by one of her big feet.
Copyright 2013 Patrick W. O’Bryon