Once upon a time a spinster decided to go for a walk in the woods. She checked and rechecked her satchel to make sure she had sandwiches, a bottle of wine, a pashmina, an umbrella, and a fan. Even though her friends all laughed about her walks and the inappropriateness of her supplies, they went with her often to the woods. On this day, however, she was alone.
She walked up small hills and around clumps of trees, always keeping to the path. Soon enough she heard pained little yelps, so she peered through the branches until she saw the source of the noise; a little fox had gotten itself stuck in a snare. With a little thought and the serrated blade on her multi-tool the spinster freed the fox. It rubbed its head along her arm in thanks and trotted away.
She walked back to the path, up small hills, and around clumps of trees. Soon enough she heard a loud squawking and peered through the branches. Seeing nothing on the ground, she straightened up to look around at eye-level, pivoting to see the whole area. Still seeing nothing, she remembered the most important rule the one time she’d tried a role-playing game—always look up. Soon enough she spotted a blackbird (magpie or crow, she couldn’t tell) stuck swinging upside down. The entire time the spinster worked to free the bird from its net, she chatted at it (any nonsense in her head). The bird turned its glittering eyes on her and pecked her forehead quickly with its beak before flying off.
Once again, back on the path, the spinster wondered about just who was leaving these traps. They weren’t enough to do permanent harm, but they were a problem. Eventually, she reached her destination—a picnic table beside a small waterfall and a deep pool. Setting out her supplies, the spinster waited. She wrote in a small notebook, took pictures with her phone, and enjoyed the quiet.
She did not eat her sandwich or drink her wine.
She waited until the sun was heading west.
After quite some time a man stumbled out of the trees and into the picnic area. He looked around in confusion and set his axe and his pack down. “Where am I?” he asked the spinster.
“At the end of the story,” she answered.
He looked at her funny before inhaling the sandwiching and chugging the wine. “What are you talking about?” He wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You of all people know the rules,” she said. “Don’t eat or drink when you wander into places you shouldn’t be.”
“I’m in the woods. I’m a woodcutter. It’s where I belong.”
“You wandered onto the path. You ate my sandwich and drank my wine. You’ll die if you try to leave the path again.”
The man paled and looked around. “How did you do that?”
“You got lazy and only trapped two of the three creatures you’d need to find a Green Well. You left them long enough for me to find and free them.”
“But…but…” he sputtered and stuttered and wondered if crying would be a good idea. “I’m bound to the woods,” he said.
“You won’t be the first or last to live on the edge of the woods. You killed your shadow and lost your way. The lesson you failed to learn is that sometimes you can’t go home again.”
“That doesn’t actually make sense,” the woodcutter said.
“Hopefully, someday it will,” the spinster replied.