It was a beautiful forest. Dazzling bright greens, the honey-scented breeze wafting through the foliage causing the leaves to shiver and dance in its wake.
The forest canopy was thick and lush but the sunlight found its way through, creating a kaleidoscope of colours as it was absorbed and reflected.
It was a truly beautiful forest and Willow was lost in it.
She trudged along a small path in the bushes, fighting tears. At any other time, she would have been happy to be where she currently was. In fact, earlier in the day, she threw a tantrum about not being allowed to visit this exact forest.
Her aunt and uncle, after enduring the pouts and tears, had taken her up the short path behind their small log house and dropped her at the entrance of the forest. They warned her to stay at the entrance where the bushes were low and the ground was firm.
She was only eight, but she was smart enough to suspect that they just wanted her close enough to see from the back window of the cabin.
That was what her father called big girl thinking. She was a big girl and she could take care of herself. She waited until her aunt and uncle were back in the house and then, waited some more. After a few minutes of playing pretense, Willow dashed into the forest and out of sight.
She ran, giggling, after butterflies, sparrows, and moths. Willow stopped occasionally to sniff the flowers and to pluck leaves from low, overhanging branches.
It was on one of her stops that she realized that she was lost. She was on a path, yes, but it was one of the many crisscrossing the forest floor and she had no idea which one would lead her home. And so, she trudged on, hoping and praying that her uncle and aunt would find her somehow.
Soon in her lost wandering, however, she stumbled across a plain with a single tree planted in the middle. It was a magnificent plain, both like and unlike the forest. While the forest had a rustic, natural beauty to it, this plain's beauty was whimsical. Magical.
The tall trees retreated and the thick bushes gave way. The sky opened up over the almost circular field of flowers. A soft wind blew past the plain and brought a sweet scent of honey with it. The aroma calmed her, encouraged her, and pushed the fear of being lost to the back of her mind.
She wiped the tears off the corners of her eyes and sniffed. A smile came; a small one and then, a much larger one. She laughed quietly and stepped past the last of the giant trees and into the plain.
It felt like home.
Willow ran through the flowers, straight to the tree in the middle of it, which was not as large and tall as the ones in the forest but was pretty impressive on its own.
It was a willow tree, she realized upon getting close. And that took the cap off her excitement. She walked straight up to the numerous green-leaf carrying branches hanging over and ducked under to get shaded under the tree.
The air under the branches was cool and enjoyable. She raised a hand and ran her hand over the rough bark, remembering what her mother told her when she asked why her name was Willow.
"In the olden days, people used the parts of the willow tree as medicine to heal themselves. It cured fever, swelling, and pain. And in time, the willow tree became a symbol of hope, stability and healing. Willow, the world around you is falling apart but your dad and I think that you can heal it. We think that you can be part of its recovery. That's why we named you Willow. For hope and healing."
There were a lot of big words so she did not understand all that her mother was trying to say but she loved her name and now, looking at the willow tree, she realized she loved it as well.
Willow jumped and stepped over the bulging roots as she tried to circle the tree. It took her a while but she completed a circle and ended at the same spot where she began. And a massive wolf was standing at that very spot.
A black glossy massive wolf.
Willow's eyes widened in fear and her heart stopped. Panting, she took one step back as silently as she could but she obviously was not silent enough. The wolf's ear pricked and it turned its head sharply towards her, its black eyes knowing and sentient.
Fear immobilized her, rooting her to the spot like a tree. The great black wolf turned completely to face her and Willow began crying. It was going to eat her. She knew. She had seen it on TV. Wolf eat humans and other animals.
And so she wept. She wished she had listened to her aunt and uncle and stayed at the mouth of the forest. She was not a big girl and now she was going to get eaten.
The wolf took a tentative step, then another towards the crying girl. It seemed more afraid of the girl than she was of it.
Now within breath's length of the girl, the wolf lowered its head and touched its snout to the girl's nose. The action shocked Willow and threatened to knock her down. it did, however, knock the fear out of her.
She stared up at the wolf, who was larger than a small car, with wide, tear-filled eyes. It did not seem to want to eat her. She watched in awe as the wolf lowered its snout once more and booped her on the nose. The snout looked smooth and glossy like the rest of the wolf but it actually had little black hairs on it as well.
The hairs tickled Willow and she sneezed. The wolf reeled back at that, staring at the young girl cautiously. Willow rubbed her nose and laughed.
"Did I sneeze on you, big black wolf?"
The wolf whined and snorted. She took that as a no.
"That's good. My mom says that sneezing can spread the flu. Did you know that?" Without waiting for the wolf to answer, she asked another question. "Where is your house, big black wolf? I don't know where mine is anymore. Can I come to yours?"
The wolf sniffed around her, at her hair, face, and feet. It walked behind her and began to use its snout to nudge her towards the entrance of the forest. Ten minutes and countless nudges later, Willow arrived at the very spot where she wandered from.