By Thomas Mc

Chapter 1: A Weekend In The Woods

Spring 2024

Terry and Tonya Cotton sat on the ground in front of the campfire. They were happily wrapped in each other's arms as they smiled indulgently while watching their daughter, Madison, and son, Desmond, chasing each other through the Connecticut trees. They had both been avid campers since before they met and their children also loved the out-of-doors. This weekend was also their twelfth anniversary. Terry was hoping that once the children were asleep tonight, he and Tonya would slip into the woods for a very special celebration of their own. The thought reminded him of the first time they had done it thirteen years ago as teenagers on a church group campout. He had already scouted out a perfect spot for what he had planned.

Terry thought that he would have to remember to tell Carlton, his friend from work, how much he and Tonya appreciated being allowed to camp out on his land over the long holiday weekend. The only stipulation Carlton had made to their use of the land was that they were not to cross the wall that marked the northern property boundary. Despite the temptation of the beautiful lake that they could catch an occasional tantalizing glimpse of through the trees, that land was absolutely off limits. That adjacent property belonged to a very private individual that did not tolerate trespassers.

There were also some disturbing rumors about the owner having large dangerous animals on the property. At least that's what some of the people they met in the small town eight miles to the south claimed. Terry didn't really believe those stories. The local law officer had told a worried Tanya that he had been out to that property twice and not seen any signs of any such creatures.

Terry and Tonya had taken a stroll along that wall earlier and it had not looked particularly formidable or forbidding. In fact it had looked quite picturesque in that forest setting. The stone wall itself was about four feet high and a foot and a half thick. A four foot high split rail fence ran along the top of the stone wall. It was a rather unusual configuration, and no real barrier to anyone who wanted to cross it, but it blended quite well with the surrounding terrain. There were no warning signs on the wall itself but when he had looked over it he saw rather tastefully rustic looking wooden signs located eight feet from the wall and spread about forty feet apart, warning against trespassers. All very understated but impossible to miss.

Terry pulled Tonya in close as his mind again returned to his plans for later tonight.

~ o ~

Desmond, who had just turned nine last week, and his older sister, Madison now ten and a half, were playing tag among the trees when they came upon the stone wall. Desmond climbed up on the wall and began moving quickly along the top of it holding onto the fence to avoid falling over.

Madison climbed up on the wall and had started chasing him when they both heard a distant sound of laughter. There was a happy musical, almost magical, quality about it that made them both smile. Then they were both startled by the distinct sound of a lion's roar. As they looked at each other in surprise they again heard the same musical laughter. A couple of minutes later they heard the roar again followed shortly by a sound that was halfway between a laugh and a squeal, all coming from that same direction. A few seconds later they again heard the magical laughter but this time it was cut sort. Desmond glanced at his sister as if asking for an explanation. She shrugged, shaking her head.

They became aware of their mother's voice calling them in for dinner. Reluctantly they climbed down and headed back towards where their camp was located. Madison kept glancing curiously back at the stone wall. There was something tantalizing, almost fairytale like, about the forbidden forest beyond that wall and those sounds they had both heard.

Soon after getting back to their camp they were roasting hotdogs over the open campfire and engaging in the usual campfire chatter. For Madison, there was something so special about eating hotdogs beside the campfire where they had just been roasted. They just tasted so much better this way, especially when they included chili warmed in its can by the fire and fresh cheese that Mother had grated less than an hour ago. A dash of ketchup and mustard perfectly completed this very special delicacy.

Before long the hotdogs had been consumed and they were soon telling the usual round of scary campfire stories while roasting marshmallows. All the while Madison continued to wonder about those sounds that she and her brother had heard coming from the forbidden forest beyond that unusual stone wall.

~ o ~

Linda Chandler-Wells dove off the little floating dock located in the middle of the small scenic lake, her trim form slicing cleanly into the water. A few seconds later she surfaced about fifty-five feet out and looked back at the other figure lounging on the dock. "Come on in, the water's fine." She called back.

Jacob gazed out at his wife, who was slowly drifting further away from the floating dock. "No thanks, I like it right here in the sun." He remarked with a chuckle. He could feel her sense of teasing playfulness as well as her reaction to the coolness of the water. Her musical laughter floated across the lake, making him smile. He had loved the sound of her laughter since they first met at ten years old and he could never get enough of hearing it.

"Awe, come on . The water is warm." She cajoled as she shivered while feeling his amusement over their link.

He knew she was feeding him a line. You couldn't really lie to someone that could feel your every emotion. "But the sun is so much warmer." He shot back. He could now sense a streak of mischievousness growing in her and knew that she had a scathing retort ready to fire back. He chuckled. The next comment was bound to be a dare.

"What's a matter? Poor little kitty cat afraid of the water?" She taunted as she increased the rate at which she was receding from the dock.

That did it. Jacob sprang to his feet. "I'll show you who's afraid of the water." With a roar of defiance, he leaped off the dock and hit the water with a very large splash.

With a sound halfway between a laugh and a squawk, Linda dived under and shot toward shore. With powerful strokes, Jacob took out after her. Though he was far stronger and normally faster than her, he couldn't quite close the distance between them. In the water for short distances, she had the advantage. At least until raw endurance became a factor. What he was doing with sheer power, she accomplished with slender streamlining and graceful economy of movement.

Linda reached the shore and ran up the beach giggling. Jacob came splashing out of the water behind her. Now he was in his element and the distance between them quickly closed. Linda dodged, laughing, as he overshot her and swerved around sending sand flying everywhere. Halfway to the house he caught her and, with another roar of triumph from him and a laughing shriek from her, they both went down. She laughed as they rolled and he ended up on top. Then her laughter cut short as he captured her mouth in a passionate kiss.

Moments later he scooped her up into his arms and stood up. "To the victor go the spoils, you're mine now," he growled at her his eyes on fire with passion.

She laughed with delight and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Forever, my love."

He headed off towards the lake house with his captured treasure.

~ o ~

The two hungry lions, hidden in the tall grass, were slowly creeping forward. They looked at each other then they split up, one heading to the right, the other to the left. Ahead was the great oak tree where the two they were stalking had taken refuge.

Caroline and Sharon were up in the old tree fort where they had decided to make their stand against the two creatures that were stalking them. The two girls were carefully scanning the terrain around them, their guns at the ready. Suddenly Sharon fired her gun but there was no reaction from where she hit. "Shoot, I was sure I saw one of them."

Then Caroline fired and cried out. "Got it!" as one of the lions jerked up and collapsed to the ground it's side stained blood red.

Sharon swung around to see. At that moment the second lion leaped up, caught a branch, swung up into the old tree fort and then, with a roar, pounced on the two girls from behind. Both girls went down squealing under the lion's claws.

"Gotcha!" Devin declared, victoriously.

"Damn!" Caroline exclaimed.

"Awe rats!" Sharon responded.

"How the heck did you see me?" Michael demanded as he landed in the fort and glanced ruefully at the bloody looking stain on his side.

"I saw the grass moving and took a chance." Caroline replied as she stood up and dusted herself off.

Devin assisted Sharon to her feet. She in turn handed Michael a damp towel and he wiped at the stain left by the paintball. It turned out to be a bit of work to get the red die out of his fur. The two girls set the safeties on their paintball guns and placed them off to the side. Caroline grabbed a water bottle and poured a bit over the red stain to help. "Gonna take soap and water to get this out." She commented, observing his lack of success.

Devin and Michael both glanced over in the direction of the house simultaneously as they pulled off the goggles they had been wearing. "What is it?" Sharon and Caroline both asked, also simultaneously, in response to their brothers' sudden alertness.

"Mom and Dad are playing again." Michael answered.

Both girls giggled. They didn't have to have their brother's empathic sense or superior hearing to know what that meant. Caroline dragged out the wicker basket and the four of them dug into their picnic lunch. While they ate lunch, the four children began negotiating the rules for the next round of their game. It would have to be short because the sun was already getting low in the sky.

~ o ~

Once their children were asleep, Terry and Tonya took a blanket and a bottle of sweet desert wine and slipped off to the small clearing that he had earlier identified. There they drank the wine directly from the bottle, laughed at themselves and made love under the stars, just like they had that first time as teenagers. Only now there was none of that first time nervousness and awkwardness.

Twice they joined together and reached that pinnacle of delight that all lovers seek. Afterward they lay together and stared up at the moon and stars, reveling in their beauty, while they regained their spent energies.

A few hours later they finished off the bottle of wine then quietly slipped back to their tent. With a quiet duet of, "Happy anniversary Love." They soon fell asleep in each other's arms.

~ o ~

That night Madison had dreamed of magical forests and fairy princesses. The next morning she awoke with those dreams still dancing in her mind. She crawled out of her tent, only to make the same discovery as the rest of her family. During the night a raccoon had managed to get into their cooler and made short work of their food supply. The family took a quick trip into town to pick up a few supplies. Terry also bought a new cooler with a more secure latch on it.

They ate breakfast in a local diner and again heard stories of the strange things that were supposed to have been seen and heard on the property north of their campground.

~ o ~

It was getting close to lunch time, and Madison and Desmond were again playing at the stone wall. Madison had her arms crossed, elbows resting on the top of the stone wall looking into the forest on the other side. Desmond was on top of the stone wall, leaning against the split rail fence and looking down at her. She felt drawn to that forbidden forest. To her it represented magic and adventure. As she gazed into the forest, she caught a glimpse of sunlight reflecting off water through the trees.

She looked up at her little brother. "Hey Des, wanna go swimming in the lake?"

"We aren't 'spose ta go over there." Desmond objected.

"Aw, no one'll know. I heard that the people that own it are hardly ever there."

"I heard there's a monster in those woods." He glanced nervously, over his shoulder, into the woods on the other side of the wall. "It lives near that lake and eats anyone that wanders onto their land." He again glanced nervously in that direction. "Several of the kids in town said so. You heard those sounds yesterday before lunch."

"What's a matter? Scared of the terrible forest monster?" Madison taunted mockingly. "There's no such thing. It's just a silly story."

"How do you know?" He demanded.

"I'm almos' ten and a half. I know these things." She puffed up and tried to look more mature. "Besides, I heard what the sheriff guy told Mom." Madison shook her head. "He said there weren't any monsters over there. You're just a scaredycat."

"Am not!" He objected.

"Are too!" / "Am not!" / "Are too!" / "Am not!"

"Prove it. I dare you." Madison challenged Desmond.

"I'll show you who's afraid." Desmond shot back, slipping through the wooden fence and jumping off the wall onto the other side. Madison quickly clambered over the wall to join her brother.

Now that they were both on the forbidden side of the stone wall, Madison was feeling just a bit less sure of herself. After a moment to screw up her courage, she headed into the woods, followed closely by her brother. Stealthily the two children made their way through the woods until they reached edge of the forest by the lake. Madison peered out from the shelter of the trees but there was no one in sight. Cautiously she edged out onto the beach and up to the lake, followed by Desmond.

She looked around then relaxed. "See, I told ya. There's no one around." She kicked off her shoes and waded out into the lake. After a few seconds Desmond shed his shoes and shirt then followed her in. They were soon splashing and playing like any normal kids.

After a while they waded out of the lake and settled onto the small wooden deck that surrounded a stone fire-pit located close to the water's edge. Soon both children were dozing as they soaked up the warming sun.

Madison was startled to wakefulness by the sound of voices. She sat up and, guiltily looked around, then she froze in surprise and fear as she found herself staring at something straight out of a fantasy.

Continued in Part 2

'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.