A famous baker lives at the edge of the infamous Goblin Wood. Noone knows why she chooses to live so close to terror. Although thegardens and orchards immediately around her cottage are rich andextensive, their equal could surely be planted and tended anywhere in thecountry. And right behind her cottage, three steps past the herb garden,looms darkness. Twisted with distorted treelimbs, vines that change theircontortions between glances, vegetation never catalogued. Webbed withdarting glimpses of things that cause most eyes to shy away.

Visitors still come to her from all across the realm. The insideof the cottage is comfortable and reassuring; lit by scented candles andwarm firelight, with polished wooden beams and tables draped with brightwoven fabrics. Heaps of fresh baking are renewed every day. Braidedbreads savory with herbs; mounds of hearty rolls rich with nuts and wildhoney; pies brimming with dark, rich berries; all scent the air untilbreathing is a feast.

Her wares are unduplicated anywhere in the kingdom. A customersampling her pie one day startled himself by thinking, "I'm tasting theblood of Earth." As the tart sweetness hit the back of his throat, heheard a high distant piping that he never forgot for the rest of hislife; and he quite surprised his family and friends by beginning to writepoetry.

One woman savoring the aroma of braided herb-bread marveled,"These *must* have been fresh herbs - but how can you get the amount youneed, for so much baking, from your small herb garden?"

Even as she asked, her thoughts were turning home. She began tohear her daughter's humming and the rhythms that she beat while poundingout her washing on the stones. The mother's careful mental store ofcounted coins sorted itself into different stacks, as she decided thattheir family could well afford an instrument, after all.

She never heard the baker answer.

Every customer has always asked the same question before leaving. Arms laden with the richest baking in the kingdom, minds warming to newsensations and beginning to spark with new ideas, each one stops to askearnestly, "When will you move away from that terrible wood?"

The baker squeezes a hand or pats a shoulder to acknowledge theircaring, and says, "Please travel carefully."

Customers all leave her long before dusk; no one is around thereat midnight. None ever see her walk into the wood out back. No onehears her screams while she works. No one sees her haggard face in thedim pre-dawn as she staggers out with her harvest. She dresses her woundsherself. The baking is done, and arranged, and no blood shows, before thefirst customers arrive for market.

And to ask her why a baker lives at the edge of the Goblin Wood.

Previously published in Online Noetics Network and Dream Journal

Anitra's Sampler