Once upon a time, there lived a strange and adventurous girl although she was not born strange and adventurous. At first she was a rather incurious and unadventurous young person, who preferred reading books to being in the world.
When the girl was nine-years-old her family went to visit her grandmother who lived in another town. Her family--father, mother, younger brother—was driving past the woods when an automobile accident occurred.
The girl had been looking out the window—searching for foxes—which she always did when her family went driving. For a second she thought she saw something orange flash in the underbrush. Then there was the sound of broken glass and screeching metal and then everything went silent.
When the girl woke up, a paramedic was putting an orange blanket around her shoulders and explaining that her family was gone and she was the only one who had survived.
The only thing the girl remembered from that day was the sound the trees made, a quiet shush-shush-shush, giving her the feeling everything would be okay.
The girl went to live in an another town with her older brother who collected old objects to fix. He rarely spoke and seemed to be detached from the rest of the world. Even when he was working on repairing a teapot or sewing machine, he would rarely smile.
Together they lived in a very small house on the outskirts of town. Each small room was filled with objects that did not work the way they were supposed to—a radio that only played opera, a television set that only showed different colors, a clock that only ran backwards—each object missing something important.
Upon her arrival, her brother gave her an old watch that never seemed to be able to tell the right time. Still it was something.
Sometimes the girl forgot she had ever had a family. But then at night, lying alone in her bed, she felt their absence the most as the wind made its way through the sparse trees. Sometimes she imagined her loss as a perfect black circle, like a piece of her heart had gone entirely missing.
One of her favorite things was to pretend to run away. At night she would open her window and climb down a tree to go in search of magic and wonder in the nearby woods.
The woods themselves were rather sad, a small area between a shopping mall and a frightening-looking dentist’s office that seemed to have been abandoned.
Still it was the only place where she could hide and make-believe. The girl liked to sit beneath an old pine tree and dream of strange, imaginary worlds, worlds only she could enter. Sometimes she imagined falling down a well and waking up in a land of beautiful silver trees.
One day she was searching for parts her brother might be able to use when she came upon a small gray fox that was hiding in a pile of old radios. Something was wrong with its leg. It limped around and the girl could see its front paw was tangled in wire.
Carefully she leaned down and removed the wire. The fox yipped and leapt away. She was old enough to know the fox would probably never be her friend, but she hoped, in the future, it would at least recognize her. She also knew better than to try to give it a name as, in her opinion, animals had no use for such childish things.
One day the adventurous girl was climbing the piles of discarded objects near her brother’s house when she came upon a small, fragile-looking sapling pushing its way between some old toasters. As carefully as she could, she dug up the earth around its roots and put it against her chest and then replanted it in the middle of the very sad woods.
Something strange happened as soon as she had smoothed the dirt around its roots. The wind picked up and the few remaining trees around her began to move their branches, as if in appreciation. She looked up and felt a shiver run through her and then hurried away.
One evening, several nights later, the girl noticed something even more extraordinary. The full moon shone brightly, casting a silvery beam onto the nearby sad forest. The trees looked different in the moonlight and beckoned her to come closer.
Carefully she climbed out of the window and approached this unfamiliar-looking forest. The air felt different and the murmuring leaves whispered secrets only they could understand. As she walked closer, the forest seemed to get larger and larger. Finally, standing at the edge of the woods, the girl paused and looked over and saw the small fox watching her with its black eyes, urging her on. Shrugging her shoulders and feeling safer knowing the fox was there to keep an eye on her, she took a brave step forward.
To the girl’s astonishment, as soon as her foot touched the uneven forest floor, the trees parted, revealing a path paved with glittering moonbeams. The trees in the moonlit forest were unlike any the girl had ever seen. They sparkled with a silver luminescence, and their branches reached out like friendly arms, ready to embrace her. With a giggle, she touched one of the branches, and a bright note sounded out, filling the air with its brilliance. She touched another branch and then another and entire orchestra seemed to surround her. At once, the girl knew she had stumbled upon something magical—a world that existed solely under the light of the full moon.
She looked over and saw the fox watching from a few feet away, looking surprised as she. The fox leapt and yipped and dove under and over the luminous branches, barking happily.
One tree bent down to face her as another leaned by, gently touching her hair. It was almost as if she was being greeted by several old friends or distant family members. The moonlit trees spoke in a language that did not use words, only thoughts and sounds but someone she could understand it. One small tree took her hand and seemed to sing a song of waiting, of longing. A tall, wrinkled tree leaned down and sung a song of joy while another sung a song of sadness.
As she walked along she found each tree had their own story, their own song to sing. At once she realized the trees kept all the secrets of the town, the dreams and hopes and fear of everyone were etched upon their moonlit leaves.
Before she could venture any farther, the moon fell behind an enormous gray cloud and the light shifted around her. Suddenly the forest disappeared and she found herself kneeling in an abandoned parking lot, a piece of glass pressing into her knee. The fox looked at her for a moment before wandering back to his den.
She knew she had stumbled upon something wondrous and that it had to do with emptiness she had been carrying around for the last several years.
Back at school on Monday, all of the girl’s every day problems suddenly returned. Ms. Harrison, her classroom teacher handed back a mathematics test she had taken and it turned out the girl had only gotten one question right. All afternoon, she stared out the window, and counted the number of days until the moon would be full again and the moonlight forest would return.
She spent as much time in the sad woods as she could, removing old tires and piles of tinfoil, carefully tending to the trees, especially the tiny sapling she had found.
One afternoon while she was high up in a poplar, pulling off a plastic bag that had gotten in one of its branches, she heard a terrible sound, a sound of metal, a sound of screeching, followed by an earth-shattering crash. Something inside her froze. She climbed down and saw a fearsome-looking machine, some sort of silver bulldozer. It was making its way toward the sad forest, crushing everything in its path. Along the way, it left a gigantic gray cloud that filled the air and did not disperse or dissipate.
She walked over and saw someone had put up a sign that announced a new dam was being built in town. She looked at the map of the dam on the sign and then looked over at the sad forest and realized her forest was in the same place.
The thing day she heard the same sound after school and rushed over and another part of the sad forest had been leveled. The girl kept careful watch on the shape of the moon, trying to wish time to move quicker.
Finally, on the first night of the full moon, she ventured out to the woods that had once again magically appeared, followed by the curious fox.
But something was very different this time. All the incredible, vibrant silver trees had turned a dismal gray. Their branches and limbs and leaves were all sagging.
“What is it?” she asked, putting a hand to a young oak tree. “What’s happened?”
The tree seemed barely able to whisper. Something is wrong in your world. Something is out of balance, it said without speaking.
Another tree lunged forward and took hold of her wrist with one of its branches. She let out a scream of fright and the tree immediately let go, as all the other trees of the moonlit forest came to crowd around her.
Please… they whispered. You have to help us.
The girl asked how she could help. A very old tree, nearly too weak to speak, bent in her direction. The girl took a step forward to listen as it shook its thin branches.
Please… you must help us… Our woods are disappearing. The water is gone. And the smoke from the bulldozer is too thick. You have to move the forest by the next full moon or we will all perish. And if this forest is destroyed, so, too, will the hopes and dreams of this town.
“But how can I move an entire forest?” she asked. “That sounds impossible.”
Anything is possible if you can dream it, the old tree murmured.
“I’ll do what I can,” she said and turned back toward the entrance to the woods.
With a feeling of heavy regret, the girl climbed out of the once-magical forest. The endless trees retreated into the shadows, becoming invisible once again.
She glanced down and saw her arm was covered in a dark blue bruise. The fox stared at her, looking desperate.
The adventurous girl awoke the next morning, having no idea how to help. How could she move an entire forest? She went to the library after school, but there were no answers there.
Finally she made her way to the sad woods which were getting smaller and smaller, day by day. She knelt down and asked the young sapling she had rescued, “How do you move an entire forest?”
And the sapling seemed to answer, Only the Moon Key could accomplish such a magical act. The Moon Key grants one wish every full moon. Find the Moon Key.
“But where do I begin looking?” the girl asked.
Begin at the old bridge , the young sapling replied. Just then the bulldozer started up again and it was too loud and there was too much smoke to say anything more.
The adventurous girl and the curious fox made their way to the edge of town that very evening and found an old bridge spanned a dangerous-looking river, several hundred feet below. The bridge looked centuries old and was made of rotting wood and worn rope, and swayed fiercely in the wind.
The girl looked down at the fox, who curled himself into a small, furry ball.
She thought of the moonlight forest and all the trees depending on her and took another step forward. Immediately the bridge creaked and groaned.
Taking a deep breath, she took another step and a wood beneath her foot gave way. The girl screamed and grabbed for something to hold onto but she could feel herself falling through. Suddenly she felt something pulling her up. It was the fox, holding tightly with it jaws on her sweatshirt. Inch by inch, he pulled until she was back atop the bridge.
“You saved my life. I don’t know how to thank you.” The fox scratched his muzzle, seeming to ignore the compliment. She reached out a hand to pet him, but he gave a low growl. Thank you anyway,” she said.
Now as they made their way forward, the fox went first, testing each wood slat with a single paw before continuing.
On the other side of the bridge was a gigantic waterfall. Both the girl and the fox looked up and saw something glinting silver near the top.
“How will we ever make it up there?” she wondered out loud, seeing no path, no way to climb the fearsomely-slippery-looking rocks. How would it be possible to climb such a thing as a mountain of moving water?
The girl and the fox stood at the base of the rumbling waterfall, not knowing how to proceed. Part of her felt like giving up, but when she thought of the desperate voices of the trees, she knew she had to keep going.
The girl held out a tenuous hand and touched the surface of the water. It was ice cold. But there were rocks beneath its wake. If she could find the right footholds she might be able to make her way up.
The girl lowered her backpack and the fox climbed inside. Slinging the backpack over her shoulder, she put one hand into the cold and trembling water, found a handhold and pulled herself up.
Then again. Then again. The water rushed all around them, soaking her and the fox from head to toe and snout to tail.
As they reached the middle of the waterfall, the girl found there was nothing left to grab on to. No other rocks, no other footholds. The fox was yipping wildly, panicked to be at such a great height.
The girl had a wild notion then and took hold of the watch her older brother had fixed for her. She took the tiny silver crown in hand and gave it a turn. The watch now read midnight. At once the waterfall parted, like a curtain, and revealed a set of narrow stone steps.
Grabbing fast to her backpack and the fox, the girl hurried up the steps, before a moment later, the water continued its rumbling again.
At top of the waterfall, they found a large, bejeweled silver box. Inside was a very old-looking map that read: You must venture on to the Crystal Cave. And there you will find the Moon Key and the end of your quest.
The next morning, the girl awoke with a strange feeling. Her head felt heavy and limbs were weak. Her brother took her temperature and shook his head.
“Moon fever,” he said, shaking the broken thermometer.
“You were out all last night in the full moon, weren’t you?”
She was too sick to try to lie. Her brother gave her a harsh look.
“If you go back outside while there’s a full moon again, you’ll probably die.”
The girl lay in bed all day, too sick and frightened to even move.
That evening the sound of the wind through the trees outside her window rattled at a panicked pitch. Even though she was feeling awful, the adventurous girl knew she could not give up.
She climbed slowly down the tree and found the curious fox waiting for her. Limping toward the edge of town, they followed the map to the location of the Crystal Cave. In the daylight it only looked like a used car lot. But by moonlight, an enormous mountain full of crags and caverns had sprung up. Hundreds and hundreds of caves, each more forbidding than the last, each glowing with the shade of a different color.
“Where do we even begin?” she asked and the fox stood upright, tilting its head from cave to cave to cave. The fox began to hurry toward the last cave, and following him, they both entered. There was a beautiful, twinkling music that came from inside, which got louder as they climbed among the frighteningly-sharp rocks. It was the sound of crystals singing, or so the girl hoped.
The girl and the fox climbed deeper and deeper into the cave, braving even larger rocks and slippery slopes. Once the girl almost fell into an endless chasm but the fox offered her his tail and pulled her back up.
Together they made their way to the end of the cave which was shimmering with a silvery, crystalline light. Everything seemed to be moving, seemed to be alive with magic. In the center of the cave sat the Moon Key. She realized the Crystal Cavern was a place of powerful magic, filled with the power of dreams. Part of her wished she could stay here forever, protected from the hurt and disappointment she sometimes felt in her real life. Here time seemed to stop and all worries fell away. For a second she felt herself giving in to its magic, but no, the forest needed her.
The adventurous girl reached out and grasped the key and immediately the crystals all around her began to darken. And then the cave rumbled and shook. The fox yipped and he and the girl ran as fast as they could back toward the entrance of the cave.
Just as they climbed out, the entire cave fell in upon itself, disappearing in a flash of purple and silver.
With the Moon Key in hand, the adventurous girl and the curious fox hurried toward the moonlight woods.
But the bulldozer was blocking their path. In the moonlight, at night, it was even more dangerous and appeared to move of its own will. The girl and the fox went to the left and bulldozer blocked them, blowing out gray steam. They went to the right and the bulldozer blocked them again.
The girl looked up and saw the moon was fading fast in the sky. She handed the fox the Moon Key, which he took in his snout, and then stood bravely before the bulldozer. The bulldozer raised its shovel to crush her.
Rushing forward, the girl ran under the shovel before it could strike and climbed up behind the controls. There she found a tiny silver key and switched the terrible machine off, then took the key and threw it deep into the silvery woods.
Following the fox, the girl ran deeper and deeper into the moonlight forest and watched as the trees, looking frail and hopeless, brightened as soon as they saw her. The fox handed her the key and the very old tree leaned down and seemed to say, Now all you must do is dream…
The girl held the Moon Key in her hand and knew, at that moment, she could wish for anything, anything, even to undo the past if she wanted.
She closed her eyes and imagined the moonlight woods moving to a new place, far on the other side of the mountains, where she could visit each full moon.
And then the Moon Key turned a strange purple color and, all at once, there was a flash. The trees around her all applauded and sang a song of her courage, thanking her, by brushing their limbs and leaves against her shoulders.
As she was leaving, she found a small tree in the corner of the forest and knew at once it belonged to her, that it contained all of her secrets, her hopes and fears and dreams. She reached out a hand to touch its branches and one small leave fell into her palms.
Take it and go forth and start a new forest, the very old tree seemed to say. The girl held the leaf close and thanked the trees. With the curious fox at her heels, she left the moonlit forest and found herself standing in the schoolyard.
The fox yipped once in excitement. The girl knelt down and reached out a hand and, for the first time, the fox allowed her to touch his head. She felt the soft fur against her palm and thanked him and then made her way back toward home.
Back in her own room, the adventurous girl held the leaf and realized even something ordinary could hold extraordinary possibilities.
She put the leaf beside a photo of her family and climbed back into bed. Outside she heard the wind stirring the trees and knew the dreams of her town were once again safe.
And so, dear reader, remember to keep your eyes and ears open to the wonders of the world around you. Who knows when you might wake up in your very own forest of endless possibilities?