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The door behind Danielle slammed shut with a crash. It did not sound like a pistol, more like a hunting rifle that, despite its force, was unable to entirely drown out the guttural sounds of her bellowing father. Something about disappointments, which was deeply ironic. Pulling up her coat collar against the stiff autumnal breeze, Danielle marched down the empty side street that led away from civilization, from people, from family. During the last few weeks, the ripe greens and plush, boastful reds, pinks, and sophomoric blues had given way to much more honest browns, muted oranges, and grays. Every one of these colors was enhanced and highlighted by the soft glow of the setting sun on Danielle’s back. All these colors were in the wet leaves over which her feet carried her as soon as she left the village behind. Lost in thought, she wandered down the path in the old forest when she spied a small pathway that led away from the trampled down walkway humans had dug out of the living forest for their convenience.

 "Hey, you're new," Danielle whispered.

  "I am old," a voice replied.

Surprised by the unexpected whispering sound, Danielle took several steps back and spun around. But there was no one but her on the path. Within seconds, curiosity triumphed over apprehension, and Danielle left her known path, pushing aside playfully scratching twigs and thorns. She had no trouble following the path, although she could never tell where it led until just the moment she decided to take the next step forward. After minutes, it could not possibly have been more than that, and yet the forest had grown as dark as night around her, Danielle stepped into a clearing that only seemed to materialize when, or because, she had decided that she had walked enough. The air inside the clearing was silent. None of the sounds that had guided Danielle before, the wind in the trees, her steps on the foliage, animals rustling through the leaves nearby, everything had gone quiet in reverence of the single elm tree which the clearing seemed to originate from.

  "I know you," Danielle whispered.

She moved closer to the queen of the forest, the royal elm, and immediately found the spot she had unconsciously been looking for. Then, closing her eyes, Danielle stroked her hands over the velvety smooth bark of the tree, pulled herself against the steady, eternal body of the elm, and embraced it while tears ran down her cheeks and into her dark hair. With her eyes closed, Danielle saw herself standing in the clearing, hugging the queen of the forest. But the colours were different. There was a flash in which there was snow all around her, covering the clearing like powder. Then, she was an entirely different woman, standing and embracing the elm in summer, then in spring, then in autumn again, and Danielle was Danielle once more. Then, all of a sudden, the door behind Danielle slammed shut with a crash. Mercifully, her father had stopped shouting. Danielle pulled up her collar against the cold autumnal breeze and started moving away from their house and into the gravel road.

  "I am sorry, darling. Please, come in and let's discuss this. I am sure we'll find a solution."

Danielle's father stood by the door still dressed in his oil-soaked blue overall.

  "Will you listen to what I have to say?" Danielle said, raising her eyebrows.

  "Yes, sweetie. I am sorry. It was another shit day. Come on, there is pizza in the oven."

  "You can talk to me about the things from work, you know," Danielle said, opening her coat again. She moved past her father, giving his hand a light squeeze, and was glad that she did not, after all, have to go out in this weather.

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