The woods were like no other place on earth. The autumn sun slanted through the trees, golden and fluttery like the wings millions of tiger-swallowtail butterflies. Pollen sparkled in the shafts of light like sequins on a princess’s dress.
Bird songs hovered in the lacy canopy and dragonflies darted a jazzy tune between the strong oaks.
The first time Pearl entered the forest, she could feel it draw in a breath, as if it had been waiting for her and had gasped in excitement that she had finally arrived. After a few steps, she couldn’t stop her feet. They carried her body purposefully through the trees, her head pivoting on her neck as she tried to take in the beauty of the forest around her, until she reached the thicket.
The thicket of wisteria and vigorous poison ivy vines was tangled up together in a small clearing in what felt like the middle of the forest. As she stepped to the right to take in the knot of glorious, pale purple flowers and the glossy, ruby and emerald triple leaves from another angle, a gleam of light glanced off the surface of what could only be glass.
Pearl circled the twisted coil of vines, peering into the shadows to try to define the outline of the man-made object disguised so thoroughly. Was it an abandoned van? Impossible to tell, the extraordinary web of underbrush was impenetrable.
It was when Pearl got down on her hands and knees and started to crawl around the thicket that she realized the vines were moving. Or, were they just trembling in the breeze? She squinted up at the leaves on the tall trees – they were gold-tipped but surprisingly still.
Turning back to the thicket, she doubted herself. The leaves were motionless, but now, where there had once been only a forbidding wall of poison ivy, a gap had opened up. There seemed to be a short tunnel leading into the brush. Pearl cautiously inched her head and shoulders into the opening, and with a rustle, the tunnel extended slightly further. She crept forward, the blue blooms of wisteria tenderly caressing her neck and hair.
She couldn’t understand how it was happening, but without seeming to move, the densely braided vines were shifting: welcoming, inviting, compelling her to crawl forward. Where was she being led? What could possibly be hidden in the brush? How could she have crawled so far without passing out the other side of the thicket, which, while large, had only seemed big enough to hide the old van she’d expected to find supporting the growth?
Another few inches forward, Pearl suddenly found herself in a tiny clearing facing a small, faded-blue door. Amazed, Pearl wondered if she had somehow fallen through a rabbit hole and become Alice in Wonderland. How could this be? Where was she? No way had that pile of vines and brush been big enough to include such a long tunnel, a clearing and now some kind of building! Yet, she didn’t feel afraid, she felt peaceful, at home. How weird.
Hesitantly, she stood and slowly reached for the door knob, expecting something surprising to happen at any second, a bolt of lightning or maybe a fun-house zombie bursting out from somewhere. But, nothing. The door knob turned easily for her.