The legends of old are always filled with epic battles and emerging heroes, all who are dashing and adored by everyone. However, those lesser stories, sad to say, though they feature equally enchanting heroes, are less well- known, and worst of all, not known at all in the distant parts of the land. That’s because they are what they are— lesser stories.
I am speaking, of course, of an untold story that you’ve probably never heard of before. (Of course, since it’s untold!) The story features not one, but a few heroes, who have heroically put a stop to an atrocity that has been plaguing the land, twisting and distorting the natural fabric of the world. And even more unconventional, the heroes did not accomplish their job alone, but were helped along the way by nameless, friendly people. After all, who didn’t require assistance in their darkest hour? And hence, in accomplishing their heroic act, the heroes had freed the innocent town folk of the evil that had found a way into their lives, which had taken root in their ignorance. The evil was like a sinister, silent, squirmy, slimy, stinky— Anyway, here, my tale begins.
There was once a time when a man had, incidentally, heard of the legends of old, and had wanted to make a name for himself. He decided that he fitted the criteria for a hero anyway— his wide blue eyes that glittered like sapphires in the sun, his sandy blond hair that shadowed a wide forehead, and his strong, angular jaw.
Looking and preening in the mirror, the man did indeed feel that he looked like an all- time hero— the kind that made women swoon, the kind that old folks talked about around the fire on a winter’s eve, and the kind that children looked up to with the light of admiration shining in their eyes. Besides, heroes, the male ones, anyway, were the ones who always ended up with a beautiful girl in their arms, and they always rode away together, be it on a horse or in a carriage, amidst the cheering of the crowd. This, the man felt, was usually accompanied by the tossing and showering of flower petals— preferably rose, because it added to the romantic atmosphere— by the crowd upon them, as they sped away into the sunset. This was what the man was looking for, that something more, that bonus reward that arose from adventures— love.
You see, the man had never felt love before. Not the love that exists between family members. No, he had an abundance of that. Love, as in the kind of emotion that blossoms between a man and a woman. Sure, he had felt random stabs of affection from time to time, but women always shied away from him. An extremely rude women, in his opinion, had once likened him to an empty conch shell. Pretty on the outside, empty on the inside. The man wasn’t quite sure that he had liked it. Thus, with his failed attempts, none could wonder why he yearned for some love.
And so, the man went to his village chief, and requested a private audience with him. As they sat at the table, the man having poured himself a generous helping of tea, he felt it safe to broach the topic.
‘Sir, I plan to look for adventure. A quest of a lifetime, if you will.’ The man announced proudly.
‘Well, that you may. Go with my blessings, and rest reassured that your family will be taken care of while you are away.’ The village chief answered magnanimously. After all, who was he to stop the young man from searching for his passion?
‘Very well. Do you have any advice to give?’ The man asked.
‘That depends on what you are looking for.’ The village chief replied.
‘I am looking for adventure. And above all else, love.’ A rapturous look appeared on the man’s face, as he gazed dreamily into the distance.
‘Oh, that.’ For the first time, the village chief appeared quite uncertain. ‘First things first, make sure you are always armed and equipped while you wander the land. One may always meet danger. It is an adventure, after all. Also, take note to follow your own instincts in times of uncertainty.’
The man nodded, listening with rapt attention. ‘And the other advice? For love?’ He probed, when the village chief remained silent.
‘Well… That, you have to find out for yourself. Know this though, it always appears to you when you are least expecting it. However, the first step is to always be courteous.’ The village chief looked pointedly at his own empty tea cup.
‘I… Oh!’ The man flushed, and quickly poured some tea into the village chief’s tea cup. His hands trembled a little, sloshing some tea into the saucer.
‘Well, that is all that is to be said. I wish you the best of luck.’ The village chief said, appearing quite mollified.
The man thanked the village chief profusely, and bounded out of his hut. As he left the village gates, the crowd cheered and threw flower petals at him, and the man wished he had a beautiful woman by his side.
The man— oh oops! Did I forget to mention his name? How silly of me! It was Charles Middle Klyston, for his parents had wanted to give him a middle name, but finding no inspiration, simply chose the simplest and most obvious of all— Middle. We shall name him Charles, for convenience sake, then.
So Charles walked, for he had not deemed it fit to bring a horse, with his bag full of provisions, and a large sword which he had strapped across his back. He walked through from village to village, being polite, learning the place where true adventure lay— in the Waddling Woods. He talked to people in the day, gleaning important information from them, such as the nearest water point or stream, or the fastest route through his next destination. At night, when everyone was packed in bars, he listened to the roaring laughter of the raving drunkards, and beneath that, the soft whispers that were carried in the wind. They whispered of how people wandered into the Waddling Woods and never emerged, or how screams could be heard, originating from the Waddling Woods, in the darkest hour of the night.
At first, Charles had scoffed at the rumours, ignoring the shiver of fear that tingled down his spine. The Waddling Woods— the name sounded ridiculous— was just a forest. What else could exist besides plants, animals and the occasional person?
However, Charles remembered his village chief’s advice, and so, kept the warnings of others in mind.
The next day came, and Charles found himself in the next village, a step closer to the Waddling Woods. He met the inn keeper, a friendly old, balding man.
‘Greetings. My name is Charles Middle Klyston, and I am looking for an adventure.’ Charles introduced himself for the umpteenth time.
‘Middle? What a funny middle name! Ha ha ha!’ The inn keeper laughed.
‘Yes it is.’ Charles sounded quite irritated. ‘Could you tell me more about the Waddling Woods?’
‘Oh! Stay away from there!’ The inn keeper suddenly lost his jovial expression, and a terrified expression fixed itself upon his countenance. The change was so sudden that it disconcerted Charles.
‘Haven’t you heard?’ The inn keeper lowered his voice conspiratorially.
‘Heard what?’ Charles asked in an equally soft tone.
‘The Waddling Woods have quagmires so deep and dangerous, that travellers have to waddle in order to escape. Some say that these people forget the proper way of walking, because they have waddled so long in the woods. And that’s how the forest got its name, the Waddling Woods.’ The inn keeper finished in a very mysterious tone. The bald patch on his forehead was shining with sweat.
‘Oh.’ Charles replied lamely. For the first time, he was having second thoughts about his adventure.
‘Are you still considering going in there to find your quest?’ The inn keeper asked fearfully.
‘Yes. But thank you for the warning, all the same. I will tread with caution.’ Charles promised.
‘One more thing, young man. As you approach the Waddling Woods, the villages you come across will not appear so… normal, for lack of a better word.’ The inn keeper said in a cryptic tone.
‘Thank you.’ Charles replied courteously.
With that, Charles, whose blood boiled for adventure, retired for the night. The very next morning, he was off again, leaving the village through its back doors into the next. And each step took him nearer and nearer the Waddling Woods.
He reached the next village in the mid- afternoon, his feet weary and back aching. Nonetheless, Charles kept a friendly smile on his face.
As usual, he headed to the nearest inn and introduced himself.
‘Greetings. My name is Charles Middle Klyston, and I am looking for an adventure.’ He said.
‘Middle? What a funny middle name! Ha ha ha!’ The owner of the inn laughed.
Charles waited patiently for the laughter to subside, before continuing. ‘Yes it is. Do you know anything about the Waddling Woods?’
The owner of the inn’s demeanour suddenly changed. ‘What do you want? What is your business here?’ His voice was raised several notches, and was suddenly very hostile.
The entire inn went quiet. Charles froze, afraid for his life for the first time. ‘I didn’t… I mean, I don’t…’ He trailed off as the owner of the inn grabbed a broomstick and waved it threateningly in his face.
‘Get out now. You are not welcome in our village.’ The owner snarled.
‘What? I don’t understand. I just—’ Charles was cut- off when the butt of the broomstick knocked him in his chest, sending him sprawling in the doorway.
The villagers in the inn were all standing up now, grabbing their pitchforks, which had just been conveniently leaning against the wall of the inn. Their drinks forgotten, they rushed towards Charles, their weapons brandished before them.
Charles trusted his instincts. They were telling him to run. And so, he ran. He ran out of the inn, flew down the main street, and raced towards the exit of the village.
The crowd around him chased him out of their village, growing and growing in numbers. As he sped off towards the village gates, the rowdy crowd jeered at him, throwing all sorts of things after him. As a rotten tomato squelched wetly against his face, Charles wished it was a flower petal, and wished that he had a beautiful woman with him.
Charles wandered away from the village, and headed for the other village, ever closer to the Waddling Woods. The distance between both villages was quite far apart, and it was as the sun set that Charles crested a hill, and saw the distant lights of the village. Further behind, the Waddling Woods began to show itself— a faint outline of trees, the knotted, gnarled trunks twisting here and there, looking sinister even from such a distance.
The village gates were closed and barred, as night had fallen. Charles, with a weary sigh, flopped onto the grass. He hadn’t thought to bring timber or wood, hence he couldn’t start a fire.
He sat in the gathering gloom, alone and shivering, as the light slowly faded away, and the stars began to appear in the night sky.
Try as he might, Charles could not sleep. He sat wrapped in tattered blankets, a lone figure on the hill top. He was one day away from the Waddling Woods. One day away from adventure.
And the screams began.
Who do you think are causing the screams? Does Charles seem a bit like a fool to you? (:
Read on –> Chapter 2: Into The Night