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A dark figure, hardly moving, sitting on a rough log, playing the bittersweet morning music of the flute as usual.

Introduction

He always played. Everybody heard the anonymous sound of the beautiful music as it gently found its way into the villagers' ears. Yet, no-one was eager to find who it was.

No matter the beauty, the pureness of the early music filling the air, the man was incognito, and would stay that way. One villager, Garry, was always astounded by the pure, sad music the flute sang. The unknown man was famous, no matter how unusual it may seem. The man was remote, playing his flute far out in the woods.

The doleful, forlorn music always brought the villagers into happiness. A similar yet unexpected day later, the heartsick music started when the last dewdrop fell from the lush bosky, green leaves, and stunningly turned into ice. The hillside village of Tunga, Main was turning cold.

Garry put on his patched white-and-blue parka, matching the colour of the sharp, frosty icicle, and he was worried that small piece of ice might turn into a enormous glacier. Glaciers had come into Tunga, many a time, mostly into the Main. I wonder if the Flute-man is cold.

Garry, the first person to think this thought, felt a pounding pain in his chest, as though the sharp icicle just forming at the edge of the leaf was punched through his heart. He heard the music, as sad and lively as ever, as if the man was doing quite well.

Chapter 1; Winter

The winter snow fell from the horizon all the way to Tunga, Main, splattering the ground like rain. The crystal-white puffballs of snow sprinkled down from the air onto the ground, a few snowflakes floating in the air. He wrapped his deer-skin parka further around his body with his pale numb fingers turning white like the snow.

The flute music cheered him up, and a Swainson's thrush sang from far away, noise echoing through the verdant bushes. Garry sat there in silence for a minute, wiping his cold brow, listening to the birds tweeting, and the sound of a hunter's gun, and of course, the gentle but bittersweet music of the flute.

The best, yet worst time of the year, Winter was a peaceful time in Tunga. Garry didn't regret coming to Tunga thirteen years ago, but the suspension of the anonymous man behind the flute, no-one bothered to solve. His little thirteen-year-old daughter Flo was touched by the music.

Tomorrow would be her birthday. Birthdays in Winter and Tunga, Main wasn't the best. Also being one of the coldest villages here in this little state, Tunga wasn't the best place even to stay in.

Flo approached her father, sat down beside her, and rested her head on his shoulder. 'It is beautiful, is not it, father?' Flo asked. 'I wonder who is behind the flute of this mysterious person?'
'Darling, no-one knows. It is painful, not giving him compliments I wish to give. I wish I could foresee, predict who that man is,' Garry said. His deer-skin parka was wrapped around him further by him.

*

Tunga was cold today. The furthest of Tunga, Virn was wisped with hail, sleet and glacier. It was a strong blizzard. The residents of Tunga, Virn were hopping over to Tunga, Main. They had on puffer jackets that were stuffed with animal skin to keep it warm, and warm wool along the base. Others who were poorer had on stiff biker jackets that were cheap and artificial.

The richer had on leather jackets made of cow-skin, as warm as a fire. Garry and Flo made their way into the house, Garry's wife Jenny making him a pot of tea.

'Fear is the unknown. Must we wait here in silence, only the flute to be heard?' he asked. Flo trembled. 'But father, we cannot go! It is the forest, the darkest of all. Mother says ghosts live there.' Garry gave a stern glare at his wife, and she hastily looked away.

All Tunga city mothers taught their daughters that ghosts were true, and Garry did not approve. His wife was just like them all. She was no different. Nobody here was different.

He sighed, and put on his warm parka again. 'Where are you going?! You mustn't go to the forest! Darling, stay here. I will give you some warm milk, just the way you like it,' she said, warming some dairy milk. 'No thank you, Jenny. I have to go. You do not understand. I will meet this person, give him good wages.'

And off he went, after stealing one long glance at his dearest Flo. What could possibly happen? The winter was cold and predictable, as he expected. The breeze wasn't full of Summer, or Autumn leaves.

He made his way left, where an electric wire stood protectively against a bush. Garry backed away some distance, stopped, and then started running, and neatly jumped over the wire gate.

He chuckled to himself. He was finally free of those no-good people. He wished Flo could come with him, and grow up to be free. But Jenny stood the real parent, and Garry just a mere uncle for her. Jenny never admitted this, although she knew it.

'Well, if she was going to grow up like that, it would also keep her safe,' he thought. 'Until I come.' He chuckled again, the music abruptly stopping. A mew came from the bushes.

'I'm Fern,' he said. He turned around quickly. He was barely in the forest, and he was hearing things? 'You're not hearing things,' the voice said, as though reading his mind. 'Come, come closer.' He absent-mindedly took a couple of steps, stuttering at first.

'Now look down.'

He did, and gaped in shock. 'Now don't just stand there with your mouth open. Say hello!' Fern said. Fern was a grey-and-white furred wild tom, with black spots on him like a cheetah. He had pointed ears, fangs just beside his upper and lower lips, and glaring yellow eyes. Fern paced around. 'This is my land, you know. What do you want?' 'H-how can you speak?' Garry asked.

He breathed in deeply, and sighed. 'The foolishness of humans still astounds me. You're not too smart,' he said, walking around him in neat circles, not missing a step. Garry silently counted in his mind. 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. again 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. again. The elegant tom eyed him, and their eyes locked.

'Who are you anyway? What are you doing here? Years ago, humans promised they would split the world in two, one part for us animals, the other part for humans. But the humans broke their promise. They destroyed our lands, for their benefit. You're no different. I see you're wearing a parka partly made of deer-skin?

'I- I am sorry. They were available in markets. I did not kill the deer, and I never will,' he said. To be honest, he had never seen animals as other living beings, carelessly watching humans hunt them. He felt guilty and angry with himself. He tried to be sympathetic.

'I am sorry,' he repeated. 'I know it is us humans' faults, I never really gave a damn. I never knew you could speak.'

We don't. Years ago, the day we agreed to split up earth's lands, humans said they never want to hear our dirty voices again. So we said we'll never speak to humans, and humans shouldn't speak to us. But humans broke that promise too. But it is rather comforting, the human voice,' Fern said, still going round him.

He shone his flashlight at the elegant tom, and he hissed, backing away. 'Another rascal of a human invention,' he said. 'I'm sorry. Though I think this is a rather smart invention, in my opinion,' Garry said. 'It helps us see through the dark.' 'You have bad eyesight,' Fern muttered. 'I'm doing fine in the dark.'

'Look, I am sorry us humans broke our promise, but shouldn't we get along? And I never knew about the promise!' Garry said. They stayed in silence for some minutes, until Fern finally rasped, 'Why should you be different? From them all?' 'I was not,' Garry admitted. 'But I am now. I promise. Do you know about that man who plays the flute?'

'He is not a normal human. He is kind to us. He didn't break his promise, that's how he ended up in the forest. It's a long story,' Fern said. 'I will help you, if you help me.' Garry realised this was a deal, and either Garry couldn't pass or Fern would help him.

'OK. Fine. What do you need help with?' Garry asked, going to the point very heftily. 'Well, you're wasting no time!' Fern said, and very promptly stopped pacing in circles. His claws made marks around them, strangely glowing bright purple.

Garry touched the purple with his shoes, and the heel burned. Garry suddenly looked at this strange bobcat. Suddenly, another wild she-cat and queen approached Garry out of the trees. 'Leave him alone,' the she-cat hissed. Garry backed away, but the purple at the back burned his other shoe's sole. 'I am doing no harm!' Garry exclaimed.

'I promise. You must let me go.' The wild queen arched her back, red slit eyes looking at him in a strange way. She stood next to Fern, as another flaxen tom approached Garry, and hissed. His claws produced more purple, which made his skin burn. He was bleeding now. There was one thing left to do. He made a run for it.

Chapter 2: First enemy

A day passed, and Garry only had Fern beside him. The loyal tom had took his side, as his flock started spitting. Spitting wasn't a very wildcat-ish thing to do. Fern's flock seemed very angry with him. But fern was, after all, a wildcat, and he did not follow rules. He disobeyed orders and he was lazy and rarely attacked. 'That cave-lion won't hurt you,' he added lazily, after another of their frequent arguments. 'There are more dangerous animals living here.'

Garry scowled angrily. He was tired from not having a good sleep. Fern seemed comfortable sitting on a rock near the riverbank. Garry took a large leaf like Fern told him to, and put it in the cold water. It had snowed, and the river had turned to thin-ice. Fern merely stretched out his claws and burned one section of the ice and drank. Garry told him to burn it bigger, but he angrily murmured that he didn't do favours.

It was hard living with a wild tom like Fern. Garry had to make-do with his hands, cupping them. He dipped them in the ice-cold water and drank from them, as though they were his coffee mug at home.

But through their journey, Garry and Fern bonded. Garry saw a cliff, and he jumped down, trying to land on his feet, and almost tripped over, but Fern pounced on a very high tree-vine and neatly jumped down, stretching his claws and burning the hard concrete to reveal soft soil.

Garry landed on it butt-first, sheepishly brushing soil from his grey pants. 'Thank you, Fern,' he said. 'You mustn't do that again,' Fern objected. 'Just let me go first, as I have nine lives. I can land on my feet from very high distances.' They were partners after that, looking out for each other. One time, Fern accidentally fell down a steep hole, and only Garry was tall enough to lift him up and place him back on the ground.

'Don't do that again,' Fern said, licking his fur in place and looking embarrassed. Wildcats aren't supposed to be lifted up by humans.' He said the word humans as though it was a bag full of rubbish. There were many accidents were Garry had to rescue Fern, and Fern had to rescue Garry. It was a very long journey. 'Is it really this far? We can hear it very loudly, as though it is just in front of us,' he said to Fern.

The tom cat purred. 'It's magic,' he mewed darkly. A day ago, he wouldn't have taken notice of this answer, but he had seen things that had certainly been magic, so he didn't say anything to object it. He and the tomcat made their way through the dark bushes of the sacred rock. 'The sacred rock,' Fern described, 'Is also magic. You humans don't know about magic, years ago you were scared of it and vowed you would never talk about it again. I broke my promise. Wild-wing tree nymphs live here, humans call them 'fairies', I do not know, but it sounds a bit strange to me.'

Garry nodded, laughing. 'My daughter Flo says they are well old-fashioned. Though her favourite book is Cinderella.' Fern mewed in laughter, though he didn't know what Cinderella was. As he took every silent step, the ground growled in awe. Fern saw Garry staring. 'What are you staring at, eh?' he asked, pouncing on him, and they played together for a while, laughing.

Fern never let Garry stroke him, but this one time, he let him, purring immensely. As it became darker, the pair slept in the shade of a tree, Fern walking around Garry; the purple from his claws surrounding him to protect him. After that, Fern stepped away from the purple, and instead of sleeping, was on the lookout for dangerous creatures who would try to harm Garry.

*

A wild tom and a human was a strange friendship, as wildcats detested humans. Fern indeed wasn't the most pleasant company to be with, but he was at least a close friend, and Garry was grateful to have him.

But sometimes friends lose friends, and as Garry and Fern woke up and set on their journey, a mountain lion pounced on him. Fern immediately attacked the lion, but lions are no match for wildcats, and Fern was soon bleeding. His stomach was ripped into two from the mountain lion's claws, most blood cells damaged as it was an incredibly deep cut.

His forehead's skin had been ripped off, blood dripping down his face. 'Dammit! Stupid lion!' Garry muttered, as it proudly walked away. He immediently bent down, wiping the blood away from Fern, gasping for breath and tears rolling down his face.

'Fern! Are you OK? Please say your alive!' Fern swiped a paw. 'Go. I'll be alright. I protected you for a long time, but now you'll have to defend yourself. You'll do fine, now go! Just remember to jump.' with those words, his eyelids dropped back down, and closed his yellow eyes. Garry knew there would be no wildcats this deep of the forest. But he had made his first enemy, the mountain lion.

As he made his way, the swainson's thrush singing again, he felt more calm, though he was upset that Fern was gone. He had his breath now, closing his eyes, he fell down on a pile of blooming flowers. He knew what this meant.

Chapter 3: Spring

Leaves gone ripe green, growing from elm trees in a fashionable way, the hot air in his face, the cold finally gone. He had big spring fever, he had never missed it so much. It was morning after a tiring sleep of nightmares, and he felt suddenly very happy. He was prepared, on the look for mountain lions and of course, the forest flute.

He often saw the cats staring at him. The she-cat glared at him, slit green eyes showing great suspicion, but never attacked. The queen and her mate, a gib-cat, often weren't with her, but he had seen them sometimes.

He couldn't summon up enough courage to spit out that Fern had gone. But one day, the queen approached Garry, blue eyes full of evil. Wildcats were aggressive, fending for themselves, and doing what they had to, to survive.

Garry knew this and often backed away from the nasty looking wild critters. But this time, the wildcats came to him, something they don't do. He shivered. 'What do ya want?' he asked indignantly. 'Nothing. We're just asking what happened to our own family. Can not I even do that?'

Garry angrily scowled. 'You wildcats are crazy,' he said. 'We prefer being called red lynxes or bobcats,' the queen answered. 'A bobcat is twice the size of a normal cat, with great strength enough to rip apart a mountain lion.'

He snorted. He wanted to tell her that Fern had just gotten killed trying to beat a large adult male mountain lion, but he kept his mouth shut, because the memory was so horrible. He sighed. He wasn't afraid the queen was going to attack anymore, because she was pregnant. But never underestimate a wildcat. She pounced onto him elegantly, ripping his hand's skin apart.

'Leave the human alone,' a red fox and a bandicoot stood there, fox's jaws snarled. The queen sashayed over to the fox, and bit him. The fox twirled, making her lose her balance and fall, and he ripped apart her flesh. Even the bandicoot made little nibbles. 'Stop! That wildcat is pregnant!'

Garry took a deep breath. 'If you attack her, her babies would be harmed.' The queen turned at him in surprise.

'R- really?'

'It's OK. You're safe.'

The queen mewed, and pounced away. The red fox looked at Garry with his black eyes. 'That was a hard decision,' he growled. He turned to leave, but Garry said, 'wait! Do you have any idea where the flute-man is?' The red fox turned around. The bandicoot shivered. 'It's OK, Terry. He's not here,' the fox said, and to Garry, he said, 'He doesn't like bandicoots because they steal his food. He's just five miles away. Go left, and when you see a lava-pit, remember to jump.'

'Thank you, fox,' Garry grinned. 'I'm Red-Ash, by the way. I like humans because they never harm me,' the fox said. 'Hello, Red-Ash. Thanks for the help,' Garry smiled. 'No problem. Me and Terry are always going around helping others,' he said.

He glanced at the bandicoot fondly. 'Don't go near the bobcats, I warn ya. They're tough ones to deal with.' Garry took in their advice, leaving. But how could he not go near the wildcats if they came near him?'

*

He already had made friends with Fern, Red-Ash and Terry. But today, he made friends with a wolf with a broken leg. It all started yesterday. The queen wasn't in sight anymore, and he was surprised she even came this deep in the forest. He could hear flute music, as usual. He couldn't see the lava-pit Red-Ash had mentioned, but even if he did, he wouldn't jump.

That would be crazy.

He would do something more sensible, go around it, probably. He was't too concerned. He remembered Fern's last words, 'remember to jump.' Was that related to the lava-pit? He didn't trust Red-Ash that much, but he did trust Fern.

But jumping right in, that was just crazy. He walked a few steps, hoping not to see the wildcats again, but what he saw was completely different. A large white arctic wolf was trapped under a cut down tree. Garry quickly ran to help. He noticed his fangs, lips curled, and he growled. 'It is OK, now what is your name?' The wolf didn't answer, but growled in return. Garry lifted away the tree branch, and the wolf glared at him, amber eyes examining him head to toe.

'You can break your promise,' Garry said. 'Lots of animals did.' The wolf growled again, teeth bared, pacing. He seemed to be hopping on three feet. 'Hey, boy.'

Garry gently knelt down, and from his pockets took a piece of chocolate he had been saving in case of any emergencies. He offered it to the wolf, and he gulped it down. 'I'm Eagle,' he finally said. 'Eagle? Why does every animal in this forest have names of other animals?' Garry teased.

The wolf growled, to let him know that he couldn't answer that question. 'Is your leg hurt? Let me see,' Garry took out some healing herbs from his other pocket and filled a bowl of water from the river. He dipped the herbs in them until the water was green, and all the herb mush was gone.

Then he took out a bandage made from elm bark, and dipped it in every now and then, until it was finally getting softer like a real bandage. Then he wrapped it around the Eagle's leg. He growled again. 'Thank you for helping me, but I'm fine on my own,' he said gruffly. 'One day, I will pay you back your kindness when you need it. But I need to get to my pack.'

With those words, he hopped away. Garry set on his way, whistling. He decided to get some rest, because he was already puffed out. His brown hair ruffled in the wind. He sat beside the river, knowing he had lost all his healing herbs and bandages Fern had given him, to protect his life.

Not anyone else's.

With a sigh, he turned around, to see a mountain lion gazing at him. He gasped, and took out his palm-bark knife. He twisted, and jumped over, and pressed it against the cougar's back, and it started bleeding. The mountain lion pounced, ignoring the blood, and managed to paw him down.

The mountain lion glared at him, slobber running down his face. His paws were on his chest, to secure him if he ran away. Garry twisted and turned, trying to go away. The mountain lion opened his jaws to reveal massive teeth as long as his middle finger. He ripped Garry's arm away, until...

'Stop that.'

An arctic wolf pounced on the cougar (same thing as mountain lion) and he rolled away. Eagle ripped off his flesh, and jumped away, as the cougar limped to a side in defeat. 'Are you OK?' Eagle asked, licking away the blood from Garry's arm. 'Yes, I am fine. Unfortunately, my bandages are all gone,' Garry said.

'Too bad,' Eagle said, not taking notice that he had Garry's bandages. 'I should go now, though my pack doesn't want me. Who wants a three legged wolf anyways.' 'Wait!' Garry pledged. 'Could you help me? I need to find the forest flute.'

Chapter 4: Finding the flute

Eagle and Garry walked, side by side. Garry said his story about Fern, and the queen and all the wildcats. He told him about Red-Ash and Terry, and the fox's words, 'Go left, and when you see a lava pit, jump.' He also mentioned that Fern said this as well. Eagle sighed.

'Do jump, though. You have to. Humans don't understand,' Eagle said. 'What do you mean jump? Why?' Garry asked. 'Never mind. Hey, I'm going to hunt down some deer or rabbits. You stay right here, I'll come back and get some fruits or whatever for you,' Eagle said, changing the subject.

After a moment, Eagle came back with a dead bear and some hog plums for Garry. 'Did you kill the bear?' he asked Eagle. 'Are you out of your mind, human? These bitches aren't for hunting. If you go near them, they rip you to pieces! No, I found it.'

Garry shivered at the fishy smell of the meat. The bear's colour was a rich cinnamon, teared up in pieces by several meat-loving creatures. An elk passed by, brown horns twisted and curled into various shapes.

Up above, an eagle flew gently across the skies. He had never seen so beautiful animals before. They set away, parakeets and wild sparrows chirping in the bushes. We're nearly there,' Eagle assured. 'Just need to jump the crack-pit.'

He noticed Garry looking puzzled. 'Never mind,' he sighed. 'I'll show you when we get there. Doing all this trouble just to see a man who plays the flute.'

They entered the "crack-pit" and saw two lands apart, and under them was a river, connected to a waterfall. They had to jump, from this land to the other, even though it was at least a meter away from them. Garry couldn't do it. He wasn't sporty at all. Eagle slowly took some steps, back, then made a run for it, and elegantly jumped to the other side. He loyally waited for him.

'I- I can't,' Garry sighed. Eagle impatiently paced around. 'Just don't look down. If you fall, I'll grab you with my teeth. I won't lose my grip, I promise.' Garry nodded, and took some steps back like eagle. He ran as fast as he could, and jumped.

He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he expected to be on the other side, but found himself pivoting into the river. 'Ahhhhhhhh!' He screamed, as he was going to die for good. Then he realised he wasn't going down anymore. 'Hey, I've got you,' said a terrified voice trying to sound calm, muffled because he was holding onto Garry with his teeth.

It's OK, Eagle. I'm not hurt,' Garry said, putting one foot on a rock and the other on a higher one until he heaved himself back up. Eagle licked him, and Garry hugged him, face in his fur. 'Thank you,' he said. Then they set off, on their journey.

After a few days they reached a glossy blue river and Garry filled his can, and Eagle drank some water, tongue flapping it up. They rested because they hadn't for two days. He spotted Red-Ash and his pack with Terry the bandicoot several times. He spotted the queen and she-cat with their pack as well, eyeing them but not coming forward because of Eagle.

He already had two enemies, the wildcats and the mountain lions. He didn't want anymore. He thought of this as he lay down, closing his eyes and drifting into a deep silent sleep. They both awoke at night, and set their journey. The mountain lion would be most likely sleeping, and same with the wildcats.

He was sure he heard a content purr nearby. The night sky was invisible, painted with never ending stars. The pair weren't guided by the flute music anymore, as it always stopped by 2.00 pm. Not a single sound came from the forest, except the rough wind, creating a tune only the gods could play.

If Garry was thinner than he was right now, he would have been blown away this instant. They were close to the lava pit, which made Garry flinch. He squinted, trying to see it. But nothing except the rough wind was there, playing a tune Garry could only dream to play.

If Garry was thinner than he was right now, he would have been blown away this instant. They were close to the lava pit, which made Garry flinch. He squinted, trying to see it. He and Eagle approached a cliff again, and although Garry was now confident in jumping, Eagle backed away.

'Eagle, you go first, like we promised,' Garry urged. Then he actually looked at the cliff, and realised he had to jump down, not across. He looked down, and 23 meters from the ground was rich green grass, with purpley-grey moss. Eagle sighed. 'Fine. I'll go first.'

He fearlessly jumped down, though he was shivering and at the point of wolf-goosebumps. He tried to hang on to a bit of cliff, but then suddenly fell down, landing on his back. Eagle whimpered. Garry gasped, and jumped off, neatly landing on his feet. 'Eagle! I was wrong to send you down first. I was selfish, I am so so sorry. Eagle! Come on, I will save you. Eagle!'

Eagle closed his eyes with a whine, and lay there, motionless. Garry, wiped away a tear. 'I guess I'm on my own now,' he sighed. He bent down, gave the wild wolf a kiss on the forehead, and went away.


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