The girl entered the Dark Forest.
Leaves whispered. Shadows swirled. Bright eyes gleamed. Mud sucked at her boots. She evaded the bandits, won over the fairies, escaped the quicksand, emasculated the creepy lumberjack, survived the poison thorns, defeated the monsters, fed wild carrots to the unicorn, slipped away from the strangling vines, and outsmarted the witch.
The woman emerged from the Dark Forest.
She dropped her pack, salved her blisters, ate an apple with a hunk of cheese and a chocolate bar, drank from the brook, and sighed.
Ahead was the Open Steppe, the Rushing River, the Endless Desert, the Stormy Sea, the Bottomless Cave, the Highest Mountain, the Brilliant Stars—worlds pressing up against worlds forever in all directions, thick with promise and peril, almost but never quite overwhelming, a summons and an apology and a challenge.
She smiled and hefted her pack.
There was only the path.
I wrote this little story as a birthday gift for my wife, Andrea Castillo, who sends the incomparable Seasonal newsletter that explores the California food system, one fruit or vegetable at a time.
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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.