Eva woke up sore and cold in the same spot she fell asleep: behind a large log in the forest. The multi-colored soft leaves made for a nice bed, but she was hungry and weak from battling the mutants the night before.

Ahead in the distance, she heard voices. And she smelled baking bread. She got up, quickly looked around, and headed towards the cabin she oddly didn’t see last night.

What you need is not what you seek whispered an old woman’s brittle voice. Find me. Eva quietly acknowledged the voice, and continued to the cabin.

Upon opening the door, Eva looked around. The cabin was a cozy, popular restaurant. Every table was full. A family of four was in the corner booth, a toddler played peek-a-boo with his mother. A few hunters in full camouflage gathered at another table, their bows propped against the table. There was one seat left near the bar and Eva took it. She plopped her backpack next to her. A middle-aged barmaid came over, wiped her hands on her apron and said, “She’s waiting for you. Go on over and sit with her, and I’ll bring you some food and drink. You look hungry.” And with that the barmaid left.

Eva sat down at the back table with the cloaked figure previously unnoticed. The figure removed her cloak hood, “You’ve traveled far, my dear, as have I. We were meant to meet now and not before. I have something you need, but it is not what you seek.” The waitress bought over a plate of steaming scrambled eggs, bacon, and a fresh biscuit, with a side of pancakes and maple syrup. She also placed down a glass of orange juice and coffee. “Eat and drink,” the old woman continued, “And take this key.”

Eva held out her hand and looked at the old woman for the first time. She looked familiar. “Don’t I know you?” Eva questioned. “There is something about you…”. The old woman smiled, touched Eva’s shoulder, and said, “Remember me. I am you, and you, I. Unlock the door, and find what you do not need.” And with that, she vanished. Only the key remained. Eva slipped the key in her backpack.

Full and refreshed, and now on a new mission, Eva chose the trail through the forest that led to Mirror Lake where her friends were. She took out the key and examined it. It was old and made of wood, like the metal skeleton keys that fit in those old-fashioned doors. “This really is old-school, but sure I’ll play along,” she mused. Turning the key over, she noticed a blue sapphire gem in the shape of a tree.

She ran a little ways down the well-worn path feeling free. She stopped in a random spot and lay down on her back to look up at the sky. As a child, she loved looking up at the shapes of the clouds. She imagined rabbits and dinosaurs and heads of dogs in those clouds. This sky was different though. It was fragmented; large jagged shards of red, black, and green punctured the blue. Clouds in this sky were not white, but dingy gray and decayed green puffs that floated across the broken heavens. It was beautiful, in a dark, deathly kind of way.

The virus changed everything. It made her life go upside down. Her grandmother died two weeks ago, in a nursing home, alone. The last time Eva saw her grandmother was 15 years ago, in Germany. She was old, even then. She made cookies for her, big, soft, molasses cookies with a raisin in the middle, and told her that good things always happen to those who hold onto hope. She remembered that her grandmother would look at me with soft, hazel eyes, and she remembered the necklace she wore. It was blue with diamonds, in the shape of a tree….. “OH!! I know where the door is!”

“Eva!” Her mother yelled while rapping loudly on the closed door. “Eva! We need to go now! Get your mask. I have your suitcase. We can’t be late for the plane to Germany. Eva!! Do you hear me?”

“I’ve gotta find a save spot for the game, and I’ll be right there!” Eva yelled back. She took off the VR headset and shut the console off.

There, on the floor, next to the console, was a sapphire necklace in the shape of a tree.

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