Chapter 8:

Back to the forest

The Stray Princess


They leave the place, Xena walks alongside the former hairy man, he is carrying the basket with the right hand because the left one was still under recovery, he can move it but is better not to apply much force in it.Bookmark here

It’s well before noon and there are many people outside already, some of them walking their dogs, there are just so many breeds. They move in front of a pet shop, there are some small poodle puppies that happily follow them until the limit of the window.Bookmark here

“Some are born luckier than others” He sighsBookmark here

They pass by a group of adults talking, one of them starts laughing… it was a peculiar laugh, he turns around to take a better look at the one making the noise and it is a tall thin guy with red hair. Suddenly recognizes him, it was the man with the bat back in the alley.Bookmark here

Covering his head with the hoodie and feeling fear in his gut, he walks faster to get out of sight. They enter and leave the street where their shelter was located but the narrow alley didn’t exist anymore, it was covered with bricks and painted with the colors of the nearby buildings so it looks like it never existed in the first place.Bookmark here

Several hours passed after leaving the city, they are not so far from the highway and their destination. There are some trash bags at one side of the road, Xena reacts thinking in opening the bags as usual so she approaches to sniff them.Bookmark here

“Don’t do that, we have enough food to not worry about it for a while” He says.Bookmark here

Xena doesn’t understand, so she simply continues moving her muzzle over the bags. There is a faint noise that reaches her ear, she moves searching for the source and after pushing some small bags arrives to a black one that on its own makes a weak movement. Even if it isn’t much, it really surprises Xena making her jump backwards.Bookmark here

“Careful! What’s the matter girl?” He approaches and tries to follow the direction of where her eyes are pointing and sees the black bag that inside has something moving slowly “Oh dear!” Bookmark here

He puts the basket on the floor and slightly scared uses his right hand to open the bag, his stomach moves around and sweat comes from his forehead, inside there is a small white puppy with his eyes closed and the size of his hand.Bookmark here

“Some people can be really cruel, huh?” He says while grabbing the little puppy, after further examination he notices that the right front leg of the little creature has a malformation, full leg development is missing but there are not any signs of the animal being hurt “Poor little buddy”Bookmark here

He spends some time examining every bag but only that one had a creature inside. After finishing he picks up the puppy with his left hand and the basket with the right hand and so just a little before sunset they continue their way.Bookmark here

They finally arrive to the forest, he takes the furry cape outside the backpack and covers the puppy while settling the tent and the wood fire.Bookmark here

After cooking and letting cool some mushy rice he proceeds to eat it and to feed the puppy. Bookmark here

“Eat little buddy” Bookmark here

Xena stays closer looking at them after finishing her meal, she is intrigued by the sight of the puppy eating.Bookmark here

“Oh, you still hungry?” He asks her “Here!” He takes out another treat of the same bag the lady used, he takes a better look at the package, there is a Golden retriever sitting and smiling and in shiny letters it says ‘Princess’ the texture of the package is soft “Oh Xena. I wish to give you the life you deserve”Bookmark here

He goes back to feed the puppy, and the little creature eats with a bit of effort.Bookmark here

“That’s it, you are such a strong little dog. You need a name” The man starts looking around the forest from his sitting position. Then his eyes encounter with Xena’s eyes who is again looking at them “I know! What about Hercules? Sounds amazing, Me, Xena and Hercules against the world” He smiles and keeps feeding the puppy while he starts humming, that soft melody alongside the crackle of the wood fire make a relaxing atmosphere in the night.Bookmark here

During the following days they slowly moved deeper in the forest so they could be away from the noise in the highway. There was a comfortable clearing where they settled not too close to the river or the road, with all the food in the basket there was nothing to worry about.Bookmark here

“If I do it correctly” He says while cooking oatmeal “we have enough for a month of so” Bookmark here

Hercules comes out of the tent pushing himself over the ground, Xena walks by his side still amazed by the little creature.Bookmark here

“This tiny dog is fun to watch” she thinksBookmark here

“It's cute seeing you two, maybe your maternal instinct has woken up Xena”Bookmark here

She moves her head when hearing her name, the smile of the man gives her a sense of tranquility.Bookmark here

He puts the pot with oatmeal over a rock to let it cool and grabs the next bottle so he could start cooking the rice, but the bottle is empty so he gets up and leaves Xena and Hercules inside the tent covering them with the furry coat.Bookmark here

“We ran out of water, so I’ll go to the river to get some. Take care of the baby, OK Xena?” The man says while patting her.Bookmark here

When he stops and goes to take the bottles, Xena tries to get up.Bookmark here

“We are moving now” She thinksBookmark here

“no no no, STAY! STAY!” He says extending the right palm, Xena looks at him for a moment and goes back, laying on the floor “It wont take long, I’ll be back before the moon comes out” and with that, he leaves the place with only the bottles in his hands.Bookmark here

Xena doesn’t like to be alone but she trusts the man, so she curls around Hercules and closes her eyes.Bookmark here

The river is not too far away, only half an hour and the path is really easy to walk.Bookmark here

“Maybe tomorrow we should start moving closer to the river, that way I don’t have to leave them alone next time we need water” He thinks as he starts moving the left arm “tsk, it still hurts but at least now I am able to flex it”Bookmark here

Finally arrives to the river, he bends over by the riverbank and starts filling the bottles with the stream which is moving fast. The place gets darker and the wind starts blowing.Bookmark here

“Ugh, It’ll rain soon, better hurry up”Bookmark here

Putting one of the bottles aside, he grabs the next one when a strong rain starts to fall. The wind increases the force and the man stays in place filling the container.Bookmark here

“No, I’ll only fill these two and that’s it” He was thinking in filling all four but giving the circumstances it was better to stop at two.Bookmark here

It’s raining so much that he can’t see too far away, the stream’s speed starts increasing, the air pushes away the empty bottles. He gets surprised and tries to grab them but doing so he hits the already filled bottle and this falls into the river, without thinking he jumps to grab it and is capable to do it with the right hand but then realizes that he is now inside the river. This part of the river is much deeper that the one where he washed with Xena some time ago, here the water level reaches his armpits.Bookmark here

He walks back but the stream force starts moving him little by little, it gets harder to take each step. Panic comes to his mind like if a switch was turned on, he takes the bottles in his hands and trows them with all his energies, they both land some meters away of the riverbank. Now uses his arms to help him move, the legs move underwater following an obscure path and one of them steps on a rock fully covered in moss making the body slip, this lost of equilibrium makes the man’s feet to stop touching the floor for a moment, this is all what the river needs to push him.Bookmark here

In this moment the man is being washed away while he tries to touch the floor with his feet again, but the movement of the water is so strong that it became an impossible task. So he decides to swim, he is not the best swimmer but knows enough to survive, swimming he pushes the legs in his back direction now his body is on the surface of the water. He moves the arms and legs but the distance from the riverside doesn’t seem to shorten.Bookmark here

BAM!Bookmark here

There was a long and thick tree branch that extended over the river, the man couldn’t notice it was getting closer because it came in the direction where his blind eye was. The impact almost knocks him out, the branch broke and now the man is spinning with pieces of wood on the river stream whose speed is getting insanely fast.Bookmark here

There are some big rocks emerging out the water, he doesn’t notice them until his back crashes with one, this hit also impacts the back of his head and blood starts flooding from it. Swallowing water and now with his head spinning, his only thought is to grab any of the rocks so he doesn’t realize that the arm that he extends is the left one.Bookmark here

SNAP!

He was able to grab a rock but the force of the river pulled him so hard that his already injured arm made a loud noise, the pain was so big that he let it go as a reflex and continued being washed away at great speed.Bookmark here

“No! I must survive” He thinks “I can’t leave Xena alone, I can’t leave Hercules alone, they need me” he continues swimming but the rain doesn’t allow him to see in any direction now “They need me, they need me, they need me, they…” Bookmark here

He stops feeling the water, now is surrounded by air. He stops moving forward, now he moves downwards.Bookmark here

“What?” At first he doesn’t understand but then he sees it “So, this is… the waterfall?” he says in a soft voice while all hopes of surviving leave his body “heh, to think that I was finally able to see it”Bookmark here

His body moves vertically with his head pointing to the bottom of the waterfall, the perception of time changes making it like it flows slower.Bookmark here

Many memories start to appear in his mind, he lost the count many years ago but he is 37 years old now. He used to have a family, a kind mother and a strict father, his mother used to work for a big and important company but the workload was too much to handle even so she was scared of quitting because the salary was very good, one day she couldn’t take it anymore and collapsed on her seat. The death of his mother made a change in his father transforming him into a colder person. As the years passed by, his father started abusing physically of him, he got hit with shoes, dishes, broom handles, any object that was near or just the fists. During many years the boy felt mentally death just doing what his father told him to and getting hurt when he failed. When he was 15 years old, his father arrived drunk and went to sleep after the usual beating, the boy stayed on the floor crying for hours until he snapped. His heart was full of hatred and a feeling for revenge, so he went to the kitchen and took a knife. Later arrived to his father’s room and stabbed him in the chest, the man screamed and moved but the boy didn’t react and just kept stabbing him continuously taking advantage of the lazy movements of the drunk man. When his dad stopped moving and the blood dripped all over the place, the boy took a look at the dead body and then came back to his senses. He let the knife go and covered his mouth with his hands, he felt repulsion and fear moving trough his veins, he decided to run away only taking a backpack, some clothes and one of his mother’s coats that were still in the closet. The fear and shame for his actions haunted him for years, escaping his home city he met various locations and slept in many places, from homeless shelters that some cities had, to benches, under some bridges and green areas when he learned how to set up a tent after an old homeless man was his teacher.Bookmark here

“I’m the worst” He thinks while falling “I’m just a sinner that ran away from his problems, I deserve my punishment. But even so... God… or whoever can hear my wish … please take care of Xena, she deserves to be happy”Bookmark here

CRACKBookmark here

The sound of a skull crashing is usually loud, but the noise of the waterfall and the rain covered it.Bookmark here

In a veterinary clinic many kilometers away, a lady is talking to her boss and her assistant showing them many bank documents with an approved seal. They get up and hug her while smiling. The assistant notices the dark sky in the city and the drops that start falling so she closes the window as she drinks a hot beverage from a mug.Bookmark here

In a tent made of many pieces of plastic located in the middle of the forest, two dogs sleep inside. The wind makes the walls dance but the pegs on the floor prevent them from flying away. Hercules moves closer to Xena feeling a little frightened, she keeps her curling position so even if its getting colder the warmth of her body and the furry coat will not go away.Bookmark here

“Please come back soon” She thinks while waiting for a man that will never arrive.Bookmark here

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