The author says, “I am Filip Bonnyns from Belgium. I am a painter, costume designer and writer. My exhibitions in Leuven show my work. I use a comedy and fantasy style in my books and my more tangible creations. ‘High-Treed Chase’ is one of my short stories and I am happy to share this preview with you.”

High-Treed Chase

by Filip Bonnyns


Leonard woke up slowly, like he had been drugged or something. He didn’t even remember going to sleep last night. Obviously, he had, and obviously, something had gone horribly wrong. Wine? Yes, there had been a little wine. But not nearly enough to explain this. Must’ve been a little something in the wine.

He blinked at his surroundings. He was still in what looked like the same woods, but he’d never seen this part before, and the tent had vanished. Also, he was now tied to a tree. At least the snoring told him his campmate had made it there too.

“Tom!” he hissed, not sure if he should keep his voice down or not, “Thomas!”

“Huh… what?”

“Wake up!”

“Oh I thought somebim wimb wong,” Tom mumbled as he made to turn around and doze off again. The next instant, he was wide awake too, having discovered he couldn’t turn over because he was stuck to something big. “What the hell is this?”

Two guys, in their early thirties, on a camping trip, now tied to a tree. What the hell was this?

Leonard’s brain kicked in and he studied everything once more: “There’s something written on those trees.”

“No no, it’s pronounced ‘uno dos tres… uno dos tres’,” Tom replied.

“Yes, thank you very much, Manuel,” Leonard snapped at him, “can you take this serious, please? This is serious.”

Leonard was staring straight at it, but Thomas was bound to Leonard’s right, and had to turn around awkwardly: “Hey dude, there’s something written on those trees.”

“Are you sure?” Leonard sighed, “where?”

“8… ullon,” Tom made out, “and some numbers.”

“7, 19, and 7 again,” Leonard filled him in, “but what does it mean?”

“It means someone’s trying to mess with our heads,” Tom sagged back into position, “is what it means. Having us figure out childish riddles to escape. Probably an ex-girlfriend of yours. Well, it’s on your side. Wake me when you solved it.”

“I don’t know,” Leonard said, “maybe it’s some kind of tree number or something.”

“You mean an arbrocrypt?”

“Yes, an arbocript,” Leonard said as if he had heard this particular word before.

“No, man,” Tom explained, “arbrocrypts around here are three letters, dash, two digits. Not all of that crap. Also, your ex went way out of her way to get those markings up there that high.”

Leonard continued peering: “Why is there a zero in front of the last 7, and not in front of the other?”

“Is there? First I’ve heard of it,” Tom had to see for himself, so he turned around all the way again: “you’re right. Also notice the letter ‘o’ is right next to them. Maybe it’s meant both as a letter and a digit, as in ‘o seventy’.”

“Like a phone number,” Leonard knew. On cue, both started searching their pockets, or at least the ones they could reach.

“Haven’t got a phone anymore,” Tom announced.

“Me neither,” Leo answered.

There was an awkward silence.

“Or 07 anyway, like a year in a date,” Tom added, “2007, or 1907 even.”

“Anything special happen in 1907?” Leonard pondered.

“Probably,” said Tom.




“Erm. There’s a kitchen knife lying here.”

“There’s a what?”

Tom repeated himself: “There’s a kitchen knife lying right in front of me. Reckon it might come in handy.”

“Like for what?” Leonard was dripping sarcasm. “Freeing us, or something?”

“Yeah hea eah,” Thomas chuckled.

“Well then get it and free us, will you?” Leonard burst.

“It’s too far.”

Leonard’s turn to flex his body in painful angles to spot the knife glinting there. He agreed: “Right. That’s too far.”

“Never found a kitchen knife in a forest before,” Thomas mused.

“These are willows, right?” Leonard said, “Reckon that’s important?”

“Those are birches, dude,” Tom condescended. Tom knew more about trees than his friend, so Leonard changed the subject: “Reckon that’s a comma?”

Tom bent around again: “Between the ‘8’ and the ‘u’?”

“I meant between the ‘o’ and the ‘n’, but yeah, both, maybe.”

Tom peered: “The top one is some chafing. The bottom one looks like a branch fell off. Any ink in there?”

“Can’t tell,” Leonard said.

“Well you’re the one facing it,” Tom was starting to lose his patience now, “please do can tell!”

“Yes? No? Maybe?”

Thomas wanted to slap his forehead but his hands were tied: “you’re hopeless, you know that?… Bah, ‘8ullo’ comma ‘n’ makes about as much sense as ‘8ullon’ anyway.”

Leonard had another idea: “Maybe it’s a ‘g’, not an ‘8’!”

Tom turned around again: “Possible. So what the hell is a ‘gullon’?”

“Maybe it’s a name.”

Tom checked again: “Don’t you usually start names in a capital letter?”

“Maybe he can’t write.”

“Maybe. He can sure tie knots.”



I think they’re cannibals.”

“Nah man, was obviously the KGB.”

“Maybe it was KGB cannibals.”

“I think it was your mother. She finally made up her mind about the abortion.”

“Really? What are you doing here, then?”

The other one blanched: “Oh no! They’re in league? Your mom and my mom? The Demomnic Duo!”

Despite this ‘exciting’ situation, they were getting pretty bored.

… “Well, must be someone out there,” Tom said, “I mean, what’s the use of tying us up here without sticking around to watch the show?”

“Yes, thank you, Thomas,” Leo grumbled. He just got a lot less bored.


They were lost in their own, yet similar thoughts.

“Leonard?” Tom broke the silence.


“I still don’t know if it’s important, but I think they’re willows after all,” Tom admitted, “you know? That species of willows everyone always mistakes for birches?”

“You mean: everyone but me.”

“Yeah, that too.”


The bushes rustled. Nothing to worry about.

“Maybe it’s an ‘i’,” Leonard ended another lull.

“What is?”

“Not the one on top, I’m sure. But the second one, maybe.” Leonard noted.

“The second what?”

“‘L’, Tom. The second ‘L’ looks like it could very well be an ‘i’ instead. As in ‘gulion’.”

“Am I glad I got front row seats,” Tom remarked dryly, and hungrily, “wake me when you figure out what a ‘gulion’ is.”

The bushes rustled again, and something emerged.

“Uh-oh,” Leo shared with the group. Leo, Tom and the guy in the trees. That’s a group, right?

“What flavor of uh-oh?” Tom asked.

“Uh, the ‘there’s a wolf staring at me like he’s wondering what flavor I am’ flavor,” Leo said.

Tom wanted to turn around fast, but if it really was a wolf, he knew he’d regret that. Slowly then. He locked eyes with the beast and chuckled: “That’s not a wolf. It’s a coyote. Poor bugger’s probably more scared of us than you are of him. What are you doing in the forest, boy?”

Tom had a bright idea. Coyotes were basically wild dogs, weren’t they? “Here boy!” After a few catcalls and clicking his tongue inside his mouth, the creature seemed to obey, giving their tree a wide berth, and sauntered around the clearing to face Thomas.

“Bit closer,” the coyote put in a step. “Oh, waw, I think we’ve got a mental connection here,” Tom said.

“You and a coyote,” Leo remarked, “why am I not surprised?”

Tom turned around: “hey, this soft, calm chitchat is good, I think. Not too much. But could you do it from behind the tree? It’s just me and him now.”

“Ok,” Leo sagged back feeling curious, but grateful.

“Bit closer boy,” the animal obeyed and Tom ordered triumphantly: “Fetch!”

The coyote was standing on the knife handle and seemed to know exactly what Tom expected of it. It sniffed at the knife. Tom was sitting there, swelling with pride, as it looked at him one last time, and pursued its own business.

“Well, it was worth a try,” Tom consoled himself.

“What was?” the other side asked.



Much later

See how these trees are kind of… going into a tunnel?” Thomas remembered.

“No,” Leonard was being honest. Dusk set in about three hours ago and he couldn’t see much of anything anymore. “Unless it’s a very dark tunnel, you know, with a bright light at the end,” Leonard lost it and started kicking at the soil “like where we’ll end up IF NOBODY FINDS US! GET ME OFF OF THIS BLOODY TREE!!”.

Thomas shushed him and Leonard felt his urgency.

“Hey, you!” Tom shouted at the dark. “Cut us loose! My father is pretty wealthy, you know. We can work something out!”

“Tom, who are you lying to?”

Tom shushed him again, listened hard for a while more, then tried: “Let us go! It’s dark! We won’t even recognize you!”

After a pause, Tom whispered: “Didn’t you hear the sniggering?”

“What sniggering?”

“Someone was sniggering, during, I’d even say at your outburst just now, probably using it to cover himself up, just a tad slow. Maybe even did that on purpose, too,” Thomas said.

“Great,” Leonard was appalled, “now there really are KGB cannibals?”

“With backup from our mothers,” Tom added. Leonard was still in doubt whether there was anyone there, but they started shouting in turns:

Leo: “Hey, this is highly illegal! They’re gonna put almost as much effort into investigating this as if it were a murder case!”

Tom: “Unless you’re actually gonna murder us, then it’ll be exactly the same!”

Leo: “And they will find us!”

Tom: “Unless you bury us deep enough!”

This time Leonard calmed down and told his friend: “You’re not really helping, Tom… There! Now I heard it too. Thank you, Tom.”

Leonard listened, then shouted: “Hey, could you giggle some more, please? It could really help our little investigation here!”


Leonard was about to say something else to Tom, when a strong, loud, tranquil, malevolent cackle shattered the night’s frailty so abruptly it chilled their spines:


After a stunned little moment, Tom whispered: “Keep it together, Leo. Don’t give him the satisfaction.”

“I’ve never had it together,” Leonard yelped, “but this is worse. And for your information: that wasn’t a ‘him’, it was a ‘her’.”

… “Was not.”

“Was t…”

Something rustled in the bushes. Something big. At least, too big to be nothing. They held their breaths as they heard something emerge on Tom’s side, then take wing.

“A northern bobwhite,” a reassured Tom gasped.

“It was a bird,” Leo added.

“It flew away, genius, so I guess it must’ve been a bird. A bobwhite. Wasn’t a helicopter.”

“No, I mean the voice. It was a woman,” Leo said.

“Was not.”

“Was too.”

“Oh, I love these philosophical discussions with you,” Tom said, and gave up.


On the second day, at dawn, they felt a bit elated they could at least see again. So after sitting there being scared all night, Thomas did the logical thing: he fell asleep.

The subconscious is not a logical thing, but intricate and wonderful. It simmers even while people are awake. Mira had been nagging Leonard’s mind for some reason, so he asked Thomas: “Do you remember Mira?” There came a snoring answer. “Oh, first watch, am I?”

After a couple of hours, Thomas awoke with a snort: “Mira? Sure, dude, I think everyone remembers Mira,” Thomas continued smoothly, like they had been in mid-conversation. He often did weird stuff like that, which never ceased to amaze Leonard.

Leonard smiled: “Yes, she was a regular beauty, wasn’t she? Dumbest Girl on Campus,” he chuckled.

“You got her that nickname, you know,” Thomas said.

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Did not.”

“Dude, her first night in the States,” Thomas barked, “you were well on your way picking her up, then ran, shouting some other girl’s name. The whole pub was following. Her second night, you simply came back and picked her up anyway.

She even asked you who Gertrude was. You just told her: ‘no one’ and she went home with you. Trust me: you got her that nickname.”

“I guess I did, in a way. Quite the night,” Leonard chuckled, “and she was called ‘Gillian’.”

“No, she was called Mira,” Tom argued, “Mira Dumbestgirloncampus, although she must have had a real surname no one ever found out about, thanks to you.”

“No, the other one,” Leo said, “was called Gillian, not Gertrude.”

“Other one?” ‘Gillian’? Some gears started clicking into place at Tom’s place.

“Oh, you’re probably not going to believe this next part, anyway,” Leonard sulked.

“Leonard,” Thomas assured him, “you were a pig back then. I’d believe literally anything.”

Leonard sighed happily, because there wasn’t any better entertainment around than telling a juicy story: “Well, Mira was my second catch of the night. At least she would have been. I already had Gillian tied to my bed at the time.”

“ ‘tied’ to your bed?” Thomas caught on fast. Much faster than Leonard, who was in ‘the special zone’ anyway. Doctor Thomas Watson was positive he was going to have to lead Sherlock Leonard Holmes in this one.

“Yeah, she was a kinky one. She liked that kind of stuff,” Leonard was positively bragging, caught in an ego trip of epic proportions, “good thing too. She was a head taller and much stronger than me. Freed herself even, halfway into the games.”

“‘Freed herself’, even??” Thomas gasped, repeating Leonard’s words, getting mighty interested now, jerking his bonds. But first, he allowed Leonard. Thomas wanted to hear all of this.

“Yep. That’s actually how she ruined my mood. So I tied her up a lot more firmly, then went for some beers, and met Mira,” Leonard said. “Of course I drowned in Mira’s eyes, and forgot all about Trillian…”

Thomas’ jaw dropped: “Let me get this straight. You tied this girl to your bed, went for a few beers, and forgot about her?”

“Well, Mira, you know?” Leonard chuckled.

“I thought you said she was called Gillian?”

“No, Mira.”

Tom made some disgusted, disgusting sounds: “Yes, but this girl stuck to your bed: was she called Gillian or Trillian?”

“Gillian or Trillian, correct. I’m pretty sure it was one of those. Whatever,” Leonard continued off-hand, “told you you weren’t going to believe this.”

“Oh, but I do,” Thomas was hanging on his every word, hanging around the tree, for several different reasons, now. “Do continue?”

“So after two hours of courting Mira, I suddenly remembered, which was why I shouted Trillian’s name through the pub,” Leo continued, “when I got home, though tied up, Trillian…”

“Gillian,” Tom corrected him, reading the markings on the trees, especially the right one, for the thirtieth time.

“Trillian or Gillian,” Leo conceded arrogantly.

Tom was drawing on a teensy spot of omniscience here: “Oh, I’m quite sure she’s called Gillian.” He was eyeing the woods suspiciously.

“Ok, Gilllian then,” Leo wondered why Tom was referring to her in the present tense, wondering in all the wrong places, “she was just… scary,”

“Wonder why on earth she’d want to be that?” Tom empathized, dripping sarcasm.

“Dude, who’s telling the story: you, or me?” Leo demanded.

“Be my guest,” Tom let him finish.

“I panicked,” Leo continued, “I called the cops and told them there was a burglar. Then I cut her loose.”

“Using a kitchen knife,” Tom added.

“Using a k… hey, what?” Leo was just about ready to drop out of his ego trip, but not yet.

“Please continue,” Thomas wanted sweetly.

“…Man, I sure was glad I had that thing in my hand. I swear: she would’ve taken me apart, she was so mad. But she was smart about it and ran. Anyway, I have no regrets,” Leo lay back and relaxed, stuck to his tree, “wild memories, ‘s all.”

Thomas could not believe what he was hearing. And that was Leonard, speaking. The one stuck on the side of the tree markings: “No regrets? Lumnuts? Are you serious? Not even in your current predicament?”

“Huh?” It started dawning on Leonard Thomas was trying to tell him something too.

“What year was that?” Tom demanded sternly, “with Mira?” Mira had been a Spanish exchange student, so it had indeed been only one year.

“2008?” Leo tried.

“2007 -2008,” Thomas corrected him, “but we met her in 2007. What month?”

“September?” Leonard tried.

“July,” Thomas corrected him again, “late July. The 7th month. Let’s say: the 19th. 7 19 07 or something.”

Leo looked up at the left tree and fitted some ill-fitting puzzle pieces: “You think this is Mira’s revenge? Think she’d come all the way from Spain, after all these years, to do this, just for being called a name??”

Someone in the bushes couldn’t hold herself and was in audible stitches by now. Leo could be so oo thick at times.

“OH, SHUT THE HELL UP, ‘GILLIAN’!!” Tom bellowed, then continued in a less hysterical shout: “we’ll see how funny we are at the line-up, when Leonard tells them: ‘err, it’s the one sticking out a head above the other four. Please be careful, officers, I don’t want to see you get hurt!’”

Leonard’s eyes popped, and popped again at this monologue. He told Thomas: “Hey, don’t drag me into this.”

The penny dropped so hard Tom almost hurt himself: “The trick!” he remembered a tad too loudly.

Leo was still in turmoil: “What?”

“You said she freed herself after you tied her up,” Tom enlightened him, “what did she do? How did she do it? Do you remember?”

“Right!” Leonard closed his eyes, calmed himself down, and propelled himself back down memory lane.

“Well, do you?” Thomas asked urgently.

“Shut up, Thomas. On it!”

Leo got to experimenting. Tom realized his best chance was to shut up, and he did his own trials. He discovered he had lost a lot of moisture and even some fat: the ropes seemed less tight than yesterday. As much less as Leonard’s?

They might just pull this off. Leonard might just pull this off, using Gillian’s trick. Literally. Pull. This. Crap. Off them. Tom waited.

“Hahaa!” something blonde flashed across Tom’s vision, straight for the knife. Leonard was standing there, like a swordsman of old, albeit a very nervous one, flitting his sight around the trees.

Then he used the blade to free Thomas. As they were fleeing the woods together, Leo warned Tom: “Watch out for amazons.”

“KGB-cannibal-amazons, or the regular variety?”

“Yeah, that,” Leonard answered, but by now he was recalling the length of those legs. A footrace with Gillian? “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me,” he muttered as he stopped abruptly. Thomas stopped too and looked at him quizzically.

“We’re in no hurry,” Leonard calmed Thomas.

A loud cackle behind them went:

“HA ha HA hAA”

They ran for it anyway.

Copyright 2023 by Filip Bonnyns