Jack leant back against the old oak tree and looked out onto a sea of shimmering blue. The bluebells were in full bloom and it was a sight that never failed to gladden his heart and lift his spirits. Heywood Forest was just the most beautiful place to be in springtime as it burst into rich colour following the long, cold greyness of winter.
Jack didn’t just live in the forest, he was of the forest. He was a part of it just like the trees, shrubbery and the wildlife that lived there. The old gamekeeper’s cottage that he shared with his grandfather, Noah, was his home and had been for all of his life. He rarely went into the local towns and villages – he had no need. The animals in the forest were his only friends.
Noah nicknamed him Green-Jack because he always wore green. Jack could blend into the forest when the mood took him and even his animal friends wouldn’t be aware of him. He’d never been to school in his life. Noah had taught him all that he needed to know to make his way through the world. He could read and write and he could most certainly look after himself.
Jack buttoned his jacket against the early evening chill and decided that it was time to go home. His grandfather would have his supper waiting on the table and would be sure to scold him if he was late. As he went to walk back along the path towards his cottage, he was distracted by the sound of a dog barking in the distance. There was nothing unusual about hearing a dog barking in the forest, but Jack heard something in the tone. Distress.
He ran in the general direction of the barking keeping his eyes peeled for the dog. The urgency in the dog’s bark drove him on. The shrubbery and the undergrowth merged into a green blur as he surged along the pathway. It was as he approached the edge of the forest that he saw the dog standing at the side of Miller’s Pond barking hysterically. It was only when Jack neared the pond that he saw the reason why. There was a body lying face down in the green, slimy water.
Jack didn’t hesitate and jumped straight into the pond, wading through the green slime and dragging the body out onto a patch of grass to the side of the path. It was only when he turned it over he realised that it was a young girl. She was dressed in a white T-shirt, shorts and trainers. Jack saw that she wasn’t breathing and her lips were already turning blue. He tilted her head back to open her airways, pinched her nose and clamped his mouth onto hers and forced air into her lungs, then quickly followed this by pressing on her chest and massaging her heart.
He alternated between mouth to mouth and heart massage as he attempted to get her breathing. The dog stood to his side, barking and wagging its tail in anticipation. But Jack focused all of his effort and attention on the girl. He continued the resuscitation just the way Noah had taught him.
Keep trying, Jack. Keep trying …
He’d been working on her for several minutes but there was still no sign of her breathing. Jack’s attempts became increasingly desperate as he searched for any slight trace of life in the girl. His own breathing became laboured and the sweat streamed down his forehead and dripped off the end of his nose. The dog sensed his desperation and its barking became more and more agitated.
‘Come on – breathe,’ he whispered to her.
But nothing. She lay there impassive and lifeless. She looked no older than Jack. She was fifteen or sixteen at the most. He couldn’t let her die. Then he remembered something. He’d seen a fox hit by a car some years ago. The fox suffered a glancing blow and was sent spinning across the road. Its lifeless body lay wasted in the gutter.
Jack thought it was dead but went through the same process he’d just been using on the girl. As Jack willed it back to life, he felt an energy rising up deep within him. It was like electricity pulsating through his body and eventually it found its way to his fingertips. The fox suddenly jolted back into life. And Reggie the fox was still roaming the forest to that very day.
Jack refocused every ounce of his awareness and attention on the girl and continued the heart massage. He searched for the same energy within himself that had saved Reggie. He felt a tingling sensation in his toes and a telling warmth building at his inner core. His hands kept working around the girl’s heart and willing her to wake up.