In a Time Far Away

Had it all been a dream? Joan sat up, disoriented and bleary. The experience had seemed so real, yet how could it be? Gazing around, she thought she might still be dreaming. The forest seemed different somehow. Here sat the rock she had lain near; there bubbled the stream she had drunk from, but Joan did not recognize anything else. This forest was her home; some features were still discernible, so what was wrong with it?

She became more confused when she noticed the tree she had slept next to; it had snapped in two—half lay on the forest floor. How had she not heard that? She examined the fallen section and found it rotten, turning into dirt. It seemed to have been decomposing for years. How was this possible?

When she looked into the little hollow, all she saw was a dark, dirty hole.

“Hello,” said a voice from behind her.

Joan heard a humming sound and turned to see Tim land next to her, his wings vanishing. This was another shock. He was her size now.

“You’re bigger than before,” Joan observed.


Tim clearly didn’t understand, but that didn’t seem to bother him. Any incongruity skimmed over his mind like a flat stone skipping across a pond.

“Aren’t we going to your home?” he asked.

Joan led Tim as best she could in the direction of her birch grove. The forest continued to confuse her. Before these strange events, she had known the location of everything: every blackberry patch, every lily, every anthill. Now all that had changed. The main features were still the same; boulders had not moved, nor had the hills, but all other features were unrecognizable. Tim followed along, not bothered in the least.

Joan felt stuck in a dream. She wanted to ask a question to clear up everything, but she didn’t know what question that could be.

After thinking a moment, she finally asked, “How long was I with you in your hole under the tree root?”

“Hole? Tree root?” Tim sounded confused and unconcerned at the same time.

She tried again. “How long have you known me?”

“Oh!” he exclaimed with sudden interest. “I love riddles.”

Joan didn’t know how he came to the conclusion this was a game. “Sure,” she said to humor him. “A riddle, then.”

Tim looked at Joan, muttering to himself as he estimated the distance between them. “This long?” he said holding his hands about two feet apart.

“What?” She had no idea what he was talking about. “No.”

“This long?” he said holding his arms out as far as they’d reach to approximate Joan’s height.

“What a strange answer,” Joan commented.

“Good,” responded Tim. “It’s a strange question. So I’m right?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think I am.”

Despite the unusual characteristics of the woods, Joan followed the more permanent landmarks until she came to one of her favorite places. A trail still passed along the top of a cliff to give a wide view of the river valley. The river was not clearly visible because of all the trees, but sometimes a mist rose from the water, clinging to the treetops like cobwebs. The distant hills were sometimes clear, sometimes hazy blue, sometimes shrouded in low clouds. Every day the scene was different, but always beautiful.

Today the view shocked her.

“What’s this?” she exclaimed with alarm.

Most of the trees were gone. Tall, blocky structures stood in the distance like ridiculously impossible mountains with stark, vertical sides. Wide trails of dark stone ran everywhere. Over them roared self-propelled metal carts spitting out smoke. Nearby squatted hundreds of smaller block dwellings. The distant hills were not visible because of the smoke.

“A human city,” Tim calmly answered as if it had been there forever.

It looked as if a million humans lived in this one area, but there weren’t enough humans in the entire world to be able to do this. The largest groups she knew of numbered to only about two hundred, and their towns were simple: cabins and taverns and stables. This scene was unheard of. The world had changed completely.

“Impossible,” she uttered.

“Down there,” pointed Tim. “In one of those dwellings. That’s where my wand is from.”

Something was horribly wrong. How much had changed? Was her family even here anymore? She turned from the view and ran into the forest toward her beloved birch grove. Though she knew the route home by heart, she felt completely lost. As Joan scrambled through the inexplicably unfamiliar woods, Tim followed effortlessly.