(Continued from Ruby and Wolf Parts 4, 3, 2 and 1, which can all be read below)
The man had his back to me and was pulling on a long, heavy metal chain. He was wearing large mud covered boots, torn and baggy black pants and a leather jacket, over which was a bright orange vest. He was tall and very muscular with almost no hair on his head or face. His neck was bulging with the strain of moving the chain.
I stopped, realising that I didn’t know what to say. Wolf growled loudly beside me and I turned to calm him. The man of course heard the sound and turned at the same time as I did. The chain dropped from his hands, landing back on the muddy ground with a metallic rattle and splat sound. Mud and water flew up in its wake, spraying the closet things, which were us.
‘Who are you? Is that a real wolf?’ the man said in a loud voice as he back stepped.
‘I’m Ruby Forrester. Nice to meet you,’ I curtsied, ‘yes he is. He’s my friend.’
‘Where did you come from?’ he asked glancing around. He’d stopped moving now and was studying Wolf and myself.
‘The forest,’ I replied, ‘I live there with my family and the others in our community.’
‘You mean on the other side of the forest? In that village that petitioned against the logging? Halthorn was it?’ he said in a gruff voice.
I shook my head, ‘Inside the forest, but I know of the village.’
‘Ah ha! You’re trespassing! Do your parents know you’re here?’
Wolf growled and moved between us. His fur was standing up causing it to look spiky and stiff. His ears were also pinned back and his mouth was flashing all his sharp teeth.
‘Keep that animal under control! We got guns and permission to use ‘em.’
‘It’s all right,’ I told Wolf, stepping beside him and stroking his back.
‘We’ll have to get this sorted. Come on, girly.’
The man grabbed my arm, yanking me. I cried out and pulled back, whilst Wolf dived for the man’s boot and sunk his teeth in. The man tried to kick him away, but Wolf had a good grip. Yelling, the man pushed me away and I lost my balance and fell into the mud in a daze. He seized a fistful of Wolf’s fur and still shaking his leg, hauled Wolf off and tossed him. Wolf landed unhurt.
The man helped me up, then started to drag me away. Over my shoulder, I saw Wolf shake himself before coming after us. I willed him to stay away, I didn’t want him to get hurt. He hung back just a little and followed us to one of the green cabins. There was a porch like area, which we walked up on to. Wolf stopped there, sniffed and then followed.
‘Stay back,’ I told him, but Wolf shook his head and followed us through the door that the man had just opened.
The room was large and taken up by a desk and some chairs. There was also some cabinets and lots of paper scattered about. Some jackets, vests and helmets were hung up and there was a clock on the wall. A man, similar to the one clutching the hood of my cape, was behind the desk, with his feet on it and a newspaper in his hands.
‘Look, Terry,’ the man said.
‘What is it now, Reggie?’
‘Let me go!’ I shouted and twisted out of his grasp. I stumbled into a chair and sat down.
The second man dropped the paper and stared at me in shock.
‘She says she lives in the forest and she’s got a pet wolf. He bite my boot,’ Reggie explained and raised his boot to show his boss.
‘My name’s Ruby and Wolf isn’t my pet, he’s my friend. And you’re destroying his home and mine too!’
‘You live in the forest?’ Terry asked, staring at me.
I nodded, ‘Have my whole life, same as my parents and grandparents.’
‘Don’t you mean the village? Where you live on the edge?’
‘No.’ Wolf came to me and put his head on my knees. I stroked him, gently.
‘She’s trespassing,’ Reggie cut in.
Terry held up his a hand, ‘I’ll take care of this get back to your work.’
‘Wait!’ I cried, jumping up, ‘you can’t cut down any more trees!’
He shoved me back into the chair and stormed out. The door slamming shut behind him. I turned to Terry, a pleading look on my face.
‘Once we’ve meet our quota we’ll stop,’ he said.
‘When we have enough,’ he explained, ‘my company got permission for this job. Only, the locals and the nature lovers decided they weren’t happy and set about stopping us. We’ve been fighting them for years now, but finally things turned and we brought the land.’
‘But the land belongs to the forest,’ I put in.
Terry got up, shuffled about some paper and returned with a large sheet, on which was a map. He laid it across the table and I noticed all the different coloured lines going in circles and jagged shapes across it. He picked up a pen and pointed out where we were.
‘See this red ring?’ he asked and traced it with the pen.
‘I own all of this now. Where do you live?’
I looked closely, I could see the village further up and the stream, which Wolf and I followed to get here, because that seemed to snake from the village to just outside the red ring. In-between and boarded by a massive green circle was the forest and details of the land heights and other streams. I couldn’t see any indication of my house or my grandparents’ or the hermit’s or the other five houses I know were scattered in the forest. I put my fingers on the village and drew them into the forest, until they stopped in a large flat area.
Terry marked the place with a square in a question mark with the pen and then looked at the map. He pointed and said, ‘We are coming nowhere near there. It’s miles away.’
‘But what about the animals?’
He shrugged and swept his hand over the map, ‘there’s enough space for ‘em.’
I frowned and looked down at Wolf. We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
‘Look,’ he said and I raised my head, ‘if it makes you feel any better, once we’ve cleared the land we’ll be planting new trees.’
Puzzlement crossed my face, ‘why?’
‘Because, some of them will become next year’s Christmas trees and others will be the year after that and so on. Then we’ll plant new ones again. Yeah, some of the trees might go for furniture or paper. But it’s all good.’
‘So you’ll make the forest come back?’ I asked, still not grasping what he was saying.
‘Not exactly…Hey, why don’t I take you home?’
I nodded, suddenly tired and hungry. I wiped a hand over my face and swept back my hair. Wolf grumbled and chuffed at me. I told him it was okay, but he didn’t seem happy.
The man picked up a leather coat and some keys. He led me out of the office and around the back, where there was a patch of land that cars were parked on.
‘I’ve to tell ‘em I’m going, stay here,’ he added and walked back.
I leant against the front of a pickup truck and Wolf sat before my feet.
‘What did he say?’ Wolf asked.
I looked at him puzzled, ‘what do you mean? You heard everything he said didn’t you?’
‘I don’t understand his tongue. It is only things of the forest that I can communicate with.’
‘But we speak the same language like he does…’
Wolf shook his head, ‘it is similar to the forest, but it is not. What did he say, child?’
‘That…they were going to replant the trees and they weren’t going much further into the forest now. At least, I think that’s what he meant…’
‘Why are they doing this?’
‘They own the land, so they can do whatever they want. They use the trees like forest people do…for fuel, as martials, to sell.’
Wolf glanced at the floor, ‘what about us?’
‘We’ll be fine. Look, he’s back.’
‘Okay, let’s go,’ Terry called as he came over. He opened the car, we put Wolf in the back, he helped me in and then got in himself. Starting up the car, he drove off and the radio came on. He turned it down a little, but we listened to it all the way to the village. We passed through a lot of the forest on the way there. I wasn’t in the mood for talking, so I kept watch out of the windows.
It was getting dark, by the time we arrived in the village. He stopped the car in the middle and looked at the house on either side. Lights were on in many windows and most had fairy lights twinkling away. He turned off the engine.
‘Where’s your house?’ he asked.
‘In the forest, like I said before,’ I replied.
‘Direct me then.’
I sighed and told him to drive on. He nodded, started the car up and we went on again. The village road led into the middle of the cluster of houses before ending. Not many cars travelled that far, but it was still useable. Long tree branches scratched against the car’s side and plants crunched under the wheels. I pressed my head to the window and told him to keep going till the road ran out.
When it did and he stopped again, I got out, let Wolf free and walked off into the trees. Terry called after me and then followed me, still calling. Passing a group of tall pines, I entered the clearing, which ran around my house and went up to the front door.
‘Will you wait a minute?’ Terry half-shouted, joining me.
‘Why? Oh, thank you for bring me home,’ I said and pushed open the door.
Walking in, I found my family, including my father and grandparents sat around a roaring fire. They all turned to me as I walked in and some even stood up.
‘Ruby!’ my little brothers’ cried and raced to me.
We threw our arms around each other and hugged tightly. My name ring out some more and my whole family came and hugged me.
‘Where have you been?’ ma asked.
‘We were so worried,’ grandma added.
‘What happened to you?’
‘Why is your dress so muddy?’
‘She’s all right,’ Terry cut in, ‘she went to the other side of the forest. I think she got lost. I brought her home.’
‘No, Forrester can get lost,’ my grandpa chimed in. ‘aren’t you one of those deforesting people?’
‘Thank you,’ my dad unexpectedly interjected, from his chair by the fire, ‘for bring my daughter back. Now, would you kindly leave.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Terry said and left. The door swung shut behind him and his car engine started up in the background.
‘Pa!’ I dashed over to and wrapped my arms around him.
‘Are you all right Ruby? He didn’t hurt you, did he?’
‘No,’ I replied.
‘What were you doing so far away?’
‘Wolf needed my help…’
I looked at the door, but there was no Wolf there. I rushed over, opening it and stepping outside. He wasn’t there either. I searched the surrounding trees and undergrowth. I called his name and listened, but still he didn’t appear. I went back to the front door, where my grandfather and ma where standing.
‘I don’t know where he went to,’ I said sadly.
‘Maybe, he was a forest spirit?’ my grandpa suggest, ‘could you talk to him and did you understand each other?’
I nodded, ‘but he didn’t understand the men.’
‘Then perhaps he was a guardian of the forest and he choose you to help find out what was going on and to stop it. Which you seem to have done, Ruby.’
‘I’m not sure…’
Ma sighed, ‘Look. It doesn’t matter now. Come in get cleaned up and have some food.’
‘Sure,’ I said.
They stepped inside and I walked up to join them. Just before I did though, I glanced over my shoulder and there was Wolf, smiling at me from within a bush.