The Lady of the Oak by Alan Delaney

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SUMMARY: Katie has a secret the grown-ups don't know about. Jake wants to known what it is.

"Quick, through here."

Jake looked around himself nervously. He was never meant to be this far into the woods, his parents would be furious. It was wild and dangerous place, he had been told, and many a young boy of his age had gotten themselves lost among the trees, never to return. Of course, predictably, such warnings had merely encouraged Jake an his friends to prove their bravery by running across the narrow log bridge and venturing into the forest beyond but even then, the ventures were both short and shallow for even grown-ups had been known to lose their way out here

Jake turned to look back over his shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of the shallow stream that ran at the edge of the forest, but all he could see was trees. They were so far into the woods now that he could not even hear the gentle babbling of its waters. He was lost and close to panic but for one thing - Katie.

"C'mon scaredy-cat. They'll be here soon"

It was her fault, she dragged me in, he heard himself tell his parents as he envisaged what would happen if they retur..,. when they returned, he tried to assure himself. The reality was that he had so much wanted to find out if what Katie had been talking about was true that he had all but begged to see it for himself. But, now that he was standing here, in the middle of this deep forest, barely even able to use the sun for orientation, it suddenly didn't seem so important anymore.

"I'm not a scaredy-cat," he said, trying to sound like he meant it. Katie flashed him a bright smile full of mirth and mischief.

"Scaredy-cat, scaredy-cat," she began chanting merrily as she ducked behind some more undergrowth and out of Jake's sight. Jake, now utterly lost and disorientated, had no choice but to follow the sounds of the taunt.

"Stop saying that, Katie - it's not fair," Jake said, sounding a lot more hurt than he had intended to. "Anyway, we're lost."

"No, no," she announced excitedly from behind a tree. "We're here, come quickly."

She jumped out in front of Jake nimbly, grabbed him by the arm and dragged him towards a low gap in a thornbush to their left.

"Stop pulling me," he said as he yanked himself free from her grip. "I'm coming."

"You're just a big scaredy-cat," she said, and giggled at him.

"Am not."

"Am too," she said as she tried to grab him again. Jake pulled back sharply but lost his footing on the rough forest floor and fell back into a mossy carpet. Katie squealed with delight at this as she ducked down on all fours in front of the gap. "See ya," she said and disappeared inside.

After that it went quiet, which Jake wasn't sure he preferred. He was scared, that had been accurate, but he himself was not even fully sure what he was afraid of. Sure, he was deeper into the woods than he had ever been, and was lost and disorientated. He tried to take another look back at the stream but there nothing to see but trees and nothing to hear but the soft rustle of the wind blowing through the leaves. He was no longer even sure in which direction to look, every tree here looked much like another.

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