It was time to face the truth - John was horribly lost. No matter how painful that conclusion was to his seven-year-old ego, he couldn't delude himself any further.
The excursion seemed like such a good idea at the beginning! He had just moved to the countryside from London with his family and the forest near the village enchanted him from the get-go. It just looked so beautiful, so inviting, with its lush foliage, mirthful chirping of birds and the subtle but refreshing scent of flowers. Just by looking at it John felt like one of the explorers from the days long gone, who were bravely venturing on an adventure to the uncharted lands in search of knowledge and treasures. John had always been an inquisitive lad, so he couldn't resist the call of an exciting experience. He felt the forest beckoning him. John begged his mother for two days straight to let him go to the woods and finally she agreed with an exasperated sigh. She only warned him not to go too far and be back before lunch. John agreed eagerly to these terms, but he had his own agenda. How proud his mother would be if he came back with some mushrooms! She might even cook that delicious soup, John's favourite! Without any hesitation the boy set out determinedly on his quest to find some boletus edulis and become the hero of the day.
That was more than four hours ago and John was pretty sure that it was way past lunch already. His stomach was rumbling, he hadn't found even half of a mushroom cap and he was apparently going deeper and deeper into the forest without any sense of direction. Some other child might have been terribly frightened by this predicament, but not John Hamish “Lionheart” Watson. He kept repeating to himself that he was a brave little soldier and soldiers didn't cry, didn't want to go to their mums, and their knees certainly weren't wobbly as they traversed an unknown territory. It must have been the fault of his tiredness and definitely not the anxiety rising in his chest that he tripped over a root and tumbled down the grassy escarpment, screaming in terror at the top of his lungs.
John groaned in pain and sat up, examining himself. It seemed that apart from a few cuts and bruises and an impressive collection of leaves and twigs in his hair, nothing had really happened to him. Good. If he had broken anything right now that would be very not good. He noticed a tear on his muddy jeans, but he had more pressing concerns. The boy looked around, wondering where he was, when suddenly he heard rustling in the nearby bushes.
John froze, his hands clenching on the grass until his knuckles turned white. Was that a bear? Could it be? Bears were dangerous, he heard that once on television. But surely there weren't any bears in English woods. Right...?
The rustle sounded again, louder this time, and John saw something brown emerging from the bushes and prancing quickly to the nearest rock, hiding behind it, the rock just a few inches from John. The boy couldn't notice many details, the thing was gone too quickly, but he was pretty sure that he saw antlers. A deer then. Or rather a fawn, since the creature seemed rather small. John exhaled with relief and laughed a little to give himself some courage. Nothing to be afraid of, fawns were harmless after all.
The strange sound that John made apparently caught the beast's attention. The tips of two antlers slowly appeared behind the rock followed by a mess of dark, curly hair and a pair of very blue and very human eyes that were filled with a mixture of hesitation, caution, and burning curiosity, overshadowing everything else.
“Um... Hello,” John greeted the creature haltingly, remembering good manners that his mum had taught him. He wasn't even sure that the fawn understood what was being said, but politeness couldn't hurt. Maybe he would at least react to the amiable tone of voice. “It's okay, I won't hurt you.”
The beast very slowly climbed onto the rock, his gaze transfixed on the boy. John could finally take a good look at this strange individual. He had never seen anything like this. The creature was completely naked, smaller than him and probably younger. It had the willowy form of a human boy but with an additional pair of antlers, long furry ears that were twitching in agitation and a short, fluffy and cute tail. His whole body seemed to be covered in light brown fur with occasional patches of darker and thicker coat in various spots, like between his legs and on the ruff around his neck. Overall, its appearance was quite easy on the eyes.
The behaviour of the creature wasn't so pleasing though. The antler boy puffed out his chest, making aggressive grunts, his nostrils flared, his ears pricked up and his little tail flapping quickly up and down in a mesmerising and threatening manner. He was obviously doing his best to appear intimidating, but his efforts weren't sufficiently appreciated. John just tilted his head and stared at him with curiosity, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. The whole scene was actually more amusing than scary. It was like watching a kitten that tries to roar – just endearing. John burst out into a hearty laughter.
The poor creature seemed really confused and perhaps even a little hurt by John's reaction. He whimpered in a very resentful way, the questioning lilt in his voice betraying the need to understand the situation. John's fearlessness must have impressed him. Very slowly and hesitantly the antler boy moved closer to the human, most of his body still leaning on the rock, and extended his hand towards the intruder. John was still, not wanting to frighten him away, but he was intrigued what this fawn, as he called him in his mind, was up to.
The creature's slender and deft fingers entwined into John's hair, searchingly massaging his scalp. It was quite a pleasant feeling, John had to admit. After examining John's skull meticulously, the fawn hummed quizzically, his fingers picking out the leaves and twigs from John's fair locks. Another sigh of surprise escaped his throat, this time more thoughtful. John was wondering if the sticks on top of his own head caused the fawn to mistake him for one of his own kind. Whatever that kind was, really.
“Thanks,” John said, smiling at him and trying to appear friendly. The fawn snorted something in response and gracefully slid from the rock to the ground. He was now sitting in front of John, his ears trembling in excitement. After another low hum and without any hesitation, the creature leaned to John, sniffing at him furiously. The fawn began with John's sneakers, touching the soles with his impatient fingers, then moved up to the trousers, caressing the fabric, the jumper and he finally buried his face in John's neck, the fur tickling gently against the boy's skin.
“Oi, stop it!” John laughed, but didn't push him away. His mum had always taught him to respect the culture and customs of other people. Maybe that was the way of saying hello in the forest? John didn't want to be rude, he was a guest here after all, so he in turn carefully sniffed at the fawn's shoulder. His scent was strong, but not unpleasant. It reminded John of wet mud with a tinge of the freshness of the air right after a storm. The creature must have deemed John's smell nice as well, since he hummed again happily, nuzzling his face against the boy's hair. John vaguely remembered using a new shampoo the night before. Maybe his head still smelled of apples. Apparently it did, because John felt a rough and wet tongue sliding across his ear and scalp.
“Uh, gross!” he protested, pulling back and wiping his skin with a sleeve. Cultural differences or not, licking each other was a bit too much to stomach. The fawn wasn't pleased either. He yelped in disgust and disappointment, cleaning his tongue furiously with his fingers. The sight was so adorable that John simply couldn't remain angry at him. He chuckled, reaching into his pocket, from where he produced a small brown, rectangular package.
“Here, you can wash away my taste with this. I can only imagine how uneatable I must be.” John smiled and unwrapped the fudge. He was always carrying a few with him to nibble at whenever he felt peckish. This was his last one, so he hoped the fawn would appreciate the sacrifice. John put the candy on the palm of his hand and extended it to the creature. The beast sniffed at it carefully, but shot the human a confused glance. He didn't know what to do with it.
“You can eat it,” John explained, but noting the lack of reaction, he took the fudge, pulled at both ends and after it was divided more or less into two halves, he put his portion into his mouth, chewing on it loudly. He moved the other hand nearly under the fawn's nose, encouraging him to take a bite.
The fawn murmured something defiantly, but his curiosity won in the end. The creature sniffed at the candy one more time and finally picked it up, putting it carefully into his mouth. His jaws munched slowly at the fudge, the candy sticking horribly to his gums and teeth. The equally surprised and delighted expressions he was making, elicited another fit of laughter from John. This time, though, the cheerfulness was infectious and the fawn laughed for the first time. Great. At least John knew that the creature he had encountered was truly a sentient and intelligent being. Maybe they could even become friends?
“What's your name?” he asked when the fudge in his mouth turned into a tasty memory. The fawn licked his lips with relish, but didn't seem to understand. “I'm John. J-O-H-N,” he spelled his name distinctly, pointing to himself.
The fawn nodded and looked thoughtful for a while as if he was playing the unfamiliar sounds in his mind over and over again. Finally he took a deep breath, creased his forehead in concentration and said with difficulty,
“Jóhń....” His voice was low and rumbling and the accent very thick, but John didn't mind. He whooped cheerfully and clapped his hands.
“Yes, that's right!”
The fawn grinned, baring his teeth. He looked very proud of himself.
“Jóhń,” he repeated with more conviction and then pointed to himself. The word that left his throat was a long and ancient sounding cluster of consonants and there was no way John could be ever able to repeat it. The only part that he caught was the ending, resembling something along the lines of 'lock'.
“Um... Sorry, I can't really pronounce that...” he said apologetically, which caused the fawn to huff in annoyance. He seemed offended. John definitely couldn't allow that. Fortunately he got an idea. “You know, when I first saw you I thought you were a fawn. Can I call you that? Fawnlock? It sounds nice, doesn't it? F-A-W-N-L-O-C-K,” John proposed hopefully.
The fawn scratched his neck, pensively, but finally nodded his assent.
“Fąwńlóćk. Jóhń,” he lisped. It was a promising start, so John spent the next hour just teaching his new friend English words. Fawnlock's learning aptitude was extraordinary. John nearly forgot about being lost in the woods, and when he heard a woman's voice booming through the forest and calling his name, he was startled.
“Oh, that's my mum! I have to go now. But I promise I will come tomorrow, okay?” John said, looking at him intently to make him understand.
“Ókąy,” Fawnlock imitated the word with a smile. He didn't know what it meant but he guessed instinctively that it was something good.
John waved him goodbye and dashed to meet his mum, knowing that whatever reprimand he might get after coming home, it would be worth meeting a friend.