1 Rocksdown was a simple village, situated in the cold south, where it was dark most of the time.

It was rather bleak, for all the buildings looked the same, although there weren’t really many buildings. There were some cottages, some houses, and some shops. The colours of the village were mainly brown, whether it was the earth on the ground (the roads were not really finished well), the brick of the buildings, or the cars passing you by. The sun hardly shone, and the mood was average, but it was still, oddly enough, a pleasant place to be. With the markets twice a week, there was always activity. Wednesdays would welcome the cloth sellers to the town and Saturdays were especially for fruits and vegetables and homemade produce. Saturdays were a great day for meeting friends and family and trying various culinary delights, although, not all of them were so great. The people were nice enough and the village was always busy. The markets brought many visitors to Rocksdown. At the cloth markets, Annika had never seen so many pretty pieces of material. She would often dream of what she could make if only she had the machinery and the time. She dreamt of skirts and shirts and even trousers. Oh, how she would love to create the things she wore. Her clothes were very simple. She shopped mostly in the local store and her fashion, if we could call it that, was a far cry from the posters she sometimes saw around the village. But her imagination led her to magical worlds where the material was endless, colours aplenty and patterns to make your eyes dazzle. The posters were the virtual door to this imagination, showing beautiful performers who could be seen in the city. One day she imagined making a beautiful dress. She quite fancied the colour purple. Often, she would see a purple cloth at the stand of Zaleel. It was a warm colour, the kind that you wanted to surround yourself with: it looked soft and different, such a welcoming colour; a warm embrace from a piece of material. In the posters from the city, she had seen a singer wearing the most beautiful dress, long to the ground and dipped, ever so elegantly, at the chest. It was a dress like this Annika wanted and in this colour of purple. For what purpose, she didn't know, but her heart was set on this obscure, surely-never-to-be-realised dream. She carried a picture of this dress, torn from a magazine Myra had once given her. She carried it in her purse, which was small and awkward, so the picture would always tumble to the table as she fiddled for small coins.Of course Zaleel had seen it, for he was very astute, especially when it came to Annika. His handsome eye had glanced at the paper many a time, so much so, he had made a note in his head to one day act upon such seemingly precious knowledge. Rocksdown markets sold such an array of colourful cloth, yet on every other nonmarket, regular day, the village itself seemed to ignore the fact that colours were or could be of any importance at all. It was amazing how, only on a Wednesday, the week would finally come to life. The cloth market was the only one in the prefecture, hence its popularity. Oh, if only Rocksodown could learn from the colour of the markets it invited.The Saturday markets provided such a temporary burst of energy forced by the fusion of beautiful edible products. But sadly, temporary extended no

more than a few hours and by lunch time, Rocksdown once again returned to its bleak form. Annika had seen pictures and paintings. She had seen how colour could transform the image, the mood, and the object in the frame. She wanted to be that object. She wanted to be transformed into a bright and colourful lady. She had a cheery disposition; it was only fair that her clothes matched it. But, unable to sew, she had to do without. She never felt cheated by this fate of hers. She accepted it graciously and continued with her daily activities. Annika was quite the daydreamer. As the local baker, she often had time to kill as she watched and waited for the bread to bake. Her shop was small and she rarely had it full of customers, so her mind would wonder. It was the posters she had seen. They would show the concert halls of the city and the performers that could be seen there. Why, they were so colourful and they showed a life like no other. The girls had their faces painted and the buildings were grand and packed with furniture. In her imagination, Annika was at the piano dressed in her purple frock, more elegant than those even worn at weddings, even in the city. “But really,” She thought to herself, “What would I do, what would I say? I belong in Rocksdown. These pictures are not reality.” Annika was only 22 years of age, yet she had the calm mind of someone at least 10 years her senior. She was very settled and very comfortable and didn’t yearn for things she could never have; if she did, she was practical enough to suppress the yearning.Perhaps this was because her mother had died when she was very small. She had been very sick, so from an early age, Annika had always been a responsible, caring and loving girl. She never knew her father for he had apparently fled the village before he even got to learn about his future daughter. She understood the importance of her family unit and never acted selflessly, not even once. Annika had an aunt in Rocksdown and two uncles. These were all her mother’s siblings and each of them cared for her like their own children. Annika had lived with them all at various different times, but when she turned 18, she insisted on moving back to her mother’s cottage. Of course, it had to be decorated. It had, after all, been abandoned for over 10 years, yet this was a feat she was ready to take on and with the help of some friends and family, the cottage looked habitable once again. Uncle Davor and Uncle Jetmir were great with the handiwork of the house; fixing the roofs and Aunty Claudia could offer advice about essential furniture, and drapes. They even added a touch of paint to the building, but in true Rocksdown fashion, not very colourful paint. For someone whose head was so often in the clouds, Annika’s feet were bizarrely enough, firmly rooted to the brown soil of Rocksdown. She was a lovely, walking, talking juxtaposition. The other people in the village tended not to notice the dreamer in Annika so much. When she spoke to them, it was always with a certain clarity and self-assuredness that came from a very grounded individual. Rocksdown was a simple place, where the daily life just happened. It as a selfsufficient village, and the life was a simple one. People didn’t seek more, simply

because they didn’t believe they needed more. And, so it was, that Annika grew up very independent and extremely realistic. She didn’t question much about life. She merely accepted it as her fate and embraced her Rocksdown existence. 2 Walking into the forest, she knew, was a bad idea. The endless cluster of trees seemed so inviting at the time. For a couple of years, she used to wonder about what was on the other side. Surely something had to exist. Something like her village in the South. Yet, in those two years in Rocksdown, she had never thought to walk through to the other side, if indeed, there was another side. “Of course, there’s something on the other side.” Myra always used to tell her. But Myra had travelled so much in her short life. She was only 20, yet she went to the city at least once a week! This was unheard of, according to the other people of the village. Why, they would leave the village once a month, if that. They found they had all they needed within Rocksdown and could not understand the desire to step outside to a “foreign” area. Yet Myra defied all of that. She had even left the country to visit a family member. Annika forgot which one, but Myra definitely knew somebody who lived a boat journey away from here. How exciting! Myra, therefore, had an immense sense of adventure, something that Annika could only wonder about and could never quite bring herself to comprehend. She couldn’t decide if it was a good thing to have or not. Then, one day, she noticed the forest. Of course, it must have always been there, but two years ago, on a Wednesday after the market, (she still remembers the day vividly), there it was. Annika had been talking to the handsome cloth seller, Zaleel and was in a sort of love-struck trance, only she wasn’t even aware of this herself. She began daydreaming as she wandered home through the dark streets of the village, when, totally out of character, she stopped at a bench she had never noticed before. As the daydream continued, she found that her eyes had fixed their gaze upon some trees in the distance. Slowly, the trees became the focal point of her thoughts and Zaleel, the stall owner, was soon forgotten. As she walked closer, she could see more and more and even more trees. Why had she never seen this forest before? What was this forest? And where did it go? And that was it. Her first real moment of inquisition, a sense of adventure had penetrated her soul and would be forever with her. Whether she chose to act upon it or not, was another matter. 3 The time rolled by in Rocksdown. Annika baked her bread; the customers came to buy it. Nothing changed. Inside, Annika felt different, but she refused to do anything

about the forest. ‘Why, if it had always been there, then there it shall stay.’ Her attitude hadn’t changed. Ever the realist, she went about her daily chores, tending to the cows, sometimes even talking to then, always singing to them to. None of this was new mind. She found a certain freedom in the fields as she ran amongst the half eaten grass. Her dreams never took her too far away from reality; she wouldn’t allow that. She couldn’t let herself drift away from the here and the now. It was probably for this reason that in the two years that had passed, she had miraculously managed to avoid, if not ignore, completely, the forest and any consequences that even merely thinking about it would entail. She made sure never to pass the path again, the path that had led her to the bench . 4 Annika, the realist, had decided to bury her mind and its wildest thoughts at the farthest point at the back of her head. In real life, she had to concentrate, to focus. Just because she had found the forest, did not mean she had to do anything about it. Yet, ironically, the day she sat staring at the forest, was the day that so much changed. It wasn’t just her newfound sense of curiosity, but also, her attitude towards others that had changed, and changed for the worse too. She became curt and almost rude to other villagers. Suddenly, she didn’t have the time for them, her mind pre-occupied with something. It was not with questions about the forest, so much as the ignoring of these questions. It bugged her that she suddenly couldn’t concentrate on the things that had once provided such fulfilment. Why was she suddenly so frustrated, so impatient? This was not how was she usually was. The bread didn’t bake fast enough any more. When it did, it wasn’t crusty enough. When she worked in the shop, there were never enough customers to buy the bread. Annika didn’t realise that she was over-baking. She was so frustrated that she tried to banish the thought of the forest from her mind. How was she able to look at the posters before and so easily enjoy them momentarily, then go about her daily chores. Why that hadn’t been a feat at all. But this, THIS. This forest was something else. For these past two dawdling years, she didn't want to, but actually couldn't stop thinking about what lay beyond the mass of green at the edge of the village. Occasionally, the dreamer in her would invent a whole array of possibilities for what was on the other side, but she would never let the day-dreams last for long. She couldn't allow them to even try and take over the reality onto which she had such a tight grip. In the two years she dared to not enter the forest, she sometimes thought of the scene on the other side. She remembered Myra’s tales from her travels. It did sound like another world. The city was a busy place. People were always running around in a hurry. This was never the case in Rocksdown. The pace of life was slow, but casually slow. Even a visitor could feel relaxed there. But in the city, it was quite the opposite. Of course, Annika had been to the city, but only on a few rare, very rare

occasions. She had to collect items for her mother’s house once. Rippin, the local carpenter was incredibly sick and couldn’t assist Annika with the renovations on the house. So, a visit to the city was called for. Usually, the townsfolk of Rocksdown took the long, windy and bumpy road to the city. But, maybe the forest was a secret shortcut. ‘How convenient would that be?’ Annika thought to herself. And what if she were the one to discover it? ‘How exciting’, she thought, as the idea of the adventure thrilled her as much as it scared her. She thought that, perhaps on the other side of the forest, lay the city, the crazy, loud city. When someone new came to the village that Annika might give a thought to where they really came from. Could there be something bigger and better than Rocksdown? Something even bigger and better than the city? The people from the city always dressed very differently from the people in Rocksdown. Day by day, a new character began to emerge from inside of her. There was clearly an adventurer inside trying to escape. That adventurer in her, would make many an approach to the forest. Each time, she took half a footstep more than the time before, yet, she never quite managed to venture far enough into the forest to actually make progress. Something held her back, something forceful and more powerful than sheer courage. What was it? Was fate trying to intervene and hold her back? Surely not, when it was fate that had made her discover the forest in the first place. Or was that more a twist of fate? How could she found out? Each time, she left the forest dragging her feet and scraping the soil along with her shoes. How could she overcome this? What would she have to do to find out more? She now wanted to go to the forest, to step inside, to step through it. 5 On the eve of her 24th birthday, something inside of Annika’s mind snapped. As if a magic wand had been waved in her direction she had changed. She felt the change herself. Her eyes opened wider, and though she couldn’t see it for herself, her pupils got larger too. Someone had flicked the switch and the light was on. Perhaps it was she who had allowed this, and it was certainly her who was going to acknowledge it. She had been flicking through a book of paintings she had found in the storage room in her house. It was just a small book put together with pictures of artist’s works from all over the world. She had barely even heard of the place names, let alone the artists themselves. But there was one picture that grabbed her attention. It was a picture of a wood and many trees. You couldn’t see through the woods, but you could see the tall trees and a little of the branches and leaves at the top. For a moment she stared at the picture emotionless, not sure what to make of it. Then she suddenly saw herself inside the woods. She felt a pang of power as she sat her the front room. She was sat at the fireplace, although, it was April and spring was in the air, so there was no need for a fire. She realised the connection immediately. The forest! Of course, the forest. She had almost forgotten about the forest. How could she have done? Why had she? At that moment, she knew that she wanted to be there, she wanted to discover more and she felt she had to know what was on the other side. She felt silly now, if not guilty when she thought about what she may have missed.

‘Why didn’t I go in there immediately?’ she asked herself over and over again. ‘What was I so adamant to ignore it?’ She began to pace the room, frantically wondering how she should go about this mission that she had suddenly decided to undertake. Still grasping at the picture, her life rolled out like a long carpet in her mind. ‘Everyday I bake the bread for the village. Everyday I deliver bread to the White cottages on the hill. When I take the bread to the markets my stall is always the first one to sell out, until recently, that it, until........'She cast her mind back and immediately pieced the jigsaw together. '......until the forest! That's when things changed. And what about Zaleel? When I see him, that’s when my heart jumps. My stomach does a leap and suddenly I find it difficult to look in his eyes.’ She was reciting her life as it was, suddenly sounding so simple as the words spilled from her lips. ‘When I look at those posters from the city, my mind wanders of into a dream world, where I am the princess in the picture and I am the one making the dresses. What if I went through the forest and I actually could make those dresses. What if, on the other side of the forest there was another ‘me’? One who is brave enough to speak to Zaleel about more than just cloth? What if I could actually tell him I that I have feelings for him? What if I could change the way things are?’ She shocked herself with her own questioning. Her life in Rocksdown was a pleasant one. We already saw that. However, the juxtaposition of two, very alternative, characters was perhaps a little too much. Maybe what Annika needed to find, was some common ground between the mind-wandering dreamer, and the solid and austere realist. She went to sleep that night, aged 23, and promised herself that her birthday the next day would bring about some drastic, but wonderfully life-enhancing changes. Her 24th year, would be one to remember and one from which the rest of her life would stem from. 6 - THE BIRTHDAY Opening her eyes on that sunny Saturday morning was like throwing a handful of river water on her face. She felt an unexpected wave of excitement. Not only was it her birthday, but she reminded herself, today was the start of something new. She headed out, as always to the shop. At 5am, there were never many people about, save a few of the market stall owners who had arrived the previous night from their long journeys. She waved at them and continued her walk. At the bakery, she was instantly in action. The auto pilot switch kicked in and there was enough bread to feed the village within a few hours, just as the markets filled with people. She prepared everything, just like every other day. The shop was open and ready for business. But she had left. The bread was ready, but the shop owner was not. She had fled to the forest.

Two years on, there she was, at the beginning of what could be an immense adventure. She stood at the trees. They looked just like the painting, so vast, so tall above her, casting shadows all around her. All of a sudden, she stepped back.Today was too soon. She wasn’t ready to go through. There were things she wanted to do, in case she never came back. What if she found this hidden reality, so much better than her present one and she chose to stay there. Someone else could surely bake the bread and take it to the market and sell it to the village. But, what if something happened and she could not come back? She understood there were things she wanted to do first. She realised the one thing in particular that had been on her mind for years. Zaleel. As they grew up together and watched each, other a certain fondness had developed between them. Annika couldn’t be sure of her feelings. She had never really had any experiences with a boy. She was still young. ‘I am not ready to get involved with another.’ She would often think to herself. She realised that not only was she not ready, but, really, there was no one to actually get involved with, or at least at that very moment. She never thought of Zaleel as a contender for her affections. She often thought about him, this was true. So true in fact that her mind more often than not wandered to his wispy dark hair and his dreamy dark eyes, not to mention his dark skin and how soft it looked. Despite all these wanderings, she never thought these were really romantic intentions and certainly not intentions upon which she should act.Being a realist, was like being anchored down to the ground of life. As the mind might wander, something would pull it back equally as fast. Take Zaleel, for example. Zaleel was the most handsome man Annika had ever seen. He was tall, robust and always smiling. Annika had never seen someone smile so much. Even when he was counting money packing up his stall, she could see he large white teeth as he grinned from ear to ear. He seemed to like the colour blue. A blue dark enough to afford mystery, but light enough to not be dull. As she skipped back to the shop, she saw that there were people waiting outside. In fact, she had been gone a lot longer than she realised and she forgot quite completely that today was market day. She had to hurry along faster than fast. Yet the townsfolk were asking questions. They did not appreciate a change to their routine. 'Where was te bread?' 'Why had she not come to the market on time?' there was some concern shown by a few. They had never seen Annika like this for she had never done this before. 'Was she OK?' 'Why was she late?' 'What was wrong?' She promptly grabbed the supply she had already baked and ran to the market. 7 By Wednesday, her mind was in a complete flutter. She was very very aware of what she wanted and what she had to do. Something had to change in Rocksdown and she was the one who had to do it. She had spent three days dreaming of a certain boy, a life already lived, a life that should be led. She dreamt of the clothes she wanted to make and the way things could be if perhaps Rocksdown didn't have such a holding force on her. Or was it herself that had the force....? She made her way to the market.

When she met Zaleel, he greeted her and showed her his cloth as he always did. But today, he handed her a piece of paper. He had taken it from a magazine. Annika could see that the paper was ripped on one side. It was really colourful, and as she looked closer, she saw, not just pretty dresses, but instructions as to how to make them. She was flabbergasted! She had never seen anything like this before. How wonderful. But she didn’t have the tools to make them. “Zaleel, this is great, thank you. But how can I …” “Here you are Annika, you should try it. I think you will really enjoy it.” He had in his hand an array of tools that she would need to give the task of her dreams a try. How thoughtful. How endearing. “I love it! ” She looked at him and they held their gaze. It was at least a minute before Annika realsied that their hands were still touching, but she didn't let go. In fact, she leant forward and kissed him, albeit briefly, on the lips. But, with that, she startled herself and ran home. At home she shut the door fast, panting a little from the sheer speed she had gained in order to hide away from the outside world. She looked at the magazine cutting and sat down with it. As she gazed at the instructions, she instantly forgot about the forest. And she started sewing. It was like second nature. She didn’t need to think hard about it at all. In fact, she hardly needed the instructions manual. It was already in her head. When she observed those posters, she observed them closely, noting every detail she possibly could from them. It paid to be pedantic. Within an hour she had created an amazing shirt for Zaleel. She took it straight back to the stall to show him. As she ran in the morning sunlight, she could see the market ahead bustling with people and its Wednesday dose of colour. Further in the distance, she could see the rays of the sun beaming down onto the yellow green leaves of the few trees ahead. As she inhaled, she could feel her breathe through flow freely through her body. She started skipping to the sound her her heartbeat, not quite the automatic rhythm of Rocksdown life. For the first time, she felt free, without worry, and she knew what she wanted to do next.As she ran to Zaleel's arms with the shirt she had weaved with her own hands, she thought beyond Rocksodwn; she thought of the city and the other things that lay ahead. She thought of Myra and her travels and most importantly, she thought of Annika. And with that, the smile on her face grew even bigger.