The leaves crunch beneath Wilbur’s shoes, offering a bit of white noise as he and Scoot traverse through the unknowingness of the woods.
“I wish we had a map—or a compass, or something,” Wilbur says. He looks around their surroundings, nothing but the blank stares of tree bark. “I can’t tell where we are anymore.”
Scoot yawns. “Can we call it quits for the day? I’m getting tired.”
Scoot’s yawn is contagious, eliciting one from Wilbur as well. “Maybe you’re right,” he says, wiping his eyes. “Although I don’t think it’s wise to sleep in the middle of the woods. Maybe we can find a cave or something—.”
A cold hand on his arm startles Wilbur, and as he whips around, he locks eyes with an older man, dressed in a large trench coat.
“What are you doing here, young man?” the old man asks.
“Oh, I was just—uh, I,” Wilbur stammers. His grip on the basket tightens. “I’m lost, and I’m trying to find my way back home.”
The old man looks around, like a prey studying his surroundings. “There’s terrible things that roam these woods. Be careful when the sun sets, that’s when they come out to play.”
“They?” Wilbur asks.
“The monsters! The monsters of the woods! Terrible creatures who steal children and livestock. They’ve ravaged these woods for years!”
Wilbur swallows harshly. A chill of fear runs through him. “Monsters?”
“Yes, monsters!” the old man replies. “It is I who has to keep them at bay.”
The old man spots Scoot, sitting in the basket Wilbur has clutched in the crook of his arm. “You better watch your cat,” he says as he points to Scoot, who hisses back at him. “Be careful getting home, young man. Stick to the path, and never stray far from it!”
With that the old man staggers off. Wilbur watches as he disappears into the darkness of the woods.
Stick to the path. Never stray far from it. It’s the same words Wilbur told her before she left home.
“Do you think he was being serious?” Wilbur asks. “About the monsters, and the creatures who steal children and such?”
“I think he’s just a crazy old man,” Scoot replies, unbothered.
“Right, well, clearly something must have made him go crazy,” Wilbur replies.
They continue on. Scoot occasionally pokes his head through the basket to watch where Wilbur’s taking him. To be honest, Wilbur doesn’t even know where he’s going himself. He just listens to the old man’s orders and sticks to the path.
It sends shivers down his back. Wilbur turns sharply, eyes bouncing around the woods, looking for her. He almost hopes to see her brown pigtails and her big blue cape.
Scoot takes notice of Wilbur’s sudden hesitance. “What is it?” he asks.
“I thought…I thought I heard something,” Wilbur replies. “Maybe I’m going crazy.”
Without a warning, Scoot hops out from the basket and runs ahead. “Wil, look!”
Wilbur chases after him, finding him in front of a young girl. She sits on the dirt of the floor, bunched up as she gently cries to herself. Wilbur picks up Scoot, taking a cautious step up to the girl.
“Oh—hello there,” Wilbur says quietly. “Pardon me, miss, but are you alright?”
The girl looks up, wiping her eyes dry with the sleeve of her dress.
“My, what a pretty cat you have,” the young girl responds. “Reminds me of my Sylvia.”
“Sylvia? Is that your cat?”
“She was. I haven’t seen her since she ran into the woods behind my father’s house.”
Feeling pity for her, Wilbur allows for the girl to hold Scoot in her hands. She’s gentle in how she holds him, like a mother holding her newborn. Scoot licks a falling tear from her face.
“I’m very sorry,” Wilbur replies. He recalls what the old man had told him, about the so-called creatures that roam the woods, stealing children and animals. Perhaps he wasn’t as crazy as he and Scoot thought. “My name is Wilbur, and this cute little guy is named Scoot.” Wilbur ruffles Scoot’s head gently.
“Hey! Watch the fur!” Scoot hisses.
The girl laughs. “I’m Eleanor,” she says. “Where are you headed?”
“I need to get back home, back to my mother and my—” Wilbur stops himself from finishing what he was going to say. Eleanor gives him a confused look. “Nevermind,” he says.
“You better go on then,” Eleanor says. “It’s getting dark.”
“Would you like to join us?” Wilbur asks. “Scoot and I were gonna look for a place to spend the night. Maybe we could look for Sylvia too.”
Eleanor’s face brightens. “I’d be delighted to! There’s a town further into the woods, perhaps they might be of some help.”
And so with basket in Wilbur’s hand, Eleanor to his side and Scoot in her arms, the three of them head deeper into the woods, unaware of what lies ahead for them.