Once there was a beautiful young woman named Harper. She was the loveliest creature in all the land. But her mother kept her hidden away, fearful that her daughter would attract unscrupulous young men.
One day, Harper's mother fell terribly ill. She wasn't an old woman, yet, but a harsh winter and shortage of their already-meager harvest due to Chilean aphids left Harper's mother vulnerable to fungal infection.
Harper was only a girl of 15, but as she watched her mother grow weaker over several days, her will to destroy the sickness flourished. On the eve of a chilly morning, she left a basket with several day's provisions next to her mother's bed, and set out with gear for herself. Though Harper had never been beyond the edge of her forest home, Harper did not falter as the unfiltered sun touched her skin outside of the sharp forest line.
She trekked for miles across the grassy plain with light sleet and the beginning of a winter snow crunching underfoot. The hours blended together, the landscape was unchanging to her eye.
Suddenly, gravity overtook our heroine! She felt herself falling! Down down down the narrow shaft of earth she fell, until her feet met rather forcefully with damp earth. Harper could almost hear a crunch as her ankle folded itself into an unfortunate angle.
She looked up to the top of the opening, and her heart plunged. The sky was but a miniature hole against an expanse of blackness. *Well, up is out and down is here. I suppose it's left or right,* she told herself, for she found herself in a low tunnel cut into the earth. Whether by natural means or something else she couldn't tell. Gingerly testing her throbbing ankle, Harper soldiered on. With each step, abused nerves sent a shrill warning through her skull.
*Stop! We must stop! Give up!* her battered body seemed to say. But forward she limped.
What could have been minutes or hours passed. She kept one hand against the rough wall to keep her balance in the pitch black. Her hand, cut and sliced by tiny rocks and roots protruding from the earthen wall, met unexpectedly with cold metal. "A door!"
Cold, tired, and hungry, Harper held no reservations against entering. Her mother had always taught her to knock politely before entering any place not belonging to her. But special circumstances (regarding the very woman) dictated that caution be left behind in the damp tunnel.
The room on the other side of the door was a welcome sight. And smell. And sound! The aroma of warm and spicy bread filled the warmly lit and cozy room. Colorful tapestries hung on every available wall, and a small fire blazed in the fireplace. The furnishing was small but sturdy, and cushions on every surface were stuffed with soft down. Harper couldn't remember the last time she felt so comfortable!
Harper awoke with a start. "I fell asleep?"
"You did, my girl."
Harper cursed herself for allowing a gasp to escape her throat upon sight of the old twisted woman before her. "Are... are you a witch?"
"Witch, my girl? Bah. There's no such thing as witches, Harper."
"You know my name!?"
"Of course I do. I've been waiting almost a century for your arrival!"
"Me? What--?" Our usually eloquent girl found herself sputtering to make sense. "I-- I'm lost, I'm afraid. I CANT be who you're looking for."
The old woman stared in contemplation for a moment.
"Harper, you believe you are on a mission to protect and heal your mother. Well, my girl, it is much more than that. MUCH more. For you see, you are the daughter of a strong line of women. Your foremothers were women of special character and skill. You have been sent here not by your own will, but by time and destiny itself. What you seek, my girl, is just beyond that door." The old woman pointed to a wooden door that Harper had failed to notice until now. In fact, she was almost certain it had been sheer rock just a second before.
Hypnotized by the illusion and drawn by an unyielding curiosity that burned in her chest, Harper rose from the bed on which she had fallen unexpectedly asleep. The throbbing her ankle was just a minor annoyance now.
She took a huge breath to steady her trembling hand before she could reach and open the door, get on the floor, everybody walk the dinosaur.
_________________ "A man chooses, a slave obeys."