The airboat slowed as a rickety dock approached.
“This is where you get off,” the aged pilot said. The old man kept his nervous eyes on the dock and watched. Local legend was not kind to this place.
‘So shall it be,” said the passenger.
Ty grabbed a satchel from the airboat’s floor and readied himself for a leap to the dock. The air felt cool here. There were no birds over head. Even the alligators that had been as common as mice in a field seemed to vanish. This was a place unlike any other in the region. It seemed to pulse with an energy that Ty could not pin point as good or evil, but something beyond both concepts at once. The dock approached and he shivered. His journey had been long to get here, all he could do now was hope to survive and return to his life back home.
The aluminum side of the airboat clanked against the dock. Ty waited to make sure the wooden planks would not crumble against the impact. Confident the dock would not be his end, he jumped. The thump of his feet against the wood turned to a splintering sound and things did not bode well for the return trip, but for now he could venture on.
“Thank you, Andy. I will see you soon,” Ty said, turning to the pilot and waving. “Hey! Hey! Andy! No!” Ty shouted. The pilot had reached the end of his tolerance for danger. The airboat sped off back up river.
“Shoot,” Ty said. He would have to worry about the return trip later.
Tall grass and wet ground filled the space between him and his target. He marched.
The sun crept closer to the horizon and the sky turned from ocean blue to fire orange before he knew it. Fear and doubt filled him after every turn his map told him to take. The compass was his ally and a map his guide.
As hope itself began to fade like the sunlight, a clearing appeared. Ty allowed himself only the briefest of smiles as he saw in the middle of a clearing a hut that matched the drawing on his map. He trekked as fast as he could to get to the door. The ground was damper here, muddier than the path leading to it. Each step was a trial he could not fail.
Reaching the hut, he followed the directions outlined on the map. Two taps, a brief pause. Three taps, pause again. Two taps. Wait.
He waited and wondered if the map had all this time been a charade.
The door creaked open. Ty’s pulse raced.
“Who has sought me out?” A voice called from behind the opening door. It sounded wrinkled and worn, Ty thought for a moment he had stumbled upon a fairy tale villain.
“I have spent months researching, traveling, searching and this place, this wondrous place, is said to be the one source of what I seek,” Ty said.
“And that is?” the voice questioned.
“Strewberries.” Ty said.
The door opened fully and a behind it stood a short woman in a black gown, her long gray hair nearly reaching to the floor. She looked up at Ty with a quizzical glance.
Ty defined his statement. “My wife, see. I have a grocery list requesting Strewberries. According to tomes bound in human flesh, this is the one place to find them.”
The old woman sighed and rubbed her forehead, “This was obviously meant to read ‘strawberries.'”
“I dare not deviate, mistress hermit,” Ty said.
“That is super passive aggressive, you know that? How much have you spent on this journey? Your accent says BC, and your boots say Maine. This is….oh, boy this is something,” The hermit walked slowly away from the door and fell from view, her aggravated muttering did not fall out of hearing.
A moment later she returned to the door with a basket of fruit Ty had never seen before. “Here are your strewberries. Now get out of here. I hope she feeds them to you.” She waved Ty away.
Ty watched the door close and he remained in place. Standing on the deck he realized his quest had ended. His relief at the journey’s end was soon replaced with emptiness.
“Wow, she was right. This whole thing was super passive aggressive. I’m a monster. What an unsatisfying joke at the end.”