The story is probably a 5-10 minute read.
When Jacob’s footsteps slowed to a stop, Bowman noticed right away. The steady, heavy crashing had been a mark of Jacob’s presence in Wellwood as he crushed fallen leaves and shook the very ground. As a giant human, he couldn’t help it, not that it stopped Bowman giving him a hard time.
“Find something?” Bowman called as he banked in a circle to head back to where Jacob had stopped.
His curiosity dropped away as soon as he glimpsed the rainy expression on Jacob’s face. Something was wrong.
Bowman’s leisurely glide became a quick dive. He landed on a low branch mere feet in front of the towering human. Jacob had a hand braced against the trunk of the tree like he was holding the whole world up. Tension quivered in his giant shoulders and radiated around him, static in a storm. His other hand, the one still marred with a warped burn scar, hung at his side in a tight, shaking fist.
His eyes, normally so bright and kind and full of appreciation for his surroundings when he was in Wellwood, were clouded and distant. He glanced up at Bowman without truly seeing him. Bowman almost flinched back from the confused terror that met his eyes.
“Jacob, you’re …” Bowman began. He was so unsure of what to tell his giant friend, even though he understood what was happening.
It had been months since the trickster. No sign of him had reappeared, and Jacob had not been bothered by him since breaking free of his trials. No more time spent as an extra tiny human.
Rischa’s warning haunted Bowman as he watched Jacob’s breathing become more labored and afraid. Rischa had known the moment Jacob first came back to the village that his wounds were not all on the surface. Some of them ran deeper than even he knew.
There’s a part of him that is afraid he’s still … there, Rischa’s voice echoed in Bowman’s head while Jacob’s hand tensed against the tree as if he might claw right through the bark. He’s so afraid of the memories that they’re almost real, Bowman.
Jacob’s knees wobbled and he sank to the ground. A choked, fearful sob escaped him, an unnatural sound for someone so huge and confident. Bowman leapt off the branch.
He came to a hover just as Jacob curled into himself against the tree.
“Jacob,” Bowman murmured. His brow pinched as the human didn’t react to his presence at all. No one but Jacob could guess which of those awful memories gripped him now, but Rischa’s prediction proved itself without a doubt. Bowman saw only terror on his friend’s face.
It took him several minutes to figure out what to do, what to say. He wouldn’t leave Jacob to fend off those thoughts by himself.
“I’m here,” he said more forcefully. He alighted on Jacob’s knee, putting himself inches from the giant’s face. Jacob’s shuddering rattled right through his boots, and Bowman had to keep his wings half-flared. He put his hands on his hips for even more balance, and hoped it gave him more authority as well.
Now to pull the giant back to the present. “Jacob, you’re in Wellwood. Not even a whole mile from the village. Remember?”
Jacob shut his eyes as if Bowman shone brighter than the sun on snow, and his jaw clenched around a response. His hands, huge and powerful but shaking like leaves, lifted and pressed against his head.
But not covering his ears, so Bowman kept talking. “You’re visiting Wellwood again, long after all that business. It’s a nice blasted day and …” his voice cut off as Jacob’s eyes opened again and fixed on him. Bowman couldn’t read more than desperation in that glance, but he had Jacob’s attention. It was something.
“That’s right, human, here I am,” Bowman announced with all the pride he could. “And you’re here with me. In Wellwood. I was gonna show you a good place to find some pine sap.”
Jacob blinked and some of his shaking waned. “What?” he asked. Another blink cleared even more clouds from his eyes.
“Pine sap,” bowman echoed with a smirk. “You’re in the best place to find some.” His wings fanned open to catch the sunlight and match their verdant surroundings.
Jacob’s shoulders relaxed and his hands moved away from his head. One reached out slowly, tentative as if Bowman might lunge or vanish.
He did neither. Bowman knew what was on the human’s confused mind. He reached out one wing and stretched it towards the approaching hand. Giant fingertips brushed over the leafy membrane and Jacob looked as if he could hardly believe what he was seeing and feeling.
They fell silent and the sounds of the forest rushed to fill the space they left. Birds, squirrels, wind, and branches played an enthusiastic and uneven chorus. Bowman kept a sharp eye on the face that loomed before him.
Jacob finally ducked his head to look down at his scared hunch “Bowman …” he muttered. His cheeks changed color slightly. “What …” As he trailed off, Bowman dutifully pretended not to notice the stray teardrops that escaped.
His wing flicked back and flared for balance as Jacob shifted. When a palm-up hand appeared next to Bowman’s perch, he hopped on, and Jacob continued his move to uncurl his giant body. Trying to make himself smaller had only resulted in stiff muscles.
When he finished moving, he was sitting cross legged with his cupped hands held in front. Concern laced his features as he watched Bowman shift his balance. “I don’t know what … that was a little weird.”
Bowman eyed him critically to make sure the drudged up memory wouldn’t relapse. “Nah,” he waved away the concern. “It was just … a nightmare in the daytime. You didn’t fall and knock your giant head, so I’d say it’s all okay now.”
Jacob smiled. It was a faint, sad expression, but grateful as well. “Right. Thanks, Bowman.”
Bowman’s wings twitched. “Anytime, giant. Think you can walk back to the village yet?”
Jacob glanced around where they’d stopped. “In a minute,” he determined. “But I’m not eating any pine sap when we get there.” A thumb curled inward to nudge at Bowman’s side and poke at his wing.
Bowman slapped a hand on the intruding digit but didn’t shove it away. He might be the one piece of concrete evidence of the real world Jacob had at the moment.
If that’s what his friend needed, he’d never hesitate to help.
“Can’t fix unrefined taste,” he snarked. “More for me, then.”