It’s been three years since the rainforest began to fall. It’s the rainforest my mother and father were raised alongside. The rainforest my grandfather played in and his grandfather before him too. But it’s only taken three years of fruitless protests followed by an onslaught of iron and fire to wipe it all away. We used to hear the morning birds’ songs, rain pattering off the thick canopy leaves. The howling monkeys at night, the chirping bugs…all gone. When the forest was at our town’s edge it brought a harmony that made you feel one with nature and one with your heritage. Now our town borders a graveyard of tree stumps and flattened land. My grandfather used to see monkeys swing over his home. Now all we have is ash falling from the ruin.
But it’s not the heartache that keeps us up at night. Legend has it there’s something in that forest – something that’s been asleep for at least a thousand years: a half dog, half lion with razor sharp teeth and a hunger for the young. My mother pleaded with the men in yellow suits and giant machines. “Please stop,” she’d tell them. “You’ll awaken it. You’ll kill us all.”
But the men never listened. What a heartless people to watch my mother suffer and listen to the forest creak to death while its inhabitants cry out in pain. My father says they’re not men at all – they’re monsters.
So much of the forest has fallen that I began to wonder if the legends were true. How much more did we need to lose to awaken the beast? The children all wondered if it was just an old tale. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Enzo,” Dani told me. “It’s just a legend our grandparents were told and passed down.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “Think about it. A dog-lion hybrid? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” And after a while I started to believe Dani.
But one morning in early summer, the yellow-suited men finally shook the forest too hard. I remember the night like it was yesterday. I had a great deal of trouble sleeping that night. I tossed and turned until the birds chirped. The men got to their destruction early. The engines puttered into action just after the birds sounded off. They revved and pushed on, splitting through the ancient the tree stumps. I turned to the other side of the bed for at least the twentieth time that night trying to get comfortable to no avail. I heard another tree creak and fall to the ground and inside, I thought of death for the first time. Suddenly, there was a howl. Blood curdling and drawn out. The engines stopped.
I stood from my bed and looked out the window. I couldn’t see much since it was still quite dark out. I noticed the chirping had stopped too. “Enzo? Enzo?” my mother called out.
“Momma?” I answered. She came rushing into my room, more anxious than I’d ever seen her. She darted behind and wrapped both arms tightly around me. One of her arms squeezed my stomach and the other stroked my head with a shaking hand. The howling died down. My father came into the room soon after her. I had gotten the sense he didn’t believe the legends either until that night. He might have been acting relaxed but when I looked at his hand I caught his large fingers stroking his mother’s cross.
As we stood at the window all together, I noticed there wasn’t a single noise breaking through the night’s air. It was the only time in all my childhood I’d heard the soft ring of pure silence. There were no singing birds, no chirping bugs – not even revving engines.
Then there was a scream. I felt my mother wince and shudder against my back. Then she let out a soft whimper she hoped I wouldn’t hear. It wasn’t the scream of any animal or bug – it was a man. Moments later there was another. And then another.
My mother held me tighter and shook more violently. She turned to my father, waiting for him to say something, to tell us to run. He stood motionless in body and mind, petrified like one of the fallen trees.
Outside, other lights started to flick on. The whole town began to clamor like it was the middle of the day. My father turned to flick on my bedroom light. “No, don’t,” my mother whispered.
He looked back at her with his face twisted in a mixture of confusion and masked terror. He’d never been at such a loss for action.
Then there were the foot falls. Something came dashing over the dead plains. Its feet hit hard into the dirt and tall grass. “Get down,” mother said. We dropped below the window sill and sat on the floor beside my bed. Our home was one of the first on the old forest’s edge, so the steps arrived at our door as soon as the creature set foot in our town. When it arrived at the side of the house it stopped short and its nails tip-tapped into the porch’s wooden boards.
Then there was the snarling. It drooled and snatched at the air. It sniffed and snarled until it picked up our scent. It held its breath calmly and sniffed hard at the air until it made its way to our front door.
Then…it was in my head. It wasn’t just snarling now – I heard it call for me. At first, I thought my parents could hear it too. But when I heard its echoes between my ears I knew it was talking to me. “Come with me,” it said. “Come with me.” Its voice was raspy and snorting, but at the same time sounded like a sweet song. Its voice echoed through me not as an invitation, but a calling toward my destiny. “Come and join the rest.”
I stood from the bedside with heavy legs and a thick pounding in my heart. My mother was saying something, but I didn’t listen. All I wanted to hear was the voice calling me to my true home.
“Come outside, Enzo. Come and join the rest.”
My mother’s voice grew louder, but still I didn’t listen. Each of my steps towards the door were tortured and deliberate. I felt there was no future for me that didn’t include the creature. I almost felt sorry for mother to not hear it too. I burst through the bedroom door and sped up as I moved towards the front of the house.
“Good, Enzo. Come with me. Come with us and join the rest.”
I couldn’t hear my mother’s cries anymore. All that spoke to me was the sweet raspy voice and the high-pitched wails of a dead forest. My breathing was labored. I could feel the earth suffocating as I grew closer to the voice. I placed my hand on the doorknob and turned it. It squealed against the rusty latch. The door slowly swung open.
There it stood on the other side – four muscular legs planted into the ground with its canine paws and emaciated feline torso. Its tail was bony and long, thwacking repeatedly against the ground. Its red eyes pierced through its mangy brown fur. It stood completely still, waiting for me to come with it wherever we would go. I picked up a foot and began to step out the door.
A hand wrapped around my chest and yanked me off balance. I stumbled backwards until my back hit the floor. My father jumped in front of me, bearing his mother’s cross at the creature. I could tell it wasn’t afraid of the cross, but it suddenly didn’t need me anymore. It still stood, snarling and unfazed, eyes darting between my father and me. I didn’t hear its voice anymore, but I could still hear the forest scream.
A new set of footsteps approached – much lighter than those of the creature. Out of the early morning darkness, something bipedal and short approached the creature’s side. A woman far off in the town cried and screamed a name I recognized.
It was Dani. He stepped into the porch light beside the creature and stared at me with a peaceful smile. “Come with us,” he said.
“Dani, no, go back home. Don’t go with that thing,” my mother cried.
“Come with us, Enzo. Come home,” he pleaded.
The creature got what it needed. It didn’t speak to me anymore. It turned to Dani and wrapped its dripping lips around his arm. Dani still smiled without so much as a flinch at the creature’s advances. It took one last look at me – straight in my eyes. I heard the screaming forest and the sounds of revving engines and puttering chainsaws and creaking wooden death. Then it pivoted back towards the forest, scampering off with Dani dragging in its mouth.