Gambit of the Seeker

Sadre’s deepwoods cabin looked as if it had been built from miniatures—tilt-shift figurines of log and moss, blown up to scale and dropped in the middle of the moonlit forest. A terrarium fairy garden made real. The cabin’s conspicuousness led Candide to wonder how nobody had ever found it before.

Approaching the cabin through the thick trees, Candide wore a nearly imperceptible, but genuine, smile. The first since she could remember. And was that?—it was: a small spring in her step as she as she strode up the old stone path to Sadre’s oaken front door.

Candide rapped three times on the door, knocking old clouds of dust from the knotty grain.

She waited.

Several seconds passed.

Candide knocked again.

Perhaps Sadre was out. Perhaps they didn’t open up for strangers. Perhaps they were asleep.

Perhaps they didn’t exist.

No—that was impossible. If Sadre wasn’t real, then whose cabin was this? Out here in the middle of nowhere—even the nearest ranger station was a grueling three-day hike.

And Candide hadn’t packed for a return journey.

Very well—if she angered Sadre she angered them. But she had to know. Besides—

Candide had nothing to lose.

The door to Sadre’s deepwoods cabin opened with a faint squeak from the interlocking wooden hinges, and Candide crept inside, her eyebrows furrowing as she looked around the bare cabin interior—odd, it was completely empty save the motes of dust drifting through the moonlight.

Candide wandered toward the center of the room—cautious, confused.

“Tell me”—the old, quivering voice startled Candide, who whirled about to face it. “Is it customary these days to linger in the home of another?”

Once she had turned around, Candide took a moment to absorb the figure now standing between her and the old oaken door, blocking her way out.

But it’s difficult to absorb a dream. Even looking directly at Sadre, Candide felt as though she was forgetting. All she could remember were the words.

“My apologies—I did not mean to startle you. My poor attempt at humor, I suppose.”

Indeed it was. But nonetheless, Candide found herself laughing. And pointing.

“You!” she exclaimed, gasping for breath between bellows. “You’re—you’re them! You’re Sadre!”

“I am,” they said, and though Candide could not perceive them, their tone suggested that they were crossing their arms. “I fail to see what you find so amusing.”

“It’s just,” Candide said, wiping joyful tears from her face as she calmed herself, “you’re real—I can’t believe you’re real.”

“’Real’ is matter of relativity—it is a strange, illusory state. Nonetheless, to you—yes. I suppose am real.”

Candide sighed—a full, contented, smiling sigh of relief. “That’s just, amazing,” she said.

For a calm moment, the pair stood in moonlit silence.

Sadre broke the spell. “I take it,” they spoke, “you are here for your wish?”

“What?” said Candide, still stunned. “Oh, Oh! Yes, the wish. Oh goodness, I’d completely forgotten. My greatest desire, I… well, I suppose…”

Candide thought for a moment, but then finally shook her head. “I suppose this was all I wanted. To know I wasn’t crazy—to know that you were real.”

“As I already said—‘real’ is less tangible than you may imagine.”

“Fair enough. But for you to be here, before my own eyes, that’s, well…” Candide’s eyes twinkled. “That’s all I need.”

“Very well. But you are aware of the consequence, yes?”

“Oh I’m aware,” Candide said with a small hint of sass.

But bitterness, too, was there. Profound sadness and deep, painful scarring. Candide looked down at her empty hands, and spoke her honest heart. “Though,” she said, “I doubt even Sadre can take anything more from me than this world already has.”

There was another moment of silence. But this time, Sadre did not break it.

Eventually, Candide looked about the empty cabin, and shrugged her shoulders. “Well?” she asked. “What now?”

Sadre waited, then responded. “Now it is late,” they said. “You may stay the night, and I shall do you the kindness of helping you prepare for the journey home. In the morning, you shall leave.”

Candide took a deep inhale and exhale. “Well,” she said, dropping her pack to the ground, “sounds good to me. I appreciate you letting me shack up here.” She began unrolling her sleeping bag.

“As always, you are welcome anytime.”

Was Sadre gone as soon as they appeared? Candide wasn’t sure—settling into her sleeping bag, she was soon lost in a deep, dreamless abyss.

Startled awake, Candide sat up with an alarmed gasp, and quickly took in her surroundings.

Ah yes, the cabin—where she had decided to sleep last night. The empty interior was now flooded with warm beams of midmorning sun.

Crawling out of her sleeping bag, Candide checked her supplies—dwindling, but she would last at least another day or two. She had to find Sadre. Nothing else mattered.

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