Valerie stared at the verdant expanse of the forest canopy above her in amazement. The deep green, freckled with a glimpse of blue, red, and gold from the sky behind it, always filled her with a deep calm. Many of the other villagers consider the looming trees to be terrifying, as if the massive vegetation mocked them for being small and helpless. Not Valerie though! The colossal trees with their turgid vines, the dainty mushrooms that often sheltered her from the rain, the tiny streams that trickled through the forest floor… if it wasn’t for Ruth, Valerie would spend all her time here in the jungle. Her little village wasn’t too bad. For one, it was definitely safer than the jungle. And she supposed that the grass huts were nice and cosy. Of course, there was Ruth as well, but Valerie was sure Ruth would follow no matter where she goes.
Dusk was steadily approaching, and with the cacophony of the jungle birds’ cries the atmosphere turned eerie. Valerie brushed her hand through Jorg’s coarse fur, feeling the warmth of her gentle capybara mount and finding comfort in his presence. Jorg let out a low grumbling sound, unintentionally indicating his unease at the growing presence of nightlife. She could see his fuzzy head dart from looking at cobwebs housing spiders that could gobble them both up, to bats swooping overhead searching for tasty blood-filled treats. He was a bit of a scaredy cat, but she couldn’t really blame him.
“We’re almost there, Jorgi.” Valerie whispered into his ear, hoping to steel his nerves. “And when we get back, I’ll make sure Ruth gives you a nice big helping of peas!” At the sound of his favourite treat, Jorg immediately picked up the pace. Valerie’s thoughts turned to Ruth. Valerie couldn’t wait to see her in her purple flower petal dress again, to hold her close, to walk into their newly built thatch home. Ruth was her world.
The tang and stink of perfume suddenly overwhelmed her senses. Coughing, Valerie wrapped a shawl around her lower face, hoping to block out most of the sickly-sweet scent. Jorg came to a halt and let out a low “hiss.” Peering over his bulk, Valerie could see enormous tracks, maybe those of sandals she thought, trailing into the depths of the now dark jungle. They were lucky, who knows what would have happened if Valerie and Jorg were here a little earlier. Tugging on Jorg’s harness, Valerie directed his attention away from the footprint and toward the destination home.
They soon reached the small hidden path. On either side, and decorating its entire length, stood ghastly scarecrows. Their heads were that of bird skulls, adorned with berry-red crowns. Some of the gaunt figures were bedecked in feathers, while others were armoured with a spiked carapace, and they all stood staring at Valerie. She felt a brief shiver travel throughout her body, and a tremble from Jorg as well. She was almost as frightened of them as the creepy crawlies the scarecrows were intended for. Nevertheless, their frightening visage couldn’t entirely remove the excitement that their presence symbolised. She was almost home, and that meant she was almost with Ruth again. Spurring Jorg forward they raced through the sinister passageway. She could faintly see the warm glowing red bonfire in the town square and the squat shaped huts that comprised the village. Valerie passed through the town-gate nearing the settlement when she saw… the town square was engulfed in flame, with blotches of red gore dotting the surrounding area. Her eyes scanned the huts only to see parts splintered or destroyed. Finally, her eyes saw a small bundle of purple… a purple flower dress, drenched in spit, and the wearer nowhere to be seen.