It started with the tracks on the ground. There were only two of them, large prints with gigantic claw marks. At first, I was afraid to go near them, a creature with such big claws was definitely dangerous, and might come back. After glancing obsessively out the window at the tracks for a few minutes I finally built up the courage to go outside and check them out.
I grabbed my coat and walked out the door. The wonderful smell of the forest wafted into my nose. I slowly made my way over to the tracks, taking care that I didn’t step on my dog, Luna’s poop, which made the backyard like a sort of minefield. The tracks were there, imprints in the mud made by the nearby stream. I squatted down and stared at them. Something about the prints was dazzling; it made me want to stare at them a minute more, my mind whirling with improbable explanations.
My deep contemplation was interrupted by a loud, heavy panting coming from behind me. I sighed and reached back to pet Luna who was licking my neck. Her usually beautiful and soft dark gold fur was wet and sticky. I looked behind me to find that Luna had been attacked by a mud puddle. I sighed again. Luna seemed to be magnetically attracted to mud, so the prospect of giving her a bath was nothing unusual, but it was still boring. I went to the side of my small brick house and got the hose off the wall. Shaking off bugs to Luna’s delight, I turned the knob of the hose and started spraying.
That night, my family and I were all eating smoked salmon at our small, wooden, table. I was trying to decide if it was worth telling my parents about the tracks. Then in an effort to make polite conversation, my father asked me what I had been up to for the past afternoon, and why Luna was wet. I answered, saying that I suspected that a large magical beast had crossed our yard.
“I see,” my dad said. “And I suppose Luna’s all wet because a magical cloud followed her around and rained on her every once in a while.”
“Really?” my little brother Simon asked, “I want a cloud too!” Simon looked at Luna wistfully.
“Not really,” my Mother cut in, “Your Father was just joking.”
“Well actually…,” my dad started to say, but I cut in. “I really did see it you know.”
My Mother sighed, “I really do hope you don’t mean that Will.”
“I do, there are tracks outside!” My mom gave my Dad a meaningful look. He groaned and stood up. “Let’s go,” he said regretfully, gesturing for me to come outside with him. I got up, hoping the tracks hadn’t magically gone away.
As I followed my father outside, I strained my eyes against the darkness to see if the prints were still there. They were, a dull brown against the comforting green of my backyard. As we got closer to them, a strange sound cut through the soothing gentle whooshing of the stream. It was a quiet, constant growling. I froze, my father did too. Despite my dads menacing complexion, large arms, and a single large eyebrow, he was actually quite a coward. This was partly the fault of the unknown disease my father suffered from. At times it made him extremely depressed and anxious. The growling grew louder, growing into a sound that seemed to vibrate my body. Then it stopped. Like my mother, I was not afraid of much of anything. My dad on the other hand was shaking and staring at the tracks.
“Told you,” I said, with more confidence than I felt. My father turned shakily, and staggered as quickly as he could back inside. I stood there for a moment more, straining my eyes against the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of the creature through the bushes. A flicker of movement flashed behind the bushes and the growling stopped. It was gone.
After giving Simon a glorified version of what had happened, including how I scared away the creature by attacking it with a tree branch, and how the creature had scratched Dad and that was why he was lying on the couch whimpering, I went to bed. Simon’s questions swirled around in my head, “What was it? where does it live? does it eat humans?.”
“Will, Will! get up, Simons gone!” I groaned and sat up, almost colliding with my mother’s head.
“Simon’s gone?” I repeated wearily, it must have been 6 in the morning, and I liked to get up at 10.
“He’s not in his bed! I checked everywhere, do you have any idea where he could be?”
I thought for a second, Simon was interesting, he was always thinking about irrelevant things, and sometimes got really caught up with his ideas.
“I do actually, he’s probably in the woods looking for that thing me and Dad found last night!”
My Mother sighed in relief, her brown hair fell in her face, she impatiently swept it aside and said, “I’m going, stay here.”
“No! you have to stay with Dad!”
She sighed, “Fine, you’re 15 and I suppose you’re old enough, but If you see that creature stay away from it!”
“Yeah, ok, I’ll stay away from it,” I said as I stood up and pulled a shirt on.
It had misted over night and the grass was twinkling with the reflection of the porchlight. The woods, which were usually a comforting sight, seemed to be unusually dark, not beckoning at all. An excited ‘woof!’, broke the silence. Looking back I saw Luna at the front window, tongue out and eyes fixed on me. “Sorry girl,” I whispered before running off into the woods.
“Simon!” I called once I reached the spot where the tracks used to be, “Simon! Where are you?” I stood still, waiting for an answer. A giggling sound reached my ears, it sounded like a child’s giggle. Pulling my coat closer against the early morning coldness, I ran deeper into the woods, not sure of what I would find.
I heard another giggle and narrowly dodged a tree that loomed up out of nowhere. And there was Simon. Sitting in the middle of the clearing, his short sandy hair was tousled and he was in his pajamas. There was a broad smile on his face as he searched the outskirts of the clearing for something. Upon seeing me he laughed and beckoned me over. Cautiously, I stepped over a rotting log into the clearing.
“Simon, what are you doing?”
“I am looking for my friend!” he whispered as I picked him up.
“Who is your friend?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“Leaf!” Simon whispered, staring at a spot past my shoulder, I whirled around, and gasped in surprise. Standing at the edge of the clearing was a creature of unimaginable beauty. It was twice the size as Luna, its head just below mine. It had mesmerizingly green feathers which shimmered in the sunlight. Its head was the head of a bird, angled face and sharp beak, its eyes were like fire, glowing red and orange, vivid against the beautiful green of the rest of its body. Shimmering green wings grew from its back, each the size of its body. A bloody gash ran through its right wing, bright red blood dripped down the whitish green of its wings.
The creature raised its wings high, stepping forward into the clearing, a growling sound resonated deep from its throat.
“Will! it’s Leaf!” Simon exclaimed.
Ignoring him, I backed up, putting a protective hand over Simon. A howl of pain erupted from the creature as it took another step forward. It wobbled, then collapsed. Blood making a puddle under its wounded wing. The creature made a cooing sound, its burning bright eyes darkened into a dull red, then black. It lay still, blood still dripping from the wound. I stared at the poor creature, at its dull black eyes, its beautiful green feathers, and its sparkling light green wing, dripping blood.
Simon wriggled out of my grasp, hitting the ground hard. I cringed, expecting a meltdown, but instead Simon just ran over to the creature.
“Leaf, Leaf! get up, please!” Simon wailed, petting its side gently. A purring, as quiet as the rustle of leaves in a slight wind poured out of the creatures mouth, it was strangely comforting. Setting my unease aside, I gathered some nearby fallen leaves and gently pressed them onto its wound. Seeing what I was doing Simon got up and gathered more leaves, handing them to me. To my surprise the leaves seemed to be working, the steady dripping of blood was slowing. Soon the leaves covered the entire wound and the blood stopped. His work done, Simon sat and leaned against the creature’s side, who purred again, this time quieter. I leaned against a tree, watching Simon lie with the creature. Its side was rising and falling steadily.
“We need to take him back home! Look at all the blood he’s lost!” Simon was crying by the creature’s side, purposefully avoiding looking at its wound.
“Simon, I told you before, our parents won’t exactly be pleased to have a huge beast in their house,” I groaned. Simon was extremely stubborn, and I knew I would not be able to convince him to keep the creature here.
“He’s not a beast, his name is Leaf!”
“And he told you this?”
“Yes! He talked to me!”
I sighed, “Fine, we will take him home and keep him in the garage, but there isn’t much we can do about the wing, none of us have any medical experience.”
“Ok!” Simon said happily. He turned around and started whispering in Leaf’s ear.
“There is just one thing though, how will we get him back home?”
“Leaf can walk home, he just needs help,” said Simon matter-of-factly.
“Let’s go then,” I started walking out of the clearing. Looking back I saw
that Leaf was staggering towards me. Simon was on his left, working as hard as he could to keep him upright. Leaf’s fiery demonic eyes were staring at me, it looked like he was daring me not to help him, to give him a reason to hate me. A flicker of intelligence flashed behind its eyes as he glared at me. I blinked and the glare was gone, maybe I had imagined it. I moved back into the clearing to help with Leaf, who made no move to stop me.
“What have you done!” my mother shrieked, “We are not keeping that thing in the house!”
“What about the garage?”, Simon asked, “There’s plenty of room in there.”
“Look at those eyes, it’s dangerous!”
“Look at his wing, he’s hurt!” Simon yelled back.
Seeing the look on Simon’s face my Mothers face softened, “Fine, you can keep him in the garage, but you will be the one taking care of him.”
“Yay, thank you!” Simon said before guiding Leaf over to the garage. My Mother shuddered, “Those eyes felt like they were burrowing into my skull, I don’t like it.”
“I don’t think it means any harm,” I said with false confidence.
That evening I sat with Simon. He was feeding Leaf a couple worms he had spent the whole afternoon collecting. Leaf was gobbling them up gratefully. I watched the way Leaf’s short, feathered tail whipped around as he chewed the worms to a pulp. His wing was wrapped in a white bandage, which was slowly being soaked with blood.
“What do you think hurt Leaf’s wing?” Simon asked as he dropped another still wriggling worm into Leaf’s mouth.
“It could have been a knife or something like that,” I said after some hesitation.
“Somebody might have gotten scared and hurt him.”
Finished with the worms Simon leaned back against Leaf, who gently draped his uninjured wing over him. Leaf looked at me with his burning bright eyes, I remembered what Simon said.
“Can you really talk?” I asked Leaf tentatively, not sure if I wanted an answer or not. In response Leaf blinked, then rested his head on his paws.
That night I woke up to hushed whispering coming from the room next to me. It sounded urgent so I carefully threw the sheets aside and inched along the wood floor, being careful not to step on Luna who was sprawled lazily on the floor. I reached the wall and gently pressed my ear against the blue painted surface.
“I told you, we can’t keep it! Did you see those eyes? It looked like it would kill me for fun the first moment it had!” said a voice which was obviously my Dad, he sounded very troubled.
“Calm down Jarrod!” came a voice that was unmistakably my mothers, “ Did you see Simon? That creature’s been hanging out with him since this morning! If it were dangerous it would’ve just eaten him!” Silence followed, my Dad was obviously trying to come up with another reason to get rid of Leaf.
“It’s eating all of the worms!” my Father spluttered weakly, “Soon we will have none left and the birds will die!”
“Why are you so worried about the birds? You hate animals!” My Mother’s whisper was breaking up, she was obviously losing her temper at my father. When my Mother had married him he had been funny and nice, but now he was prone to depression and anger bouts.
After what seemed like forever my Mother finally said, “Just go to bed Jarrod, you’ve had a tough day.” Even my Dad didn't want to argue with my mother. After a few shuffles of the sheets there was silence. I went back to bed as silently as I could, nearly kicking Luna in the head along the way. I slowly sank into the comforting comfortness of my bed, thinking. Leaf was good, right? Like Mom said, if he had evil intentions he probably would have attacked Simon already. But what about those eyes? Those evil, burning eyes. How could any creature be kind with eyes like that?
Over the next couple of days Leaf stayed in the garage, against my Father’s will. Simon stayed with Leaf almost all day, reading him books from his bookshelf and taking the occasional romp through the woods together. Although they didn’t last long because of Leaf’s injured wing.
“I wonder what he will look like when he flies again,” Simon said one day while we were lounging against a tree, “Do you think he will leave us Will?” I sat there pondering for a little bit before answering, “I think once his wing is healed he will leave, and go back to the place he came from.”
“You think so?” Simon said sadly, I knew I had just dashed his hopes, but I didn’t want it to come as a surprise for him when Leaf did leave.
A week had passed since we had found Leaf, and his wing was well on its way to healing. I was still wary about his intentions though. What if he attacks us when we take the bandage off? This thought bounced around my head as me, Simon and my Mom stood on the cement floor of the garage, watching Simon slowly unwind the bandages from Leaf’s wing. My Father was too mad to come out, and was most likely watching TV on the couch. No matter how much I had tried, Leaf had never talked to me once during the week. Although Simon made numerous reports of Leaf talking to him. I felt slightly left out as Simon lifted the last flap of white gauze. Leaf had never seemed to like me, although I had brought him many worms to eat. Leaf stood there, stretching his wings. His cut no longer looked red. Feathers had started to grow back around the gash and the cut itself had started to crust over. With slow steps, Leaf walked towards the the door, his wings still unfolded and displayed proudly.
He made it outside and stretched his wings out farther, they shone in the sunlight like polished silver. As he flapped his wings experimentally he looked at me. His glowing red eyes softened somehow, all evil rushed out to be replaced with joy, pure joy at the fact that he was free, that he could fly again. “I will give you a wish” a voice said in my head. It was beautifully soft and sounded as if it were an angel that was speaking, but I knew in my heart that it was Leaf, finally talking to me.
“A wish?” I asked, “You’re kidding, you're like a genie?”
“No,” Leaf said again in that hauntingly angelic voice, “One wish, you are the only one in this family that would pick wisely, what is it you wish for most?” This was crazy, I could have anything that I wanted! There was so many possibilities! I thought for a bit more, thoughts like ‘infinite money’ or ‘the ability to fly’ flashed through my head. But in the end I knew I had the right idea.
“I want you to cure Dad, make him like he used to be.” Leaf seemed to nod, my Mother looked at me like I was crazy.
“Goodbye,” said Leaf, and from my Mother and Simon’s expression I knew that they had heard him too. Leaf flapped his wings hard, sending him ten feet in the air. I watched in amazement as a single spark ignited at the tip of Leaf’s beak and lazily floated down towards the house, gliding through the open window and disappearing. My dad was cured. A whooshing sound brought my attention back to Leaf, who was flying into the clouds, his green feathers shining like emeralds in the sunlight.