When the Woods Come to Visit

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Golden Aspen leaves strewed the tiled kitchen floor. She had entered the woods, or rather the woods had entered her kitchen. Walls fell away, and the slender trunks rose above Soph's head. Quaking Aspens can grow quite tall, but these were abnormally tall and stretched up so Soph couldn't see their tops. Being the middle of Fall, their golden leaves glittered as they were tickled by a light breeze.

"How nice," Soph whispered.

She rambled through the shimmering woods and listened to the singing leaves. The ground was covered in leaves, but these were brown. They had been cut off from their supply of oxygen, from their life-giving roots and the sweet sugar they enjoyed while alive. Now they crumpled and crackled under Soph's heavy footsteps. Little clumps of grass also peeked through in-between the clusters of suffocated appendages, and in the space that wasn't taken by debris and grass there was mud. There were no patches of dry dirt, but only wet mud. It squelched and squealed and spotted the brown remnants and green blades.

Soph didn't know where she was going. She just kept going. One foot in front of the other, then she decided to hum. It wasn't a song, just a string of notes that decided to come out, perhaps from boredom, perhaps to distract herself. Besides the leaves and the humming, it was silent. There was no wildlife, no birds to twitter among the branches or even mosquitoes to silently strike and rob Soph of half a needlepoint's worth of blood.

There were no paths, nor did the trees open up more in one direction or another. Soph was randomly rambling now. The direction she had come from was anyone's guess. After about thirty minutes of aimless walking, Soph made an attempt to gather herself. One foot at a time, she came to a stop, and took a deep breath.

"Ok. Where am I?" she breathed. "I have scones to finish baking, five letters to write, and two calls to make. I need to hurry home so I can finish my work. I don't have time for this."

She was in the middle of the woods. Where she was or how she got there, she couldn't say. All she knew was that she was in the middle of the woods. She was lost in the middle, and she didn't know how to get out. She couldn't even understand why she was there. Moreover, she was alone. No one else was there. No one could help her. That was the one thing she was certain of.

So, Soph stood a while, thinking of this, and with no better solution presenting itself, she decided to keep walking and hope for the best. She didn't know what "the best" was, but she assumed it would be up ahead nonetheless.

Each step Soph took was heavier than the last. Each time she had to lift a leg it felt like that leg had gained a few ounces. Soon, she felt too heavy to continue. She stopped and sighed.

"I'll figure it out," she whispered to herself. "It will be fine."

With one great effort, Soph took another step. But this time, she got somewhere. Inexplicably, a picnic table had risen up before her. It was the kind of picnic table you would expect to find in the middle of the woods: it was sitting unlevel on the ground, full of splinters, and worm-eaten. Sitting at the picnic table was a woman with an onion for a head. A kind of headless horseman, but without the horse and with an onion instead of the traditional carved pumpkin. This woman's makeshift onion head was uncarved. It was not even peeled but still had its few layers of thin, reddish-brown husk. She was above average height, taller than Soph, and wore simple, neutrally-colored working clothes and a good pair of stiff boots. In short, she looked like whoever created her was so desperately out of ideas that they looked into their fridge for inspiration.

Inexplicably, she spoke. "Why, hello there. Who might you be?" she asked.

Soph stared a moment, then replied, "Sophia, Soph for short."

"How nice. My name is Vidalia. Care to join me for tea on this fine Autumn afternoon?"

Soph noticed the teapot and pair of teacups that were set on the table and which struggled to defy the gravity that tried to pull them down the slanted tabletop. There were also a couple scones.

Soph hesitated. The word "No" slowly managed to push its way out. "I don't have time. I have too much to do," she said with growing conviction. She sighed, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and turned away.

"No?" the onion said. "No matter. I can be flexible."

Vidalia appeared next to Soph and kept pace with her as she began to walk.

"Where are we going?" Vidalia asked.

"Home."

"Ah! The best place. Tea?" Vidalia held out a teacup. Soph glanced and saw it was a half empty cup of what smelled like Yorkshire tea, very strong. The strength drew her in. She took the cup. It was perfectly hot and dispelled a chill she hadn't noticed until then.

"How will you get home?" Vidalia asked as she took a sip of her own cup of Yorkshire tea. With no mouth to catch it, it dripped onto her shirt.

"I don't know." Soph paused, waiting for an answer, but none came. "I will make it if I keep going. All I have to do is keep going," Soph reassured the onion.

"Yes, you might." Vidalia took a bite of scone, or at least she tried to. "But then again, perhaps we should stop to pick up a lollipop."

Soph paused and looked at Vidalia, confused. Vidalia pointed towards a little wooden carnival-type cart with a couple large wheels at one end and wooden legs at the other that you lift in order to move the structure from place to place. It displayed a wide variety of lollipops on a raised shelf. A leek stood behind it with an apron. The leek had no human body, only a couple arms to sell lollipops with.

"Hello there!" the leek called cheerily. "Care for a pop?"

"Yes please," said Vidalia.

"No!" Soph protested. "There's no time. We need to hurry. I need to go home and finish my work."

Vidalia and the leek didn't hear her. Soph looked ahead into the woods, but she couldn't bring herself to leave the onion. Vidalia went up to the lollipop cart, and the vender began to list the many flavors he had.

"I got strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, all the berries. Also root beer, cotton candy, butterscotch, and liver."

"Oh liver!" Vidalia said excitedly. She turned to Soph, "Liver and onions, you know."

Vidalia took the liver lolli and also chose a butterscotch for Soph. She handed it to Soph and began to lick her own liver flavored pop. It stuck to her husks a bit, but Vidalia simply unstuck it and tried again to lick it with her nonexistent tongue. Soph took the lollipop and stared at it. Soph was tired. Dark bags sagged below her eyes. Her lips were pressed tightly together, and her hair was unwashed and loosely tied back in a bun. Her clothes were wrinkled, and her breath stank. Her eyes started to moisten, and she hated it.

"No!" she choked. "I have to keep going. I have to finish my work. There is no time! I don't have time to stand here with an onion and a leek and eat a strawberry lollipop!"

"Butterscotch," Vidalia and the leek corrected her.

"Butterscotch!" Soph yelled, and threw the lollipop on the ground. She turned away and desperately rubbed the hated moisture out of her eyes. She breathed. She breathed again. She turned around.

"I'm fine. I can do it. I just need to keep going." Soph looked up at the unfathomable heights of the world around her and at all the golden leaves she could wonder at but not reach. Only the brown ones at her feet were within reach, the trampled leaves. Vidalia looked at the brown leaves, and she stepped on a patch. A beautiful crunch came from them, crisp and clean, like a piece of tin foil being scrunched into a ball, but without its cold metal quality. Soph looked down at the leaves on the ground. She took a step, and heard their music. She smiled, a faint light struggling to come into existence.

Soph stopped there by the lollipop cart with Vidalia and the leek, and for a good hour they all crunched leaves, drank tea, and ate scones and lollipops.

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