I always liked spending time with Heelog. I didn’t see him very often, because he was never interested in talking for long, and he would be up again on his feet, doing his rounds, and I couldn’t keep up with him for more than a minute.
I was playing once, by myself, in the woods. There was a huge pit surrounded by trees, and at the bottom there was hard ground with a few leaves scattered over the top. I shouldn’t have even been thinking of doing it with no one else around, but above the pit was a rope-swing dangling from a huge tree. I had to walk down to the bottom of the pit, grab the rope and bring it with me back to the top. I just wanted to feel what it would be like to swing through the air like an ape, completely free and pure.
It was so quiet in the woods, no one was around, my mother would not be anywhere close by, telling me to be careful or that I shouldn’t have a go. She was always scared, my mum, but it was because she just wanted me to be safe.
I climbed up on the rope at the top of the bank and I let go of the ground with my feet. I lifted them off the ground and the rope pulled me quickly down, swooping down low into the pit, and I could feel there was nothing, no thoughts, no cares, just joy, just gliding through the air, until I panicked. What if I slipped? And then as I thought about slipping, I tried to adjust my grip on the rope, and I slipped, just as I was at my highest point, at the other side of the pit, and the rope burned my hands as my hands slid over it, and I fell on the slope, on the wall of the pit, and as I landed on one foot my foot bent off to the side, and I felt, maybe I even heard, something snap, my foot come loose, and an excruciating, fiery pain in my ankle. I slipped on the ground and rolled down the little hill, into the bottom of the pit where it was flat, and my hands were submerged in some leaves.
It was not just the pain, the awful screaming pain, but the feeling that my foot was in completely the wrong place. I looked down and it was bent off to the side, and I couldn’t move it. It was like I wasn’t connected with it anymore, but I could feel how much it hurt. Would I ever get it back to normal? What if it couldn’t be fixed? What if I had to stay like this forever, with the pain and deformation and discomfort? That would be awful!
It was all getting worse. My thoughts were deceiving me, and the pain in my ankle seemed to be intensifying.
“Help!” I yelled out. “Help me, please!” Maybe I shouldn’t have called out. I was quite immobile. What if a bear came, or a wolf, or a man who wanted to take me away? It would be so easy for him. I felt terror, my mother’s voice telling me how silly I had been, worried about what would happen to me now.
Physical pain is one thing, mental torture is another. Now I had both. I wondered if I could stand. I struggled up. I didn’t want to move my legs at all. I was just sitting there, shifting slightly, wondering if it would be wiser to stand and just hop my way home. It wasn’t too far, I could probably make it.
Just as I was beginning to clamber up on to one foot, I heard something. A thumping. A consistent, gentle thumping which was becoming louder and louder. It was shaking. Something was shaking. Then I could hear heavy breathing, dark and heavy breathing that made me think of a brute or a monster, and I became even more scared. I managed to stand and the noise was quickly growing louder, coming from in front of me. I was lower than ground level so I couldn’t see what was up there, and the thumping and breathing and shaking got so loud that I knew it was right there, above me, whatever it was, and the noise suddenly stopped.
I went still. I didn’t want to move in case I made a noise.
And then as I heard it breathing more gently, sounding slightly out of breath, I saw it, peering its head over the top edge and looking down into the pit.
My eyes widened, and I saw its big, hairy, shaggy frame and huge big, friendly eyes that seemed to be smiling at me, but the fact that it looked kind-hearted made me even more fearful, like it was psychopathic, this creature, and I began to hop away from it, ignoring all my pain, clambering and struggling up the slope behind me, and out up onto the ground and hopping away.
“Wait!” it called. It had a deep voice. I didn’t wait. I hopped, pathetically, trying to get away from it, and the thumping started again as it ran after me, and I slipped again and landed on my bad ankle, and I screamed because I knew I had made it worse, and I knew this thing was coming after me.
I looked and I saw it, all of its long, thick hairs covering its body, swaying loosely as it ran, with big, thick pads for feet and a long and wide body on top of slightly shorter legs. It was smiling, I was still struggling away, scraping and kicking myself along the ground, until he got to me.
“Help! What are you? Help!” I shouted.
He kneeled down and laughed, and I kicked him away, but my foot was absorbed by his thick coat, like I was kicking a sponge or layers of thick carpet, and as he put his big, leathery hands on me, everything turned bright, I felt as if I disappeared into nothing, and I thought that if I was dying, then I was happy to, because this must be heaven that was taking me over.
But I didn’t die. Things went back to normal, but all the colours were brighter and the sounds were cleaner, and the pain in my ankle was gone. I could stand up again, just as normal, but even better. I felt even better.
I saw it running away with the gentle sway and thumping with each step.
“Thank you!” I said. “Who are you?”
But he didn’t answer.
Heelog – A Note From Dr Bernard J. Hoothfellow
Heelog is one of a kind. He is the only creature of his species that I know of, and he says he has no parents. He tells me that he was born out of the ground, when the forest needed him, and all he does is run and run and run, healing whoever and whatever he can. He is tireless, energetic, warm and powerful. And in all my time of studying creatures of the forest, he has never aged a day.
From the book: