Once upon a time there were two young brothers, Jacob and Jaden, who lived in a small house by the forest. Their parents, who worked on a wildlife survey, told them never to go into the forest.
"There are many ferocious animals in the forest and you must stay away."
"You could trip and fall and break your leg and then how would you get out? You will die there, that is what will happen."
"And then a bear will come and find you and eat you."
"So don't go into the forest alone."
Jacob and Jaden always nodded their heads in unison at these warnings, but still they were often left to their own devices around the house.
One evening, as they were breaking sticks in half, Jacob turned to Jaden and said, "Want to see what's in the forest?"
And then Jaden said, "Okay."
There was no debate or hesitation, or even arguing that if they went together, they would not technically be alone. And so they both took off into the forest holding hands like close brothers do. They started off on a path but quickly cut across into the thick of ferns and brambles because that was more interesting. They listened for little animals stirring in the leaf litter and to the calls of birds settling down for the night. They unfurled fiddleheads, terrorised a small spider, and then threw dirt at each other.
After an hour they were deep in the forest and no longer knew which direction led home. And then they heard a voice coming from a stand of trees a few metres away.
"Come a little closer," said the voice.
The brothers stopped hurling clods and leaves as they looked for who the voice belonged to.
"Who is that?" asked Jacob.
"I've watched you from afar," said the voice.
The brothers moved closer to the stand of trees but still couldn't see who was there.
"That's right, come a little closer."
As the brothers reached the stand of trees they could see a mass that covered the base of the tree trunks. In the middle was a large barky face covered in various types of mushrooms and fungus.
"Eeeew!" exclaimed Jaden.
"Are you alive?" asked Jacob.
"Oh of course I'm alive," spoke the mass, and the brothers juddered in disgust as the bark lips flapped in speech.
Jaden picked up a pinecone and with suprisingly accurate aim, threw it at the left eye of the mass.
"Ow! Why'd you do that?"
Jaden simply laughed in fits.
"What are you doing here? What kind of animal are you? How did you get here? Do you have arms or legs? How many legs do you have?" asked Jacob.
"Why I live here little boy. This forest is my home."
"But like, what are you?"
"I am a creature of the forest and that's all you need to know."
"But like, what about your legs and arms? How do you get around?"
"Little boy, I am everywhere. I don't need to get around."
The boys looked at each other, perplexed.
"Listen, just come a little closer, I have something to tell you."
The boys moved in closer but not so close that they could reach out and touch the speaking mass.
"No," said Jacob. "We know about stranger danger."
"We are indeed strangers boys, but I am not a danger to you."
"Okay," said Jaden, starting to move closer, but Jacob held a hand up to his brother's chest.
"I said no," he said.
"Fine," said the mass. "All I wanted to say is that it is getting late, as the moon is rising, and you look lost."
"Well, the forest can't be that big," said Jacob.
"There are wolves in the forest, and they like to eat young people like yourselves. Did you know that."
"Of course we knew that," said Jaden, making a large gesture with his hands, "everybody knows that."
"Our parents told us that there are ferocious animals in the forest–"
"–And that we would get eaten."
"And you still decided to come into the forest?"
"Well our parents go on about the habitat loss, and the ecological degradation, so are there really that many ferocious animals? Are we likely to encounter them? I've never seen any in my lifetime and I'm seven years old!" said Jacob.
"I was just bored," said Jaden.
"Well I tell you boys, you are in grave danger. But here is what I propose. Do you see how big my mouth is?"
"Yeah," said the boys together.
"Well I can open it big enough for you to crawl in. You can shelter in here until your parents come and find you, or you can go down further where you will find a tunnel that leads back to your house."
"Haha haha, there's no way you have a tunnel. That's just your stomach!" said Jacob.
"Little boy," said the mass with exasperation, "you have a lot to learn about fungal lifeforms. Many of us are ancient and fill many miles of forest and weigh more than the trees that grow above us. I do indeed have tunnels to many places."
By this time Jaden had produced a box of matches from his shorts pocket.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm not getting eaten by you," said Jaden and he struck a match. The flame lit up his menacing face, and time slowed down for the mass as it watched Jaden flick the match onto a pile of leaves. The dry pile caught fire and the boys worked together to build it up.
"Help! Help! Help!" the mass screamed out.
"There's no one but us here and we won't help you!" yelled Jacob. The flames started to lick at the edges of the mass's face and it wailed in pain. The boys laughed and warmed themselves with the fire. After a few minutes they got bored and wandered off.
When the mass's face was completely consumed, and without further help from the boys, a bear walked into the area.
"Dave, what happened to you?" asked the bear, plaintively.
"Two boys," creaked a crow, watching from above.
"Oh, I know them," said the bear, looking up at the crow and then down again at the smoldering remains of the Dave's face. "Couple of little shits." The bear stood up on its hind legs, sniffing for the boys on the air. When he found them he took off in a loping sprint.
Two days later the chewed and cleaned bones of the boys were found in a pleasant clearing, and Dave, drawing sustenance from its miles and miles of tunnels and tendrils, slowly began to regrow its face.
And no one lived happily ever after.