What was that? I thought I heard someone say something, but…maybe not.
There it is again. Is this a dream? Is the noise I’m hearing real?
“Berries, my young apprentice, berries!”
Oh, goodness it's not a dream. What does that unstable lunatic want from me today?
Bursting into my room, Doctor Winston nearly bounced on my bed, shaking me awake with panic-stricken eyes.
“Calm down good doctor! Please stop shaking me!”
“Berries Mr. Taylor, I need 2 pounds of berries now!”
“Never you mind what for! You are my apprentice and I asked you to do something. Surly you can gather a few pounds of Yew berries?”
“Yew berries are toxic in large quantities, what do you intend to do with them?”
“Enough questions my inquisitive student! Set out now and don’t come back without them!”
Now among the trees, I cursed and grumbled, wondering why my father chose to punish me like this. You never treated Julie this way papa, and she ran off to join a circus! Surely my eccentricities were a small price to pay for my brilliance. Or could you not stand the thought of being outshone, and by your own son no less? Bah, once my three months are up, Ill heading back to London, and you had better fret the day I arrive!
Now by the river’s edge, I filled a canteen with cold mountain water and surveyed my surroundings. Many varieties of berry flourished in these woodlands but try and locate a specific kind and suddenly they are nowhere to be found. Only when venturing deeper into the pines did I find my mark. Let’s see here, evergreen-like bush, red berries, seeds jutting from the bottom, looks like a Yew to me.
I picked the berries until my hands where stained red from the juices and my basket overflowed. With the basket full, I turned back until a panting, like the kind from my dream, stopped me in my tracks. Slowly, I placed the basket on the ground and pulled the pistol from behind my back. Turning in the direction it was coming from, I raised the gun and aimed it at the beast before me, a juvenile black bear.
Standing up on its legs, it was little taller than me. “Woah there, no need to feel threatened.” It let out a growl, inching forward while I inched back. While backing away, my leg got caught on a root and I tensed, squeezing my hand, and letting off a shot. Now agitated, the beast began to charge, its jowls dripping with saliva.
“No, no, no!” I shouted as it ran forward.
Click, click, the gun made a grinding noise as I pulled the trigger, with nothing coming out. Dropping it to the floor, I braced myself for my inevitable mauling. Just as the bear closed the gap, a man ran from the bushes and stood with his arms outstretched, a loud howl erupting from his throat. Surprised, the bear began to back down, even backing away, as the man moved closer, his arms held far apart and his voice belting out into the trees. With one last moan, the bear turned around and trotted back into the forest, its head hanging low in defeat. With the bear gone, the man turned his attention to me, holding out his hand and helping me off the ground.
“Thank you…sir?” The man was dressed in native clothing, his hair braided with an eagle feather jutting from a headband. “Oh, my apologies, you likely don’t speak English.”
“I speak it just fine.” He replied, much to my surprise.
“Oh…I must say I didn’t expect that. You seem very...indigenous.”
“My family is diverse. Between the missionaries, traders, and soldiers our tribe had come into contact with, English is well known among our members”
“Ah, how very good for me then. And what is your name good sir? I wish to give you a proper thank you.”
“While it is not my name, you may call me Inola, meaning black fox.”
“Okay then Inola, many thanks for saving me from that brute.”
Picking my gun from the ground, he handed it to me and said, “You will do nothing more than anger the Yona with such a tool. The best way to calm the bear is to stand up to it, make yourself large. Only then will it respect you.”
I took the gun from him and tucked it back into my belt. “Thank you for the tip, Inola. I must admit we have no bears back in London so deterrent techniques are not my area of expertise.”
“Why do you gather such berries,” he asked, pointing to my basket.
“Oh, my mentor, Doctor Winston, asked me to find them. I am unsure what he intends to use them for.”
“You refer to the man in the metal home who tinkers through the night, disturbing the peace of the forest with his deranged experiments?”
“Uhm, I’m afraid so.”
“Then I hope the best for you. Try to stay alive longer than the last one.”
“Last one?” I asked. What did he mean by last one?
“So, he has not told you yet? That is good. You still have time to get away.”
“Get away from what Inola?”
The blowing of a horn sounded through the trees, causing Inola to turn his face in its direction.
“Should you wish to know more, talk to your master.”
“Wait!” I shouted, reaching out and taking hold of his leather sleeve. “Where are you off to? Surly you can stay with me until I make it back to the lab, lest the bear return.”
“Beyond the ridge, my tribe has made camp. The horn means I must return to them so no, I cannot accompany you.”
“In that case can I follow you to your camp? Having a firsthand account of the natives would be a huge boon to my pedigree.”
“No,” He sternly commanded. “Outsider are forbidden except in unusual cases. However, should you run into trouble again, light a fire atop the peak of that mountain.” He pointed to one in the distance and added, “Should I see it, I will come to your aid, but only once.”
“Why would you help me? Am I not considered an intruder?”
“Yes, indeed you are. That is why this aid will come at a cost.”
“The man you align yourself with, this Doctor Winston, is disturbing the balance of our land. He takes what does not belong to him and hunts what is not prey.”
“What is it he is hunting?”
“That…I will leave for you to discover. As for now, I must return to the tribe. Do be careful young Benjamin, stay watchful.”
“Thank you Inola, you as well.”
He nodded and disappeared into the forest, leaving not a trace behind. Recovering the basket from the ground, I made my way back to the lab, pondering all that strange man had said to me and looking over my shoulder for hungry bears. Approaching the door, I steeled my nerves for confrontation. Alright Ben, you are going to march in there and demand Doctor Winston reveal the truth! No more secrets and no more filthy grunt work.
Opening the door, I bit my tongue rather than let it lose. Sitting down in the living space were two more inspectors, the one we talked with the day before and another, taller man, a seriousness donning his chiseled face.
“What’s all this?” I asked the room.
Inspector Wellington flipped his notepad open and solemnly announced, “Another murder had taken place. Have a seat Mr. Taylor, for we have a number of questions.”
“Oh,” I remarked, placing the basket down on the floor. “What kind of questions?”
“In addition to the murder, we now have a missing person case. During our investigation, it was brought up that you had an encounter with a Mr. Balasko, correct?
Mr. Balasko…Ah yes, that drunk from town, the one rambling on about the Forest Walker. “Indeed, I did, although it was rather brief.”
“And what did you talk about with Mr. Balasko? Did he make mention of any kind of threat to his safety?”
“Well, not exactly sirs. He was perturbed but…” I paused, unsure of how to bring it up.
“But what lad? Out with it now. We can’t have tight lips at a time like this.”
“Well, you see, he was rambling on about a creature he vows he saw.”
The inspectors’ eyebrows went up. “A creature you say? What kind of creature?”
“A monster sir, a large, vile monster.”
Now squinting at me, he replied, “Come now son, this is now time for jests.”
“Its no jest sir. He swears he saw it down by the river, not a half mile from here.”
Standing up, the inspector closed his pad and sighed. “I see, and this is all you spoke of with Mr. Balasko?”
“Indeed sir, he was forced to leave not long after.”
“Well then, thank you for your time young lad. I do hope this will be the last time we meet, at least under such vile circumstances.”
With the inspectors gone, it was just me and Doctor Winston. “Well, that was annoying. I’m glad those busy bodies finally up and left,” he announced.
“Does it not disturb you that a man is missing when one was murdered not a few days ago?”
He shook his head and laughed. “Not at all, I have no interest in the antics of the troglodytes that inhabit this town. My concerns are far loftier than their petty squabbles.”
“Speaking of your lofty goals, I was wondering if I could obtain more information regarding our work. For example, what is the primary topic of research this lab is geared toward?”
He picked up the basket of berries and headed downstairs. “Never you mind young apprentice. Just remember, there is no shortage of students eager for my tutelage. Don’t make the mistake of second guessing my commands.”
Moments later, the door to his secret room closed shut, reminding me of last nights odd experience. What, or who, what the doctor talking to? Why are there taxidermied animals set up in displays? Wondering will get me nowhere, I need to see for myself. But how would I enter without alarming the doctor?
“By the way,” Mr. Winston remarked, his head peaking up from the bottom of the stairwell, “I will be out for a good portion of the night. The lady’s project is almost complete, and I will be delivering it to her come five o clock.”
Good, that should give me more than enough time to figure a way into the room. “Sounds lovely, do give her my regards.”
As the doctor finished his work, I busted out my lockpick set. Practicing on the bedroom door, I shook off the rust and prepared for his departure.
Ding, ding, ding, the grandfather clock sounded the alarm that another hour had passed.
“Well old boy, I’m off to lady Dupont’s. Do behave yourself while I’m away.”
Waving, I said, “Worry not good doctor, I will keep busy with a project of my own.”
With the carriage out of sight, I made my way up to my room, grabbed the lockpick set, and hurried to the basement. Approaching the door, I inserted the pick and began to painstaking process of opening the lock.
Wait, I think I got it, almost there, and never mind.
Hold on, there we go, it’s almost through, and not that time either.
Ah, now this is it, I can tell, here we go, and click…. Got it!
Pushing the door open, I poked my head through the doorway and peered inside.ns18.104.22.168da2