Here’s a fairy tale: Once upon a time, a girl, poor but ardent, armed herself with a basket, two stout sticks, and a hooded cape (not red), and set out from her little hut into the dark woods. She traveled alone, for that was the way she was used to walking, that was the way she was.

At the first turn of the path she met a poor old creature, man or woman it was hard to tell and how could it matter?  “You’re all bent in two,” said the girl with curiosity.  “However can you walk that way?”

“I can’t,” said the old creature.  So the girl gave away one of her stout sticks, and the creature hobbled contentedly off.

The woods grew darker.  Then – in a patch of brilliant sun, a clearing ringed by oak and linden – the smooth trickster stepped from behind a tree, man or woman it was hard to tell and how could it matter? “What do you carry, so carefully and so close, in that fine basket?” asked the trickster.

“It’s mine,” the girl said.

“Until it’s mine,” said the trickster, making a leap and a lunge. But the girl was ready, and struck out with the second stout stick. The stick broke in two, the smooth trickster disappeared into a shower of grit and ash.  The girl journeyed on.

It grew cold in the dark woods, it grew late; the girl covered herself with the hooded cape, not red but the colors of the forest floor, a patchy brown and cinnamon and grey, a drift of leaves and litter.  She slept curled carefully around her basket.  In the morning, it was gone.

Dumbfounded, the girl felt the emptiness where the basket had been.  She searched everywhere, but it had disappeared. The girl missed the burden she had carried; without the burden, what sense was there in carrying on? The girl lay down in the drift of leaves and litter, and covered her face with the cape. She slept a sleep so deep it was like dying.

When at last she woke, it was to the sight of the cape hung on a bent nail, the two stout sticks, crossed and waiting by the door; the basket.  It was but dawn, she had dreamed it all, she had yet to begin her journey. The girl lay watching the sun draw shadows on the wall. Knowing what she knows – for the dream was a true one – does she get up, put on the cape, take up the basket and the sticks, and set out into the dark woods? If she does, she will be robbed by some unknown circumstance of everything she holds dear.  If she does not, the old creature will have no aid, the trickster will remain unvanquished. What should she do? What would you?

The sun rises higher, the shadows dance merrily on the wall of the hut.  It will be a fine day, for walking or not.

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