Sorry about taking so long to get this up, but I got called in to that new job and was working all weekend. Sucky I know, especially since the 31st was also my wedding anniversary, but needs must as we all know.
So since I have kept you in suspense long enough, here is the new and character approved ending to Off the Path!
Off the Path Conclusion
The cave was carved into the very side of the mountain. The peaks towered above and the shadows were long and deep. The mouth yawned open and looked ready to swallow her.
The beast didn't pause as it walked straight into that black hole, it's black fur making it disappear almost instantly. After a few deep breaths and a mental lecture that followed the 'what have I got to lose' road Tiffany gulped and followed the wolf inside.
As she stumbled in the dear pitch blackness her eyes slowly became more adjusted, and she could see a flicker of light around a bend in the large tunnel. When she reached it the light turned out to be a fire crackling merrily under a large cooking pot. The contents were bubbling and a yummy spice filled smell was wafting her way from it.
"If your hungry eat. You'll need your strength and whatever wits you may actually have. I will not lose this time, and I'll need your help to banish that creature to the hell that spawned it."
Tiffany saw bowls stacked on a shelf carved out of the rock wall just behind the pot and went to fetch one down. But she couldn't reach. She stretched her arms as far as she could, but still the bowls were out of her reach. She had fogotten how much it sucked to be little.
In the end she did a sort of hopping grab and ended up with a rain of bowls that barely missed her head. To a chorus of what she would swear was beastly laughter she jumped as a ghostly hand helped her pick up the bowls and stack them neatly on the shelf then ladle out a portion of soup and hand it to her. What was worst was that it was not a ghost, it was just a see through hand that hovered in the air, then disappeared after it had done it's task.
When she was settled with a bowl and taken a few bites she turned her attention back to the wolf.
"What the hell happened to me? Who are you and where the hell did that hand come from? And what is running around in my body?" She fired these questions out as quickly as she could.
"That thing is a creature of malice and evil, let loose upon the earth by the unwise and vengeful spirit of a medicine man for the tribe that used to live in the valley. I will tell you the story while you eat." The wolf settled in and laid on the cavern floor, crossing its forepaws.
"Back before this area began to be settled by the white people, there was a tribe of Indians who had lived here for untold generations. They revered the mountain and gave thanks to it for its protection and the bounty that it gave them down in the valley. They lived in peace and prospered in those days. But those days were not to last. The first white people were met with curiosity and welcome. The mass that followed once word of the fertility and bounty of the land got out was an overwhelming wave. The tribe was slowly pushed out of the valley to live on the edge of the very mountain itself. But still they found peace in there existence and gave thanks to the mountain. They did not make war on the whites, though the whites were often harsh and violent with them. Soon the settlement had turned into a village, and began to prosper. But still the people looked for more. They turned their greedy eyes to the forests that covered the mountain and brought their axes to the trees. The tribe were shocked. The trees were the children of the mountain, and must be protected. So the tribe went to protect the mountain's children. They stood between the whites and the trees, and so the whites turned their axes on the tribe. Soon there were fewer and fewer of the tribe, and what was left would continue to try and stand between the white's and the mountain's children until there were only the very young and the sick left. And the medicine man. Seeing the end of his tribe the medicine man began to step away from the peaceful laws of his people. He sent the children to a neighboring tribe in hopes that they would survive. Then he began to exact his revenge on the townsfolk. He ran off their cattle and burned their crops. He caused mischief and havoc where ever he could, until he was caught. They beat him and whipped him. They stood him up before their judge and tried him by there laws. Through it all his spirit would not break, and he cursed them at every turn. He called down every foul spirit he could name to ravage them. Then the hung him from a coil of rope until the life had left his body. Even as he dangled from their rope he cursed them still, with the last breath in his body."
Tiffany stared at the wolf. It had been so matter of fact. A whole civilization had been destroyed, a good man turned to evil in his pain, and the beast stated it all as if it were reading of a shopping list. Deep inside an anger she hadn't realized was there began to burn a little brighter for all those who had been discarded as an obstacle to someone else's ambition, including herself.
"And then the townspeople did something very foolish. They did not know the customs of this land, or the magic that was in it, so they buried the shaman in the forest his people had died to protect, thus denying his spirit it's trip to the otherworld on the winds that would have carried his ashes.. And the judge's pretty young wife had planted an ash tree over the spot so that it could be remembered as there would be no headstone. As the roots of the tree of the dead sunk into the earth, and into the dead body of the shaman his spirit's anger and curses spread up into the tree, and the tree grew in his hatred and pain. When it was grown it dropped one seed, and that seed turned into the demon that has taken your body. It uses the form you hold now to lure it's victims in so that it may return to the village and enact vengeance on the town and it's people when they have forgotten how to protect themselves. I then have three days to stop the bloodbath that is to come. I have yet to be able to do so. That hand was one of my charges helping out. I give shelter to the souls of those that the creature has taken so that they may have a place to rest where they do not have to think about it."
"So this thing is the medicine man's vengeance? How on earth can we stop a dead man's payback?"
The bowl was empty in her lap, and Tiffany was becoming more tired by the minute as the warmth from the soup spread through her. If what this wolf was saying was true, it was several hundred years old. That could't be right. What was the average life span of a wolf anyway? Too bad Amanda wasn't here, she'd know or run off to look it up.
"Oh no, Amanda! Aunt Sarah! How are they going to know it's not me?"
"They won't. It will appear as if everything is normal, until my time is up, and then it will kill anything near it until I can reach it."
"Why don't you just follow it around then?"
"Because farmers have guns and tend to shoot wolves, that's why. It may not kill me, but it will certainly put me out for a while and then it will be able to kill as many people as it wants, which will be everyone."
"Ok then how the hell do we stop it?"
The wolf sighed. "If I knew that I would have stopped it decades ago. Now can you please focus, we don't have much time. The key to ending this has to be one of these books." The wolf nudged a pile of leather bound volumes that were stacked against the wall of the cave.
"I have read through them but I must be missing something. This creature is not of this land. Something brought it here, and it found a home, but this is not where it came from. There must be some way of sending it back where it did come from. These books are on the tales and legends of the people who drove out the tribe, and killed the Shaman. They must have brought it with them, and therefore must have a way to banish it. I just can't find it. I do not understand them enough. You are one of them. You must look through these books and find the answer for me."
The wolf sat up and nudged the books over to her. She sat up a little straighter and picked up the first tome. Then she began to read.
The next two days were spent in a reading and researching frenzy, but she never found any mention of a little girl that possesses people and then goes on a murderous rampage. There were plenty of nasty things, and tales of what they did or didn't do to or for people, but nothing quite like what it seemed they were dealing with. Eventually in the evening of the second day Tiffany slammed the book she was currently looking through down.
"We're never going to find it. Whatever the hell it is. There has got to be a better way. Look, the tribe was, like, really connected to this land right? And you know all about them right? So are you absolutely sure that this couldn't be something that they just didn't know about? Hell, maybe it just has to do with the damn tree, what did they know about the trees around here?"
The wolf sat up and yipped a couple times. Then it's tail began to thump in excitement.
"No this is not anything the tribe knew about, but you have brought about a fact that I had not paid attention to before. The tree. There are no other ash trees here. In fact, until that one was planted there had never been ash trees here. So the creature must be tied to the tree. Two strange things cannot enter the land at the same time and not be related. Now we only have to figure out what this information means."
"Pass me that book over there. There was a chapter in here about spirits that live in trees. Oh yeah, here it is. It says here 'spirits may live in the hear of a tree, and if that tree is killed, then so is the spirit, but if a piece of that tree survives, and is replanted then the spirit is revived and will draw the essence of then land into itself, just as the tree itself draws in life from the earth.' This has to mean something but what?"
"Aha. So this spirit might have been with the tree when it was planted. The judges wife planted it with a cutting not a seed. And the spirit took on the essence of the land that the tree grew from , which was land that held the body and spirit of a vengeful victim."
"And that's why the spirit takes out the medicine man's vengeance. It grew from his hate and anger." Tiffany paused and thought for a moment.
"Well now that we know this how is this going to help get rid of it? This book doesn't give any instructions, just that the spirit's home must be purged if it is causing problems. It doesn't tell us how to purge it, so what do we do?"
"We burn it. If the tree dies, the spirit dies."
They rushed to the tree, Tiffany's little legs pumping as she fought to keep up with the wolf's loping gate. When they reached the tree she stared up at the spreading branches. She didn't think she had taken the sheer size of it when she had been here before, but then everything looked huge when you were as little as her. The wolf began to sniff around the roots of the tree and drag fallen leaves and twigs to a crook in the roots. Then he motioned Tiffany to come over with a shake of it's head.
"We need to set fire to this kindling. Look for a flint rock to spark."
They searched and a few minutes later Tiffany was striking two rocks together in hopes of starting a fire.
"This is ridiculous." She muttered to herself. "We're never going to burn it this wa-"
The spark caught and the tinder began to smoke and then burn. In a few seconds the flames licked their hungry way up the exposed roots and began to rise up the trunk.
Suddenly a loud screeching filled the forest and Tiffany saw herself tearing through the trees at an incredible speed. She stopped at the edge of the flames and began screeching again.
"What have you done? My tree. My beautiful tree!" it continued to wail and began to beat ineffectually at the fire. The wolf sprang between it and the tree, standing with it's paws at the very edge of the flames, growling and forcing the creature back.
"I will not let you damage that girl to save yourself. As long as you wear that form no harm shall come to it."
Tiffany saw her face lit with panic for a moment. Then a sly grin slid over it and she fell backward in a faint. She ran over to her body and found it limp and breathing shallowly. She peeled back her eyelids and stared into her own vacant eyes. Now the panic began to work it's way into her again. how was she going to be herself again?
"Now let me put that horrible fire out." Said a high pitched voice from near the ground. When she turned to look there was a twisted little creature that resembled a potato with arms and legs. The screeches were coming from a slit towards the top that served as a mouth, and tiny little wriggling white worm like things served as fingers and toes. It started to run towards the burning tree, but once again the wolf stopped it.
"Those two are not free. I will not leave them to be taken by you again. This tree burns until they are free."
A wail started up again and Tiffany saw a white floating shape hovering not far away in the trees. Then the white thing began floating towards her at high speed, until it hit her in square in the chest. She fell over backwards and the blackness took her again.
When she opened her eyes again she was staring into the blue eyes of a little girl with blond curls and a red hooded cape. Tiffany sat up quickly and looked down at herself. She was in her own body again. The little girl reached out a hand and helped her to her feet. The screeches of the little creature were still wailing through the forest and they turned to watch the burning tree.
The little creature was beating at the flames about the base of the tree but the fire had already began to engulf the branches and leaves. Soon the little creature had began to burn itself, and it's howls and screeches increased in power until it collapsed in a heap at the base of the tree and lay still, surrounded in fire.
Tiffany and the little girl stood hand in hand, staring until the fire burned itself down to an ember. Miraculously the fire had not spread to any other trees, and now all that was left of the ash was a smoldering carcass that would never grow again. The ashes spread with the wind as the sun began to peak over the horizon. There was no sign of the creature.
The wolf came to sit before the the two girls and bowed its head.
"Thank you for your help. Now we are all finally free."
As the sun's rays touched his fur it began to smoke and crumble, until there was nothing left of the wolf and before them stood a tall dark skinned man in buckskin breeches with long black hair adorned with feathers and beads.
"I can finally join my tribe. Thank you again."
And the man faded into the sunlight that now filled the forest.
Tiffany looked down at the little girl. She was quiet and looked a little bit afraid. How long has she been trapped in the forest? Did she have family left?
She sighed and tugged the little girls hand and headed towards the path that led out of the forest. She had always kinda wanted a little sister.
As they wound their way down the path the little girl skipped a little to keep up with Tiffany's stride. Whenever she would take a hopping step the stick in the pocket of her pinafore would slap lightly against her hip. As they drew near the edge of the trees she smiled and let out a little giggle.
I hope you guys liked it, lol, now that it's taken me forever to get it finished up here. Thanks for bearing with me!