Not gonna lie, I'm sort of dedicating this week's story to myself...
Benji The Brave
Billy was the bravest bear in the forest. He would happily climb the highest trees. His roar was louder than that of all the other bears. He was never scared of anything.
Benji was the smallest bear in the forest. He didn't like heights. He was very quiet and he hid away from the slightest sign of trouble.
Every day, Benji watched Billy and wished he could be more like him. He wanted to be big, brave and strong. He just didn't know how.
One, sunny afternoon, Benji sat beside the river, watching fish dart through the water. He glanced at the jagged rocks that jutted out of the waves and remembered how he'd seen Billy jump across them, to the other side. Maybe if I jump across the rocks, thought Benji, then I'll finally be as brave as Billy is...
Trembling, Benji shuffled forward and gingerly placed his paws on the first rock. It was slippery and he struggled to stay upright. He briefly thought about turning back, but he didn't want to give up at the first sign of trouble. So, with a deep breath, Benji took another step and crossed over to the next rock. One paw landed safely, but as he moved to place the other paw down on the wet surface, he lost his grip and fell into the fast-flowing water with a loud splash.
Benji yelped, his paws thrashing wildly in the water. One by one, the other bears came rushing to the river. "Help!" Benji cried, as he was carried by the current further and further downstream.
Suddenly there was a terrific roar and Billy appeared from nowehere, bounding towards the river, faster than any other bear could go. He made an enormous leap and splashed into the water, grabbing Benji with his big, strong paw. Quickly, he hauled Benji to the riverbank, pushing him up onto the grass to safety.
"What on Earth happened?" Billy asked, as Benji lay on the riverbank, struggling for breath.
Benji pulled a face. "I wanted to do something brave," he whimpered. "Like you."
Billy shook his head. "You don't have to go searching for danger just to prove that you're brave," he told the smaller bear. "Sometimes, being brave is simply about knowing the right thing to do." He smiled and patted Benji's head as he clambered out of the river. "You don't have to do anything dangerous in order to prove yourself, little man."
Billy stretched up to his full height, but as he did, his paw slipped on the wet ground and he fell backwards, back into the fast-flowing water. Taken by surprise, Billy didn't have time to begin swimming and as the other bears watched in horror, he began to be carried away by the tide.
Benji scrambled to his feet. He couldn't jump into the river - he wasn't a strong enough swimmer and he was bound to make the problem worse! He stared in fear, as Billy disappeared around the river bend. Benji knew that there was a waterfall ahead and panic surged through him. Suddenly, without even knowing what he was doing, he began to run. Faster and faster he ran, following the path of the river, yelling as he went: "Help! Come on, everyone, help!"
More and more bears began running behind Benji and other animals began to join in, too. Finally, Benji overtook Billy, glancing over his shoulder as the biggest, bravest bear in the forest splashed helplessly in the waves.
Benji headed straight for the tall tree that stood beside the waterfall. He shimmied up the trunk and began tugging at a low branch. "Help," he called to the animals gathered at the bottom. "Help me get this branch down!"
One by one, the animals joined Benji, swinging, pulling and banging on the branch until it was almost ready to fall. "Try harder," Benji begged, seeing Billy coming into view. "He'll go over the waterfall if we don't hurry!"
At last, the mighty branch fell. Benji slid down the tree trunk and hurried to the water's edge. "You need to push the branch out as far as you can," he told the other animals. "Hold it really steady and don't let go!"
With a mighty push, the animals lay the branch across the river, just a few feet away from the thundering waterfall. As Billy surged into view, Benji yelled: "Grab on!"
Billy lunged wildly at the branch, clinging onto it with his sharp claws. The branch swung frighteningly close to the waterfall, but Benji and all the animals hung on tight to the end, pulling the branch back towards them, as hard as they could, until they had dragged Billy to safety.
For a few moments, everyone simply sat in stunned silence, as Billy shook himself dry and lay in the grass, gasping for air. Finally, he turned to Benji. "Thank you," he said, simply. "What you did was very clever. And very brave."
Benji smiled. "You said that being brave is about knowing when to do the right thing," he reminded Billy. "And helping a friend in trouble seemed like it was definitely the right thing to do!"
Billy sat up and hugged Benji close. "You're as brave as any other bear in this forest, Benji," he told him. "Probably even braver."
Benji beamed with pride. And from that day on, he didn't feel bad about being the smallest, or the most nervous. He'd proved himself to everyone. But even more importantly, he'd proved something to himself.
You don't have to be big or strong to be a hero!